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The first book I picked up this year is Green Girl, by Kate Zambreno.  This has never happened to me before, but as I read it, it began to seem very familiar to me.  Familiar in the style, mostly, not as much in story.  And then it hit me:  this novel reminds me strongly of my own non-fiction work.

The protagonist of Green Girl, Ruth, is a lost soul.  She is having an identity crisis, sparked by a break-up and a death.  It’s the intensity of this crisis, the harsh internal gaze, the inability to keep up even the most basic of hygienic rituals, the masking of the internal turmoil, that grabbed me.  Maybe this looks so familiar because I know that state so intimately myself:  this is depression at it’s worst.  You get so steeped in it, you can’t see anything else.

Another similarity that struck me:  the use of repetition.  This is a device I use often in my own writing and appreciate when it’s done well.  Here, I think use of repetition serves the novel and the character very well.  Repetition can show how mired a person can become, how stuck in destructive thoughts and habits.  Thoughts can become symbols of illness, foggy, unclear, the brain trying to work out the crisis.  Rumination is said to be the brain’s way of problem solving, trying to work things out.

We see Ruth through her own foggy gaze, speaking about herself in the third person, evaluating herself through the gaze of her lost lover, who is still in the States.  Ruth has run away, literally, from her problems, run to the gray streets of London.  We don’t know much about Ruth, really, aside from her status as ‘green girl’ and her habit of making bad choices.  She seems almost apathetic about her life, another sign of her depressive crisis.  She is ‘dead inside’ or makes the appearance of it, pretends that she is dead, numb.

Then, a life-saving transformation:  a haircut.  It seems trite, trivial, but if you are at the bottom of a crisis, even a simple act such as cutting off all of your hair and changing at least your outward appearance can be a life-saver.  This is temporary, though, and the effects of it wear thin, soon.

There is a sense that Ruth needs ‘saving,’ that all of the green girls need saving.  Ruth is impressionable, a trait which shows strongly in the end.   And as much as I usually hate the endings of novels (this one being no exception), I had to wonder in the end what did I expect to happen to Ruth?  What other ending could there be?

The crisis of identity is a familiar theme, but I like the way Zambreno really lets her character wallow in it, because that’s really the only way to get through it.

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I felt excitement the first moment I knew that I had been published in a literary journal while an undergrad.  I never knew a moment of regret or worry over it, although it was not the best poem I’d ever written. I was satisfied.

Not so with the publishing of my first e-book.  There was excitement at first, yes, closely followed by fear and anxiety.  I began to wonder if publishing the ‘traditional’ way was a more legitimate way than via e-book.  I began to doubt myself, my work.  I began to panic.  Did I do the right thing?  For myself?

My incipient dream:    to see my book, my pages, my words on bookshelves in bookstores.  On bookshelves in homes all across America, all across Europe.  Is this what writers dream of?  Do dreams have to keep up with technology & the constant flux of change in the world?  Why do we always want things to change or want to keep things from ever changing?

So, the e-book changes things a bit.  No hard-cover, no numbered pages.  No tactile experience; no smell.  No feel.  No weight of a newly pressed hardcover.  Just some words on a screen.

But is reading a text the same regardless of the source?  Do we read text messages, online magazines differently than novels?  It’s all just words, right?  I’m asking these questions because I’m not sure of the answers.

Arguments over the future of publishing aside, I feel like I’ve given birth, and am now in postpartum depression.  Teary, weary, worried.  Wondering how my words are being perceived by others.  How will they see my work?  What will others think of  me and what I’ve birthed?

They’re just some words on a screen, right?

What it’s like:  an essay on food and obsessions.

OCD makes it impossible for me to eat, savor, enjoy, be full.  I never eat what I really want because there are too many rules.  There are too many OCD thoughts that govern my decisions. So, I plan, I think, I obsess.  I buy.  But I never eat.

Yet I am always hungry, always desirous.  Always want something more, or something other.  Something different.  Never satisfied.  Always afraid. Can’t be spontaneous about eating:  must plan.

