I was an artist. I know this from looking in my dog-eared portfolio that's still stuck in the closet at my parents' house. Even though English classes were my saving grace all through school, I was an artist too. I did clay...plaster (not my favorite)...acrylics...silkscreening...pen and ink...batik...colored pencils (my favorite)...papier mache (remember that big bumblebee you wore on your head at Halloween, Lorraine?) and there wasn't even enough room anywhere for my art. I stuck stuff behind the couch, in the rafters, in the old milk cupboards, under the bed. I lived amongst my creativity and gloried in the gift of creation. Then came real life.
Then came life with empty pockets, dwindling days, nowhere to work, nothing to inspire. I lost it. I entered college as a Fine Arts major, worked in mixed media in juried classes and shows, until the adoration of the written word again became my muse. I found Auden, Yeats and T.S. Eliot (not that I ever really cared for T.S. Eliot). I met Shakespeare with an open heart and cultivated my wry amusement for alliteration, metaphor and simile. Learned the difference between epitaphs and epigraphs. Embraced grammatical rules as I would a security blanket. Dissected, with joy, the hidden meaning of "The Little Prince." Read "Wuthering Heights."
And always kept a journal.
When I was 28 years old, I got sick. I got sick suddenly and massively and never got well, although I got a lot better. But the day I had to give up my job at Killingworth Library because my legs wouldn't work any more and my right hand was paralyzed, that day was a litmus test...what do I do now?
I started to write. I wrote from memory, from experience, from living and from my journal. I wrote on a keyboard I had to prop my right hand up onto, and move my fingers in a foreign manner. My life hasn't been altogether "normal"...ever. By writing about it, well, I started to own it. Started to find my new normal, and to show it to other people --- look, this is me; this is who I am; who are you?
I only got so far. There's a little invention called a "mood stabilizer." I was everywhere, sick. On the moon, riding stars, holding on for dear life to the stairway that leads to the inferno of Hell. Angels were around me, boosting me up on either side...but demons called my name at night when it was quiet. This was too much life for me. I had two boys to live for, though, the loves of my life, and I asked, "How do I do this?" It was called Depakote first. Astonishingly, I crawled back out of the ground. But then came the horrible weight gain, and I threw Depakote across the room, and then came Topomax. I was losing weight -- all I wanted to eat was fruit salad. Yay!! Then came the tingling in my hands and arms...and then came Trileptal.
I stare at my bottle of Trileptal every night, and every night I don't want to take it, for all that it has cost me; I blame it for my losses, anyway. I look back at my old work and I wonder who did it...because I need to find that person again. But this stuff is screwing with my brain!! This is my brain on Trileptal!! And there is nothing, not even an amusing letter to the editor, nothing new under my sun.
It doesn't take much to write: the stub of a pencil, the back of a used envelope -- I've done it, shiningly I think. But I'm so frigging new now that I don't know where to go from here. I write, or have written, because I can't not. That compulsion is lost among the chemical cocktails keeping me presentable. I ask because I don't know, and no one knows the answer.
But wait -- there's more!
In 1975 I was one year out of high school. You think, back then, that you're a poet. More Rod McKuen than Robert Frost, but nonetheless. Still, prose is my chosen, or given, medium. But in 1975 I wrote some poetry and typed it up and put it in a little book that I bound with leather strings and I painted a brilliant but dark color sky and sun on the front. And gave it to a friend. And then forgot all about it. And my friend moved away.
But she kept it, this little book, through many moves, through raising four children, through lots of Merry Xmas cards and quick stops back in town and phone calls and letters, she kept it and she kept it quiet. And then this week I went to my mailbox and there was a big padded envelope and I opened it with wonder and there, there was my book of poetry. Her note with it said "Laurie, This was hard to give up. I have had this at arms reach all these years. It must have great meaning to you also. So you must have it. I think of the good times when I see this book. I really miss being in that state. Enjoy your memories, I have had them for a long time. Now it is your turn. XOXOXO Jerry."
Jerry - I am astonished that you kept this, and I am honored, and now I honor its return. Although the poetry was terrible -- I think -- nonetheless, I am doing just that -- enjoying my memories. Trying to trace back to a time when my mind was still free, when all the world was taking care of me. And, miraculously, at least today, it damn near and with a mite of shame, inspired me.
"The jet smiles down from
the darkstar night
A passing dream-
Then going down on the
No one can say
what I'm waiting for
You touch me
and my breath begins