Tag Archives: Pamela Spiro Wagner

Psychiatrie Macht Frei…(huh?) Art Work

All i can say is everything in this picture was as deliberate as i know how to make it, without planning it at all, and it contains symbolism both public and private. With reference to my signature quotation, (see below)  it makes use of what the negative spaces  offered me without leaving any in the end.

“There is no negative space, only the shapely void. Hold your hands out, cup the air. To see the emptiness you hold is to know that space loves the world.” P. Wagner

(for those who are not familiar with WWII, over the gates over Auschwitz, the notorious concentration camp where Jews and many other despised groups were taken to be tortured and killed, were emblazoned the words: ARBEIT MACHT FREI, or “work will set you free,” which was of course a lie and a horrible joke, because it was only meant to kill you at what was not a labor camp but just a death camp. )

PSYCHIATRIE  MACHT  FREI?

Psychiatrie Macht Frei? Mixed media anti-psychiatry picture, 24"by 19"
Psychiatrie Macht Frei? Mixed media anti-psychiatry picture, 24″by 19″

Psychiatrie Macht Frei? Mixed media anti-psychiatry picture, 24″by 19″

Art in Progress

I did this chair tonight with drawing  Vine charcoal I made in the grill. I peeled wild grape vine  then roasted the pieces in wired-together tin box pierced with a nail to let out the gases, for an hour..Inside after that was nice black vine charcoal!

Chair drawn with Homemade Vine Charcoal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Second piece is my drawing in progress of which I will try to post a few stages..I have not come anywhere near to finishing it! Nor do Have any idea what it will look like when done!

#1 in Progress Art

In progress #2

Drawing in Progress#3

 

 

 

 

 

Robert Fritz Said Artists Can’t Use Art to Work Out Their Problems…

Okay…

Aside from the fact that it is really stupid and cruel to say this to a student taking your course on creativity, and I was stupid enough to listen to him without objecting…Aside from all that, when Robert Fritz says artists can’t use art to work out their problems, I say, Balderdash! SAYS WHO? SAYS WHO?!!!

Can you imagine what the world would be like without artists who did NOT work out their problems in and through their art?  A world without the likes of, and I am just selecting a few very famous examples from all over the art world:

Edvard Munck’s numerous depictions…

Edvard Munch, "The Scream"
Edvard Munch, “The Scream”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just in case you doubt that he was rendering his emotional turmoil in pastel and paint, he wrote these sentences on the frame of one of the four known original versions of  what the world now knows as
The Scream:

I was walking along the road with two friends – the sun was setting – suddenly the sky turned blood red – I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence – there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city – my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety – and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature.[9]

And where would the world of poetry be without Sylvia Plath.  Surely it would be a milder and less rich place without her magnificent and moving poem, “Daddy”, which I will quote only in part below:

“You do not do, you do not do   
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot   
For thirty years, poor and white,   
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.
Daddy, I have had to kill you.   
You died before I had time——
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,   
Ghastly statue with one gray toe   
Big as a Frisco seal
And a head in the freakish Atlantic   
Where it pours bean green over blue   
In the waters off beautiful Nauset.   
I used to pray to recover you.
Ach, du…
The poem continues for several more stanzas which are well worth reading before ending with the incredible punch of:
“…So daddy, I’m finally through.
The black telephone’s off at the root,   
The voices just can’t worm through.
If I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed two——
The vampire who said he was you   
And drank my blood for a year,
Seven years, if you want to know.
Daddy, you can lie back now.
There’s a stake in your fat black heart   
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.   
They always knew it was you.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.

 

A contemporary poet who has for many years mined her life and traumas for art, is undeniably Sharon Olds. But one poet who made art out of exquisite spiritual agonies was the British Jesuit convert,
Gerard Manley Hopkins in the mid-1800s, who wrote what are now called The Terrible Sonnets, terrible because they portray with astonishing depth the  suffering and spiritual anguish he experienced as a parish priest going through the dark night  of the soul. I do not know of any poet, then or now, who has done it better.

