Here’s a reprint of my famous writing on anger, written in June, 2006.  Note that this is Part One, and that I never did supply a Part Two as I had promised.  A Part Two follows.





There are three kinds of anger: annoyance, anger, and rage.  What most people don’t realize is that about 90 percent of all anger is mere annoyance and the remaining 10 percent anger, plus a minute sliver of rage.  Many people never experience rage in their lifetimes.  I can only remember two times that I’ve felt true rage, and these incidences were within a month of each other around August 1997, which I will discuss in a future post.  Since then, the anger I’ve felt hasn’t even come close.  There is no particular reason for this, except that no one has pissed me off enough to merit my getting into a rage state.


I am terrified at the thought of another person getting angry with me, a trait I’ve had since I was very young.  This explains why so many of my “friends” dominated me when I was a child and teen; all they had to do was to threaten to show anger and I’d do whatever they asked.  I suppose I learned this fear from my parents, who used scare tactics when I did something wrong.  They talked to me in booming, ominous voices.  They were big and I was small, helpless, and scared.  I remember the word “Bad” repeated until it sunk in, a word similar to Evil, which has special meaning for me even today.


I am less afraid of my own anger than I am of that of others.  I generally dismiss most things that anger me as annoyances.  This is what you do about an annoyance: you let it go.  The neighbor’s dog goes poop on your lawn: clean it up and let it go.  You get a parking ticket: pay the fine and let it go.  You hold the door for someone and he or she doesn’t say, “Thank you”: then assume the person was lost in thought, let it go, and for god’s sake don’t be obnoxious and say, “You’re welcome,” just to teach the errant person a lesson. 


Many people won’t let go of annoyances.  This causes all sorts of problems, and these people I would think of as “angry people.”  Still others are proud of their anger and claim that it is fuel for action.  My feeling is that it takes something other than anger to initiate activity; it takes passion.  After reading about conditions that face inner city kids, you volunteer to work with them.  When you notice a neighbor hasn’t shoveled his walk, you write a letter to the town paper regarding homeowner responsibility in winter.  And here’s my favorite, a habit I have that no one seems to understand:  When someone doing a service annoys me, I over-tip.  If the cab driver is rude, or goes a roundabout route to get me home just to increase the fare, I tip 30 percent.  When a waitress served me instant coffee instead of regular–horrors!–I tipped nearly 150 percent, adding a dollar bill and some spare change to the 69 cent coffee price (for that amount, what did I expect, really???)


Anger that is more than annoyance must be dealt with carefully.  When you are angry you do get a chance to think about your reaction.  You don’t have to go with your gut every time.  A man stopped his car to yell at me regarding my dog messing on the yard.  It happened to be my own yard, but he didn’t realize this.  I should have ignored him but instead we got into a screaming and swearing match–this was quite a while back–and it ended badly, with the man threatening to call the cops and I feeling damn stupid to have argued with him.  Looking back, I should have thought first.  A more effective reaction would have been to thank the man profusely for his kind advice, and to walk away. 


You can’t argue with an angry person.  They are thinking irrationally, and they are probably much more worked up than need be.  It’s like trying to argue with a drunk, because the person is in an altered state.  At times like these you can only feel sorry for him; he is to be pitied while still respected.  If you pray, try praying for the person who is angry with you or with whom you are angry.  Wish him the best.  Have a happy day.  God bless you.  You don’t need to believe in a god for this to work.


I must admit I’m no expert on rage, having only experienced it twice.  Unlike anger, rage has to come out, and there’s no way it’s going to come out constructively.  I have seen people in rage states for days on end.  Most of the people confined to the “quiet room” on psychiatric wards are experiencing rage.  I have seen it happen and wouldn’t want to be witness again if I had the choice.  I remember screaming into a pillow more than once.  Some people harm themselves.  Some commit suicide.  I have never known rage to last forever, and it never starts suddenly; there is a buildup, of which many are unaware.  I saw a woman in the hospital progress from worrying about hygiene products to full rage in about two days.  There’s no way to predict what one may do when in this state, but I can state from experience that it is never comfortable, never constructive or useful in any way.  Perhaps the key is to diffuse annoyance and anger before they become rage, in the manner I’ve described above, if at all possible.


Today I have not been angry, just annoyed when the bus driver wouldn’t give me a transfer, and annoyed at myself for being such a lazy housekeeper.  The dog hair billows out from under my door into the hall, and someone will surely complain.  I’m annoyed that it’s been raining so much lately.  I’m annoyed, but very shortly will forget all that and concentrate on writing:  There are three kinds of anger: annoyance, anger, and rage.





