Another Ship to Carry the Dead

So I have been out of writing commission for a while to move from a city (or at least city-like) Tulsa to a small quaint town on the outskirts of the city–Sapulpa, Ok.  In the interim much has happened with my causes 1) enlightening perceptions of mental illness and causing the transformation of methods used to treat the various forms of mental illness, 2) accepting life on life’s terms  just the way it is and is not, and 3) promoting creativity in every genre and field. The “much happening” will be revealed in my next posting a little later in the week.

Was without computer for almost 2 weeks and that was extremely inconvenient, but the innovative little iphone made that bearable (spoiled American that I am).  I have been writing poetry though and my writer’s group has been great with feedback lately so that when I do get to write, I am not writing into a void of self-indulgent critiques involving the rigid stance you sometimes see in writers–“-well, that is my voice and I think I know best what I want to say, etc.”  I believe in throwing your words out there—hearing all the responses and reactions—then using them to see what is missing in your work and what is good about it, ultimately achieving balance in the piece you are working on. That way, your audience is involved and you find out if you’re creating shi-ite or not.   The poem below is an analogy. I am not sure that I should tell you more than that as it could apply to so much more if I don’t explain it to you.  So I am just going to throw it out there in the universe and see what happens.  The picture is my new view of the city called appropriately, “Urban View” (and ironically,  given it is  Sapulpa) ….no more sunsets on the water (maybe).

Another Ship to Carry the Dead

My Companions, call out the dragons of doubt,

have them look inward for me.

Do you find me lacking?

When the drowsy daughters of the Pleiades mingle,

a miscarriage of justice occurs. No promises

nor dancing in the heavens

without first facing their ancient lineage.

Nothing will be designed without a series

of thunderheads crashing

or a few jagged lightning bolts thrown.

Without remorse they will cast

their nets for a thousand camouflaged pearls

meant for the King.

Then they will trace the outline of their round thighs

and smooth bellies

against a background of nightly showers,

in a glittering, milky-white array.

Muted power shielding naked truth moves through the land

in slow and rhythmic cadences.

The lions roar in the distance longing for release

from their shrouded cages.

In the skies above, their clawed feet sit in cloaked palaces,

houses for travelers on the way to Limbo or Valhalla.

Frozen at the edge, an ethereal ping

sounds off the lip of one dark hole,

dimensions unfathomable,

as we listen for a matching ping and wait

for the hole to disappear into the next galaxy.

The rising clouds float on a mythic sea,

another ship to carry the dead.

Sheila Black

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Mental Health/Illness and the Laws that Protect Them/It

I was surprised last week once again when I tried to get my son into a new Doctor who might be able to help him with the side effects his medications were causing.  My attempts to support/fix/change/transform myself, my own attitudes on this subject, and most important, the debilitating state  of existence I saw my son descending into all contributed to my newest effort to do my part, to do something about an unsatisfactory response from the Mental Health community.  My reactions feel powerless and ineffective.   I am faced with either moving the sluggish leviathan of common interest and thought about mentally ill people or acceptance of the status quo.  My latest attempt involves research of the laws that “protect” the mentally ill from predators who seem to be invisible  and uncommon compared with what a person with a personality disorder can do to themselves (as is their so called right according to the law).  It is amazing to me that short of suicide or suicidal attempts, a mentally ill person is allowed to kill himself or herself slowly–with meds that don’t work, with food, with isolationism, with a host of rejections from people who are bound by rules that apply to the mentally ill person, but do not necessarily help them to survive in the world.

Don’t get me wrong though.  The alternatives- incarceration, institutional abuse, secrecy, loss of freedom, ignorance about this form of illness and the societal prejudice of being considered social pariahs (the list is longer), etc.–all of these are to some degree becoming more enlightened. However, we are still a long way from viable solutions. In the meantime, a large percentage of people with a mental illness are still suffering.  My son’s symptoms that caused me to wonder if his anti-psychotic drugs  really did make a difference and were working came from the following observations:  he seemed to have developed Tourette’s syndrome, but an odd form of it–he shouts out occasionally but speaks in an un-intelligable language. Sometimes it is just noises, sometimes it is weird disconnected or fragmented sentences.  He says his head and his sternum hurt and he is less able to focus than he has ever been. To have a conversation with him is an exercise in patience and your ability to interpret un-related ideas.  He speaks more slowly sometimes in what looks like an attempt to respond to any question I might ask him.  But he still answers my questions with answers on total other subjects. However, his actions or responses to my requests seem like he understood my question, could and does act on it, but cannot not tell me that (response) in language (english language).  There are more quirks than this. I made a list for his old Doctor, but she did not think it necessary to change his medications.  All of his behaviors are new and have been showing up in the last six months.  He has been on this particular drug for over a year and at first it worked well but now- not so much.

