Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Red elephant

My mother sewed this red velvet elephant for me when I was a baby. She made it without eyes to protect me from swallowing them.

Baby picture (1962)

The recent death of poet Sarah Hannah

The recent death of poet Sarah Hannah has sparked a discussion on WOMPO about manic-depression and Kay Redfield Jamison. Did Sarah Hannah have depression or manic-depression? In emails, written by her personal friends, her divorce was the cause of her suicide.

It was not until I read Andrew Solomon's book, The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, that I knew that not all suicide is the result of depression. Statistics about depression at the United Nations website ( reveal that worldwide, there are 1 million suicides per year. For each suicide, there are 20 to 50 attempts. Mental and neurological causes figure 90 per cent of the time. In another article at the same website, mental illness provoked only 60 per cent of the suicides. Economic crisis is the first cause of suicide even where there is mental illness. Depression is the fourth most urgent health care crisis worldwide, projected to become second most. Heart disease is the first. Suicide claims more lives than homicide and war combined. Of course -- and this bears repeating -- the vast majority of people live in health, without illness.

. . .

Sylvia Plath was a highly achieved younger woman poet, whose major contribution in poetry, though obvious, still goes quietly unremarked by most observers. Anne Sexton was also musician. Virginia Woolf was a lively older woman when she died at 59, a pacifist who wrote a dozen books or so and whose other writings amplified her contribution to near 40 volumes. Her novels, reviews, diary, and letters are uplifting, gently humorous, and delighting.

. . .

I appreciate the comment that the right-wing and left-wing critics of treatments for depression jeopardize health care for sufferers.


I have a bipolar diagnosis, treated since 1991, when I had a writing-related break-down at school. I was achieving at short story, but as we were expected to write novels, instead I wrote a kind of tome, that dealt in aspects of religion and literature and personal story, anti-war in its sentiments, and that criticized abuse of women -- ugly except that it was also rather lyrical in many places. I did not disseminate my ms. In fact, to this day, I have never copied or scanned it, even once. I feared that it had been rifled or read without authorization, and as it was a rough draft that ranged from sublime to putrid, those fears of my environment led to breakdown and diagnosis. I was allowed to recover my footing and finish my degree but never fully regained employment. That I have somehow attracted two rich men's marriage proposals (I have been nearly forced to avoid people in general and rich people for being rich), has not changed my dire financial situation in any genuine way.

Our field does not create employment.

. . .

Depression and manic-depression are chronic ailments, the treatment of which depends largely on the people one knows, their attitudes and beliefs, including their religious beliefs and their beliefs about medicine. It does not depend solely on the sufferer's efforts, as I have personally learned. Recovery needs to take place among other humane people and cannot be achieved in the presence of nihilists. Kay Jamison does give short shrift to social causes of the illness in favor of biochemical arguments, not proved by lab tests. There are not yet tests for major depression, manic-depression, or schizophrenia.

I have been following protocol, without the chance of full recovery -- offered to some, and no doctor has tested my DNA. I have read that there are genetic indicators for these illnesses, but the research of them -- rumored -- must be being conducted without the participants' knowledge. That kind of realization alone leads to paranoia for which more drugs (anti-psychotics) in beta-testing are proffered -- is there little interest in helping the afflicted, more in studying them and in patents? Those who take medication are accused of being drug addicts by the left, and of being heathens by the right.

. . .

I have never physically attempted suicide myself, but I find that it is sometimes what I think about (I daydream of a gentle way on my own terms, not violent and not by overdose) despite my willingness to seek treatment and my ensuring that I have insurance to pay for it. It is encouraging that there are women on WOMPO who are willing to mention that they have the disorder. Since depression is potentially such a serious health problem, it is for the afflicted to get together and perhaps help each other, before it is too late. (Sudden suicide seems almost best, if lifelong chronic suffering is all there is to look forward to besides living in poverty among corrupt and uncaring people. The doctor says a study shows that anxiety triggers suicide; the depressed desire not to live in addiction & anxiety.)