It is the thing around which everything else hinges, hangs.  Where and what can I eat?

It is a large concern.

But I’ll do better, tomorrow.  This is the thought at the end of the day.

I’ll do better tomorrow.

Want to read more?  Check out my memoir, She’s So Heavy, at Smashwords:

She\’s So Heavy: A Memoir

Years ago, I had a small, brief episode of scrupulosity.  Of course, I had no idea what scrupulosity was, or that I was experiencing a form of obsession.  All I know is I had a sudden, inexplicable episode of obsessing over my belief in God.  You know God:  the Christian, white male, dark haired, bearded, blue-eyed God.  The one I actually don’t even believe in now.  But back then, it was a different story.

Brief, but extremely intense:  just one day of obsessing over whether or not I was a good person.  It was only years later, when I discovered I had full-blown OCD that I even knew what I had experienced back then.  I wish I could describe it in a way that would match the experience, but I don’t think I can.  Here is my attempt to relay that experience.

*god sometimes you just don’t come through

I sat on the edge of the bed, eyes pressed tight, hands together, rocking
back and forth.  The bed made a tired sound every time I rocked back; the springs were old, creaky.

I prayed hard, hoping and fearing that God would hear me. But how
could he hear me?  Millions of others prayed to him all the time, how could he
possibly hear one girl over the din of so many others?  And really, who has time for the
whimperings of a young girl in the backwoods of Tennessee?

I kept on anyway, I had to make sure I was a good girl, a good person.  Good people prayed,  good people had good intentions, good thoughts.  God, if you’re listening, you know I believe  in you, right?  I am certain I believe in you.  I was raised to believe in you.  No other.
Just you.

I repeated the phrase from a song, over and over in my head, being as
sincere as I was able.   A  duet, a pop song.

“Ebony and Ivory, live together in perfect harmony…. side by side on my piano keyboard oh lord why don’t we…”

I’m a good person…. I believe in God…. I’m a good person… I believe
in God…. I’m a good person…. I believe in God….

No I really believe, I’m genuine in my belief I really believe [but what if you don’t what if  you’re lying you don’t really mean it]  I really believe there is an all-seeing all-powerful white   man with brown hair and blue eyes who knows what my future holds.  He knows the hairs on  my head.

But what if I don’t believe?  What if I really don’t believe in God, I just
think I do, I’m not a good person, I’m going to hell because I don’t believe in God, I’m going to hell hell hell I don’t wanna go to hell I’m scared how can i be any more sincere i’ve believed in god all my life went to church got baptized i’m not perfect but i’m not a bad person why can’t i believe that why can’t i believe i want to believe i
want to believe believe believe….

[god lyrics by tori amos, ebony & ivory lyrics by paul mccartney]

Searching for Ted Bundy

(The DSM-IV does not mention, in the diagnostic criteria for OCD, paranoia.
It seems to come along with the rest, however.)

I can’t remember what brought me down to the empty and uncomfortable
room in the lobby of the dorm. There was a TV there;  I didn’t have one in my room.
The chairs were the connected kind, with wood armrests between each seat. Room for one only. Maybe that’s why no one was ever in the TV room in the lobby of the dormitory in which I lived.

It was 4 a.m., and though there was no cable, you could still catch a late night movie on the network channels. Crappy movies, usually, ones you’d never heard of.
Movies barely entertaining enough to keep your attention for more than a minute.

Insomnia and bad films go together. Fit like a glove.

What a bizarre experience it is, that first semester at college, that first time you move out semi-on-your-own. Small windowless rooms, community showers, wide steps that smelled so familiar I can still remember them.  No elevators; what an absolute pain it was, carrying up clothes, books.  The fifth floor was the best, though:  it was the top floor and there were only five rooms.  Only ten girls to share the bath with.  Roomier rooms, and windows right across the hall that looked out over  campus. Who were all those other girls?  I was so unfriendly, kept mostly to myself, so I only knew the girls right next door to us.  My roommate and I had the room at the end of the hall, right next to the stairs. She wasn’t my original roommate:  the girl I was assigned to live with was friends with a girl on the first floor, so a room switch
was arranged.  The new girl and I got along well, better than well.  Until she  got pregnant and ruined everything.  No, no, it wasn’t her fault, not really.  It’s just that when she dropped out due to morning sickness during chem labs, that’s when my trouble began.

