GREETINGS FROM WISDOM HOUSE! (Plus an unrelated word or two about PARANOIA)

Photo by Sr Jo-Ann Iannotti OP

I hope I am not encroaching on Sr Jo-Ann Iannotti’s copyright, by sharing this photo, but if I am I trust she will let me know. In any event, this is one of hers  and it is everywhere at Wisdom House. I believe it is a beautiful example (if that is the proper word for it) of the spirit of Wisdom House. Of course, the physical labyrinth, is stunning by itself, but somehow this photo captures the experience of walking it  and the process of meditating and “being there” in a way that mere words describing likely could not. Surely, if nothing else,  this photo alone is a wonderful way to “advertise” Wisdom House, if it ever needed such a thing.  If you can, visit http://www.wisdomhouse.org and look at the virtual tour photo gallery. That way, you will get a good idea of what the place looks like, and perhaps get something of the flavor of people’s first impression. I know that even the first time I came here, despite my misery concerning all that silence, I knew it was a special place…

Jo-Ann says she has no idea who the woman in the labyrinth center is, that it was a fortuitous shot and nothing more. Frankly, though, I suspect getting the photo took more than mere luck, even just to have been there to capture it!  It exquisitely represents both the spirituality of this place as well as peace and peacefulness.

Clearly, you can tell where I am: at Wisdom House again, having a good time this time. I only wish I did not have to depart tomorrow.Even though I spend most of my time alone, the mere presence of other people, laughing and talking and obviously having a great time, buoys my own spirits and makes me laugh aloud myself. I think it is great that they are laughing so uproariously, and it is great to see everyone with their doors wide open, people, women my age, sitting on each other’s beds, gabbing like college girls. The lovely thing too, about Wisdom House in general is the absolute faith in people’s basic trustworthiness: NO one has a key to their rooms, and no one seems to feel worried about anyone entering or stealing a thing. I frequently leave my computer and writing equipment right out in the open on the sun porch, without the least qualm, feeling secure in the knowledge that everything will be just as I left it when I return. Indeed, the sense of trust that I know Jo-Ann has in people is infectious, and I somehow know that everyone who comes here is trustworthy at least for as long as they are here, even if they might not be all the time when they are not.

Now, I may be naive, but I too have been known to be overly trusting, and I think that is a better option than not trusting people. At the same time, though, I can be extremely paranoid as you know, and I do mean “at the same time…” I suppose that is difficult to comprehend: I will simultaneously give away whatever I can, if I feel I own too much and yet also feel as if people are secretly stealing from me, taking things I need out from under me, without even asking or telling me, which makes me angry, because I am already generous, and never ask for a single thing in return, but I’m sorry and feel bad to admit it, but somethings I am not ready to simply have things taken from me without my say so! I feel guilty about this, though, as if I am so attached to material things that I cannot part with something that someone else needs more than I do (for why else would someone resort to stealing it???). Why do I need to be so attached to anything, that is, to any mere object? It will never save your life or your soul!

I am drifting though…forgive me.

One great thing about this weekend here is that despite my having slept till noon today (after spending several days before last night with very little sleep, and even last night beginning to fear for my brain and my sanity due to sleeplessness as I was up till 4am involuntarily) I have pretty much gotten the book organized and put together. Now, that means only that I have made the organizational decisions, which is the major part of the problem. But I needs must (!) still go through the actual computer manuscript and change it, to make it conform to these editorial decisions. Not extremely difficult, just time consuming. At the same time, certain poems need editing and some rewriting/fixing. This I enjoy, the perfecting of the lines I don’t feel are quite right yet, but it takes time and energy. (I even have a two relatively new poems to add!) Alas, I will not be able to come up here to take the time for myself to do nothing else. Too bad, as it has been very convenient and much more than that. It has been, well, useful in the sense that I have been productive “to the max,” able to say NO to email and phone calls, not even walking with Diane L or doing laundry or cleaning or shopping, just writing all day. I suppose taking my usual 2 miles walk would be a good thing, but for just a weekend here, I would rather not…And although I brought art supplies just in case, I haven’t even taken out my sketch book, that is how good the writing, and the editing, have been going!

—————————————————————————-

Speaking of the labyrinth at Wisdom House as I did at the top of the post, let me segue into a few words about paranoia: I have not walked the labyrinth, nor even approached it. The closest I have come is to sit at the top of the stairs looking down at it relatively from afar. The very idea of “doing it” makes me feel both rather shy and then scared to do so. I am in fact scare that God might strike me down, should I have such temerity as to try it.  I am also squeamish, not sure I could relax and not feel paranoid, not feel so much on display  that I could not concentrate or let myself be “unaware of being observed” — whether I am in fact under observation or not.

That of course is the essence of paranoia: it matters not a fig whether something is really happening, it matters not another fig if someone’s really after you or really against you: if you feel it, if your amygdala is working overtime to generate that feeling, the intense feeling of fear that it is meant to generate, well, that’s it. That is how you are going to feel. And “the feeling is primary.” That’s what Dr O told me time and time again. You feel the fear first, and primarily, and then the story or reason for feeling it attaches to it. But if the fear  gets entrenched or doesn’t go away, the story,, that is, the brain’s explanation for the feelings of fear only gets more entrenched, because how else can you deal with fear? It is extremely difficult to feel fear unmitigated without somehow understanding it as coming from somewhere, or being stimulated by something, having a cause or reason. The brain always wants to make sense of things, and it does this whether one “wants to” or not.

