Sunday, March 29, 2009

He shouldn't have died

Very sad news. My ex-husband died this morning at his home in Edmond, Oklahoma. He was having chest pains and told his wife Donna to call 911. She did and they came out quickly. By the time they arrived, he had collapsed but he was still alive and they did everything possible to save him.

Two weeks earlier Mike had knee surgery for a wicked fall he'd taken. One of the medics postulated that he really died from a blood clot from the operation.

My son Dan called to tell me the news. "I have sad news Mom," he said in a low voice. "Dad passed away."

"Oh my god!" I shouted. "He was so young. He was only 62!"

Then my daughter Sarah called. We spoke for a while. They're flying down for the funeral later this week. Sarah will stay to help her dad's wife, a lovely woman named Donna.

Sarah wrote an incredible blog about her dad which I now refer you to.

I hugged Wendy Lewis!

The past 5 days went by like a whirlwind. Not, of course, the whirlwind out of which God appeared to Job and said Hey man, who ya think you're talkin to, gird up your loins like a man and I will question you. I did some family interventions, which I love doing. It's incredible how family members don't know how to talk nicely to one another. I was sitting in one family's living room and in another family's car, and listened to the way they all talked to each other. I have special ears or antennae and can catch nasty words very easily. To one family, I said, I'm gonna point out all the triggering words you're using to get the other person in 'attack mode.' You can't converse when someone is attacking you.

The only good way to attack a family member is to play tennis with them or ping pong. Oh, my ears are so attuned to slights and attacks.

I also had the pleasure of taking a friend to the Doylestown court room on Friday. It was no pleasure for her, she had to testify, but I had a ball observing the courtroom procedures, when I was not going outa my mind with boredom waiting and waiting for something to happen. Everything in an American court room is out in the open. This is not Russia or China or Darfur or The Sudan or Libya. This is the USA and all the bad things you've done are right out there in the open for everyone to see. And I saw them. I saw the good and the dumb and the deluded. I saw no evil. I asked a lawyer, Tom Blackburn, Where in this huge facility do you do your plea bargaining. Right here in the back of Courtroom 4, he said. It's not a very good place, he conceded, but it gets the job done.

I was starving and went to the room with the vending machines. For seventy-five cents, I bought some Raisinettes, reasoning that both chocolate and raisins are good for you, hang the preservatives to keep the glop together.

The Bad Plus played to sold-out crowds Friday and Saturday nite. I was the coordinator who arranged for my family to go down and see that at Chris's Jazz Club, 1421 Sansom Street. I had to memorize the address so I could type it on emails. Nine of us went down including my 86-year-old mother. My son Dan and his future wife Nicole drove her down last nite. I listened to mom's story of her trip to the city of Brotherly Love (as opposed to The Big Apple or The City by the Bay) while I was on my stationary bike pedaling as fast as I can so that hopefully I can live as long as mom.

Mom said she met each of the boys in The Bad Plus and found them exceptionally nice. These world-class performers are not in the least stuck-up. I congrat'd Reid on his recent marriage so that now all three of them are married.

Chris's Jazz Club is laid out very poorly. It's hard to see. I had a lousy seat but moved my chair so I wouldn't have to crane my neck but could look straight at them. The boys perform by themselves for two-thirds of the show and then Wendy Lewis, a fellow Minnesotan, joins them. She has what you might say is a plain ordinary voice which she uses to the hilt. She makes her voice do what she wants it to. She's very expressive and you get lost in her interpretations. I'd mentioned to Ethan, the pianist, before the show that I loved their rendition of Heart of Gold by Neil Young and by golly! they played it, Wendy Lewis singing. Oh, you've just got to hear it.

What does your mind do while you're listening to riveting music? My mind merges with the music but then it goes off on its own, you know, reviewing your day, reviewing the meal you've just eaten - duck quack quack confit, mashed potatoes with duck gravy, fresh crunchy asparagas, and sips of every drink on the table including Sarah's Manhattan which was too alcoholic-tasting for me.

But suddenly when they were playing I remembered going to the Hatboro Union Library earlier that day and checking out b o o k s. They have a unique system for shelving books: by size. It's impossible to find what you want (short stories by Alice Munro or Alice Adams) so you check out what you can find. Turns out the most visible fiction books that looked readable were two scary books and one by Alice McDermott, who I've never heard of. Apparently women named Alice are excellent writers!

So while they're playing I'm thinking about this beautiful library, part ancient, part new. It's got Grecian pillars in the front of it but they built a new children's wing with high ceilings and light streaming through skylights (don't quote me but it SEEMED like skylights. Obviously if I were writing this for the Times I'd check to make sure what the source of light is.)

Going to that library made me supremely happy. I imprinted on libraries and reading as a kid.

Wendy Lewis wore a beret and we chatted after the show. Born in North Carolina, she moved to Minnesota at some point, and has two kids in their early 20s. They may say casually to their friends, "My mom? Oh, she's a jazz singer." I asked her what kind of music she listens to and she said, "All kinds."

I asked Ethan what his professional goals were and he said to be a better pianist. He takes weekly lessons with the great Sophia Rosoff. Sarah, Ethan and I spent the better part of Saturday together. I was in my glory begin with these two remarkable human beings, one of them my own progeny. At my advanced age, I can't remember which one.