So the the laws don’t cover what can happen to someone insidiously. He seems to be deteriorating mentally; his cognitive process or thinking seems to have lessened.  He still lives in his own place and maintains some independence and likes living by himself.  Watching his deterioration without being able to do anything about it according to the law has been difficult.  I could apply to become his legal guardian.  But I am concerned that requesting guardianship over him will cause his already low self-esteem to be affected.  The reading/research I have done about what it looks like when medications stop working list his symptoms as the most common ones that occur. Why doesn’t a board certified psychiatrist notice that? I wonder?  Are the laws binding her as well? If she says to Sean, “would you like to change your meds” or “Are you having trouble with your meds?” and he responds, “Phish is my favorite band, but they keep me awake at night”  (usually his response is not that coherent, but that is an idea of how far off he is from hearing what you say); houldn’t we be concerned and help point him in the right direction, though? Or insist he do something about his meds? I have been in a dilemma about this for about 2 months. My solution, get another Doctor to at least observe him, or talk with him.  The problem with that solution: her clinic requires he make his own appointment with them which so far has taken over a month and we still don’t have an apt.   Is he is able to have a conversation with anyone in his state of mind,  make his own apts.,  write them down, etc.?  So far no matter how many times I tell him, don’t forget the clinic is going to call you on Wednesday, he hasn’t made contact with them yet.   They told me it might be last Wednesday or next Wednesday, they were not sure which Wednesday they would be calling Sean to make his apt. -for Thursday (thursday being the only day he would be able to see the new Doctor), but they said as soon as they could get him (talk to him on the phone) on an unknown Wednesday, Sean would get an apt. with the new Doctor.  Does that sound convoluted to a so-called normal thinking sane person? Imagine someone like Sean figuring it out.

Self-Portrait by Sean

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Un-Mental Ilness: Playing with Changes and Forms

The summer, moving too fast as usual, already produced a number of subjects for writing.  Plus Change.  Not what you’ve got left in your pocket after going to the  Quick trip, but real organically manufactured 🙂 Change which has in turn opened the doors of creativity like nothing else can.  Evidence to follow: four poems, a move to Sapulpa–who knew Sapulpa has really cool apts. in two different historically landmarked buildings–built in 1910 and 1914 respectively  on the now famous Route 66 AND more change to come, I feel it in my bones. I am not averse to change either, even at my “so-called age.”  The stereotypical version of me is retiring, lives near a golf course, travels around America in an RV, and doesn’t like change.   Or another version someone “my age”  belongs to the Tea Party (you know only little girls play “tea party” so why you might call yourself that if you want to be taken seriously politically is beyond me),  and have closing minds, fearful and unable to easily see other points of view.   Of course, the positive rendition of people my age are active—politically, economically, and  socially, plus they are involved in their communities giving back where-ever they feel led or think they can contribute. I know many of these, so my mild irritation about the media’s representation of factions in America today should not negate the many groups of people who do “normal everyday things” and create “normal” everyday productive lives. This is my real purpose for writing today:  What is normal in the society we have been living in, a society we’ve created that on the one hand looks more chaotic than ever and on the other looks like we are on the brink of discovering ways of living we could never have imagined even in 1990, only 21 years ago.  I read a lot of popular culture articles and I am amazed at the way young people think today.  It looks like anything is possible for them.  I’m glad about this as it feeds my New Age thinking  (which really has its roots in the  19th century Metaphysical poets –Emerson and Thoreau). Anyway, you can’t have a new age of thinking, new ideas without this kind of shift wherein anything is possible.  And I see and hear more of this visionary thinking in today’s world than I have ever seen or heard.  It has been filtering into my own thinking as well–why I am a teacher today probably—is to be at the forefront of change and to marvel at it.   So I wrote four poems in the last two weeks. I am so glad that writing poetry is as re-generative as reading it.  I have posted two and am still working on the other two.  I want my son to write his responses to them as well. Then I will post them too. More later…………