So even though I am aware of what paranoia is, I have never been able to control my thoughts when it is happening. It is only after the fact that I can, now, sometimes, look back on a difficult situation and with a clearer head understand how I might in fact have been paranoid in my behavior due to my fear- induced understanding of what was going on. It is very very difficult to override such feelings, esp on such  a fundamental level.

I wish I could write more now, but I’d better to get back to my writing before I have to get back to sleep. As it is, it is 1:50 A.M. and we — Ann W drove here with me — the other fellowship person — have to drive home tomorrow around noon. I wish dearly it were not so, but there you have it. For now, I will leave you with a poem that will go into the manuscript of my second book of poems, which I call at least for now (several people have been enthusiastic about the title, except my father), LEARNING TO SEE IN THREE DIMENSIONS. I share it with you now, because while still unpublished, I do not think I will seek publication for it elsewhere, separately…The first one, for my old (and former, but possibly dead now) friend Roland, was previously published, but in a much different version. I apologize if the lines come out with large spaces between them, but the cut and pasting function never seems to allow single spaces… OR stanzas for that matter, as this poem was originally broken up inot five different stanzas but now appears to be in only one long one… The second poem is about Joe, and describes my own encounter with fear of botulism, which has similar symptoms to ALS — so I feared — and my nostalgia for his voice, which I will never hear again, except on his answering machine, and on one or two micro-cassette tapes we made some years ago…

FOR A FRIEND SUCCUMBING TO AIDS, 1980s

For Roland

This could be your whole life,

thumbing a ride to wherever the cars are going,

the casual, tossed out hellos and good-byes

that turn around the axle of your quick life —

that far, just that far, and then you will stay,

forcing a stranger’s town into the shape of home.

Yet you’ve lived a dozen lives — in the Keys

with the one you finally loved, in western Portugal,

Nova Scotia. Last year, already marked, you spent

the winter in your bed,which just fit in a backyard shed

in Vernon, Connecticut. And there was a life

to accommodate each place, its sweetness and pain.

When we met, you taught me the local architecture,

the difference between Georgian and Greek Revival,

and you thanked me for the poems you gave me.

Then you called late one night, drunk enough to over-

dose. Thoughtlessly, I rescued you, a dying man…

You never forgave nor spoke to me again.

Now once in a while a car slows, pondering

your beard, your emaciation, the known and unknown

risks, sees you finally, and explodes away from the shoulder

where you stand, all its doors locked simultaneously

against those Kaposi’s inflorescences that stain

your dying…Roland, Roland, don’t you know

we all die in shame and alone? We die, perhaps,

not far from home, or perhaps, like you, wandering,

waiting for the one car to cross the bridge

whose toll is so high we all pay with our lives.

WORRYWART

Tonight I’m up late worrying

about a badly canned chestnut puree

and botulism, which is useless

since I’ll know soon enough from

what the Merck Manual describes as

“difficulty speaking or swallowing,

drooping eyelids, double vision,

lassitude and weakness progressing

to paralysis” that I have it

or not. Not very likely with only

130 cases in the U.S. in a year,

but as I said, I worry, and worry attaches

to anything: leprosy, asteroids falling

from the sky, dirt on your hands.

Most people worry too much

about things that won’t matter

after six months. My friend doesn’t

have to worry about those. He is

losing his speech to Lou Gehrig’s. In six

months who knows what won’t work

any longer or which will matter

most. His assistive device says

the words he types, but how I miss

the sound of his voice, which I’ve forgotten

except when I call and the old

machine picks up: Joe speaking.

I can’t answer the phone right now

but I’ll call you back as soon as I can.

2 thoughts on “GREETINGS FROM WISDOM HOUSE! (Plus an unrelated word or two about PARANOIA)”

  1. Hi Pam…I guess we all have the OMG do I have that disease, especially with the Google factor. Everytime I have an ache or pain, I google it to make sure I don’t have something dreadful and then end up only confirming that I probably do, since I tend to bend my symptoms to fit the disease.

    I hesitate to ask you how Joe is, because I guess I don’t want to know. He was losing his speech when I saw him last and that was 2 years ago. I want to remember the sweet guy that always had a smile and went out of his way to help everyone at ESH. He is a true Gentleman!

    Do you still have your larger pieces…the woman sitting on a chair, etc? I found those so whimsical and happy!

    I should have prefaced this by telling you that I am Joyce Davis, the former Soc. Wrkr. at ESH and I now live in Green Valley, AZ. I think of you often and hope that things are going well for you!

    Best Regards;

    Joyce

    PS I am re-reading ‘Divided Minds’ and want to thank you for your honesty and self-less sharing of your disease. It really touched me. I decided to google you to see if you had written anything else and came upon your poetry. Lucky me!!!!

  2. Thanks, Pam, for sharing all of this. Your poetry is quite a miracle. So good to meet you and share Wisdom House with you!

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