Ring ring ring! The phone just rang. It was Marion from our group. She just read my Yes I Can booklet and said it was the best thing she's ever read about bipolar disorder. The good thing about it is it's only 40-some pages single-spaced, so you can read it in a single sitting w/o even getting up to go to the bathroom. That's how I planned it.

If you'd like a copy, I can email you the text tho not the beautiful yellow cover. I was thinking of mailing it to Obama and also to Stephen King, whose book I just finished called The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. I highly recommend it. Why buy books when you can check em out at the library? Here's my review on

Monday, March 23, 2009

No escaping the past

My former Sunday school teacher is getting bat-mitzvah'd at the age of 89 and a half. She's sitting in the front row, the woman w/the blue folder in her lap, in this story in yesterday's Times. Mrs. Agin looks exactly the same as when she was my teacher at Temple on the Heights in Cleveland, Ohio, now called B'nai Jeshurun. I didn't realize she had a first name but apparently it's Mintsy.

My dad forced us to attend Sunday school. Most kids love to learn. I sure did and what could be better than Jewish history? We had a wonderful book called Pathways Through the Bible with marvelous illustrations but something was vastly amiss with this Sunday school. Ever read the children's stories of Roald Dahl? How bout The Witches? Or The Twits? The reason he's so popular is cuz he tells stories from a children's point of view: how MEAN grown-ups can be.

I can now hear my late father's voice: Ruthie, don't exaggerate. Your Sunday school teachers weren't all that bad.

Ruthie: Yes, they were, Dad. They were awful. They were mean. They'd make us sit there for hours and hours as they droned on and on. It was pure torture, you don't understand.

In fact, Dear Reader, and I vividly remember this, when I used to go into the basement restroom in Sunday School - it was painted a deep dark shiny green - I used to think, If there's a hell it couldn't be worse than being in here.

As if that's not enough, when I was about 8 years old, I was walking in front of the temple to the meeting place where my dad picked us up, and the following thought flew into my brain, the brain that would become, at age 38, that of a manic depressive: It'll all be over in one hundred years, all the misery of going to Sunday School. Nothing will matter in a hundred years. Yes, I was an exquisitely sensitive little girl. My malleable brain was being formed.

Mrs. Agin believed in the value of shocking her students so they'd remember things. She taught us the word anti-semetic and delighted in talking about all the people around the world who hate the Jews. I think in The Times photo you can see her mouthing the words, "They hate us." Then she told us about quotas. Harvard University had a quota system that only allowed in a certain amount of Jews. And pogroms. Oh how she loved telling us how the Cossacks were roar through town killing everyone in their path.

But oh how she loved Admiral Hyman Rickover of the Navy, father of the nuclear submarine.

How can a 63-year-old woman (moi) still remember the teachings of Mrs. Agin some 55 years later? My sister Donna and I reminesced about Sunday School earlier today. The first word out of her mouth about our teachers was the word "mean."

The first time I heard about The Holocaust was when they herded us into the auditorium (no gas jets, thankfully) and showed us films about concentration camps. Can you imagine a little kid forced to sit there and see all those dead bodies in mass graves, all those skeletal bodies waiting to be liberated, and bulldozers shoveling dirt over the bodies?

Boy o boy they just loved shocking our poor little brains with that stuff. No wonder I couldn't sleep at night. This is true.

Oh dear, my dad has finally decided to believe me. Thanks, Dad.

An extremely well-read man, he liked much of my writing. I remember showing him, when I was 19, a vignette I wrote about a man I used to work for. Dad was sitting at his huge brown desk, holding my piece of typewritten paper and said, "We've got to do something with this, Ruthie, we've got to do something with it."

Well, we finally did! We - or I - tucked it away in the basement.

Not so my new short story, though. Thank you so much Marcy from California for listening to the last one-third this afternoon, at the time when the sun comes flooding into my kitchen windows. I was dazzled by the light when I dialed her number.

I'm gonna enter the story into a contest due March 31. Today was my only 'free day' to write so I simply had to finish it, no excuses. Of course I spent the morning talking on the phone but after I did that, I pulled out the plug and began writing in earnest.

Marcy said my characters were interesting. Marce, I said, I've gotta write about characters who interest me, who I'd recognize if I met them on my street, and who have interesting habits and quirks. This story features a lot of cars and some action that takes place in a gas station. So when I went to my Hatboro Sunoco station yesterday I paid attention to the looks of the place and asked some car questions. What, I asked them, are a few names of sports cars? I remembered what they said and goggled the cars and looked at their photos, settling on a particular model of a Jaguar. See, I can't even remember the name cuz I'm not much into cars, but you can be sure I got that name right cuz who knows? The judge of the contest might look it up.

Writing fiction is the hardest thing I've ever done. I'm gonna keep at it, however, and even have the name picked out for my next story: Dissecting Jessica. Now all I have to do is think up a plot.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

He reads 10 letters from the populace per night

Did you see El Presidente on 60 Minutes tonite? Scott and I had just finished the dinner I asked him to please prepare b/c I was busy submitting my new novel chapters online. Get this! They're sposed to be posted by 12 noon, but my teacher and most of my classmates live in the Pacific time zone so when I post at 4 pm my time, it's actually only one hour late.

Here's what I liked most about Obama's talk:

Firm on his approach to the economy and on supporting his treasury secretary. No waffling there at all. The president is not a phony.

