Thursday, April 23, 2009

On Edge

I'm on edge. Like walking down the blade of a knife. One side is darkness, the other light. I'm trying to stay in the middle, which is human.

Had to bring the car to the garage to get the snow tires taken off and oil changed. They said I needed a state inspection as well. I had forgotten about that. I told them that I would go eat a bagel while they did the work. Eat your bagel slowly the mechanic told me. I walked down two streets and found out at the bagel store that I was lucky - a booth with a cushioned seat was free. There are only three of them in the store. There were a lot of people walking in and out of store. I had brought a book with me and ordered a bagel and a large cup of coffee. My plan was to read the book until the coffee was finished. That sounded reasonable. I paid to have the right to sit there. My bagel was finished quickly but I left the open wrapper on the table so as to say "See, I spent more money here then just on coffee. I have a greater claim to sit here than if I had only ordered coffee. Nobody dare give me a disapproving thought." There was music playing that I had never heard before, but I recognized the distinctive voice of Coldplay's lead singer. Sometimes the music interfered with my reading, and when this happened, I looked out the window. I looked at people. One girl wore a light green scarf that went with nothing she was wearing. But the scarf was immaculately folded around her throat and hung flat against her chest. It was a scarf with purpose, a stylish prop that succeeded in making a perfect knot, and this perhaps over shadowed the small flaw that it was the wrong color. A mother referred to her young pre-pubescent daughters as "ladies" and told the woman at the cash register that they all were going shopping at he mall. Each small girl was blond, like their bottle enhanced mother, and there was a thick streak of blue eye shadow over each girl's eyelid. A girl came into the shop talking to her boyfriend and wearing pajama bottoms. I envied her youth that made the breaking of rules of conduct so easy. I watched emotions flow over people's faces and ride upon currents that connected them to one another. Everyone had to order something so everyone had to speak. Isolation can't be complete in a bagel store. There was noise, there was jostling, there were secret peeks at each other. I believed (probably falsely) that none of them could be like me, they couldn't be feeling the sort of panic that I was feeling. I felt fragile. I felt like a freak. I felt like all my movements were deliberate and artificial. I know that nothing about my looks identified me as different. My clothing fit well, it was tasteful. I showered last night and my hair was a lovely puff around my head. Gold twinkled on my ear lobs, above my breasts, and on my wrists. It is not uncommon to be reading a book and drinking coffee and I had enough brains in my head to be really reading the book, appreciating the art of what was on the page, and not imitating interest. I read "Brief Interviews With Hideous Men" by David Foster Wallace. He really knows how to describe a moment. He can take pages to describe all the details in one moment. Reading his writing made me want to go home and write. The rest of my day was free. But I said to myself, "You have walked from the garage and will have to walk back. You have talked and smiled at a strange mechanic who you are secretly afraid of and have sat, drinking coffee, surrounded by people who you suspect are all more happy than you are. If you get your car and drive straight home, take off your coat and shoes and slip into bed with a computer on your lap, will there be any coherence left in your brain to write sentences that flow together and make sense? Or have you, after being mixed up in the world outside of your house for a little more than an hour, completely used up the small measure of sanity you are gifted with every morning when you wake? Are you strong or are you a mess?"

I have a brain that is broken but I do like to play with it. Push it. Ask it to preform for me. I was at the garage with my car the very moment it opened and flawlessly I acted like a person who it is easy to forget. There were no sharp edges or stumbles in my behavior. I appeared rock solid. And then I came home and recorded everything I did, the little bit of it that cost me so much. I am a satisfied participant, observer, and scribe. There will be a faint residue of bliss when I shut off my computer and close my tired eyes. It is not yet eleven in the morning.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Mediocre Writing

I'm reading a book. It is by a Vermont author, taking place in Vermont. It's a murder mystery. I'm worried because I'm afraid that I'll be as mediocre a writer as the author of the book. Sometimes the writing is so ordinary and uninspired it makes me want to scream. The author is trying, I'll give him that. It is so naked and obvious that he is trying. He's doing things that I learned in school to try to do. He is trying to be a Good Writer. Got a little sex titillating. Got into the character's head. Put down a wooden, mandatory description where a description is needed. Thought of some interesting metaphors. People talk the way you would expect people to talk. And I have to stop my eyes from skipping over the page, skimming and distilling, I know that part of my intellect is not engaged, that is why I'm sitting back and analyzing the text, half way between despair and laughter. "Why bother reading it?" I ask myself. And there are several reasons. To know otherness. A warning of what might be waiting for me in my future. Hooked by plot, want to know what happens. Be a good girl and finish what you have begun. Finding seeds of redemption. Loyalty to a Vermont writer. I read and I am reminded of the phrases "Nothing is promised" and "Talent is inherent". The author of my novel is smart and no doubt educated. He has learned how to write. He has practiced his craft. Honed, smoothed, and found rhythm. And yet something is lacking. And I'm terrified that in me, when it comes time to write my book, something will be found lacking.

There are very few memories that I can point to and say, "There. That was a turning point." But one such turning point was the words uttered by the psychiatrist I was seeing when I was eighteen. He read my diary while he was on vacation. When he returned he said, "There were some ideas in it which have been thought before, there were some ideas in it which haven't been thought before. Has anyone ever called you a creative genius?" I, who had self-esteem caked in mud, dirty and low, was suddenly raised up high. He was a professor at Yale, and he would say things like, "At Yale this writing would get an A". I confessed to him that success wasn't easy. "When I write I bleed" I complained. His look said it all. "Then why not bleed? Bleed away. Keep on bleeding. And give us more writing."

I could have never gotten into Yale. My grades weren't high enough. And I worked for my grades, they represented my best effort. My test scores weren't high enough. And yet, something funny happened when I wrote an essay to try to get into Barnard and Columbia, the only two schools I applied to. I didn't have the energy or wits to apply to any more, a sign I believe, of my eventual breakdown. My world was narrowing, ordinary things were getting harder and harder to do. I wrote an essay about my parents divorce and the lack of meaningful communication in my household. What was said, I wrote, was that the things I heard were usually angry and hateful and left you feeling empty inside. My guidance councilor read my essay and said that before it I should include a paragraph apologizing for the intensity of emotion in the writing. "Nonsense" I thought, "Hit them hard and hit them fast with the writing. Don't dilute the effects with an apology. And anyway, since it is all true, why apologize?" I was pleased by my guidance councilor's wariness. It felt like I had succeeded in doing something dangerous, I had created writing that had reached out and bitten the reader. My English teacher's reaction was terse and caused me more pause. She looked at me with narrowed eyes, and said, "This will stand out from the rest." What do people think when they narrow their eyes? Something was being left unsaid. But the English teacher wouldn't say more, her body language dismissed me. A part of me then thought that if you bite people with your writing they won't like you anymore. Maybe my English teacher had learned from my essay what I was trying to hide. I had said, in my oh so brief essay, that I lived in a hurtful environment. And the conclusion that could be drawn, although I thought that I had successfully maneuvered away from making any conclusions, was that I was a hurt person.

The college essay that I showed to my guidance councilor and my English teacher was not the first essay that I had written. The first essay that I wrote I showed to my friend Toby's father. He was a psychiatrist who worked primarily with recovering alcoholics. Toby had gotten into Yale. Toby's parents worked hard to make certain that all their children were healthy and successful. Toby's father was emphatic. You don't want to submit this essay. It shows that you are psychologically damaged. The college won't want to take you. I don't remember what I had written, something about me being a wolf and aggressive, take the bull by the horns sort of person, an admirer of Ayn Rand's books. In short, I thought I'd been positive. I had read Toby's essay that she used to get into Yale and she wrote about a mouse. I suppose it was a daring mouse, but privately, I thought it read like a children's fairy tale, hokey. I was dismayed and ashamed by Toby's father's reaction but I took it seriously. A new essay had to be written. I suppose what I did next was to instead examine myself, I took a look at what was happening all around me. So you think I'm damaged. Well, what caused the damage? What I had said in the first essay, and what Toby's father had concluded from the first essay, was all the more shocking because they were two very different things. It was like he had accused of masking myself. So when I wrote the second essay I was emphatic, there would be no mask. Every word would be precise and true.

In addition to the college submission package the student had to mail a check to a national testing center and have their official SAT scores sent to the colleges of choice. I knew exactly what I needed to do but I was frozen and couldn't do it. I believe the letter and check sat on my desk in my bedroom. It was the creation of catastrophe. Columbia immediately rejected me. Barnard sent several letters saying that the SAT scores were missing from my file. Eventually the Vice Principle of my school called Barnard and told them that he was an authority figure, he knew me, and this was my score. I don't know what was said in that phone call. I do believe that my acceptance letter was dated from the day of that phone call. My memory is corrupt but I think that I confessed the unmailed check to the Vice Principle, and that this confession freed me enough to send it. The phone call was to say, "The scores are on their way, and by the way, these are the scores." I hope too that the Vice Principal had something nice to say about me. Every time the school won a debate I'd stop by his office and announce our win. I was captain of the debate team, and under my direction, we might lose an individual debate, but overall, the school would always win. It seemed to me that he was the only adult who cared what was happening with debate.