We did the normal college routine:  ate fast food, drank all the time,
did homework at the last minute.  Smoked clove cigarettes, because in those days, you could still smoke in buildings, in your own room.  Some girls thought we were smoking something else, though how they confused the sweet nearly cloying smell of cloves with the more herbal smell of marijuana, I’ll never know.  We got caught drinking Chambord in our room by the RA.  We covered the ceiling of the room with black cloth and painted peace signs and song lyrics on it with bright spray paint. We listened to R.E.M. over and over again, to figure out exactly what the enigmatic Stipe was saying.  We wore tights with old denim shorts and skirts and we rummaged secondhand stores for old grandpa looking sweaters.  With alligators on them.

We had no TV in our room, and that’s why, late at night, I’d be in the lobby, after  she left.

I can’t remember when I saw “The Deliberate Stranger,” but in my mind, it is associated with that first semester of college.  I’d like to say I saw it one sleepless night, one of those nights after my roommate dropped out and left me in that room alone, but I can’t be sure.  All I know is that the film and the experience are tied together.

One of Bundy’s last stops:  A college in Florida, a sorority house I think.
Murdered two women and injured two others, middle of the night, no warnings.

This fact stuck in my head:  I was living on a college campus, in a small
town, on a floor with few girls on it.  The doors in the first floor lobby were always unlocked. There were no doors on the floors, just stairs and open entrances.

My roommate, pregnant and constantly sick or sleeping, left me in the fall of 1989.

For  two months, I would sleep only two hours each morning.

It began innocently enough:  I was stressed out due to exams, papers, the
normal stuff, all within reason. I smoked a lot, I ate chocolate donuts, I didn’t get enough sleep.  Big deal. I was twenty and had no worries.  Staying up until 3 am and going to class at 9 am was common.

Then there began to be a problem with the closet.  And the bed.  And all the noises in the dorm.  The closet:  I had to check it repeatedly each night. I would go to bed, and then I would get up and open the door, heart pounding, move all the hanging clothes around, making sure. I would go back to bed I would get up and  check the closet I would go back to bed…. Well you can see what I mean.

And under the bed:  ridiculous.  Tiny, hard, girl-sized bed, with not enough room underneath for me, much less a man, or a person weighing more than say, ninety pounds. Didn’t matter, had to be checked.

And the noises:  What went on in this place at night? Every noise, in my
head, was him.  It was Ted Bundy, and he was coming for me. Didn’t matter if he was in jail or executed, or whatever had happened after his trial:  I was sure it was him.

My routine, for the rest of the semester:

Stay awake all night, ’til the sun comes up. Around 7 am.
Have girls next door wake me for class.
Have girls next door bang on my door, call me, anything to wake me.
Sleep 7 am to 9 am.
Miss 9 am class for two weeks.

I left school early in the next semester, the insomnia was just too much.
The paranoia was too much.  After a few months, I was back to normal.

That was just a preview:  That was a taste of what was to come. That was
only the smallest hint. Checking behaviors, paranoia:  these were signs.

This is a slightly unconventional mom story, taken from my memoir.  Enjoy.



*mom and the mary jane

It was mom who decided that she would be the one to buy the pot.

