iPad Art, also Portrait and Poem: In Memoriam Howard M Spiro, MD

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The first three pieces here were done with my finger using the app, Art Set, on an iPad 2. I had never used any digital means to do art before, and in fact had just started drawing a few months before. So when I did the window curtains drawing, it was really among my earliest drawings anyway. The “hand with pencil” was just for fun, because I had nothing else in front of me to draw, and I used my right hand to draw my left, I think, though I could have reversed it. Not sure, as I was doing either one in those days. Now I tend to strictly draw with my right hand and write with my left hand… Anyhow, I must have drawn my feet in flip flops last summer, since it is more sophisticated than the other two and I don’t think I would have been able to do that sort of thing until last year.

The pencil sketch, which I took from a movie of Athol Fugard’s play “Boesman and Lena” (staring Danny Glover and Angela Bassett), I drew off the television, stopping and starting it until I couldn’t bear to not know what was going to happen any longer, and gave up and simply watched the movie…It was a terrific if also very dark play. I watched it twice in a row, one night and then again the next night. Then I even went so far as to look for the text of it, which is apparently difficult to find…I did get a study guide though, which may have the text embedded in it. At any rate I hope so.  Anyhow, I had planned to do other studies from that movie but I got so engrossed in the actual play, that I failed to stop the action long enough to do so. I guess that speaks volumes for how good a playwright Fugard is (was?). In fact, I watched yet another of his plays/movies and even sent for a third, “Tsotsi,” that was unavailable any other way the following night. “Master Harold and the Boys” was incredibly difficult, yes painful, to watch,  and should not have been easy anyway, not for anyone with a light skin in this country and any conscience. We are ALL implicated, we are ALL guilty…

Finally, the picture, at the bottom, is of my father. Oddly, my first title of this post (edited out) called him “my dad”; I usually refer to him as my father, but always, always, always called him Daddy..When I did this portrait  a couple of days ago, it scared me: the eyes began to move and the mouth made sounds, as if he were trying to tell me something, and I was afraid, so terribly afraid he wanted to say that he didn’t want to be “there,” wherever he is…I was so scared in fact that I left the painting room and said I wouldn’t listen to him. But then my cat, Eemie, who died not too long after he did, also came around. Literally, or as literal as a dead cat can be. Visual and audible! I dunno how that can be, because she was NOT a ghost, but a real cat, really Eemie..which only adds to my consternation. Finally I decided to take a teensy bit of Zyprexa to stave off any potential disaster. This is a bad time of year for me, 5-6 months along after “the last time” and after last summer I know I have nowhere I can trust to turn to, no place that is safe for me (Natchaug Hospital is too dangerous, and they wouldn’t even take me back if I needed it, if I even agreed to go should I need to).  I frankly dunno that such a tiny dose of Zyprexa makes any difference, but I had to do something…

Oh, I have a lot to say about Natchaug still, but that would take another post, and a lot of thinking. I just might post it as another open letter to Natchaug’s CMO…Because she is the one to whom I wish to speak, and who really needs to hear what I have to say. But we will see. In the meantime, I want finally to post the poem that I wrote for my father after he died. A lot of people have asked me for it. I read it at the memorial service at the Unitarian Church in Hamden, CT.  Alas, I see that it won’t paste in single spaced lines nor will it preserve the proper large blank spacing where it belongs, so you should know that it ought to look a bit different on the page than it does. The only other words of explanation you might want are these: when Martha, my younger sister, read her own eulogy, her major metaphor was water and the ocean and waves, because our father, was so very fond of swimming, especially the breast stroke, or a weird kind of what seemed to me a modified-dogpaddle-cum-crawl, his head more out of the water than in. We were shocked to discover that water and swimming were the governing metaphors in my poem as well.

(You might not need this information, but in case you do,  Tir Na N’Og is a mythical Irish “Land of Youth.” Island of the Seven Moons is meant to stand for much the same thing…)

This is for you, Dad.

BUOYANT

The dead cross the river, swimming.

