the non-mental health camp recap: community support

well, as you can see, i haven’t done much with this blog lately. i am busy with other things right now but at some point i will come back to write more (and at some point i will also find a way to oust the viagra people who keep trying to hijack my blog! it’s pretty embarrassing to have that show up in the google searches). maybe this point has arrived already? stay tuned …

as you can see from one of the previous posts, we had to cancel mental health camp. both raul and i were just too deeply involved with our family lives. unfortunately, we both had some deaths. the support from people around this was, as usual, amazing! between raul and myself, we received over 70 comments on our facebook pages when we announced our decision. every single one of them was supportive.  just some examples:

kudos for you not to extend yourself so much.

unfortunate news, but the announcement embodies what the event is about (including finding out via facebook! 🙂 ). my best to you both.

good for you that you are putting your own mental health first. It’s a great example for others to follow. wishing you healing and support.

i’m glad to hear you’re taking active steps in protecting and caring for your own mental health

take care of yourself, and yes, congratulations on knowing when to say No to responsibilities you put on yourself. the community AND you will be better served by you both coming back when you are in a better place.

sounds like the right decision. way to go. an inspiration for all women 😉 ♥

here was my reply

thanks again to all of you. right now it’s a bit hard to fight the little voice inside (i call it my “german general”) that says that i’m a lazy, whining sissy – surely, if i can go on facebook, i can also organize mental health camp! hah! but i’m outing it. the german general does not like to see his words repeated unless they have gone through his press corps 🙂 i guess what’s good about this is that i have always felt very strongly about being up-front about one’s mental health, and here i get an opportunity to live this value – very much because of you and your support!

later …

but of course we’re not turning away from mental health camp, and definitely not from the idea behind it. the idea happens every day.

and later still:

this whole way in which i/we feel supported is starting to feel like an impromptu mental health camp in itself. maybe THIS is what was meant to happen. what can we learn from this? how can we take this further … ?

and then raul said, in his infinite wisdom:

isabella – don’t try to “take this further, or try to learn from this”. just enjoy the support, period. don’t make it more work for yourself! I’m just grateful that people understand that we are overwhelmed and over-committed as it stands.

all of this was two months ago. it is bittersweet – but more than that, truly wonderful to relive all this fabulous support. THIS is what we can do for each other! isn’t that mindbogglingly marvelous?!

next time i might just tell you about the workshop on recovering beauty that i ended up doing at gallery gachet anyways … 🙂

call for speakers for mental health camp vancouver 2011

the 3rd edition of MentalHealthCamp vancouver is happening soon!  on july 23rd, precisely.  the conference is about the intersection between social media and mental health.

is this a topic you’re interested in?  would you like to talk about it, or lead a workshop? 

here’s your chance – our call for speakers.

we are looking for session leaders who speak from personal or professional experience with mental health or mental illness. please note that this is unpaid – we are entirely volunteer-run.

we will have approximately 10 45-minute slots, with 6 slots for prearranged speakers (e.g. approved by the selection committee), and 4 slots for “mental moose” – a continuation of the unconference tradition of moosecamp at northern voice.  during “mental moose”, participants who are interested in leading a session can pitch them on saturday morning with a quick 30-second talk.  everyone will then vote on which sessions will be presented, and the winning sessions will be scheduled.

the theme for this year’s MentalHealthCamp is

DIVERSITY

diversity of opinions
diversity of religion
diversity of ideas on how to deal with mental health
diversity of sexual orientation
diversity in age
diversity in ethnic backgrounds
diversity in socioeconomic status
diversity of ability
and … ? (please feel free to add!)

each one of these topics contains vast, interesting fields in and of themselves. just think of the topic of mental health among british columbia’s south asian population; the diverse/diverging of the radical psychology group (here with another diversity topic: gender and bodily difference); or mental health and christian churches. we could even look at diversity from yet another point of view – adding the topic/twist of mental health to existing bodies of research, such as the growing area of research into tourism and mental health.

