A SPEAKING ENGAGEMENT
I had a speaking engagement at a NAMI meeting that never happened because the fools that set it up invited the wrong Julie Greene. No kidding. I guess they had her all lined up to speak on my book, Breakdown Lane, Traveled (www.breakdownlanetraveled.com), which of course she didn’t write and most likely had never heard of, and about writing–Lord knows if she ever wrote a word–and healing.
I first heard of this from my friend Brooke Katz, who is quite a celebrity herself, having been featured on all sorts of TV specials and written a book about her recovery from schizophrenia. She does plenty of public speaking about her illness and is well known in NAMI circles and McLean-type places, and she wrote to me saying, “I hear you’re speaking at a NAMI meeting.”
“Huh?” was my reply. “Must be the other Julie Green.” Note: No E.
She wrote back: “She’s talking about writing.”
I began to get worried.
I phoned my mother and left a message. You have to understand a few things about my mother. For one thing, she’s losing her mind. For another, she doesn’t give a flying fuck about me. Her way of pretending to have a bleeding heart is to be very, very active in NAMI, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, an advocacy organization made up of patients, parents, caregivers, etc that works on legislation, research, and so on. She knows NAMI but she doesn’t know shit about me. She doesn’t know how I spend my time, who my friends are, what I care about, what makes me happy, and when I told her I was returning to graduate school and had been accepted back into the program, she changed the subject. But at any rate, the message I left said something like, “If I’m the Julie Greene that’s supposed to speak at that NAMI meeting on the 23rd, you can tell the NAMI people I was never contacted at all and cannot speak at their meeting anyway because I have a class that night.
A few days later I received a message on my answering machine that went something like this: “Hi, my name is so-and-so, and I’m, er, from NAMI, and your mother gave me the wrong e-mail address, and we called the wrong Julie Greene and asked her to speak at a NAMI meeting, and I know this is short notice but would you speak on Monday, we’d like you to speak about your book and about writing and healing, please call to confirm tomorrow, I’ll be at the dentist tomorrow, my work phone is–“ I turned the answering machine off. “Sorry, maybe next time,” I told her the following morning. “I’ve got a class, and I’m being workshopped that night.” (Granted, she probably didn’t know what “workshopped” meant, not to mention that spell-check won’t accept the word, either.)
I think the last time I spoke publicly was in 1981 or so, when my illness hadn’t quite taken me into a downward turn yet; I could still tread water. I spoke about music composition and creativity. I used tape recordings of my pieces and displayed musical scores on the overhead projector that everyone could see and follow. I also performed my pieces both on trumpet and voice. I showed the audience how a composer puts together a composition, how intervals work in melody and harmony, how themes intertwine. I did a damned good job of that presentation.
It wasn’t until after the 23rd, after the date of my class and the speaking engagement that never happened that I thought up a topic for my little talk on my book, Breakdown Lane, Traveled, writing, and healing. First of all, I wouldn’t talk about healing. I don’t like the word. It sounds so passive. I would talk about form and content. I would talk about how form and content interrelate in any work of art, and how the concept of form and content relates to creativity and personhood. Then I would bring in mental illness. I don’t totally have the ideas formulated yet.
Yes, it is true: a piece has form and content. Then you slap a title on it, so there will be no mistaking what work we’re talking about: “Julie Greene.”