His firm chastisement of former VP Dick Cheney and Cheney's clearly erroneous beliefs about the importance of torture in protecting our country. As Obama said, Do we want to have the entire Islam population despising us? Even if Cheney were shown the facts, if they were presented before him on a golden platter with a $1 million bill on it, he would still disbelieve the facts. The lengths that man will go to in order to protect his legacy. Sometimes you just wish the Good Lord would come down from Mt. Olympus and set the world straight.

Obama has a million-dollar smile and laughter that makes the world sing. The interviewer Steve Croft was right to ask him about his merriment in these dire times, which Obama called gallows humor. It's more than that. It's the joy of knowing he and his team are working hard on our behalf, that he's using every ounce of his massive intelligence to get this most difficult job done.

I have faith.

How would I begin a letter to our president? I mused about this while drinking the last of my cranberry-grape juice tonite, which I will never again buy. I drank all 64 ounces in 12 hours. I hate to admit I was out of control, but facts are facts.

Okay, onto my next brilliant move. I think it'll be to make a piece of rye toast with butter.

Our last writers group

Seven of us met at Le Coffee Salon in storefront USA Hatboro, PA, to share our works and socialize. We had the best meeting ever! Sadly, after having a three-year-run, Yin and Otis decided to close their doors as there's not enough business. They gave it a gallant try & offered art classes every Tuesday nite as well as ample opportunities for performers to test out their songs before going on to the Fillmore East or wherever it is people perform today. I live in the past.

Linda read an outstanding poem she created the nite before. It was based on her favorite part of The Chronicles of Narnia. In critiquing it, we said it had a biblical flow to it. She was very pleased with her poem and had already mailed it to a friend.

Nurse Barb read unfinished fragments of a poem she wrote while riding the train downtown. She loves the buildings rushing by and is esp. struck by the beauty of the decaying old buildings along Broad Street.

Israeli-born Hannoch (it took me six months to correctly pronounce his name, accent on the second syllable) wrote about two Israeli wars thru the eyes of a child. Her innocence, juxtaposed against the cruelties of the bloody war, made for a thoughtful poignant reading experience. Residents of northern Israel have "safe rooms" into which they retreat during bombings. Hannoch, a retired professor from Temple, is a full-time poet and activist. His brother still lives in Israel. He said he went thru a period when Holocaust poems, hundreds of them, popped out of his head, using him as a conduit. "You know how it is," he told us. "You can't choose what you're gonna write about. They just come."

Chris, the birdwatcher, came in and ordered his usual turkey panini- and I cleaned off the banana slices on his plate. He gives great enthusiastic feedback and is a real fan of Linda's poems.

I usually sit facing the huge front windows, part of me thinks I'm a hypertrophic house plant seeking the light, and I announced: "Oh, there's Mary trying to cross the street." Barb and Linda went out to help her, she carries one of those white canes, then guided her inside to our table. She ordered some of Yin's delicious dumplings. Later she read a poem Twilight which was extremely well-received by all of us, the true story of a friend of hers who is dying of cancer. It was actually an appropriate poem to bring to this, our last writing group.

Barb noticed that a young man was listening to us with interest. Sure, we all said, invite him over. That's how Mike joined our group and will hopefully follow us to our new location. He works as a counselor at Lakeside alternative schools for kids with psychiatric illnesses. We now have three people in our group who help people with mental illnesses.

Can't remember how but we began a terrific discussion about God. Most of us shared our religious preferences, two of us being Jewish agnostic-atheists-sometime deists; a Catholic; a wavering Christian who can't figure out what God wants from her; a fundamentalist Christian and a liberal Christian. One of us kept quiet.

"God directs my course of life," said Mike. I was envious but said nothing. Earlier I asked him why he switched from agnostic to Christian. He gave an amazing answer. If there were no god, he said, life would be hopeless and depressing. (I think that's the philosophy of Nietzsche, that life IS hopeless and depressing and God is dead.)

BTW, I'm not asking God to help me to remember our discussion yesterday. I'm too busy thinking for myself. He's watching me type b/c as we know, if he exists, he is everywhere including in my bright light-filled dining room where I'm sipping my favorite beverage - hot water - in cobalt-blue mug from Disney World, a gift from Scott's parents who just got home from the Phillies' spring training camp in Clearwater. In their retirement years, they travel and are kind to their grandson.

Mike read some passages from his favorite version of the Bible. It was all marked up - highlighted with yellow and turquoise markers. That man loves his bible. His favorite book is Isaiah. He believes it heralds the coming of Christ. Here's his favorite bible passage.

We discussed the existence of evil. "God loves to deepen his power in overcoming evil," said Mike. He lets evil prevail but then gives man the means to conquer it. It's true that life would be too easy without conflict even the conflict within our own minds such as "How shall I proceed with the short story I'm working on. I can't think of an ending."

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sudden burst of energy!

Just sent an email to classical guitarist Jesse Cohen saying I'm too tired to mention him on my blog - I'm a promoter you know - but I got a burst of energy when I realized that someone left me a voicemail. Met up w/Jesse tonite at Le Coffee Salon where we all celebrated Otis's 54th birthday. The cake was delicious but even better was the watermelon. I ate 18 pieces and left 3 for the dog. Mouthwatering fresh pineapple sat on the fruit platter. If Scott ever wants to subtly kill me, he can surreptitiously feed me fresh pineapple, my throat will close up, and no one will be any the wiser.

