Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Robert Martin: From a Life on the Streets to Owning his Own Home

Who would ever believe that 48-yo Robert Martin was once homeless?

For nearly two years, he lived over a grate at 13th and Locust Streets in downtown Philadelphia. A cardboard box was his home, while numerous mental health problems - including substance abuse issues and two stints in jail - played havoc with his brain.

What to eat? At night when the nearby Dunkin' Donuts closed, he foraged for food in the Dumpster "before the rats got to it," he said.

Recovery came in the form of a mental health consortium that worked with Robert and other folks with mental illness to get him on the road to recovery.

"If it could work for a person like me," he said to our rapt audience at the Abington Presbyterian Church, "it can work for anyone." When they're ready.

Rob has sparkling blue eyes.

"I have a beautiful three-bedroom house, a beautiful wife" - he met Gloria at the Consortium and they married the day after graduation from the program - "a beautiful car" and a wonderful job. 

Rob works as a WRAP Coordinator/Supervisor of CREATING INCREASED CONNECTIONS (CIC) of Bridgeport, PA (near Norristown).

His speaking engagements take him far from home. New Directions has been trying for eight months to get a speaker on the Wellness Recovery Action Plan. It was worth the wait. Robert was "fantastic," as my colleague Ada Moss Fleisher said to me. 

The WRAP Plan, invented by Mary Ellen Copeland and likeminded people in VT, consists of a Toolbox of items that help stabilize your mood.

Rob's toolbox consists of:

Photo of his wife Gloria
The Bible
Scented candles and bubble bath
And more

His daily maintenance plan:

Gets down on his knees and prays
Takes his meds
Eats a healthy breakfast
And more.

Rob said, "While all of my hair is gone, half of my mind is gone, too, from all the trauma I've been through."

We cannot even imagine what it's like to be homeless or incarcerated or to use drugs until you don't know who you are anymore. 

What made his presentation so compelling was the way he involved the audience. First he asked our permission to call on them. And we spoke. 

He talked about 'triggers.' Events that will produce a mood swing, anxiety, depression, mania, psychosis, or suicidal thoughts.

People shared their triggers, both with Rob and in our Small Group Discussions which followed. 

Triggers included: An upcoming Easter dinner with scads of relatives, all asking, "Have you found a job yet?"  

Half a dozen young people in our group are students. The stress of test-taking or getting in a paper, has them teetering on the brink of a moodswing.

Rob shared many of his triggers with us.

The night. In the past, night was party-time for Robert. He liked the feel of money in his pockets so he would go out and  p - a - r - t - y. He didn't elaborate but

The temptation has never left him. Gloria calls to check on him, which is very important to his wellness. 

Today he doesn't carry much money with him, and rarely a debit card.

Note: he didn't say a credit card, which is a huge enemy for folks with bipolar d/o when we go on our spending sprees. 

I've always been a cheapskate, so during my first mania-psychosis, I bought a Timex Watch for $22.

Do you see your triggers coming? asked Rob.

Yes! In this way, we can plan ahead and have an Action Plan ready for us. 

What do we do when we are 'breaking down?'

- Talk to someone on the phone. When Rob feels on edge at work, he'll call someone who can reassure him he can cope.

- Other ways might be to meditate, pray, put on soothing music, go for a walk, or, if necessary call your doctor. That's what the doc is there for. You are not disturbing this man or woman you have hired to keep you healthy.

We sent Rob home, 45 minutes away, with Begonias in the familiar Kremp's bag.  

And also Katy's

What a privilege it was that Robert Martin, who overcame the terrible challenges mental illness visited upon him, was our Guest Speaker tonight.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Doubleheader: Denis & Fran for lunch - Town & Country Players for Dessert - Poem: My Hero

 Hello Denis Hazam
 Hello Fran Hazam. They both run a mood disorders support group at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylania. They also work at Mental Health Association of PA.

They drove over from Center City in their long red Mercury Sable Station Wagon.

After we finished eating and repaired to the living room I was telling them about a beautiful co-op bldg where my artist friend Evelyn Kobler lives.

I got up and found Evelyn's address in my Rolodex.

"That's where WE live," they said.
 They finally got to meet Scott. The salmon was delicious. The fishmonger named Soutan at the Giant cut it into four huge slices for me. I baked it in the oven at 450 degrees for 15 minutes. On the bottom of the pan I put coconut oil, sesame oil and olive oil.

I pierced the top with a fork and poured out a mixture of balsamic vinegar, olive oil and two cloves of crushed garlic.

 Eating a buttered asparagus. We also had a huge salad.
Fran brought a fruit compote for dessert with her own topping. Delicious!

Both Denis and I must watch what we eat. Me b/c of diabetes. Denis b/c he's on dialysis.

Denis had a transplant for the same reason as me. He did well for 6 years and then various factors contributed to a complete kidney shutdown.

They discussed the day Denis received his kidney. The cadaver was from Washington State, a 24-year-old kid.

Denis had gotten a call saying he was THIRD on the list. (I'd got a similar call. Mine did not work out.) His nurse-coordinator said he wouldn't get it, so he and Fran went to bed.

Around 10 pm, the phone rang.

It's yours, she said. Be here at 11 pm.

I walked the Hazams out to their car. "Hazam" is a Lebanese name. 

Then Scott and I drove to Buckingham to watch the sassy musical "The Scarlet Pimpernel."


Based on a novel by Baroness Orczy.

Wildflower scarlet pimpernel.

 Waiting for the show to start.
I bot my tix online but moved over to an aisle seat. Adults are so tall nowadays! I'm 4-11.

I heard a person say, "Wherever I sit, I'm cold."