Rage is akin to fear.


There were two times in my life that I was in a rage.  Both times I feared that circumstances would take Joe away from me.  I was uncertain as to what these circumstances would be.  Fear of the unknown is the worst kind of fear.


Joe had the same fears.  He told me he was afraid, at that very same time, when he said goodbye to me, that something would happen and he’d never see me again.


It was at a time when The Thing, an Evil Being that lived in my head, was very powerful.  It was at a time that God was just as present in my life, but I could not feel God.  When I prayed, The Thing answered and told me I was a phony.


One evening Joe turned down the radio in the van and we held each other as if we’d never see each other again.  Joe didn’t have his beard then.  His neck felt damp, and I could feel his heart tapping in the soft spot between his clavicles.


“We might not be able to get together like this–like we do now,” he said.


“We will.”  I knew I didn’t sound convincing.  “Baby, please?”


He lit a cigarette and said nothing for a long time, then put the van in gear.  “I’ll take you back to the hospital.”


“We’ll see each other tomorrow, won’t we?”


But we didn’t see each other the next day, or the next day or the next.  Circumstances got in the way.  God was engineering the world in a way that wasn’t convenient for the two of us.  Here was the first point of rage.  As I type these words, my hands tighten, my forehead bristles, my ears become more sensitive; I am on high alert.  It’s scary just to think about it.


The second point of rage came when I was put in the position of taking care of Joe.  The past two years he had taken on the role of caregiver, and suddenly the roles had been reversed.  I was angry with the doctor who had given Joe the medication that made him so doped up he couldn’t help himself, but I was enraged at Joe for being the needy, dependent one.  I couldn’t even take care of myself; how was I to take care of another person?


I came home, feeling sick.  The Thing kept repeating the number 4 to me.  Four this.  Four that.  I took four Tums to settle my stomach, then four Klonopin to calm down, four Benadryl to get to sleep, four Risperdal in attempt to squelch The Thing, then four more Benadryl, then four Tylenol, four, it had to be four, four, four….


Death is secure.  Death is knowing.  When Joe died, I did not feel the rage I always anticipated I’d feel upon losing him, because I was certain of what had happened, and there was nothing left to fear.  To say I felt flagrantly cheated would be a more accurate way of putting it.  


Anger is drive.  Anger can be creative.  Anger is occasionally useful.  Anger is even occasionally funny.  Rage is filth.  Don’t go there.








A couple of days ago I played my MP3 player too loud.  For hours afterward, my head felt raw, as if some of its lubricant were missing.  My neck creaked.  My skull bones rubbed hard against my brain until blisters formed.  All the sounds I heard during those hours were like the crunching sound one hears and feels underfoot following a powder-crisp January snow in Vermont, while trudging to the barn, or worse, to the outhouse.


I came to the library to find sanity, instead I found the “Faire on the Square” happening next door, with booming music and families bumbling about from booth to booth, grabbing cotton candy, hopping on rides, admiring pumpkins–the noise!  I tried turning up the music on my MP3 player to drown out the drums and singing out there, but it was hopelessly noisy.  I felt like strangling Curious George, who had taken up residence outside the library to amuse and be amused by us all.


I moved.  To a corral away from the windows.  I’m parked there now.  The kids downstairs make constant noise.  I turn up my MP3 player loud to drown them out.  Out with you all!  Out, out!  Music up so loud my ears hurt.  Castrate Curious George!  Louder, louder!  Kill the kids!  Kill ’em!  Kill ’em all and stuff ’em in the toilet!  Get out of MY library!


Problem is, toilets clog when you stuff them with kids, especially big kids, and police sirens make an awful lot of noise.







I live on the fifth floor in Watertown, and I see the same people every day.  On Carey Ave everyone is getting ready for work, carrying packages of varying sizes into their cars and talking on their cell phones.  On Michael Ave, to the left two women sun themselves in an inflatable pool.  They are always in that pool.  To the right, two men wash their cars.  They are always doing something to those cars.  Across Warren Street and up Heather Road, a woman taps angrily on the window and shouts something in Italian that means “Keep your dog off my lawn!”  She does that every time.  Up at the top of the hill, a couple prunes their shrubs and rakes the yard.  They are always doing yard work, whenever I walk past with my dog.  When I leave my dog off at doggie day care ( I always see a dark-skinned woman walking in the opposite direction, going to work, then coming home again carrying a lunch bag.  She wears a red jacket and tight jeans.  I always see the same people on the bus, the same faces, the same crazies, the same tired old folks, the same bus drivers.  I’m the only one that changes, and sometimes I even wonder about that.