So who calls and makes me happy? My daughter, Sarah Lynn Deming. Isn't that a beautiful name? That's one battle I won with my ex-husband, the naming the child battle. Apparently she's coming to town to hear her husband and his band play downtown. You're all invited, esp. Stephen Swoyer, who has a signed autographed copy of my Bipolar book. You can goggle his name. He's a technical writer. I'm afraid I might not see him again cuz we always meet up at the going-outa-biz Coffee Salon.

Anyone wanna buy a coffee shop?

Private note to Robert Howard: Hey, Rob. I told Jesse to contact your brother at Milkboy's to see if he might play there. He's very talented. On his brochure it says he plays one of Bach's Cello Suites. Shall we listen to it together now? (This YouTube only has 1.6 million hits, she said sarcasmically.) Did you know Bach was nearly lost to posterity? The Jew Felix Mendelssohn pulled his music outa the trash can. Way to go, Felix!

Take a look at the dude playing the Bach. Does he or does he not look like our Saviour, the Lord God Jesus Christ? (This YouTube only has 1.6 million hits, she said sarcasmically.)

The cellist also looks like my brother-in-law, Rich Pomper, marriage counselor. I think I'll send him an email now. Or maybe I should send it to his wife, Mary of Magdala.

My front door is open!

The first sunny day in a long time. I celebrated by:

-walking in my summer attire into the backyard to inspect a bird's nest among the forsythia. You should see it! It's made with twigs and pieces of plastic bags.

-visiting my dentist and having a cavity filled. I gave him a signed copy of "Yes I Can: Living Well with Bipolar Disorder." His dad has the illness. Joe said I was a very good patient. Why is that? I asked with cotton in my mouth and the saliva extractor going full blast.

Because you don't move, he said. Worst part of not moving is I can't talk. We have so much to say to one another but so little time. I told him not to take the booklet unless he had time to read it. "I just read half of it right now," he said. "Three of my poems are in there," I said. "It's the only way I can get em published."

In my lap was a short story I'm writing. I bring it with me to critique. I pretend I didn't write it, that someone else did. I keep holding my breath waiting to be bored. And then - presto! - I'm almost bored, almost ready to put the thing down, and then there's something that saves the story. As I said to my dentist, the title is terrific. I wish the story could rise to the level of the title.

Look what's comin' to Grand Central Station in NY: the art cars of BMW. Never heard of em until now. But, boy, are they ever beautiful! Which one would you choose.

With the heat off, it's 74 degrees in the living room. Oh, you should read the criticisms I'm getting for my novel.

- the writing in this paragraph sounds forced (what the hell does that mean, forced? I couldn't bear to ask)
- your main character is a real scumbag (yes! he called my character a terrible name)

The interesting thing is I took the course before and got the opposite comments. Don't worry. I pay no attention and just use the class as an incentive to keep on writing.

Here is an email I sent out this morning:

Hi everyone,

Sad to say, our beloved Le Coffee Salon will close at the end of the month. Yin worked very hard to make it the wonderful friendly place it is, so conducive to intimate chats and small groups like ours.

Please stop by during the week, if you can, to hug Yin goodbye and tell her how much the shop meant to you. I was there only yesterday and enjoyed some vanilla ice cream, root beer and a cup of decaf. Wow, am I gonna miss her!

Our next and last meeting is as follows:

Saturday, March 21 from 1 to 3:30 pm
free parking behind shop or across the street
at Produce Junction

Since the Coffee Salon is also a gift shop, items are now half-price. This includes Otis's paintings. Take a look.

Hope to see many of you on Saturday. Barb suggested we continue to meet at the Willow Grove Giant Supermarket. They have a large indoor coffee shop.

Happy St. Paddy's Day,

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Unsolicited praise / Poem: Ah Mania!

Dear Ruth,

First, I want to tell you that I was very glad that I came to the library to hear you and Talya speak. You were both brilliant and so informative. I was very impressed by Talya. Her handout is excellent. I was also pleased -- as I am sure you were -- to see the overflow turnout.

Second, I want to tell you how excellent your new New Directions yellow-covered pamphlet, "Yes I Can!" is. I was totally engrossed, even transfixed, as I read your riveting My Story. It occurs to me that you were picked to do what you are doing in founding and maintaining New Directions, and were given the energy, the vision, and sadly the traumatic experience you went thru, combined with your great ability as a writer, to serve others and make this all happen. I congratulate you, that you used your experience and your talent to this good end.

Criticism: In your description of the Healing Circle: New Directions Support Group, pp. 8,9 you left out any mention of the separate meetings of loved ones, caregivers, spouses, parents, siblings, friends who accompany the individual bipolar and depressive sufferers to the meetings, and its important benefits for them as well. Was this on purpose?

Lastly, I loved your poem, "Ah Mania!" The mania, the illness coming in the guise of a rouge cheeked gypsy with pots and pans on their back, breathing softly as a kitten at your front door. And your poetic description of getting 302'd, some of which I witnessed as a bystander happening to my son at my urging.

The whole pamphlet should be widely distributed, but especially the first parts, My Story, and My Mania, should be published in a mental health journal, and/or even a literary journal.


