Sunday, December 02, 2007

Who Are You? Who, who? (And why being conservative might keep you sane(r))

The theme song for CSI is blaring in my darkened living room as I pull this post together. Yes, of course I multi-task. Left brain/right brain – right? The refrain keeps pounding in my head, over and over, such a catchy little mantra. In fact, the tune’s been kicking around my grey matter for the past few days, ever since meeting with my newly-reconvened ‘real’ writing group (as opposed to my ‘virtual’ ones). So last Thursday, I found myself in the middle of a small room, quaking in me wee boots as I read aloud one of my newly-crafted poems. As I finished the third stanza of my first-ever metered, rhyming poem (a rondeau redouble, no less!), the song flashes through my head: Who the heck am I?

It occurs to me I am a forty-something years young woman, mother to two young ‘uns, happily-married wife, and professor with crows feet marching proudly across my upper cheeks. But I didn’t write these verses I'm tripping over. Rather, Ben, the brilliant but bipolar 20 year-old protagonist of my completed (!!!!!) novel BRIGHTER THAN BRIGHT, penned these words. And of course these poems preface sections of the book and, because Ben is a genius (and I am not), they best be damn good poems if they’re ever going to be published. So as I bare my and Ben's souls to my fellow writers, some of who actually deserve the title ‘poet’, half-way through my rather serious poem about child abuse and false paternity, I burst out laughing at the absurdity of it all.

It’s enough to make me crazy. Or at least qualify me for a diagnosis of disordered personalities…

To write about people who only exist in your head means you need to get down into their souls. You live them, breathe them, become them. There were times last year when I would jolt awake in the dark, convinced I was in a psychiatric hospital. Because that's where Ben was at that particular juncture of the story. And when he was shot in the left shoulder, well…. I couldn’t sleep on that side for weeks. It hurt too much.

So now, I am taking a poetry class in character as Ben. My instructor’s great, very tolerant of my eccentricities, and my classmates ask appropriate and probing questions about my life as a young, mentally-ill Harvard undergrad who runs marathons (ha!) and comes from a family of considerable means (double ha!). I’ve learned a lot about writing poems - and being a writer in drag.

Here’s the first stanza of my rondeau redouble…

Newton’s Principia
(Or a Young Boy’s Lesson on Gravity)

He runs free beneath God’s sky-blue brilliance.
On cider-tinged air, quills quiver and twist.
Crimson stains white, the world roars its silence;
bodies of mass fall, clenched into tight fists.


Want better mental health? Go conservative! According to a recent Gallup Poll, Republicans are significantly more likely than Democrats or Independents to rate their mental health as excellent. Fifty-eight percent of Republicans report excellent mental health, compared to 43% of Independents and 38% of Democrats. These distinctions held up after controlling for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, income, church attendance, marital status, having children, and presidential job approval. What we don’t know is what comes first – the healthy head or the conservative bent.

Thus, in addition to talk therapy and chemistry, there are at least two other ways to attain a healthier and happier mental life: eating dirt and voting Republican. Hmmmm…. Which of the two is most palatable? Peace, Linda


  1. Eat dirt and vote Republican.


    I can't tell you how much finding out you are undertaking a poetry class in the mind-set of Ben made my day. That's brilliant.

    I wonder if I could twist that for my own evil means- since Mia, my MC, has chocolate obsessions...maybe I should undertake more chocolate indulging...

  2. Kelley, I believe one should conduct as much research as possible to make one's characters pop from the page. So if chocolate gets Mia to 'come alive', then bliss out. I just wish my Ben's obsessions were relegated to chocolate... sigh...