Forever, the Little Girl

In 2015, I originally wrote a 750-word draft of a piece that is now quite dear to me. It is titled, “Forever, the Little Girl,” and after several rounds of additions and subtractions, this story has found its home in Burning House Press. Prolific poet Bola Opaleke serves as January’s editor, compiling works that illustrate faith, faithlessness, and/or divinity. Immense thanks goes to Bola for his consideration and acceptance of my work.

You can read the piece here. Thanks to BHP, I’ve grown more acquainted with experimental writers, and I’ve enjoyed encountering all sorts of life that sprout from the journal’s monthly themes. Give the journal a look, and have as good a time as the relaxing walnut photographed above.

-Kristine

Starlit Speculation – This is Charlie Zero

Introduced to Björk and Tori Amos at the age of eleven, and remembering echoes of of a swarming crowd as Shirley Manson stated, “I’m only happy when it rains,” I’m difficult to unnerve through words, medical terminology, and images I hope will prompt more than just some kind of lucid, false, epileptic seizure.

Perhaps the challenge in impressing me lies in my affinity for the experimental, cracked into three large shards. Charlie Zero’s This Robot Dreams Inside a Plastic Soul stirred my intrigue as the sun prods an amusement park worker to wriggle in his four-legged, alpaca wool suit. I snuggled into the blankets covering my macintosh red futon, took a minute or so between pieces, and thought, “Damn, Charlie. I’d imagine LSD does come to a halt, but I’m not quite ready.” For the record, I’ve never tried LSD.

Charlie’s writing reminds me of wind chimes that clang out of nowhere in the summer heat, doorbell melodies that warn me I’m entering the home of a prolifically artful eccentric. I don’t know what to expect, conversing with a local historian about “tarot-cards & playgirl magazines” I’ve never taken more than a glimpse at, or a “virtual console” commanding fine-tuning by those long departed. The allusions run unbridled, as read in “Witchcraft Acidhead 23.” Grammatical devices, the marriage of the supernatural Ouija with universal Apple products, and an image of Edgar Allen Poe stuffing the macabre into his DDT heart, It seems anything and anyone stands around to grab the microphone, announcing standard grievances, pointing out that CNN should be taken with a grain of salt, that institutionalization confines more than young girls admitted out of parents’ concerns that they may be too hormonal. Charlie Zero assembles dismantlement to encourage us to question what’s heard and said, while navigating local alleys, gathering others interested in communal innovation while acknowledging the stagnancy that sets our minds on fire.

Charlie toys with form and language like people I see on the Travel Channel acquainting themselves with flower arrangements. Nothing’s quite symmetrical, yet the juxtaposing hues encapsulate readers in a curious glow. “I didn’t know this was a medical term! What could it possibly mean? Would I hear it at my next doctor’s appointment?” These are questions I asked myself as I breathed in the smoke trailed by thirty-five poems.

Now, back to the three large shards. This Robot Dreams Inside a Plastic Soul invites you to do your own research, opening dictionaries, finding encyclopedias at your nearest discount bookstore which directly pertain to Twentieth Century pop culture, and beyond. The collection offers more than trance, illustrates complexities more intricate than tangled arms and legs in an urban club scene. In Charlie’s synthesis of the bright, historical, and contemporary, we read what it means to be eclectic. Lines such as “Arachnid gods/ registered virtuoso/ T-minus 1” sends us jolting, neck hairs raising as if our fingers almost pricked the shine of an open lamp socket. Again, I emphasize eccentricity, but not as a term describing a human. The poetry collection, though fierce in its delivery, does not settle itself centrally. See Charlie’s work as an ever spinning globe, continental tenants shouting insults they’ll one day take back, digging their fingers into the clay on which they stand, giving Pangaea one more chance.

This Robot Dreams Inside A Plastic Soul ignites fury, anxiety, and hope in the midst of a changing society that in retrospect, may not have changed so drastically should we consider human faltering. Nonetheless, it is a thoughtful read, pushing us to wonder what we truly think about the world and people who cross our path as we walk, confined by our Ziplock exteriors.

Charlie Zero’s collection of poems remains available in paperback, through Paypal. Do follow his adventures in writing at his blog, filled with starlit speculation.

Refusing to Die – Oneanna65’s About

For sale on Amazon in both Kindle and Paperback.