Mitch Davis,
Restaurant Reviewer,
The TREND Newspapers


You are faithful, I’ll give you that, coming ‘round just in time for Valentine’s Day.

You snuggle close and ask me to be yours. I smile knowingly, and say,
Show me your virtues… if you have any.

You, in the guise of a gypsy, with pots and pans strung across your back,
take down a few tarnished wares and hold them out to me.

I snort. Haven’t we been through all this before?

Then, as I touch your rouged cheek, I ask, Why won’t you give me up? What am I to you?

Your gypsy eyes, ringed with soot, brush my face.

Okay, I say, it was good. I admit it.
I saw the stars with you.
We ran with the moon at our backs,
leaped across the sleeping earth.
You showed me the future in a
dead dog’s eye, then led me away
lest I drown in my own dream.
You spun sweet songs from the morning breeze
and trickled them through my hair.
You peeled back the world so I could dip inside.
Took the fire from the sun
and winked it in my heart.

Okay, I say. You’re a friggin’ marvel, a regular storehouse of miracles.
But can’t we say goodbye?

It’s February and you’ve come back.
You always do.
I hear you breathing at my front door, soft as a kitten.
I’d know that sound anywhere.
Let me in, let me in, you whimper.
Can’t you be more original?

I followed you
never dreaming of deceit,
dazed by your taste for light and color
awed by your contempt of boundaries
so like my own
which you swept away
with a lion’s paw
while I cheered you on from the sidelines,

until I found myself
to a hospital bed.

And forgot I had a name.

Amid the tumult,
amid the sea of screams,
the broken minds a-bob the
slicing waves like so many
wind-up clocks jangling out of time,
who should come ‘round but you.

There, amid the black,
the granite slab of eternity sawing through my chest,
Your shadow on the wall.

You kissed my eyes
and bid me see.

Ah, Mania,
My debt to you is incalculable,
simply beyond measure.
But no pots and pans today,
Dear Gypsy,
Put them away.

Today I shall travel the world alone.
Fishing for words,
as I do.


Sunday, March 8, 2009

We filled the room! / Poem: The Last Mania

Okay, I just wrote a whole long post about my fantastic bipolar talk yesterday at the Upper Moreland Library in Willow Grove, PA. As posts go, it was moderately boring unless you were really interested in the subject.

And then - guess what! - I accidentally deleted the whole thing. Do you think things happen for a reason? Do you believe in the meant-to-be? There was NO REASON for this post to have been deleted. The world is not better off b/c it was deleted. I am not happier b/c it was deleted. I am frustrated and my neck hurts from sitting here so long.

Scuse me while I go and eat some black grapes to help process my feelings.

All right, I've stopped sulking. Sort of. Scott and I saw Frost/Nixon today. Great film, based on a play. People in the audience were breathing with a sort of desperation b/c it was so dramatic and they felt so sorry for Nixon, he was utterly pathetic in his impossible-to-hide belief that he was above the law. He was truly a sad Shakespearean figure at the end who saw what his beliefs had done to himself, his family, and his country.

I always had an abiding affection for the man, such a lonely soul, so sure he was right, when he was terribly terribly wrong. He outlived Pat and her pinched terrorized face.

Highlights from the talk:

I spoke first on - what else! - bipolar disorder and depression. Talya Lewis followed me and talked about her favorite illness, borderline personality disorder. I told her afterward I was shocked about her gifts as a speaker. SHE'S AS GOOD AS I AM!

We filled the room. At 2 minutes before our talk, there were less than 10 people there. Then, at 5 after the hour, it was like a dinner bell went off and they all started filing in.

Never for a minute did I flag in my belief there would be standing room only. We'd done mammoth PR work.

Honored guests included:

-a psychiatrist, orig. from Nigeria, who's the medical director of a state psychiatric hospital outside Reading called Wernersville. He wants to bring us to his hospital to talk.

-Pennsylvania State Rep. Tom Murt

-Ada Fleisher, my right-hand woman, from ND

-Blanche, an 84-year-old mom of a bipolar friend of mine

-an attractive woman in her 40s who was involuntarily hospitalized by her husband and discovered, as a result of Talya's talk, that she herself has some features of borderline

-about 8 members of ND. I had no idea they were coming and I WAS OVERJOYED. They like me. They like me.

-one of the doyennes of a leading family in Bryn Athyn who are intimately touched with bipolar disorder.

I couldn't believe it when I saw her. Exhibiting my usual carefully concealed impulsivity, I called out in the audience, Anyone here from Bryn Athyn! Yes, it was she. Long ago when I was nervous, I was called out to do a home intervention for one of their members. I did not know what I was doing, believe me, but they were never the wiser.

When we finished our talk, about 14 of us trooped down the sidewalks to Manhattan Bagel for a post-lecture meal. I paid for it with my credit card, but a very kind gentleman said he'll pick up the tab for us.

Glory be for the kindness of good samaritans. I'd given him a copy of my 24-page handout: Yes I Can: Living Well with Bipolar Disorder in which the following poem was printed. Undoubtedly it was the poem that endeared me to him:


When you don’t need it anymore,
when it’s imparted its last
gifts of manhood and of shame

When its hands cuff your neck
with a forest fire of remorse
and they march you off
quicker than a red fox vanishing

and you can barely glimpse
its sun-sequined back
too glossy for the mortal eye –

Then, finally, there’s nothing left,
no one left to call
or shower with your gifts or laughter,
you’ve used them up
one by one
each of the many faces
you thought were yours forever.

