Depression & friendship

When I mentioned to an acquaintance that I am reading Andrew Solomon’s The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, the look on her face pretty much summed up how most people feel about the topic–why would I want to read about something so upsetting?

A few sections of Solomon’s book are hard to read but, surprisingly, some of it is laugh-out-loud funny. Humor definitely acts as a leveler for the challenges life brings us; Solomon admits to “being afraid of a lamb chop” and other anecdotes that are not merely self-deprecating–they are somehow universal, at least they are if you are a person who has had a relationship with the Noonday Demon. His descriptions of how his friends bore with him and supported him through his deepest katabasis are hilarious, humiliating, sad, and unbelievably moving.

Simultaneously, I’m reading The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us about Living Fully, by Frank Ostaseski. Obviously, that text is on the reading list of “the morbid book group.” The approach is mostly Buddhist, but Ostaseski does a good job of gently suggesting that bringing more moment-by-moment, alert compassion into our lives daily can ease many of the burdens of human suffering by making us aware that all of us suffer and that suffering, shared, becomes less of a weight or stressor in our lives.

Friendship keeps us sane. It does so partly through that sense of community in which many hands make light work. And it brings us back to sanity, sometimes (not always–there is no “always” in the human sphere). For many persons, relatives are friends. Other people have no friendships within their families but have friend-relationships that act as similar, or even more powerful, support. The luckiest people have both.

I am one of the lucky ones. Today, while thinking about consciousness and suffering and depression in the human condition, I want to acknowledge the loving, sane difference a friend made in my life: David Dunn, poet, jazz aficionado, baseball fan, Trekkie, fellow laborer in the mines of the abyss, 1955-1999.

Reading these books while navigating the recent loss of an elderly long-time friend has unleashed a reflective current that, while a bit sorrowful, does not feel like depression. There’s gratitude in this rivulet, happy memories and rueful ones–more like inspiration than desperation. That may be because the friendships are still supportive. Relationships don’t die when the friends die; a powerful relationship lasts far longer.

Depressed people feel unlovable and, unable to accept the clear evidence that they are indeed loved and valued, manage to behave in ways that make themselves and others miserable. They don’t mean to hurt others; in their pain, they think that they deserve to be abandoned and their crazy words and actions create a self-fulfilling prophecy of isolation. It takes a surprising amount of strength to be a person who undergoes depressive episodes (they are so exhausting, physically and mentally–see Solomon’s book). And it takes incredible strength to love and stand with a deeply depressed person.

David Dunn, who experienced depressions far more debilitating than my own, acted as my tether when I started to drift too far. In my younger days, that drifting often led me toward Charybdis. In turn, I helped David when he was low; we shared poems of others and poems of our own, shared books, fears, and insomnia tales. We held one another upright in the throes of some pretty miserable days.

I miss him. Though I am much, much better now, I do not think I could have survived those years unscathed without his quiet acknowledgment of my pain and the presence of his friendship. The idea that we can accept what life brings us without bitterness or anger or blame, yet without resignation or helplessness, seems a tough task for the people in my culture. David Dunn could not always attain that balance for himself, but his acceptance of me taught me more than I ever realized at the time.

swan king001 copy

~

“There is something brazen about depression. Most demons–those forms of anguish–rely on the cover of night. To see them clearly is to defeat them. Depression stands in the full glare of the sun. You can know all the why and wherefore and suffer just as much as if you were shrouded in ignorance. There is almost no other mental state of which the same can be said.” ~Andrew Solomon

 

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Here we are

I frequently tell my composition students to break the task of academic essay writing into steps that work for them–very Aristotelian of me. Many educated persons were “taught to think” using this method, basically by bundling concepts together into categories. I tell my students that each person may develop a different approach. Sometimes traditional categories don’t work for a particular kind of thoughtful mind.

My own, for example. I have had to study to get to the “rational,” and it intrigues me (science mind! philosophy mind!). But the mythic and the discombobulated and the circuitous: my default consciousness heads into those places when left to wander without a focused task.

A student in my class asked me why I decided to teach college. The funny thing is that it did not feel as though it were a decision on my part. It was a series of steps that seemed unrelated at the time.

