Unemployed Again

Unemployed Again

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Looking through Leaves of Grass

My early childhood is a blur of giggling with girlfriends, ducking waves in the icy ocean, chasing hermit crabs, and playing horses on Strawberry Hill.
I loved the camaraderie of those friendships, but I had another side--some might even say a dark side--which felt to me like a gnarled tangle of powerful emotions and thoughts that had permanently lodged themselves in my throat.

As a child, I was haunted by thoughts of mortality, war, poverty, and lunacy. While girls my age were busy playing with dolls, I was absorbed by news about Viet Nam, or Charles Manson. I was preoccupied with ruminations about prison and human suffering. And more than anything else, I wanted to write about it.

I have always considered myself highly social, but there were plenty of days I would tell my girlfriends that I didn’t want to play with them that day. In a much deeper way, I was in pursuit of isolation. I needed to wander the world in a solitary fashion, so that I could be alone with my musings.
On the days I would be by myself, I was always excited. I would load some black and white film into my old Box Camera, pack myself a snack, and grab my hard copy of “Leaves of Grass” by Walt Whitman from the bookshelf. I would then snatch up a packet of paper, pens, and pencils, and I would head off to Strawberry Hill alone, like a vagabond with a satchel, filled with everything I treasured the most.

I still have that volume of “Leaves of Grass,” but I didn’t know it until this morning. I awoke today with a start at 4:00 a.m., because I needed to know if I had managed to keep it after all of these years. A pre-dawn search of my bookshelf revealed itself to me, and I grabbed it with great delight. And I held it close to me, the way I used to do...the way little girls do with their teddy-bears. I suddenly remembered the great comfort holding that book always gave me. And tears sprung to my eyes.

The book was hardly worn. Not because it wasn’t my constant companion, but because things were made better in those days. I opened the front cover slowly, and I heard the familiar crack of the hard-back shifting in its binding. It was like traveling back in time in a warped speed tunnel, just the way I felt on my 50th birthday party. Walt and I had found each other again.

When I opened the cover and saw that the inside cover was littered with my childish handwriting, a tear escaped from my eye and ran down my nose. Just like at my birthday party, I was talking to myself 40 years in the past. And my sweet, sad naiveté which stared back at me, made me want to weep.
On the left, I had scribbled words that I was learning; new words which obviously filled me with delight. I smiled as I read them over. Cad. Sham. Agitate. Libation. Turmoil. Indelible. Chaotic. Oblivion. I smiled when I saw the word “abound” because I still love that word. In fact, I’m known to sign off from both phone calls and emails with a “Love Abounds.”

On the right, I had carefully printed my full name in the upper right hand corner. The way many of us did in our books, and our school papers. And then in the middle of the page, I had written these words: “A crutch to future success.”

Ugh. My own words, my own beliefs, staring back at me in a childish scrawl. A message from my past. Not exactly in black and white, because I had written the words in a green-blue felt pen. But the message was in black and white. I had always known that I was going to be a writer. What happened to me?

As I already mentioned, as a child I felt as though I had a gnarled tangle of powerful emotions and thoughts that had permanently lodged in my throat.
From my earliest memories, I always remember feeling that I had a blockage of some kind, wedged tight in my esophagus. This feeling became stronger and stronger, until it began manifesting itself in obsessive and compulsive habits, which I could hardly overcome.

For instance, there was a time that I decided that my neck could no longer support my head. My head was too heavy, and I began to imagine that my neck had finally buckled to its weight. Like the neck of a goose, it had curled and bent, and my head just wobbled on its side. For several days I walked around with my head bent over that way, peering at the world only sideways.

Eventually that feeling went away, but it was replaced with one that was even more disturbing. I decided that I had a big yawn trapped in my gullet and I told everyone that “I couldn’t get it out.”

This particular aberration lasted for months. I would be walking along with friends, and I would have to stop. My body would erupt into a series of contortions, my mouth open wide, and I would try and force it out. “I can’t get the yawn out,” I would complain. Night and day, I would try and try and try. But the cure for my affliction only eluded me.

Eventually this was replaced with a constant clearing of my throat. I was convinced it was persistently filled with phlegm and it seemed no amount of clearing would bring it up.

The final curse was when my brother held me down one day, and with his “torture de jour” decided to pour honey all over my neck. To me, it was a torture worst than water boarding. It was a torment and agony so overwhelming, that the memory of it is still a nightmare. Because my neck could not be touched--EVER. Touching my neck was like raping me.
Something was stuck in my throat. What was it?

It wasn’t until well into adulthood that I finally gleaned my answer.
More than anything else in this world, I need to communicate. It isn’t a choice.

Looking back, I remember that the more poetry I wrote, the better my neck felt. And later in life, I found that if I wasn’t speaking my truth, I would develop sicknesses there, like bronchitis. If I didn’t communicate, the words would get all jumbled up, and like a dam on a river, would create a blockage that was impossible to clear. Unless I spoke up.

I realize some things have not changed. My old Box Camera has been replaced with a Digital, but I still delight in nothing more than taking pictures of just about anything. Walt Whitman was replaced with e.e. cummings, but reading poetry still fills my soul like nothing I’ve ever known.

And I still write.

But lately, my pad of paper and Walt Whitman has been replaced with nothing but email and Facebook. And although I derive a great pleasure from those forms of communication, it seems its timeto expand those horizons once again.

“Writing and talk do not prove me,
I carry the plenum of proof and everything else in my face,
With the hush of my lips I wholly confound the skeptic.”
Walt Whitman


  1. Cathy, I refuse to use a thesaurus in an attempt to keep up. You don't scribble childishly now on the inside cover of a book. You are a writer, among so many other fun and fascinating things. Listen to your friends and people who love you. You've arrived.

  2. ( and then some)Isn't if funny how you have to turn 50 before you can share some of your longest, best kept thoughts. I consider it one of the best parts of getting "older" I get to tell people what I fear, what I love, and I am no longer afraid they will think I am weird for being the way I am.
    Knowing what I know of you communicating might have been one of those things you did only when you felt safe. Not sure about that but I think it might fit.
    Write away little accountant woman...it is what you want to do and you do it well...

  3. I used to get really awful headaches if I went to long without writing anything. Having a blog to update definitely helps.

  4. From one Kathy to another, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post. It has a certain timeless quality to it. I too write a blog where I muse at mothermayhave.com

  5. Wow. I clicked on your Google ad and ... wow.

    Not really sure what else to say. We all need to lean on something, I guess. Walt Whitman works for me.

  6. It is amazing how there are so many parallels in people's lives, yet we are so different from one another.
    I have been writing since elementary school, and my mom gave Walt Whitman to me when I was in fifth grade. I am in my 50s, and I still have that book.
    Many days were spent alone wandering around lakes with books, notebooks, and sketchbooks.
    And I just lost my job.
    Keep writing. Your work is lovely.


Me in Kindergarten

Me in Kindergarten