I used to have dreams about being rejected from the Big College all the time. In my dreams I then go to a little school, a community college, near home. These schools only care that they are paid money upon admission. Lots of students, of varying intelligence and seriousness, go to these schools. Sometimes when I dream I am mentally ill, sometimes not. When I dream that I am mentally ill it is never that I have a specific diagnosis, only that everything is very difficult for me to do and the students around me have a much easier time with everything.

When the psychiatrist called me a creative genius I was still in school at Barnard. I had not yet become overwhelmingly psychotic. I was only depressed, not yet schizoaffective. My mind was breaking but it was not yet broken.

Now I wonder what has healed and what has been destroyed. What is possible and what is beyond my reach. I have tried three times to write a book. In June I am going to start to try for a fourth time. This time I dare not fail. I rejected motherhood and had myself sterilized so that I would have the freedom to become a writer. Being called a creative genius gave me hope for success. What I have, so far, is basically failure. No book completed. Bits of writing in newspapers established for the mentally ill. My sister, as I write, is trying to become a mother again. She is busy raising her first. I made a choice when I was in my twenties and now, in my forties, I return to that choice and wish to honor it.

If I had never met the psychiatrist from Yale I don't know if I would have had myself sterilized. I would not have been so committed to becoming a writer. What would I be without the memory of his enthusiastic encouragement? That man has had more power over me then either of my parents.

And in my secret heart of hearts, I ask myself, aren't you glad there is no child clamoring for your love and attention so that you are free, in peace and quiet, to read, and then read some more, hour upon hour of reading? And if you so love to read, would it not have come to you, on your own, that you might wish to write a book? "I bleed when I write" I said before the walls of my mind came crashing down and I faced schizophrenic ruin. But never mind the mental illness. Writing was never easy for you. If you bled then, you will bleed now.

I think Barnard wanted me because I bled for them and they liked it.

I think I can write a book if I have enough courage to bleed, day after day and not stop in horror of the pain. I don't really bleed when I paint. This has led me, for a decade, through my thirties, on a detour. The past two days I have been painting in little fits. I start and then I stop and all the while I am bored. I really don't want to paint anymore. There is not enough challenge.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Bright Day

I put on a skirt today and sleeveless shirt. It was, despite the blue sky and strong sunshine, a bit too optimistic. It is spring but sweatshirts and sweaters are still needed. All the heat is off in the house. I'm happy about that because the electric and propane bills will be lower. For the first time in many days I've had enough sleep and my heart is at peace. Not painting. Not yet working on a book. But my morning was productive with errands. Mike has the car so walked around town. Put sunscreen on my face under makeup. Wore black tee shirt, black blazer, dark jeans. Around my neck is a heavy necklace, purple amethyst and green serpentine beads. Went to the bank. Picked up medication. Ate a bagel. No howling emptiness in my chest. No fear that when others look at me they see failure, abomination. No tears threatening to leak out of my eyes. This is sanity. Perhaps I'm a little bewitched by Spring.

Have had a stretch of days to react to the information that Jennifer is stripping. She told us that she lost her computer job in January and has been stripping for a while. There was so much that she wanted to tell us about the strip club where she is working. Apparently she thinks it is top notch. She even gave us traffic directions so that we could come see her where she works. I said, "No dear, we won't be visiting. We're going to give you your privacy."

I've had trouble sleeping at night, thinking about Jennifer, and had to take a nap yesterday in the middle of the day. When I woke there was one thought in my head. "She isn't your daughter". I think that I've wanted the impossible. I wanted to go back in time and give her a different childhood. I've wanted to raise her myself. The number of times, these past few days, when I've told Mike he was a crappy father. Jennifer wouldn't be a stripper if he had been a better father. That behavior has got to stop. Jennifer knows that I believe her story that Mike was an alcoholic for many years, and when I asked her why she thought he was drinking so much she said, "Because of Debbie." I know what happens when Mike drinks. He is happy and floating. He is removed and unavailable. I guess I must be doing something right with my marriage because now he doesn't drink except for the times when we eat at a restaurant. Social drinking we call it. During Easter at my father's house he allowed himself two glasses of wine, both watered down, and then switched to drinking coffee. I was so proud. I must concentrate on his behavior today and not punish him for his behavior years ago.

I remember my marriage to Bill and I remember the flush of happiness I had when I first had so much money to spend. Jennifer is experiencing this. She told Mike that she earns about a thousand a week. I am concerned that to get this money she is manipulating men's emotions with the sight of her naked breasts and ass cheeks and conversations that have forced cheerfulness and good will. She is learning to seduce and lie. This isn't exactly character building but it isn't criminal either. I suppose it will help her to get ahead in the world. I am certain that stripping will harden her, make her less trusting, help her to build walls around herself to distance herself from other people. And then I wonder, has all this already occurred due to the nature of her childhood? Do strippers come ready-made? I think that if she learns to negotiate the social currents of a strip club she will be able to negotiate the social currents of almost anything the world has to throw at her. I don't think the job will crush her. Strangely, I think it will turn her into a force to be reckoned with. Perhaps this is my optimistic fantasy. The Amazon Stripper. There are so many ifs. She will persevere if she continues to turn down the propositions for prostitution that she keeps getting from customers. She will persevere if she continues to drink cranberry juice instead of the liquor that so many are trying to force upon her. She will persevere if she doesn't get followed to her car and raped. Oh, she has been clear with us. Her job is not for one of the faint of heart.

I said last night at a psychiatric support group that today I would paint. Well, that didn't happen. But I don't hate myself for not painting. I say to myself, tomorrow I will paint, and I feel hope and confidence. In my mind the boundary walls between myself and Jennifer have been sorely tested. Jennifer does not know, and probably cannot imagine, how important she is to me. Should she know she would probably be very frightened. I know, and I am frightened. Today is the first day that I have felt composure and oneness, internal integrity. Jennifer is no longer the beginning and end of all my thoughts. Easter night I considered swallowing all my pills because I was tired of being so crazy. I loved and I hated Jennifer with equal force. Today is the first day I can write about her because I have finally achieved some peace and distance. Too much emotion and you cannot even construct grammatically correct sentences. What put Jennifer so central to my thoughts is not much of a mystery. I am probably a lonely person, who is at an age where the decision not to be a mother has come back to haunt me, and because of the schizophrenic disease the I/thou separation in my mind is permeable. I stay at too much of a distance, I get too close.

I like being obsessed. I like being focused and concerned. When I am obsessed with a writing project or painting this hurts no one and I suffer the least amount of harm. Oh how I long for the nights where I can't fall asleep because I am too excited to wake in the morning and begin work! To be consumed by the color green! If my life has a direction, at this very moment, it is a direction with a very familiar feel to it. I want my pet project. I want to create. I am, at this moment, poised, I think, on the brink of being productive. Jennifer will strip, and I will be busy making something out of nothing, the very act of creating which is the closest thing I know of to natural magic. Jennifer's personal private odyssey is now simply part of the way the world turns and my job, as the world turns, is to bring something new into it.

Spring is here like a gentle blessing, and better days are coming.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

She's A Liar

Last night Mike and I walked to the Sportsman's Lounge. It was eight o'clock on a Friday night. We arrived, having never been inside. It was a small place, about ten customers. While we were there some left and no new ones arrived. Two small groups were having fish and chips and beers and talking animatedly. In a corner was a pool table. Mike was disappointed in their limited offerings of beers, he didn't even finish his. I had a rum and coke. It hit me fast. For about half an hour I was very cheerful. Then I became very glum. Mike talked to the bartender. The bartender said that no girl named Jennifer ever worked there.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Difficult Day

It wasn't boredom yesterday that interfered with painting. As the day went on my head became thick. It was hard to think, like I was on the verge of having a headache but with no pain. I had wanted to sweat on the treadmill but it looked like taking a shower would be a big enough adventure. After my shower I went to Blockbuster to get a movie. I wanted to see the theatrical "Rachel Getting Married". For some reason, as I got out of the car and walked into the store there were tears in my eyes. A five year old boy held the door open for me, uncommon courtesy in someone so young. The clerk recognized me and made a joke. My face twisted. My smile felt so artificial that I had to look away. I hoped desperately to check out the movie without tears falling. There was nothing and no reason that had me feeling sad. I was simply brittle. Fragile. Without will power or a solid center filling me up.

When my husband came home from work I told him that I was sick. But I wanted to go for a walk. I had been in bed all day. All that I thought I could manage was a short walk. We walked slowly and I said nothing and stared at the pavement. Near the end of the walk I could lift my head and look at the sky. But when he took my hand to hold it I know my hand was limp, I could manage no response.

