A note of gratitude

Writing a novel can seem like a huge, daunting undertaking, almost impossible to achieve. With the help of a devoted mentor, it’s still huge and daunting, but certainly not impossible to achieve.

It is with a note of gratitude in my heart that I write this. Without the guidance of my mentor and friend, Sarah Lovett, https://sarahlovett.com Lullabies in Bedlam could not have been written. Her support, encouragement, and wisdom have helped immeasurably. Thank you, Sarah.

That initial impulse

I’ve often wondered how writers get that initial impulse to begin writing. I read about one author whose childhood experience of having her voice literally silenced when singing happy birthday to a family member (by a thoughtless and unsuspecting aunt) created a burning desire to “have her voice heard.” Needless to say, she became a writer. Another author said that she was always interrupted and corrected by others who “knew better.” So it got me thinking. What planted the urge to write in my own psyche?

My family, bless their souls, (and this doesn’t negate the fact that I love them to pieces), has an annoying habit of silencing my thoughts, ideas, and suggestions. They even have the nerve to assume that there’s only one way to do things–their way. I’ve been interrupted countless times and told that they know the only right way. Besides being infuriating and unfair, it has created within me the strong desire to have my thoughts and ideas, my voice, heard.

Then there was the time, when I was a sensitive and impressionable child, that a family member issued a barrage of unwarranted criticisms about a paper my sister had written for school. This was (and is!) my twin sister. I experienced it vicariously. And even though I was only a witness and not the actual victim, it still had an impact on me. It made me want to prove to the world that I wouldn’t be silenced, that I wouldn’t be defeated by another’s criticism. And I’ve a sneaking suspicion, even though there’s always the struggle within, that I never will be.

A poem that has always been close to my heart

The One-Woman Play She Never Saw
by Leslie M. Levy

typewriterShe turns her head away
and casts her eyes to the floor,
but I know she sees him:
gray hair matted into dreadlocks,
yellow eyes alive with visions,
grinning mouth in perpetual motion.

He performs a one-man play,
a monolog of grunts, laughs, and chatter
that bring forth no applause from her.

My daughter and I sit in a booth together
at Burger King.
My back is towards him,
his voice as constant as the smell of grease
and the avalanche of crushed ice tumbling into plastic cups.

My girl, scared to look the man in the eye,
hastens over to my side of the booth.
There she stuffs herself with chicken tenders,
no time to swallow,
no time to chew,
she abandons her lemonade
and forgets to wipe the ketchup off her chin.

I grab her hand on the way out,
sure of the answer already I ask:

“Did he scare you?”

She nods and need not say more.

“He’s not well,” I say
and as I drive us back home
the tiny thread of kinship
I share with the man,
a dim spark of recognition,
makes me thank God
that the one-woman play
I acted in years ago,
my own eyes filled with visions,
was one she never saw.

 

On the issue of self-stigma

I hope you enjoyed my poem. I wrote it several years ago, when I was not yet familiar with the term “self-stigma.” Self-stigma occurs when one with a mental health diagnosis internalizes the negative prejudices of the public (including children–even my own!). This phenomenon can have the unfortunate consequence of generating shame and effecting one’s self-esteem (among a myriad of others). In the case of my poem, those beliefs may go something like this: There’s something dangerous or scary about people who are mentally ill. Therefore, since I identify with someone with a mental health diagnosis, I might feel bad and/or ashamed of it.

In my novel, Lullabies in Bedlam, the protagonist Ursula grapples mightily with her own shame and guilt, partly because of her own actions, but also because she has internalized what others have to say about her.

For a scholarly article on self-stigma, I am providing the link to Patrick Corrigan’s article, On the Self-Stigma of Mental Illness: Stages, Disclosure, and Strategies for Change
By Patrick W. Corrigan and Deepa Rao
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3610943/