Tag Archives: Writing

New book on sale now!

Available at Amazon.com here (dont worry about the different covers, it is the same book!):

https://www.amazon.com/Learning-See-Three-Dimensions-Poetry/dp/0998260460/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1495801931&sr=8-1&keywords=learning+to+see+in+three+dimensionshttps://www.amazon.com/Learning-See-Three-Dimensions-Poetry/dp/0998260460/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1495801931&sr=8-1&keywords=learning+to+see+in+three+dimensions

Learning to See in Three Dimensions

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

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

Talk About Abilify with Pamela

ARC_Talk_About_Meds_Banner_Pamela

 

 

 

I have been asked, by The Recall Center http://www.recallcenter.com, see also http://www.recallcenter.com/xarelto/side-effects/ to “talk about my medications” so here I am, talking about my “favorite psychotropic drug, NOT..”: Abilify.

 

Why do I take Abilify?

 

I take Abilify, well, why do I take Abilify? I was prescribed Abilify because of the diagnosis of schizophrenia many years ago, and I usually take it along with another anti-psychotic drug (Geodon). But frankly the reason that I, I myself, take Abilify for now has nothing to do with psychosis or schizophrenia. I take Abilify simply and only because I have this weird feeling that it helps me write and do art. Ever since I have been taking it, or the two drugs together, I have had no trouble doing art at any time or even writing when I want to. The extra plus is that I can finish longer term projects, ones that I start on one day and have to finish over time. In the past this was a problem, but it seems to not be so difficult for me any more. I do not know for certain whether this is due to the effects of the Abilify/Geodon combination, but it feels like it, since I was never capable of finishing projects so easily and reliably before then. On the other hand, I believe that I can do these things myself now, and that once I get used to living here, in my new state of Vermont, I will choose to sloooowly go off the medications for good.

 

 

How do I remember to take my medicine?

In truth, I often forget to take my medications, but for the past thirteen years I had a Visiting Nurse come to remind me. And now that I live in another state, where this service is not available, I have a med tray that is delivered weekly. I hope that I will be able, by seeing this tray openly on display on my table, to remember to take the ones I want. At least for as long as I want to take them.

 

I have been asked about side effects of this drug, but I would say, 1) all “side effects” of drugs are the effects of the drug, and you cannot tell a person that she is only suffering “side effects” especially if they are serious enough to cause distress. 2) there are very serious and troubling effects possible with Abilify, so my experience is not necessarily typical 3) I used to feel very irritable on Abilify, but no longer 4) usually I add Geodon to help me sleep and calm the anxiety that Abilify can induce

 

Where do I go for Medical support? I just a few weeks ago moved to Vermont, so I do not yet have a Primary Care Provider, but I do have a psychiatric nurse practitioner who will see me – so far, at any rate – once a month. For medical issues, at this time, I do not know whom I will see, but in Connecticut I used to have an APRN at a doctor’s office. I also was able to get to an Urgent Care center easily, in CT. That is not possible here in rural VT. So in the event of a medical emergency, I do not know exactly what I would do, except call 911 and hope for the best!

 

Before taking Abilify, or ANY anti-psychotic drug, here are the questions that I think you should ask your doctors: You should ask, first of all, why he or she is prescribing an anti-psychotic medication for you. Does he or she believe you are psychotic? If not, why prescribe such a powerful and possibly devastating drug? And if so, why? Doctors should be willing to answer this openly and honestly and if they will not, then I do not believe that you should listen to their advice, but get a second opinion. You never know who might derive financial gains from prescribing a medication that is not available generically. Also, why is your doctor not being honest with you? I would never feel comfortable in a situation like that…

 

 

Ask your doctor what to expect after taking this drug and when to expect the effects, good or bad. What does he or she anticipate you will experience as a benefit and what he or she thinks you might experience on the down side? Ask them to be honest about this and why they feel it is worth the cost/benefit ratio to you.

 

Abilify is extremely expensive and non-generic until 2015, when a generic form is scheduled to become available. So if you can, I would ask your doctors about why they are prescribing this particular drug and not another. There may be very good reasons for it, such as a low incidence of weight gain, and little sedation, at least at doses below 15mg. Nevertheless, I would want to be certain that there were no financial inducements such as stock holdings in the pharmaceutical company involved etc.

 

 

There are ALWAYS risks involved when you take pscho-active medications, or any drug, but anti-psychotic drugs can be especially problematic for some people. Even though Abilify causes fewer problems with massive weight gain, for many people this is not always the case and weight gain as well as Type 2 diabetes, with or without weight increase has been known to occur on Abilify. Over-activation and irritability have been reported frequently, in my experience. And many people I know who have taken Abilify have told me that they have trouble sleeping if they take it at night.

 

Published research suggests that 30mg of Abilify is no more “effective” than 15mg. From my own experience, I can only say that at 15 mg Abilify is quite activating but at 20-30mg it becomes suddenly sedating and less helpful. This is why so many people refer to Abilify dosing as “Less is more.” They mean in some sense that the lower doses work better than the higher ones, unless the sole goal is sedation, in which case I would say there are better drugs for that purpose and safer ones.

 

As for drug interactions, I am not aware of any important ones.

 

Finally, the three main things I wish I knew before taking Abilify are what I wish I’d known before I took ANY anti-psychotic drug many years ago: that if I took what they gave me, and kept taking it, 1) I might be disabled for the rest of my life 2) it might induce chronic/episodic psychosis – i.e. stop the natural process of recovery in its tracks 3) NOT that my brain’s neurochemistry was already “out of balance” but that my brain and its neurochemistry would be changed and destabilized by the drug itself…

 

That is what I wish I knew before taking Abilify. Before I take any drug from now on, I will find out these things and determine for myself whether the cost/benefit ratio really makes sense.

 

 

But on the whole I would say that NO DRUG developed in the last 20 years has been adequately or honestly researched for any pharma company to make a claim about either its efficacy or its safety. NONE. So I would on that basis probably never take a new drug from now on. There is not a drug company out there that I trust to have done ANY new brain research, since it’s all based on junk and garbage theories that arose from “back researching” Thorazine, which was bogus in the first place. So why would I want to take a drug that was developed from research coming out of that cesspit?

 

I am 62 years old. I am NOT suicidal and I certainly do not want MDs with murder on their brains to euthanize me with their psycho-drugs, or to use me as some guinea pig to determine how much control they can have over people…NO MORE DRUGs, NO MORE DOCTORS, NO MORE HOSPITALS AND HOSPITAL ABUSES.

 

 

I may take a couple of drugs today in order to survive the transition from CT to VT, but you must understand that my brain was already damaged from the years of having been given them against my will. So I HAVE AN ALREADY DAMAGED BRAIN, from the medications I’ve already taken.

 

I do not advise anyone with a more or less intact brain to take an anti-psychotic drug, not ever, not if you can avoid it and certainly not for “the rest of your life.” NEVER take any drug on an ongoing, “forever” basis. ALWAYS re-evaluate your need for it.

 

And that is all I am going to say about Abilify. If you take Abilify for “depression” you have come to the wrong place. Nevertheless, I have written a blog post just for you. Do a search on “Add Abilify” and you should find it. But you won’t like it any more than this one. Sorry about that.

 

A Poem for My Aging Mother

My poor mother is suffering from dementia at 87 and it is very sad and difficult to watch her decline. I will write more if I can at some later time about it but for now I want just to post a poem I wrote for her years ago and then rewrote completely recently.

 

Over the years we have had some troubled times. Because my father disowned me for some thirty-five years, she had to make a choice between him and me, essentially, and the one she made was obvious. I was out of the house by then and I am not sure it ever really occurred to her to make any other choice, but who knows? I do not. In any event, I bear her no bad feelings for this, I do not think. Though had I been “her son” with schizophrenia i believe the outcome and her choices might well have been very different, as they always were when it came to my brother.

 

But that is water under the bridge. The choice was made and I was sacrificed. That said, perhaps it is a good thing, I dunno. If she had given up her life for me,  I might never have developed any independence at all, or written the poems and books I have.  I might never have discovered my art abilities. Who knows? No one knows, of course, what their “alternate futures” might have  held. We can only work with what we have and the cards we are dealt. We can’t make others choose on our behalf. Much as we might wish them to.

 

I never wanted my mother to give up her life for me. I felt guilty enough, just for being the way I was. The worst thing in the world would have been for her to make any sacrifice for me at all. For anyone to have done so would have been damaging to me. So I am glad that everyone went on their way, because otherwise I would have had to kill myself in apology.

 

I could say much more but I am sleepy so without further fanfare, the poem:

 

PHONE CALL TO MY MOTHER AT SIXTY

 

I have not thought of you all day.

A March wind rattles the wires,

wishing you a belated happy birthday.

You are sixty, my grandfather ninety,

my younger sister thirty,

but if there is significance in that,

a syzygy, some conjunction in the heavens

I have yet to figure it out.

Your husband answers, my father,

aligned against me north-north,

between us implacable silence.

So we sidestep confidences,

suspecting he is listening in

until in the distance the line clicks

like a playing card in the spokes.

But even so, how carefully we speak,

expelling words of fragile allegiance

each of us pretending not to know

what the other is thinking.

 

Suddenly you confide, you feel old:

the baby is thirty, you don’t like

your new job, you miss teaching,

the exuberant children, their bright

and lazy charm. There is so much to do,

so little time. Before it is too late

 

you want to captain a boat to the Azores,

learn cabinet-making — you have the tools,

a lathe, a power saw, inherited from your deaf father

who never heard you speak

but built you a fabulous dollhouse

and taught you, at ten, to sink the eight ball.