since MentalHealthCamp is about the intersection between mental health and social media, speakers and participants will discuss issues that touch on both topics, in whatever weird and wonderful and different ways. also, this will continue to be a grassroots-based event. as long as a speaker has something interesting and constructive to contribute, it is of no consequence whether she or he has a PhD in psychiatry or is a master in the art of living a life touched by mental illness. come one, come all! it is, after all, about diversity. on the other hand, MentalHealthCamp is not an ideal venue for very general talks on stress reduction, time management or the like.

once again, we might also have a virtual session.  if you’re unable to attend the conference in person but have the technical know-how, let’s talk about using technology to bring you right into our conference here in vancouver.

if you’re interested in presenting, please send us a short (100 words or less) description of the proposal, together with a short (50 words or less) bio about yourself by june 16.  please send it to moritherapy at shaw dot ca.

the conference will happen on july 23, 2011, from 8:30am  to 5:00 pm, at vancouver’s gallery gachet http://gachet.org/ at 88 east cordova street .

suicide

have you ever thought about killing yourself? i have. for many, many years i thought that was totally normal. it wasn’t until my life got much better that i noticed the absence of this soothing thought: to just disappear myself … now, when that kneejerk image arises occasionally, i know it’s a warning sign: something’s not right.

i grew up thinking that suicide was a completely normal way to die. some people die of cancer, others of old age, and others of suicide. the good thing is that this normalized suicide. the bad thing is that this normalized suicide.

so … let me try this …

let’s imagine you’re thinking of ending it all. you just can’t think of another way out of that thing that just seems to crush you. debts, a broken heart, a feeling of uselessness, terrible loneliness, a sense of being trapped …

how do you feel? overhwelmed, right?

can you relax just a tiny bit of yourself? just a bit … maybe your hands … maybe the way you sit on the chair …

here’s a strange question.

how does your brain feel?

yes, feel that brain. just for a moment.

sometimes it feels like it works well, doesn’t it? maybe that was a long time ago. but there probably was a time when it felt like it worked pretty well. maybe when you played with that dog. oh – dogs aren’t your thing. sorry. maybe – maybe it was when you hung out with your buddy when you were six … can you do me a favour, look for a time when your brain worked ok?

thanks.

so … i wonder … how does your brain feel right now, compared to that time when it worked well? is there a difference?

there is?

it feels a little – weirder, doesn’t it? maybe a bit cloudy? or perhaps it’s a just a bit noisy in there.

can you do me, and yourself a big favour?

i know life feels awful right now. i’d really like it, though, if you could wait with your decision to destroy yourself. please wait with that decision until your brain feels better.

if you don’t know how to make your brain feel better, stick around, please. i have a bunch of ideas we could try. and i know people who have way more ideas. they’ve worked, too. as terry wise, a woman who survived suicide, says “there are other ways to overcome pain.”

heaven

heaven.  i’ve always liked the sound of the word – the soft consonants immediately conjure up the fluffy clouds of my childhood image of heaven – it’s like this huge, downy, unimaginably comfortable bed up there where the sky is always blue and the sun, stars and moon always shine.  maybe there are harps playing somewhere and manna, a food made by and for gods, is available in inexhaustible supply; the taste never grows old.  up in heaven (definitely up!), people (souls? angels?) live in never-ending bliss.  it’s like chocolate, cointreau and orgasm all rolled into one.

somewhere around the twentieth word or so of writing this, it all started to feel a bit cartoony.  the memory of a famous german animation film started to rear its head.  it’s called “ein muenchner im himmel” (“a guy from munich in heaven” – watch it – even if you don’t understand the wonderful narration, you’ll definitely get the gist of it).  the important part for us that this guy, alois, hates it in heaven because there is neither beer nor snuff and he has to rejoice and sing hosanna all the time.  fortunately god has mercy on him and proposes to make him his emissary to the bavarian government.  so alois is sent off with his first letter to the government – but as soon as he touches the soil of his beloved munich, “he felt like he was in heaven.”  he gets so busy drinking beer that he never delivers even the first letter, which is why the government, to this day, lacks divine counsel.