This is one of my all-time favorites of Hopkins. But you really need to read it aloud…

Not, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;
Not untwist — slack they may be — these last strands of man
In me ór, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;
Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.
But ah, but O thou terrible, why wouldst thou rude on me
Thy wring-world right foot rock? lay a lionlimb against me? scan
With darksome devouring eyes my bruisèd bones? and fan,
O in turns of tempest, me heaped there; me frantic to avoid thee and flee?
   Why? That my chaff might fly; my grain lie, sheer and clear.
Nay in all that toil, that coil, since (seems) I kissed the rod,
Hand rather, my heart lo! lapped strength, stole joy, would laugh, chéer.
Cheer whom though? the hero whose heaven-handling flung me, fóot tród
Me? or me that fought him? O which one? is it each one? That night, that year
Of now done darkness I wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my God.
Speaking of artists, does anyone else perhaps believe that Francisco Goya might have been working out something in this painting?
Francisco Goya, "Saturn Devouring his Son"
Francisco Goya, “Saturn Devouring his Son”

 

Francisco Goya Saturn Devouring Son

But as Robert Fritz said to me in class, and I stupidly took to heart, “ARTISTS CAN’T USE ART TO WORK OUT  PROBLEMS”…

Geee, they can’t? How dumb of me to think they can and do it, all the time.

Remember Franz Kafka? Why do I think he too might have been dealing with his authoritarian father in  such books as THE TRIAL, THE CASTLE, THE PENAL COLONY or a story like “The Hunger Artist”…No, that is impossible, right? After all, artists cannot and do not do such things, not real artists…Not according to Robert Fritz, who is the arbiter of all things art!

Songwriters are notorious for displaying their hearts on their sleeves, as most of us know. But VIc Chesnutt, who later committed suicide, did this in spades, with his song, “Coward.” This song is far too raw and painful to me to place it here as a sound file. But I will give you the lyrics and tell you to look for a version of Vic singing it, as no one can do it better.

The courage of the coward
Is greater than all others
A scaredy-cat’ll scratch ‘im
If you back ‘im in a corner
But I ,I ,I, I am a coward
I, I, I am a coward
Courage born of despair and impotence
Submissive dogs can
Lash out in fear and be
Very, very dangerous
But I ,I ,I, I am a coward
I, I, I am a coward

Anyhow, I think I have made a case for stating that art — which can be used for a great many purposes,  in fact can be used in whatever fashion and for whatever use you want to employ it, because truly there are no rules — most certainly one can work out one’s problems in and through using art. What better way to do so in fact? Better than taking a load of guns and shooting up the nearest  _________! (fill in the blank with the most recent mass shooting locale.)

I welcome my readers to send me examples of artists who expressed themselves or used their problems to make art.  I will add them to the list, especially if you provide a link to an example of their work.

Much love to all,

Pamela Spiro Wagner

Oh, I plum forgot! Here is my own example of using art to deal with problems:

Chained, a colored pencil drawing 17 by 22 inches by pamwagg 2014
Chained Burka Liberty and the Pitbull, a colored pencil drawing 17 by 22 inches by pamwagg 2014

Short Story with “Structural Tension” and more!

Dear Readers, here I am again, some scant four months after getting out of the Vermont state hospital unit in Rutland, Vermont,  after two years of nearly nonstop institutionalizations, and i am dedicated to the proposition that i will never again see the inside of another mental health facility in this state, or any other state for that matter. Nor will i allow myself to be lied to again by a practitioner of mental health care, a subject i consider almost completely bogus, both the diagnosis of so-called mental disorders and their almost universally dangerous “treatments.”

In this spirit of rejecting the mental health system, rejecting even the non-system, except insofar as I need assistance in getting out of it, and rejecting *any* and all mental illness diagnosis, i decided to take a course in creativity for five days in Newfane, Vermont, just to try my hand at something outside the usual realm of  “recovery-” and or madness-oriented activities.

While this ended up being, frankly, a bust — for reasons i will explain, i can report that i  really liked the people i met there, some of whom came from as far away as the UK. As for the course itself, I feel that a requirement of valor means that i leave this at “the less said, the better.” I admit, however, that the teacher, a certain Robert Fritz of self-proclaimed international renown, seems to have been taking out his private pique on me ever since the course ended, for leaving the class early, on a few days, and for not praising him lavishly, or even, god knows, “enough.”