So they buy you a trailer
and stick you inside,
the better to sleep away your princely dreams.
A dog twitching under a glass table
couldn’t resemble you more.

You rise up and stand on a box and
with your one good eye
squint through the narrow window
that gives on the grassy field outside

and sing.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The birds are singing!

My front door is wide open so the glorious sun can shine inside. I have just gone out into the front yard holding a warm cup of tea and walking all around the yard watching for signs of spring.

The birds were arrayed on the side of my house, chirping from Sarah's windowbox and atop the two room air-conditioners. When I yelled up a big hello to them, they scattered. As it should be. Wild things should remain wild.

Touring the outside, I watched for green sprouts. The only thing I found were my poppies coming up! They bloom in May. Where are all my bulbs? The crocus and daffodils and jonquils. The squirrels must have got them.

Gotta clean up the living room now so I can think straight. And also plan what to say at my talk at 1 pm today at the library. After the talk we'll all troop over to Manhattan Bagel. Ilyas the Greek agreed to stay open late for us. After you do your work, there's nothing like celebrating with a delicious meal.


They give you two choices to submit your short story to their contest. You can have it postmarked by Friday. Or you can personally hand-deliver it the following Monday. In my youth, which I date from 61 years on down, I would hand deliver my manuscripts - both short story and poetry - 35 minutes away from home, down congested highways, parking a mile away, then walking in the whipping winds to Professor Nestler's second-floor office at Montgomery County Community College. Today I am far more organized and get it postmarked on time.

The whole purpose of yesterday was to finish the short story and mail it in. I'd read over the last draft that Marcy had so kindly okayed the night before, but you know what, Dear Reader? I thought it STUNK. My main thought was that of EMBARRASSMENT, that I had allowed Marcy, who has such discerning taste, to read something so imperfect.

A short story has a logic of its own. I'm making this up as I go along, but it's all true. I realized this when I re-read it Friday morning, the day it was due. The story did not conform to the logic I was setting up for the reader. With one of the hundreds of pens I have all over my house, I carefully marked up my ms. showing myself where my thinking was incorrect. This is what editors do for you but now I had to remove myself from my product and pretend I was reading it for the first time.

When I read my final draft some five hours later, I was pleased. As always, I kneeled down on my living room rug, the only way I can properly read my works, and re-read every word. My eye glided smoothly over the manuscript. There was only one place I was not happy with but it wasn't bad enuf to re-do.

While working on the revisions, I had two other writers in the back of my mind - Alice Adams, whom I had just discovered at the Fox Chase Branch of the Philadelphia Library (we always remember where we meet our great loves) - and my own Virginia Woolf, who, truthfully, I can't remember where I discovered To The Lighthouse. My daughter Sarah says I remind her of Mrs. Dalloway in the book Mrs. Dalloway.

Now I'll tell you a little secret. I knew all along that my short story had the ring of Mrs. Dalloway to it, published in 1925. And at one point in my short story, I thought of putting in the name Clarissa, which was Mrs. Dalloway's first name, and then remembered that's Woolf's character, not mine. My character has a much less attractive first name than Clarissa.

I'm quite pleased with my short story. At the moment I can't remember its name - oh, yes, it just came back to me. Titles are very important. I'd won a first prize from the college many years ago and had my short story published in a now-defunct magazine. Geez, what was the title. Can't remember. It was about a meth addict.

I submitted another terrific short story to them either last year or the year before which didn't even place! My wonderful late friend Bobby edited it for me. You have no idea how I miss that man. He developed Parkinson's disease at age 70 and decided he didn't want to wait around for it to ruin his life so he walked in front of a truck. He's buried in a nearby Jewish cemetery. I LOVED THAT MAN! My story was about the early years of Jesus Christ.

So! Vhere vere we before I rudely interrupted myself. Ah!

Having driven my story yesterday to the nearest post office, the Huntingdon Valley, I came back home and answered my emails, put the phone back on the hook and answered a few calls.

I must be busy every minute of the day or else I'm not happy. So far, the only way I can write is when I have something else to do. I'm not like John Updike or John Cheever. I hope you watched their repeat video on the NY Times of when they appeared on the Dick Cavett Show. When Cheever was praising Updike, watch for the expression on Updike's face. He looks like a blushing bride.

My boyfriend Scott is utterly respectful of my need for privacy. He knew I'd be working all day long so he didn't come over until about 5 pm, well after I'd mailed my ms.

So, did you mail out your short story? he asked.

Short story? What are you talkin about? I said.

Truth is I did NOT feel like talking about it at all. We went for our first nature walk in months! Down to the closest Pennypack Nature path around here, a five-minute drive. A bubbling creek was to our left. And no birds sang! We were amazed by this. I'll have to call them up to ask why. They're not there on Saturdays or else I'd do it now.

Then Scott began driving somewhere. I didn't know where and I didn't ask. It's so much fun to be surprised.

You don't mind if I go to Barnes and Nobel? he asked. I wanna pick up a couple of magazines.

Oh, that would be terrific, I said.

He quickly found a couple of model RR mags while I searched the stacks. They had NO Alice Adams books. I wanted to look at one of her short stories and see how Without George compared. I did find Mrs. Dalloway and re-read the first page and the entire forward by Maureen Howard. I do own the book, but I can't remember where I last left it. I teach myself how to write by reading great writers.

