Squealing in on Two Tires

Writers write. So I am only a writer here by the stretch of the imagination. It’s been too long since I’ve had the chance to talk to you. I have been writing, though, to the joy of some and the consternation of others. Such is the life of a memoirist while the supporting cast is still alive.

It’s that time of year at school when it seems we’ll never make until Spring Break without one of us running naked from the building in the middle of a psychotic break. Please don’t let it be me. My dual-credit students have proven to be exemplary. Some days, they keep me from leaving. The rest of us will get through the standardized drama of HSAP and EOC exams. Always, the students squeal across the finish line and pull it out at the last minute.

I haven’t sent much out for publication, but what I did send out went to the top of the list, and I’m waiting on the rejection letters so I can send them to realistic choices over the break. Wish me luck.

I am still medicated. It’s why my writing is subpar, but I’m working on it. The small death of my former creative self sometimes seems overwhelming, but so far boring has beaten dead. I suppose that’s progress. 

This is the end, my beautiful friend

Graduation night tonight at Creek Bridge High, and a lot of the students are seeing this as an end–of high school, of their circle of friends, of childhood. Parents see it that way sometimes, too. But I’d rather think of graduation like a funeral.

I know the simile is a stretch for most, but bear with me. Though my grandmother would say the devil will hear me, I’ll type it anyway. Everyone who’s important in your life comes to your funeral; they’re all dressed up and on their best behavior. Someone you may or may not know gets up and says good things about you until your loved ones sniffle and cry. You have no control over your wardrobe choice for the evening, and would have chosen a simply FABulous one if you had. People bring you flowers. But the biggest thing is this–no matter how much you think you have things figured out, nobody is really sure what comes next, and you hang on the precipice.

And that’s a knee-knocking, dry-mouth generating thing. You could go anywhere from that point. Graduates, your life may turn out just exactly as you planned, but chances are the real life will get in the way. There will be good times. There will be times when you struggle to pay the light bill. But the real life will lead you to one much richer and rewarding than you could ever imagine now. It happened to me, and I wouldn’t change it.

So, let your toes hang over the edge of the precipice. Balance there and sway and close your eyes just for tonight, for tomorrow you leap from it, and start anew.

I Walk the Line

Memoirists walk a fine line. We care about the people in our lives (Really, we do.), but what we do is write, and writers write, dearies, what they know. So how do we balance the emotions about those we hold dear with the reality of what we write? Even trickier, how do we balance the emotions for those we could care less about?

Life isn’t pretty, and neither are the characters in it. Fiction writers get off light, I sometimes think, because they don’t have to write what’s real. In my particular brand of creative nonfiction, where many of the players (especially me) are broken or wounded, the decision about what to write is never easy. I’ve chosen to just plow away and get real, and that makes a few people uncomfortable, especially since I’m now publishing. I’m not going to apologize.

Do I write about my illness?–Kinda the point.
Do I write about the weaknesses of others?–Sure. We all have flaws. Get comfortable with that.
Do I write about small gestures of kindness, of love, of hilarity?–Whenever I can.
Is almost everything fair game?–You bet. I’ve earned this life and everything it involves.

There are only a handful of people in my life for whom I care unconditionally. They know that I do, and support my endeavors wholeheartedly. For others, I say this–If you don’t like what I write about you, perhaps you should have behaved differently when I knew you. I owe you nothing, and if I choose to write about you, I will write what I believe to be true. These stories are MINE. And if you don’t like it, take a flying leap off the jetty at low tide.

Brevity Blog Post–On Writing “Everything (Except What’s Important)”

Dinty Moore and the crew over at Brevity have been too kind. Not only did they publish my flash piece, they also invited me to send in a blog post talking about its genesis. Check the post out here, and keep going back. Brevity is just amazing…

The Body

I walk down the aisle and take my place in line, waiting for the magic, the myth, the body of Christ. I get to the front of the line, say “Dellinger–D-E-L-L-I-N-G-E-R, Pamela.” She hands me a bag that rattles, says, “That’s four dollars.” Absolution comes cheap. I swipe my debit card, sign my name, and take the offering home.

The bag sits on my kitchen counter  for an hour before I get the courage up to open it. Inside, a regular pill bottle, brown, white childproof lid emblazoned with the Walmart Pharmacy logo. Push and Turn. I do, and pour redemption into my palm.

The pills are not pills at all. In the last five years, they’ve changed from name-branded to generic, from pills to capsules branded with the letter H and the number 96. They are also now pale pink, I suppose to make me feel like they’re innocuous as candy–a call back to the inner child, to the me I used to be.

But I know they aren’t.

This body does not fill; it takes away. Once consumed, it removes all about me that is unique. There is no free sprit, no ecstasy, no light. There is only normalcy, and they tell me that’s a good thing. No more sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll for me. No more creativity, no more writing–this I’ve learned before.

But there will also be no more stones.

I open a bottle of wine for ceremony, pour the blood. Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been five years since my last confession. I swallow, and the dogma enters.

Compartments

Today I helped my sister pack. It’s her turn evidently. So I spent a few hours helping disassemble furniture, bubble-wrap fragile keepsakes, and just cram things in boxes. I’m practiced at it, and packing the things from her life made me think about mine a little differently.