I used to love smoking pot.  In fact, I loved it more than drinking.  No hangover, no way to get too high, to overdose on it.  Just giggles and munchies.  Fun to do with
friends, no one gets out of control.  I don’t think mom every smoked any, but I silently  wondered what she would be like if she were high.
I giggle uncontrollably at the thought.  My mother, buying drugs?  Absolutely
ridiculous!  More than ridiculous.  I don’t say much to the doctor when he mentions it, although I do agree with him.  Getting high would  relax me, and maybe it would relax my brain, give it a break from the relentless obsessing.  He said it would increase my appetite too, but that wasn’t necessary.  I was already starving,  so hungry  that most of the time I was nauseous.  But, since I couldn’t take a pill, then maybe I could just smoke a doobie.  Off the record, of course.  The doctor was really willing  to try anything at this point.  We had been working on behavioral therapy, but he was always emphasizing the need for drugs and therapy together.  He said I could  get  better using just therapy but it would be harder.  It would take longer, he said.

On the way home, I am quiet.  I think about what the doctor has said, and I
wonder if he is right.  Could THC really be a panacea?  I am so far beyond hope that I can’t imagine that it will help.  Physically, emotionally, I am too far gone.  I am just   waiting for something to happen.  Mom interrupts my thoughts:  she suddenly tells me that she has some friends, at the local pizza joint, who smoke weed.  She can get me some, she will get me some, if I want.  I am pulled completely out of my thoughts— jarred, really.  Was my mother offering to procure an illegal drug for me?  Was this the  same mother who had, when I was in high school, accused me of buying drugs with the five dollar lunch money allowance I got each week?  Un-fucking-believable.
The thing is, I never smoked in high school.  I never did anything in high school,  really:  it was afterwards that the drugs and alcohol began.  Mom knew I drank:  both she and Dad knew, because they drank too.  The first time I smoked pot was the summer after graduation, with some friends at the park.  It didn’t seem to make me feel any different that first time, even though I was doing cartwheels and my friends were  laughing at me.  The time came, though, when I knew I had to quit.  My friends told me  that the following incident was the single most idiotic thing I had ever done in my life.

They also told me I was going to hell for it.
Will Hagens was an after-hours bar on Murfreesboro Road. It was mostly
patronized by waiters/waitresses, bartenders, hotel people,  those who worked second shifts.  It was summer, and there was an all-day volleyball tournament taking place in the sandy lot behind the bar.  All of my work friends were going, and one friend in  particular was going to play.  We all started drinking early that day, vodka and orange juice and margaritas.  After drinking heavily for several hours and not having one bite  to eat, we were all toast.
Well, actually, I can only speak for myself.  I was toast, for sure.  I can’t really
remember what anyone else’s state of mind was.  We all went back to ___’s apartment, and the party continued.  Some guy there—who he was I’ll never know—had a motorcycle and decided to take me for a spin.  Being on a motorcycle drunk is an unbelievably frightening experience;  however, I was too drunk to realize it.  We could have been doing 20 or 80 mph, and I wouldn’t have known the difference.
When we arrived back at the apartment, windblown and giggling, there was a
joint being passed around.  I took my hit in turn, and with so many people, it was soon gone.  Someone went to roll another but there were no more rolling papers.  Being the  experienced tokers that they were, the guys looked for something else to use in place of the papers.  They soon found something that worked.
Onionskin is a very thin, light, translucent paper.  This seems to be what rolling
papers are made of.  It also appears to be used in printing some books:  in particular,it is used to print bibles.
The next day, back to work.  I had told my friends, those who weren’t there, what had happened, hoping for some understanding.  I felt horrible.  I assumed that this was a condemnable action, that I was now assigned to eternal fire and all that.  All my friends  steered clear of me, thinking that I might suddenly burst into flames.  My fate was determined by this action   But was that really true?  Did I even believe in  God or hell or the devil?  Back then, the answer was yes.  Today, right now, the answer is no.
So, now I wondered what to do.  Should I let Mom buy some weed and see what
happens?  I was afraid.  But not of the devil this time.
I begin to obsess about the pot.  What if someone laced it with something?
What if they put some crack or LSD or PCP or some cocaine in it?  Would I know if
it was laced?  How can I trust that someone has not put something else, something worse in it?  I talk myself out of it almost immediately.  I cannot smoke a joint.  Perhaps, if I  were to grow the weed myself, it might be safe…
How many times, I think, have I smoked a joint, and not once thought about any of these things?   In college, with friends, sometimes with strangers, I would gladly  smoke a joint, one that was passed around from person to person, from mouth to mouth, never once thinking of anything but how good it will feel.  What if this were the cure?
What if THC was really the cure for OCD?  What would I do then?  Such idiotic
rhetorical questions.  If there were a cure for OCD, could I take it?  If it were some tiny little pill would I be able to harness my fear enough to swallow it?  The irony of this situation is overwhelming.  One the one hand, I might find, for the first time in over a year, some relief from the obsessing, the ritualizing.  I might get some relief from the constant need to wash my hands, relief from the irritability of being hungry all the time,  the incessant anxiety.  On the other hand, there is fear.
I tell Mom to kill the deal.
She is disappointed, but I am not sure if it is because she hoped it would work,
or because of her involvement in trying to help me.  I am struggling;  she feels
ineffectual.  She is angry with me because I do not get better.
I go back to see the doctor the next week, and we begin to start over.