Cancer. The frenzied multiplication of cells, here, there, anywhere, really. Most of us have met at least one person with cancer, perhaps experienced the deaths of several afflicted. I often think of chemotherapy, isolation, strict diets, dramatic weight loss and other complications to sadden, aggravate, and sour. But I’ve never heard anyone, at least in person, discuss his or her experiences with cancer so candidly as to mention the “doughnut machine” when recalling the day’s radiation session.

Oneanna65, as she prefers to be called, combines memory, poetry, social media, recipes, and faith-guided introspection in her self-published book, About. She’s been a fighter since childhood, though positive in her outlook. From the autobiographical start, to poetic revelations, and excerpts of her most memorable blog posts, she has you not only rooting for her, but thinking, “Wow, this is perseverance.”

We see perseverance in just one of many bits of reflective commentary:

“For one clean wine bottle I would buy a sweet bun. If I could find 10 bottles and make two trips to the recycling shop, I could buy sweet bun, candy, lemonade, and I could go to the movies.”

The author lived a life I’d call chapped by poverty, absent fatherhood, and several childhood tragedies. In 1978, she made the transition to Chicago from communist Poland, evading the predatory motives of her already-married sponsor but knowing, as one seeking refugee status, that she could never simply return. This isn’t the only large transition. Throughout About, we learn that the author:

– Spent much of her life as a limo driver, encountering the strange, normal, sweet, and mean.
– Found herself in a homeless shelter.
– Caught herself in the disappointment of one stressful job after another.
– Continues to experience serious health problems, which About primarily discusses.

Despite all this, Anna keeps going. An impoverished child with a dogged will that persists across the decades. A scene I found most memorable was the one regarding church. Attending church was fine, until Anna was hungry. Her mother would hand her money to give to the local priest, but when Anna needed to eat, she never hesitated to walk to the bakery. She describes her lack of guilt in a way that’s admirable, and logical. She came to the conclusion that God loved her, and would continue to love her, even if she bought herself a piece of bread, rather than offer the prominent church leader the weekly tithe.

Anna’s forwardness in thought and action is a feature that manifests repeatedly. A woman experiencing a breakup gets into the limo, expressing her want to die. While similar scenarios I myself have witnessed were prolonged as bystanders thought of how to be polite, Anna never hesitates. She talks about her own relationship problems, acknowledges she too wanted to die, but says she’s overcome. And if Anna can do it, so can the girl. I thought the scene would explode with some diatribe, a rant about “You not knowing me.” But Anna made a friend, and treats us to another story of an ever-smiling girl in a wheelchair, thrilled that she can finally get inside the limousine, without help, in spite of multiple sclerosis.

This isn’t the only scene that displays Anna’s greatest strength as a storyteller: illustrating contrasts. Again, I’ll go back to her childhood memories. “Half-an-orphan.” This was a term Anna often heard growing up without a father. “But I’m whole!” she insists, and discusses the greater suitability of the word “father-free.” While the circumstances of their relationship dishearten, Anna assures us that there were positives out of this, recalling some often socially condoned practices she witnessed in the lives of her friends with “complete” families.

Aside from the autobiographical, Anna addresses the nutritional. A recipe for chicken soup, and a resigned acknowledgement that yes, while it’s healthy, one can tire of chicken soup. So Anna drops suggestions to diversify the meal. If you’re not familiar with her blog, you’ll find some insights on health, the brain, and food. Regarding the neurological, Anna comments:

“…our cells don’t have a brain, they listen to our thoughts and do exactly what we are thinking.”

In the beginning, she shares this quote:

“From every wound there is a scar, and every scar tells a story. A story that says I have survived.” – From Words of Wisdom – Mhar.

Anna asks not for sorrow towards her struggles, but invites us to live with optimism, faith, receptiveness to health, and renewal of the will.

As a reader, I learned that foods like tuna, pomegranate, red wine, and bok choy have cancer-fighting properties, and are worth researching. And as a blogger, I smiled reading Anna’s recollections of advice to use WordPress over other site-building services, the time she encountered a nasty commenter, and her declination to use the polished “About” statement recommended to her. Anna does mention several times that her English is not the best, but I find the imperfections invaluable to the work. It made the book absorbing to read and reminded me of books read to my third grade class from our audibly Ukrainian teacher. I admired that she was willing to share the intricacies of her ailments, explaining how writing can be a physically taxing feat. She even mentions it when explaining the lack of punctuation in her poetry. Like the foods Anna recommends we eat, About is fairly organic.

