A Lazy Sunday

My beautiful picture

I went to college in my thirties after I divorced my abusive husband. It was a tumultuous time, but so rich in personal growth. I was recovering from a nervous breakdown and four months in a psychiatric hospital. I was beginning to feel the effects of post-polio syndrome, but mostly just fatigue. I was not interested in dating; only in writing and raising my three sons.

At the university, I tried out various majors, starting with English and Music. I had been writing since I was ten and had been a flautist for just as long. I took flute lessons and saxophone lessons, and got good grades in both. But when I took a class in Chaucer and failed, I decided to change my major to Psychology. I minored in Anthropology.

My children knew it was stressful for me to be commuting and working and trying to study. I had bought a one-bedroom condo, and had bunkbeds and a single bed in the bedroom for them. I slept on the sofa in the living room. I had sold my childhood home to my ex-husband because merely being in the house caused severe depression and it held so many childhood ghosts for me.

I had offered to split custody of the children every other week. Joint custody was the law in Massachusetts, and even though I thought my ex was cruel, my therapist insisted that they needed both of us. I also dropped the criminal abuse charges I had made against him in the interest of not involving the children in a lengthy, drawn out court trial.

This is a picture of me and Eric, Jesse, and Ethan at the National Seashore on Cape Cod. It was the last vacation I would take with my then-husband. This is my favorite picture of me with my children. I was happy and for a moment, without burdens.

This picture was taken in August, 1984. When I see what I have been through and where I am now with the love of my life, I am amazed. Now my children have children and and I know that they survived their tumultuous childhood.

I still have a therapist I see weekly. My own childhood and first marriage and mental illness need attending to. Some day, I hope to be strong enough to leave therapy. But for now, it keeps me afloat on the ocean of my dreams.

Love,

Gail

Have you ever thought of writing your life story, or a chapter of it? Has your perspective changed over time? What might keep you from sharing your story?

For Syl

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Dear Friend,

How across the universe you found me in my darkness,

a child in the corner of the room.

Through the years you visit me and reach out a hand

to touch, and linger on my words.

However disorganized my thoughts became

or truly navel-gazing, you came.

“To lighten up, even the darkest day.”

Thank you for your kindness.

Thank you for following me.

Most of all, thank you for not forgetting me.

Love, Gail

On Isolation

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I am an isolated individual.

In 1960 at the age of five, I was stricken with polio, completely paralyzed and placed in a steel cylinder which did my breathing for me. I spent three months in the iron lung. I could not communicate with anyone. As a result, I spent most of my childhood nearly mute, and at the age of ten I was given a diary and discovered writing.

I was and am a very deep and intense person. On top of that, I have extremes of mood from bipolar disorder and nightmares from PTSD. Writing has always been an outlet for me as I am less able to communicate verbally, still.

Socializing is painfully difficult for me. I understand the root of the problem, having been brutally bullied as a child, but I still long for connection with my fellow human beings and so I make an attempt through writing.

My isolation has produced things of which I am very proud. I have a book of poetry which is a lifetime collection of deep and meaningful observations on life. I have a published memoir of my experience with polio and my subsequent recovery. I have deep and meaningful relationships with Frank and my family members.

But in the dark of night, by myself because I am unable to sleep, the isolation of being so verbally limited pains me.

I like to write inspirational blog posts. This time I don’t know where I’m going with this, except to reach out and touch you and feel you close to me. We all walk this earth alone and die alone, and none of us can peek into the mind of another. But when we converse, when we risk our vulnerability to share our fears and weaknesses, we also risk connecting and understanding and caring for each other.

This week I will try harder to speak more to others. I will try more often to post my feelings. I will rely less on memes and more on authenticity to connect with my friends.

Perhaps in this effort, I will find myself a little bit less isolated, a little bit less lonely, and a little bit less fearful of rejection.

May we all strive to gain a little more authenticity in our lives.

Peace to you all.

Love,

Gail

Upon Hearing a Rilke Poem

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It is Sunday. This is the day when Frank gets us coffee and donuts from Dunkin’ Donuts and buys his Sunday Boston Globe and spends the greater part of the morning reading. I spend time on the computer, usually on Facebook sharing posts and responding to posts made in my post-polio support group. It is a very serious group with people experiencing debilitating disability and desperation about the progressive nature of our syndrome.

