Thursday, August 6, 2015

Vanity Fair Showcases Me

Style icon: Wallis Simpson (I'm that old)

Wallis in her famous monkey dress
Favorite fashion purchase of all time: the Hollywoodish swing coat, jewel color velvet, that my mother encouraged me to go right back there and buy for myself. So I only wear it once a year, so what? Sometimes you should listen to your mother.

Notable ensemble of 1970: a floaty skirt, black with white daisies with yellow centers on it, with a wide black patent belt and a sleeveless black knit top. Yes, sleeveless. Didn't give it a second thought.

Favorite irreplacable item of clothing: much faded blue denim shirt, which I somehow lost this week.

Worst fashion purchase in the past year: A $70 purse that just doesn't work for me. If I'd bought it at a thrift store I'd have donated it back by now. A good reason to shop at thrift stores.

Favorite designer: the person who invented yoga pants

Go-to outfit:  washed cotton tee, loose cotton pants with elastic waist.

Style tip:  Nobody really notices you.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Bipolar Life in the First World

I'm lucky; the 48-hour rapid cycling I was experiencing has responded beautifully to Tegretol, the only notable side [unwanted] effect being on memory. I'm not so lucky - I was caught on that vicious ferris wheel for two years, and what a mess my stuff is in now that I'm looking at it. The fact is, some of the mess dates way back. But then, I've been bipolar since my thirties.

I'm lucky to be a very creative writer. Not so lucky to be sensitive and empathetic, barely fit for the roughshod transactions of normal society. But those two things are the same ball of twine. And they're related to the brain break that got me into bipolar, and to the sadness and trauma of my childhood. Lucky, unlucky.

My brain is in display in my study, but it's not on display, actually. No one is invited in. Here's just one piece of it, the table that is supposed to serve as my desk when I want to quietly study something or write something by hand.
It's actually a bit bigger than this. And what, you wonder, is a bottle of conditioner doing there? It is waiting for me to figure out how to dispose of it.

Hmm. Okay. It is considered hazardous waste. Stuff I put on my hair. Well. And I see there is a place in Columbus where you can take it. There are also quarterly pickups, but I just missed one.  So I'm going to wrap it in plastic, label it, and put it in the garage, which is a staging area between our house and the landfill.

If you want a Buddhist take on this, and why else would you read this blog, things are a thief of time. Living in the first world at this moment in time has its own unique cluster of problems. We are embarrassed to have these problems of affluence, like what to do with the iPad box you see on that desk. Still, they do exist, and they're genuinely our problems. Don't knock them.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Is reality harsh? and other minutia


We say, "That's the cold hard truth." It means "That's a truth I don't like. That's part of reality I'd rather put aside." As an elderly lady I know once told her daughter, memorably, "Well, that might be reality, but that doesn't mean I have to think about it."

You don't have to believe that, barring accident, you yourself are aging, and are going to die, and therefore make out an Advance Care Directive. Here's one form.
(This used to be called Living Will, a term that was somehow more approachable, though not logical. It's a record of how you want to be cared for in the event you can't speak for yourself.)
Whether or not you face reality, it just is. To call it cold and harsh is to say you don't like it. Of course not in specific instances. But to dislike the laws of the universe is . . . not Zen.

I just brought this up because someone I know is going around telling friends how she wants them to pull the plug if she's terminally ill, and how to do her funeral (perhaps just keeping her end up in conversation) and you know what? her distant family is going to get to make all those decisions unless she gets it on paper. Signed and witnessed.

Gerard Manley Hopkins
I just returned to "The Windhover." It may be his best poem, and that's saying something, because he may be the best poet of his time.

In reading it, do not overlook the epigraph. Also, this: "my heart in hiding/stirred." My heart in hiding; what a phrase.

Here it is. It is his invented language, so, like contemporary art, it's not something you grasp on sight.


Abstract art.