Turn Inside Again and Again

Solitude flutters in a crystal bowl of faded leaves: wings crushing leaf, feathers falling. Its thorny gates leave me with heartache. From the window, I watch a thin tapestry waving at the streets of powdered pleasure leaving a snake trail up and down the columns of unwritten brocaded silk.  Nations still wait, persisting in their denials and fear, unable to decipher the message.  Because my oblique musings produce barely discernible ideas or diluted memories, the intended reflections fall slowly from the mouths of small sparrows: furniture for mannequins, each element placed carefully for the best effect.

The root of all this instinct and turmoil, cannoned into my heart causing me to breathe more quickly, carved my senses into the finest ice sculptures. Surprisingly, the wilderness left behind made me softer, suppler, more willing.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  S.E. Black

Fireflies

When the emperor translates the wind, he uses great patience and the metamorphosis resembles children catching fireflies.  The journey to his kingdom of flickering light completes the surrounding trees and creates a cocoon that only observers weaving in and out of clouds could find. Afterward, the veils that once covered our eyes seem lifted.

The Queen rejects his efforts to magnetize the crowd hoping that one day he will come down to earth near the riverbank where she resides. It is not that she isn’t impressed with the glamour of his vertiginous show, but that she wants him to lie with her by the river. As long as the empire floats above her, she will feel this way.                                   S.E. Black

Posted in Creativity and Mental Illness, education, poetry trumps mental illness, war, and politics, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Breakthrough Dialogues

I asked my son to read the poem, Fear,  below this one to get his reaction or response and he wrote me his responding poem to what he called my darker poem.  I am using his as a epigram/or maybe an epitaph for mine.

Whatever–  I could always create the positive

When one thinks of the ropes and coils of fear,

one immediately becomes a squiggle of lightning

                       in the royal sky

whether the corner of bread be rough

                     or smooth, friend,  as a pie

beautiful or comfortable

keep inside with dumb giggling

I will only be forever in your bonnet of mentality.

Sean

Fear

Fear is a thick presence ,

in a room full of hesitations.

Once a doorway to action,

then a practice for living,

now only a dimly lit counter

complete with gleaming appliances

and two boiled eggs carefully placed next to;

Item one: off-white creamer;

Item two: a matching cup;

Item three: the surface of an iridescent

lime green table, dusty and abandoned.

 

Look out through a smudged window;

See the magnetic lure of an old cemetery,

nearly a potter’s field of remnants, ancient

stone statues, old soldiers broken and

strewn, the chaff,  the forgotten,

weathered limbs, chipped, dripping in

frozen dregs on a creviced slab,

their hushed screams finally silenced.

Fear runs away–feet clattering down empty

streets, carrying with it the limpid desires

of the past.  One heart becomes another

breathless organ refusing to pump,

polluting veins, tingling an already curved

spine.  Fear is an iron brush and a

hooded captive waiting for an end.

The bitter root, the rusted metal, a bloody cut,

a fallow field–drenched in rancor’s odor,

each with a separate twist.

 

SEB

For whatever reason, I think his poem is more clear.  The sanity of insanity is a mirror for us to look at our view of what actually is normal.   He often inspires me to look at things differently. By doing this I find the whimsical surprise of a point of view, though fractured,  is still looking at me/ at us, still  perceiving the world through another lens.  I have been with him a lot since school let out and am finding that our communication with each other is getting better even though sometimes the word salad he speaks sounds like a foreign language. However, just like when you learn a new language, at first nothing makes sense, then all of a sudden you begin to understand the gist of what is being said, it’s amazing.  Here is someone who speaks to me sounding like all the lingual/linguistic signs/markers have been moved for him, actually rearranged to fit the neural pathways that lead to speech. Then the spoken words that eventually come out in his word order, words he uses in a sentence have different symbolic meaning as well as literal meaning.  If you listen for a while, you can interpret his version of  a conversation.  And this makes all the difference in the world to your/our relationship–which is the best part.

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Am I Committed to My Commitments?