The May Rant Series

I’m presenting May’s entries together, because they make a nice sequence.





I had a weird dream the night before last.  As I held my brand new bathroom scale in my hands, the batteries–it operates on quite a few AA’s and AAA’s- sizzled and sputtered.  Then smoke burst from the scale and it became warm, then hot, in my hands.   The smoke became so thick that I couldn’t see anything in front of me except the swelling, heaving scale.  Flames erupted–I was reminded of the Twin Towers on 9/11–the horror I felt was tinged with guilt: I worry too much about my weight.  That was what the dream meant, perhaps.


Yesterday I met with the director of the place where I will probably be teaching.  I could tell he wasn’t too impressed with me.  He liked the syllabus, though, and made copies.


It’s weird: I live such a reclusive life that I was overwhelmed by the newness of everything.  I feel comfortable on the buses, maybe too comfortable; I am a frequent rider of the “T.”  As soon as I got off the bus I was a lost child.  I was passively taking things in, declining to play an active role in my conversation with the director.  To say I was nervous would be an understatement.






I was in some kind of class where I was the only student.  Two men stood on a table for a demonstration.  Both were naked.  The teacher, whose appearance was not particularly notable, pointed a long stick at each man.


“This one,” said he or she (for I cannot recall even the teacher’s gender), pointing at the first man, “is normal.  Note how smart and important he is.”  The man tensed his muscles.  His taut skin glistened.


The instructor pointed to the second man.  “This one is fat.  He is a slob, a greedy, weak, out-of-control pig.”


The man arched his back.  His stomach enlarged as he leaned, until it appeared to amass as I, horrified, watched.  Was it some extreme cancer, or–could it be filling itself with air?  Larger and larger, skin translucent, the grotesque flesh pulled up and over his breast.


And then, it popped.







Joe died nearly three years ago and I’ve had writer’s block ever since.  I feel like shaking myself, calling myself lazy, fat, useless, and weak.  I feel like my life no longer has a purpose.

 I have asked myself if perhaps I should choose something else to do with my life, but everyone (myself included) feels that I should stay in writing.  There is nothing else I can do.  I can’t wait on tables, can I?  And I can’t wait any longer for some mysterious “change,” some Deus ex machina to swoop me up and bring me to that great elusive Land of MFA.


I had writer’s block for the month of October 2000.  It was hell.  I did nothing but smoke cigarettes, and cry away the wee hours, because I couldn’t write.  I tried picking words out of the dictionary and making them into sentences.  I tried writing by candlelight and almost burned the place down.  Cripes, I couldn’t even write an e-mail.

My therapist argues that I’m “working hard at improving myself.”  Bullshit.  This ain’t workin’.  It’s barely existing.


In January 2001 the spell broke.  I came out of the hospital and plunged into my studies.  Suddenly, I had my most productive period ever.  It was during those next few months that I wrote most of Breakdown Lane, Traveled.  ( 


So maybe there is hope. I’m still waiting.









The day before the first storm I saw at least fifty black birds in an old, far-reaching maple.  The tree had been planted years before I moved to this building.  My neighbor tried to count the birds on his fingers.  He had bitten his nails down very far, and his hands were pink from chewing, like a child’s.  Suddenly, the birds scattered and I saw a dark cloud.  Maybe it was a rain cloud but I don’t remember if it rained then, or if the rain came the next morning.  I had just had supper, a single-serve frozen pizza, and it wasn’t very filling.  I had burned the roof of my mouth; my tongue caressed my tender, stinging gums.


“Spring,” the neighbor said.  He was like that, always trying to start a conversation.  He frequented the bench outside the “B” entrance, where I lived.  “Reminds me of the time in Florida when–”


“Yes.  I know.”  I’ve never been to Florida, in fact, but I wanted to get inside.  It was creepy, standing here in the late afternoon with big, smelly old Joe who never showered and smelled of spearmint and dirty socks.




After the fourth day of rain, the water had soaked the downstairs of both “A” and “B” sides, starting with the “B” laundry room and creeping onto the carpet in the hallways.  June Norton remarked that the carpet would get mildewy, but no one knew what to do about it.  For unknown reasons, Sean, the maintenance guy, sprinkled some whitish powder on the puddles.  Norman Eldredge, president of the Tenant’s Association, packed some bags, took a cab to Logan, then boarded a plane to South Carolina, where his brother lived.  Folks said Norman couldn’t stand the rain anymore.  I didn’t say anything.  Tammy tried to tell us the powder was anthrax, but no one was in the mood for that kind of joke.  I stopped wearing sunscreen and didn’t bother putting on hand cream.  I gave up on the umbrella, too; I wore a waterproof rain jacket instead.  But nothing was waterproof by then. 