We decided that we had a little extra money this week and could afford to eat dinner at a restaurant. The time out in public had a good effect on me. Maybe conversation with my husband eased my mind toward more normal patterns. He thought that he had a fix to make me feel better when we got home. He wanted to read to me out loud from the romance novel he is in the middle in. I saw no sense listening to the middle of a book. I went to the children and young adult section of books that is against one wall of our library. I took down the first book in a series I believe I read in elementary school. He had discovered it and read it when he was in the Air Force.

Mike has recently stopped drinking wine in the evenings. Instead he drinks strong herbal teas made with two tea bags and sometimes a drop of raspberry extract. Mike made himself some tea and propped up his back against the bed headboard with four pillows. I lay down next to him, my head on his stomach. I listened to him read. He read a story about three children in England that I have absolutely no memory of. I can tell that he has read for children before or maybe it is the natural ham in him. He varies the voices and adds accent. He tells the story so earnestly.

I like being read to. When everything is slowly being said out loud I think you can visualize it better. You have to pay attention though, because if you don't, nothing is re-read. The pace marches on. It did put me at peace.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Slow Progress

Went to art class yesterday. Painted for two hours. Prepared to paint today. Painted for 40 minutes. Just got bored. Hope it was merely boredom. It could have been my schizoaffective disorder or depression playing with my focus, but I don't think so. Have the option of going to class tomorrow or painting again at home. Strangely nervous going to class. All the strangers energize me but make me fearful. Know that if I go to class I will definitely make progress on the painting. But won't go to class if it is forecast to rain. When it rains I turn the painting to the ground and carry it flat. Don't want to get raindrops on the wet oil paint. They don't mix with the oil, they bead up on top, but there is no way to wipe them off without smearing the paint. The car is parked a way away from the entrance to the art school. Enough distance for the rain to make bad mischief.

Had our monthly dinner date with Jennifer. I sat in the car while we drove to the restaurant with pent up emotions. I was silent but the silence was obvious and foreboding. Jennifer and her father chatted but I was the elephant in the room. I was trying not to be angry, I was trying not to bring up the fact that I did not believe she was making large amounts of money stripping rather than bar tending, I was trying not to label her a liar, I was trying not to add to the stress of Mike's life, I was trying to remind myself that I am not a parent, just an onlooker, I was trying to lay low, but oh, was I failing. As I sat silent emotion poured out of me. Human beings do that, we can communicate without saying anything.

At the restaurant I sat facing Jennifer and tried not to let my gaze brush her. There was a small window behind her and little else to see. We were situated in a corner of the room. Finally she said, "What's going on guys?" And Mike gently explained our dilemma. Her response was maddeningly elusive. I guess I hoped for some righteous indignation. "I'm not stripping! How dare you think so!" But since she obviously sees nothing wrong with stripping, or even, strangely, with us questioning her word, that is not what I got.

"If this is how you guys would act then of course I would not want to tell you that I was stripping."

"I don't want to strip if my parents get this upset."

"You know, there is a high class strip club nearby where I could work."

I think Mike and I did our best to assure her that if she was stripping we still supported her and loved her. I said, like a dork, "If you strip and go to school that would be o.k." She replied, "I'm planning on going back to school." Now, did I inadvertently give her my blessing?

I hope that I said something that got at the root of the problem, which is for me, I don't want to be lied to. Lying drives me nuts. I believe that I have tendencies toward paranoia, and justified paranoia is a situation that lying creates. I do believe that I have read Jennifer's body language and that I can see the signs that she is lying. I do believe that I've got some smarts, and that logically the things that Jennifer is telling don't add up. If there are 60 minutes in an hour and she gets one dollar every minute, without rest, that is $60 made in one hour. She works for 5 hours, no rest, no break at that rate and she gets $300. How can she have made $550 on a Saturday night? She explained that if she brings 6 beers to a table she gets $6 tip. Yeah right. Do people tip that much? The bar closes, they say on their door, at 1am on a Saturday night, all other nights at midnight. She told us that on Saturdays she works until 3 or 4 am stocking the bar after closing. Do I believe this? No. It sounded, as she was saying it, like something she was making up on the spot.

And yet, I'm getting tired of wondering and worrying. Dinner proved one thing; if she is stripping it isn't having an obvious effect on her. She is the same as she's always been. Youthful enthusiasm, happily effervescent, a joy to be with. The big news that she was excited about is she is going to Ireland in May with her new boyfriend. I volunteered to help walk her dog while her roommate is at work. It doesn't seem to bother her that she has no legitimate job and no thought out plans to go back to school. Certain things about her two week old boyfriend bother her, his physical imperfections and the tendency to want public displays of affection while they are in in the mall, and she seemed a bit taken back that we gave no protective act about her plans to go with him to a foreign country. He at least wants her to meet his family before they fly away. But we assured her, we don't care who you sleep with or how you choose them. That's your business. And you get stuck on your own in a foreign country we trust that you will figure out how to survive. Mike suggested she take camping gear with her. Like should she get ditched she will spend her time in Ireland camping in a field. I'm going to advise her to bring as much as she can manage in traveler's checks.

It is odd. Her father and I are united in our confidence that Jennifer is old enough to make her own mistakes, and that it is inevitable and hopeful that she will learn from them, but the one mistake of stripping, seems to signal alarm. And for us, in all the soap opera of her life, alarm is usually lacking. I suppose I figure that there is healthy sexual activity, and unhealthy sexual activity, and that stripping falls into the category of unhealthy sexual activity. Her last three boyfriends all turned out to be losers and nothing lasted very long. She found out their flaws in due good time and dumped them all. I don't think that in the beginning she is very discriminating. She is easily seduced and impressed. The men are always portrayed as so wonderful and so special when she first introduces them to us. But to her credit, she has a temper and doesn't put up with poor behavior for very long. Nobody is going to make a victim out of her, and that is, in my book, healthy sexual behavior. So what if she is a little promiscuous. I see her as a bit of a hopeless romantic. She always hopes, that with each one, things will work out in the long run. They all seem to be at one time a candidate for marriage and babies. If she is indeed lying to us about her current job, then she lies with as much ease to herself as well. She shares traits with her father - they both love to be immersed in fantasy.

But if she is stripping, I fear, that makes a victim out of her. She is forced into role playing sexual arousal and interest in men that she really has no interest in. And her body is no longer a secret sacred thing, it is marketed, on display, an object. I don't doubt for a second that Jennifer believes that a stripper is in total control, and that this makes her the antithesis of a victim. But I think it is an occupation that insidiously gets to you, corrupts and mars the psyche. Jennifer having private, consensual sex is healthy, Jennifer making herself into a sex object for men in a bar is unhealthy.

After dinner as we were saying our good-byes, Jennifer promised to call me the next time she is working at the bar so I can come visit. I said yes please, I would like to order a diet coke and give her a dollar tip while she had her clothes on. And then as way of apology, I said "You know, paranoia is a symptom of schizophrenia." Just to cover things if in fact Jennifer has been telling the truth all along. Let her think, if she is legitimate, that her step-mom is a bit nuts. I can take it.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

"Be selfish"

"Be selfish" my husband said to me, "and focus on Karen. What Karen needs and what Karen wants. Two years ago we let Jennifer go to live her own life. She has to be able to make her own decisions and make her own mistakes."

We met Jennifer yesterday going for a walk. The job at Staples was a bait and switch swindle. Since the job offer was verbal, not in writing, there was nothing she could do. They offered her a job at $12 and hour, management with benefits, and then said that the employee she would be taking the place of had decided not to resign. So instead they offered her a part-time job without benefits at $9. So Jennifer is thinking about going back to school and working...... I don't know where. She has no definite plans. She talked about her bar tending job but none of it seemed to be convincing. I said, "you"ll be there this weekend" and she said no, that she had taken time off to start her new job. So we'll have to wait until next week to go there and have a "drink" with her. She tried to explain to me how easy it was to earn $200-$500 dollars in tips by everyone who buys a beer giving her a dollar. I still don't know. She said that in Vermont you don't need to have a license to work as a bartender and that her entire job was "off the books".

If I was fated to have a close relationship with Jennifer it probably would have already happened. I do this, I pick people who I would like to have a close friendship with and the friendship doesn't happen. I really liked Mike's sister, who he swears up and down is very sick emotionally and due for a nervous breakdown. I didn't care, I didn't see it. I just would have loved to have been her best friend. She lives in California. She is a professor of psychology at a college. A real powerhouse of a mind. A little elitist. So far out of my league.

Jennifer has a close phone relationship with her own mother. She doesn't need me. And do I need someone who is deceitful with me? My job with Jennifer is to be a mature role model. I'm supposed to be someone to look up to. Go chasing after Jennifer and she is going to run in the opposite direction. Jennifer doesn't benefit by having a needy step-mother or an interfering step-mother.

