Five years ago this month, I retired from my full-time job as a bookkeeper. My son was my main reason for taking the leap — he had spent half his life in daycare at that point, and I wanted to be the one to raise him — but finding time for my writing was a close second.
I remember driving home from work one day, getting an idea, and reaching for a pen at the stoplight, only to realize that not only did I not have a notebook with me, but it’d probably been months since I’d thought to carry one. As someone who has often relied on writing for survival — quite literally — that was a major wake-up call.
My salary was a good one. Giving it up was hard, and definitely came with emotional struggles as well as financial ones. But we were able to make it work, and for that I will be forever grateful, because I feel like the most important part of my life started the day I traded my calculator for a keyboard.
One of the first poems that I submitted for publication was to a literary journal called Kaleidoscope, published by United Disability Services in Akron, Ohio.
The poem, “Portrait of a Woman Drinking Coffee,” is a somewhat goofy but earnest reflection on unipolar disorder, also known as cyclical depression, dysthymia, or whatever label the DSM wants to give it this year (basically bipolar disorder with no highs, only lows) – a condition I’ve struggled with since I was a little girl.
My late-teens and early twenties were the hardest (they typically are, aren’t they?) I lost a great scholarship, some good friends, and several years of writing — almost lost my life, too.
By twenty-five I had my shit (mostly) together (chain-smoking notwithstanding), graduated college with honors, and was working a good trade. Just as important, I was finally able to hold a pen again and start picking away at the emotional scabs that had been keeping me from putting down words in a coherent and meaningful way (and isn’t that an attractive metaphor? pick, pick).
Once I would have tumbled into this emotion
a storm’s eye sitting
in a broken coffeehouse chair
once I would have seen it as poles colliding
closing in on every last spark of joy
but now I see it as an old
the kind that puts out a cigarette in your coffee
and reminds you
of everything you try to ignore
“Portrait of a Woman Drinking Coffee” is from that era, written in the corner of the Brew Ha Ha balcony in a messy notebook with an ashtray full of clove cigarettes in front of me.
Though it took them nearly five years to publish it (five years!!!), I let UDS take their time (with only minimal grumbling) because I couldn’t think of a better home for a poem like this than Kaleidoscope, a magazine “creatively focuse[d] on the experiences of disability through literature and the fine arts.”
Putting aside the notion that many of the best artists, writers, and performers are/were nut jobs (though they totally are/were), the arts themselves are an important means of therapy and self-expression. This is true for everyone, but perhaps especially so for those whose ability to function day-to-day is a constant challenge. Kaleidoscope provides a forum, a spotlight, for artists with disabilities, including the so-called invisible disability of mental illness. As a survivor, I am happy to be living in an era when the stigma of difference is being tested, shaken, picked at like an ugly scab on our social conscience (see what I did there?) I want to thank projects like Kaleidoscope for adding to that momentum. I am honored to have even a small part in it.
To download this (Issue #70, “Journeying to Acceptance”) or other issues of Kaleidoscope, visit http://www.udsakron.org/kaleidoscope/issues.aspx.