Just experience it.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Just Do What is in Front of you

I've been reading David Carr's commencement speech to UC Berkeley School of Journalism. I like to read commencement speeches by people I like, and he was one of them. He died of metastatic lung cancer, worked till the end - was found in the NY Times newsroom February 12, 2015. This talk was published three days later - a fitting monument.
David Carr

In it he refers to the places where the homeless congregate as "open-air mental health wards."  Here's another passage in which he tries to inspire those journalist kids to look for the story somebody has to do, meaning research it, write it, get it published.
Right now there are people who are spending enormous amount of times deciding what kind of car to get because they have so much money they don’t know where to put it, but because it’s San Francisco they don’t want to buy a car that’s going to make them look like they’re rich. That’s their real problem, is trying to figure out how do they manage the optics of being wealthy? Very young people, very rich people, driving through — as I pointed out — open-air mental health wards. I think somebody should do a story about that.
Somebody should do a story about why we tolerate the disparity of wealth in this country, and the "open-air mental health wards," the gatherings of the homeless. Maybe he's talking to me. There is a story I know mental health wards. I've written a little here about my own journey pretty much on my own through the mess we call the mental health system of America. Maybe I haven't written enough. Maybe having a life with this chronic illness was a heroic journey worth telling.

I just finished Cheryl Strayed's Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, reading it, not writing it - wish I had. She inspired me to go read some of her column Dear Sugar on The Rumpus and then order an encouraging coffee mug so obscene that I'll hide it from my house cleaners. After that, just wanting to keep enjoying the book, I read an intelligent article by another smart, talented woman, Kathryn Schulz, that suggested one reason Wild is so popular is that it is a record of a pilgrimage. I love that word, don't you? I had a friend who wanted to take one, and the internet was getting in her way in her life, and she disappeared from it, and then I had to change my email, so I don't know. Connie, are you out there?

A pilgrimage may seem like a walk to your Holy City or a year at Walden Pond, but it is always a journey to yourself. With a serious mental illness you don't go from having lost yourself to being perfectly found, despite what some writers want to tell you; once bipolar, always bipolar. You journey from bowled over by a life-threatening illness to learning to function, then to looking for a life.

Some of the things Strayed writes about are devastating even to read. I don't now that I would be able to write about them, or to relive my own story. Like many MI, I am emotionally sensitive. The past is too near to me as it is.

Near the end of that speech, Carr pounded away at his theme. "Just do what is in front of you. Don’t worry about the plot to take over the world. Just do what is in front of you, and do it well. . . . Just do what is in front of you. Don’t worry about the plot to take over the world. Just do what is in front of you, and do it well." That's so Zen. If you don't think it is, after that he says, "Be present."

Artist Kiki Smith at work

Above, an artist who is quoted as saying much the same thing; this happened my way on Facebook today.  ""Just do your work. And if the world needs your work it will come and get you. And if it doesn't, do your work anyway." 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

How to be Intermittenly Not Unhappy

I was going to join the crowd and title this "How to Be Happy," but I just couldn't. That implies Happy all the Time!!!
It implies ~

"Fun fun fun till her daddy took the T-bird away". Life does take things away. The line in the Five Remembrances gets it: "All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change." (The whole chant is at the bottom of this blog.) Fun is especially ephemeral. Every series has a finale, and sometimes it's a great disappointment.

The alternative is to invest yourself in the world. I thought I'd suggest one way to do that: Listen to someone else.

I don't mean listen the way therapists do, with intent to help you change. Don't do that. You don't know what someone else needs. And definitely don't listen the way most people do, thinking of the next thing they will say, even downright impatient. Just pay attention to that other person.

You can briefly take in yourself at the same time. Your self might be cringing before someone else's misery or bored with their same old story. Maybe at some later time you should examine that cringing or boredom that is taking the space where there could be compassion. Meanwhile, why not let them talk - they must have a reason for repeating that story - and just really listen, look. You can nod. You don't have to say anything. Or fix them. In fact, they'd probably pay you not to.

Listening to other people is actually a good way to chip away at our devotion to Wun, my term for our own constructed selves, that Wun who seeks everywhere for happiness when, in fact, the moment is right here.