Am I being a strong, productive adult role model? No, not really. Went to art class today and painted. But I haven't been working on art. I haven't been doing much of anything except blogging and reading books and being depressed. Went up on my anti-depressant four days ago. Last night I was crying. Mike said, "Your depressed." I said, "No I'm not. I'm not suicidal." In one way I can say the extra anti-depressant is working. I don't think about death constantly. But oh, do I feel fragile. I see my nurse today. She has to authorize the increase in my medication, I did it and then left her a phone message. I know that should this increase not be enough, there is yet one more step higher we can go in the dosage. However, there may be food restrictions. I probably can't eat things like aged cheese or aged meat or soy sauce. Will find out today.

I've come to the realization that quitting my vampire book right while I was in the middle of writing it was bad for me. I have to feel like I make gains, make accomplishments. I quit because I feared it was too flawed for publication. Why spend a lot of effort on something that is going to be rejected by all publishers? But my brother has read my work, and he believes in me. I've thought about the book and say to myself that eventually I will re-write it and I can fix the problems then. Even if the book doesn't eventually get published I have an idea for a second book, and that second book with benefit from the experience I gain finishing the vampire novel. It is true that the more you write the better your writing becomes. But the experience of finishing what I started is key. I will not like myself very much if I view myself as a quitter.

At one time in my life I made a huge sacrifice, in the spirit that I was committing myself to becoming an author. I had myself sterilized so that I could concentrate on writing. I decided that I would rather write books than become a mother, because with my illness, I saw no way of doing both. Well, perhaps I have gotten off track by painting. Painting has not turned out the way I had hoped. It is hard to sell my work, hard to make any money. I doubt the extent of my talent in the visual arts. It is there. But it is not huge. And it does not progress the way my writing progresses while I am working on a book. I think my talent as a writer exceeds my talent as a painter. And then there is the history. I have spent many more years trying to write something of value than I have trying to paint. In my bones I'm more used to working with words. It doesn't help that schizophrenia is a cognitive disorder, and that writing is so dependent on cognitive power. I'm relying upon a tool that is diseased. I do have a little hope though that the more I do it, the more things in my brain will heal and branch out and work around what is disabled. Part of my motivation when I blog is the knowledge that I am challenging and working my brain. It doesn't matter what the subject matter is, vampires or painting or depression, all writing is a practice of the art of literature. It is practice thinking.

My course is settled. I will finish my vampire novel. During the next several days I plan to re-read my husband's book "The Judas Crux" that my novel is based upon. I will also re-read everything that I have written so far and try to get to the point where I have a vision in my head of what has already been written and what needs to be written next. I quit typing in the middle of a chapter, but everything that was to have happened in that chapter was already planned in a hand written rough draft. By my estimations I could be working directly on the book by next week.

However there are two mitigating factors. I am still attending art school and have a painting that needs a lot of attention. I painted the sky today and so three quarters of the painting is covered in wet paint. I have to wait for the paint to dry. But once it is dry I can start glazing on my thin, transparent layers of color. My teacher is used to seeing me do a lot of work at home. I don't want to disappoint her since she is primarily responsible for me getting my scholarship. The painting holds promise to be quite lovely. I have to use many of my mornings working on this painting and doing drawings for the next one. The course is through to the end of May. This is enough time to finish one painting and at least start a second. I said that it hurt me to quit my book, I think it would hurt me too to quit giving my art class my full attention. I may be able to divide my attention, I don't know, it really has never worked before. It has always been painting or writing, full steam ahead.

So I don't think I will use these next several mornings preparing to re-enter a writing project. Instead, while the paint is wet on my current canvass, I will draw. It is a relief to say that the depression I've suffered has withdrawn enough that I can envision a morning of drawing. In the evening, when my mind is not as sharp as usual I will revisit the Judas Crux and re-read my writing. Evening times are usually for reading and watching t.v., it is rare for something creative to happen at night. But who knows, maybe I've got some ideas that will go down in a notebook.

There is a unique task on my horizon besides drawing. I want to write my sister a long letter. She returns to California with her toddler daughter today. I want to tell her how precious the time was that we spent together on her visit. She is family who, unlike London, expresses her love for me and who I am certain values me simply for who I am. I want a better relationship with London, but I already have a wonderful relationship with my sister. I want to tend to the family that I am certain and not conflicted about. And my sister, I know, does not lie to me. The deeper my sister is revealed to me the more wonderful I think she is. As with any person there is mystery, but I don't fear the mystery of my sister. The letter will certainly surprise her. I plan for it to be full of love and good cheer. Something to make her feel warm inside.

So, write a letter, paint and draw until May, and then a push to finish my aborted vampire book. It is wonderful to have a plan.

Monday, March 30, 2009


Got a little obsessive last night. Said some mean things to my husband about his daughter. Have to ask myself the question, why do care so much? She is his daughter, not mine. She is grown. She doesn't live with us. We don't have an abundance of contact, I'm a mature woman, she can't hurt me. And if she should be damaged goods, shouldn't this inspire compassion from me?

I arrived home yesterday after spending several days with my sister and her baby at my mothers home in Connecticut. My sister flew in from California. While I was there my husband had a phone conversation with his daughter where she repeated her happiness with all the money she is earning, working as a bartender. My husband said to me, "I bet that she is lying to us and really stripping." I was aghast. But what he said made a lot of sense. There is a lie somewhere. It is hard to believe that she is earning as much as she says bar tending. The only way to know what is going on is to go and visit the bar where she is working. So next Friday night we are going to walk down the street, take a right, walk a little way, take another right, and then we are there. To visit Jennifer on her job and to order a beer and a diet soda.

But my husband has planted a nasty suspicion in my mind and it eats away at me. I told him last night that nobody who grows up and becomes a stripper, especially when they have so many other options, is right in the head. That if she is a stripper this is proof that he was a crappy parent. He insists that all he did was give her unconditional love. I said I tried that with my dog and it didn't work. Unconditional love, without discipline and guidance, won't give you a civilized adult. And lying shows weakness of character.

I said that if Jennifer is stripping, then everything that she said, which I passed off as immature, may have a more sinister meaning. Over time I've let things that the girl said roll off my back. Now I wonder, does the girl have sociopathic tendencies?

There was what she wanted to do for her brother. He is mentally ill and for a while kept trying to kill himself. He was in and out of institutions. She said that she wished she had a gun to give to him and to say, "Here, now's your chance. Either do it, kill yourself, or shut up and stop talking about it."

Young and frustrated over being worried every time she hears there's been another suicide attempt, I said to myself.

Then there was the time when an adult friend of Mike and I interviewed Jennifer in our living room to determine whether to take her on as a roommate. Jennifer had no place to stay, she was sleeping on our sofa but we knew our landlord would not tolerate the arrangement for very long. We were feeling pressure trying to find her a place to stay. Our friend was very subtle, she wanted to find out what kind of a person Jennifer was. It seemed that she put Jennifer at ease. But what then came out of Jennifer's mouth shocked both Mike and I. "I don't like rules. I like to do whatever I want. I don't like having a boss." Everything she was saying made it sound like she would be a horrible roommate, where cooperation and respect between partners is very important. We listened to the interview and it was clear to everyone in the room except for Jennifer that she was completely turning off our friend.

Actually after this incident I worried a little about Jennifer's future fitting into society. But there are people who start their own companies wanting to be their own boss. And again, not liking rules is a theme song for youth. Rebellion is in itself something many people go through as a phase. Or they stick with it their entire lives - but not liking rules doesn't automatically result in criminal behavior.

More recently there is the the suspicion that Jennifer is driving her car despite it not being fit for the road. There are some mechanical problems with it, but what gets the police's notice is the fact that the rear braking lights don't work. Currently a boyfriend hooked up the electrical system so that the rear braking lights are on all the time. But like the lights not working at all, this other anomaly will eventually get the police's notice and she will get a ticket. The car has also failed to pass Vermont inspections. She had been pulled over and given a ticket for the rear lights before. She didn't pay the ticket, so, she says, Vermont suspended her license until the ticket was paid. For a long time she didn't have a license because she didn't fix the car, figuring if she can't drive, why bother with having a license? In bars she used her passport as identification. At the time I said to myself, she is young, she doesn't have experience about the need to pay bills on time, and in Brattleboro, there are many people who don't have cars and walk everywhere and get rides from their friends. Jennifer has a roommate who has a car. But now look back and I think, is it a symptom of sociopathy that you live a disorganized lifestyle and flaunt the law? And how stupid is it, having once lost your license over an unfixed car, to continue driving this car unfixed. Money is not an issue. Jennifer has bragged that every month after bills are paid she has about $1,000 left over. Or, I wonder now, is that a lie and exaggeration?