After the eleventh day of rain, things were getting kind of depressing around here.  The water had moved up about six feet and everyone had to evacuate, just like that.  Cops came knocking on doors and told us to move it.  My dog, QB, and I hid in the bathroom till the cops left.  We didn’t want to go nowhere.  “Shit,” I said.  “Fuckin’ shit.”  My dog just sat there looking like a dog, and we were cozy, the two of us, having the fifth floor to ourselves.  Now QB could bark and play as much as he wanted, with no one to complain.  I looked out the window for a long time, staring down through the rain at the traffic light at the intersection of Warren and Lexington, which tossed back and forth like an old guy’s dick, and flashed red, over and over.




When the water reached the third floor, QB and I tired of playing go fetch, and he shredded everything I threw for him, anyway. He shared his Iams Puppy Biscuits with me.  They weren’t bad if you put health food margarine on them, or jam.  Everything in the fridge got rotten and stinky.  I poked at an orange and my finger went right through to the middle. 


Outside, the floodwater lapped on the apartment belonging to Paul and Lucille Burkhardt, the blind couple who always tried to milk me for favors, like arranging their 1,000 CD’s or sewing buttons for three hours.  The water just reached their window, and inside they had all kinds of expensive audio equipment and fancy vibrators that they kept on their bedside table; I knew this because Bob Cahill told me so.


“It’s so awful,” Lucille had said on the second day of rain.  “We’re not supposed to get this much.  It’s unfair.” 


Paul just stood there stupidly and fumbled in his pockets for a handkerchief.  I watched him teeter from side to side, switching his white cane from one hand to the other.  He perspired; you could see it under his armpits.


“They didn’t predict this much,” insisted Lucille.  “Really.  The rain is wrong.”




It thundered on the nineteenth day, and QB was so scared he tried to jump out the window.  I grabbed him in time and held him close to me, petting the matted fur behind his ears, and I stroked the stripe that ran from the back of his head down his neck.  It was a magic stripe.  You could stroke it and wish for anything–except for peace in the Middle East because it would never happen–and your wish would come true.  We now had to wade through about four inches of slimy water to get from room to room, and I moved the dog food and Iams Puppy Biscuits to a high shelf in the pantry.  Everything looked like ocean.  I toyed with the idea that there might be an iceberg below us, and it would push through the other floors, until it poked right into my living room carpet, but dismissed the thought; it was May, after all–how could I be so dumb?




Of course, none of this is true.  I made it up.  Telling lies is a hobby of mine, when I’m stuck in the apartment because it’s raining and I have no place I’d rather be than home.  It goes to show you just how far the imagination can travel when it needs to, when life seems to take a turn for the worse, due to things you can’t control, and wouldn’t want to, now that I think of it.  Weather is unfair; why should it be otherwise?  Life is never fair, and if you don’t understand that fact now, it’ll hit you in the gut someday, I promise.







The Waltham Public Library is silent except for the turning of pages and an occasional annoying cell phone.   I’m seated at the “business reference” section where I can look over the entire room, over the stacks, which are span perhaps fifteen yards, to the reference desk, where now the librarians are busy chatting.  I look over my last blog entry, called “Rain,” which for some reason I’ve printed out and have before me.  Never mind the technical errors, I tell myself, the piece is pointless and I don’t say anything.  I berate myself further: “I can’t write, I never could write, I have no right to write, I am stupid and worthless and life isn’t worth living.”  The man at the next table turns toward me–have I spoken aloud?–then quickly he turns away, and removes his glasses.  There is a conspicuous click they make as he places them on the table.


“What right did I have to make up all that stuff?” I ask myself. “ Isn’t the blog about me, my mental illness, my reality?  What kind of unreliable narrator have I now made of myself?”  Glancing at a nearby shelf, I read the topics: Career.  Resumes.  And a book called 200 Best Jobs for College Graduates.  What right do I have…my feet smell, besides.


What right do I have to distort the truth, to lie, to report inaccurately?  The man leaves the table and disappears behind a stack.  I read the blog entry several times, meanwhile trying to extend my smelly feet well under the table. What right do I have to take up space in this library, to pretend to be a writing scholar, to make noise.  I am tempted to rewrite the entry or at least correct the errors.  But it’s up on the web now, a cyberhistoric document.  What right do I have to change history?


Or, on the other hand, is the instigation of change, of movement, my duty?