A question occurred to me earlier: Why is care of the self so difficult? Why is caring for your self such a difficult concept?

During my recent break-up, all those around me were encouraging me to take care of myself, to not fall into the pitfalls of break-up hell: letting personal hygiene take a vacation, not eating or sleeping, etc. Not isolating. Of course I did have the post-break-up dive in self-esteem, but thankfully didn’t get stuck there.  The ex was angry with me when I said I didn’t want to be friends, that it wouldn’t be good for me:  he said it was selfish of me to not give him what he wanted in order to take care of my self.

Are we so altruistic as humans that we care for everyone else except ourselves?  My cynical and logical self says no, that is not the case.  It also says that most likely, during a break-up or dissolution, we focus on the other person, and what we lost, and the pain we feel, but not the actual care of the self.  I find myself following this pattern lately.  I focus on how much pain I feel; I focus on what I’ve lost; I have not focused on eating a decent meal.  I don’t even crave food.  Mostly, what I’ve craved is comfort, and the company of others.

I awoke at 4am this morning, and could not get back to sleep.  I’m not even tired.  I spent the afternoon in a fruitless argument with the ex cockney over things that hardly matter any more.  Every time we talk I dissolve into tears and he gets angry.  Funny how that happens.

Anyway.  There is a short piece of my memoir that I feel is appropriate here, as it speaks to healing and recovery of the self.  Just to set it up:  this was after recovering from having lost about 40 pounds and having come pretty damn near death.  I had gone back to college and had been successful in recovering from some pretty harsh things.  It’s about ownership, in a way– ownership of the body that you inhabit.

*a self

Graduation this time was anticlimactic, with no ceremony, no gown, no blank paper rolled tightly and tied with an orange string.

But here was this girl—another girl.  Forty pounds heavier, yes.  But also–
stronger, braver, with a whole new body.
I could live again, I could shop again.

I brought home a self.

my self.

my very own self

*waste of a naked girl

when I think of it, of our naked bodies lying together on
the bed, in his apartment,
it is far away.  It was another lifetime.
afternoons and beers and long nights and his hands on my
body… that could not have been me, there is disparity
between me and her.  Me and Her.  Different girls.
She is naked and happy and lush.  I am — what?

A waste of skin.  A thing to be abhorred.

Nakedness does not become me anymore.
I have tried to stare this body down in the mirror,
tried to lay another picture, one I keep in my mind, of
this lush girl, over top of my reality.  It does not work.
The mirror cannot see what’s in my mind;
I can no longer look into the mirror.

What a waste of a naked girl.

(i used to have a body that men adored. slender, not
skinny, shapely.  flat belly, small but firm tits, killer legs.
i would kill myself if i weren’t dying already, if there weren’t
already a downward spiral happening.
there is a burden, a burden of memory, weighing me down:
it is the only weight on me.  i can remember a life before this
living walking disgusting hell and it is a goddamn burden.

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