 

Could I ever confide that I, too, feel old? At thirty-five

you had a husband, four children,

a career in the wings. Older by a decade, I rent

a single room and have no prospects

beyond the next day’s waking.

Instead I carefully quote Joseph Campbell’s

advice: follow your bliss.

And I remind you Aquarians always step

to a different drum’s thunder.

You like these clichés,

and laugh, repeating them, then you say

with a sudden spontaneous sincerity

that moves me how good it is to talk with me.

I think of all the times we have not spoken,

how at sixty it would be nice

to have a daughter to talk with

instead of friends wakened in the night,

reaching over husbands or wives,

to answer the phone, “Hello? Hello?”

their wary voices expecting

death or disaster.

 

You are tired, you say now,

you have an early appointment.

We promise each other a date for lunch.

But I will not call for a long time.

Or perhaps I will call the next day.

Before you hang up, you let slip

it’s your wedding anniversary, one

marked by some mundane substance —

stone, carbon, foil, rope.

Should I congratulate you, I wonder,

or console you? Finally, we say good-bye.

Across the wires I think I hear

your voice crack, but it could be the wind

or a bad connection.

Poem about Radical Forgiveness

 

Forgiveness or anger? Its your choice....
Forgiveness or anger? Its your choice….

TO FORGIVE IS…

To begin and there is so much to forgive

for one, your parents, one and two,

out of whose dim haphazard coupling

you sprang forth roaring, indignantly alive.

For this, whatever else followed,

innocent and guilty, forgive them.

If it is day, forgive the sun its white radiance

blinding the eye;

forgive also the moon for dragging the tides,

for her secrets, her half heart of darkness;

whatever the season, forgive it its various assaults

— floods, gales, storms of ice —

and forgive its changing; for its vanishing act,

stealing what you love and what you hate,

indifferent, forgive time;

and likewise forgive its fickle consort, memory

which fades the photographs of all you can’t remember;

forgive forgetting, which is chaste and kinder

than you know; forgive your age and the age you were when happiness was afire in your blood

and joy sang hymns in the trees;

forgive, too, those trees, which have died;

and forgive death for taking them, inexorable  as God; then forgive God His terrible grandeur, His unspeakable Name

forgive, too, the poor devil for a celestial falll no worse than your own.

When you have forgiven whatever is of earth, of sky, of water, whatever is named, whatever remains nameless

 

forgive, finally, your own sorry self, clothed in temporary flesh,

the breath and blood of you already dying.

Dying, forgiven, now you begin.

 

by Pamela Spiro Wagner in “We Mad Climb Shaky Ladders” (Cavakerry Press 2009) also featured in “Divided Minds: twin sisters and their Journey through  schizophrenia.”

Hospital Of Central CT: Smearing Shit at W1: An Angry Poem but an Honest one.

HOLY SHITE AND URINE TEAM

 

Her cool wordless RN face expresses nothing

as she scoops the ice cream turd  and quickly disinfects.

But I think for her, thinking, knowing this:

“Asshole, shithead, you think

your shit don’t stink…” While I have no working sense of smell,

I know I’m an unofficial pain in the ass here

because no one can be officially PIA

on a psychiatric ward, not even I, the wild shit smearer

who knows no disgust first hand

for not smelling it.

 

What I know well and sadly is

the consequences of disgusting others,

the distancing, the shunning,

how killing the ultimate loneliness is, double-locked away

in a soundproof seclusion cell.

Shackled naked into leather 4-point restraints, I shriek my soul away,

from the bottom of my lungs for 20 minutes straight.

The illegally silenced intercom remains dumb.

Even the 1:1 monitor positioned behind the door.

peering lazily  through the judas-eye of a small plexi-port-hole,

doesn’t really pay attention. Why bother, the shit smearer

gets what she deserves.

 

Oh, I know I disgust them, what with my out of control turd throwing

and my illegible scribbling with my feces on the wall

but they refuse me so much as a marker and board,

and they won’t sit down to listen when I speak.

Mute for 16 days, I will be heard now, one way or another.

But this is no way to think, and i think without thinking, just do with do do, mindlessly, enraged by trauma.

I foul myself because no one cares,

because their disgust is threaded, even so heat-felted with hatred

they have long forgotten I’m just another patient

with problems bigger than the shit I fling.

Instead, cucumber skinned nurses sneer their disgust,

Bad dog! Bad, bad dog!

 

But I know dog is just God spelled backwards.

And God created the living world

from dust and mud and excrement.

I am no god, I am Live backwards to Evil:

I create chaos from utter chaos within.

There are always turds to form and fling.

And in the end all they can do is kill me.

Fuck me! Do me a favor you turds, kill me!

But first, you have to silence the hate on your faces,

 clean the smeared walls,

and pretend I am nothing to you.

 

When you came in to take me down,

restrain me for any excuse, even for just wanting a blanket.

you had to breath in my shit, that fear,

and knew what it could do to you.

You’d heard the stories, deadly E-coli, C diff.

Something in me might kill you,

I don’t know what scared you more, my wildyelling

or my excrement.

 

That was always the struggle. Shit stinks. I stank.

You hated me for my smell. You feared me for what I did.

I know your fear. It was: what would happen if you

lost control of yourself.

Would you, control freaks,

too  dance naked in dung?

Poem of Grief: When I Lose You

WHEN I LOSE YOU

 

When I lose you,

will you remember the leaves

of my brown name?

 

Not like an oak, which clings

snow after snow

 

but like the poplar

spilling her yellow dress

to the insistent fingertips of fall

 

The mother of grief

is a kind forgetting

 

and I tell you now

that I will forget everything

I will forget even you, beloved

 

Remembering light

like a leaf stilled in limestone

 

who would have thought

we could weigh so little?

YOU AND YOUR ANTIDEPRESSANT — From Anne C Woodlen’s Blog

I THOUGHT THIS WAS INCREDIBLY WELL WRITTEN AND IMPORTANT INFORMATION. SEE CREDITS AT THE BOTTOM. Posted on January 12, 2014 by annecwoodlen THINGS YOUR DOCTOR SHOULD TELL YOU ABOUT ANTIDEPRESSANTS September 12, 2012
By Paul W. Andrews, Lyndsey Gott & J. Anderson Thomson, Jr. Antidepressant medication is the most commonly prescribed treatment for people with depression. They are also commonly prescribed for other conditions, including bipolar depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, chronic pain syndromes, substance abuse and anxiety and eating disorders. According to a 2011 report released by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one out of every ten people (11%) over the age of 12 in the US is on antidepressant medications. Between 2005 and 2008, antidepressants were the third most common type of prescription drug taken by people of all ages, and they were the most frequently used medication by people between the ages of 18 and 44. In other words, millions of people are prescribed antidepressants and are affected by them each year.   The conventional wisdom is that antidepressant medications are effective and safe. However, the scientific literature shows that the conventional wisdom is flawed. While all prescription medications have side effects, antidepressant medications appear to do more harm than good as treatments for depression. We reviewed this evidence in a recent article published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology (freely available here).
The widespread use of antidepressants is a serious public health problem, and it raises a number of ethical and legal issues for prescribers (physicians, nurse practitioners). Here, we summarize some of the most important points that prescribers should ethically tell their patients before they prescribe antidepressant medications. We also discuss the ways that prescribers could be held legally liable for prescribing antidepressants. Finally, we implore practitioners to update the informed consent procedure for antidepressant medication to reflect current research and exercise greater caution in the prescription of antidepressants.

  1. How antidepressant medication works

Most antidepressants are designed to alter mechanisms regulating serotonin, an evolutionarily ancient biochemical found throughout the brain and the rest of the body. In the brain, serotonin acts as a neurotransmitter—a chemical that controls the firing of neurons (brain cells that regulate how we think, feel, and behave). However, serotonin evolved to regulate many other important processes, including neuronal growth and death, digestion, muscle movement, development, blood clotting, and reproductive function.   Antidepressants are most commonly taken orally in pill form. After they enter the bloodstream, they travel throughout the body. Most antidepressants, such as the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), are intended to bind to a molecule in the brain called the serotonin transporter that regulates levels of serotonin. When they bind to the transporter, they prevent neurons from reabsorbing serotonin, which causes a buildup of serotonin outside of neurons. In other words, antidepressants alter the balance of serotonin in the brain, increasing the concentration outside of neurons. With long-term antidepressant use, the brain pushes back against these drugs and eventually restores the balance of serotonin outside of the neuron with a number of compensatory changes.   It is important to realize that the serotonin transporter is not only found in the brain—it is also found at all the major sites in the body where serotonin is produced and transported, including the gut and blood cells called platelets. Since antidepressants travel throughout the body and bind to the serotonin transporter wherever it is found, they can interfere with the important, diverse processes regulated by serotonin throughout the body. While physicians and their patients are typically only interested in the effects of antidepressants on mood, the harmful effects on other processes in the body (digestion, sexual function, abnormal bleeding, etc.) are perfectly expectable when you consider how these drugs work.

  1. Antidepressants are only moderately effective during treatment and relapse is common
Since the brain pushes back against the effects of antidepressants, the ability of these drugs to reduce depressive symptoms is limited (see our article for a review). While there is some debate over precisely how much antidepressants reduce depressive symptoms in the first six to eight weeks of treatment, the consistent finding is that the effect is quite modest.