Back to the drawing board–perception and transformation.  If  I really meant what I said earlier in these posts, then what is confronting me now will not knock me to the floor as it has in the past. A solution, which includes returning to my commitments regarding mental health, will transform my state of mind regardless of what the facts look like.  The transforming of perceptions always come first, attended to and committed to on a daily basis and representing a worthy cause. Even so,  creating what is possible based on a foundation of reality often looks impossible.  If I am to transform this entire scenario, I must believe it can be done.  I need to take a stand, get out from behind the counter, stay in action even when doors close and people think I am the subject matter not the matter’s advocate.  Last week, I went home to visit my family and I noticed that if asked about my sons, I would first take a deep breath before I reply; then when I reply I find I monitor half of what I want to say or I will spew all over them what every day living is like with  someone who’s gone off their meds, who is in denial about their behavior, who doesn’t have a firm grasp of cognitive reasoning.  This is one of the things I want to transform in my family, but it is complicated.  If I mindlessly parrot affirmations that don’t feel authentic, then who am I kidding? For example, “how’re your kids doing?”  –Reply from most people, ” they are great —couldn’t be any better–excelling in everything they try!” On the other hand, if I tell the truth, is that true to my commitment to create in language what is possible for my sons??– as in projecting the positive or standing in or for a space of possibility that is both creative and transformational; hence, making something happen just from having that point of view?  That is what many visionaries did first before anything actually came true in reality.

The drawing to the left of the text is another one by my son, but I think he was drawing me or me in another rendition of myself before we began this journey.   I write about “fear” a lot. It shows up in my prose poetry and I feel it every day when I think about the tasks at hand. What looks simple to some, feels like trudging through a muddy, snake-filled swamp to me.  In the movie, “Adaptation,” the main character, a writer seemingly afraid of his shadow who nevertheless writes brilliant prose dialogue for screenplays,  confronts and displays his neuroses while telling the story. The ironic choice of Nicolas Cage to play the part of twin brothers who represent two sides of this character’s psyche eerily reflects today’s “reality” Nicolas thrashing out his life in public. All the different forms of insanity, and alcoholism can be included in these, demonstrating one outcome of delving too deeply into your personal demons and your version of insanity.

The purpose for writing about “Transformation and Perception” then is to shift thinking.  Move one set of ideas out of existence and replace them with another in huge paradigm shifts that happen much like scientific breakthroughs or what some call miracles.  I have seen/experienced this  in myself, albeit infrequently.  Usually after I have surrendered some fixed idea, usually when I have given up my arrogant assumptions.  Right now, my assumptions are stuck on the idea that it is possible to fix a lifelong pattern that may be okay to have (i.e. accept). But this is a paradox.  No one wants to be held hostage by their own character traits without knowing there is a way out, a path less crawled upon 🙂 ,   a path more peaceful, as solutions go.  It is actually more possible to transform the fixed idea so that it occurs to you in a totally different way.  This week I’ve been on the crawl wondering if by saying,  I am the possibility of Love and Innocence or maybe, I am the Possibility of Love in Action Or here it is–this one is IT:   I am the Possibility of Acceptance of all that there is in life to accept–will any of these make the difference?   If, as my friend Sharon says, “oh-this is just life lifing along”, then is it possible for this ebb in the pattern I’m presently in to begin flowing again soon, allowing new possibilities to occur? Maybe that is what I really stand for.

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Incandescent Pole Vaulting

I was walking through the neighborhood surrounded by the thick air and listening to thoughts filled with rain and trouble, and I remembered the thought of not beauty but radiance and gratitude.  This is the flavor in the room and not the room; the quality I would seek instead of the surface of the image.  With radiance, everything I  need would be there and I would no longer need to grasp the situation, the missing sentences, the misinterpretations–the whys and the wherefores.  And never feel the fear that followed these ordinary situations.  Two young men ambled through the streets beside me, huffing and puffing after a sprint, their long-legged solidity lifted my feet too, but not my soul.  So I am not talking about beauty or souls, or the beautiful  existence of the human spirit living and walking beside me;  instead I am valuing the ordinary opposing the extraordinary.  There is light there in that ordinary place, that ordinary position.