I was never someone who shunned others and was very even-handed and a fair-minded teacher.

I worry much about papers -- my own and others'. My sister (who is 40) wants mine disposed of; my mother defends keeping the papers but not the bank records that show my micro-responsibility for details. I have thought of donating them (volumes of letters -- many of them hopeful) to a medical library. (Suggestions.) I have written an unpublished (except singly) volume of short stories and likely the equivalent of a volume of poems. If I go on, I hope there can be more of it. I am proudest of that work, the creative.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007


This turtle was crossing the nature path on today's walk. I had to cover my head in disposable dog bags when the rain started. Other walkers -- all with dogs -- came prepared, wearing rain ponchos and carrying umbrellas. My umbrella was in the car, perhaps a mile away in the downpour. I was wearing my white floral Birkenstocks which were slipping in the rain, so I couldn't run for it. The path is a little rough, made of red clay and stones, so I couldn't slip off the shoes. My jeans were soaked, my bag was damp, my arms were drenched. The turtle I met before the rain started. He backed a little when I went near to photograph him with my telephone. I have observed nature for 11 years, much of it in the woods in our yard; it is only because I smoke that I have observed so much about the wildlife. There have been foxes, deer, raccoons, red squirrels, woodpeckers, cardinals, finches, sparrows, wrens, possums, a coyote, hawks, owls, and other animals. Driving, I have seen wild turkeys in the woods near the road, a black squirrel, a white squirrel. I have wanted to relate my many nature stories.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Epideictic or Panegyric (def.)

Main Entry: pan·e·gy·ric
Function: noun
Pronunciation: "pa-n&-'jir-ik, -'jī-rik
Etymology: Latin panegyricus, from Greek panegyrikos, from panegyrikos of or for a festival assembly, from panegyris festival assembly, from pan- + agyris assembly; akin to Greek ageirein to gather
: a eulogistic oration or writing ; also : formal or elaborate praise
synonym see ENCOMIUM
- pan·e·gy·ri·cal/-'jir-i-k&l, -'jī-ri-/ adjective
- pan·e·gy·ri·cal·ly/-k(&-)le/ adverb

from Richard A. Lanham, A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms, 2nd ed., 1991.

... And isn't "praising" a category different in kind from "legal" and "judicial," which have to do with particular arenas and social purposes? To correspond to them, it ought to be "domestic," or "private" ... . The self-pleasing aspects of rhetorical performance have tended to cluster in this category ...

Bigot (def.)

big'ot, n. [O. Fr.; prob. from Sp. hombre de bigote, lit., man with a mustache (bigote, mustache, ult. from L. biga, span of horses), hence man of spirit, firm character, obstinate person.]
1. a person who holds blindly and intolerantly to a particular creed, opinion, etc.
2. a narrow-minded intolerant person.

big'ot-ry, n. [Fr. bigoterie, from bigot, a bigot, hypocrite.]
1. obstinate or blind attachment to a particular creed; unreasonable zeal in favor of a party, sect, or opinion; excessive prejudice; intolerance.

Millness: On a stretcher

Praise for my sister's arts; praise for my mother's arts.

... I must be a very slow learner in some regards because it has taken me a long time to get to Alanon. By the time I went, I wanted to be taken on a stretcher -- taking full-time, unpaid care of a wealthy alcoholic NY poet. I need to continue attendance and try not to worry so much about further associations with AA people and their drug addict counterparts. I, too, loved reading Alice Miller, and if I had had more wisdom, I would have insisted on putting her center and leaving out certain others, such as M. Scott Peck, favored by my gym-teacher of a therapist in Houston. There is another gym teacher at econ. rehab. who required my med. records from two doctors before offering to find me p-t work. Their degrees were M.Ed. and I think Mr. Hanson thinks his stands for medical doctor.

