Friday, May 27, 2011

Annotated List etc, Part the Last

A suitcase of old journals. Old as in disintegrating. From university and high school. Written on lined paper in Duo-Tangs. I read  from them randomly. It's excruciating, fascinating, and tedious.

Here are some notes from 1986:

  • I will remember this day always. (I have no memory of that day whatsover. )
  • To prevent letters from being steamed open: seal with egg whites. (Who did I think was steaming open my letters?)
  • Literary theory is really out of control. (After being made to read Of Grammatology.)
  • I don't really have any great goals, except to be happy and to be good. (Still applicable.)

Monday, May 23, 2011

Annotated List of Things Found While Packing, Part 3

1.  Amount of royalties earned in 2005 (according to uncashed cheque) from the Finnish version of Beyond the Sky and the Earth:  $7.68

2. Amount of money collected from the linings of old purses, the top of the dryer, and the loose change bowl. $38.48

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Annotated List of Things Found While Packing, Part 2

Copyright registration card from the Library of Congress. 
  • My grandfather, who left school at 13 to work at the tar plant to support his eight siblings and then worked shift work at the steel plant until he retired, who taught himself basic electronics and economics from books but refused to read fiction on the grounds that it was “all made up,” who did not watch feature films (“foolishness”) or go to restaurants (“waste of money”) or travel for pleasure (“for the birds”), whose idea of a day off was to plant carrots, fix the lawn-mower and then take down the storm windows, took the trouble in 1935 to write to the Library of Congress to copyright a song he had written with a friend. He played the French horn, but according to the card, he wrote the lyrics to “Dove of Love.” He would have been 18. 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Annotated List of Things Found While Packing, Part 1

1.  A list of books I read in 1997 (the last full year I lived in Bhutan).
  • List includes She’s Come Undone, The God of Small Things, and Angela’s Ashes.  
  • Question: How did I manage to get my hands on these and 72 other books in Thimphu, where the fiction section of the town’s main bookstore featured two volumes of Sherlock Holmes, The Red Badge of Courage, and the collected works of Ayn Rand?

2. A drawing of a picture of the Fourth King of Bhutan.
  • Medium: brown and orange crayon on thick paper.
  • Description: HM’s framed portrait sits on a carved wooden table.
  • Artist: Dorje (but he spelled his name Dojer).

3. My son’s long-form birth certificate.
  • “See explanation for last name in attached letter.” There is no attached letter, but I had to write one, explaining why the child did not have his mother's last name (Zeppa), his father’s last name (Dendup), or a combination thereof. 
  • Explanation: there are commonly no surnames in Bhutan. Also, child's father felt that Pema Dorji (meaning "Lotus Thunderbolt") would not really be improved with the addition of Zeppa (meaning "beet root"). Child's mother had to agree.

4. An insane number of suitcase locks without keys and combination locks for which I no longer remember the combination.
  • I hate moving. 

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Secretary's Desk Book

from The Secretary's Desk Book, 1935:

#27. The Evil One.
The names of the Evil One should begin with capitals. Satan. Satanic Majesty. The Devil. The Adversary.

I'm trying to imagine how many secretaries in 1935 had the opportunity to actually implement this rule.

To: The Adversary, Hell. From: Harvey's Menswear, Toronto. May 13, 1935
Dear The Devil,
It has come to our attention that your account is now thirty days past due. Please send cheque or money order. Thank you.
Very Truly Yours, etc.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Anxiety (aka Unnamed Devil Disorder)

At a recent reading hosted by The Bookshelf in Guelph, I was asked about the unspecified mental illness in Every Time We Say Goodbye. The characters in my novel cannot name their illnesses. Unnamed, an illness can be anything; unspoken, it often becomes the worst thing possible.
For example.  
When I was 18, I went on a religious retreat with forty other high school students and met the devil. For six months after, I was unable to sleep except in brief snatches; during the day I was shaken by strange surges, haunted by evil grinning thoughts, and clamped in an iron vice of dread.
The retreat was held in an office building. We went in on a Friday afternoon to find all the windows and clocks covered, and were immediately asked to surrender our watches. “Don’t anticipate,” we were told. “Participate.” Soon, we weren’t sure if it was day or night. (Later I would learn that this, along with sleep deprivation and hunger, is a common technique in cult programming. The body becomes disoriented and the mind follows.)
At some point during our clockless retreat, we were told to lie on mats in a dark room and empty our minds. I did, and into my emptied mind came an unspeakable dread. It was more terrifying than anything I’d ever felt, so I gave it the name of the worst thing I knew. I fixed my eyes on the low-lit crucifix on the wall and recited silent Hail Marys. Eventually, the devil retreated, but I was deeply shaken. If I wasn’t safe surrounded by crucifixes in the Catholic Information Centre in Sault Ste. Marie, I wasn’t safe anywhere.
The retreat ended, and I went home. I was in bed the next time the devil appeared, rippling out of the radio (probably on a Jimmy Page riff). I leaped out of bed, turned off the radio, and prayed like mad. Around four in the morning, I fell asleep. Two hours later, I got up for school.
This became a nightly pattern: terror and dread in sweat-soaked sheets, followed by fragmented sleep. Strangest of all, I told no one. I was afraid that if I told my grandparents, they would take me to a priest, thus confirming my deepest fears. And there was just no way to drop it into a conversation at school (oh yeah, and guess what else? Satan is trying to possess me, so if my head starts turning around, like 360 degrees, that's what's up with that).
One night, I woke up with tremors running through my hands and arms. Was I dying? I stumbled to my grandparents’ room. “Grandma,” I said. “My hands are shaking.”
She said, “It’s nerves.”
Nerves. Huh. Not a supernatural evil trying to get in, but a terrible pain trying to get out. The shaking subsided, and I went back to bed.
A few months later, in university, a description of an anxiety attack in my psych textbook confirmed my grandmother’s diagnosis.
Still, it took a long time to get help, partly because I'd learned as a child that the adults who were supposed to be caring for me were so caught up in their own traumas, they couldn’t be relied on. Also, I didn’t know where to get help, and it would be years before you could Google “heart racing” and “feel like I’m dying” and be led to an anxiety disorder website. But mostly, I thought I could banish my affliction by ignoring it. It took a long time to learn we only cure our ailments by calling them out.