Regarding hair

I wrote this last February:





I keep my hair in one tapering braid that goes all the way down my back to my bum crack.  As far as I can tell, it grows two or more inches each year.  I have a recurring nightmare that someone, usually my mother, is threatening to chop it all off, which terrifies me because Joe, right before he died, told me, “Never cut your hair; it’s beautiful.”


My hair is indeed beautiful, medium brown with red highlights, somewhat wavy, and though I’m now 48 I still haven’t got a speck of gray on my head.  But it’s always in that braid.  Or, if I feel like celebrating  (when I get under 170 pounds I certainly will), I make two or three braids, or maybe a French braid just to be fancy; it’s healthier than Budweiser or chocolate cake or jumping into Boston Harbor in the middle of winter just because the scale moved a half pound.


Rarely do I let my hair out when others are around.  When I was in the hospital, a woman kept asking me if she could see it loose, and I told her sure, after I shower she could perhaps stop by my room and see it (as if my hair had been a newborn litter of puppies, sheltered and protected by Mama herself).  But when it came time, I didn’t invite the woman in, using the excuse that we weren’t allowed in each others’ rooms.  I felt–well, shy.


I was listening to news on public radio of the ever-growing tension in Iraq the other night.  Someone from the BBC interviewed an Iraqi woman, who, speaking of how soldiers (were they American?  I can’t recall) raided her home: “I didn’t have time to cover myself,” she said, “not even to cover my head.”


I get it.  I truly understand.  Hair comes to us in any language, whether we live in Baghdad or Bangor, Tehran or Brooklyn.  In it is the intimate nature of who we are, and it is each individual’s choice how much of it to reveal.  To adorn with beads, to shave, to braid, to cover.  To be proud to the point of shame.  To consider it so special it must remain unseen, the mystery, the part of his sweetheart’s head a yellow-ribbon soldier first sees–as she emerges from a cab, from the subway, from her green, green yard–and in awe, with utter abandon–he kisses her smooth cheek, and touching her flowing hair at last, calls it home, a place of comfort, a place of infinite and precise beauty.

I’m happy to say that my weight is under 160, and my hair has grown even longer (more to braid and celebrate!).

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I happened to see Carol K on the #71 bus the other day.  She didn’t recognize me because I had gained so much weight.  Of course, it had been years.



While Carol K cajoled with two other women, I had the opportunity to take a good look at her, and yes, it was indeed Carol K, retired dance instructor at never-mind-which college in Boston.  She and I had been students together in a memoir writing class.



Now and then, Carol K glanced worriedly at me.  Like she couldn’t place who I was.  Like I was someone out of her past she didn’t want to see.  Like a touch of paranoia had gripped her.



Carol K and I both disembarked at the last stop.  I was headed for my shrink appointment.  Lord knows where she went, but after my appointment was over, I took the #71 bus again and there was Carol K.



Carol K sat in one of the sideways-facing seats near the front.  I sat just behind the side door, behind a plexiglas wall, sipping on a large bottle of water.  Carol K was alone now, stealing glances at me, her eyebrows slanted, her eyes little slits.  I was getting a kick out of this.



We got off at the same stop.



Carol K hastened ahead of me.  My plan was to relieve myself at the library rest room before continuing on home.  My bladder felt as though it would burst.  But the obsession had gripped me: Where was Carol K headed?



What mattered most was that this meant something, something especially for me.



I kept a safe distance behind.  Carol K quickened her pace.  Then she turned, and stepped into the library.



Enough was enough.  I walked past Carol K, past the library, past the rest room, shaking off all her paranoia, all my own paranoia.  My bladder would have to wait.



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Looking back on utter frustration

What I didn’t realize when I wrote this was that I was right on the mark.  What I also didn’t realize was that in six months, everything would change….

Looking back….





Sunday marked the two-and-a-half year anniversary of Joe’s death.  His absence is like a pierce to my soul that cuts deep and affects all areas of my life.  After Joe and Tiger (my dog) died, my writing dried up.  I went to Goddard College six months later for my MFA and couldn’t sustain enthusiasm for my studies.  I hated my thesis and I hated my life.   Two days after I completed the last assignment for my first semester, I was hospitalized.  I don’t recall what the problem was.  Then I was hospitalized again midway through my second semester.  My advisor, Kenny Fries, as well as the school were extremely accommodating, for which I am grateful; they gave me an extension on the semester.  I finished the work about a year ago and never went back.


Now I am faced with questions:  When will I be able to write again? or, rather, When will I be enthusiastic about writing?  Will I ever gain back the drive, the sense of purpose I once had?  I wrote passionately for six years following the retreat of The Thing (an Evil Being), from 1998 until 2003; I wrote for hours each day.  I felt that I had a calling in life at last.