so there are a number of things – heaven as a childlike fantasy, as a caricature, heaven as boring, heaven as a very individual thing.  lisa miller, in her book heaven – our enduring fascination with the afterlife – touches on them all and at times wonders whether our minds are too limited, too two-dimensional to think about this place.  or is it a state?  a feeling?  god’s love?  it may be this confusion as well as our relatively good life that make it all a bit too difficult to think about.  this results in an ever declining interest in this – thing (we still don’t know what or where it is.)

barack obama’s former preacher, the revered jeremiah wright, complained about this in a 1990 sermon at his chicago church.  his “educated friends,” he said, wished he wouldn’t talk so much about heaven “because that’s so primitive, you see.”  but wright argues

if i drop heaven, i’m going to lose the first verse in my bible … i’m going to lose two of my ten commandments … i’m going to have to stop praying my favourite prayer, ‘our father’ … i’m going to have to do away with the second coming; i’m going to have to get rid of pentecost.  i’m going to have to throw revelation out of my bible … don’t make me drop heaven!

i find the reference to “primitive” interesting but before i muse on that i must tell you that one of the things i disliked about miller’s book is that she had to go and do the old abrahamic faith thing.  well, i’m sorry, but heaven isn’t only populated by christians, jews and muslims.  buddhists, especially tibetan buddhists, have a complex, intricately worked out theory about heaven; the idea of heaven exists in confucianism as much as it does in daoism.  examples from lesser-practiced or older religions include the eternal hunting grounds of some first nations and the valhalla of norse religions.  and we haven’t even talked about other major religions yet, such as hinduism or sikhism – wikipedia’s entry on heaven will point to more.  i don’t expect the writer on such a topic to cover all of them, but i do expect either a nod in their direction or an explanation of why these other heavens weren’t discussed.  the global context within which everything happens nowadays just does not allow us anymore to ignore the multiplicity of cultures and beliefs.

let’s go back to the primitive and, why not, to our friend alois.  the interesting thing is that while alois had all sorts of complaints about heaven, he DID go to heaven, and heaven was a familiar place.  if you watch the movie and don’t speak german, you’ll still understand the story – st. peter, the angels, the voice of god, and that it’s up in the sky.  this is because heaven is ingrained in us, and arguably not just through cultural learning over the generations but perhaps deeper.  maybe it’s “just” our imagination, our dreaming – don’t we all want to have a place where everything and everyone is cleaner, shinier, sexier, safer, more loving, more exciting; just perfect?  maybe there is such a “place”, in a physical, ethereal or mental abode.  maybe it starts in the heart.  or maybe, as miller recounts in her book, we can literally build it right here.  i’m grateful to her for familiarizing me with the history of habitat for humanity, a powerful international “nonprofit, ecumenical christian housing ministry that seeks to eliminate poverty housing and homelessness from the world and to make decent shelter a matter of conscience and action.”  habitat for humanity started with a small christian commune in 1952 named koinonia, founded by clarence jordan, which was

“a demonstration plot for the kingdom of god” (a demonstration plot is where farmers experiment with new seeds or planting techniques – and then invite their neighbours to come see what they’ve done.) … jordan invited his neighbours – the grandsons and –daughters of the slaves and sharecroppers who had ploughed that land for generations – to work with him.

miller recounts the story of georgia solomon, who grew up near koinonia.

when she grew up, and had three babies and not enough to eat, the people at koinonia built her a house.  “i made it through my trials and tribulations,” she said, “and now i’m striving for eternal life.”

maybe heaven is food on people’s plates, smiles in their hearts and roofs over their heads.

oh! it’s poetry month!