And that’s the lovable aspect of About. It’s natural, blunt, unhindered, though comforting. Ultimately, positivity lies within you. Praise, encouragement, and sunlit brunches are appreciated gestures, but in the face of adversity, no one can will yourself to wake up and live other than yourself. Anna lives, and keeps on living.

There stands the neighborhood.

I walk,
pace,
and search.

styrofoam cups
caked in spoilt dairy.

but rather,
Bacardi rolls
in the key
of E minor.

you appreciate no sadness
while I anticipate
a respectable shunning.

gates of steel
and shutters bright green.

structural integrity.

your dream,
in one square mile.

so indulge me,
in stories without a plot.

tell me,
where I’d fit in.

*Cat No. 21 of the 500 Cats Project

Go away.

she thinks I am cute
but for her, I cannot say the same
I crouch and retreat
in disinterested anticipation
for church will soon let out.

children, soccer moms, terriers
and rattles, dolls of the squishiest plush
I like these
the latter, not the former
because it’s too cloudy for all that noise.

she steps closer, that frequency
“Hey cutie!” “Hey loser.”
I know you’ve told your friends
you’re off to read at the library
though it’s only me you care to study.

*Cat No. 11 of the 500 Cats Project

Miss Ottava Rima

shortly morning came to ever daring Patch
while babies mewed in circles, purely in cult.
skipping ‘cross blackened roads, tugging on my sash
apron brims with paper, food for the adult.
I rummage through my bag, reading of the clash
eggs now cracked on solid ground, meat for insult.
Patch looks over shoulders, asking who will creep –
Dandelion summers, when all oversleep

*Cat No. 10 of the 500 Cats Project

How a laptop became a limb.

 

“Hi Kris. I have an overall comment for you – a lot of your sentences were awkward and convoluted. Try to be as straightforward and concise as possible in all of your writing. You can view the tracked changes to see how sentences were revised to improve the flow. Let me know if you have any questions.”

Why thank you, kind editor. A reminder to not complete copywriting tasks three hours after midnight, drinking Red Bull with a thud in my chest. No such pressure balled into fists. Just a girl, her laptop, a notebook, and a can of the vilest sugar. It is my vice, quite honestly.

Technical and sales-oriented writing are new to me, bitter to the tongue but acquirable with time. Though tedious, it pays better than cashiering at the Italian restaurant across the street during a typical weekend. They have enough servers, and my experience hardly meets minimal expectations. I’ll stick with this course.

Web content, though speedily done once you’ve completed a good three or four tasks, makes me squirm. I like that I’m learning to write content in a space with little breathing room, but often, I’m desperately trying to touch the edge of that minimum. 250 words a section is hard. I’m not so attuned to the crisp and catchy. I tend to crowd…convolute. A bad habit? I wouldn’t call it that. More so, just a penguin out of place in Death Valley.

Aside from reading the extensive track changes that only remind me of the ways I drain just by speaking, I can say the following:

– I have learned that much of what we learn is absorbed through auditory pathways.
– Voiceover narratives may just decide whether your employees remember what blood borne pathogens are.
– Real estate lawyers can be guardian angels in the war against your Homeowner Association.
– A certain lawyer in America’s Southwest wants to take all cases to trial. Mediation’s criminal.
– Again, lawyers achieve utility, when family-owned ice cream shops endeavor to use real strawberries.

The organic anathema.

And copywriting is not organic. But I’m sure you could tell by the flavor on the label.

I slept on a windowsill, but not on my own sofa.

Last night, I sat on the sofa
while Mom’s friend from work,
without shame
went ahead and dug her toes into my back

So I’m fluffy. Not an excuse.

She proceeded to tickle my head,
tamper with whiskers I need
I can only hope,
Mom, don’t give her the scissors

Fat. But not a toy.

I continue to sit on my special end
No, my name isn’t Sheldon
Toes, the midnight snack of choice
Thus Mom named me Devilspawn

She wouldn’t leave, and stayed the night
Kicked me to the sill in the midst of Pomeranian dreams
Nothing I’d really like
But please, do bleed, as I succeed in puncturing your foot

Mom, I love you and all,
but coworkers aren’t roommates.

