Monthly Archives: April 2009

the lyric self

this is another guest post by sarah luczaj, a british therapist and writer, living in poland. she runs an online therapy practice  at mytherapist.com and has a poetry chapbook, “an urgent request” coming soon from fortunate daughter press, an imprint of tebot bach.  sarah is a freequent commenter on this blog, and a propos poetry month, she contributes these interesting thoughts:

who is the “i” in a contemporary lyric poem? since the romantic poets brought the self onto centre stage, whether self as discovered through opium or as expressed in nature, the sense of poets as those who speak in some whole, organic way, for themselves and maybe also for the rest of us, has remained, despite the best attempts of modernist and post-modernist writers, or language poets, to break up that narrative of “i am – i feel – i write”. sometimes the self who speaks, as is often the case with “confessional poets”, is a damaged one, sharing dark secrets, despair, its own fragmentation and brokenness, sometimes it is inconsequential, entertaining… maybe we no longer expect the truth from our poets, but maybe most of us expect some kind of individuality and authenticity?

having my poetry published has put me on the sharp end of this dry literary discussion more than once. sometimes the problem has been simple – i have written about real situations, and real people, who were not able to ‘get’ the context in which i was writing, and who would probably not have liked it even if they had (mea culpa for writing about village life in the actual village in which i still live!) and quite rightly took it as an insult. i know i am far from alone among poets in worrying about revealing self and others in poems, but maybe an even more prevalent issue for writers for whom the “i” of the poems is not always even connected to the “i” who does the laundry, is that readers take the poems to be the literal truth.

but while the “i” of the poems, the lyric “i”, cannot be identical with the “i” who makes toast, can the two ever be totally disconnected? what is the difference between writing a diary and a poem, and is it really the case that a diary is necessarily more authentic?

in my own work, i sometimes recount events from my own life, sometimes recount episodes from other people’s lives, in the first person, and sometimes i use personas to express a kind of composite story made up of the distilled essence of many stories. sometimes, i know from feedback, the personas seem to have more resonance with readers (more “authenticity”?) than when i speak personally from the heart. in fact readers probably automatically assume that i have experienced what is recounted in the poem first hand.

maybe i have? can i notice something which i don’t already know about? do the things which i hear, see, touch not fuse inside me in a kind of chemistry by which they become inseparable from myself? what is this self thing anyway – and is the act of taking experiences inside and then writing ‘as if’ they were yours not a pretty good way of intuitively understanding it?

this seems to be what we are doing all the time, taking people’s stories inside and being changed by them. it seems to me that there is nothing very pure in ourselves that can be extricated and stand alone, and that maybe this is exactly who we are, the individuality which comes out in the act of writing the ‘poem’ or of speaking as “i”, it is what we choose to use, and what cannot be left out, and what must be left out, and the range of tones which we can enter. the act of distilling the essence, and how we do it. the tones when i am writing as a young girl with an eating disorder and as a middle aged mother, for example, are utterly different. some might recognise that these two poems are by the same writer, probably not knowing how, but picking up something about sentence structure, or use of grammatical forms, or vocabulary, which is consistent and recognisable. others might not. but it is the poem that matters, and the poem is always “true”. the rest is speculation.

as a poet, am i happy when i am always recognisable, with my own distinctive voice, or am i happy when i can carry off another voice so successfully that people feel the realness and mistake it for biographical experience? am i putting on these voices artificially, in some way channelling them, or are they really a “part” of “me”? as i have never written a poem “on purpose” – with the clear intention to convey something in particular which i knew in advance, or fulfil any kind of function with my poem (“need one by an old lady about mortality for p 39”), i can say that for me, the use of personas is not an intentional act of putting on a character. i write poems to find out what can be said about something, and sometimes i find ‘voices’ other than my own, yet also mine. i do not wish to appropriate anyone else’s experiences as mine, or even hold on to the finished product as mine, but the writing of the poem is.

so to go back to the first of this series of questions – who is the “i” in the poem, when i am writing the poem?! the answer is, very often not who you think it is.