When we left B&N, the new gigantic jewelry store Jared (named after the owner's nephew) was yawning far in front of us.

Scott, would you mind if we stopped in Jared's? I love jewelry stores. I told him my friend Pam's dad worked there.

The interior was magnificent. The lighting was just spectacular. If you're ever depressed, Dear Reader, stop into this store. They'll give you a tour, no questions asked. Dave and Jessica waited on us. I tried on a ruby and diamond ring, telling them, truthfully, I can't stand wearing rings, that I took off my wedding band after a month cuz it made my body list leeward.

We spent many happy moments there before going home to dinner.

This is how I celebrate getting my short story in on time. Just strolling around with the one you love and savoring the fruits of the world. In our case: nature - books - rings from Tanzania - and the joy of riding in a car.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Slightly rancid but okay to eat

I go visit my client Evelyn, a woman I've been with now for five or six years. I know what makes her happy and I know what makes her mad. She lives in Section 8 HUD housing in Abington, PA. In fact, I just got an email alert from NAMI asking me to call Sen. Arlen Specter's office to ensure passage of a mental health bill, so I did call his Harrisburg office and left a message with Zach urging the senator to vote for the bill. Specter has a long lingering brain tumor and they want to knight Teddy in England.

I would prefer not to die from a brain tumor. Is there a choice?

So, Evelyn gives me her Cream of Rice cereal, made by Nabisco. It's nutritionally worthless but they add the vitamins and minerals they've removed from the rice. I make it with milk so I get my protein and then I cover it with maple syrup which makes it taste like pudding!

The cereal box says you can use it until 2007, so I'm not surprised at the slightly off-taste. I guess added thiamine and niacin get rancid just like the rest of us.

Pudding is without doubt my favorite category of food.

Return engagement for dinner last night from my son Dan and his future-bride Nicole. As a mother/law, I was thinking what Nicole brings to Dan. Dan is serious, mellow. Nicole is fun-loving, garrulous, interested in just about everything. She gave me a Sun Magazine to read, something Dan would never be interested in. This is so cool when couples bring into the partnership a widening of their arena of interests.

I didn't start dinner until about 6 and was mildly panicky. Both Dan and Nicole are hard workers and I knew they were starving. I got a late start cuz I was at my printer's setting up my Yes I Can booklet about living well with bipolar disorder and depression.

Mark Amos and I had worked together many years on The Compass so it was good to see him again. He is a true master at what he does. I always ask his opinion on things. And also I peek at everything he's working on.

"How did you find these people in Peru?" I asked. It was a solicitation letter from an orphanage.

I carefully selected the color of the cover stock we'll use. Daffodil.

He'll run the presses today. He hasn't called me so I guess everything's in order.

Dinner menu:

Atlantic salmon sauteed on red peppers from Chile and mushrooms from PA
Steamed asparagus (from the 'gus' family as Nicole said)
Tiny baby red bliss taters w/butter
Garden Salad with homemade vinaigrette garlic dressing (thanks Dan for chopping
the garlic into teeny tiny pieces)
Stewart's Root Beer, on sale at The Giant

Mom, asked Dan, dyou have any salt around here?

Sure, Sweetie, I said, getting the big Morton's saltbox out from the cupboard.

One reason I started making my own baby food for my kids is b/c I READ THE GODDAM LABELS! Gerber, in those days, put sugar and salt in babyfood! Yeah, brainwash em when they're young. Kill em in the prime of life from the fruits of your criminal indifference to their safety.

Dan tried unsuccessfully to load the photo of the Board Members on the ND website. So now when you click on it you get this gray patch where the photo should go. I kind of like it. Abstract art.

Lest you think I've given up my morning reading, I set my timer for an hour so I could lie in bed and read. This, of course, was after I'd done an hour's worth of work. A black book with silver lettering caught my eye from my book shelf. It was one of the first books I read about manic depression after my diagnosis.

Back in 1984 when I was diagnosed you couldn't find a thing about the illness. The book Psychiatry: A Personal View was on the remaindered table. Sure enough, there was a fantastic description of the spectacle of mania, so I bought the book, read the good parts, then tucked it away until now - 20 years later. Just goggled the author's name and this is what came up. I was hoping he'd still be alive but alas he died in 2005 of a brain tumor. Milton Miller, MD. No one's ever heard of him. His book is good but not great. He himself was great, not merely good.

So, I'm up in my comfy bed this morning, covered over with three blankets, and Milton is talking about doing therapy with a woman he has just put on lithium. The drug came out in the 1970s. His patient did very well on it and she & her husband wrote a letter to John Cade in Australia, the man who discovered it.

At that point, I put the book down and thought. Hmmm. In the 20 drafts I did of my bipolar brochure, the important part about my writing Paul Janssen was left out!

These mysterious things happen. How did I ever excise that? Truth is, I did write Paul Janssen, founder of Janssen Pharmaceutica, makers of Risperdal, which I took to control my manias. Janssen wrote back quickly - from Belgium - and I treasure the letter. Apparently, tho, not enough to leave it in my booklet.

I do think GREAT PEOPLE will write you back. True, they are very busy, but they appreciate the efforts of their fans. A friend of mine wrote the great Kubler-Ross, who not only wrote her back but invited her to visit!