Past drowning now,

some crawl,

some leisurely sidestroke,

some float on their backs,

toes pointing toward the sky.

Who knows what lies ahead:

Tír na nÓg, Valhalla,

Island of the Seven Moons?

No one can say for sure

if there’s any shore, far or near.

Some have cracked their teeth

on bitterness, believing

that to die is to lose all.

Others say there is only light

shining on the best of what used to be.

We dream, we dream and wake,

we wake and hope our dreams

mean something,

that the dead know more

than just the river

and that they must swim.

Daddy, keep your head up,

kick your feet, push the water

away.

One thought on “iPad Art, also Portrait and Poem: In Memoriam Howard M Spiro, MD”

  1. Wow. I FEEL that poem, Pam.

    I believe it is a normal part of grief to have moments of hearing and seeing those close to us who have died. This is true of our pets, as well as the people in our lives, who have recently passed on. I’ve experienced it, as have many people I know, most of whom have never been diagnosed with any kind of mental illness.

    What I don’t know, of course, is whether these experiences are “real,” meaning do they exist independently of our own grieving mind? I believe that at least some of these ghostly grief visitations may be real. The reason I think this, is because on two separate occasions, with two different deceased loved ones, my paranormal experience was witnessed and experienced simultaneously by others people who were with me at the time.

    Life is a mystery. Death, even more so.

    When I feel that someone who has recently died may be trying to communicate with me in some way, I tell them that I appreciate their caring enough to contact me, and that I miss them and hope they are in a wonderful place where I will join them someday — but to please refrain from contacting me again, because it is a “trigger” for the schizophrenia I was diagnosed with in 1967. I have not been bothered with continual voices since 1969, and I don’t ever want to go back to that miserable waking-real-life-nightmare, again. In most cases, when I make this request, the “visitation” immediately and permanently stops. On the rare occasion when it did not stop, I prayed to my Creator for help and protection, and I also studiously ignored the voice and/or vision, and then it soon stopped.

    My voices started when I was 14, shortly after my paternal grandfather died. His spirit seemed to visit me twice, the first time immediately after his death, when I was sitting at my desk in school and had no idea that my grandfather was about to die. Suddenly, I “knew” he was dead. It was so real, that I started to cry, right there in the classroom. When I got home from school that day, my mother met me at the door and said, “I have some bad news…” I stopped her and said, “I already know what it is, my Grandfather ‘R’ died today.” She asked me how I knew, and I said I “just did.”

    A few months later a friend of mine introduced me to her Ouija Board. She said it was a tool for contacting the spirits of the dead. I had never heard of such a thing and was eager to try to contact my grandfather through her Ouija Board. We seemed to have success in contacting some kind of a spirit, but whatever it was, it wasn’t my loving grandfather. My friend who owned the Ouija Board then decided to hold seances with me and some of our other friends, but nothing much came out of those, except that one girl starting screaming at the top of her lungs during one of the seances, saying that she saw a horrible vision, but no one else could see whatever it was that had her so terrified.

    Around that time another school friend told me that he had heard about the seances I was involved in, and he loaned me a book that he said gave good instructions on how to contact the dead. I don’t remember the name of that book, but it might as well have been entitled “Spiritism for Dummies,” or better yet: “How To Become Schizophrenic in 5 Easy Steps!”

    That book gave point by point instructions for things like “autonomic” (spirit) handwriting, and also on how to become a medium, so that spirits could use your body and your mouth to speak through. Good grief, what was I thinking when I went ahead and followed those instructions? I really must not have been very bright, when I was 14!

    So dummy me, I followed the book’s instructions, by putting myself into a trance and calling forth the spirits, and — lo and behold — suddenly my hand was writing words all by itself, and before I knew what was happening, I had a head full of loud voices that would not shut up even for a second. My only escape from the circus in my head, happened when I was asleep. During my waking hours, every minute was a real-life NIGHTMARE.

    I begged the voices to PLEASE Go Away, go back to where they came from, and they all laughed, cursed, and mocked me. They told me to kill myself if I didn’t like my life anymore. They told me to pray to Satan, since praying to God didn’t seem to help. Truly, I was in a living hell!