MentalHealthCamp – the power of social media

here are my opening notes to MentalHealthCamp yesterday; they followed raul’s great introduction to the workings of social media.  we decided that he would be the social media guy and i’d be the mental health gal.  (how well raul and i worked together deserves a whole post by itself).

i managed to present most of what’s in the notes; the rest of it got substituted by slightly teary-eyed stumbled-over words about suicide.

here we go:

· 20% of canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime. that’s about 3 times the people that live in greater vancouver.
· in the US, it is estimated that every hour, three people take their own lives.
· almost 50% of those who suffer from depression or anxiety never see a health professional. for bc alone, that’s equivalent to the population of all of burnaby, all suffering in silence
· the economic cost of mental illnesses in canada is $15 billion. that is $1 more than the british columbia government is planning on spending on 88,000 jobs to stimulate the economy
· the british columbia government just cut psychiatric and mental health beds and mental health treatment programs. staff in the adult mental health division will be cut by 70 percent and the mental health advocate position was eliminated.

okay, enough of this statistical gloominess. most of us know it already anyway. we can lament it – or we can do something about it.

one of the reasons why i love cyberspace and have been fascinated with it for almost 25 years now is that it transcends. it transcends geographical boundaries, that we all know. but it transcends way more boundaries than that.

the internet is the nervous system of this planet, says the hippy internet manifesto. if that’s the case, then of course it transcends everything because it is everything. there’s no places the nervous system won’t go.

consequently, there are no places we here won’t go because we are the internet. raul and sandra and terra everyone here, we are the internet. it’s quite heady when you think of it. you know how they always say, we are the nation? well, in cyberspace that’s true in a strangely real way.

so – if we are the internet, and if we are the people who transcend, what does that mean for mental health and mental illness?

it means that the stigma that traditionally comes with mental illness does not need to be a scarlet letter anymore; we can declare this stigma a mistake that arose out of misunderstanding, and we’re amply equipped to fix it.

it means you, and most importantly i, can get the message out that depression and anxiety can often be cured, and can always be managed.

why do i say, “most importantly, i”? it’s not because i am a terribly important person in the internet but it’s because of what a famous rabbi said hundreds of years ago, “if not i, who?” i’m the most important person because i need to take responsibility.

we are all taking responsibility today. we’re ready to deal with the mistake of stigma.

we’re ready to say out loud that it’s crazy – yes, crazy – that six million canadians feel afraid of discussing an illness that’s even more common than asthma. yes, as many canadians are dealing with lung disease as are with mental illness. it’s totally ok for your daughter to bring her inhaler to school. but when your 11-year-old son wants to bring his teddy bear when anxiety hits him, people laugh.

that’s not okay!

i brought my stuffy, by the way. her name is sarah. everyone, meet sarah (that’s her in the picture above). when i feel confused or panicked in the middle of the night. i hug her.

okay … what else are we responsible for? we are, clearly, not responsible for people taking their own lives. this tragic decision is very personal and is always, always, the sole decision of the person in question.

however, most people who take their own lives are unimaginably lonely. we can bring community to people. we can be available. we can be inclusive. that’s the power of social media.

as for the ridiculous lack of financial support for people with mental illness, that’s – well, ridiculous.

the internet gives us power to speak. we can talk to the government, we can lobby – we have the power to do that. i’m not saying it’s easy, but we do have power. the rise of obama showed how the internet changed election coverage and therefore influenced election outcomes. we have this power in our hands. we can lobby and influence.

but there’s another side to it, too, and that brings me back to this conference. there’s a sense in which we don’t need the government.

remember, we are the central nervous system.

when we feel so inclined, let’s go lobby the government.

but that’s not what we’re doing right now.

i believe that what we’re doing right here is more powerful than trying to change the mind of a slow-moving government.

it took us two months, pretty much to the day, to dream up this conference and to bring you here, to this event that i’d like to humbly submit is groundbreaking, definitely the first of its kind. we didn’t need a government, we didn’t need money, we just said let’s do it and here we are.

that is the power of social media. let’s use it.

living authentically

an unself-conscious violinistmy friend evan has just launched a new project, living authentically. authenticity has long been an important topic for him, and i’m looking forward to seeing how he goes even deeper into it. here’s a bit about the project:

the book
the living authentically book i wrote with my partner. it is a guide to living with authenticity. it is 130 pages in hard copy pages and contains many practical exercises for each of the eight stages of authentic living. it also explains in depth each stage of the process of living authentically.

the course
the membership course is forty emails – five a week for eight weeks. each week is devoted to one stage of living authentically. after an introduction the emails are primarily devoted to guided experiences of that stage of living authentically. each stage deals with the physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and social aspects of the stage. the course is also supported by a student only forum where you can ask questions and discuss the course with me and other students.