Many people who have suffered from depression report a substantial symptom-reducing benefit while taking antidepressants. The problem is that symptoms are also substantially reduced when people are given a placebo—a sugar pill that lacks the chemical properties of antidepressant medications. In fact, most of the improvement that takes place during antidepressant treatment (approximately 80%) also takes place with a placebo. Of course, antidepressants are slightly more effective than placebo in reducing symptoms, but this difference is relatively small, which is what we mean when we say that antidepressants have a “modest” ability to reduce depressive symptoms. The pushback of the brain increases over months of antidepressant treatment, and depressive symptoms commonly return (frequently resulting in full blown relapse). Often this compels practitioners to increase the dose or switch the patient to a more powerful drug. Prescribers fail to appreciate that the return of symptoms often occurs because the brain is pushing back against the effect of antidepressants.   3. The risk of relapse is increased after antidepressant medication has been discontinued
Another effect of the brain pushing back against antidepressants is that the pushback can cause a relapse when you stop taking the drug. This pushback effect is analogous to the action of a spring. Imagine a spring with one end attached to a wall. An antidepressant suppresses the symptoms of depression in a way that is similar to compressing the spring with your hand. When you stop taking the drug (like taking your hand off the spring from its compressed position), there is a surge in the symptoms of depression (like the overshoot of the spring before it returns to its resting position). The three month risk of relapse for people who took a placebo is about 21%. But the three month risk of relapse after you stop taking an SSRI is 43%—twice the risk. For stronger antidepressants, the three month risk is even higher.

  1. Antidepressants have been found to cause neuronal damage and death in rodents, and they can cause involuntary, repetitive movements in humans.

Antidepressants can kill neurons (see our article for a review). Many medical practitioners will be surprised by this fact because it is widely believed in the medical community that antidepressants promote the growth of new neurons. However, this belief is based on flawed evidence—a point that we address in detail in our article. One way antidepressants could kill neurons is by causing structural damage of the sort often found in Parkinson’s disease. This neurological damage might explain why some people taking antidepressant medication can develop Parkinsonian symptoms and tardive dyskinesia, which is characterized by involuntary and repetitive body movements. Many prescribers mistakenly think these syndromes only occur in patients taking antipsychotic medications.

  1. Antidepressants may increase the risks of breast cancer, but may protect against brain cancers
.

Recent research indicates that antidepressants may increase the risk of cancer outside of the brain, such as breast cancer. However, the neuron-killing properties of antidepressants may make them potentially useful as treatments for brain cancers, and current research is testing this possibility.

  1. Antidepressants may cause cognitive decline.

Since neurons are required for proper brain functioning, the neuron-killing effects of antidepressants can be expected to have negative effects on cognition. In rodents, experiments have found that prolonged antidepressant use impairs the ability to learn a variety of tasks. Similar problems may exist in humans. Numerous studies have found that antidepressants impair driving performance, and they may increase the risk of car accidents. Recent research on older women also indicates that prolonged antidepressant use is associated with a 70% increase in the risk of mild cognitive impairment and an increase in the risk of probable dementia.   7.Antidepressants are associated with impaired gastrointestinal functioning
The action of antidepressants results in elevated levels of serotonin in the intestinal lining, which is associated with irritable bowel syndrome. Indeed, antidepressants have been found to cause the same symptoms as irritable bowel syndrome—pain, diarrhea, constipation, indigestion, bloating and headache. In a recent study, 14-23% of people taking antidepressants suffered these side effects.   8. Antidepressants cause sexual dysfunction and have adverse effects on sperm quality. Depression commonly causes problems in sexual functioning. However, many antidepressants make the problem worse, impairing sexual desire, arousal, and orgasm. The most widely studied and commonly prescribed antidepressants—Celexa, Effexor, Paxil, Prozac, and Zoloft—have been found to increase the risk of sexual dysfunction by six times or more. Evidence from case studies suggests that antidepressants may also interfere with attachment and romantic love. Some antidepressants have been found to negatively impact sperm structure, volume, and mobility.   9. Antidepressant use is associated with developmental problems
Antidepressant medication is frequently prescribed to pregnant and lactating mothers. Since SSRIs can pass through the placental barrier and maternal milk, they can affect fetal and neonatal development. Generally, if SSRIs are taken during pregnancy, there is an increased risk of preterm delivery and low birth weight. Exposure during the first trimester can increase the risk of congenital defects and developing an autism spectrum disorder, such as Asperger’s Syndrome.   Third trimester SSRI exposure is associated with an increased risk of persistent pulmonary hypertension in the newborn (10% mortality rate) and medication withdrawal symptoms such as crying, irritability, and convulsions. Prenatal exposure to SSRIs is also associated with an increased risk of respiratory distress, which is the leading cause of death of premature infants.   11\\10. Antidepressant use is associated with an increased risk of abnormal bleeding and stroke
Serotonin is crucial to platelet function and promotes blood clotting, which is important when one has a bleeding injury.   Patients taking SSRIs and other antidepressants are more likely to have abnormal bleeding problems (for a review see our article). They are more likely to have a hemorrhagic stroke (caused by a ruptured blood vessel in the brain) and be hospitalized for an upper gastrointestinal bleed. The bleeding risks are likely to increase when SSRIs are taken with other medications that reduce clotting, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or Coumadin
.   11. Antidepressants are associated with an increased risk of death in older people.
Depression itself is associated with an increased risk of death in older people—primarily due to cardiovascular problems. However, antidepressants make the problem worse.   Five recent studies have shown that antidepressant use is associated with an increased risk of death in older people (50 years and older), over and above the risk associated with depression. Four of the studies were published in reputable medical journals—The British Journal of Psychiatry, Archives of Internal Medicine, Plos One, and the British Medical Journal—by different research groups. The fifth study was presented this year at the American Thoracic Society conference in San Francisco.
In these studies, the estimated risk of death was substantial. For instance, in the Women’s Health Initiative study, antidepressant drugs were estimated to cause about five deaths out of a 1000 people over a year’s time. This is the same study that previously identified the dangers of hormonal replacement therapy for postmenopausal women.   In the study published in the British Medical Journal, antidepressants were estimated to cause 10 to 44 deaths out of a 1000 people over a year, depending on the type of antidepressant. In comparison, the painkiller Vioxx was taken off the market in the face of evidence that it caused 7 cardiac events out of 1000 people over a year. Since cardiac events are not necessarily fatal, the number of deaths estimated to be caused by antidepressants is arguably of much greater concern.   An important caveat is that these studies were not placebo-controlled experiments in which depressed participants were randomly assigned to placebo or antidepressant treatment. For this reason, one potential problem is that perhaps the people who were taking antidepressants were more likely to die because they had more severe depression. However, the paper published in the British Medical Journal was able to rule out that possibility because they controlled for the pre-medication level of depressive symptoms. In other words, even among people who had similar levels of depression without medication, the subsequent use of antidepressant medications was associated with a higher risk of death.
These studies were limited to older men and women. But many people start taking antidepressants in adolescence or young adulthood. Moreover, since the risk of a relapse is often increased when one attempts to go off an antidepressant (see point 3 above), people may remain on medication for years or decades.   Unfortunately, we have no idea how the cumulative impact of taking antidepressants for such a long time affects the expected lifespan. In principle, long-term antidepressant use could shave off years of life.   It is commonly argued that antidepressants are needed to prevent depressed patients from committing suicide. Yet there is a well-known controversy over whether antidepressants promote suicidal behavior. Consequently, it is not possible to reach any firm conclusions about how antidepressants affect the risk of suicidal behavior. However, most deaths attributed to antidepressants are not suicides. In other words, antidepressants appear to increase the risk of death regardless of their effects on suicidal behavior. We suggest that antidepressants increase the risk of death by degrading the overall functioning of the body. This is suggested by the fact that antidepressants have adverse effects on every major process in the body regulated by serotonin.   12. Antidepressants have many negative effects on older people
Most of the research on the adverse health effects of antidepressants has been conducted on older patients. Consequently, our conclusions are strongest for this age group. In addition to cognitive decline, stroke and death, antidepressant use in older people is associated with an increased risk of falling and bone fracture. Older people taking SSRIs are also at an increased risk of developing hyponatremia (low sodium in the blood plasma). This condition is characterized by nausea, headache, lethargy, muscle cramps and disorientation. In severe cases, hyponatremia can cause seizures, coma, respiratory arrest and death.
The fact that most research has been conducted on older people does not mean that antidepressants do not have harmful effects on the young.   As previously discussed, antidepressants can have harmful effects on development. Moreover, many people start taking these drugs when they are young and remain on them for years or decades. In principle, the negative effects of these drugs could be substantial over such long periods of time.
Altogether, the evidence leads us to conclude that antidepressants generally do more harm than good as treatments for depression. On the benefit side, the drugs have a limited ability to reduce symptoms. On the cost side, there is a significant and unappreciated list of negative health effects because these drugs affect all the processes regulated by serotonin throughout the body. While the negative effects are unintended by the physician and the patient, they are perfectly expectable once you understand how these drugs work.   Taken together, the evidence suggests that these drugs degrade the overall functioning of the body. It is difficult to argue that a drug that increases the risk of death is generally helping people.
There may be conditions other than depression where antidepressants are generally beneficial (e.g., as treatments for brain tumors and facilitating recovery after a stroke), but further research in these areas is needed (see our article).   Ethical and Legal Issues
Physicians and other medical practitioners have an ethical obligation to avoid causing greater harm to their patients. The Latin phrase primum non nocere (“first, do no harm”) that all medical students are taught means that it may be better to do nothing than to risk causing a greater harm to a patient. Although all prescription medications have adverse side effects that can cause harm, practitioners have an ethical obligation to not prescribe medications that do more harm than good. The evidence we have reviewed suggests practitioners should exercise much greater caution in the prescription of antidepressants and to reconsider their use as a first line of treatment for depression. Additionally, we suggest that physicians and other medical practitioners should consider their potential legal liability.
Legal liability for prescribing antidepressants
Medical practitioners can be sued for prescribing antidepressant medications if doing so violates their state’s standard of care laws.   In most states, the standard of care is what a “reasonably prudent” practitioner in the same or similar field would do. The standard of practice is not defined by what the majority of physicians do because it is possible for an entire field to be negligent. Since studies on the health risks associated with antidepressant use (e.g., stroke, death) have been published in well-respected medical journals, medical practitioners could possibly be vulnerable to malpractice lawsuits. For instance, it seems likely that a reasonably prudent physician should be aware of the medical literature and avoid prescribing medications that could increase the risk of stroke and death.
Prescribers can also be held liable for not discussing information about medical risks so that patients can give informed consent for medical treatments and procedures. Prescribers have a duty to discuss the benefits and risks of any recommended treatment. Consequently, medical practitioners should discuss with their patients that antidepressant medication is only modestly more effective than placebo and could increase the risk of neurological damage, attentional impairments, gastrointestinal problems, sexual difficulties, abnormal bleeding, cognitive impairment, dementia, stroke, death, and the risk of relapse after discontinuation.   Antidepressants must cause harm to create liability
A medical malpractice lawsuit can only succeed if the antidepressant caused harm to the patient. It is important to realize that the antidepressant does not need to be the only cause of the harm—it only needs to contribute to or exacerbate the harm.   As we have argued, antidepressants play a causal role in many adverse health outcomes because they disrupt serotonin, which regulates so many important processes throughout the body. This may make it particularly difficult for a medical practitioner to defend against a medical malpractice suit from a patient who experiences any of a number of adverse health effects while taking an antidepressant. For instance, if a patient has a stroke while taking an antidepressant, the evidence that antidepressants increase the risk of stroke suggests that the antidepressant may have contributed to the patient’s stroke, even if it was not the only cause.
Conclusion
The evidence now indicates that antidepressants are less effective and more toxic than commonly believed. From ethical, health, and legal perspectives, it seems prudent for individual practitioners and professional medical organizations to revise informed consent guidelines and reconsider the status of antidepressants in standards of care for many diagnoses and as the front line treatment for depression. With older people, for instance, the current data suggest informed consent must include a discussion of the increased risk of hemorrhagic stroke and even early death.   We suspect that if prescribers realized they were placing themselves at legal risk for failing to discuss the adverse health effects of antidepressants with their patients, not only would they be more likely to discuss such information, they would be less likely to recommend these drugs in the first place. Paul W. Andrews is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour at McMaster University in Canada. He has a PhD in Biology from the University of New Mexico and a law degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His work on the evolution of depression with J. Anderson Thomson, Jr. has been featured in the New York Times Sunday Magazine and Scientific American Mind.   Taken with respect and gratitude. directly from ANNECWOODLEN’s Blog BEHIND THE LOCKED DOORS OF INPATIENTS PSYCHIATRY.  http://behindthelockeddoors.wordpress.com/2014/01/12/you-and-your-antidepressant-2/