My drive was overwhelming.  It brought me to the accomplishment of completing three books (one published, see and countless writing classes with flying colors.  I tackled writing each day as if I had been going to work, to my dream job.  Sometimes I wrote for as much as nine hours a day, but generally about four.  I believed in what I was doing.  I loved what I was doing.  I lived for it.


Now, the drive to write is gone.  I’d like to write here, in my blog, daily, but I cannot.  I can only think about writing as if it was some Prince Charming for whom I am preparing, preening and fussing, that gentleman that never arrives.  Okay, it makes sense that an idea has to germinate, but it’s getting ridiculous, folks: I need to generate more text or I will have to resign myself again to the life of a professional mental patient, one who has no purpose whatsoever except to live from day to day, to survive.  I want–I need–more than that.


I believe that this absence–for that is what it is, an absence–is the center of my current month-long-and-counting depression.  I have been sleeping nine to fourteen hours a day, have been ravenously hungry most of the time, and Evil Beings torture me almost daily, tortures like those the Americans are giving to Iraqi prisoners, like Nazi tortures.  I cannot bear it much longer.  I also think my medications need adjusting, but that’s another story.  It is time for me to fill the blank page that fluttered into that hole in my heart that Joe’s death brought.  It’s time to start.  But can I do it?  Can I?

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Mobility Aids

When I wrote this, I was utterly frustrated and headed for yet another breakdown.  I brought this into a writing class but was hospitalized before the class had a chance to give me feedback on the piece.





The woman in the wheelchair (me) enters a bank.  She is obviously struggling to get through the heavy bank doors, so someone takes pity (lots of pity) on her and holds the door for her.  She wheels through.  The bank PR person, in attempt to sign up as many new accounts as possible, allows the poor woman in the wheelchair (me) to go to the head of the line.  The teller window is too high to see over while one is seated, so the poor, incapable woman (me) stands to speak to the teller.  The PR person is shocked–this handicapped woman, this cripple–standing?  The male teller gives the sexy woman in the wheelchair (me) a look-over, and smiles.  She is helpless, vulnerable, available, and defenseless.  He looks her over again as she slip-slides her ATM card in the groove, and he notes her name (mine).  The woman sits back in her wheelchair, her business concluded, and again is helped with the heavy bank doors.  She exits into winter (not really–it was May, but winter sounds more poetic).


The woman using a walker (me) exits a cab, which cost her a fortune; she is too handicapped to use public transportation and The Ride (handicapped transportation) hasn’t yet been approved for her.  She clumsily pulls her deformed body (mine) up to the office building entrance.  She tries and fails to punch in the code that will allow her to enter the building (my shrink’s).   She tries again, then realizes she needs to take off her gloves.  Someone approaches her and asks, “Can I help you dial the number?”  Annoyed, (I really was!) the misfit shakes her head.  The door buzzes (bzzzzz!), but the retarded woman using a walker (me) can’t get the door open.  Finally, she succeeds, and struggles up the stairs.  A shrink (not mine) rushes through the upper door, glances at the woman, then quickly turns away; she is invisible and not worth his time.  He skips down the stairs and whizzes out the locked door without speaking to her.  Later, the shrink motions for the woman using a walker (me) to follow her to the office.  The shrink walks quickly, feeling uncomfortable, not offering to help the now crippled patient (me) with her belongings (my knee was really killing me at this point), turns to the patient, and says, “_____ (my name), I didn’t realize you use a walker now!”  (Get my drift?)


After two months of this bullshit, the unfortunate woman’s knee injury (mine) has improved enough to enable her to use a cane.  She waits for the bus (#70) to take her to the kennel, where she will pick up her dog (named Q.  After a few minutes of waiting, her knee starts to hurt, and she realizes she needs something to lean on, tries to use a tree but the tree is too bent over to lean on.  She looks around anxiously.  An able-bodied man leans on a trash barrel, but doesn’t offer to let her use it.  It is her fault, after all; she did it to herself, let herself go; she’s a fat lazy pig, can’t even walk right because she is so fat, can’t help herself; she’s grotesque–and smells (I don’t).  Later, the girl working at the kennel looks on the woman with the cane (me) with disdain while she struggles to get her dog’s harness on.  The bitch (me) doesn’t deserve help, can’t even take care of her beautiful dog (named Q or herself.  She let herself go.  She’s ugly and undeserving.