My father died six mos. after my dx. I, too, experienced sexual violence, mostly by boys as an adolescent girl and a type of date rape, followed by lesbians' and my male counterpart's insistence on blocked memory of early childhood incest (which did NOT occur). There is a true story line and a false one; the false one, rumors, slander, and later domestic abuse run behind the scenes of disability law. Anyone rumored to have a mental illness is covered by disability, even if they don't have a mental illness.

I'm glad that my short stories and poems stay off these topics, that the writings preceded dx, when writing was good. This discussion has caused me to realize that the stigma of mental illness (millness) scared me off from further, more consistently beautiful creative writing, from continuing as a younger writer, in the realization that writer/readers want their writers to be in pitch-perfect health and that the stigma applies to brilliant Plath herself to keep readers afraid and from her.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Disability and the United Nations

Excerpted from "The human rights dimension of disability":

Four core values of human rights law are of particular importance in the context of disability:

the dignity of each individual, who is deemed to be of inestimable value because of his/her inherent self-worth, and not because s/he is economically or otherwise “useful”;

the concept of autonomy or self-determination, which is based on the presumption of a capacity for self-directed action and behaviour, and requires that the person be placed at the centre of all decisions affecting him/her;

the inherent equality of all regardless of difference;

and the ethic of solidarity, which requires society to sustain the freedom of the person with appropriate social supports.

Friday, May 25, 2007


Around the house, I am not normal. I listen to radio news. Radio news is normal. Most of the world's toothpaste is made in China. There is something wrong with bananas. There are federal attorneys in trouble ... what did they do? If I listen to songs, I forget suicide but remember dancing, how it is illegal where I live for "mentals" to dance. The police kill mentals dancing at home. Help! Or chagrin. Or bear it. Some longer. Dancing, forget them and their distant chants. Begin again to begin beginning without a part. Begin a beginning without news-cancer. In the business world, circumlocution is good.


May is Mental Health Month ...

In 1989, before I moved from Binghamton to Houston, leaving an editorial job at the regional newspaper to resume study in creative writing, I signed up for therapy with a Ph.D. psychologist, a married man in practice with his wife, also a Ph.D. psychologist. He gave me an inventory called Myers-Briggs. I tested as on the border between ENTP and INTP. Basically, that means somewhere between performance artist (extroverted) and counselor, writer, or teacher (introverted). In other words, my vocational pathing had been on track. We also talked about men: Had I met any good ones, had I had a good relationship with one, was I drinking too much? We decided that my drinking, reduced by my work life and limited to Tuesday nights off at bars, was a little bingey, but not alcoholic. Otherwise, no diagnosis was given. I went on my merry way -- I'd been helping myself to sex with a hockey player before I left town -- when I arrived to gay town, Houston.

In Houston, or at our school, at least, men and women weren't allowed to be seen out together, to eat together, to do anything besides have simple sex quickly, since the men were hoping to marry heiresses, lawyers, and girls nextdoor, the latter plucked directly from classes they were teaching. The women who were my age -- 28 at the outset -- were expected to die young, not to marry; those of us with medium or dark blond hair grew our hair long. There were professions on all sides of my family, and all our old people had lived long and well, all but two never in nursing homes.

At the school there was a beauty pageant in progress, one that lasted four-to-six years. Asian women generally were favored for their beauty. After my first year, following a physical attack by a boy who wanted to be in our school, but who was not in our school, I had a breakdown involving writing that ranged from the sublime to the inane, and that I kept mostly in reserve. At a bad hospital I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. That would be difficult enough, but the diagnosing frenzy had only just begun.

I had many Catholic friends, with whom I drank beer, and none of them diagnosed me with anything (God bless Catholics), but Catholics in therapy, unmarried Catholics, divorced Catholics, Catholics in AA (I was a health-quit later) diagnosed me with or sent me to the following: PTSD, sex addiction, co-sex addiction, codependency, alanon, AA, schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, borderline personality disorder, agoraphobia, panic disorder -- a partial list (dog-blamed Catholics). Doctors (all except one psychiatrists -- my own uncle is one) had diagnosed me with bipolar 1 disorder atypical, temporal lobe epilepsy, hypoglycemia (past), alcoholism (past), ADD, and panic disorder without agoraphobia.