My only Sweetheart, Dead, and a Poem About Her…

 

She died soon thereafter
Eemie on top of her house,…She died soon thereaft

 

 

 

 

 

WHOM IS IT REALLY WE KILL? OF WHOM IS IT REALLY WE DREAM?

 

Is it only two years the little cat’s dead now?

She persists

not in an innocent’s dream

but at my door, so real

 

I can feel her fur in my tears.

Whoever called the injections

by which we kill our animals “sleep”

had no conscience.

 

Euphemisms hide facts

but they do not change them, for surely

if my brain believed there was good in her death,

 

Eemie would not reappear like Banquo’s ghost,

reproaching with her presence

 

telling me truths I already know:

Even cats can die of loneliness

and she had had enough of being left to fend for herself.

 

Of course, there was food and water,

but after my father’s death,

she gave up waiting for some density of me

to return, to connect.

 

Then she gave up wanting me or food.

And when her liver failed

it was too late for anyone’s love to save her.

 

But what of her last look-around at the stainless world?

How could I think it curiosity,

that sudden raised head,

 

when it was only a reflex to euthanasia?

How could I not understand such plain table truth?

I asked the vet how long it would take.

“She’s already gone,” the vet said.

First Poem in my New Book (unpublished so far)

TO THE READER

Zaftig Reader, engross in her poetry book
Zaftig Reader, engrossed in her poetry book

 

Last line inspired by Helen Vendler

 

who may be sitting as I am

in a green recliner with a cup of tea

staring out through the porch

to a darkened streetlamp outside the diner,

with a book in her lap, mine, I hope

the only one I feel I should have to mention

if I mention a book in a poem I write;

to the reader, the nitpicker, the one

who may be wondering why

on p. 47 there are two ands, one

right after another, and whose fault that is;

and to the reader, who may be tired

after a long ride home on the bus

after dark and a meal not worth mentioning

who picks up my book but finds his eyes

closing before he has opened the cover,

I say: Forgive me

I am only a writer sitting in a green recliner

with a cup of tea, I can’t explain

those two ands or the mysterious

streetlamp or warm the feet of a tired

reader in his bed. I can only put music on

and tell him stories to make movies

turn in his head, to let him wake

with the sudden understanding that poetry

may be all it takes to make a life—

well, my life at any rate, and maybe his,

and maybe the nitpicker’s and yours, too,

staring through the porch to the streetlamp

where what happens so mysteriously is poetry—

and the whole night is wrapped

in the words spoken by two strangers

meeting there, or not spoken, which is poetry too,

and all of us who listen are waiting

for the music of what is to happen.

 

A Poem to Promote Dreamrly’s Collective Dream Arts Magazine

LEARNING TO SEE IN THREE DIMENSIONS*     

 

with thanks to Susan Danberg, OD

 

 

In vision therapy, she says to think

of the eyes as if on string:

your mind must haul them together

hand over hand to see a round world.

 

Can you make red and green

become one color,

without losing fall or spring?

 

To see straight,

you must go crooked

cross your eyes a little,

 

and look into the corners of the world,

see what is hidden there:

 

sometimes a face

will float up in the emptiness.

 

Before the mind’s eyes

can see as one,

your right finger must become two

 

and move as two and feel as two

though it is still only one finger.

 

Soon you will understand

the secret: how space, embodied,

loves all that it touches.

 

Yes, a hand reaching out

is a thing of beauty, yes.

 

Have you seen the trees

for the forest, the bright ones in front

and those in the dark farther on?

 

They whisper: there is no negative space,

only a shapely void– delicate

as a squash or a pale Arctic lemming.

 

The full bowl of day spills

into evening.

 

Let your eyes fill

with all that is left behind,

adoring everything hollow.

*published in www.collectivedreamartsmag.com in slightly different form, but thank you very much Kayla Bowen!

And now I highly recommend that if you want to see the two art pieces of mine that Kayla chose, as well as another poem, go on over to the website and sign up for a digital copy of the magazine. Also because there are some other wonderful pieces of work there too. I was amazed. Some of them moved me to tears…

Hey, we all dream, don’t we? And this is really a remarkable undertaking. Beautifully done both in art and writing (and I would say that whether or not my art and poems were represented…).

 

 

Dreamrly’s COLLECTIVE Dream Art Magazine Has Launched

Kelli in Fractured Colors
Kelli being Drawn by Artist, in Fractured Colors – a blind contour study filled with color

I received the announcement below from Kayla Bowen today and thought I would pass it on. Dreamrly’s COLLECTIVE magazine is available either in print on demand or in a digital format. While I am one of the featured artists / poets, that is not the only reason I publicize the launch. I believe that dreams speak volumes, both to us and about our selves, and if we learned to listen to them, we might learn a great deal…

COLLECTIVE 2014 Launch Edition is Now Available

Launch edition 2014 features 108 full color pages, including:

  • Submissions from 40 contributors from all over the world
  • Three distinct galleries of visual art work
  • Interview with archetypal dreamwork analyst Laura Smith
  • Collaborative dreamwork feature with blogger Rita Kowats
  • An excerpt from Painted Over White, a novel by Katie Abrams
  • An excerpt from The Magic Pattern screenplay by Maria Isabel Pita and Dr. James Kroll
  • A complete section of poetry

Head over to www.collectivedreamartsmag.com to check it out!

You’re Invited! COLLECTIVE Launch Event

If you are in the Nashville, Tennessee area, consider coming out to join us Sunday, April 6 from 2 – 4 pm at Art & Soul on 12th Avenue.

 Copies of the magazine and launch poster will be available for purchase. We’ll have snacks, networking with other dream and creative arts enthusiasts, two interactive dream art stations, and an opportunity to see the cover art installation and meet cover artist Wayne Brezinka in person.

Do you have questions about the event or need more information? Email editor@collectivedreamartsmag.com.

Also a new Dreamrly/COLLECTIVEARTS contest:

“Fall Awake” Poster Series Campaign

COLLECTIVE is launching a poster series to raise funds for the magazine and to raise awareness about dream work and the visual arts.

The launch poster is available now on the web site.

COLLECTIVE is also hosting a poster design contest to select three additional poster designs to complete the series. Winners will receive $50 and 5 poster prints of their design.

Are you interested in submitting your design for the series?  Learn more.

NaNoWriMo – I finished it, and I’m a WINNER! But now what???

I did it! 50T words in a month...Now to actually finish the thing!
I did it! 50T words in a month…Now to actually finish the thing!