So be it, so be it. If he is so small as to exact such petty revenges, i myself need not stoop to his level.

Alas, the course ended up depleting me deeply and the sole worthwhile lesson it left me with concerned “structural tension.” This, Fritz repeated literally ad infinitum, or at least ad nauseam, all day long for five days, 8 hours a day. Sadly, the one time we did  worthwhile hands-on practice,  when he *first* outlined this notion and gave us a narrative structure — take point A and reverse it to point B (with a character, crisis and certain developing plot points) around which to easily design a monologue — Fritz then gave us an hour to write a piece in the voice of a single person, and was rewarded when every single person in the class wrote what i thought was a professionally competent piece, this was never to be repeated.

How much more he could have taught us and built on that, had he used the  example of what we had learned and done and our confidence to “grow on and go on…” but instead he opted only for more of the same old same old, which was just going over the same ground again and again, with analyzing music video after music video but doing it  FOR us, not even having us participate in any meaningful way. Readers, it truly appeared that class participation in any real sense was simply too threatening for this teacher, who was not one of those who felt he could learn anything from his students, no matter their age and life experiences…

No more recriminations on my part.  I could not have known this would happen, especially since we were provided no clues, no syllabus, no handout that gave any hint as to Robert’s plans…I went in every day, every single day, and to every session with (dimming but) renewed hope that things would change, right to the last session of the last day…To my dismay and  disappointment and growing exhaustion, it never did.

At least i enjoyed the monologue- writing exercise. The following was mine, which is fiction, though it was based on someone i know pretty well (and he knows who he is! )

_____________________________________

I, Winton Wooster the third, had sex for 30 years with one man and one man only, Arturo, whom I’d met in Culinary Arts school and absolutely despised. It took me another three years and five other men, one woman, and an Electrolux, before I came to realize that it was Arturo to whom I was attracted and loved with all my heart and soul and body. “Over The Rainbow” sung by Izzy Kamakawiwo’ole was our song.

Some people think gay men can’t be monogamous. That is so not true, so not true. I might have been promiscuous before Arturo, but A.A, that is After Arturo, I never looked away, that is until…well, how do I explain this?

It all started with cars. And collections. Collections of cars.  And collections of everything else under the sun. I had the car collection, and I had the other collections. I had Kewpie dolls and Christ statuettes and I had spoons and books of spoonerisms, and I had jackknives and jack-in-the-boxes, I had bowls and bowling ball collections.  If there was something to be collected, I collected it and more. I collected art and books, and books of art and china and vintage Chinese clothing and if you think there was no space left in my three-story house, that is saying nothing. I rented space in several other houses, my clients’ houses, which I cleaned each week, and those were soon filled with my collections as well. As for the cars? I had seventeen cars and that was only after culling them down from a high of thirty-seven.

As for Arturo? He had one. One car, and no collections. Only an affection for zinnias, which he called the gay flower and he grew tons of them, for me. His car was named Ada, and she was a 1987 Toyota Tercel.  I always said I didn’t think they still made the Tercel that year, but he showed me the papers and proved that they had. Ada was pale yellow, a custom color, and still had the original fabric on her seats and the same original everything, just a tad creaky and fading. I joked with Arturo that we too were creaky and fading. Now, to tell a gay man of 55 that he is beginning to fade and creak is dicey at best, but we were not just old lovers, we were practically brothers, so the degree of his taking offense surprised me. But then he retorted that I shouldn’t talk, since I needed Viagra more often than not and that was only when I managed to get interested enough to take it.

Oooh, that got me where it hurt. But he wasn’t wrong. The thing is, I had once had enormous sex drive along with everything else but along the way, things seem to have just dissipated. I don’t know why exactly. But it was that remark that crystallized an amorphous dissatisfaction into the huge lump of cruel coal it was: Arturo was the source of my problems and my discontent. If I hadn’t been supporting him, if he didn’t live in my house, I would have more space for my things, and furthermore I would find someone I could, frankly, feel something for and well, get it up for. Period.