One perspective–I graduated with a Philosophy and English bachelor’s degree at the moment of the worst economic period since the Great Depression (the late 1970s). I was a good speller. I got a job proofreading. From there, a series of jobs, and periods without jobs, and marriage and children and a graduate degree and wanting to do a little part time work and teaching poetry workshops in schools…

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Another perspective–I became entranced with poetry as a young adult. I read and read, and I also wrote; joined a writing critique group when David Dunn shyly invited me to the informal weekly sessions in Brooklyn. Brooklyn was not fashionable then. I had a job that paid my rent, barely. I wrote constantly, and David encouraged me to read aloud. Ariel Dawson encouraged me to submit my work to magazines. Ploddingly, and without much confidence, I followed my friends’ advice. I learned to speak in public, to groups of people who might not always be open to what I had to say. Later, I raised two children. How like teaching these things are…

I was invited to teach. I tried it. There are tasks at which I am more competent, but I get by. Some of my students thank me.

I still prefer tutoring and coaching, working one-to-one with a student, side by side in the task of urging thoughts into clarity in the form of written text. Here I am. The semester has started. Wrench those random ideas into curriculum, work on word order and concise expression. Be with the student where he or she is. Start there. Be confident. The next step will evolve.

A series of seemingly unrelated events, careers, moves, ideas, loves–those are our human foundations.

And here we are.

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In memoriam

Ariel Dawson, 1959-2013

I recently learned that a friend who was hugely significant in my life once, but with whom I had lost touch for 15 years, no longer walks the same earth that I do; in fact, Ariel Dawson died in 2013, unbeknownst to  me.

Ariel Verlaine Dawson

Ariel Verlaine Dawson

It is hard to lose friends, but losing the friends of one’s youth–those intense, passionate friendships that teach human beings how to navigate the world of human relationships–that loss cuts in a different way. For Ariel is perhaps the reason I am a writer. No–I would have become a writer. She is the reason I decided it was possible to be a poet. She amazed me with her vocabulary, her insights, her evaluative reading, her positively voracious and precocious reading, her charm, her gentle goofiness, her forthrightness, her neurosis; she seemed to fear nothing (but that wasn’t true); she had published poetry in real journals before she was 17 years old; she read Rilke and Yeats; had affairs with well-known poets; spent years fathoming Jung. In 1994, she wrote an opinion piece for what is now AWP’s Writer’s Chronicle responding indignantly to Dana Gioia’s article “Can Poetry Matter?”–a piece that started quite a dust-up among defenders of what has been termed “new formalism.”

Ariel had always been the sort of person who chose to disappear and then to reappear, to my joy, months or years later to take up the friendship without pause–and often without explanation for her absence. She had her reasons, and I respected that; but I missed her.

Ariel, 1977 or 78

Ariel, 1977 or 78

~

In the early 1980s, my (also late) friend David Dunn and I were publishing chapbooks under the small-press name LiMbo bar&grill Books. We approached Ariel for our second-ever chapbook: Poems for the Kazan Astrologer. She was, at the time, teaching creative writing at Old Dominion University. We were very happy with the outcome, but we had no good method of distributing the books. I may still have a box of 25 or so of these books somewhere in my attic.

Then Ariel became more intensely interested in Jungian psychology, though it had long been a passion of hers.

In subsequent years, she wrote less and less poetry and stopped submitting her work for publication. The response to her Writer’s Chronicle opinion was, I think, a bit shocking to her, though I know she stood by her opinion. She just decided, perhaps, that she felt more at home in the world of Jung and his followers.

During the past decade I have often tried tracking her down, imagining the internet would find her. My job at the college has made me a rather adept online researcher, but all that ever showed up was a listing for her psychotherapy practice in New York City. The number was incorrect.

Then, my father became very ill and other issues crowded my mind. Searching for a friend who clearly wanted to remain anonymous in an electronic era was not a priority.