The woman’s injury (dislocated patella) heals; she is free of mobility aids and their covert meanings.  Because she is neither attractive nor unattractive, but ordinary looking, no one pays her heed.  Her neighbors conveniently forget that she once used a wheelchair, a walker, a cane; they saw her disability in themselves and didn’t want to face the fact that they, too, are trapped in their respective helplessness.  She is capable now of taking care of her dog (named Q and herself (me); she is competent, intelligent, friendly.  She takes care of herself, loses 30 pounds, is independent and mysterious.


But months later, the woman’s injury (dislocated patella) worsens.  She finally figures out (duh!) that it might be a better idea to use crutches rather than a wheelchair, walker, or cane this time.  As she stands and waits for the bus (#70), a young man, seeing that she is temporarily infirm–is it a sports injury, perhaps?–asks, “Are you dating anyone?”  He grins.  She leans on her crutches and flirts back at him.  Later, the bus (#70) shows up.  She struggles up the stairs which the bus driver politely lower for her, and is immediately offered a seat.  She attracts attention.  People smile at this woman on crutches (me) and ask, “What happened to you?”  Yeah, something happened to her.  It’s not her fault.  It’s unfair.  She didn’t deserve such a fate.  And after all, it’s temporary.  She’s normal; relax, she’s normal.



Nature, nurture

I workshopped this blog entry immediately after writing it.  A few weeks later, I was hospitalized.  No, it wasn’t because of the workshop, though I’ve heard of students who felt suicidal after their pieces were workshopped.






One big debate we have at mental health websites, in particular my favorite site,, is whether our illnesses were a result of a defect in our genes or because of circumstances–“issues,” as some would say.  Freud told us our mothers were to blame; modern psychiatry puts the finger on brain chemicals: serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine in particular.  Medications are designed to target these chemicals and correct the imbalances; psychotherapy is for life’s “issues.”  If you are reading this, you probably already know what I’m talking about.  But did life circumstances cause the imbalances, or vice-versa?


One way I can attempt to answer this question is by looking at my own life, asking, as many do of their own lives, “What if I’d done things differently?” and writing down each scenario, each fall of the domino, as I imagine it.  What fascinates me most about this speculative exercise is when I concentrate on the period around the time I first got sick.  What if–I guarantee you just about everyone who experiences mental illness asks this–what if I’d sought treatment sooner?  Or, what if I’d undergone a different kind of treatment?  Specifically, I ask myself, What if I’d lived in a different place, went to a different school, studied something different, or had a different job?  What if I’d married so-and-so?


Ah yes, So-And-So.  Everyone has at least one that they marry or don’t marry, impregnate or use birth control, separate, divorce, widow, tear one’s hair out over, throw things at, curse for the rest of their lives–or at least for the next few days.  So-And-So was one of about 20 pen-pals I had in my late teens, my 20 pen-pals to whom I sent 20 hand-made Valentines one year, each with a different quote about love.  I had pen-pals in prison, some overseas, and some here in this country, various friends I’d met over the years (almost all of whom dumped me when I was hospitalized).  If my present self had been around to advise my 20-year-old self, the conversation would have gone something like this:


“Don’t send any of them!  ‘Love’?  They’ll think you want more, you fool.”


“But I love everyone.  I believe in peace and love.”  (It was 1978.)


“Stupid, stupid.  There are different kinds of love.”


“I love everyone.”


“But you don’t love them romantically.  You don’t want those guys getting into your pants, do you?”




“They’ll want to have their way with you.  Sex.  Get it?”


“Oh, I don’t do that these days.”  (I had made a commitment to celibacy.  Like hell I expected that to last….)  “I’ll just say ‘no.’  I promise.”


“Bullshit.  You are unable to refuse to do anything.  You haven’t yet attended that assertiveness training workshop.  You’ll learn, then, that you have the right, and sometimes the obligation, to say ‘no.’”


“Can I send the Valentines to just a few people?”


“Choose your few wisely, if you can.  This will save you about a thousand dollars in plane tickets, two weeks worth of time, and the annoyance of an unwanted marriage proposal.  And minor inconvenience and embarrassment.”


“I love everyone, and I don’t believe in marriage.”


“You’re fucked, girl.”


I went to a fortune-teller on a whim one day in San Francisco; on my 40-day-40-night hitchhiking trip (the timing wasn’t deliberate).  He said, “You will experience a major infirmity that will alter the course of your life.”  I was 21, and didn’t know what “infirmity” meant, but I knew it was bad.  I paid him and forgot about what he said until many years later.


So, I wrote, what if I’d married So-And-So, on another whim?  Would it have meant being trapped with a man I never was attracted to in the first place?  Traipsing all over Europe with him?  Probably not.  I would have left him after a month, come home with my tail tucked between my legs, whimpering, and had my nervous breakdown.