Today on Mother’s Day we say we are grateful for our children. I know I am.  Whatever spirit called to them to join my body–what my mother called, the egg and the sperm happening–as I just stood there thinking, “huh?”–must have had a tremendous Loki-like sense of humor.  Or else I was born under the God of Opposites sign–I wished only for happiness ever since I was a very young child.  Should I have wished for sad tragedies instead?  And yet—hindsight, looking back even though comforting to some has so many pitfalls.   So I chose incandescent pole-vaulting-i.e-seeking the light in the face of no agreement.   The imperfections in me–false pride, laziness, and melancholy–still valuable as I soared through that same thick air mentioned above (and put there perhaps to slow down my progress towards doom), saved me.  Carved out my character or shaved off the softer parts anyway.

This morning I graded ten final exams, watched my son take off for a walk down Riverside, wrote this blog, and contemplated my navel–a practice you should all try:).  The radiance occurs whether you participate or not.  Just one  moment can overwhelm you. It can be something someone says to you, like my son’s assessment of his walk when he came back.  He told me the homeless people at the Quick Trip were all screaming about the herons who were so full of themselves this morning—fatter than usual, he said.   And the homeless people wanted the herons to go back down to the River.  Sean said they called them–bird-brainy, but happy about it.

More later

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SuperVermilion

There’s something about nature that is soothing, primitive, & peaceful–that automatically removes most of the ratcheted up energy we wade through in our lives. The life wheel with its constantly changing colors from a super-clean linen existence to an intense vermilion shade spews out our memories and our lessons.   The memory of a night spent in a ball gown, soaked, as the surprise guest of an inviting fountain can often go unnoticed–forgotten when later a snowy meadow beckons.  It’s not that I’m advocating for total escape into a dreamy world of the past or into anything else that might mitigate the idea of fast  machines, fast cars, quickly built houses and buildings, or technology moving faster than our ability to take it in,  but I am advocating a pause. To Stop. This drive for a quiet moment happens more often as I get older.   I remember my grandfather in 1954 had a old fashioned icebox–the kind where you actually put dry ice in the bottom in a sliding drawer and it keeps the rest of the space above it cool. He kept it on the screened-in back porch with a beer and a sandwich in it and every Sunday morning, he read his newspaper there (with a magnifying glass) and I was fascinated. He wouldn’t let anyone disturb him. If you did venture back there, you had to be very quiet and just watch him read. I loved sitting there with him even though I couldn’t read yet, but  I loved sitting there feeling the stillness around him.

I was with my son this past week, and I longed for that stillness again–at least to still my mind.  He has developed something that sounds like Tourette’s syndrome; I am not sure what it is yet because we have not met with his Doctor, but it occurs for me as one more thing for him to deal with that he doesn’t need.  We will see how this turns out.  Sometimes these symptoms are just part of a cycle.  I continue to encourage him to keep writing, though.  Then I heard on the news last night the debate about whether people with mental illness should be able to buy guns. You know, I get it for the people who have been injured by a violent mentally ill person, but the percentage of violent mentally ill people is very low.   So this kind of legislation for the few injures a great many, plus puts yet another negative and prejudicial image into the hands of the news media conglomerate.  All the ignorant, narrow-minded fears will rise up and the progress that has been made to protect people who have a mental illness will be diminished.  For me, it is indicative of some of the ignorant statements I hear said in our present political climate and I wonder if tolerance, civility or compassion has disappeared in America.

Yes, I know I may be leaving out  a lot of people who do have these qualities, but I am angry (not violently angry-just angry in a normal way like any other human being faced with this situation) and I’m prejudiced about the prejudice. The following drawing was done by an person of innocence, whose view of life is more child-like than violent. Unless you count the violence of what a personality disorder does to the person who has it.

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Why Write?–Another Take On It

While scanning Facebook in one of those moments writers/teachers have at the end of a semester to catch up on what they consider one of the lesser tasks—more enjoyable, anyway, or less urgent—their commitment to their community of writers, I also look for new topics.  Make no mistake, I love to write. It seems like I am always writing something or finishing something in my head.  However, in using Facebook, there are no grades, no deadlines, and no judgments (other than friendly pokes 🙂 and friendly/ironic asides–most of my friends are English majors, after all).  No one says and I include my own self-critic—this must be done now or else! Although, the voice in my head does seem to get louder and begins shouting in a stentorian voice when I am resisting the urge/non-urge to write.    However, in Facebook,  I can meander down the page of comments and announcements and contribute or not—my choice.