Besides, I always assumed that Ariel would suddenly re-emerge, call me–my phone number remains the same as it was last time I saw her–and mention she was going to be in the area, and could she stop by? That’s how it had been before. And I’d be thrilled to see her, and we’d talk about poetry and art, and politics and pets, cheese, philosophy, psychology, parents, wine…

I assumed incorrectly. That’s what happens with assumptions. Just this past week, when I finally found myself with some spare time, I tried an internet search again. And found her “electronic obit” online, and the fact that she’d died in February of 2013.

~

I have no words to express how this information feels to me.

And also–

~

Arthur Cadieux, 1943-2015

Arthur Cadieux in 1978, a photo taken by Jim Terkeurst.

Arthur Cadieux in 1978, a photo taken by Jim Terkeurst.

 

 

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Arthur 2011, Eastport, Main

Arthur in 2015. Photo Elizabeth Ostrander.

Arthur in 2015. Photo Elizabeth Ostrander.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

~

Arthur Cadieux was my art teacher at Thomas Jefferson College in the late 1970s. He and his wife, Helene, were exceptionally kind to young adults who had an interest in art and in observing the world around them. We had dinner at their house in Michigan and at their loft apartment in New York City. Years later, after Helene’s tragically early death, and after Arthur had moved back to Maine, he let me stay at their cottage on Leighton Point (he lived in a smaller house in town) so that I could have a personal “writing retreat.” He deeply understood the creative person’s need for reflection, evaluation, thought, imagination, boredom, and occasional moments of lively talk.  The universe needs people like Arthur Cadieux, talented and generous, who are constantly pushing their own boundaries. Many of us who benefited from his friendship will miss him. Arthur’s paintings can be found at his website, arthurcadieux.org.

~

May they be free from suffering and causes of suffering.
May they never be separated from the happiness that is free from suffering.

Two springs

I left the budding springtime in eastern Pennsylvania to visit Glasgow, Scotland for six days. Springtime along the north Atlantic was full of gorse blooms, primroses, daffodils beginning to fade (though there were several hillside hosts of golden daffodils worthy of Wordsworthian apostrophe), early tulips, and wildflowers alongside lakes, streams, and rivers, even in the city.

The days are longer than they are at my latitude, and the diurnal length has an effect on many of the bloom times. I saw few saucer magnolias–too windy, too chilly–but there were stellata magnolias and, to my surprise, camellias apparently thrive in Glasgow as long as they are planted in a sheltered area.

I spent a fine Saturday afternoon at the Glasgow Botanic Gardens, which are lovely. The greenhouses there have an excellent collection of carnivorous plants: sundews from South Africa, pitcher plants from North America.

The entire span of days I visited, the weather was sunny. Glaswegians took advantage of the unusual break in the weather and were out in droves, picnicking at the Botanic Gardens Saturday and–on Easter Sunday–wandering Loch Lomond’s shores.

Like many of the rivers, canals, and lakes in the region, Loch Lomond is frequented by swans. It is nesting season, and I was thrilled to find cobs patrolling the waters and the female swans draped elegantly over their large nests. I didn’t see any cygnets, though I saw some ducks and ducklings.

10247279_10203757614005125_5675182446853711106_nMany years ago, my first book of poetry was a collaborative chapbook with my dear friend David Dunn. The book is listed on my Books page, but it is out of print. The title is The Swan King.

I returned home Monday, where my yard is resplendent with daffodils, hyacinths, grape hyacinths, magnolia, forsythia, and a zillion tufts of wild garlic (onion grass, we used to call it) punctuating the green grass of the lawn.

But lovely as my view was this morning, I wish I could have spent longer at Loch Lomond and the Trossachs…

Loch Lomond

Loch Lomond

Autumn, time transfixed

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When we were initially landscaping our property, I chose to plant a particular species of zelkova known for its lovely fall foliage color. I cannot recall the variety now, although I am sure I recorded it in my garden journal 16 years ago. The leaf color is challenging to capture in a photograph. If only I were a painter, then I might manage. Of course, the color varies depending upon time of day, cloudiness, and atmospheric changes.

It is a lovely tree that announces the equinox quite articulately.

~

Equinox, autumnal: a slowing of crickets, the brief visits of migratory birds, quieter dawns, fewer bats at dusk, longer shadows. Time is far from transfixed.