I take medication for bipolar disorder, and there is cross-coverage should the epilepsy counter-diagnosis have bearing. Besides shouting, emphatically, "Protestant," in my house, I can think of no other way to insist that the people stop diagnosing me and other people randomly with signs of illnesses they suspect. They create a climate of crime, of crime where there is none. I have been suffering as a celibate, when I would not have chosen it, of having no children, when I would not have chosen it, of being unmarried, when I would not have chosen it, and paying infernal fees for "therapists" who demand that I go on more and more welfare, without regard to my basic Human Rights, as outlined in the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights and protection under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

The gays had an expression, "Off our backs!" The "mentals" as I have begun to call us -- we are related by diagnosis on grounds of religion, economics, including farm backgrounds in our families, profession, literature if any -- need a slogan to regain our human and civil rights. The gays lacked one human right, but made a movement of it. We lacked no rights but were effectively blocked from ours by sicklier people, people whose rights we would not block -- people as we are!

Thursday, May 24, 2007


On Christmas Eve Day I called my sister a British cunt. I said "cunt" in a certain way, as if I were chewing beef. I said she looked like an aging British who thinks she looks like a great beauty. I was pissed because our traditional Swedish Christmas was off (we are half Swedish, a quarter English and a quarter Scot). As Swedes, we celebrate Christmas Eve with oyster stew, present opening, a beautifully lit tree, music, and a service. Our year was atheist. I hated it. The next day I went back on medications after not having taken any since September. I learned that the SSRI had been harmful due to unpleasant side-effects, but that the stabilizers, reduced by half from full regimen, were tolerable and that they improve me. So since then, I take them again. My sister later spent the night with a man who had claimed for years he wanted to marry me. The man is an atheist, so now the family, except my brother, acts atheist, too. "Religion is a matter of personal conviction" is how our mother taught us in childhood, and even though she does not say things like that to us now, I cleave to the original teaching.

Following my outburst and their later night together -- the bastard flew in from NY to stay with her without telling me -- I applied myself strenuously to finding love on the internet. I picked men by their faces. Twice, unwittingly, without it being mentioned in their profiles, I picked ministers. Once I picked a cool and handsome black man, an artist. I asked him in our first email whether he were a minister, and he said he was not, but that someone had once asked him that at Walmart. Since, we have had a few dates, including good sex. I feel too old for social love but not too old for proper love or rectitude. The artist is above that. Real love is my honest mission.

This is the anniversary of my return to Minnesota, 11 years ago: May 24, 1996. Also, it is Bob Dylan's birthday in 1941 or 66 years ago.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


The blue jays came to build a nest in the blue spruce near the glass door where I smoke. Besides smoke, I also talk to myself and even jump or shout occasionally. The househusband who lives down the hill with his wife and daughter has not complained. Once, during the day, I yelled, "Get me outta here!" like a smoking Jane Fonda. I was recalling being in a hospital in Houston, where of course, I did not shout or yell. Holler is a southern word fer it.

Slowly, but surely, the female and the two male bluejays had built the nest. It is the best evergreen in the yard. The males were positioning toward the spruce in the front yard -- white, I think, but the woman bluejay chose the blue one. I kept smoking and slamming the glass door as usual. Soon, she was nesting in her little basket. She was soft and endearing. The two males came near occasionally, even once stood guard.

