Academy of Medicine – Poetry Reading for a Bunch of Shrinks?

Wowee zowee, who’da thunk it could go so well? I was more worried than usual and I had this profound dread that — I dunno — somehow disapproval and dislike and even hatred of me would reign overall. Worse, that all those shrinks would find my poetry either cold and incredible (but who are they to say?) or somehow incomprehensible at least in part….This is not just self-loathing baring its usual fangs, but my deep fear that a repeat of my encounter with Dr Z in the Hospital in October would occur, writ large, or with so many others over these past 35 years. Truth is, I am terribly frightened of most doctors, of all sorts, and this despite the fact that I am all too aware, intimately so, of how human, how terribly flawed they can be and how despicably they can sometimes behave. Even so I am aware that I “give” them — give most people — way too much power over me (I have never understood that “give” but it must be true, though it feels like they take it, forcibly), power to dominate and judge and make me feel like shit. Moreover, I am so afraid of them and their power, that I become completely paranoid about — well, any doctor, really any health care professional, from technician to nurse to doctor, I need to see these days! and my mind conjures up scenarios about how they intend to harm me, complete with delusions and hallucinations that  corroborate every such feeling.

Just this past week, for instance, when my migraine, along with vomiting up what looked like coffee grounds, put me at the emergency room again, paranoia completely took over. I still believe that they knew everything I felt and perceived, indeed were doing precisely what I “knew” they were doing …. Why I even call it paranoia I do not know, when I believe it was real. Why? Because, because, because…I have to hope and pray it was paranoia. Otherwise life would be unbearable…unbearable! I would at this point much rather be told, reassured, that nothing happened there, at the ER, and that it was “only” my paranoia, than to find out that indeed I was right all along! No, I hope to god I was wrong! And if I need to be labeled paranoid in order to be wrong, then fine, so be it. Better than to be right and find out that what I was so terrified by really was happening there all along…

But where was I? I was speaking of Wednesday night’s reading. I started out — well, the problem began — I was fine up until that point mind you! — when we entered the building because unlike the hotel, it was vast and echoing which produced an immediate physical disorientation on my part, I felt off balance and dizzied, as if under attack and anxious…I wanted to get out from under those echoes and that vastness…So I was scared simply upon entering the building and wanted to get away from it…This did not abate, and being scared almost to muteness beforehand, it only got worse, esp when Mary left me alone in a big room just off the hall where the reception was taking place. I felt then as if I were going to disappear, to implode, to die, to be killed, if she didn’t come back quickly…I didn’t know how to escape and I knew that I would have to, that I would not survive otherwise and immediately. I slunk to the wall near the door, carrying all my things, my coat and bag and my poetry. Adrenalin shot into my chest and poured down my arms and legs, preparing me for flight, when suddenly Mary returned.

I think she realized what a state I was in then, and felt bad. Which only made me feel worse, and I couldn’t talk for a few minutes.  But I made myself pull myself together and I did calm down, and made it clear that to enter the room where the reading would take plaee once full would be much harder than to do so when it was still in the process of filling. So we went in, Mary going first and fending people off (so I felt) and when I finally had a chair beneath me, I could breathe again. Just knowing I could keep my head down and stop anyone from talking to me, even if they recognized me allowed me to relax, which was what I  needed.

In this room, which had some sort of insulation that baffled the echo in the halls and open space downstairs, the disorientation passed almost at once, and the adrenalin seeped away, until it was only at the level of keeping me alert, not so much alarmed and ready to flee. I no longer felt dizzied or on the verge of hyperventilation or even, as I had, such imbalance as to the possiblity of falling. It was weird  to the max but as soon as I left that room after the event was over, I had trouble immediately, having to negotiate the space with great care, using the banister to take the stairs and even so, feeling my feet and legs uncertainly take the steps downward and feeling the alarmed feeling build up and up the longer we remained. I felt even so that I could not hear properly, though all had left and there were scarcely more than 5 or 6 of us left in the building. I was so glad when we finally got outside I barely registered that noisiness by comparison!

But I am ahead of myself! First the “event” took place.

Barbara from the Foundation that sponsors and indeed is the originator of these humanism and medicine events did a brief introduction about the  Foundation itself, then my publisher got up in her striking bright red coat, and spoke, wildly enthusiastic, about my book. In bombastic terms she praised me endlessly, until I cringed and felt no one, least of J herself could possibly believe such drivel….. I can only hope she tones it down tonight as it was way over the top…upsetting me because I felt certain she was lying to herself and making everyone laugh at me as well. Finally, she was through and gave me the signal to do my thing. Luckily I had more than cut my teeth on public speaking with our book tour for Divided Minds, so I was fine, once I got started. Of course beginning with, How to Read a Poem: Beginner’s Manual, and a few words of explanation, put most people at ease. So you better believe I start with that almost without fail. What else?  And after that my spiel and that poem, I had them…as they say — in my hand. But really, they had me! You see, I was no longer terrified, nor intimidated. Instead I was having fun and wanted only to please.

The rest of the reading went swimmingly, with Mary providing a short intro to each chronological section of the book, and me reading about 3 poems from each, That way, I could let her do some of the organizing of the reading and taking some of the pressure off me, and it eased my tension a bit, even though I guess I could have done it myself, seeing as I had done so at Mystic (though I admit, there I had also started weeping near the end, thinking about Joe as I read a poem about him. In fact, it was probably my crying during that poem there that led Marjorie to suggest I stop at the so-called forgiveness poem, rather than continue through till four o’clock as I was scheduled to.)

In fact, I do not mind crying, it is mostly others who seek to save me from my own tears who mind…They are the ones who cannot take it, who think they have to save me from embarrassing myself, them, and the world. when in fact I don’t mind crying in public, any more than I could care less where I sleep! (I have slept in some pretty weird places, including right in the middle of a labyrinth in a public garden….Could simply not walk a foot farther but collapsed into a heap and slept for a couple of hours, oblivious to the fact of people staring or otherwise wondering what I was doing there, and my family having in disgust moved on…) But at the Academy, I was prevented from crying or at least it never became an issue which at moment, is a source of relief though I do not believe it would ever truly have proved a problem to me.

The following night, I was less articulate, possibly more tired, though I hadn’t felt so, just more tongue-tied, and less quick to think or respond…Nevertheless , the audience was very kind and laughed right on cue, which is more than I can say for the shrinks, kind though they were. and which this audience was not made of particularly. They even responded better, in terms of audible laughter to In Memoriam Memoriae. Laughing at the ending, and esp at the pauses where laughter was most welcome.

Oh, I am such a ham…But in truth this is only on stage, and nowhere else. And only in terms of the truth, not as a true actor, which I cannot be for beans…I dunno how to “act act” and wouldn’t want to. What I think I like to do is be myself, but be a goofy me, or a funny me, which others call, Play acting, but is really just being goofy, and me too. Can I not be goofy sometimes, or might i not achieve that state of innocence where one can play and be irresponsible occasionally? Why must one be staid and unimaginative and awkward and nothing always…

Well, I fear I must stop here, finished or no, as my face is coming off and I simply cannot stay awake longer. I have to go to bed because I am fading and losing touch with whatever i am writing.. When the fingers threaten to fall asleep on the keyboard and the keyboard becomes invisible because you are closing your eyes against your will, you know it’s time to sleep…And so I will, myself, take this body off to bed. Sleep well and good night.

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