~

I visited the Museum of Modern Art, New York City, on a warm October day to see the René Magritte exhibit. Magritte’s work is so easy to parody, so graphically amusing, that my brother–who was not all that familiar with the artist–at first said, “This reminds me of mediocre high school art.” After viewing the entire gallery, however, he had changed his mind about Magritte.

Magritte did a great deal of commercial art and, like Warhol years later, felt comfortable with the kind of graphic representation to which wide audiences respond. And then he played with that audience’s expectations, sometimes more effectively than others. One painting which certainly upends expectations and which I was glad to see again is La Durée poignardée, on loan from the Art Institute of Chicago; it was a favorite of my late friend David Dunn.

La Durée poignardée (1938)

time-transfixed-1938(1).jpg!BlogThis image of the painting appears at http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/rene-magritte#supersized-featured-211652

~

Here’s some playfulness concerning the title. The French word poignarder means to stab, and the implication is to stab with something pointed, ie, a dagger, since the verb is transitive. It interests me that the accepted English translation for this painting is “Time Transfixed.” The meaning I associate with transfixed in terms of, say, holding in one place (pointedly?) is that of pinning insects to a board as in lepidoptery displays. In this painting, the “stabbing” seems to be reversed: the pointy end emerges rather menacingly from the static, domesticated mantelpiece. If this image depicts the verso side of the display, it could be time itself that has been killed, spread open, and pinned, invisible from this aspect. Or perhaps the translation should be “Time Stabbed through Its Continual Duration,” stabbed with a poniard in the shape of something almost as ongoing, the contemporary barreling locomotive engine.

As it is a genuine surrealist painting, no particular meaning can be assumed. The images are random; make of them what you will. Magritte came up with wonderful, mysterious titles for his work–his paintings and their titles have inspired quite a few poets over the years. David Dunn was among them.

No wonder, really; this artist was quoted as saying, “The function of painting is to make poetry visible.”

~

Meanwhile, since I am not a painter, I will let the zelkova tree make poetry visible to me for a few days…and then get back to writing some myself.

Another Reading reading

On All Saints’ Day, November 1st, I’ll be reading poetry in Reading Pennsylvania–again! And this time, I’ll be accompanied by my fellow Goddard alumna, the dynamic and talented Barbara DeCesare, author of Jigsaw Eyesore and Silent Type.

Reading, PA is home to GoggleWorks, a former goggle-making factory that now serves as studio, theater, and gallery space for Berks County area artists and craftspeople of all kinds. Small, struggling cities like Reading are turning to the arts as a means to fill abandoned factory space and create an economic and cultural reason to keep downtown areas alive. Sometimes these efforts succeed, sometimes they don’t. GoggleWorks opened in its current incarnation in 2005. So far, that’s a 7-year run, supported through grants and donations and rent. I am optimistic about GoggleWorks and about other such endeavors, including Bethlehem PA’s Banana Factory, which is a little closer to my neighborhood. I strongly believe the arts belong in our neighborhoods, in our school curricula, and in our lives.

I’m thrilled, therefore, to be reading from my book, Water-Rites, at 6 pm November 1st at GoggleWorks’ Cucina Cafe.

And I’m thrilled to be reading with Barbara, whose work is funny, poignant, imaginative, fierce, and charming by turns.

November 1st is the Day of the Dead in Mexico, a good day for elegies and to celebrate the lives of those we’ve loved and lost. I will be thinking of David Dunn, among other dear ones. And in honor of All Saints’ Day, I may also read a poem or two about saints; recently, I’ve composed a few imaginary lives of saints poems.

I have no idea what Barbara DeCesare has up her sleeve for this event, but it is certain to be delightful. If you are in the region, stop by at 6 pm. I believe an open mic follows the reading.

water-rites by Ann E Michael

Generous community of writers

Lately, my days have been busy with gardening and household chores and efforts to promote my book Water-Rites. I find I can jot ideas into my notebooks but that more sustained creative writing efforts are not possible at this time. That’s okay. Writing, for me, often comes cyclically, with the slow periods acting as collecting points and reflective opportunities that may result in poetry later on. Also, when I am not writing much, I have time to read.