Writing more, I pleaded with myself:  If only–if only I’d stayed in school, graduated, and had that music teaching career I didn’t want…if only….But no, I would have fallen apart during student teaching, and had my nervous breakdown.  What if I’d switched to music composition, graduated, moved someplace exotic, someplace that winter never touched, if I went to graduate school, planning to get my PhD?  That exotic place would have become my Hell–I would have come home, weeping, and had my nervous breakdown.


Okay.  I dropped out of college, returned, transferred, took time off more times than I can count, and it’s probably best, I wrote, that I left when I did.  I still played in the local orchestra and had a temp position I could barely hold onto.  I drove like a maniac.  I rarely showered.  I ate nothing but Entenmann’s pastries, pepperoni, and pork rinds.  Once a week, I went to a therapist I couldn’t stand, and smoked with him in his office while he told me what he thought of me.


Here’s my favorite “What if”: What if, that crispy, crusty Vermont fall, I’d actually shown up to play in the orchestra concert?  (I did show up, but on the wrong day.)  What if –I love this one–in the middle of Charles Ives’ “Variations on America,” during, let’s say, the third variation, I’d stood up and walked out, in front of the 200 or so in the audience, the shocked orchestra gaping (brass and percussion in particular, for we sat in the back), the conductor–I can picture this–Lou Calabro, who was losing his hearing and conducted with a baton made of a wine cork, slamming his fist into his music stand, the music score pages flying into the lead cellist’s lap, and all of them watching me leave, cuss words spewing from Lou’s lips like he was the one that was out of his mind?  What if–this one’s even better–I’d stood up during that Beethoven concerto, during the pizzicato section, the oboe humming plaintively, an occasional tip-tap on the snare drum–what if I’d stood up and played the blues?  I’d have played with my gut grinding, my heart slamming in my chest, my blood like hot asphalt pouring on a rough road, waiting to be flattened, heaving, kicking, on fire.  I don’t stop there; I screech my trumpet angrily, hating the orchestra with its dusty violins and violas, hating Lou, the audience, myself especially, and then I scream with what voice I’ve got left: Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you….


There.  I’ve done it.  I’ve let it out.  I can picture Christine what’s-her-name, flautist, wearing a tight bra, heels, and mini-skirt, as she runs to the pay phone in the hall and calls 911…911…please pick up…yes, the trumpet player’s gone mad, come quick, come quick! and I’m still there screaming, the cops come and they drag me off on a stretcher, my arms and legs bound, the fat EMT’s pant and sweat, I scream and scream and have my nervous breakdown, and my parents are the ones weeping, “Where did we go wrong?  We gave her a good religious upbringing….”


I would have had that nervous breakdown no matter what I’d done to avoid it, even if my 48-year-old voice had come out of the heavens and warned that 22-year-old me, and I’d believed it.  No matter what changes I make in my imagination, no matter what changes I propose, I end up in the same circumstances, the same things happen, though maybe the location and people and particulars are different.  My fate was sealed very early on, maybe in the womb, maybe generations earlier, and there wasn’t a damn thing I could have done about it.


To what extent, then, do we have free will?  To what extent can we truly make major changes in our lives, even if we know ahead of time what we are in for?  We’d best at least believe we can change our fate, or people would become passive fools who watch the soaps all day and wait for life to happen–and it is this belief, though concocted on my part, that keeps me waking up in the morning, brushing my teeth, showering and throwing on clothes, putting one foot in front of the other, walking out the door–and facing the music.




I must have been reading Orwell when I wrote this




It took me a while to see it, but as a writer I realize that I have influence over the course of history (in a small way) because I manipulate language, and this manipulation affects society, because our thought is controlled by language.  That is why it is important to keep up this blog, in hopes that I can reach just one person….


Writing is a gift.  People couldn’t always write, and words had to be passed from generation to generation orally.  How this influenced society was that the stories could be changing, and indeed they were, while language evolved over the centuries, and continues to evolve, though most people deny it.  Remember: spelling in English was not standardized until relatively recently.  And what of languages that are written in symbols, such as Chinese?  Surely, this influences literate Chinese society!


An example:  We stuff our feelings.  We stuff our faces.  Are these uses of the word “stuff” at all a reason for what some call “emotional eating”?  The very term “emotional eating”: is it a reflection of our behavior, or does the term perpetuate it?  Was the evolution of the term “emotional eating,” having put it to words, the reason that people recently recognized the act?  Perhaps the answer to this question is obvious, perhaps not.