There was the time, when she was pregnant, where she tried to argue in front of me with my husband, that her life was more important than mine. She wanted to have the baby while on our insurance instead of taking State insurance or the father's insurance. She said, "I go to school full time, I work, and Karen stays at home and does nothing. I think I deserve to be on your insurance more than Karen does. A father should put his natural born daughter above his wife. The daughter is his flesh and blood. The wife isn't." Again, I thought youth, they think the world revolves around them and their needs. She was pregnant and desperate, the slur on my character was done in a moment of excitement.

But now I wonder, if she is stripping, how egocentric and in love with herself she may be. I thought that her bragging to us about how beautiful she is, and thin, and a hottie - anytime she gets a compliment she repeats it to us, was a sign of low self esteem. She doesn't really believe these things, she is saying them in an attempt to convince herself. But what if there is nothing wrong with her self esteem. What if stripping is all about being on a glorious power trip? The ultimate trip of worship me.

I say and think all these things and I know it is wrong and bad because it is premature. Mike and I haven't visited the bar where she tells us that she is bar tending. We don't know yet what is really going on.

About a month ago Mike and Jennifer took a day trip to NYC to visit a comic book convention. Jennifer's cell phone battery was dying, and since it looked hopeless to communicate by cell phone, they agreed when they split up that they would meet in a certain spot at a certain time. He waited at their rendezvous and Jennifer never showed up. My husband panicked. The convention center was large and filled with people. He searched for her and couldn't find her. Hours passed. I was on the phone with him and suggested that he talk to a policeman. And then, as the booths had closed and the building was emptying out of people somehow, they found each other. Jennifer had wanted her comic books signed but in order to do this she had to sit through a lecture and then wait in line - all the while knowing that her father was waiting for her. She showed complete disregard for his feelings. She apologized. But Mike said that it was the sort of apology where she knew exactly what she was doing and hoped to smooth things over afterwards. He swore that he would never travel with her again to any convention.

Jennifer proved to her father and me how really selfish she can be.

And then we get to the reason why it bothers me so much who or what Jennifer may be. I have cared deeply about her. And I don't want to care for someone who is incapable of caring for me. I want to protect myself. I don't want to put out my heart for someone who can tear it up. I'm paranoid. I don't trust easily.

Here is an example of a situation that can be read either two ways. Jennifer lives several houses down the road from us. Jennifer cut her finger. She came to my house with the cut covered in paper towels and electrical tape. I looked at the cut. It was deep, she needed stitches. I drove her to the nearby hospital's emergency room. I told her that she did not need to walk home, I would keep my cell phone by my side and pick her up when she was ready. I told her she was being very brave, not a tear, not a trace of worry about the cut, and she admitted that it did hurt. When Mike came home he said, "Jennifer came to you when she needed help. This shows that she trusts you. It's a big deal what you did for her." Now I wonder, with paranoia, if I was not merely convenient. I was honestly happy to help Jennifer, to be asked by her for help.

I have no daughter. My one shot at knowing what it feels like to have a daughter is Jennifer. I have fantasized about having a will, and one day being old and alone, leaving all my possessions to Jennifer. I told Mike, who says that I am going off on a tree branch, far away from the stable reality of the solid tree trunk, that I am merely acting like a hysterical mother. But I think too there is the ghost of schizophrenia, where bonds between people are not as strong because of the disease, or at least, distorted by the disease. If Jennifer is stripping this means that I don't know her, I don't understand her. This is an empty vacuum of knowledge. And into that vacuum my greatest fears will flow.

I told Mike last night that I would not have a stripper for a friend but upon reflection, this is not entirely untrue. I am curious. If I knew a stripper, and had their attention, I might ask them questions about what they do, digging for stories. I was young once, and a little wild. I like a good adventure story. But how close a friend can you be to a stripper? Someone who turns ideas and formulas of intimacy inside-out? I believe that what you do is an indicator of who you are. You leave clues as to who you are by what you do. Stripping makes you ask questions about character. Everyone keeps telling me that they knew a girl who grew up and became a stripper, and she was "a very sweet girl". Well Jennifer is a very sweet girl. She makes an impression on you of being very likable. But now I wonder if that sweetness has served a purpose. Doesn't a venus fly trap smell very sweet to the fly? Have I been sucked in and bewitched by my step-daughter? Is she something far more sinister than her appearances?

Mike said that last summer when he visited his parents he went there with the purpose of letting them know that he was not a Christian. He wanted them to know the truth, and his worst fear was that when they knew the truth they would reject him. They would cut off communication. But he said that he thinks they know, and they have shown since, that they still love him. There have been phone calls and Christmas gifts. They may know, and don't want to talk about it, but they certainly don't act any different.

Mike's message to me was that if Jennifer should be stripping, don't reject her because of what she does. Have unconditional love, and love family even when you make different life decisions and have different world views.

When Mike and Jennifer were in the car, driving to their comic book convention, Jennifer said to Mike that she believed I hated her. "That was Jennifer trying to manipulate her father" my sister said to me, "it is clear that you don't hate her."

But I think Jennifer was being honest. She really fears that I don't like her. All that I have done to try to be nice to her and still she does not trust. She is damaged. In the past she has experienced harm at the hands of several mother figures. She has an extremely narcissistic mother and a had a stepmother who was a horrid alcoholic. And I, likewise, at some level, do not trust that she is a good person. I may be damaged. Or I may be insightful. Isn't that a funny dillema? Either your emotions are diseased and telling you lies or your emotions are intelligent and sensitive, feeding you the secrets of the universe.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


Went for a walk yesterday and on the sidewalk met up with my step-daughter walking her dog. I think we dreaded hearing that she had started stripping. Instead we were told, briefly, because she was short on time, that she had a new job at Staples and that she had been bar tending. The Staples job has a management title equivalent to her current job and she told us that she would be earning equal pay. The bartender job is at a local place, several blocks away, that has an atmosphere of sadness and desperation about it. I don't particularly like bars so perhaps I exaggerate the negative atmosphere. It is a place where men go to be with men, not a gay bar, a good old boy's bar. She said that in one night she earned $500 tips. This I do not believe. I have noticed her caught in small and large lies in the past and her credibility is gone with me. I don't doubt that she earned an impressive amount of money but nobody that visits that bar is wealthy. I hope that she is getting the admiration of men that perhaps she hoped she would be getting as a stripper, or making what she perceives as easy money. I wonder how long she will be comfortable working two jobs. She may discover that she is not getting enough sleep or free time to herself. We have our monthly dinner with her next week, I'm certain that I will learn more.

It takes very little mischief to get oneself labeled a liar. Jennifer has not been living with us for perhaps two to three years, yet we sometimes still get her mail. Some of it is serious official mail, from the police, state, or the hospital. About a year ago I questioned her why we were getting the mail and she said she did not know, that she had made a mail change. So I told my husband that I was going to go down to the post office to find out if they were at error. My husband called his daughter to warn her that I was going to do this and then his daughter confessed that no, she had not made the mail change because it would necessitate getting the address changed on her license as well, some Vermont rule. Either this would cost money or it would be a nuisance. She had her reasons. When she confessed the lie she promised to make right with the post office. But it was a pretty big lie she was caught in.

More recently we were talking about the popular series of young adult books about vampires, the Twilight series. I mentioned that I had bought and read the first but was discouraged from reading more because half the series was only available in hardcover. London said that she had read the series. I said, "Did you buy them?" and she said no, she read them from the library. Then several weeks ago she blithely bragged that she bought the Twilight books and read them all in a very short time. Her roommate told her she was a "hottie with brains". I remembered my earlier conversation, and guessed that for some reason she felt compelled to not admit ignorance. Why lie over reading a book? It is such a small thing. But I do know that her father, as a young man, was a horrific liar. It is a personality trait that has undergone a massive transformation with time. Mike said that he lied to make himself look better, that it had its root in low self esteem and the vulnerability that the immature experience. Mike said that as a young girl she witnessed him lying freely, and I suppose, she picked up this bad habit. I think that if I catch her in a lie again I will say something, because it is so damaging to have others doubt the truth of what you say. Liars simply are not given as much respect nor taken as seriously.

My depression continues. Today I saw my therapist and she made me promise to make an appointment with my medication nurse next week to up my anti-depressant. I think that she is alarmed at the continuing trend of me talking about suicide. I do think about killing myself. I don't know how strong the impulse is. I haven't been painting. I just don't care. I feel worthless. Nobody will buy my paintings anyway. I can't do anything just for the love of doing it. That is, I believe, a character flaw. I want to see results from the effort I expend. Better if I were simple and foolish, making things for their own sake and beauty, content in the process of creation.