DSC_3219abrakadabra
into this evening, this evening of mist and
silvery-grey clouds
abrakadabra
flies the crow, the big, big, crow,
can you see it – ?
no you can’t, it’s made of stuff you can’t touch
but it’s there, can you feel it – ?
aaah, yes, abrakadabra
the evening crow with its big wings, and on its back
the large mage of night,
with those coat-wings that touch your dreams and you wake up
abrakadabra
knowing, KNOWING it was true, and you shiver and fall back asleep
abrakadabra
and when your eyes open again, you wonder
was that a shiver of dread, of wonder, delight?
can you hear it – ?
was THAT the bird that just flew by, shadowing clouds
that still bear a feather of pink?

mental health camp YVR ’11: diversity

okay, after great breakfast meeting with raul this morning, we’re starting to roll with this year’s mental health camp! the theme this year is

diversity!

maybe even with the exclamation mark 🙂

it was through great conversations with jay peachy and steven schwartz that we came up with the idea. diversity is about

diversity of opinions
diversity of religion
diversity of ideas on how to deal with mental health
diversity of sexual orientation
diversity in age
diversity in ethnic backgrounds
diversity in socioeconomic status
diversity of ability
and … ? (please feel free to add!)

each one of these topics contains vast, interesting fields in and of themselves. just think of the topic of mental health among british columbia’s south asian population; the diverse/diverging of the radical psychology group (here with another diversity topic: gender and bodily difference); or mental health and christian churches. we could even look at diversity from yet another point of view – adding the topic/twist of mental health to existing bodies of research, such as the growing area of research into tourism and mental health.

as always, mental health camp will be about the intersection between mental health and social media. that is, speakers and participants will discuss issues that touch on both topics, in whatever weird and wonderful and different ways. also, this will continue to be a grassroots-based event. as long as a speaker has something interesting and constructive to contribute, it is of no consequence whether she or he has a PhD in psychiatry or is a master in the art of living a life touched by mental illness. come one, come all! it is, after all, about diversity.

the event will take place on july 23. this time our location will be gallery gachet, who are graciously donating their space to this event. mental health camp YVR ’11 will be an all day face-to-face conference, with a significant social media aspect (e.g. hopefully we will have social media stewards again who will tweet and facebook about the event). we will probably have around 10 sessions.

everyone’s input is welcome! and let us know if you’d like to volunteer.

“invisible driving”: a memoir of mania and depression

here, finally, is a review long promised, of alister mcharg’s extraordinary memoir, invisible driving. this book, says alistair,

reads with the urgency of a novel. my work delivers a wild and hilarious thrill ride through the misunderstood, phantasmagorical world of manic depression, providing both a visceral sense of the experience and a thoughtful context for understanding it. while other books have described the surrealistic circus, invisible driving takes readers along so they can smell the sawdust for themselves.

alistair mcharg spent his early years in edinburgh and amsterdam, moving to philadelphia with his father, ian, and mother, pauline, at age six. he attended germantown friends school, haverford college, and the university of louisville. the prestige of an M.A.. in creative writing enabled mcharg to secure employment with one of philadelphia’s least reputable cab companies, providing the background for his first novel, moonlit tours. other forays into dead-end employment have included deckhand on a norwegian tramp freighter, forest fire fighter in alaska, and guide at a canadian wilderness survival camp. alistair has been arranging words for a living since 1983. apart from invisible driving, he has written countless poems, hundreds of movie and book reviews, and an ever-growing catalog of cartoons. his second novel, washed up, was released last year.

what follows is a conversation we had last tuesday.

moritherapy: what do you like best about your book?

alistair mcharg: the writing itself, the way it puts readers inside the experience of mania. (and of course, the humor.)

moritherapy: have you found people who are/were interested in the literature aspect of your book? actually, that sounds a little strange – “literature aspect.” the way i read it, your book is literature, and it is about the topic of bipolar illness. thoughts?

alistair mcharg: i totally agree with your description. it is a memoir first. in essence it is a coming of age story about facing demons, battling them, and becoming a man – a human being – in the process. the landscape where that battle plays out is manic depression. the people that don’t get it are the ones who don’t realize that the manic narrative is there to put readers inside the experience of a manic episode – you have to surrender to it to get the true benefit. – i have indeed found many readers who appreciate it as literature – rather unorthodox literature.