The end of our partnership came one night during a quarrel about my car collection, which was occupying several other garages as well as parking spaces in town. Several times a year during snow storms we had to play a desperate game of move the cars – in order to stay ahead of the tow trucks and the tickets to get them out of wherever they might be impounded. Arturo was sick of this, and frankly so was I and I wanted, I proposed, and I had actually had the plans secretly approved by the town zoning board, to build a giant garage in the back yard, a “garage-mahal” that would house my entire car collection on site. The problem was that in order to finance it, I wanted Arturo to pay rent, to help out, that is, with my second mortgage.

Arturo was hurt and he said so in no uncertain terms. He had lived with me and paid me in so many other ways, he told me, how could I do this to him? He cooked, he cleaned and he shopped and he did everything in the house to have made it a home for us and now I expected him to pay rent like a mere tenant? Firmly and obdurately I stood my ground and said, yes.

With tears in his eyes, for which I admit I felt a small pang, but not as big a pang as I ought to have, he turned around, climbed the stairs to our bedroom and packed a suitcase. Then I heard him tread the stairs downward, open the front door, and close it with a thud.

I was such a cad I did not even ask him where he was going or see him off. I felt a relief just to be rid of him. I can’t even say why. It was only the next morning that I discovered, in the small car shed I was planning  within the week to tear down and replace with my garage-mahal, Arturo’s pale yellow Toyota Tercel, which  he had left behind, for reasons I did not know and could not divine. After he didn’t pick it up for a month, I decided that he likely could not afford the payments or the gas, now that I was not paying for everything. Nevertheless, I could not bring myself to get rid of it, so I paid the insurance and made sure the registration was up to date and kept it on the first floor  of the new enormous garage that was soon built on the back of my property.

I did not hear from Arturo at all after that. I learned from friends that he was renting a small first floor apartment on the outskirts of town, in exchange for taking care of the owners’ property.  He was rumored to have neither phone nor email. I did not try to contact him but got absorbed instead in my own busy-ness.

In the garage-mahal there was room for all of my vehicles, all the ones in driving condition, including the Bentley for which I had paid only $22,000.00 but kept in mint condition. I had some cars on lifts and others were withdrawn down into specially constructed rooms underground. Only my special fire engine red Mustang and Arturo’s Tercel were in the front bay, readily available for driving.

I spent many of my leisure hours polishing and cleaning the cars, as the house had gone to seed, ever since Arturo was not there to pick up after me or sort the collected items. Also, it was – to be honest — lonely. I was able to have sex after Viagra, yes, but then only to have  the Electrolux as my partner — what was the point?  I gave up sex altogether. But that made me feel even worse. I tried the gay dances and party scene, and once even an “orgy” that a friend urged me to go to. But all of that just made the loneliness worse.

One night in the summer, sitting in a deck chair, under the bright LED lighting in the garage-mahal, I thought I heard someone’s radio playing a yard away.  I got up to listen and heard our favorite song, “Over the Rainbow” performed by Izzy. I stole down the street, and listened to the radio on a porch nearby, and found myself standing in a clump of tall bright-petalled flowers as if by coincidence. No coincidence, I thought, there are no coincidences.  I am a total cad, but I can’t let this be. I have left the love of my life and I need him back.

I ran back to the garage-mahal and jumped into the red Mustang, but the starter just made a coughing sound, as if it had just then given up the ghost. “Damn!” I yelled, then I realized that Arturo’s Tercel was still insured and ought to be drivable. Ought to be. Hell, yes, why not?

It was. As if it knew just where it was going the Tercel seemed to drive me all by itself to a small pink stucco house on the edge of town, a house surrounded by trees and with planters filled to the brim with zinnias. To this day I don’t know how it was that Arturo happened to be there, or why he did not seem surprised or even taken aback that I’d come. But without questioning anything, he just smiled warmly, opened the door and opened his arms.

