"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Nervous Breakdown

The author of the blog Daddy Scratches bills his blog as “Your front row seat to my nervous breakdown.” He writes about raising his two young kids as a work-from-home dad.

I don’t have kids to blame it on, but I’m going to have a nervous breakdown anyway, and it’s going to happen Monday night in front of a couple hundred listeners--scholars, university professors, literary agents and editors, a world-wide acclaimed poet, and a bunch of other writers. It’s not going to be pretty.

The cause of it all is my impetuosity. No, that’s not quite right. The cause of it all is my stupidity, my hell bent for adventure idiocy, my rash back-tracking to the registration desk at the Kachemak Bay Writer’s Conference. I’d avoided one particular sign-up sheet my first time through the line; this time I inked in my name in the number eleven spot. I had just volunteered for an open mic session. I had committed myself to reading a piece of my work to the entire group.

I’ve had three days to think about this since then. There were several pieces I considered, but the possibilities were narrowed considerably when I read the rules: maximum of three minutes. That got the list down to two.

I chose one, then the other. The first, two short poems that were related and were about writing, we light hearted and fun. The second was serious. Very, very serious. I waffled between the two so often that I would not have been at all surprised if the heavens had opened and rained down maple syrup for forty days and forty nights.

Yesterday afternoon I had an appointment with Nancy Lord, Alaska’s Writer Laureate. (Gasp! Insert image of Redd Foxx clutching his heart and feigning a heart attack here.) After we finished discussing my manuscript in progress, she asked to see the two pieces I was considering for Open Mic. I showed her the poems first. She liked them and said they would be very appropriate to read to a room full of writers. “You should read these,” she said.

Then she read the other, a piece of prose. Half way through I heard her sudden intake of breath. At the end, she said one word: “powerful.”

“Which one?” I asked.

She pushed them away. “I can’t say. I can’t make that decision.”

I made my decision. If I wanted to be taken seriously as a serious writer, I should stick with the serious piece. As much fun as the two poems were, I have one chance to make a first impression as a writer on these people.

And so, tomorrow (Monday) evening, sometime between 7 and 10 p.m. Alaska Daylight Time, I will walk to the dais and read the following. Assuming, of course, I am not stricken with laryngitis, strangled by the elastic string of my name badge, or a washed off the Homer Spit by a tsunami .

She Never Loved You

She never loved you, you know.

Well, maybe right at first she did. Maybe she felt like she had to, because mothers are supposed to love their children. But two weeks later, when Pearl Harbor was bombed, that’s when the trouble started. That’s when all those opportunities became available for women. Maybe—if not for you—she would have been a pilot, ferrying war materiel around the globe. Or, something else adventuresome; something beyond Rosie the Riveter.

But no. She was stuck at home with a crying, puking, milk-processing machine that couldn’t do a darn thing for itself. Yeah, yeah, she took lots of pictures, certainly more than she ever took of your later siblings.

She never loved you, you know. Resented you, more likely.

Remember Norman in third grade? Remember what happened when one day he wouldn’t walk home from school with you, and you were crushed? You thought someone liked you and then he didn’t. When you reached home, you sat outside and cried—didn’t go in the house. She came out with a basket of wet laundry to hang and said, “What are you crying about?”

“I lost my boyfriend,” you said.

“Oh, for Pete’s sakes,” she said. “”Quit your crying and go in the house.” Then she went on to more important things—hanging the laundry on the line.

She never loved you, you know. You should have known by then.

Remember the college fiasco? When she noticed all the college catalogs and told you they couldn’t afford to send you to college? And when the scholarship winners were printed in the newspaper and she asked why you hadn’t won any? You told her you hadn’t applied because she’d already said they couldn’t afford it.

“Oh, for Pete’s sakes,” she’d answered. “You KNOW we could have come up with the money somehow.”

She never loved you, you know.

Remember the kiss on your cheek at your high school graduation? Remember how awkward it was for both of you? First time you can remember her touching you, except for the slaps across the face, that is. But, maybe she thought that criticism was a way of holding you back from rushing headlong into one escapade after another, and encouragement would only have increased your speed.

So, with all those clues, what was all that about when the doctors pulled the plug on the life support system, and she was struggling to breathe on her own? You fled the room, sat in the waiting area with tears running down your face as if every drop of moisture in your body was escaping through your tear ducts. What the heck was that about?
Because, she never loved you.

Many years later, your youngster sister says, “She loved you the most, you know. You were the first born. We always knew she loved you the most.”


  1. Gully,

    Take a deep breath and tell Elizabeth that you’re not comin’ just yet.

    You are going to “rock da house” at the reading tonight and you can bet that all of your cyber-buddies will be routing for you. The prose you selected is, indeed, powerful.

    Oh, and I got the waffle joke on the second reading. Good stuff!

  2. I'm with you Gully. I'll be thinking of you this evening and sending good vibes up your way.

    I love to see someone going through their fears to the joy on the other side.

    Yes. Yes. And yet again, yes.

  3. And they'll love you too, Gully.

    Then all you'll hafta do is work out whether their approbation is really as valuable to you as the sense of self-worth you already had anyway.

  4. You made the right choice. "Powerful" is an understatement.