On this blog, I have a page devoted to ART which featured links to work by painters, sculptors, and other artists of my acquaintance. Today, I’m posting links to websites of and books by friends. One thing about the solitary life of writers is that we still require community of some kind: readership, first and foremost; but also reviewers, friendly but useful critique, emotional and career support, and misery-loves-company ranting and hilarity. This community develops many ways–face-to-face, mentorship, virtual collegiality, networking, even postal mail–and sustains the generous community of writers over years and miles.

The event that precipitated my desire to post these links was reconnection with poet Alfred Encarnacion, whose first chapbook, At Winter’s End, David Dunn and I published in the early 1980s when we were running LiMbo bar&grill books. You can find Alfred’s 2012 collection The Outskirts of Karma here.

One poet who has quietly been disseminating poetry for 25 years from his tiny press in Kanona, NY is Michael Czarnecki of FootHills Publishing. From his website, you can order books by many of the people in my writing community: Michael himself, and also Craig Czury, Heather Thomas, Karen Bashkirew, Paul Martin (whose beautiful 2009 full-length collection is available here), Steve Myers, Kelley Jean White, Elizabeth Bodein and many others…including two of my own chapbooks.

Finishing Line Press, which sells through Amazon as well as its own site, has published many of my colleagues in the poetry community and particularly supports female writers; I urge you to purchase books by Celia Lisset Alvarez, Kelley Jean White, Nancy Scott, Elizabeth Bodein. Finishing Line also sells my book The Minor Fauna.

Through Dave Bonta, I met the folks behind Phoenicia Publishing and, through Dave and through the Women’s Poetry Listserv, met Ren Powell. Dave’s book and Ren’s book are available through Phoenicia, and so are print issues of Dave’s online blog literary journal, qarrtsiluni. Also through Dave, my literary community grew through meeting Luisa Igloria, whose books you should definitely check out. Another connection with the inimitable Dave Bonta? That would be Ron Mohring of Seven Kitchens Press, which will be publishing Dave’s next collection and which advocates for the work of Pennsylvania-based poets such as the late Lou McKee and another of my colleagues-in-writing, Harry Humes. August Evening with Trumpet is a particularly lovely book, and Harry is a master. Other Pennsylvania poets to whose tribe I am happy to belong include my much-lauded friend Barbara Crooker, the unpredictable and enthusiastic Barbara DeCesare, Patricia Goodrich (sculptor and poet), and that magnificent woman of letters, Elaine Terranova.

Attending an MFA program at Goddard College granted me an immediate community for which I continue to be grateful many years later. Books by my fellow students and by my mentors include but are not limited to the following (really, there are too many to recall!):

Alan Smerdjian, Jessamyn Johnston-Smyth, Elena Georgiou, Christian Peet, Bea Gates, Ian Haight, Barbara DeCesare, Jan Clausen, Janice Goveas, Bill Moser, Jen McConnell, and forgive me for running short on time or forgetting others…and from my long-ago days at The New School, the amazing Maurice Eidelsberg, whose poems in Shit, Sex, Love, Palsy will have you viewing life from a perspective you may never have imagined.

Through the Women’s Poetry Listserv I mentioned earlier and through conferences and festivals, the generous community of writers has led me to Diane Lockward, Pat Valdata, Elizabeth Raby, Rosemary Starace, Julie Kane, Elaine Heveron, Lori May, Juilene Osborne-McKnight and Steven Allen May of Plan B Press; Ned Balbo, Jane Satterfield, April Lindner among many others. Wendy Ellsworth has written a book on beading and spirituality; my cousin Scott entered the world of book writing with a children’s book you can find here. And my brother, a true Renaissance man, has published a novel and is working away at a non-fiction Rip Van Winkle-type story of archeology, empiricism, Stephen Jay Gould and Samuel Morton.

So  you see, the life of a writer need not be–and seldom is–solitary. Writers love to read, and they therefore support one another inadvertently. My community also includes Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Emily Dickinson, Jane Austen, Vladimir Nabokov, Elizabeth Bishop, Robinson Jeffers, Dante, and Dostoevsky. To name a few.