I want to finish writing the novel now that I have started it, and perhaps using the same agency I used for DIVIDED MINDS, if they want it, find a publisher. But we will see. I may have 50T words, and more, but who knows if it will be marketable at 100T words, and whether or not anyone will publish it. I may post another chapter here or not…I dunno. Doesn’t seem like it gets many readers (from my reading of the blog stats.) Anyhow, I don’t use the stats much because so far as I can tell much of blog land is a popularity contest of Like me and I will Like you back. And who knows who actually reads anything? So if I have a few loyal readers, that is all I care about. YOU, I  mean, who is there actually reading what I write. Thank you!

 

NaNoWriMo Installment #5 We Are Hope’s Family: November Novel

Continued from yesterday:

Ah, what was Hope always saying? Life is a beach? He hadn’t quite understood her before, but now he did and it surely was. Life is a beach. But it isn’t any pure coral white beach, with sunny skies and clear azure waves. It’s just an old beach of a beach and then you die.

Fuck.

Prem rarely used profanity, so when he thought this word, it appeared in his mind separated out, as if in a paragraph of its own, highlighted, in bold.

Fuck.

What was the point in living if you were only going to die, ignominiously, and end up with your toe tagged in the morgue like any television corpse.  It hardly seemed worth it. What was he doing, why did he bother worrying about all these people in Building 22, who were just going to die and end up tagged at the toe themselves? How was it worth it, trying to hold the building together that was trying to fall apart after a hundred years of being mortared and bricked into existence? And how worth it was it anyway, just to upkeep a community of twelve individuals who many of them had rarely-to-never paid a cent into society, but only drew from it like the proverbial parasites that some, like Martin the skinhead, called them.

Martin had hardly a peg-leg to tap out that tune with, however, being something of “parasite” himself, Prem observed. But being copper had never stopped one saucepan from calling another tarnished, not in Prem’s experience. And just why hadn’t the disabled paid into society? Had any of them ever tried to get off disability? Was it their fault? Or was it the fault of a society that encouraged, even forced permanent disabled status on them, and with it concomitant poverty? Who could get out of the disability snare once caught in it? No one who had lived in Building 22 had ever, so far as Prem knew, outgrown or out-earned disability. In fact, the residents were forever finagling ways to earn just up to, but not beyond the strict earning limits placed on them, just so they could maintain disability and their subsidies and their small but stable incomes.

What a miserable trap. You could get a regular but miserably small income for life, if you agreed to be disabled by the system. But in order to get out of the trap, in order to try to earn a living and make your own way, you would in a stroke lose both the place you lived and your regular income, all for a life of insecurity and instability. And this at a time when nothing was secure or stable except the fact that there was no safety net, and no one cared about people in need except a handful of overused charities and churches. So who could blame a disabled person for deciding not to even try to work but to stay on disability and remain impoverished? Who could blame them when that meant at a minimum a roof over their heads and food on the table. It was a devil’s bargain, but Prem could see how sometimes the devil could appear a better partner than the faceless ghoul of potential homelessness and hunger.

“Earth to Prem, earth to Prem,” called Ernie while Beanie smacked her bony hands and made a resounding clap in the tiled lobby, startling Prem from continuing his thoughts.  He stared at them, realizing that of course the two women in their own persons made hash of his argument: They had both had had long working lives and deserved more rather than less of what they got out of the system. Nevertheless, it did not completely detract from his argument that two elderly women on social security were trapped in poverty just as the non-working disabled were.

“What were you thinking that took you so far away?” demanded Ernie, never one to keep questions to herself.

“I, I,–“ Prem didn’t know how to respond.

“Aha! You really were thinking something. It must have been juicy!”  Together the two ladies crowed.

Suddenly, Prem decided to take the question seriously. “Actually I was thinking about something. It wasn’t juicy, not the way you think, but it was – I don’t know how to put it. Can I ask you a question?”

“Sure.” The two spoke at one time.

“Okay, then. Tell me when you disagree with me. First of all, this is a society of “haves” and “have-nots,” right? I mean, we have huge inequality, you can see it right here — this building, Number 22, compared to others down the street is just one example.” Prem stopped as if one of the women had spoken. But he saw at once that they were simply waiting for him to go on so he continued, “Clearly it’s no good simply to give a “have-not” everything he or she needs. That’s just what we do now, and in my opinion it leads nowhere but to misery and protracted disability.”

“What if the “have-not” isn’t disabled, but just old? What if the “have-not” works full-time but isn’t paid enough to live on? There are a lot of other ways to be a “have-not” than to be disabled.” These objections came from Beatrice Bean, whose fingers held an imaginary cigarette. She pretended to suck on it, then flick the ashes.

“You’re right. I guess I am a little obsessed with the disability issue. But let me go with just that part of it. If the “haves” somehow could help the disabled “have-nots” gain a set of skills – any set of skills — to become “haves” like themselves, wouldn’t that be better?  There are plenty of skills that can be marketed. You don’t need to go to a regular workplace these days to earn a living.”

“I really hate that word, ‘marketed’,” Ernie interjected. “Why does everything have to be for sale? Why must everything be reduced to a matter of money?”

“Because it’s a capitalistic world, that’s why. You and I may not agree with it but we’re stuck with it, and until we can live in a world without money, the have-nots need to learn how to earn.” For all the conviction in his voice, Prem was not that comfortable defending capitalism, especially knowing how avarice had despoiled the natural world he loved so much.  But he knew that capitalism had ruled for centuries, and that it wasn’t going to change in his lifetime or the lives of these two women, so it was to all intents and purposes, a fact of life.

“So you are going to teach all the disabled people in Building 22 how to get a paying job? Good luck!” said Beanie with a wry smile. “I don’t personally think anyone here is going to thank you very kindly for it.”

“But don’t you see? That’s precisely what I mean.”

“What do you mean? Why should anyone thank you? If you have an apartment, a social worker, food stamps…you have it made in the shade. Why should you want to work?”

“Because people would feel better about themselves if they could work, that’s why…” Prem said, lamely. He then realized that he had made the mistake of so many do-gooder liberals, believing he knew what was good for those he wanted to help better than they did themselves.  But how could he know how they felt without asking them? How could he know whether they felt bad about themselves now or would feel better about themselves working? He hadn’t spoken to most of the residents about the matter. In fact, it had only been Hope, the second floor resident and artist, with whom he had spoken in any depth. It was she who had been so passionately outspoken about feeling trapped in “the System.”

Even as he thought about it Prem realized that things were complicated. Yes, Hope was an artist, and he felt she should be able to sell her work and keep the income at the same time, but wasn’t she also often ill and unstable? It seemed to him that she was hospitalized for weeks at a time, and as frequently as twice a year. What would she do without disability payments when she was ill, he wondered, and how would she survive or cope even as an artist during the inevitable lean times if her disability payments were cut off? Yet she was the tenant who resisted staying on disability, even as it was clear to him that she could not afford to chance getting off it, not unless she could sell paintings regularly or for large sums of money, something that was not likely to happen. People like Hope weren’t discovered by museums or fêted by the rich and famous to be made rich and famous. No, they simply did art and made art alone, steadily, keeping the faith that it was worth it simply because art to them was like food for the rest of us.

Hope wasn’t going to quit painting or making her sculptures just because no one “discovered” her. Hope did art because she had to do art or die. Period. If it sold, well then, good. But so far as Prem knew, Hope had never tried to advertise or sell in the manifold ways that “working artists” sold their art: by marketing themselves and their art in such a way that people come looking to buy. It wasn’t that she would not sell. Prem thought she might be very happy if someone wanted to buy a piece of her artwork. It was simply that she had other things on her mind than making art in order to suit the purchasing public. And what about the others in Building 22 – were they so very different? What did he know? Did he know enough to draw any conclusions at all?

“It’s just such a vicious cycle,” he said, as if finishing a thought he had started aloud.

Beanie seemed to have followed him. “Yah, I agree. But some of these folks have two or three strikes against them before they started out in life. Can you blame them for seeing a tiny fixed income for life better than the insecurity of not knowing whether you can earn anything at all?”

Ernestine Baker seemed to disagree. She counted off on her fingers, as if reciting a litany, “Darryl, Kashina, Bryony, Giorgio, Feder…and that strange woman, Hope. What cases. I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes for a second. I can’t imagine being one of them for a day, not even if you paid me. Talk about unfulfilled lives and unrealized potential!”

“But what are you saying?” remonstrated Prem. “That their lives are wasted? And if they are wasted, whose fault is that? Why have the disabled been allowed not to do something with their lives? That’s my entire point. Look at Giorgio. He was a talented auto mechanic. He wasn’t in the system all his life. He has skills. He just can’t use those skills right now. Feder has savant expertise that surely could be used somewhere productively. Bryony already works three days a week, and Kashinda is so young that it would indeed be a terrible waste if she never learned to do something with her life, except smoke pot. We created a real monster with Federal disability benefits: the same limitations that promote permanent poverty promote never getting better.” Prem could feel himself getting passionate, and wondered just where that came from. Why did he care so much? Why he sounded almost hysterical…

“Okay, what’s going on, Prem?” asked Beanie, peering at him with more than a little concern. “Why don’t you draw up a chair, sit down with us, take a load off…”

Baker, abashed, chimed in, “You want a drink, Prem? The beer is on me.”

His face warm, Prem had felt a sudden but urgent need to be gone. To be anywhere but here. Ashamed of himself, he apologized to the two older women and literally backed away even he spoke, forgetting entirely why he had returned to Building 22 at such an hour in the first place. By the time he remembered the water pressure situation that had occurred just that morning, he was halfway down the block with an old cassette tape playing Dave Mallett’s “Pennsylvania Sunrise,” a song that always made him yearn to hop a train and go places, never to return.

