As you, my faithful readers, know, I am an amateur neuropsychologist. A student of the brain, as it were. An untrained student, but surely that only leads to freedom of thought. Because of this interest, as I go through my days, I consider brain issues. Thus, when I was listening to the Tanis Podcast (which is excellent by the way, if you don’t mind frequent tangential asides that have nothing to do with anything) and they were talking about mass hysteria, it occurred to me the brain might be to blame.
Here’s my thought. I’d like your (amateur) opinion. Unless there are actual qualified neuropsychologists out there in reader land, which, if so, please chime in. The theory being as follows:
We have fears. Some are of our own devising. Others are manufactured, such as an occult movie that watchers believe will make them lose their mind if they watch it (this, the Tenebras Occulta, was the subject of the Tanis episode, and, in fact, has its own podcast). Such fears are often persistent or, though of limited duration (such as with the movie) intense. The fears pound and pound the brain, assaulting it. The brain knows the fears aren’t real—for example, nothing indicates we are going to catch ALS and lose the use of our limbs—yet they persist. And persist. The brain wards them off for a while, often for a long, long time.
But what if the brain finally gives up? What if it says, okay, you idiot. I know this is just a fear. But if you insist, I will make it so. And whatever we’re afraid of becomes reality. We watch the movie and actually do lose our mind. We fear we will get ALS, and, in the most ironic twist of fate, we do. Or is it irony? Perhaps it’s the brain that eventually mistakes fear for directive.
I shared this theory with my husband as we rode in the red Mustang humming down the highway listening to the podcast (but paused so I could voice my amateur neuropsychiatry theory.) I asked him, do you think that’s possible?
No, he said. If it were a legitimate theory, all the true, professional students of the brain would have discovered it.
But I am a stubborn amateur. And I continue to believe it is a possibility. Do you?
I’ll be joining several book clubs in the Memphis area during December. TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE makes a great book club selection. Memorable characters. Intriguing plot. Life wisdom. All leads to a lively discussion.
If you’re in the general Southeastern United States, and you’d like Lucinda and me to visit your book club in 2019, use the contact form to give me a holler. We’ll jump on the train and be there. 😉
So it’s cold in New Orleans, or at least cold for New Orleans. We got a cold weather alert from the weather alert service that usually concerns itself with hurricanes. But this time it was a “it’s gonna be cold-as-hell, y’all” warning. The Citywide Freeze protocols are being activated. When I get such warnings, I have to respond that, yes, I received the warning. It’s gonna by 29 with wind chill tonight. I responded: got it.
Last year when I was in New Orleans during a cold snap, I looked all over the place for gloves. Couldn’t find any. So yesterday when I saw a pair of gloves in Walgreens, I snapped those suckers up. They seemed kind of stylish to me, in a post-modern, chainmail weaponish sort of way. (A little voice in my head told me this might not be correct, but I forged ahead, certain my fashion sense could carry it off.) I wore them over to the kids’ house last night. I showed them off to my daughter-in-law. She immediately said, “I think you have them on backwards.”
It took me a while to confirm that she was right—they could be worn the other way around—because my sense of direction knows no test it can’t fail. “See?” she said. “They’re gripper gloves.”
I wanted them to be avant-garde textured gloves.
I’m sticking with my approach. Paired them today with the dorky shoes I bought right before my hip surgeries because during that time I needed something I wouldn’t trip in. I fell in love with the shoes. Now I wear them even when I don’t have to.
Orthopedic shoes and gripper gloves.
Tom says, “You make your own style.”
Here’s a better shot of the gloves. There is no better shot of the shoes.
Wait until I show y’all my gold chainmail earrings and post-modern go-go boots, the beginnings of this year’s Mardi Gras costume. You’re gonna love it, I just know.
Over the years, my work has been in the grandfathers and godmothers of journals (Brevity, Alaska Quarterly Review, Gulf Coast, Image, etc). Then I took a hiatus (I stepped into that quicksand known as “writing a novel.”) A couple of months ago, I decided to jump back into short stories, and—ha!—I got a story accepted for publication. I am giddily happy with my story appearing in this month’s issue of Crack the Spine.
It was a sad day when the Magic girls left town. The three—a brunette, blonde, and redhead—brightened every party, enlivened every boring Sunday afternoon, skipped every brunch, and danced on every unoccupied table. They were fun girls, the Magics. Each born within twelve months of the other—brunette first, blonde second, redhead bringing up the rear like the bright caboose—they were distinguishable only by their hair.
Plus, the redhead wore less clothes.
She showed her midriff, a no-no in a small Southern town.
The aunt commented on it, the bare tummy. The Magic girls were orphans, you see. No papa and no mama. The aunt fulfilled the mama’s roll, lax as she was, only surfacing every so often to lazily comment on her wards’ inability to comply with social mores. The blonde, arriving at the aunt’s house to request a recipe for cheesy popcorn, heard the aunt’s midriff complaint uttered to the librarian who’d come to reclaim an overdue book. The blonde did not defend her sister. She did not object at all. She pondered and, as the complaint marinated in her brain, it led to a competition. After all, the relationship among the sisters was built on nothing if not extravagance.
The blonde created an excuse to appear in public in a very low-cut ball gown. The redhead, suddenly aware that a contest was afoot, entered a karaoke contest in a sleeveless, backless romper. The brunette, worried where this was headed, began wearing ruffled granny blouses, trying to derail the vibe. It didn’t work. When the local Memorial Day parade rolled around, the blonde appeared perched on the backseat of a Mustang convertible, waving her pale hand, nothing on but a swimsuit. When she smiled, she channeled the ghost of her dead mother, whose head had been bald as an egg.
I forgot to mention. The Magic girls all had the same smile. Imprinted since birth, identical. And, on each one, a crooked left incisor.