I was supposed to be looking for a part-time summer job, but that fell by the wayside of reading family and friends spout off about their summer plans, etc. Then I saw the logo—Oklahoma Writing Project next to the name of a woman I did not know, a friend of a friend, obviously. So I began researching who was behind it and what was its purpose. Next, I saw another woman’s name attached to this project.  I did know her, had been reading her blog, and I think she and I followed each other through various graduate schools, plus we had several mutual friends. So I contacted her and decided I would apply. The following paragraphs answer the questions in the application which explain why I wanted to participate in the Summer Institute of Writing.

The more I read about the project, the more interested I became mainly because it contributes directly to students in the classroom. Anytime a teacher gets extra training or is given extra time to enhance her style of teaching, the effects are exponential. I have been teaching for thirteen years at Tulsa Community College as an Adjunct Instructor of English. I’ve taught Composition and Rhetoric I for most of those years, as well as Composition and Rhetoric II and Writing II.  In the last six or seven years, I have also taught Creative Writing for their Adult and Continuing Education programs and in 2009/2010 taught Creative Writing courses at Northeastern State University at Broken Arrow to juniors and seniors, mostly English majors. This year, 2011, I began tutoring students at Will Rogers High School teaching/preparing at-risk students for their EOI tests coming up.

During the course of these experiences and because I was free to just teach, I was able to observe the student experience of writing, on the college level mostly, their reaction/ responses to writing in the classroom, writing in relationship to their majors, and writing with regard to their evaluations of my teaching style.  Some were negative and some were positive, but all were valuable. In fact, they taught me how to teach over time. I came to believe that what was essential in the classroom should include a safe space for the open discussion of not only current issues but also how they feel about the writing process itself. What stops them, what obstacles do they have to overcome just to write one page, and what stories are they telling themselves that have always stopped them from completing their degrees in fields not necessarily related to English or writing.

I learned from them how to create respect among peers, commitment to each writing situation, discovering the real “thing” they wanted or needed to express rather than something lying on the surface of their thinking, and I learned compassion for their struggle.  Each semester we go on a journey together: they make mistakes, I make mistakes, they love me, they hate me. Through it all, I make them write something every week. I am an experiential teacher and bored with my own lectures. I would rather they learn concepts by doing them. Every semester there is a student who doesn’t like my style, sometimes three or four. Usually, they are engineering or math students. Sometimes I am able to win them over to my extremely creative approach to inventing a topic; sometimes they cannot break out of their own self-imposed boxes about writing anything, so they get stuck.  I tell them if they are even thinking about using  research to avoid expressing their critical opinions about their topics, they are already caught because I use the first three weeks of the semester to identify their individual voices. The evidence is all in the initial writing exercises I make them do.  Sometimes I hear a collective groan. (In another post I will discuss plagiarism–not my focus on this one).

Getting students to think critically about their subject matter turned out to be the most enlightening of the processes required when teaching freshman. After all, in spite of the many older returning students there is a wealth of young students’ just entering college, students who are taking English classes concurrently with their high school courses, and of the older students, many, many single parents and couples returning to college to increase their value in the marketplace. In the last few years, I have had the privilege to teach veterans returning from Iraq as well.  So I am teaching to a variety of students with a variety of learning skills and experiences. Knowing this fact is what I have found the most important skill to learn if I am going to be an effective teacher.  I teach to all these different learning styles and different voices to the best of my ability. Sometimes, my strengths are enough, but sometimes they are not. I am aware that my weaknesses—I have difficulty with organization at times, (i.e. that is what my students say on my evaluations)—which seems most prominent when I do not reach a particular student/s or when I am stressed about how to fit in everything I know they need to go over.  I do not let that stop me.

Students are my most important consideration. Nothing else matters as much. I came to my education late in life, so the value of time left to make a difference is crucial to me. I am not good with administrative details and had to learn that gradually. Keeping the logistics from overwhelming the teaching/writing process so that I can creatively engage each new set of students every semester has been my goal. I think, also, it is essential to keep the material fresh for students as well as for me. In fact, this a teacher’s greatest challenge. Keeping the atmosphere in the classroom alive and the teacher present to the changing currents prevalent with each new class creates balance in the pedagogical process as well as an open-minded approach to subject matter and teaching style. The old-fashioned and rigid constructs of the past don’t work in our society today. Reaching students where they are makes all the difference in the world.