Ice Hospital: Poem and Art

Five Watchers at the Tree of Creation
Five Watchers at the Tree of Creation

 ICE HOSPITAL

Living in a hospital is like living in an Ice Hotel

where all the appointments beneath the furs and fleece

are hard frozen to the floor

Like Ice Hotel staff, the nurses try their best

to be kind, to find compassion for those suffering

here on their sub-zero beds.

But really, they have their warm lives elsewhere.

The psychiatrist knows better. She visits briefly

once a day at the height of the sun, chewing her Vitamin D,

and encourages Hotel visitors to Happy Talk

and Life Skills. If she fails to ease their suffering

in any part, it is because she does not see it, blind

to the fact that the beds are frozen pallets that chill

to the bone. She sees only the furs and warm fleeces.

She cannot fathom why one would not rise and walk

under her cheerful ministrations after a few nights

spent on a banquette of ice. Only the aides

are savvy enough, being low-paid and long-working,

to bring in oil lanterns and hot water bottles.

The patients love them and when finally it comes time

to leave, strange how difficult it is to say good-bye

to even the hardest corner of this place.

_________________________________

luckily i no longer live in a hospital but in a little corner of paradise, in Brattleboro Vermont. And soon I will be writing you about my place. All week i had a headache, which was a beach that was decidely not Miami. But I stopped taking the Abilify on a whim, and wouldn’t you know, immediately the headache ceased. I cannot tell anyone this, because they will become up in arms at my stopping a “necessary medicatoin” but if I do not tell anyone, and things go just fine, won’t that be funny as hell? I think so. And that is precisely what happened when I stopped the Zyprexa, the last time. Everything was fine fine fine,. for six months, and never stopped being fine. I mean I did just as good off it as on it, and we never started it with any good being done, again.

 

But no negativity from me today. Instead I will leave you with the sunny face painting I did for a member of BRattleboro TIme Trade, in preparation for a papier mache sun we want to work on. Love to all of you!

Sun Face Painting By Pamela Spiro Wagner - plan for papier mache sculpture
Sun Face Painting By Pamela Spiro Wagner – plan for papier mache sculpture

Rutland PICU art

These are the latest fractured portraits and artpieces i have done at Rutland Regional Medical Center’s PICU. The portraits are not meant to be recognizably anyone, unless of course,  they are. The set of small oil pastels were just experiments. The last picture is a gouache painting, about 22″ by 36″. The others are about half that size and in colored pencil.

 

imageimageimageimageP

Art from Rutland Regional Medical Center PICU

waiting for meds at PICU
waiting for meds at PICU
Sad self portrait done in mirror after restraint chair incident
Sad self portrait done in mirror after restraint chair incident

 

 

(Sorry but my last post about their use of the restraint chair was very unexpectedly deleted…i still have the draft and can find the emailed comments, but i dunno that i have the heart to repost it unless someone requests it…)

Fractured Portrait of Lene
Fractured Portrait of Lene

 

Trauma Art

John Dempsey Hospital Psychiatry First Floor, U-Conn Health Center, Farmington, CT
John Dempsey Hospital Psychiatry First Floor, U-Conn Health Center, Farmington, CT.  PAM  IN RESTRAINTS AND  SECLUSION for 3 days and 2 nights alone  in the 1980’s

 

I was left alone like this, offered neither food nor water and given only an apple when I begged for one, for three days and two night at John Dempsey Hospital in the 1980s at University of Connecticut Health Center, in Farmington Connecticut. If anyone remembers having been through this, Please get in touch with me! ( If anyone know whether Jim or Don Steadman, the aides, are still alive, please let me know…or have them get in touch too. I believe they would remember attending to me while the doctor kept me trussed up like this…)

Dreamer with Vulture Tearing At the Fabric of the Universe
Dreamer with Vulture Tearing At the Fabric of the Universe

 

Oil Painting, Maybe unfinished…..