I read a lot and I really admire the intelligence and craft of the authors I read. One problem with painting is that it requires a lot of "dumb" time, where you aren't making intellectual or even creative decisions about the painting. Things can be repetitive, things can be simplistic. I suppose this is the fault of my style. It is so slow and laborious to obtain the results I seek. I do glazing, many thin layers of sometimes transparent paint. I know artists can do different, I see my classmates in art school painting very differently. Nobody, in art school, paints like me. I am, compared to them, the queen of careful.

Reading books has got me thinking about writing books. I did a writing exercise yesterday. It was the beginning of an essay about religion. Not any current religion. A fictitious religion which would play a central role in a fantasy novel. I was doing prep work for a new novel that I am thinking about writing. This would be my forth attempt at writing a book. Don't have a whole lot of ideas what the book would be about, I'm brainstorming. Got a name for my main character today. Couldn't find a last name, only the first name. I told my therapist that I'm very cautious about writing this book. I definitely want to finish all paintings that are being worked on and be an active participant in my art class until the class is finished. I've got two paintings under construction and a loose plan for a third that will probably be more firmly developed in class. Class lasts into late May.

But my caution isn't over leaving projects undone. My caution involves foreseeing that this novel may be a failure. I have a good amount of faith that this time the book will get finished, this is something that is under my control. Before I start writing I will have developed a beginning, middle and end and outlined chapters, I expect my preparation work to be extensive. Preparation work was what was lacking in the three previous novels I have attempted, in all of them I was in such a frenzy to start writing. But now I call myself experienced and wiser. I can hold myself back until my vision is as close to complete as I can make it. I don't think I will fail in this try in completing the book but I may fail in ever getting it published. An unpublished book is a nightmare that I have to confront before even starting the project. Because I know myself. If I am too disappointed I will want to kill myself.

I can't get my hopes up too high. When I dream I have to hold myself in restraint. Because for some reason I am so fragile that rejection makes me think about death. Last week went to visit family in Connecticut. Showed a painting to my sister and mother. They both expressed interest in buying the painting. I named a fair price. They debated over whether they could afford it. They both decided that maybe a year from now, if the economy improved, they would be in a position to spend money more freely. And so both said that right now they could not afford the painting. I got, for several minutes an intense feeling of failure and rejection. I wanted to die. It was bitterness and black despair. I had to retreat to an empty room and lie down. I didn't dare let my family know how I felt. To all appearances it must seem that buying my art or not buying my art was no big thing.

So if I write a book, which may take several years work, I have to go into it with no expectations about the outcome. I have to consider defeat before I start, and accept defeat as a possible consequence. The promise I make is that if the book is a failure I will survive. I won't allow all my hopes and dreams and opinions of myself to be attached to a work of literature. Yes, I desperately want to sell something I make and earn money. Yes I believe that I can be a good writer. Yes I believe that with the right approach I can actually finish a book that I start. I will allow the project to consume me creatively and put my all into it. But I have to view the entire project as a foolish thing thing. It will be a pair of earrings. It will be a silk scarf. It will be a tube of lipstick. Writing a book will not be essential to my existence. I will try to have fun with it. I will labor because I like to work. But I must preserve myself and barricade my soul with defenses against this book ever being too important to me. Because I know myself. I get addicted to having a purpose for living. I am desperate to have my existence vindicated. I put all my eggs in one basket. I like to work until I am sick with my illness, my head a thick swamp of dysfunction, because I know once I have reached this point it is proof that I gave everything I had to give. I can't give this book everything I have to give. I have to live beside it and independent from it.

Never has a book started with such inauspicious doubts.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


I got up at 6am today. An electrician was scheduled to come to my apartment at 7am and install a special type of smoke and carbon monoxide detector. Many months ago the fire department came and inspected our apartment. The landlord was told of small fixes she had to do to make her property comply to code.

Yesterday my husband and I spent some time cleaning the apartment. When we had the flu none of the chores got done and the place was a mess. Dirty dishes heaped at the sink, clean laundry dumped on the sofa, food stains on the white kitchen tablecloth, mail all over the counters, dog hair all over the carpets, and even, in one place, dried cat vomit. But now I'm proud. We did the work and everything looks pretty and civilized.

I'll try not to be a drama queen, but I must confess it was a little traumatic to have strangers spend time with me in my apartment. Two electricians showed up to do the job. They were young and very nice. I offered them coffee, they declined. We toured my apartment and the one above it and discussed where they would install the electronics. There is so much art and books in my apartment that it took some negotiation to find an empty wall spot. I put the dog in the kennel so she wouldn't get in their way and I retreated to the art room to paint. The electricians worked in my bedroom and the library. I was listening to classical music and my CD ended. I put put on a rock 'n roll CD and started to turn down the volume but one of the electricians called out that they like to listen to loud music, anything but country he said, so I turned the volume up instead. Nothing abnormal happened, I did my work, they did their work, but oh, the stress!

Without a doubt I appeared to be an ordinary, friendly woman. I don't think those boys would dream that I have a mental illness, especially not a schizophrenic kind. I know how to talk, smile, and say the right thing. But even the simplest of social interactions with a stranger requires real effort. After those boys left I crawled into bed, shut my eyes, and said over and over in my head, "you're safe, you're safe". Then, even though I had had four cups of coffee, I fell asleep.

Just a little while ago my mother called and asked me to come down to Connecticut tomorrow to meet her cousins that are visiting from Germany. My sister and brother will be there. I don't know what to do. Before she called, in my mind I had anticipated painting a horse tomorrow and then working out on the treadmill for the first time since I got sick with the flu. The reason I don't use the treadmill today is kind of strange. I used up all my willpower and energy hosting the electricians. I've got free hours in the afternoon where I've got no plans - but I can't seem to get out of bed. It isn't that I'm tired, it is just that the bed is the absolute safest place I can imagine. Only in bed do I feel whole and normal.

I don't like the picture that is forming here of a fragile invalid, but I swear, it is the schizophrenia that is doing this to me. My relationship to other people is warped. I'm too sensitive and I've got too much fear. This morning I used inner resources to beat back the schizophrenia and to conquer my anxiety. This afternoon I pay for the morning's show of strength.

To give a total confession, then I must acknowledge that a small part of me feels victorious. Oh, I feel guilty for lying in bed and not using the treadmill when I know I could use the exercise. But the fact is that in this apartment and the one above it the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors were successfully installed, and as the landlord's representative, it couldn't have been done without me. My mother being the landlord, this is now one small worry that is erased from her mind. And this as well, - I painted today two large and strange red flowers. Positive, productive things happened this morning. I gave 100% of myself and maybe a little extra. I like giving something my all.

Having done my mother one favor today, I don't think that I shall be visiting her tomorrow. I want to be selfish with my tomorrow and spend it exactly as I design. Mom's cousins from Germany are meeting with a large enough representation of the family.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Flu

My husband and I have been sick with the flu. He got it first, the man who shares his office had been sick for several days with the flu. The illness hit with high fever and chills and a cough. One night, before the symptoms manifested in me, I was sleeping lightly, and conscious enough to know that my husband was really struggling. He tried to take a drink of water and choked on it. He tried to breathe and said that he could not catch his breath. He got out of bed and paced the small bedroom, saying he could not breathe. He was panicking, and I, having little knowledge of illness, was very worried too. I don't know who suggested that we go to the emergency room, him or me. I think he said that he would make it through the night and then go to the emergency room the next morning. I said no, that we should go right away, while he was still able to walk.

At the emergency room they took an x-ray of his lungs and they took blood. The blood was analyzed to see if he was fighting an infection. This would be a sign that he had something like pneumonia or bronchitis. Both the x-ray and the blood work came back negative for an infection. It was interesting that as soon as we got in the car to go to the emergency room he was able to breathe again, and he did not have problems breathing after that. In the emergency room they gave him an iv of fluid, he was probably dehydrated, and a shot for loosening up his congestion. The doctor also gave him a prescription for and anti-cough syrup laced with codeine, a relief to me, because I knew that the narcotic would dull the physical misery he was experiencing, misery that was clearly making him panic. I know he felt like he was dying.

We visited the emergency room at 3am and left at 8am. Later that day I walked to the local pharmacy to get his prescription filled for the cough syrup. I noticed I was walking very slow. I was confused, was I showing signs of mental illness or the flu? I had gotten very little sleep the preceding night, perhaps this distressed me emotionally and my mind was losing control over my body. As I have mentioned before, I can't move very well when I am mentally symptomatic, I am frequently restricted, after an emotional time, to lying in bed. Usually I lie in bed after painting. I don't know what manner of stress painting causes, it just uses up brain power, focus and concentration. Lying in bed, for anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour restores my willpower and drive so that I can commit myself to another task. On a good day, when I have a clear mind and soothed emotions I can paint, rest, and then work out on the treadmill.

