Stray thought on a cat

Sitting last night with my cat, who is dying of cancer, in my lap. Wondered, Am I doing this right? A voice came to say, There is no doing this right. Was such a relief.

Does that make sense? Do other people have the same overseer in them I do?

Am I being present in the right way? am I letting these last moments with her in fully? am I not clinging to her? All this stuff, just below the threshold of awareness, about living up to some ideal I’ve got, where it came from who knows. Saw it for the load of crap it was.

Wasabi, my dying scrappy streetfighter, is a good teacher. She’s not worried about dying right, she’s just dying. Slowing down, drawing inward.

There’s no doing it right, there’s just doing it.

Found her outside a sushi restaurant in a blizzard the day after Christmas, year of 2000 in Philadelphia. She’s been with me to Salt Spring Island, Salt Lake City, Bellingham WA. A whole lot of mice met their maker in her. She’s been companion comfort irritant playmate and source of many forearm scratches. When I have to let her go I’m going to bawl like a little baby.

Say a prayer – whatever that means to you – that her last weeks are easy for her?





John Ashbery, 1927–2017

A great one gone from us today. Ashbery dead at 90.

His extraordinary proposition: that a poem is a poem.

So many years before I got that. When I did I saw in hindsight he had helped me to. (Haven’t yet managed to write one, but now I know what one looks like.)

No time for the post I want to write. So just this sweet bit from the NYT obit

Asked once about a poet’s proper relationship with his audience, Mr. Ashbery rejected the idea of deliberately “shocking” the reader, a tactic he compared to wearing deliberately outlandish clothing and which he dismissed as “merely aggressive.”

“At the same time,” he said, “I try to dress in a way that is just slightly off, so the spectator, if he notices, will feel slightly bemused but not excluded, remembering his own imperfect mode of dress.”

And this photo from same. Imagine the conversation they’d have had! or not!

Allen Ginsberg, John Ashbery, Marianne Moore. At a party in 1967. Photo by Jill Krementz.

Take care of each other. We don’t get a lot of time.

ADHD Notebook (I)

I want to try something a bit different. I was recently diagnosed – provisionally, haven’t done the battery of tests, don’t know if or when I will – with ADHD. That has me feeling and rethinking a lot of things, every corner of my life.

Thought I might share here, in case it’s interesting or useful to others, some of said thinking and feeling. In fairly raw form. Usually I put a lot of polish on a blog post. This’ll be pretty much straight from my journal, with maybe just the most personal stuff taken out.

That said – oh my students, should you stumble into this – it’s still an exercise in creative nonfiction. I’m interested here in how mind orders, or doesn’t, all that attention brings in. Different kinds of writing are different possibilities of order. That’s genre and form.

Here, the order of a disorder.

25 August 2017

A new diagnosis came – ADHD. Frame shift. It’s a name – potentially – for so many facets of what my mind is that hadn’t seemed part of one constellation. But the one thing right now. I have been having these spells of – IT’S TOO MUCH COMING INSometimes in the middle of the night sometimes when I first get up sometimes as now in the middle of the day. I’ve had these all my adult life + have always attributed them to trauma + that’s surely part of it. But treating them as trauma, psychodynamically, going to the bad memory, or physiologically, going to the stress response, has brought some relief but they haven’t abated. If I understand right, ADHD is about not being able to orient in or organize all the data coming in; attention can’t hold it in a shape, but moves from this to that erratically, or fixates on one thing with a hyperfocus. Is there, in there, a feeling of being overwhelmed by all of it coming in, + not being able to orient in it? I know that brings tears, to say/write it. And when I say to myself, “you’re in charge of how much comes in,” or better, “you’re in charge of how it lands,” I feel soothed, my body relaxes. (But if that’s the condition, why do people with ADHD seek hyperstimulation? Sthg. to fix their attention on? To kick hyperfocus into gear? I know I seek that state.) So there I was, small kid, incipient ADHD, unusually attuned to + sensitive to stimuli, often overwhelmed by them, it was easy for it to be too much coming in, + then, some of what came in was traumatic. Would have been for many but was maybe especially so for me.

Any diagnosis of ADHD has to overcome the fact that there wouldn’t have been many signs of it when I was a kid. As a student I was, by 10 or 12, the inverse image: keenly attentive, dedicated striver, highly organized, diligently obedient in not getting it wrong, in earning my teachers’ approval. Is it possible I harnessed the hyperfocus of ADHD for 12 years of school + then on for many more in adulthood? One-on-one attention helps, apparently, + I always imagined I had a one-on-one relationship with my teacher; I was special to them. And novelty. And there was my other condition pinching me from the other side: to keep maternal love I had to be about perfect, + that stress kept me motivated: focussed.

What signs were there then in my childhood? I could be rowdy but no more than other boys my age. I was bad at sports + at understanding directions that had to do with ball play or field play. I was sensitive + short-tempered; “intense.” When angry I took it out on my brother + that was often. I was socially inept, often blurting things out at inappropriate times, or stupid things that got me laughed at. I couldn’t read social cues in groups. I could tell people didn’t like me, or were shouldering me out, but couldn’t understand why. (This has never changed.) My impulsivity in the classroom – I could not keep myself from raising my hand, even tho I knew how it affected my standing w/ my peers. (U of Utah, as a prospective: I must have been the only one ever to participate in the cl. discussion.) All the ways I look directly opposite to ADHD have the same thing in common: they convert a typical ADHD behaviour into sthg. that will get me the love or approval or security or stability I’m missing at home. Hate to have all these initials going on, but I’m living at a pinch point between PTSD + ADHD.

—The impatience of my handwriting. How I’m only happy when I’m writing at the speed of my thought or w/ the freedom of my affect.

—How I’ll leave a room to get sthg. + forget what it was by the time I get to the room I was going to.

—I can forget in the shower whether I’ve washed my hair or not: that spaced out.

—Rom. rel/s I have 2 modes: rapt attentiveness (early) + kind of get-on-with-it impatience (I already know how this sentence/story ends) (later on)

—My teaching style: create a container, then improvise, I and e/one else thinking on their feet.

—That I write best given a tight container (poetic form, 1 minute video) and/or procedure, + then freedom to fill it w/ whatever comes to mind. And rarely to do I compose from start to finish. (Tho’ SCRO)

—My aesthetic. Word by word make it new. Perfectness of a disorderly order.

ADDENDUM. Writing about my past, I slip into writing as if it were still present. It’s typical of trauma survivors to feel the past is still with them. But ADHD adds a new perspective. Fixating on a few traumatizing events, one traumatizing relationship, a single storyline – gives me me something to orient around. To arrange all the other data, past and present, in relationship to. I thought I was holding onto it because I didn’t know how to forgive; maybe I’m holding onto it because it meets a cognitive need.

The image up top: Wassily Kandinsky, Composition VIII (1923)