 

 

 

 

Portrait: Three Greenlanders- Art from Vermont Psychiatric Care Hospital

Three Greenlanders:A Portrait
Three Greenlanders:A Portrait

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

i started this portrait, derived from photographs seen in a National Geographic magazine lying around on Unit D, with the detested Crayola pencils that had to be a requisite 4 inches long or shorter…but eventually i was permitted to use ( and try to repair the portraits) with my Caran D’ache pencils, though it is very hard to try to layer anything over crayolas, especially on paper that is too thin to accept multiple layers…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Art from State Hospital Vermont, November, 2015

 

The optics of unwanted  "treatments"
The optics of unwanted
“treatments” (you may have to scroll way down to see the next two)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Markus-a staff member
Markus-a staff member

 

Radio Show about Schizophrenia

Leonard Lopate Show on Divided Minds (2005)

https://www.wnyc.org/radio/#/ondemand/51446

Hi everyone, i hope you will enjoy hearing this show, despite the fact that it was recorded several years ago. I plan to update you all on my progress since then and about M–V— in Brattleboro, where i live now. But it may take some time to get that organized and myself in gear. So in the meantime,  i found this older radio broadcast that most of you likely have never heard, being out of the NYC area at that time.

For myself, it has been nice to hear my twin sister’s voice and her sounding so very kind and sweet to me. I have not felt that from her or about her in such a long time…and i dunno whether it is me and just a perception, or a real thing. But i wish i had her back in my life in some way that could work for both of us without either jealousy or anything that threatened either of us. (I mean jealousy on her part, not on mine…)

Anyhow, i hope to write a longer and more uptodate post soon, but thank you all for sticking out my long absence and waiting for my return.

Love

Pam

Ps this table below was made from cardboard and fabric and paper and glue….largely because we have only beds in our rooms and i needed somewhere to store some of my things. So the table hides a small storage compartment under its removable top.

Cloth mache table made by pamela spiro wagner
Cloth mache table made by pamela spiro wagner

NEW POEM, OR REWRITTEN POEM, ABOUT BEING MUTE

ON NOT SPEAKING

Over the seasons of my sixties

and unwillingly

suddenly silent

no wonders spark in my visual brain.

But a reason why’s no wonder.

For so many years schooled

into naming everything

words and sounds categorize the world

and wordify my senses.

Precipice, for instance,

with its sliced peaks.

And acrid’s encaustic, that bite on my tongue.

Even blench

somehow leaves me paler

and more livid than before.

But there are descents into being speechless

for reasons besides pathology.

Although these may not seem any reason

or even be

reason enough, to many,

who believe only talking out pain aloud

makes sense.

Sensible or senseless

I know when shutting up is preventive.

or at least is less insane

than trying to be heard

by those inured to hurting

or being hurtful

when they indeed would rather hurt me

than pay heed, having heard me.

But if silence as you claim

overspeaks the chattering air

why do you refuse

to hear all I cannot use

my voice to say.

PASSION AND POETRY ARE LIFE, NOT PATHOLOGY!

Tidal Wave ATC (Artist Trading Card)
Tidal Wave ATC (Artist Trading Card)

 

Lori Carlson over at her WordPress blog, one of several, AS THE FATES WOULD HAVE IT, http://asthefateswouldhaveit.wordpress.com wrote this lovely passage about why she has to write:

“I enjoy reading poetry and prose that inspires me, that wrenches at my heart, and that puts me in the grip of Knowing — that silent moment when what someone else has written rings so true with you, that you are in complete awe. That is the way I write, or at the very least, I strive to write that way. And so I have made it my life’s goal to write poetry and short fiction, to give back to others the passion that fuels my soul.”

 

My response to Lori was this: “Passion pushes life to its purest pitch. A passionate enthusiasm is not pathological, as some might have us believe when we are caught up in its grip…Never believe them. Without passion, poetry is just a dim simulacrum of itself, veiled but without mystery, deaf not just to the world but to itself as well.”

 

Best wishes, Lori, and every one of you writers out there who might have been told to “cool it” or to stop dreaming and “get real.” Best wishes for all the dreams and all the passion your life can encompass, brim over with and then more! more! YES! MORE!

Praying For Foolishness: A Poem

THE OLD STORY

My father spoke of atheism as if it were a religion,

pounding the points of his argument into the dinner table,

spilling the salt with the seed of his own bad temper.