I sat under a draft. At halftime, Scott and I went out to the car where I keep a red sweater with hood.

Yes, I needed to wear the red hood the entire time. Luckily, there were no wolves around.

The cast took a bow. Some people got bravos and whistles. We both loved it!

The woman in the mil with the red hair: here's what the programme says about her - Roseann Enright is theater director at Charles Bohme Middle School. She would like to thank her student Ngakiya for help with her French.

Kevin Palardy, to her left, played the Pimpernel. No one knew who the Pimpernal was, not even his wife. He would save various people from the guillotine during Robespierre's Reign of Terror during the French Revolution. 

Here's my poem for Denis.

It's a cinquain.... syllables 2 4 6 8 2


did not ask. Fate
swooped down, black wings unseen
bore gifts of books, dialysis,
and Fran. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Coffeeshop Writers' Group - The Fab Four Show Up - My poems: Grace Catherine Deming -The Neighborhood - Diabetes Holds the Power of Life and Death

 Carly went to New Hope and couldn't resist this huge ring she bought. Double-click to make it larger, not the ring, silly, the photo!

Carly brought in a great poem she wrote this morning: "Soft Greens of Spring," a phrase she repeated between stanzas.

Without white winters windy chilling winds
We would not revel in the first kisses of the

Soft Greens of Spring.

I said, "Submit it, Carly!"

Where? Right here, Carly.  

 Carly wore a new spring pocketbook, we think is designed by Diane von Furstenberg. If I could find it online as a backpack, I'd buy it. Why backpacks? Good for people with back problems.

Donna of the Beautiful Nails and Coffee with chocolate in it brought in "Precious Moments." We didn't like the title so she'll change it.

She had also unwittingly written two poems in one. Both were good. Selected lines

The refrain was When I'm Gone

When I'm Gone you'll find me at my grandson's wedding.

She told of all the places she'd be after she was gone. It was her BF Denny who suggested she use that refrain.

Now that's true love, to be so involved with the poetry. A great partner is always interested in everything their mate is. That's how we evolve!
Martha wrote a beautiful poem about me, noticing things in my house from when she came for lunch the other day.

She made me a special copy on firm green paper, which I put on the bottom of my shopping cart so it wouldn't get crushed.

After I wheeled the cart to the car, unloading my groceries for tomorrow's guests, I bent down to retrieve the poem..... and it had vanished.

Just called Jeff at the Giant, who didn't have it in the L & F but I gave him my contact info in case he finds it.

Martha was really taken by my house!

Stopped at Mom's after the group. I try to visit her every Saturday. Gave her a magnet of a Hand I got at the AVAM.

Mom, Ellen and I sat on the screened-in back porch in the gorgeous spring weather. Mom was bundled up in a sweater, while I was sweating in a new cotton sweater, one of my Kohl's exchange purchases for my Shark vacuum.

Mom's mind is very good but she doesn't remember unimportant details. I told her Linda Barrett had visited a couple of yrs ago. I was fairly sure she wouldn't remember it, and she did not.

Interesting how when you deal with people, you learn what they're likely to remember or not.

While sitting on the porch, the birds were all a'twitter. Simply beautiful. Do you think we're hardwired to love bird sounds?

Also shared my new Guest Column: April is National Poetry Month. In 700 words, I had to educate people on giving poetry a chance to move them. I'd called Alan Kerr, editorial page editor of the Intelligencer, who said his readers would not be interested.

Then I called their sister paper, The Bucks County Courier Times, and the editor said to email it in. I think the column's great and hope she can use it.

Question I asked the group. Does caffeine make you a sharper thinker? I believe it does. I was up writing last nite for five hours, finally bedding down at 4 am, and sleeping soundly until 11.

Wrote four poems, one of which is included in the newspaper article, but, of course, as a special treat to the 10 people who read this blog, I'll publish it here.

Grace Catherine Deming

She’s four             
fearless as a           
skyscraper! My heart
leaps when I see her curls. She shouts

I took a Poetry Workshop two weeks ago with Lynn Levin. She had us work with several different poetry forms, such as the above “cinquain.”

The syllabic meter is



In the middle of the night
I awoke
something was wrong
very wrong
my legs propelled me
past my stationery bike
and down the stairs
darkness outside
darkness within
Watch me stumble
to the kitchen
switch on the light
it blinds me with
its wah-wah rhythms

Leaning over the
table, I think
“You’re low!
Your sugar
so low you’ll
pass out. Scott
will find you in the
morning, blue, stiff
ready for the sarcophagus.

My brain had forgotten
how to think
See me pound my
fist on the table
Save yourself or die!
A shiver of thrill
went through me
I saw Death,
sitting in the empty chair.

"Fucker!" I cried,
as I found my bag of
whole grain pretzels
at the table’s edge

Crunch! said the bag
I stuck in my hand
a bear at the hive
and came up with all
the honey I needed, and,
shaking, trembling,
and sweating,
saved my life.
This time.


Invisible in my new
five-dollar sunglasses
my steed pulls into
The Neighborhood
people, alone,
in their worlds,
drive by,
I cast a glance
toward them
with love.

How proud I am
of the woman who
drives a tall red Jeep
how brave! hair
flying in the wind
I wave
does she wave back?

Colorful shapes,
like a Calder sculpture
shine on the lawn
near the porch.
Yes, we’re
fearless in the
refusing to put
away toys we’ll
need for tomorrow.

Only a few Jews
live on Cowbell
I was the first
and clasp my hands
in prayer
as I pass the Madonna
in the front yard
five doors down
Dear Jesus, I pray,
protect our neighborhood
and never
let me die.