One was a pharmacist (the men said “You wear fewer clothes than any pharmacist I know”) and one was a farmer (she grew prize-winning sweet potatoes) and one was a driver long before there was anything known as Lyft or Uber. An entrepreneur in a small town where everyone drank excessively and the local police made the budget off DUI arrests. The tipsy town folks loved the redhead. When their annual festival rolled around, they named her the muse who married Poseidon (the town spread along the Gulf Coast) and crowned her with a seaweed crown. Which she wore with a nude body suit. She looked like a wild naked mermaid.
The blonde seethed with jealousy. The brunette, mourning the closeness that had been, began wearing black funeral attire. A tight black suit with a satin jacket. Black pumps. Half veil. She looked really sexy.
The worm turned.
The blonde and the redhead realized they’d been left behind. Mystery had reemerged. There is nothing worse than being caught without enough clothes on.
The two ignobles decided there was nothing left for them in the small seaside town. They packed their bags. The aunt made arrangements to send postcards. The brunette, so newly enthralled with her ascendency, could not imagine life without a foil, or two. She stuffed black lingerie into an overnight bag and hightailed it to the airport, driving her own car because the town’s only faux-Lyft driver was already at the airport. The three bought tickets to Memphis. New territory to conquer. Bigger but not too big. Land of Cotton Carnival. And a pig festival.
When the plane’s wheels lost contact with the runway’s asphalt, the town shuddered in abandonment. The jet engines roared, and sucked all that had been glamorous right out of their lives.
Not quite all.
For back in town, in a park hosting the world’s largest live oak, on a green-slatted bench, sat a girl with legs as long as that elusive ribbon of highway. The fourth Magic sister. A sleeper. Ready to dominate. She could tap dance the varnish right off a stage. She rose and walked toward the center of town, her raven hair swishing like fireflies. When she smiled, her crooked incisor glittered.
So, men and women showed up to my book signing with chickens on their heads. They sat in the audience while we conducted the heart of the signing, a “True or Fiction” poll. I read excerpts from TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE and the listening audience voted: Fact or Fiction. If the excerpt was actually true, my DJ husband let loose a train whistle (for ‘You’re on the right track’).
If the excerpt was a pure product of my imagination, the expert DJ let loose a chicken clucking (for ‘You’re clucked.’)
One of the excerpts I selected was a sex scene. Yep. I went there. I read it, then the audience had to vote if it was true. The scene had to do with taking off your silver lame britches before climbing a ladder into a treehouse. As I read, the room got quieter. A collective sigh of relief rippled through the audience when the scene turned comic.
(ps It was Fiction, though as an audience member pointed out, the bit about the silver lame pants was true.)
Also, an audience member asked me during the Q&A, given how totally funny and hysterical the book was, had I been the class clown growing up? Y’all. I was quiet as a mouse. Totally shy. Extremely self-conscious. I told the woman in the audience I am very introverted…as I clowned around on stage. It gave me pause. When had I gone into comedy? So, right there in front of a room of people (half of whom I didn’t know), I worked it out. I told her I got divorced. I’d been uncomfortably repressed in that marriage. After the divorce, I sprung up like a Jack-in-the-box.
Good Lord. Doing public therapy at a book signing.
Then the audience members in chicken hats did a mysterious chicken dance and an improv on a chicken’s reaction to reading the book, which ended with a reference to chicken’s singing during sex.
Early, early in my writing career, I attended a writers’ conference in Oxford, Mississippi. It was full of writer panels. The writers were serious, full of themselves, dare I say pompous? I thought, get over yourself. You haven’t cured cancer. You wrote a damn book. After an accompanying cocktail party, I was walking back to the hotel with my ever-supportive husband and I said, “Please, if I am ever lucky enough to get a book published, dear God, don’t let me turn into a turd.”
I have a wonderful life. My loves, my cities, my writing, those who support me through all my tumbling around. Oh, and hedgehogs—I got to pet a hedgehog at Boo at the Zoo last weekend. Honestly, I could not ask for more. And I also have periods of runaway anxiety and fear.
It’s not Mental Health Awareness month that I know of. Nor have I ever been diagnosed with a condition. I have no reason for posting this and telling y’all about my difficulties, except a need to say it.
Partly, it often feels as if social media insists on unrelenting happiness and beauty. (I know this is an old thought, but it’s a continuing issue). Maybe our public mirrors are so upbeat because when joy hits our world, our human reaction is to share it. We are social creatures, more so than we give ourselves credit for. Sharing joy with another person exponentially increases it, almost as if we get to re-live it each time someone joins in. For joy, for ineffable joy.
But sharing sorrow? Fear? Despondency? Where is the joy in that?
As a result, we can get the message that we are the only ones who struggle. The only ones who have no reason to complain—and don’t—but who lie awake at night fearing the crumbling of our world. (Right here I feel the need to tell my mother that I’m okay; it’s just the way it is; you don’t need to worry about my worry.)
A new friend was telling me recently about her eye condition that left dark spots in her vision. She began taking eye vitamins and—lo and behold—the spots disappeared. Similarly, the dark spots in my life are purely a product of the way I see the world. They float into my consciousness and, before I realize it, they are blotting out all the goodness. I understand this, and yet at times I can’t evict the dark spot from my brain.
These times pass. I return to the land of light. If you follow the Enneagram, I am a six. Sixes are fear-based people. Richard Rohr thinks there are more sixes than any other type. Fear is verrrrrry common. So, in a way, rather than viewing my dark troughs as failures, I could view my default position of happiness as an ongoing, uncelebrated victory.
In closing (how formal is that?), if you have moments, afternoons, days of overwhelming fear, you are not alone. And, to paraphrase a church I visited once upon a time, “The Universe loves you, and so do I.” Let love prevail.