My last big move. Nine hundred and fifty miles.

The truck is full—nothing left in our shell of a house. The beds, the pots, the plates, the hurt all packed away, like the game has been called and I’m taking my toys home because Steve’s too mean to play with anymore. They’ve all helped, smiling, not talking much about it, not opening the wound again as the photos and belongings are boxed or thrown away. Nobody mentions how many times this has happened before, how many times it will happen again, how predictable the ups and downs of manic depression have made my life. Nobody mentions the path of destruction left in my wake, or how I never seem to separate the fairy tale I want my world to be from the chaos it is. Nobody mentions that as soon as I feel sane there will be another relationship. Steve pulls into the drive as I put the last fragile things in the cab, close the door, and tell him I’m leaving.

And I realize today that the remission I’ve been in for so long has also painted me into a corner. While I’ve moved around town a few times since I’ve come back to my hometown, I’ve bought a house in a crap market. The first one I’ve bought on my own. They call it a “death note” for a reason. So, moving away from myself this time is not an option–not 900 miles or across the street.

And the job I’m in now is in its fifth year–the longest I’ve ever been employed in one place. Although it is a job that can be done anywhere, it isn’t one where I can cut off my brain and turn on my hands and do intuitively, like the floral design I used to do. And there are people who count on me. 

So I’m doing the only thing I know how–I’m packing. Just figuratively, instead of literally. I’m busy sorting and taping shut the boxes that hold all the crap I don’t want to see and deal with. Cycling too fast? Box it. Reckless behavior? Box it. Wake of destruction in my path? Box it. There’s a compartment for everything.

 

PUBLISHED in The Silent History Project

I received word this week from the editors of The Silent History that both of the field reports I submitted to the project have been accepted and included in Volume One. Amazingly cool to add this to my “published in” list and to be included in the innovative work that approaches language and literacy on SO many levels–from the narrative arc of the testimonials to the interactive element of field reports only accessed from the location of the event. As of this moment, mine are the only two reports in our state (even, I think, the only two between the metro DC and Atlanta areas). If you are not experiencing this project, begin NOW, people! This is what cutting edge is about…

Eat Me; Drink Me

Valproate Depakote Carbamazepine Tegretol Lamatogrine Lamictal Gabapentin Neurontin Topiramate Topamax Eskalith Lithobid Clozapine Clozaril Olanzapine Zyprexa Risperidone Risperdal Quetiapine Seroquel Ziprasidone Benzodiazepine Clonazepam Klonopin Lorazepam Ativan Zolpidem Ambien

I curse the medicines. I curse them sweating in my bed, crawling from the stainless steel bowl I sleep with to the porcelain bowl of my bathroom. When I start a new one, it’s always a grab bag. I was violently ill and dehydrated with a toxic dose of lithium. I fell asleep if I sat down to fold clothes with Depakote. There was a plethora of side effects in between. My favorite was one manic-depressives call “Benedryl high, “ a combination of antihistamines innocently taken for a cold and lithium, which made me feel like I was on speed, a soaring substitute for the highs I missed so much.

Not only do I curse the meds, I curse every doctor who prescribes them, and I curse myself for not staying on them. Every time I selfishly decide I don’t need them and have to come crawling back, the combinations have to be stronger, more debilitating.

I do not have bipolar disorder. I live with manic depression. The DSM revision of my label to negate all but the most extreme ends of the emotions I navigate has never suited me. Everyday life in this illness is not black and white; it is a pushing at the edges of gray in every direction, not just toward two opposite ends. Manic-depression is, for me, a disease that is not book-ended, but chaotic at its core; the cruelty of it resides in its inconsistency.

Everyone affected by manic-depression knows it kills. Some trials estimate the survival rate at a paltry twenty percent. My odds are better in Vegas, though my bluff at cards isn’t near as good.

What isn’t said is that it is a disease of selfishness. As addicting as the mania is, I would sell my soul to keep it from spiraling out of control. I may want to buy all twelve bottles of ketchup in stock at the Food Lion at 2am, drive to the Keys to pick up a bale of pot when I’ve said I’m going for a soda, and have sex with the guy sitting six seats away from me at the bar just because I like the number six, but those decisions aren’t always good.

So you learn to manage, and I manage well. Meds, only the ones my doctor allows, twice a day, exactly twelve hours apart. Water in hand constantly for the dry-mouth. Typing instead of writing when the tremors are epileptic in scale. The girl who always leaves the party early to get her sleep, because once the line blurs between day and night, it’s all downhill from there. Structure everywhere for the omnipotent free spirit that mania morphs me into just before I can’t speak a coherent sentence and tumble over the edge. I am obsessive about it, and whenever I feel myself starting to slide, I let everything go and shut down until I’m back in control.

In the past month, I’ve lost 15 pounds, slept erratically, driven around in the country between the hours of 2 and 5 am when I can’t sleep, started a relationship, selfishly run screaming from the same relationship when I found it full of ghosts, and twice seriously considered the size and number of stones I would need in my pockets to sink to the bottom of the river.