Pennsylvania sunrise…ten degrees at best.

Peerin’ from the window of a club car heading west.

After mornin’ glory…money for the miles.

Someone said I’ll do this for a while.

 

_____________

 

I promise more action in the segments I will share in upcoming days. I won’t share the entire novel but I will share some parts of it, enough to entice. I now have c 120 pp.  double spaced 37000wds.

NaNoWriMo – Additional Installment #4 November Novel

A piece from the middle of WE ARE HOPE’S FAMILY

In 2011, late October, Prem at 45, walked the hallways of his building, still only the manager, still earning a monthly salary from his father with whom he rarely spoke, and then only to discuss matters concerning the building’s upkeep.  He could not afford to go on vacation, or to buy a new car. He had never bought a new car in fact, but kept his used Honda on the road well past the time when others of his former socioeconomic bracket — that is, the friends he had grown up with — were trading in and up. He never thought in those terms, socioeconomic brackets meant nothing to him. He was just Prem Mukherjee, and he had more in common with the people he worked with, and for, than those who bought new cars every other year and cared about that sort of thing. But in point of fact, he had very little money to put in the bank or to support a family, had he had one. But Prem never married, never even found a woman he could fall in love with. Somehow none ever measured up to whatever standards his mind seemed to set, if he set any. He wasn’t sure he set standards, only that he was so busy and he just never socialized, never seemed to be looking for a partner and no one appeared before him to dazzle him. Perhaps he was meant to be alone. He never minded much, but the prospect of growing old alone, when he couldn’t work and might be ill didn’t feel right to him either. Nevertheless, whom could he meet and fall in love with and how was that ever going to happen?

If he thought about it, there had been a few women who had appealed to him over the years, but they had always been so unattainable for one reason or another that he had scarcely tried. Thinking them either too-career oriented or too wealthy to look at a (poor as a church mouse) Building Manager like Prem, he shied away from making his interest in them known. What would he do with a rich woman, anyway? He could not keep her happy, not if it meant dinners out at restaurants or the theatre or other expensive entertainments. His own idea of entertainment was a walk in the park or dinner by the fire in his apartment and reading a book aloud to one another, or just talking about each other for hours…

Yes, it was possible there was someone who would like things like that, but he hadn’t met her yet. On the other hand, he hadn’t met many women at all, so how could he know whether or not there was someone out there for him. Ever since the rupture with his father years before, he had thrown himself into the work of Building 22, and all the complexities inherent in dealing with Eleven disabled or elderly individuals. He had learned much along the way about Social Security and federally subsidized rent, not to mention the troubles and headaches of maintaining a 100-year-old structure in a world where most such buildings were torn down and replaced with new ones. How could he have found the time to meet someone, the right Miss Someone, when he had had so much to do that was so vitally important to twelve lives all that time?

Eleven lives? Well, it was more than eleven, in fact, in all those years, since people had come and gone in the 24 years since he had taken on the responsibility for the building and its upkeep. There had been deaths, and there had been moves too.  And the weird thing was that for the most part the moves-out had been almost as sad as the deaths. Building 22 was a little community, and while people might keep to themselves, for some were loners by nature, nevertheless the tenants knew one another at least by name and no one to his knowledge was ever ostracized or openly disliked, except once, not so very long ago. That tenant, Martin, was an irascible young man, with discernable emotional instability, a self-described “skin-head.”

The police were summoned on several occasions. Once it was to break up what had threatened to become a fist-fight between on the one hand Martin, spindly, shaved-head twenty-something with a pigeon breast and arms that were too long for his body, and Darryl Strakesley, the Building 22 resident who was, of all the residents, the most fully employed – he worked 30 hours as an usher at the Cinema Deluxe – and the least independent at one and the same time. Darryl, who had Down syndrome, was squat as a fire hydrant and nearly as immoveable. He was also almost always unflappable and this was a good thing, given his congenital heart condition, so when Prem heard that summer that Darryl had been begging Martin, the skinhead, for a fight, he knew something was wrong. Something had to give or worse would happen.

Prem wasn‘t there the day of the Darryl-Martin Brawl, as it came to be called. That day, city hydrants had been shut off in certain locations, lest children using them for sprinklers waste too much water when the region was in the grip of a simultaneous drought and heat wave. Building 22’s water pressure suddenly failed and none of the upper floors had running water. This would have been a disaster in the making at any time of year, but during the summer, in a heat wave, nothing could have been worse.  So Prem spent all afternoon fighting with the water company and the electric utilities in order to get their plumbing functioning again. It was only when he returned to Building 22 early that evening, to check on residents and make sure that the water pressure situation had been resolved, that he learned what had happened.

“Darryl took a swing at Martin,” old Beatrice Bean peremptorily informed Prem the moment he stepped into the lobby. Beanie, dressed in a lightweight housecoat, was seated in an inexpensive folding camp chair, the kind with a pocket for soft drinks, near the elevator.  She did not get up when he came towards her as her gnarled feet were blue-veiny and swollen from the heat, but she did reach out to shake his hand. “It wasn’t Darryl’s fault. How could it be? Darryl wouldn’t hurt a cockroach. Martin does these things to people. He makes you want to clock him.”

Beanie wasn’t alone. Seated with her, in a similar camp chair holding a cold beer, was her friend Ernestine Baker, who had been Beanie’s best friend for as long as Prem had known them. Superficially, they looked like sisters, both being tall and having masses of extraordinary white hair that would have made them stand out anywhere. But of course there were differences too, and it only took a second glance to see that Ernestine was both thicker and a little younger. Ernie’s voice was also higher and sharper than Beanie’s, who had once been a smoker and even now occasionally enjoyed a butt or two when she was offered one.

At 75, Ernie was not, for all that, the healthier of the two. Prem knew that she had had diabetes most of her life, and now suffered from complications that would set most people back but which Ernie took in stride, largely he thought from having anticipated them as possible if not absolute likelihoods in her future. Ernie lived on the first floor, apartment C. (Beanie, on the other hand, lived next door to Hope on the second floor in A). When she stepped on a thumbtack, and her toe became infected, for a while it seemed that nothing could go right. She lost the toe and then her entire left foot and was in rehab for three months before they released her, wheelchair-bound. But being Ernie, she refused to stay seated, and was up on crutches and mobile before the end of the year.

“Halloo, Premjit Mukherjee,” hailed Ernestine, half-rising, to air-kiss the manager. “You missed a ringside seat a few hours ago.”

“I hope no one was hurt,” said Prem, his brow once so smooth now deeply furrowed as if with permanent worry. “With his heart condition, Darryl should not be fighting anyone. You all know that. And with Martin of all people.” He remonstrated gently, but the look on his face was nevertheless puzzled and full of sorrow.

“Oh, Prem, never you mind,” answered Beanie. “No one would let Darryl fight Martin. At least we wouldn’t let him if we could stop him. But the operative word here is could.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, for one thing, Darryl is a grown man, and while we try to keep an eye on him for Morelline, we can’t watch him every minute of the day. Besides, he never needed that before. It’s just this Martin person. He’s a nasty, spiteful snake if ever I saw one.”

“Martin’s a problem, I grant you that,” Prem said to Beanie. “But he has a disability, and you have to learn to live with him, or at least get out of his way so he doesn’t bother you. He has a right to live here just like everyone else.”

At this, Baker and Beanie glanced pointedly at each other with raised eyebrows. Then they turned back to Prem and exaggerated their attention. Sensing their intent, he lowered his chin into his chest, looking at them from under a knitted brow. “Wait a minute. That’s not fair. I know he’s not been very nice. He’s—he’s –“

“Premjit, Martin boasts openly that he’s a skinhead,” said Beanie. “He hates anybody who isn’t white and whatever else neo-Nazis are supposed to be. I know a lot of haters want you to be ultra-Christian, but in this case I think Martin hates even Christians …” Beanie sounded weary, as if tired of trying to explain Building 22’s animosity towards Martin, as if tired of explaining why skinhead philosophy was actually not as decent and reasonable a way of thinking as any other.

Prem made a wry face and nodded. Shrugged. Then seemed to apologize for shrugging. “I’m sorry. I know. I know. I don’t like Martin’s talk anymore than you do, really, Beans. But it isn’t right for me to take sides against a legal tenant. You know how I feel; you know me. Do you think I would approve of the things he says, the things he does? But…”

“But what?” asked Beanie. “But let Martin badger Darryl into fighting, and then stop Darryl from fighting, both at the same time. Just keep the peace so you don’t have any headaches? Is that it?”

Prem looked at the old lady with her swollen feet thrust into rubber flipflops of the cheapest kind. He could all but see the lightning flash from her eyes. He smiled. “Yeah, that’s about it. I don’t like headaches, you know. I like a nice cushy job, no troubles, no probs. Don’t get involved in anyone’s life, just do your job, collect your pay check and go home, watch Geraldo on TV…”  He struck a pose as if opening a beer and letting it slosh down his throat. “Ah, good!”  He made a gargling noise.

Beanie visibly relaxed. “Okay, okay, ” she said. “You get it. I should have known better.”