    In desperation I went to my mother and told her about the Ouija Board, the seances, the How-to-be-a-Medium book, my “success” with autonomic spirit handwriting, and then the visions and the voices that would not leave me alone. I couldn’t even go to the bathroom without a crowd watching, mocking, and commenting! I couldn’t have a private thought without a mulitude listening to it, and commenting and mocking my for the silly 14-year-old things I thought about! I asked my mother if she knew what I could do to make the horrible spirits go away?

    My mother responded by making ME go away. Although I had never tried nor threatened to harm anyone, myself included, she immediately put me into a mental institution. The year was 1967, during that era when the answer to mental illness was to lock you up, drug you up, and throw away the key. My mother assured me that I would only be in the institution for a few weeks, until they made me well. But after taking me there, as I later learned, she went right home and took every item that I owned to the town dump. I was never supposed to come out of the insane asylum, you see, because the schizophrenia I had been diagnosed with was “incurable.”

    By the way, one of the other young teenagers involved in our seances, also ended up hearing voices, seeing visions, diagnosed schizophrenic, and committed to the same insane asylum that I was in. He had been trying to contact his mother, who died when he was 6.

    After nearly 2 years in the asylum, a social worker who saw me periodically because of my young age, asked me why I was there, when I always “seemed” so normal? (I was asked that question a lot, becasue I was not one of those who went around behaving oddly. I never talked aloud to my voices; I had no need to, since they could hear my thoughts, anyway.)

    I told the social worker that I heard voices, and she asked me how the voices had gotten started. So then I told her all about the Ouija Boarad, the seances, and the How-To book on spiritism that had taught me step-by-steo how to put myself into an hynotic trance and contact the dead.

    Then this brilliant social worker said, “Well it seems to me that all you did was hypnotize yourself into hearing voices! You’ve seen hypnotists on TV, haven’t you? How they can hypnotize a person into believing something ridiculous, such as that they are a dog, and the next thing you know that person is barking and behaving like a dog? Then the hypnotist gives them the suggestion that they are no longer a dog, that they are themselves again, and they instantly revert to their normal human behavior. Why don’t you try hypnotizing yourself once more, and tell yourself that the voices while you are under hypnosis that the spirits are not real, and that when you wake up, you will not hear those voices ever again?”

    I went back to the ward, got into my bed, and did what she said. I highly doubted it would work, because the voices seemed as real to me as anything — how could I make myself believe via hypnosis that they were not real, when I “knew” better? But, I went ahead and tried the self-hypnosis-reverse-suggestion like my social worker had advised me to do, and…. IT WORKED! When I woke myself out of my self-hypnotic trance, the voices were GONE! There were only a few, very distant, occasional “echoes” of “little voices” now and then, for a brief period of time, but they were so quiet and interrmittent that they were very easy for me to ignore, and soon even that stopped.

    In this manner I have been free of voices, 99% of the time, since 1969 when I was 16 years old. I have also not taken any anti-psychotic medication since that time. The only exception to my not hearing voices is like I said at the beginning of this long-winded comment, when someone close to me dies. But in every case, I handle it by telling them to please leave me alone, with a brief explanation of why I need for them to leave me, and most do so immediately. Those that do not comply with my request, quicly go away after I pray to the Lord for help, and then I tell the voices to “get behind me,” and after that I ignore them until they get bored enough, I suppose, to go bother someone else. 😉

    Today, my residual “mental problems” have to do with my chronic PTSD, general anxiety, and an occasional dark depression. I am in treatment for those things, and I take a low dose of an antidepressant and an anti-anxiety medication. But I have no schizophrenia, no personality disorders, and no psychosis of any kind, not in over 40 years, YAY!

    I shared my story here in the hopes that it may help you in some way. You are someone I feel very priviledged to call a friend, and I feel sad when you are having a rough time.

    XOXOXOXOXOXO
    “Lady Q”

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