No matter how many times I’ve tried, there’s no room in this life for a relationship. It’s a liturgy of the damned that always ends badly, and I should know better. I do know better. That doesn’t mean I can stop it.

Next Up on the Batting Roster (The Silent History Field Report)

So, I’m really going full nerd over this Silent History concept. Not only are the testimonials for the narrative arc amazing, the flash fiction, serial release is right up my alley. (The two pieces I’ve published so far have been flash.) It seems a natural fit that I grab onto that for my semester project in my class combining the contemporary virtual world with the world of the European Romantic literaries, and so I’ve decided to create a field report for submission.

Will it be a stretch for me? Sure. I don’t do fiction. But I am an avid reader in every genre, and I’m taking this fiction workshop at the moment (don’t ask). I think I can pull this off. Reasons I want to complete this project:

  • I want projects like Silent History to succeed, and the concept of the novel to grow as our technology allows, and I want to be part of that conversation as a published writer.
  • The content talks about many of the same things we’ve discussed in our course–epidemics, language (and fear of its loss), identity (as social construct) all make the short list.
  • I get to use my really awesome town as a backdrop for a piece of flash, and integrate my setting into my piece as never before. My first thought is to use the courthouse steps in some way, since the ironwork scrollwork contains the name of its maker in the pattern, but to have the silent drawn to the fountain across the street. I want this to be the narrator’s first encounter with a silent in a small town that doesn’t accept the Other well.

Phases and Form

  • Choosing locale—first on the list is the local courthouse, so I could have instant conflict (a court case in family court, for instance) and non-interaction with the written words worked into the scroll work on the staircase), but there are lots of possibilities, including the school that was used for the handicapped before they were mainstreamed. I thought I could operate under the premise that the school would be reopened later in the epidemic for the silent population.
  • Photos—photographs of the location need to be taken, edited, and uploaded for evaluation of the setting
  • Writing of the field report—flash fiction piece constructed with the submission guidelines in mind, with the goal of acceptance for inclusion in the project
  • Location Specifics—loading of GPS coordinates for activation of the site

Themes from Class to Cover in Reflection

  • Loss of Language in the silents’ epidemic
  • Affect in the Silent (facial/body language communication)
  • Treatment of the Other
  • Science/Technology as Falsity or trigger for affect looping
  • First-hand Reporting/Testimonials

List of Texts/References/Media Sources I Will Be Consulting/Employing

I can see working with Said, DeFoe, maybe Blake’s contradictions, and the threat of the panopticon (through Foucault). It’s really going to come down to my choice of setting and how that guides my flash piece, though. It’s a work in progress which needs to progress quickly.

Let me know what you think…

Whistle for Me

Hi. My name is Pam, and I’m a word nerd. As such, I get all geeky about my content area; I recite Shakespeare to my students; I give them Latin equivalents for common phrases; I read obscure texts on my own time. I spend WAY too much time working. I spend way too much time thinking about work. And I love it, unashamedly, unabashedly, unequivocably love it.

So Wollstonecraft and I are on the same wavelength. Not only about education and learning. Her approach to writing works for me: “These pretty superlatives, dripping glibly from the tongue, vitiate the taste, and create a kind of sickly delicacy that turns away from simple and unadorned truth…” The more I write, the more I realize that truth is found in the smallness of things said plainly. It could have something to do with the approach I’m working on personally to edit my life, but I’m finding that simple does not mean superficial.

Ezra Pound says it, too:

In “A Retrospect” Pound makes three clear points about what a poet must do:

  • Direct treatment of “the thing.” I write what I know, and it’s through the small things that I eventually arrive at the larger. To speak of “the thing,” whatever it may be, in such a way that the precise moment is given to a reader is not just valuable for a poet. The closer I get to the small moment of the thing itself, the closer I get to Truth—not just touching shadows and hollow representations of it.
  • Using only words that contribute to the presentation. This one is tough for me. I call it the “Horton Approach”—you know, Dr. Seuss—“I meant what I said; I said what I meant…” I tend to be a word waster. But I’ve noticed that when I go back for revision and cut away everything that isn’t what I want to say, I’m closer to where I need to go—closer to the poetry of the piece.
  • Not composing according to the rhythm of a metronome. This is what makes Dylan poetry to me. Every emotion has its own speed, its own timing. In poetry, free verse isn’t free of rhythm, but guided by feeling. This is the pace of life—each moment has its opportunity to cut “nearer the bone.” To tap into that is to make prose approach poetry in the staccato of an argument or in the eternalizing of a momentary glance. When pacing and sound mirror content in my prose, I know I’m close to getting it right.

Reading Pound was tough for me. It’s a call to get back to the business of writing—whatever style that may be—to do it well or not at all, to recognize it as work and get on with it. I want my writing to “be as much like granite as it can be,” to be “harder and saner.” I want it to grind against Truth, if it can never attain it. I want there to be poetry in my prose. I want to be a poet who doesn’t write poetry…

And I want to be able to write without apology for what I do–to not “pass [my] days; or, at least, [my] evenings, discontentedly.” Let me be myself, and passionately.

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