“So tell me what happened here today, Beans, Baker. Martin got Darryl riled, that much I gather. And I can see how that would happen, what with his racist talk and manipulating.” Baker cracked open another cold one from her cooler, distracting him. After a long sweltering day, Prem was tired and thirsty. He wished she would offer him one, but of course no one would think of offering the building manager anything like alcohol, not even an icy cold beer on a hot day. Resigned, he finished his sentence. “But how did it go so far, and how on earth did it end peaceably?” Ernie Baker snorted. “Peaceably, my foot. Oh, excuse me — I don’t have a foot. Well, my ankle, then. The police had to practically pull them apart. It was only because Darryl weighs so much more than Martin, and is so much bigger that Martin didn’t get away with saying the things that he said. I think he expected he could blab whatever filth he wanted to just because Darryl has Down syndrome and it wouldn’t matter. Did he think Darryl was also deaf? Next time he’ll think again.”

“What happened after the police stopped Darryl from hitting Martin?”

“Well, they were going to take him downtown, especially when that little shit wanted to press charges. But Morelline, Darryl’s mother, you know. Well, you know how she is, she persuaded Martin that she just ‘might-could’ look into a few things he was involved in, and she would, you know, if he went ahead.” Beanie stopped to glance at her friend Baker, who took a swig of beer and shook her head.

“Morelline once worked in government. She knows how to get information and Martin knows it,” Ernestine added.

Beanie continued, “Anyhow, by the time she was through the police were able to leave without taking Darryl, and that skunk Marti slank off somewhere with his tail dragging. It was a sight to see. I tell you, the rest of us tenants had a party on the rooftop afterwards. All that was missing were the fourth of July fireworks, which was just as well since I didn’t think we needed any more explosions for rest of the day!”

As Beanie finished her sentence, the elevator down the hallway thumped into service. There was a hum and a light went on signaling that someone on Floor 3 had summoned the car.  With a rapid whoosh it descended and when the door opened, a short squat man with a solemn face and the characteristic features of Down syndrome exited the elevator, Darryl Strakesley.  His mother, a tiny dark-skinned woman wearing a yellow dress followed him, her black hair neatly cropped against her head, gold hoop earrings completing the ensemble. Morelline Strakesley at 55 always looked exquisitely well put-together, and few suspected that she bought everything  she wore at Goodwill or thrift stores, her carefree days on a government salary having been many years before.

“Darryl. Mrs Strakesley. How are you?” Prem greeted them, the only two residents who shared a unit in the building. It must have been tight quarters for a single man and his mother to live together in one apartment, but they managed without discernable trouble. Each time he had seen their premises the place was neat and clean without being inordinately immaculate. The nice thing was that there was always a place for Darryl’s projects – he had learned in school to make potholders and to weave simple placemats, of which he made sets and sold them on the side. His small looms were set up in the living room, even though that was where his mother Morelline slept each night on a pull-out sofa bed. Morelline, who had once, so it was rumored, worked for government intelligence – whatever that meant to whomever it was told –was now too ill to do more than care for Darryl and spend her spare time reading and keeping up with the news, which fascinated her.  She had few people with whom she could converse about such things, but she read voraciously and widely, and she was on a never ending quest to find a cure for Darryl’s heart disease before it was too late.

As for her own problem, although it was clear she could no longer work, she would not see a doctor, convinced that it had been doctors who had caused Darryl’s Down syndrome. So while she wheezed and had trouble catching her breath, could scarcely walk sometimes due to swollen ankles and legs, she would only use her relatives’ extra inhalers for her asthma or ones they didn’t need. Or that other people gave her from their own supplies. Somehow she managed to get them when she felt she needed them. And somehow she kept on going, though the wheezing was never much relieved, it felt just a little better, and she felt better because she wasn’t paying doctors just to make her worse. Unfortunately, moving at all was often the triumph of matter over mind for Morelline, when Morelline’s body was the matter at hand, refusing to knuckle under and give in to her demands. It was clear that she detested asking for help at any time, but she especially hated it when she herself was in need, unable to breathe and wheezing like a broken bellows.

This evening, however, she must have been better, because she smiled and said that they were going out. Darryl didn’t have to work and it was unpleasantly warm indoors and so nice outside that she and her son were taking a stroll in the park, where crowds and summer lights kept it safe late into the night. Surprisingly, she said nothing about the incident earlier in the day. Even Darryl seemed no worse for the wear, sporting a coat and tie and a pair of old fashioned seersucker trousers. Together they looked like an adorable mother- son pair, going out on the town together on an ordinary summer night. No one could have known that the son had nearly been arrested that afternoon for assault, or that the mother had once worked, so it was rumored, for the CIA, and thought nothing of using the fact of her past employment to threaten someone, albeit someone menacing her son, into silence.

Prem and the others watched as Mrs Strakesley led Darryl through the double doors of Building 22’s lobby into the darkness of the street outside.  On the one hand, he didn’t know whether to be proud of the woman or afraid of her. On the other hand, he knew she was fiercely and defiantly protective of her son, and that she would die before letting anything bad happen to him. Darryl may have been unfortunate in certain circumstances of his birth, but he was also blessed with a mother who was determined to make a life for him as best she possibly could, given all that she had to handle. Whether or not this was good for him, Prem thought, it was impossible to say. But no one could deny the single- minded force with which she forged ahead toward her goal. Prem worried though. He worried about Darryl if anything should happen to Morelline, and he worried about Morelline because she seemed sicker than even she was aware. He didn’t know a great deal about asthma, about COPD, one of the seemingly popular and common diagnoses of the modern age, but he clearly remembered from his pre-med days the symptoms of chronic congestive heart failure: shortness of breath, easy fatigue, edema. Not to mention potential kidney failure that could add to the catastrophic nature of the illness. He was careful, however, even privately, to remind himself he was not a doctor and that Mrs Strakesley stringently avoided seeing doctors, so that even if he was right, and even if she knew what was wrong, she would likely refuse treatment.

 

(TBC)

NaNoWriMo – 3rd Installment, November Novel: We Are Hope’s Family

Feder spoke into the darkness of Hope Ouestelle’s apartment. No one answered. “Hope?” Again there was no answer. He peered through the dimness of black and gray shapes that he hoped were just her papier mache people and creatures. “HOPE! Where are you? “ He stepped inside and moved forward, fumbling blindly for something to guide his way. Just then, his hand fell upon a lamp and he was about to pull the cord, when Hope yelled out from the bathroom.

“Don’t try to turn on the lights! I am doing something here and any light will ruin it! Just wait a goldarned minute, okay?”

Happy to hear her voice, Feder felt for a chair, slid into it and rested. At least Hope had lights, which meant that she had not lost her utilities the way some of the buildings tenants had, not yet at any rate. Not the way he had. Feder was ashamed of himself and was half afraid to admit it to Hope that he had spent too much money this month.  On  important things, yes, but also things that experience told him most people would not understand, like repeatedly paying to go through the turnstile at the Parkland, just to feel the rolling thump of the bars against his body. Why did he like this and why did he do this? He didn’t know what it was about that admission turnstile but there was a moment, right inside it, when the bars felt like they locked and might not release him, and he felt such anxiety it was almost pleasure, and then they did, they let go and that was so  — what? It was so mysterious a pleasure that he had to do it again. Yes, he knew that there had been a rate increase in the electricity bill this month, that he had to pay $30 more, but somehow entering the turnstile had used up that $30 and he hadn’t been able to pay his bill and now his apartment had neither lights nor heat.

What was Hope going to say when he told her? He wasn’t going to ask her for money. She wouldn’t have any extra in any event. He just hoped that she would let him eat with her in the evenings, and cook his supper in her apartment with her the way she had the last time this happened. She might even, maybe, perhaps, let him sleep in a chair in her artroom/living room if it got really cold in his apartment. That’s what she had done the last time and he could only hope she would do it again.

But he remembered what she had said to him the last time he slept there the previous spring, before he left for his apartment, after the weather turned warm again and daylight savings time returned. ”Feder, I cannot keep rescuing you from yourself. What am I doing? Am I helping you or hurting you by letting you stay here? I honestly do not know.”

Feder hadn’t known what to answer. How could she hurt him by letting him cook his food in a lighted kitchen or sleep where it was warm? How could it hurt him to help him? But Hope had her own ways of thinking and he had to keep that in mind. She did not understand the draw of the turnstile, and he knew she would think it strange to the point of bizarre. Everyone did. Everything he did looked strange to people. He was bad. Bizarre was bad, bizarre could get you taken away. But Hope should understand that. She was regularly taken away herself for what others thought was bizarre behavior: sitting in her artroom, talking to herself or to her papier mache people, or listening to voices of people no one else could hear, and doing what they told her to do, harmful things to herself, things like putting out cigarettes on her skin or cutting off pieces of herself with the sharpest of scissors. Talk about bizarre.

Feder at least had never been taken away. Not since he was a kid. But he would not think about those days. To think about those terrible days in the screaming room was to invite trouble, the many hours tied down to a bed because he wouldn’t – couldn’t – stop spinning. The times the teacher pinched his arm to stop him from reciting names after names of things she did not have the same need to know and hear…His need to tell her the dates of everything that ever happened to him and her need not to hear him, to silence him. How she had so much power to do so. No! Mustn’t think about those bad times, black times, screaming times…Mustn’t think. Mustn’t think. He had to think about something else. Think about the turnstile, the turnstile. How the heavy rollers came across to stop a person from crossing, then how they caught him and held him ever so briefly—that strange mechanism he was never sure he saw properly – and then how they always gently released him safely to the other side. He would think about the turnstile if he had to, until Hope came out of the bathroom.