Speaking of Reaching Out, I told Dan I spoke to a woman at the supermarket and told her about my program on Saturday. I knew she didn't have a mood disorder but I was also fairly sure she knew someone who did. We were standing at the check-out waiting to be served.

Mom, said Dan, you're hyper-social.

Wow! I like that. Hyper-social. See, there's no point in standing in line when there's a friendly-looking person next to you. We got to talking about clementines. I had returned a carton of mine b/c they were TERRIBLE. Peg actually said to me, Yes, there's a lot of talk that the clementines aren't good.

Thank you for validating me, I said, and then launched into my bipolar program on Saturday. You're all invited. Check the website for details.

Time to work on my short story now. I've got the name already. But can't decide if I should make it into a series of letters. I've got the rudiments of a plot but expect it will write itself.

Monday, March 2, 2009

And the Academy goes to....Marcy, Scott, and Dan

What kind of music shall we listen to to keep us company on this boring blog?

Have confidence in yourself, Ruthie.

I do! I'm confident I'll be as boring as heck!

Okay, if you're sure then put on a little night music or nacht musick as we say in Germany.

A man strolls up my driveway this morning. He's smoking a cigarette and wearing a woolen cap. Before he gets a chance to knock I open the door - I'm wearing my navy-blue skivvies - and say, "My boyfriend will shovel later on today."

Then I shut the door fast so I won't freeze to death.

I worked on my Bipolar brochure all the livelong day: Part One which I gave the amazingly creative title "My Story" and Part Two which tops the dullard title list with "Keys to Recovery." Oh, Dear Reader, if only I could think of something different to call Part Two. Any ideas? Gimme a holler.

Then I get a call from my graphic designer, the man who's designing the cover of the brochure. Never, ever, Dear Reader, say to your graphic designer, "I know why your wife divorced you." I have ALWAYS fought with my graphic designers. This man, who's very talented, I mean, really super talented, starts talking about genius.

Well, I say, which genius are you talking about? Me or you?

Turns out he's talking about himself, darn!

So Marcy, among the lemon trees in California, is doing the great favor of reading my bipolar manuscript. Tirelessly. Marce, how many drafts have you read so far? Yeah, I thought so. Too many to count. She introduced me to a new website. What better place to comment on it than right here in front of all my readers, eternal show-off that I've become. Marce, it's very well-written but how many blogs can one mind tolerate? As you know, I just kicked the Facebook habit.

I sent an email to my Board of Directors. We had a meeting a few weeks ago. I thanked Freda for taking the photos and said, "Should I ever see my son again, I'll have him load them on our website." Well, guess what? I called my son today and he actually remembered me! He asked after the health of my cell phone he bought me. The phone, I believe, was born with a congenital heart defect. It's really sad. It just lies there looking beautiful but it doesn't work, even after I charge it. Dan's coming over tomorrow to take a look at it.

Just in! Click this YouTube video of a 6-year-old girl playing Mozart. Wouldn't be a riot if it were a fake. And then, if you really wanna get sick, read people's comments below. They're always second-guessing and making judgments. The Greek chorus. Hah! I think I'll go dental floss the chard from my teeth now.

You should be so lucky that I'm actually gonna shut up. No, I've got more to talk about.

Click on Dr. Dan Hartman's blog. He's a psychiatrist in the Philadelphia area who shares parts of his own life with his readers. His current blog talks about the death of his beloved father-in-law.

You know what my goal is tonite? To finish this blog and lie in bed and read. Before I forget, lemme share this story about Scott.

Scott's first house was on "F" Street in Philadelphia. Hmmm, wonder what the F stands for. I can think of a couple things Scott and I love doing that begin with the letter F. One of them is Food. The other is Friendship. Now, it was the year of the 30-inch blizzard. We were just talking about it tonite as we lay in bed watching the news. Usually we can't shut up and never really hear the news we're so busy talking.

We share our blizzard stories. Dyou wanna hear both of them?

Scott gets off the last train to go home from work. It's snowing in his face. He's wearing his steel-tipped boots, his high warm white socks and his skivvies, his Ford Motor Jacket. The snow is ten inches high and there is NO path. He lives a mile away from the train stop. One whole mile in the freezing cold snow which is crusty by now. He must lift each leg high up and then plop it down through the crusty snow.

He thinks he's gonna freeze to death. There is no one out but himself! But onward he marches, home to "F" Street. His dog Spike is waiting for him. He's a husky, who is begging to be let out and play in the snow.

Me, I'm coming home from the therapy agency where I worked. My car has fallen into a ditch on Terwood Road so I am walking up the long and winding road in my fucking dress shoes and stockings, for god's sakes. I'm not even walking on the road cuz I'm afraid a car will veer into me, so I'm walking on the lawns under pine trees. It's pitch dark. My biggest worry is that my toes will cramp up from the cold.

I try to hitch a ride but no one will pick me up. Clearly I look like a suspicious character. I'm so mad that my car is in a ditch. How will I get to work the following day?

But you know what? I'm walking home up Terwood Road, I'm freezing cold, my nose is running, but it is gloriously beautiful under the pines. I take some snow off a tree and taste it like when I was a little kid. The sky is bright from snowlight and I am in a wonderful mood. I also suffer from.... manic depression. What a glorious feeling of freedom I have, almost home, almost home.