Feb. 11, 2007

The Psychiatrist Says She’s Severely Demented

by Bobbi Lurie

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Poem: "The Psychiatrist Says She's Severely Demented" by Bobbi Lurie, from Letter from the Lawn: Poems by Bobbi Lurie. © CustomWords. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

The Psychiatrist Says She's Severely Demented

But she's my mother. She lies in her bed,
Hi Sweetie, she says.
Hi Mom. Do you know my name?
I can't wait for her answer, I'm Bobbi.
Oh, so you found me again
, she says.
Her face and hair have the same gray sheen
Like a black and white drawing smudged on the edges.
The bedspread is hot pink, lime green. Her eyes,
Such a distant blue, indifferent as the sky. I put my hand
On her forehead. It is soft, and she resembles my real mother
Who I have not spoken to in so many years.
I want to talk to her as her eyes close.
She is mumbling something, laughing to herself,
All the sadness she ever had has fled.
And when she opens her eyes again, she stares through me
And her eyes well up with tears.
And I stand there lost in her incoherence,
Which feels almost exactly like love.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of writer Joy Williams, (books by this author) born in Chelmsford, Massachusetts (1944). Williams went to college and grad school in the Midwest, but she decided she needed to live someplace more mysterious and exotic, so she moved to a trailer park in northern Florida, surrounded by swamps and alligators and snakes. She said, "I was miserable, of course. But it was all very good for my writing. It's good to be miserable and a little off-balance." The result was her first novel, State of Grace (1973), which got great reviews. But her second novel did not do so well.

She was so devastated that she didn't try to write another novel for a long time, but focused on short stories instead. She now considered the short story her favorite form.

Williams has gone on to write many more books, including the novel The Quick and the Dead (2001), and the story collection Honored Guest (2004).

The title story of Honored Guest begins, "She had been having a rough time of it and thought about suicide sometimes, but suicide was so corny and you had to be careful in this milieu which was eleventh grade because two of her classmates had committed suicide the year before and between them they left twenty-four suicide notes and had become just a joke. ... Under the circumstances, it was amazing that Helen thought of suicide at all. It was just not cool."

It's the birthday of novelist Sidney Sheldon, (books by this author) born in Chicago (1917). He didn't start writing novels until he was 53 years old. He was a playwright and screenwriter, and then created and produced the popular 1960s sitcoms The Patty Duke Show and I Dream of Jeannie. But each of his novels has hit number one on The New York Times best-seller list, and they've sold more than 300 million copies worldwide.

It's the birthday of writer and activist Lydia Maria Child, (books by this author) born in Medford, Massachusetts (1802). She wrote novels, anti-slavery tracts, appeals on behalf of Native American rights, and essays on the status of women in society — but she's remembered today for writing the classic holiday song "Over the River and Through the Woods."

It's the birthday of Thomas Alva Edison, born in Milan, Ohio (1847). He did not do well in school, in part because he'd spent his early childhood sick in bed, and he suffered from bad hearing. So he was home-schooled by his mother. He started working odd jobs when he was 13, bouncing around various jobs at machine shops, jewelry shops, and telegraph offices, and he soaked up as much as he could about the operation of different kinds of technology. His first important invention was an improvement on the stock ticker. Western Union paid him $40,000 for the device.

That helped Edison set up one of the first independent industrial research laboratories in the world. He eventually amassed 1,093 patents, the most patents ever issued to a single person in American history. His most important inventions were the phonograph, the light bulb, and the movie camera. But perhaps his greatest achievement was managing to make these things a part of everyday life. When he invented the light bulb, it might have been just a novelty. Edison had to invent the electricity industry in order to make the light bulb useful. He built the first power plant in the world, designed his own steam-powered generators, built a 14-mile network of underground wiring, and installed meters to measure the flow of the electricity. He's now regarded as the father of the modern electronic world.

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  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
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