But then thinking about the turnstile reminded him of the fact that he had not paid, could not pay, his electricity bill and how there was neither heat nor lights in his apartment. He did not want to admit this to Hope…The need to recite took hold, as it always did when anxiety got the best of him and he seized the information that was closest at hand: His name was Feder Prisma  and he was 31, born Jan 5, 1979, a Friday. Hope Outestelle, his best friend was age 57, born Sept 16, 1954, which was a Thursday, the 259th day of the year. Premjit Mukherjee, was their friend, and the building manager, aged 47, born on April 1, 1964, a Wednesday, the 92nd day of the year. Stashu Weissman, was from Poland, aged 79, b orn in 1931, Dec 25, a Friday 359th day of the year. Giorgio Ciabatta, the auto mechanic, at age 43 born, in Italy, Feb 19, 1968 on a Monday. Beatrice Bean age 84, was born on Sunday May 1, 1927, the 121st day of the year. Their Landlord Mr. Mukherjee, was age 71. He was born on Sunday, April 27, 1941, the 117th day of the year. On the fourth floor, Bryony Leurile aged 44 was born on the 82nd day of the year, Sunday, 1967, March 23rd. Then there was Kashinda Whitmore, age 27, who was born on the 305th day of the year, in 1984, on Halloween, a Wednesday. Darryl Strakesley aged 31 was born on  a Saturday, the 255th day of the year 1981, Sept 12th. Lupita Villareal, aged 62 was born on Sunday, the156th day of 1949, June 5. There were others, but he did not know their birthdays yet, so he started repeating the dates to himself. Hope  Oestelle, his best friend, was born on Sept 16, 1954, she was 57 now. It was on a Thursday–

“So, what do you think of this?” asked Hope, appearing suddenly in the equally sudden explosion of lights that came on all together when she flipped the apartment’s main circuit breaker.

Feder started.

He hated it when people wanted him to notice something. It was always a test he failed at. He guessed. “Your hair?”

Now that he said it, he looked to see if it was true that her hair was different. She had cut her hair as short as a man’s, yes. Not only that but it seemed that she had dyed it as well, a persimmon red.

“No, not my hair. That was just an experiment. Look.” She held out her hands, dangling papers for him to look at more closely.

It looked that she had been developing photographs, but these were very strange ones. So dark as to be nearly black, with purple streaks and outlines of leaves and circles.

“Kirlian photographs.”

“Yes! You know! Well, sort of. I am doing electro-photography, and developing the Polaroids myself. I wanted to see if I could make this camera out of things I bought at GoodWill, and it turns out I could, mostly. But Feder, I’m really disappointed. The photos are awful. I was expecting something different. These are ugly. I think auras should be beautiful…” She retracted the photos instead of handing them to Feder, and tossed them aside with a shrug. “You win some, you lose some. At least I didn’t spring for a real Kirlian camera. Those cost $500. I only wasted maybe fifty bucks, making mine. At least I can say that I built a working aura photography device, for all the good it did me.”

Just at that moment, Feder’s stomach took the opportunity to announce its hunger with a rumble. Hope heard. She looked at her watch with a frown.

“Haven’t you eaten, Feder? Do you want to have supper with me? I’m sure we can scrounge up something.”

Feder made a rueful face but nodded. “Yeah, I’m pretty hungry. Maybe you have some cereal I could put milk on? Captain Crunch?”

“Nah, I never eat cereal, Fayd, you know that. I could make you some oatmeal, but you hate my oatmeal. How about a peanut butter and banana sandwich and diet ginger-ale? I have some really good bread and about three bananas.”

Feder’s eyes lit up at the mention of his favorite sandwiches and he smiled for the first time that evening.

“Good. I’ll make the sandwiches if you peel the bananas and pour ginger-ale into glasses for us. Okay?”

Feder followed Hope’s carroty buzz-cut into the tiny kitchen and between the two of them they made short work of preparing their meal, then carried their plates out to where Hope’s art work occupied most of the living room. Hope pushed aside the Kirlian photographs and made room for Feder on the sofa, then flipped on the 12”  television propped on a stool on a milk crate in front of them. Eating intently, they hunched forward as the PBS show Nova’s logo blazed across the little screen.

“Oh, good, I was afraid we’d missed it, but we’re just in time,” Hope murmured between bites of sandwich. Feder never spoke while a television played; even when the programming failed to absorb his interest, the interchange of light and shadow on the screen never did. Television had calmed him from an early age, and his mother always placed his crib in front of a late night movie when he couldn’t sleep. Knowing she couldn’t talk with him now, Hope turned her attention to the program, hoping it would be about something interesting, something that would give her ideas for art.

People sometimes thought it strange that Hope, who was passionately an artist when she wasn’t ill, but who found it difficult to read or even concentrate listening to books on tape, nevertheless devoured television shows and documentaries on science. From natural history to physics, from geology to chaos theory and beyond, everything scientific intrigued and fascinated her, and she used what she learned in her art, in a multiplicity of ways. “What else is art for if not to express what science teaches?” She had said this to Prem one day when he asked her why she used cell motifs when painting her sculptures. “It makes no sense to separate them. If art does not serve science, what good does it do? Art can’t serve art. That would be silly, like a translator translating from one language into the same language. A waste of time. No, maybe art has other purposes too, but one of them I am certain is to interpret science, to express it for those who do not understand it any other way.”

When she had finished she looked up at Prem, as if surprised by her own words.. Not by the thought, but by the passion with which she had shared them, and the fact that she had spoken at length about such things to anyone, and even more so, to Prem, the landlord’s son. She remembered she had backed away, eyeing him warily. What did he care why she made art or what it meant to her? He wouldn’t give a damn. Why didn’t she just learn to keep her mouth shut and leave people alone? Now she would pay, that much she knew. He’d soon be spreading gossip about the know-it-all in Building 22, second floor apartment B, the one who makes the crappy art and couldn’t even read a book to save her life. It was true, her art was crap, pure crapola, and she knew it. If she was any good, well, she would be better at selling it, now wouldn’t she? And it was painfully true that she didn’t read, hadn’t read a book in years, simply could not. If she so much as opened a book she fell asleep. The rare times she didn’t, the words – indeed the letters themselves—soon swam and danced before her eyes impenetrably confusing, impossible to put them together in any sensible way and make them into single words, let alone string into sentences and paragraphs that made sense. She wanted to read books, but the books escaped her. The refused her eyes. They fled from her, as if defying her and mocking her. Nyah, nyah, they scolded. Eat your heart out, but you can’t have us! It was such a struggle, and Hope could do nothing, say nothing. She could not even complain or feel sorry for herself. Why? Why? Because…because…She didn’t know why. It was all her fault, all her fault. Everything was her fault and deserved punishment. No wonder the voices had for years told her to burn herself with cigarettes and intermittently wanted her to set herself on fire or cut off pieces of herself. No wonder. She was the scum of the scummiest. She was the scum of the earth. She was the devil incarnate. Hope pounded her fist on the arm of the sofa, forgetting that Feder was sprawled next to her. Luckily, he had fallen nearly asleep after the program ended. He raised his head at the sound.

“It’s nothing, Feder” Hope said, standing up and pulling a throw over him. “I dropped something. Stretch out now, and go back to sleep. I’m going to bed too,”

As he lay down, Feder called out to Hope, “Hey, Hope! What are you going to do with the electro-camera?”

“I dunno. I was going to take it apart. Why? Do you want it?”

Feder, half-asleep but serious, responded, “Yah, I have some ideas…Let me use it. I’ll pay you back if they work out.”

Hope, heading towards her bedroom, beating her head with her fists in a private frustration Feder failed to notice, replied as calmly as she could, “No problem, you can keep it for as long as you want it.” Then she closed the door between them.

“Thanks,” Feder mumbled to himself, tumbling into sleep.

“Jackass, you asshole…” Hope derided herself in angry mutters, still occasionally giving herself stiff thumps across the head. “You evil son of a bitch. Who do you think you are? You are the devil, the killer of the world.” She paused, stared blankly at something unapparent to anyone who might have been watching the scene, and mumbled a word or two. Nodded. Stared. Nodded again. Then she looked around, as if searching for something she had misplaced. She got up and padded across the bedroom to her dresser where she extracted a half-open pack of cigarettes. Approaching the bed, she stopped again as if listening to something. Again she nodded, twice. “Yes, I promise, I promise,” she muttered, then added, cryptically. “I will, if you will.”

Sitting on the edge of the bed, Hope pulled off her jeans. She extracted three cigarettes and lit them. Without hesitating she drew deeply on all three then immediately applied them firmly to the skin of her upper thigh, holding them in such a way that they burned but didn’t quite go out until she finally crushed the heads against her. Quickly, she repeated the maneuver, and again a third time. Finally, she pulled her jeans back on, drew her T-shirt down and hastily hid the remains of the extinguished cigarettes underneath the papers in the bottom of her wastebasket.

Calmer, but a bit dazed and still not ready to sleep, the cigarette lighter and pack in full view on her bed, Hope sat on the edge of the bed quietly, her head bowed, her hands in her lap. Her face, usually so mobile, was still and blank. But it was not a serene blankness. Rather, it was a blankness of confusion, as if she were not quite sure what had just happened. After about a half hour, she lifted her head, took a deep breath, frowned, and stood to clear away the debris of her recent actions. No point leaving any evidence around for Feder or anyone else to see. She could take care of her own wounds, and anyway, three times three wasn’t so terrible. She had done much worse before. No one ever died from nine cigarette burns, she just had to shut them up for a while…

It was well after midnight before Hope finally lay down under the covers and turned off her lights to sleep. And when she did sleep it was fitfully and to a book of troubled dreams. But sleep finally came and she didn’t wake until after Feder had left for the morning. She didn’t wake until the knocking at her door became outright banging.