moritherapy: there is a rhythm to your book that is clearly there but hard to pin down. it sure isn’t a simple little polka. in the beginning you seem to have a “crazy” chapter taking turns with a “normal” one; then the manic and the normal (if i may use that word) start to take turns within the chapters, then two or three chapters in a row are wild and woolly, etc. etc. can you say something about that? to what degree is that a stylistic device, and to what degree does it echo your experience? can the two be separated at all?

alistair mcharg: the manic chapters came first. then a literary agent said that there needed to be “depth” – a second voice that was sane, reliable, and recovered. i rewrote the entire book several times. i now see she was so right – the chapters in the recovered voice provide the background – the psychological architecture. the reader finds out why i was vulnerable – what the triggers were – and what was significant about how i acted out. yes the point/counterpoint is very deliberate. (you would think that the wild, manic chapters would have been hardest to write – but the sane ones were much harder – more soul searching of real things.)

moritherapy: actually, to me, imagining writing the book, it felt that the manic ones were the ones that were written with more ease. perhaps that is because i was frankly flabbergasted how much i could relate to a lot of what you wrote. i think that’s what first drew me in. i knew exactly what you were talking about, even though my bipolar experiences are extremely mild. i’m still astonished at that.

alistair mcharg: interesting. maybe the bipolar experience is essentially the same, and what varies is the degree. it is a very nice compliment that the writing registered with you. (when i gave the manuscript to my psychiatrist he said he had to put it down now and then because it was making him manic!) i can’t say that they were written in ease – recreating the pitch of mania, the quicksilver logic twisting and slipping, the bobbing and weaving, energy, raw creative force – when i was squarely back on earth – slightly depressed – took a tremendous amount of labor and craft – craft i didn’t know i had until i attempted it.

moritherapy: i was wondering about the mood you were in when you wrote those passages! the fact that it was indeed a re-creation speaks to your fantastic writing skills. were there moments when you wondered whether recreating this would take you back into the mania?

alistair mcharg: thank you – it was writing this book (my first) that turned me into a real writer – it was transformational. — your question is pivotal. i began writing immediately after the episode described had ended. i was terrified, really shaken. i had suffered with the illness long enough to know that a trigger could send me off again – and i was pretty sure another episode would kill me. but i knew i couldn’t write the book unless mentally i went back in. (rock & hard place.) so i went deeply back into the middle of it. that decision is what made the experience transformational. i knew it might set me off on another high, i knew that might kill me – i did it anyway. i knew that i had to face this darn illness or be destroyed by it.

moritherapy: fascinating! i am really touched by what you say, can feel it in my gut. and what hits me is, again, this commingling, meeting of art, this thing called mental illness, and the healing of/from/with it. it reminds me of a poem i wrote many years ago when i was close to dying of typhoid fever. i wrote it in spanish so it’s a bit hazy in my memory but something about the need to climb the mountain of art, alone, naked, because there is no other choice. does that resonate?

alistair mcharg: resonate indeed. that is exactly what i had to do – and it was probably the single bravest thing i’ve ever done. as you say in your poem – i had to do it alone. i had been fed so many lies – i was very fear-based – i had to strip absolutely everything away until there was nothing left that wasn’t true. and then i rebuilt – i reinvented myself. – but what you say about comingling is deep – and many people do not understand. i say often that manic depression and alcoholism have given me more than they have taken. in manic depression i saw rare things – and was forced to evolve. alcoholism ultimately took me to a better way of life and a higher power. it has all been a spiritual journey and while mental “illness” has caused earthquakes in my life it has also produced angels. (typhoid fever!! yikes! thank goodness you’re okay.)

on my blog today is a poem called “rex” — you see, i was shy, i hid, i felt “less than” – but manic depression made it impossible for me to hide – and also – it forced me to admit my power.

moritherapy: more on the commingling … so there is the art, there is the “mental illness” (funny how i often feel i have to put it in quotation marks), there is the healing, there is the acknowledgment of power – and then there is humour. there’s a lot of humour in your book. page 218:

and how do these aristocrats of oddness settle down after a busy day of counting their fingers and slashing their wrists with plastics forks?