The cat was at my feet. I have tried to talk with him, but he is no Franny, who could respond to ordinary verbal remarks. The new cat, Wally, is a teenager. He killed a finch last week. We are eager for the birds -- whose numbers have diminished recently, the newspaper says due to swine flu [West Nile Virus]; I don't like to think about "flu" too much, so would rather just cheer on birds to replenish. That we had a nest was a great boon to my spirits. Blue jays eat the eggs of other birds, so my mother was acting uninterested in hearing of the nest nor did she seem worried that Wally might kill the mother jay, which thought drove me to distraction. One day, after watching her for days, she did not return to the nest. After many hours had passed, I went inside the branches of the tree to see whether eggs were in it. None was there. I inquisitioned Wally, who remained silent. He acted like a turd and went under that tree for a nap. Alas, I suppose he ate her. I hate him, but I reflect that at the same age, all my wunderbar cat Fran did was snap the heads off lizards in the yard in Houston.

The male jays have returned to the nest to peck it a bit. They shouldn't have left the woman so alone. They should have guarded her. They act confused. She built most of the nest for their little group. They are probably wondering how to transport it, how to take it with them. They or she wove a plant marker they had pilfered from my mother's gardens into the nest, label side out. It says, "$24.99. Dwarf Korean lilac."

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Bon anniversaire a moi (45)

My Stupid Talking

by Alan Sondheim

When I speak I sound like an idiot. I can't control my words. Thoughts and concepts fluster in and out, a jumble. When I write, things are different; they organize themselves, I am a shepherd. My thinking wears my writing. Words and worlds organize. Work is words. When I speak, things pour forth,uselessly. When I write a letter or email, I continue speaking. The style, content, is absurd, monstrous. No one keeps my email. I am constantly losing posts. There's no reason to keep them; they're incorrect. When I reply online to someone, it's the same thing, ridiculous. I lose track of my emotions, of what I'm saying. I appear stupid. Only when I am writing, like this, through the interior of what might have been my speech - only when I am writing _thus,_ am I satisfied. My words connect; the thought is often brilliant, almost always dense, compact, to the point. Speaking, I can't even defend myself. I am not the other of the signifier I need to be in order to be. If my speaking is becoming, my writing is ontology itself. When I speak, it's strategy, joking. People are surprised at my sense of humor. It's a carapace I wear with delight. It keeps me from death. Death seeps through my writing. Death inhabits my writing; my writing inhabits death. I do not draw a distinction; I write only within the written. When I speak, language disappears into melody. There is a difficulty with melody just as there is a difficulty with cleverness. Cleverness is a proper turn-away from truth towards communality. I speak with cleverness. It comes from the situation of speaking. I write from somewhere else. In my writing cleverness sounds a false note. It indicates I am off track, I have lost myself, I am suturing over the wound of ignorance and existence. There is no laughter in my writing. There is laughter in my letters and email. They are absurd as my laughter is absurd. They attempt to cover my inadequacy. My absurd joking deflects my graceless awkwardness. It goes nowhere, says nothing of any consequence, and says it poorly. I think my speaking and email will be the death of me. They draw attention away from my writing. They undermine it. They say it's not clever enough, intelligent enough. My writing does not respond. My writing sinks, and is writing about that sinking. My writing props up my world it undermines and describes. My talking ignores the whole problem. My talking is that litany of deflections. What I do not understand, I turn into something else. WhatI do understand becomes fodder; it never nourishes sufficiently. My talking implies talking to another limit; there's no etiquette in this. There is no community in my writing; community cannot survive honesty. But my writing is full of subterfuge, is about that subterfuge. My talking carries itself everywhere in order to become pointless. My talking is pointless. My writing is chiseled into a simulacrum construct of the real. The real in my writing has everything at stake. It is at stake through and within the writing. My speaking ignores the real; what is at stake is myself and its alterity. My self is always in the midst of, when I am speaking. My self is absent or boundary, bordering, when I am writing. I write beyond myself; I speak from myself. My speaking is monstrous, self-defeating. My writing is after the fact. If my speaking is central, my writing is peripheral; if my writing is central, my speaking is peripheral. One must read my writing, read my writing with the utmost care. One must never listen when I am speaking.