My recent sojourn in a high school that is teetering on the brink of a major reconstruction has been an eye-opener for me. I don’t care about the politics surrounding what is happening, but I see the effects of it in the students I am tutoring over there and I see it in the attitudes of some of the teachers. They are on a battlefield right now. They are trying to save what is/was good about that high school as well as what it is doing for the families in that community (and I’m not talking about its architectural value). Of course, I realize the solutions being presented to their present dilemma may actually be the best thing that could happen to rejuvenate this High School.  I don’t know for sure. I do know that one way I can contribute to the Summer Institute of Writing project is to write about this subject,  and to write about the absolute necessity for it in Oklahoma.  Of course, I want to write a book on this topic, as well, but I’m not finished with my other cause: Creativity and Mental Health.  However, I know what happens when I get up on the education soapbox. The place for writing in any curriculum should be infiltrating every subject and every aspect of learning at each turning point of a child’s education. By that I mean, reading (at least 40 % of writing) and writing lays the foundation for a multitude of things every child should know to survive in their careers and in their lives. We should teach them like we are waging war. Why not—that is the rhetorical language of the day—the cultural phenomenon.  Why shouldn’t our voices for literacy be just as loud and obnoxious as every other special interest group?  Finally, when we are in the classroom, we should teach students like we are playing the most amazing game on the court–with them.  It is a great puzzle they will begin to unravel over time and put back together if they choose to play.  Taking this path may bring substantial wealth and substance, not necessary material.

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Tough Week—Turn Left

Sunsets at my brothers ranch in West Texas

The thing about being the family member of a person with a mental illness is that you don’t really want to waste time feeling sorry for yourself.  It multiplies the insanity.  The dilemma, the powerlessness you feel when someone you love goes through a difficult period can be excruciating.  One solution: find visual imagery that changes your thinking.

I look at sunsets wherever I can find them.

Schizophrenia has phases within which the schizophrenic goes through periods where you literally cannot have a conversation with him or her. They deflect your communications with them by talking non-stop, mostly word salad.   There’s no guarantee of consistent stability even with medication.  These cycles seem to happen unexpectedly, often when they have been having a longer period of calm or  clarity.   Last week, I was talking to my son during the day and he seemed fine.  I told him I was going out that evening and would not be in until 1000 p.m.  He said he needed me to do something for him on Saturday, and would call to remind me Friday evening at 10:00 p.m.  I said sure but I did not get home until 10:30 p.m.  By that time, he had called 5 or 6 times but my ringer was off so I did not notice this while I was out.  I called him and what I noticed right away was the change in his voice and in his inability to stay focused on one subject.  He explained that he was thinking about taking a walk to watch the moon.  That the moon looked so inviting.  He said he had been thinking about walking for quite a while and that he enjoyed walking.  Last year in one of these phases, he threw away his bicycle, his wallet, the keys to his apartment, and he walked/hitchhiked to Houston, TX (about 500 + miles away).  Even for a grown man with schizophrenia, this is dangerous because his illness makes him seem much younger than he actually is and naive.

He didn’t go, so I went over to his place the next morning and we spent the day together. I just hung out with him, being with whatever he had to throw at me. It turned out to be a great day.   We had fun all day and he seemed much more calm. The sunset pictures in this post are ones I took from my cell phone camera last Fall, reminders of what the beauty of nature can accomplish if you look beyond the surface of the literal image.  I came across a blog this week dedicated to photography and visual imagery (http://theartpart.jonathanmorse.net/?p=62).  What the blog reminded me of  and my pictures too was that unsatisfactory cliche people say to you when they get uncomfortable with your grief; you know it is always “darkest before the dawn.”  Yeah, right! is what my head says almost automatically.   But, it may be true.  I don’t have any sunrise pictures. Maybe I should look for a few of them.

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Technology: Doggin’ My Steps!

Technology seems to be required any time a writer wants to expand from the written page syndrome or from the Microsoft Word Doc. habit to add visual images, links, widgets, gizmos, gravatars,  and all the other cute names they give something that is not so cute after you wipe out two pages of writing,  plus your weather station.  Of course, you might be interested in Cupertino’s weather if you knew where that was…?