humour in these circumstances can be taken as disrespect sometimes. do you hear that sometimes? how do you react? (by commingling i mean that the humour seems to be part of it all.)

alistair mcharg: humor and music are in the very center of me. to me the best humor is never nasty, it doesn’t single out anybody and it is never there to make me feel better than you. real humor celebrates the absurdity of all life, human vanity, fatuous selfishness. you will notice that most of the humor in the book comes at my own expense. – that said, when i was manic every mean quality came out – the anger, the hurt, the fear – and, combined with an intellect caught on fire – all this hurt often found expression in really cruel humor. other times it was quite surrealistic and charming. even in my other books – both satiric novels – and my cartoons – even my poetry – you will find that i include myself – all of us – when aiming barbs. i disrespect parts of people, racism, jealousy, entitlement, xenophobia – but it is never about disrespecting people – it is about loving truth and loving what people could be but are afraid to be.

moritherapy: one last question for now: towards the beginning of the book you say, “the love of my daughter is my favourite thing about myself.” in therapy, there is often a dictum that people should change for themselves, not for others. as a father, would you agree with that?

alistair mcharg: this is a great question. the easy answer is yes! there is a saying in AA that is told to the uncertain: fake it till you make it. at first it doesn’t matter if you are in therapy – or recovery – for the wrong reasons – so long as you are there. (bring the body and the mind will follow.) but absolutely, there must come a time when you are doing it for yourself – otherwise you will never commit fully and you will never get the full benefit.

if you asked me that question today i would answer – my favourite thing about me is that i know what i have to offer and i am doing my best to put it to the service of others.

moritherapy: thank you, this was absolutely lovely!

—–

alister mcharg’s blog, america’s favorite manic depressive, is at http://alistairmcharg.blogspot.com/

the book’s web site is at http://www.invisibledriving.com

another novel excerpt: the birthday

if you’re wondering why i hardly blog these days, it’s because i’m pretty serious about finishing my novel by the end of the year. it’s a long labour of love but i know it’ll get done! here is another excerpt. it’s the plantation owner’s daughter’s 9th birthday, a huge party. her name it elise. the festivities are drawing to a close and …

only in the evening there was another moment that stood out. somehow mama cass, bessie and a few others managed to drag elise away from the festivities. somehow? it was the marita, the governess, who finally did it, she dragged elise away from it all, and it was a good thing because elise, once again, was getting tired. too many adults! too many people who knew about everything – books, clothes, money, horses, what have you. not enough stories, not enough songs. it was with songs that they dragged her away. she heard the humming in the distance, the melody, the drums and banjos and looked up and the governess smiled at her and said, come on. she excused herself and elise to the parents under a pretense or other, who cares which one, and took elise with her to the hedge, into the dark. a little ways they had to move through the shadows; it had become night an hour or so ago, the grasshoppers were chirping loudly, and the scent of everything – the grasses, the earth, the blooming jasmine rose powerfully through the night air. the deeper into the dark the two rushed, the louder the music became. they made a turn, and suddenly they stood in front of dora’s cottage.

“here she is!” someone exclaimed.

there was loud clapping and the music stopped.

she was in the slaves’ quarters.

“miss elise! here you are!” mama cass was beside herself, her voice high and breathless. elise had never seen mama cass anywhere but in the big house; in fact, it had never occurred to her that she might abide anywhere but there, traveling from kitchen to cellar to breakfast room to the herb garden right outside the kitchen. mama cass gestured wildly and moved her eyes and eyebrows about like a horse scared silly –

“five years served i, under master guy,
in the land of virginny-o
which made me for to know sorrow, grief and woe,
when that i was weary, weary, weary-o ….”

dora’s strong, clear voice permeated the night. after the first two verses, the banjo chimed in. a couple of fiddles joined, the light of the little fires burning in front of each cottage shining up into the players. moving up and down, the fiddling arms threw big shadows, in rhythm with tapping feet and clapping hands. then the song stopped, and everyone suddenly had a little bouquet in their hands that they threw up in the air with a big whoop.