… and there’s more, here on evan’s new site.

in announcing this site, evan asks some questions, and i’d like to pose a few of them to you.

what major benefits does living authentically offer you and others you know?

my immediate reaction to that is: freedom. freedom to live without the burden of a mask that is worn involuntarily (i see nothing wrong with temporarily putting on a mask if that’s something that you’ve consciously decided).

what do you think?

***

what tips would you offer to others to make it easier for them to find their core?

it’s interesting that evan links the ideas of “authenticity” and “core”. the authentic person as the one that exists underneath – what? disguise? a necessary protective layer?

here’s one tip: spend a week asking yourself: “what makes me smile?” and jot down your answers.

what are your tips?

***

what pitfalls would you warn them of ?

evan gives an example: don’t try to go too fast! going at a comfortable pace is likely to be more beneficial in the longterm. i would add to that what joanna mentioned a few weeks ago: as you become more yourself, it’s possible that you will lose people who feel threatened or confused by this “new you.” also, with my buddhist background, i’d like to say that we should not expect this core to be something stable and unchangeable. perhaps it’s a little like the weather: there will always be clouds in the sky but they’re never the same.

do you have any warnings?

image by carlo nicora

why we write

beautiful trees and watermy little workshop for MentalHealthCamp, “blogging yourself home” about blogging, writing, creativity and mental health had me think hard about the connection between these topics in the last week or so. i was deligthed, then, to come across alison, who blogs (and teaches) about writing about mental health. in this post, she asks why do you write?

here are my answers.

i write because

  • i can’t imagine not writing
  • the sensuality of it: the physical feeling of pen on paper and fingertips on keyboard; the sound of tap-tap-tap and scratch-scratch-scratch; the sight of paper, the look of a blog post
  • my brain is always full of stuff (pete would offer a reason why) and its good to get at least some part of it out
  • when i do specific writing-for-healing, i KNOW it helps me
  • it connects me with others
  • it looks like others get something from it, sometimes
  • letters are yummy, words are yummy, sentences are yummy, grammar is yummy, language is yummy
  • sometimes i manage to create something beautiful
  • text is an integral part of my upbringing and it makes me feel part of our culture
  • did i say i can’t imagine not writing?

in the same post, alison also says that she is

opposed to writing for healing that doesn’t attend to craft. part of it is because that sort of writing turns inward away from the larger world and the political dimension is so important to me.

i find that an interesting and challenging statement, and would like to hear more about it. perhaps alison will comment.

as i am reflecting on this, i can’t quite see how writing that does not attend to craft (i presume alison means style, narrative flow, sentence structure, etc.) necessarily turns away from the larger world. perhaps alison is referring to navel-gazing content and style? even if that is the case – aren’t there lots of navel-gazers out in the blogosphere, and don’t they somehow have a community?

or – maybe that’s it: when writing is not well-crafted, it will have a lesser chance of being taken seriously, and that decreases any political impact it may have.

what do you think?

oh, and if you write, dear reader, why do YOU write?

image by floato

mental health camp: speaker list, diagnosis, and the history of stigma

for today, i’ll simply send you over to the MentalHealthCamp site.

we have a list of presentations now – really interesting stuff – topics reach from anonymity and pseudonymity to ADD to online therapy to stigma and self stigma – please check it out! the title of my presentation will be “blogging yourself home” – on blogging, writing, creativity and mental health.

there are also two very interesting guest posts.  one is on diagnosis, stigma, loneliness – and hope.

the other is entitled mental illness and stigma in history by ian from graveyard contemplations.