I returned with the cough syrup and decided that my turn had arrived to be sick with the flu. Sure enough, after it got dark, the chills and fever began. With a high fever it does feel like you are dying, but after seeing my husband go to the emergency room I knew that no matter how bad it got, since I had what he had, I would survive. It became in my mind a sort of competition, that I would survive the flu with less complaint than my husband and that no matter how I felt I would not panic. I would be a little soldier and win the war against the flu.

With the two of us sick our bedroom smelled like sweat and vomit. Nobody had vomited, but the fever driven sweat that came off our bodies must not have been like the healthy kind that comes from exercise. My husband's body stank, his breath stank, the sheets stank, and both of us were as weak as kittens. We had no energy to wash our pajamas, change the sheets, or take showers. Days counted, my husband was sicker longer than I. I can't be certain the reason, but I know I eat a great deal more fruits and vegetables than he, and perhaps my immune system is stronger.

I think that I am strong enough, and in a good enough frame of mind, that I could have painted this morning. The only trouble is that while my husband was sick, and I was painting, the fuse blew in my art room and despite my husband's instructions on how to fix it, and an earnest sojourn into the dark basement with a flash light, I was unable. Without electricity I cannot heat the art room with a little electric heater. However, tomorrow I have high hopes that I will paint. My mood is strange because my body is still weak and I have a cough, but it is not precisely depressed.

The anti-depressant that I started a week ago seems to be working. I am only worried that I have been having trouble sleeping. I know that the energy boost from an anti-depressant can interfere with sleep, I hope this is not true for me. The trouble with sleeping goes back months ago. I believe it is symptomatic of all the time I spend resting in bed. With the confinement of the winter months, and the instance of depression sapping my energy my poor body has been lacking clear signals when it is supposed to be awake and when it is supposed to be asleep. I prescribe for myself more activity, as much as my illness will permit me, and the resolution not to take naps during the days.

Once, while I was fevered, my husband asked me what I was thinking about, and I replied "money". I am wounded that nothing in my art show sold. I have taken most of the paintings back from the gallery, the owner has kept two. I understand that there is an economic depression going on, and I understand that the show was in Brattleboro, not exactly a big art mecca. But I need validation of my talent that a sale would provide. I feel so handicapped by my illness when it comes to making money. I can't work a traditional job. The trip to the emergency room is going to cost us money. Some of it may be covered by insurance, but I know already that there will be hundreds of dollars in extra bills. In the emergency room the doctor was wearing the most beautiful, tasteful, pair of matching silver and gold necklace and bracelet. It made me wish that I could be a doctor and buy myself pretty trinkets. I think that beautiful jewelry is a power statement. I know myself enough to want to wear nice clothes and jewelry to seem beautiful and powerful. This is, I know, a flaw in my character. Whatever happened to the punk girl who lived on the edge, shaved her head, and wore only salvation army clothes? I believe that when I was newly ill, young and forward dreaming, I liked myself more because I had not yet proven myself a failure at most everything I tried. I was strong and happy, and terribly sick, in my twenties. Now that I am in my forties, surving much better with the illness, but I don't have the dream anymore of going to school, getting a job, or making money. I've tried these things and failed. I have a husband I love, who supports me unconditionally, but where oh where am I going with my future? To become an esteemed artist? Hope dwindles.

Sometimes hope does not come upon you like a dream. Flights of fancy produce ephemeral hopes. Sometimes you have to go out and search for it. You have to make it happen. Hope comes to you when you are pounding the pavement. This is my plan. (Hope seems most real when you have a plan). I will work during this economic depression, continue painting, with the intent to double the number of paintings I have on hand. I will work to become better. I will work to have an expanded sample of my style. So the economic depression lasts several years. I will not let up during these several years. As long as the River Gallery Art School offers me a partial scholarship I will attend. I will try my hardest to fall in love with painting all over again. I will strive to paint things that are to my eyes very beautiful. I love garden scenes, I love paintings that have plants and flowers in it. And then, when I have perhaps 20 paintings, I will approach New York City dealers. I will approach dealers who deal in outsider art, because I am self-taught, and I think this shows clearly in my work. So far I have exactly 7 finished paintings and two unfinished paintings to my name. I need more. I need simply to work and produce. Selling myself can wait. I have to gather in my impatience and become slow and steady. And I need to find hope. I am not normally a hopeful person. Sometimes all I can do is live one day at a time, not jump to far into the future. Today I believe in my art. Tomorrow I will have regained my physical health, have a heated art room, and return to work on my painting. I can push my hope one day into the future. It is enough.

Friday, February 27, 2009


Went to dinner with my step-daughter last night. It is clear that should we talk about the profession she is now eager to join, she prefers the term "exotic dancing".

I like the term "whoring".

My husband explained to me, that out of all the girls he has seen stripping, only two really stick in his mind. They were both very good at what they did and they were making loads of money.

"Were they really pretty?" I asked, thinking that the prettier you are, the more the men will desire you. It was my guess that in a strip club the prettiest girls make the most money.

He said that yes, they were pretty, but that a lot of pretty girls strip, and being pretty does not guarantee success.

It was the way the girls acted that made them stick out in my husband's memory. The main thing that these girls knew to do was to touch themselves. Mike said that most strippers observe an almost unconscious boundary when they preform, they don't touch themselves. And if they do touch themselves it is only half-hearted, the touching is furtive and with no consequences. But the girls who were stripping and making the most money not only touched themselves, they seemed to derive great pleasure from making masturbation public. My husband explained that when a girl is simulating having sex with herself it greatly helps the men watching imagine that they themselves are having sex with her. Not only do they feel like active participants, but if the girl is into it, there is no question of rejection, she is ripe and ready and would take anyone on as a partner.

"Whores and strippers would tell you that there is a big difference between them" my husband said to me. "Nothing goes into a stripper, there is no exchange of bodily fluid."

"Is that the only difference?"

"Isn't it a big one?"

"I don't know. But if London strips she then falls pretty much into the social category of trash. Stripping is considered only one step up from being a whore."

"I know that I could never date a stripper" my husband said. "And I can't imagine liking any of the men who will date her knowing that she is a stripper. A good man would want to protect her and save her from having to strip."

I found a tone of moderation. "I think London wants to have an adventure. She sees this as one big adventure. But when her rear end is naked and she is wiggling it in a drunken man's face, the thrill will get old fast."

I wondered, if she does like stripping, what that says about her. Maybe it will give her a sense of power over men. Maybe she enjoys acting, even when it is touching yourself and pretending you are having a great time doing it. Maybe her sexuality is wired differently and in front of an audience is the only time she can have a great time touching herself. Maybe she has really low self-esteem and having men desire her fills a need. Do strippers feel cherished or dirty? I guess it could go either way depending on the mentality of the stripper.

London says that stripping is the only way she can pay to go to school for nursing and meet her needs for food and rent. I wonder how much the new found enthusiasm for stripping is a result of looking for a long time for a job and not finding one. She doesn't like the place where she is currently working, even though the pay is really good. Her main complaint? They make her work too hard. She has been putting out resumes with no luck. I believe that part of the reason she is having trouble getting hired is the way she dresses and her hair. Her hair is blond on top, dark brown on the bottom with streaks of red. She doesn't present herself in a way that says "office manager" or "bank teller".

I have worked in a museum and at the luxury retail store Lord n' Taylors. The first summer that I tried to get a job at Lord n' Taylors I failed the interview. The next summer I went back and interviewed again, only this time, I wore my mother's dress. She had bought it at Lord n' Taylors, I know because there was a label inside the collar that said Lord n' Taylor. I got the job that second time. That summer I mostly dressed punky and funky, except when I went to work. Then I played dress-up, wore my mother's clothes, and bought some new clothes made out of my favorite fabric, silk. I don't know if you can get any classier than silk.

One the day that we were to have dinner with London my husband came home from work and I asked him to change the cat box which had begun to smell. He hesitated and pointed out all the things that he does around the house like washing the dishes and vacuuming. Shouldn't I have a responsibility too like changing the cat box? I told him if he changed the cat box then later that night I'd give him a BJ. That worked. He immediately changed the cat box without anymore complaint. Sex for a favor. Did I whore myself?

Ripe Bananas

There is a green jadeware bowl sitting on the kitchen table. In it are four ripe bananas. I keep buying bananas and letting them ripen, planning on making banana bread. I have the sour cream and butter and vanilla and sugar and flour, all the ingredients needed to make the banana bread. But I don't make the banana bread. Sometimes I think that the kitchen is too cold and I don't want to work there. Before the depression I was always too busy, and too exhausted. I didn't want to waste what little mental focus I had on making banana bread, it was always more important to paint or exercise or blog. Banana bread is one of my favorite foods. But I suppose that I don't like to cook. My husband was always disapproving when I finally threw out the rotten bananas. It was money wasted. They get to a point where they are almost liquid within their brown skins. And then I would go the grocery store and buy new bananas, planning this time to be good. Now the new bananas are past their peak and I want to throw them out again.