“lady elise! long live our lady elise!” they shouted.

“i don’t LIKE it when you call me lady,” exclaimed elise, without complaint in her voice, though – everyone had heard it a hundred times, and they just laughed.

“what should we call you then?” piped up ellie.

“yes, what should we call you? buttercup? lady doll? miss jones patterson?”

“no, no!” she laughed.

“lady rosebud?”

“princess redhair?”

“our lady of the crinkledress?”

“oh, you people are so silly,” she exclaimed, laughing, into the mirth all around. “i like crinkledress. without the lady.”

“i don’t think mr jones patterson would like it if we called you crinkledress,” said bessie.

“but it’s true! my dress is always crinkled and crumpled. i don’t LIKE wearing dresses! i want to wear pants! this dress is beautiful, that’s true,” she looked down on her lovely cloud of white and silver and lilac, “but can you imagine how difficult it was to ride in it? i had to ask jacqueline to make me a special petticoat.”

“you do look adorable in it, adorable,” said jacqueline. there was pride in her voice, and more than pride – love. “and you should have seen your mother, the way she looked at you.”

“anyway, lady – er, miss elise –“ said mama cass –

“oh, for tonight, just for now, don’t call me miss!”

“alright then, er, um, elise – we have a few little trinkets for you.”

and the gift giving began again. someone had made a doll out of old cotton dresses and horse hair. someone else had drawn a painting with charcoal. a little apron arrived, made from cotton cloth, adorned with a tiny little silk ribbon. a loaf of honey bread, a coronet of dried flowers – everyone had made something for her.

elise was in tears, couldn’t see anymore all the treasures offered to her. some of the people she didn’t even know by name and yet they had gone to the trouble and expense to make something for her. each piece was crafted with love and care, each piece looked different. look at this little drum here, carved out of a gourd, with those black and red snakes curling in on each other everywhere, and the beautifully knotted string to carry it! even cortez had a friendly smile on his face when he brought her a small illustrated book of psalms.

they fed her dried fruit and buttered mash and a delicious tea – no doubt one of jacqueline’s. the music and singing played on, mingled with the night air, the crickets chirping and the laughter, played with the crackling fire and the smells of good food and flames licking on the grass.

finally marita approached her, whispered, “i think it’s time to go back.”

“no!” elise whispered back urgently, “i like it here! i don’t want to go back! those people are boring!”

marita had anticipated that. “but you told me that you haven’t looked at joe’s gift yet. it’s in your room. let’s go back, say good-bye to the guests, and then you can go to bed and open joe’s gift.”

——

elise was so exhausted when she finally made it to her room. it had still taken an hour for her to extricate herself from the guests; endless goodbyes and wellwishes jumbled all together before her tired eyes. in her room, marita helped her undress. what a lovely, lovely feeling to be rid of all the heavy clothes and to finally fall into the pillows dressed in fresh linen that smelled faintly of citronella and cloves.

clutched in her hand was the gift joe had given her. the leather felt warm and soft in her hands, almost like a little animal. the white cotton string stood out against it, looked so – white. clean. fresh. like stars. lying there in the pillows, elise held it up, turned it around, held it under the light from the three candles in her candleholder by the bed. she wanted to savour the moment of unwrapping it. oh, but she was so tired …

“here, i’ll untie the knots for you,” whispered marita and gently removed the package from the girl’s hands.

wrapped in the blue leather was another little package, wrapped in embroidered cloth. wrapped in that lay a small brown leather pouch, made of leather just as soft as the other. a long string held the little pouch, to hang it around one’s neck, just like the indians do. inside the pouch elise found a smooth, smooth, smooth stone with an indentation the size of a thumb. the leather felt so soft … the stone so smooth …..

“a worry stone for you,” she heard joe’s voice whisper somewhere in the room. “good night, crinkledress.”

and then she was asleep.