But today there is a lightness in my heart, and a freedom from my usual obsessive worrying about the future. In a rare state of tranquility, I am able to just experience the present and be thankful and grateful for the peace and beauty in my life.

I am not in pain. Not physically or psychically, and that is a blessing worth noting. I am comfortable in a way that eluded me in the past. My physical and emotional needs are being met. I am not struggling.

I was listening to Boston Public Radio this morning and they had a guest on who is a Buddhist ecological philosopher. She is eighty-one years old. She has been a translator and worked on Rainer Maria Rilke’s poetry for years. During the segment about her life, she read several of Rilke’s poems. I was moved enough to want to buy Rilke’s works. Being a poet myself, I am a little bit ashamed that I wasn’t familiar with his work, but I am well-written, but not well-read.

The poetry was gorgeous. The ones she chose to read focused on spirituality and death, but the beauty of the imagery elevated the subjects to a level of experience that was transcendent. Rilke believed, as I do, that life ends at death, but we must make peace with death and use our lives to fully experience all the possibility of our humanity. The natural world plays a large part in his expression, and it was in this that I found an inspiration so very real to me completely uplifting.

I used to get high when I entered an art museum or thumbed through one of my art books. I never experienced this by reading poetry. Until now. The high is a result of having the poetry read to me aloud, the way it is intended, by someone who is in love with those written words. I forget her name, but I’ll never forget her voice.

Today, for all of you, I wish the transcendence from your everyday to a high of delight and wonder. Whether it be art, poetry, or some other pursuit of your own, I hope you find meaning in your life and can rise above your problems, even if just for a moment.

To the everlasting light in our lives,

Love,

Gail

 

Transitions

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I have post-polio syndrome. Recently, I have transitioned from using leg braces and a walker to being in my power chair full time. It was a hard transition, but with the love and devotion of my beloved Frank, as comfortable as it can be.

We don’t live in an accessible apartment. And although it is spacious enough, driving a chair around presents challenges. The nights are easiest, as I am alone in the living room without my braces on, and usually spend time writing emails to my loved ones.

Post-polio syndrome is a cluster of symptoms which show up 30 – 40 years after the initial diagnosis of polio and after a recovery is made. It includes increasing weakness, extraordinary fatigue, pain, and breathing and swallowing difficulties. I have all of the above.

Transitioning to my power chair meant I had to give up my networking group. It’s a fabulous group of dear friends who promote each other’s Etsy shops and items. It gave me a sense of purpose and enjoyment in my day. And I miss celebrating each other’s successes.

At first I was going to close my shop as well, as it’s difficult to get packages ready to ship now. But not wanting to give up everything that gives me joy, I have chosen to keep it open. I’ll be making more jewelry in March.

But I now have more time to write; maybe not the eloquent prose and poetry of the past, but more honest and straightforward blog posts about my life in the present day.

Tomorrow I am going to my doctor in Foxboro. A special van with a lift picks me up in my wheelchair and transports me to doctor appointments. This is another challenge, as good driving is required of me to stay on the lift and back up onto it when I arrive there or at home.

Recently, we went to my son and daughter-in-law’s baby shower. We visited their home for the first time and enjoyed the day. But I think it’s going to be the last time I can visit, as having to walk up and down the few steps to their breezeway proved to be almost too much for my weakened knees.

This is a post about my disability. The next time I write, it will be about the baby shower and my expected grandson. He’s due in April.

I just want to say there is life after living in a wheelchair. Rich, wonderful, inspirational life that seizes your heart and catches your breath. The people in my life are as loving as before, as helpful as they can be, and I get to laugh each and every day.

So, tonight while I am writing my emails and listening to my iPod, I will relish the quiet of the darkness and solitude which I find so comforting.

To all of you, may you have a wonderful day.

With Love,

Gail

 

 

 

Prose – Another Mountain to Climb

These days I am engrossed in my next big project: the writing of my next memoir.

The title? “Anatomy of a Nervous Breakdown.”