I'm not going to buy new bananas for a long while.

Thursday, February 26, 2009


I'm drinking coffee and trying to get the energy up to change out of my pajamas into clothing. I have three prescriptions for medications that I need to take to the drug store down the street. I have a rent check that I need to mail at the post office. I haven't painted and I don't have any desire to go on the treadmill. I don't think I'm lazy, I think I'm depressed.

Stopped my anti-depressant four days ago. I was trying to sleep and the patch on my arm that delivers the medication through skin contact was itching. It felt like it was on fire. Gradually, over a several month period, I have become allergic to the patch. That night I ripped the patch off my arm and haven't put another on one since. Don't know where I would put a new one anyway, my arms are covered in red splotches of tender skin. Some spots are over a week old.

The anti-depressant that the patch delivered is available in pill form. It is a very old form of anti-depressant. There may be some dietary restrictions. My nurse checked and said things are o.k., I want to double check with the pharmacist. The anti-depressant is an m.a.o inhibitor, a family of drug known for a deadly blood pressure spike if certain foods are eaten. I am taking this drug with open eyes, if it means I can't eat chocolate or cheese or Chinese food ever again I am prepared to make the sacrifice. My limited experience with the patch form of delivery of the drug told me that this drug works on depression - and there are no side effects.

It is ironic. When I last stopped painting for a period of time it was because I was taking Lamictal and I was so happy that I decided to take a vacation. I had no guilt and no fire in my belly prodding me. On Lamictal there was a world view, and in it God was very nice and generous. He didn't particularly care whether or not I was an artist, I didn't have to earn my place in his world or in his esteem. I was, on Lamictal, feeling like I was cut from the choicest piece of cloth, perhaps silk threaded with gold, and I earned my right to live by simply living. I suppose that is a picture of blooming health. And I realized while I was on Lamical, easily resting in a groove of contentment, that if I stayed on the drug I may never create again.

While I was not painting I realized that I do paint in order to escape feelings of depression and sadness and worthlessness. If I were a parent, or a secretary, or a teacher, if I had a typical job, then taking Lamictal would have been worthwhile. But I can't work the hours of a typical job and I'm not a parent. I'm trying to be productive in the vacuum of physical and emotional isolation, I have no co-workers, no one and nothing is dependent upon me except the love of my grown family, I am self motivated, moving through the freest of spaces, completely self employed. I have to have reasons in order to paint. There were, on Lamictal, no reasons, and so, I did not paint. I think that my reasons are not kind and gentle. I think that my reasons for painting are savage.

About ten years ago I was in the basement of my mother's home, looking through old, saved things. I found a painting I had done when I was very young, maybe kindergarten, maybe first or second grade. I had written my name and then had drawn several flowers. There was nothing prodigious about those flowers, no one would have ever looked at the flowers and said, "this girl has talent". I must have drawn what I thought was pretty. I know that at that young age I drew for fun. When I drew those flowers drawing was natural and easy. It was a time of innocence, and through the years things have gotten darker and more complicated.

It is ironic that I did not paint on Lamictal because I had given up all my burdens, and now I do not paint because I am over burdened by depression. The depression is really in its earliest stages, it doesn't hurt, there is no crying and there are no thoughts of suicide. But I'm living in a place that is beyond caring, I'm numb and frozen like a deer that looks into the the blinding light of an oncoming car. On Lamical I didn't worry, I wasn't numb, but I didn't hold on to care either. Right now I have no confidence in myself, I can't work up a passion, I've let dedication slip through my fingers.

Depression doesn't just sap you of energy. It makes life bland and unappetizing. I don't want to partake in living. So I drift through the days. A little reading. A shower. Hours spent in bed with my eyes shut, not sleeping, just thinking.

Since I began this essay I've been out and returned. I saved a draft, shut off my computer, and left the house. I went to the pharmacy, went to the bank and post office, and visited the gallery where my artwork is hanging. I talked to the gallery owner and she said that many people talk about my art, they say it is the best thing they have seen in the store. When the show comes down next week she wants to keep several pieces. The sale that the gallery has been advertising has helped sell things, they have not made any great profit, only regained money that they invested in buying art. They are hold steady for the moment. I read into what she is saying. The sale saved the gallery from folding. In summer Brattleboro does some modest tourism. I hope sales pick up with the warm weather. For my husband and I, I know that we will not be going on vacation this year. I wonder how many other families have made such a decision. My husband says that we are not in a recession, we are in a depression.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Went to Connecticut yesterday. Had to be there and back in one day. Because it snowed the day before my husband could not bicycle to work. The snow on the sides of the road can't be petaled through, and in order to find dry pavement he winds up straying into traffic. I gave him a ride to work with the car, and had to be back again in Vermont nine hours later to pick him up. My mother the night before had taken her boyfriend to the hospital emergency room with breathing problems, she had to pick him up at the time that we had all agreed to have lunch. That morning my best friend Rocki could not be reached to change plans because she was working out with a personal trainer. My mom was almost frantic to see me but I would not bend the schedule because I did not want Rocki siting alone in a restaurant wondering where we were. It was quiet at lunch, either I was tired from driving or depressed. Probably depressed. I haven't painted in a while. After lunch we went to a large clothing store that is next to the restaurant where Rocki got stripped socks and I got a cotton scarf. It is light green with white skulls on it.

Mom says that her boyfriend is "drifting away", he spends most of his time with his eyes closed and he cannot sleep at night. I think he is going into advanced stages of heart failure where the fluid builds up in his body. They are going to see a lung specialist today, and Mom is certain that all he needs is portable oxygen to use at home and then, "he will be fine". If he dies I will probably go down to Connecticut once a week to be with Mom. She has an extra bedroom in her house, I can sleep overnight. Mom said some cold and hard things to me over the phone after I returned to Vermont, I think that she grieves by becoming angry. In the back of my mind I want to believe that should I ever get into trouble my mother will be there to help me out, but what she said, is that it is important to let the kids live their own lives, make their own mistakes, and then have to "lay in their own bed". My husband said that in the car accident, when she had a brain injury, it gave her a weakness that she is compensating for. She knows that she can't worry. So she won't worry. I remember after the accident listening to my mom talk to one of her tenants. She then turned to me and the way she talked to me made me think, "There is no difference in her mind now between one of her tenants and her daughter. Much of what once made me special and cherished is gone." I've got this idea that if I give to my mother, show her love, she will learn how to give in return. If there is tightening to be done with family ties, when it comes to my mother, the first move has to be made by me. I think what my mother deeply fears is being left alone by her children, she is preparing to reject her children before they can reject her.

I got sick late last night. Had to take a trilifon and klonopin (anti-psychotic & narcotic). I was in bed rocking. Said to my husband "It feels like the world is going to end", "Don't kill me, I don't want to die" and "I don't know you." My husband captured me in a bear hug and kept on rubbing my back.

In two days my husband and I are having dinner with his daughter London. London went to a strip club to celebrate her roommate's birthday last weekend. Now she is very excited, she thinks she can make easy money by becoming a stripper. I said to my husband "I must be stupid. I can't think of anything exactly wrong with being a stripper, but it feels wrong." Mike explained to me that easy money loosens your moral compass. You begin to give a little, and find yourself giving a little more and a little more. Eventually you will be tempted by having sex for money. And on this we both agree, we don't want London to suffer the type of emotional suffering that having sex for money can bring. I would think that the consequence of this would be a hardening of your heart and an altered sense of one's own body. The only way I can wrap my mind around it is in terms of magic. Having sex with someone you love has in it a bit of magic. I know not everyone is built the way I'm built, some people have sex for physical pleasure alone and that is then their definition of magic. But what I value the most about having sex when love is involved is the feeling of trust. I'm a guarded person. It doesn't come easy for me to trust. But when I do, it is such a relief. Strange things occur when you trust deeply. The lines between two bodies melt. Sex becomes sacred, a religious experience. I had a roommate in college who used to dance naked in a cage in New York City. She said that having sex was like eating a salad. I think she was jaded. I believe that I want the best for my step-daughter, and I don't know if she will be happy being a stripper. Perhaps being the object of male veneration will make her proud and happy. Female power. She also has it in her mind to go to school for nursing. If she is going to strip on the weekends and go to school during the week I can see this as being a noble sacrifice, and maybe, a smart thing to do. Buy yourself a better future with stripping.

London's mom for many years worked as an employee of the University of Connecticut. As part of the benefits package for working for the school, she was entitled to send her children there tuition free. When London was a senior in high school, and planning on going to college, her mother quit her job so that she could stay at home with her ten year old son. I think it was one of the most selfish acts I have ever witnessed. No money was ever saved for London's higher education because it was always assumed that her mother's position would entitle her to a shot at college. I have one of the lowest opinion of London's mother that I have of anyone.