Cat No. 7 of the 500 Cats Project

I am not trying to creep on you.

Within this apartment complex
I’m known as Little Timothy
hiding from the mastiff
who waits for me below

Within this latticed shelter
is an opening, through which
squabbles can be seen
from balconies so near

I promise that I flinch
when you walk in all your glory
emerging from your shower
curtains unknowingly parted

I promise that I sleep
in the face of your conspiracy
so if anyone asks,
I stay curled up, an unreliable witness

Within this northwest quadrant
food remains aplenty
all the Chinese takeout
best among the town’s

Within this fickle world
where mostly, the sky is cloudy
I remain within my station
Wordless at your folly

I promise
I assure
I guarantee
that I am not a spy

*Cat No. 6 of the 500 Cats Project

Mental Illness, Treatment, and Stigma in Girl, Interrupted

The Memoir, not the Movie with Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie

Girl, Interrupted, an account of a young woman’s long-term stay at the famous McLean Hospital, provides a look into the institutionalized lives of women suffering with severe mental illness. Several treatments of the time were administered to ameliorate their symptoms, though the efficacy of such treatments was often debatable. Though brief, the memoir opens dialogue regarding misdiagnoses, the perception of nonconforming individuals as “crazy,” and the stigmatization of those receiving a mental health diagnosis.

Schizophrenic symptoms were common among McLean’s patients. Polly, left disfigured with burns after a suicide attempt, is void of emotion. Not happy, unhappy, or agitated, Polly’s emotional responses indicate a flat affect. She rarely speaks, even in stressful situations. For Polly, negative symptoms take hold. The indifferent viewers of the television set sit catatonic without response. Even when Lisa covers the couch with toilet paper, the catatonics remain still in their seats. The girl who claimed to be an alien’s girlfriend, as well as a proud penis owner, beams delusions of grandeur, calling ice cream vulgar names that all rhyme together. Wade, Georgina’s boyfriend, is a bit paranoid, and claims he was persecuted by two friends of his father, who he falsely reported to do dangerous work for the CIA. He is indifferent to Georgina’s burns.

Susanna Kaysen, admitted to the hospital for mental exhaustion and a suicide attempt, is diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. She is impulsive, her interactions jarred by routine splitting behaviors. It’s mainly black and white in Susanna’s world. She cries in front of a painting she finds relatable, much to the annoyance of a boyfriend. Frustrated, he remarks on her self-centered way of perceiving things. Susanna faces conflict within, perceiving herself as a terrible person to later identify as the venerated Angel of Death. She scratches her hands, desperately wanting to know if there’s still bone beneath. Banging her wrists on a butterfly chair, regardless of vein damage all can see, is how she bears the numbness. Scratches mark her face. As Susanna showed at least 5 of the criteria for borderline personality disorder, as listed in the DSM-IV-TR—(1) Tumultuous relationships where splitting is common, (2) An ever-changing self-image, (3) Impulsive behavior, (4) Frequent episodes of self-harm, and (5) Dissociative episodes spurred on by distress—it is reasonable to conclude that her diagnosis was valid.

Lisa, on the other hand, is diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder. Cold and insensitive, Lisa cares not for the feelings of others. She jeers at the catatonics sitting around the television set, even turns it off despite the possibility that someone may really like the show that’s played. Lisa does away with rules, scheming to escape Mclean. Even in exclusion, Lisa expresses no remorse for her bad behavior, continuing to plot other escapes and even the escapes of others. Of course, these plans lack authentic concern. Self-interest dictates her behavior. She wants to be liked among the girls, and indeed, she has an appealing sense of humor that brings color to a dull environment. However, while Lisa doesn’t struggle in making friendships, she doesn’t give them value. Stable relationships are impossibilities. Towards the end of the Kaysen’s memoir, Lisa raises her son, whose father she disowns.

