Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Gratitude is relative...

I get this weird wired energy walking down Eutaw Street, past the mob loitering outside Lexington Market, murmuring "wanna buy, wanna buy". What's for sale? Drugs, specifically smack and crank. I feel a voyeur watching the swift, furtive exchanges, money for baggies concealed in downturned palms.

Watching the desperate joy (yes, there is community here on this street) makes me think lots of things. This blog entry, for one. But mostly I ponder why indulging in these substances must be so stigmatized relative to the societally blatant acceptance of tobacco and alcohol.

I also consider my luck in this life, despite my recent pity-partying: my children are vibrant, healthy beings; I have a strong, supportive partner; my job pays well and satisfies me (most of the time) intellectually and emotionally; I have my mind, my body, my breath; today, the sun warms my earth.

With time, gratitude becomes relative. When a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, the words stage 4 squamous cell sound like a blessing compared to last week's multisyllabic melanoma. Six weeks of radiation and chemo seem infinitely shorter than seven.

This morning, I woke, a kernal of a mantra playing in my head. I wrote it down, and fear disappeared...


in desperate quiet,
cocainated nerves flare
a dull burn;
synapses flood,
into dark

THE WRITING... it goes, it goes, ever so slowly, but I am revising a climactic scene that requires much tender care.

Peace, Linda

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Pure Geniosity and Other Factoids

Like Christmas in September, the MacArthur Foundation awarded half-million Genius Awards to 25 scientists, humanitarians, and, yes, artists. Diverse crowd this year. I'm familiar with the work of several, including:

--Sally Temple, neuroscientist
--Chimamandu Ngozi Adichie, Nigerian author (Half of a Yellow Sun)
--Diane E. Meier, geriatrician
--Peter J. Pronovost, critical care doc working in hospital medical error control


The irony does not escape me: a line of my research, looking at treatment patterns and outcomes for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is funded by the same company that pays the medical bills for my parents' cigarette-induced cancer and emphysema


Yesterday was the first day of autumn. The morning opened with a cacophony of rogue crickets outside my writing window, a lone deer munching on the withered remains of azalea leaves and iris. The cold approaches, time to prepare for the hunkering down, the inner withdrawal...


Look for October's issue of THE SUN on your newstands. A piece of mine is in the Readers Write column, an essay on waiting to miscarry my son. My first print publication in a literary journal...


THE WRITING... It goes. Officially past the half-way mark of revising BRIGHTER THAN BRIGHT. As for PURE, much thought and notes. I have a stucture emerging, several voices... this is the fun part, the imagining, the flexibility before the written words are committed. The most important part of the process, perhaps. Fascinated by my ability to carry 2 projects in my head at the same time.


THE READING... Reading for structure and voice, to fuel PURE... Just finished A WIDOW FOR ONE YEAR by John Irving. It has been years since I read him; I forgot what a marvelous story-teller he is. Wonderful book, layers upon layers of stories told as books. A writer's novel. In deep now with THREE JUNES by Julia Glass, who taught a seminar at THE MUSE AND THE MARKETPLACE. Tricky - she interweaves past and present voice seamlessly to change voice and time. Brilliant.

Peace, Linda

Monday, September 15, 2008

Infinite Jest No Longer

David Foster Wallace died this past weekend. He was a brilliant writer, and I suspect much of his fluid, exuberant prose was fueled by his mental illness, described as depression today in an obituary in the The New Tork Times.

Although having read his writing, I cannot help but think he was possibly bipolar.

After 20 years of relatively successful treatment, Mr. Wallace suffered from what we clinicians call 'Prozac poop-out', a term for when antidepressants of any type fail to work. Electroconvulsive therapy also proved futile, as did inpatient hospitalization.

My heart goes out to Mr. Wallace's family... and to all those touched by mental maladies. Which is, in the end, all of us.

The Writing... Thank God for the tedious nature of my current revisions. My father is currently going through serious medical problems of his own, which tends to consume my heart and mind. I'm unable to give much 'good' to my writing, although, of course, I write through my angst.

Peace, Linda

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Research is personal... kind of

I get this question a lot: why does my research so often revolve around substance abuse? Students who are flirting with the idea of making me their primary advisor tend to ask this, as do journalists (yes, I interview a lot), junior faculty, and folks at dinner parties who wonder what it is I do much of the day. Of course, as I put together my tenure and promotion packet, it's a question that stares me in the face.

Lots of reasons. When I first drifted into my doctoral program at Brandeis University (the decision to obtain my doctorate was not quite a conscious one; rather, like most of my life, it was a tributary that opened up and which in my curiousity I decided to paddle down), some of the best and most generous minds in the field made research opportunities available to me. Research areas have glitz appeal, with some more definitely more glamorous than others. Back then, when I was wet behind the ears, substance abuse and its sibling mental health were NOT the sexy darlings they have become today.

But mostly I fell into this field through the subconscious realization that it was personal. I'd seen the use and overuse of certain substances - tobacco, alcohol, drugs - among family members and friends. Their use intrigued me; mostly, I wondered why they used, what pains they were masking or truths they were seeking. Being practical, I decided to exploit my pharmacy training and specialize in prescription drug abuse. And that is what I am 'famous' for: studyng the fine balance between medical and non-medical use of medications that have medical utility and can get us high.

But I don't study tobacco. I don't study alcohol. And if you ask me why, I'll answer: it is too personal. My heart aches too much when I see someone gasping for air due to emphysema, or I see a young, beautiful kid with a cigarettes dripping from her lips, or another rolling in his own bourbon-smelling vomit. But seeing a smack deal go down in the Lexington Market parking lot, a kid bleeding from scabby track marks, or someone's beautific smile after getting their methadone from the Carter Center don't really faze me. I even talk to a lot of the junkies and buy one woman a coffee every now and then.

So when I contemplate conducting my studies, I keep them 'safe' and focus them on the substances - heroin, cocaine, OxyContin, Vicodine - that haven't touched me or those I love. Yet. I avoid tobacco studying and alcohol because all I can keep in my mind are the people close to me who have died or who are dying from the effects of these socially sanctioned addictions.

Maybe someday I'll be brave enough to do the research. But certainly not today.

I'M READING... John Irving's A Widow for One Year. Fabulous. I love his characters, especially the doomed Eddie O'Hare and four year old Ruth Cole. Back later with more after I finish.

Just completed an anthology of sorts - OFF THE PAGE. Writers Talk About Beginnings, Endings. Edited by Carole Burns, based on her interviews on washingtonpost.com with Martin Amis, Michael Cunningham, Charles Baxter (yeah!), Joyce Carol Oates (double yeah!), Marisha Pessl, Walter Mosley, Margot Livesy, Gish Jen, Alice McDermott - and more, more, more! If you're a writer, read this - it will provide you the reassurance and inspiration that you write for all the right reasons.

From Michael Cunningham, one of gazillions of little gems..."I've come to believe that a novelist is more than anything else someone who refused to stop writing and who can stand the disappointment."

I guess I'm a novelist...

Keep writing. Keep living. Peace, Linda