On the cusp of turning thirty in 1985, I suffered a complete nervous breakdown. This memoir is my journey of climbing a metaphorical mountain to recovery and health. There were many mitigating factors, but in the final analysis, I have no regrets about my life choices.

Set in a Victorian institution in the 1980’s, the book offers up huge doses of human frailty, growth and sublime comedy.

My philosophy for writing this book, which I am writing for myself, is that we all have our breaking point. If you’re religious, which I am not, reading it may be one of those “There but for the grace of God, go I” experiences. If indeed truth is stranger than fiction, this book is hitting its mark.

I am being extremely strict with myself about honesty. It would do me no good, assist in no healing, wouldn’t help others for me to fabricate anything within this book. Few of us are as honest with themselves as I am attempting to be. Revisiting this time in my life through the writing of it makes me wonder how I survived, both physically and emotionally. As I write, I am revisited with the pain and horror of my own flawed, distorted, and ill mind of those days. I am also revisiting the love I found in a locked ward. Who would expect through such a human tragedy would bloom hope and love and new life? I didn’t. But that’s what I found.

And I am finding it again. I belong to wonderful writer’s group made up of thirteen or so writers who put their hearts into their own writing to better themselves. They also offer critique and edits and feedback on each piece every person brings in. The side effects of this sharing are kindness, camaraderie, and love. Were it not for them, I wouldn’t have the courage to do what I am doing.

While I was writing my first memoir, “The Girl in the Iron Lung,” I kept a scrapbook unknown to anyone. The marked up pages of my chapters which I received back from the writers were full of comments. I cut out the comments and pasted them into a journal to help me keep writing, to find purpose in the pain of it, and to ward off the loneliness I felt with the memories of my past. I still have that journal and turn to it sometimes.

I think it’s time for me to start another journal. This one will be even more meaningful than the first. Rather than exposing the broken heart of a little girl, I am revealing the depth and fractures of the distorted mind of a young woman.

That woman was me.

 

Love,

Gail

 

 

 

 

On Being an Artist

Being an artist came with the territory in my family. Just like a family business of repairing cars or installing carpet or any other well respected craft, becoming an artist had its ropes to jump and came with an immeasurable amount of self doubt.

My mother was the standard bearer with her painting, her handmade items, and her seemingly endless ability to manipulate material into beautiful creations. She designed and sewed her own clothes, and did so for her daughters as well. At Christmas time our home was filled with her handmade pinecone wreathes, balsam sprays, and most notably her agile figure moving from one project to another until weeks before Christmas the house itself was a work of art. She was beautiful in an exotic way, with long dark wavy hair falling below her shoulders over the red chiffon dress she had made for herself for an annual cocktail party.

My dad was an artist too, having done characatures of his teammates when he played on the high school football team. But shortly after they married he was called up to serve in the Korean war, and knowing now what I know about his missions and how the Marines formed his character, I understand why he no longer had the inclination to create cartoons.

All of my siblings have been, collected, or viewed the world through the prism of an artist. And all have them have had their measure of history of self doubt and nonconformity. I love them dearly.

I am the type of artist who uses words to paint my pictures, and have had two books published. The first was a memoir which took five years in the writing of it. The second is a lifetime collection of poetry. I have always considered myself a poet first, and author second. But I am forging ahead on a second memoir more personal than the first. I write memoir to move through experience in the aftermath and finally purge them from my conscious mind. I imagine it’s much like laying the final brushstroke to an oil painting. It’s finished, move on.

I also design and create handmade jewelry and the discovery for me was that it’s in the act of creating I get most of my satisfaction, whether I sell them or not is important, as is with my books, but not foremost.

I have found a fiancé who supports me in all of my artistic endeavors and understands the heart and mind of my creative soul. I am lucky in that. I am loved and cherished for all of my quirks and faults and self doubt.

However, lately a pall of failure has come over me as I am not succeeding with sharing my art with an audience, whether the memoir, the poetry, or the jewelry. Writers and artists work in isolation, but most want desperately to connect with others and share their creations. This is not the time for me. I go into the Christmas season missing red chiffon, balsam sprays, and a remarkable oil painting of the ocean done live on Star Island in New England.

The only remedy for my malaise is to keep writing and creating. I am stalled on both due to self doubt.