Aggressive and provoked by perceived threats to popularity, Lisa takes measures to derail rivals. Her continuous bullying of Lisa Cody, a diagnosed sociopath who seems to only emulate Lisa’s behavior, only fuels the latter’s self-indulgence. Blame is the name of Lisa’s game. Various times, she bemoans her lack of rights, using her attorney to bully the hospital staff when her requests were ignored or unfulfilled. I’m sure we’ve encountered these sorts, in college, doctors’ offices, and popular tourist attractions. While at least 3 criteria in section A of the DSM IV-TR must be met to receive a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder, Lisa meets 6, such as (1) Failure to adhere to social norms relating to lawful behaviors, (2) Deception in the name of self-interest, (3) Aggressiveness and frequent irritability, (4) Pervasive disregard for the wellbeing of others, (5) Repeated irresponsibility, as evidenced by a failure to fulfill her daily obligations, and (6) Lack of remorse for her cruelty towards others.

Reflections on Treatment

The drug treatments mentioned throughout the memoir had an inhibiting effect on the patients. Thorazine was a common resort for those with highly unstable behavior, such as the trembling Torey or Susanna, who experienced an episode of extreme agitation upon scratching her hand. Feeling heavier than usual, the patients would calm down and their agitation would cease. Other antipsychotic drugs, such as Stelazine and Mellaril, seemed to calm those with schizophrenia, although their movements grew more sluggish, as evidenced by Polly’s way of walking and the odd suspension of her hands. Periods of sleepiness may have been influenced by benzodiazepines such as Librium and Valium. The depressed woman, Cynthia, received electro-convulsive shock therapy once a week, with therapy twice a week. Her memory was noticeably impaired, with her speech disorganized after initial treatment. Daily, most patients were required to see three specialists. Sessions with doctors were uninformative and short, as were sessions with residents concerned with medication and the granting of privileges. Therapy was also described as unhelpful, with therapists expressing a lack of sympathy, refusing to discuss life in the hospital yet determining whether patients were to have increases in medication. This three-part regimen seemed more systematic and impersonal than helpful to the individual needs of each patient. Susanna, deemed capable of undergoing “analysis,” recalled the treatment as ineffective. It seemed that the treatment did little to benefit her, the specialists’ repetitive questions irritating her so much that she would simply fabricate answers to placate them.

Is She Crazy? 

Susanna explicitly questioned her diagnosis during her hospitalization. She felt that what others perceived as inappropriate, tiring behavior were hallmark characteristics of young adulthood. She criticized the DSM as a vague collection of generalizations, often subjectively applied to those who do not conform to social norms. The only person in her affluent high school to not attend college, Susanna was the black sheep of the family, defying expectations to attend a prestigious college and unable to handle the duties of simple jobs. Perhaps the shame her family experienced impacted their willingness to pay for her costly hospitalization for almost two years. They may have wished to maintain normalcy without directly dealing with her chaotic behavior. I feel that her inability to maintain her typing job may have related to sexist attitudes of the time. All the supervisors were men, while the typists were women. Strict regulations were placed on their behavior and dress. This could have been agitating for Susanna, who defied such rules. Although her behavior was erratic, “crazy” is not an accurate word to describe her.

Considering the aforementioned behaviors, it’s reasonable to say that Susanna showed striking characteristics of borderline personality disorder. The episodes of self-harm, the persisting interpersonal conflicts, and emotional instability indicate that psychologically, she just wasn’t healthy. However, these behaviors may have been byproducts of growing up in an environment with rigid, highly demanding expectations. Ultimately, “troubled” may be a more fitting description, as it does not dehumanize nor stigmatize, but emphasizes that Susanna is a person who at the time needed guidance and empathy.

Ultimately, Girl, Interrupted (the memoir, not the movie) gave me a glimpse of the impersonal and rushed nature of psychiatric care in these facilities, given the amount of patients who have to be treated. I observed how sexist attitudes of the time period may have influenced perceptions of women already struggling with a mental illness. Susanna was expected to be sexually modest, emotionally stable, and uncomplaining. The scorn she received, made salient in a doctor’s writing that she “might sell self or get pregnant” (11) shed light on the stigma imposed on women who rebelled against norms of conservatism. The title, inspired by the poignant painting Susanna saw at the Vermeer, is more than an allusion. It is a description of Susanna’s destabilizing experience—a long term hospitalization, a stigmatized diagnosis, and a lost sense of self—that prevented her from enjoying life in the way that most young women do. It was only after this hiatus that she could continue living, hopefully with a greater sense of stability.