So I got an iphone.  It is beautiful, the zenith of technology in the 21st century (according to Steve Jobs). I just barely got started on this blog and I had a brainstorm.  An iphone would make it better!!  I could “do more things,”  connect with everyone out there in hyperspace.  I might even learn twitter.  Psyche, not really.  And I could take it with me everywhere.  What really attracted me to Steve Jobs’s technological leviathan revolutionizing the world were pictures. Pictures that say things, pictures I could create and that I could access. Pictures that evoke words and images. Metaphors that trip off our collective tongues! Pictures that draw pictures and send messages.  Artistic pictures & non-artistic pictures. Pictures created in language, in single letters from the alphabet, in one word or in seven words, and pictures that are relevant to whatever is going on in the world now.  If you want to notice the contemporary shifts in the world today, the paradigm shifts, get connected, carry your connection around with you, and learn how to read patterns.  Imagery (astonishing imagery) is moving so fast that the processing of what this massive multitude means overruns the enjoyment of what is being seen/said.  This increased level of movement makes up a large part of our individual pictures; listening makes up another side of the triangle of essential elements, with the third being words, those whirling dervishes of language circling and circling until enlightenment occurs.

Why do I think this is important?  Can technology follow me like a dog attached to his next meal, which seems to resemble me when I head for the kitchen.  No and Yes.

First,  metaphor is one of the foundations for poetry, plus it is one way that people communicate better than any other way, even when they say something in a metaphor or a simile they didn’t mean to say and that they certainly did not want you to see.  Our emotions simmer underneath layers of obfuscating language, layer our experiences–good or bad–and deepen the experience of the way we present ourselves.  Like– I am a tricked out electric road map for tragedy. I am the cheetah who runs over its prey, twists around at 60 miles an hour with the antelope in my mouth, still gripping the already severed jugular, shaking it for a good 1000 ft. , then casually chomping down on a leg or a thigh.  I’m an over-comer and an  obstacle pusher. I’m a Lucy Lu Looker always watching your every movement so that I can write about you–rarely me.

However,  tonight after teaching my class, I went to a class for myself–something to wake me up again.  A class that said it would help me with my metaphors and the way I perform them.  Of course, my brain said if I am performing a metaphor, is it a metaphor?  Don’t ask me what that means. Then the facilitator, an absolutely amazing poet friend of mine–Deborah Hunter says, this next exercise may make you feel uncomfortable.  I am giving you permission to write about Anger, Pain, Fear, and Sorrow (I thought, in this age of entitlement–these are not emotions you want to wear on your sleeve).   So I wrote one, anyway.  After all, I had been feeling a lot lately (crying in front of the TV every time I saw a commercial about lovers, dating, old people, and any medications connected to or sponsored by the Mental Health Association) and doing my usual thing–pretending I was not feeling any of those negative emotions AT ALL.  Who needs em’- right? I’m going to take on Sorrow next and I’m skipping Pain.

Here is the result. Oddly, Fear has been “doggin me” more than technology. There is something in the air lately that just seems to bring up or generate fear.  People seem more afraid than usual.  Is it the economy, the war, Social Security, our addicted society? I don’t know.  But I am going to share this poem with my son later in the week so that he can put his two cents in. He speaks to me in metaphors and similes anyway, often  uses opposing ideas in the same sentence or fractured explanations that make sense in a weird, word salad kind of way.  I do too, especially if I am tired, so we are not so different in another context.  And our story, our history,  is one of my favorite cultural blankets in spite of some of the obstacles/challenges.

Fear

Still permeating their presence in the room,

two spoiled eggs sit on the counter abandoned.

Bitter root and rusted metal, a bloody cut,

a fallow field

Sown with the remnants of ancient stone statues,

old soldiers, gray, broken limbs weathered and chipped

Icy ball of slime covers an open mouth,

suffocating the long hushed screams

Fear runs away–feet clacking down empty streets–

takes over the mind, freezes the synapses

cuts off all thought and movement

The heart becomes just one of the breathless organs

refusing to pump,  polluting the veins

tingling an already curved spine.

I own fear reluctantly and it owns me

I want to wash if off with a iron brush;

we’re hooded captives.

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