He raised me to be an atheist, too,

and I learned well the commandments of godlessness.

But at night in bed I suffered for it and was penitent

memorizing prayers buy the pages

glossing the psalms with a litany of pleas

that somehow God would find me, small as I was,

and make me a believer,

and, though a prodigal daughter, much loved, much loved.

How I longed for the sweet blow of grace

coming upon me like a hammer on a nail,

or a beggar on a penny

or raindrops on the parched red clay

turned to rust in the arid fields of my soul.

 

One night – I was under the covers saying the Lord’s Prayer

with a lengthy meditation for each line –

my father, making the rounds, heard me.

What are you doing? he asked, more awful than the God I longed for.

I told him, expecting punishment,

expecting a lecture on the purity of the godless intellect.

He stood a while in silence

while I waited for the one blow I didn’t want.

Then he said, laughing,

you’ll grow out of such foolishness, I hope.

 

I didn’t grow out of it.

Though I never found God and stopped looking for Him

I remember my father’s laughter,

the hard, cold sneer of it,

laughter at his daughter longing for God

and hoping for love

that would come like a thief in the night.

 

Now that I am older I know that belief’

doesn’t fall like a hammer

that the beggar is always penniless

and that rainfall soon evaporates returning to the cloud.

Atheism is a creed I have lived by, learned by,

and have at times been comforted by.

but if God should ever find me

I pray for foolishness.

 

1988

Toltec Wisdom (and a Little of My Own!)

Despair on Park Bench
Despair on Park Bench

Sometimes you never know who it is that has a disabling mental “illness,” not even when they are right in front of you. Not every person who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, for instance, looks like it or pushes a shopping cart laden with household “extranea” down the street, homeless, filthy, and laughing wildly to themselves…Not that this is so terrible either, frankly. We should all not be so quick to judge. And no, we should not judge even this notion of the homeless-shopping-cart-person as “bad” or “wrong” — not until we know the person and understand what he or she wants from life and his or her history. I am not saying that anyone should freeze to death from exposure, or suffer from hunger or from any unwanted basic deprivation, only that no one understands the life conditions of another until you talk with them and come to know that person…

Too many people make assumptions that are wrong and/or erroneous based only on what they want and are comfortable with, not on what the other person needs and wants. Believe me, I know, having been there way more often than I wish and experienced it from that “other side.” Far too many times have people claimed to be “helping me” and have only hurt me! It is not that I think they were badly intentioned, so much as that they were only thinking about how they felt or would feel. They were not being truly empathic, not giving an inch or a nanosecond to trying to think about how I, personally, did feel nor for that matter asking me what I might want or need at that moment.

I want to remind people to remember that “ASSUME makes an ASS out of U and Me..” so instead of assuming anything about another person, especially someone who has an apparent mental “illness” or someone who at any rate seems somehow “different” from the people who are familiar to you, ask them questions…Find out what they want and what makes them comfortable!

As Toltec spiritual advisor Don Miguel Ruiz tells us in THE FOUR AGREEMENTS, which is the best book of its sort I have ever read, you can and should ask any question you want to, so long as you are honestly prepared to accept the answer.

By the way, the Second Agreement, in his book, an Agreement I find so fundamentally important, is Do Not Take Anything Personally. By taking things personally — that way danger and disappointment and all distress lies. Truly this is so. People are all in their own little bubbles, taking their own lives personally and frankly, think about that! We are only on the periphery of everyone else’s thinking and living, and in a very real way they cannot ever know us as we know ourselves, they can only know us through the lens of their own lives, their own bubbles. This revelation can be freeing if you let it…

That is why we should not take anything personally — because other people are too busy doing the same thing and not seeing us as we are, but only as adjuncts to their lives and thinking. If we truly knew and accepted this, we would be free from a great deal of angst and upset. But of course this is a very difficult thing to do…to free ourselves of the notion that we are as important in others lives as we are in our own. No, they are the important actors on their own stage, we are not. We really need to get over thinking that we are prima donnas in everyone’s drama as well as our own…Is not our own life enough? I should think so. Who would want to star in more than one drama at a time?