by Monica Ross
The desire to connect can be a powerful thing. I came across this in my own life recently-- with my father who is now deceased. Yes, I think at times we even try to connect with those long gone or reconnect as it were. My father didn't have much contact for most of my life.
My mother, whom I lived with, had told me growing up that my father had schizophrenia. That’s what I knew to be true for most of life until my father reached his later years, when he himself starting saying that his symptoms were those of organic brain syndrome and not a hereditary illness.
These are words he repeated to me from a health care provider he was seeing, when I was a much older adult.
It’s plausible. I found this article talking a bit about the topic.
The story goes when my father was 16 years old he was doing push-ups in the living room of my grandparents 1960s home when a blood vessel burst in his brain. He was on his 61st pushup when it happened. He was thinking at the time of the pressures of getting into the best college he could perhaps.
My father had been a gifted student. And he had early acceptance offers from high ranking schools and a 4.0 GPA in high school. For the longest time, I had an irrational fear/dislike of doing push ups in grade school, so as not to trigger a similar fate, about which I never told my teachers.
My father, he underwent neurosurgery at the Lahey Clinic in Boston which was operated out of Massachusetts General Hospital. My grandparents had him flown there from San Antonio. The surgery left him partially paralyzed on the left side. He was able to recover from that experience and regain the ability to walk, but he lost some of the feeling in his left hand.
They soon discovered that what had happened was that he had a congenital condition—a small clump of thin and abnormal blood vessels in his brain that were weak.
Other possibilities for my father’s illness and schizophrenic like symptoms after the surgery that lead away from theory of his schizophrenia being a hereditary mental illness as told by my aunt, his sister, are that 1. he took LSD only 6 months after the brain surgery, a popular drug at the time amongst young people or 2. he may have acquired a virus during surgery that acted on his brain while it was open during the surgery.
I'm no scientist.
He did go on after the surgery not to become the heavyweight engineer or doctor my grandparents had maybe hoped for, for such a gifted student in all subjects. But he went on to study art at Trinity College in San Antonio where he developed an interest in encaustic painting techniques and created some encaustic paintings himself. He never finished the art degree program.
He also wrote poetry on the side.
Recently in an attempt to connect with my father, something I struggled to do for the better part of my life while he was alive, I dug up some of his poetry writings published in a San Antonio, TX MENSA newsletter over the 1990s mostly.
What I found was that much of his writing is difficult to get through because of his style of writing. But here are some examples of portions though that speak to me in some way, where I can kind of seeing him breaking through some of his illness...
This one on writing:
The words might come to me, but do you think
I know their meaning any more than I ‘know ink’?
Knowing me, You know I must admit
That words are only ink arranged (a bit)
Into thoughts, through which expression finds its birth;
And how can I convey then what it’s worth?. . . .
MENSA April 1979
Or this one...
"Forever and Ever"
Time is a test
I have to take.
Life is a promise
I cannot break.
Love is a reason,
The reason why
The people pray.
(The people die.)
Someday I, too,
May take this path,
And time will be
And life will be
A promise broken
And reason a word
That left unspoken.
February 1985 MENSA
I value our friendship so very much
More than a soft kiss or warm touch
But see you so seldom it hurts inside
Like loneliness stalking wounded pride
With guided missiles. I’ve lost the chance
To see you laugh, or run, or dance
Somewhere; but you just have to know
That you’re appreciated so
Much that it had to come out in rhymes
That we’ve known better days
And had better times.
December 1990 MENSA
"Raised, But Not Wasted"
If I turn the knob, I expect the door to
Lest it be locked, and then I recognize
That entrance pursued has become entrance prevented.
If I view you as a recognizable form,
It doesn’t necessarily follow that you’re my friend.
It just might mean I know you well enough
To fully experience caution in your presence.
But after all is thoroughly said and done,
I hope there’s been the proper rationale-
That never reason spent was done in vain,
Or actions taken without justification.
And if you wonder what reason because?
I’d like to think time wasted never was.
MENSA August 1991
But then with other portions of his writing maybe the illness comes through and it gets a little murky? Like here:
from his poem "And That’s The Way It Was!"
Star dust, comet trail
What makes the event succeed...or fail?
To watch The Show.
from his poem "Aldebaron"
Sometimes the world looks like a zoo...
While another world has cages like heaven,
Where, once, you’re born, you never die
And cease to age at forty-seven.
Don’t ask me if the cold, gray winds remember
the time of day when Vortex was born aloft to the
haunting sounds of the chiding of children, simply
to land squarely on top of your head! You might not
want to hear the truth in a single word. You might
not want the expression to say it all for you.
I mean the names of some of these last poems alone.... Maybe I’m being too critical and or dismissive of his style of writing with its loose associations and inside references. That’s what much of poetry is in a way, right?
The point is it doesn’t have to make sense to me or anyone else. The point is he was a man who even in the height of his illness organic or otherwise did write. What does that say of us writers who have no illness or impairments who aren’t writing?
The experience of going back and reading some of his work feels a little heartbreaking in a way. Here I am as a writer having tried my whole life in some way to connect with him. He passes away in 2014 four months after I graduated from my counseling program in graduate school.
I muster up the strength to visit some of his work that he told me he had done, as I struggle to find my own voice through my writing. And then, well. I read it and I want it to make more sense to me. Some of it, not all of it as I point out does. My thanks to the very generous woman at MENSA San Antonio who went back through all those newsletters and snail mailed me what she could find of his work.
The imperative to write isn’t always so that the author can make sense of his writing for the reader. It's about the author's having fun with words. It’s about an experience. It can be about the sound of a word or the emotion behind a word or word choice.
So what better way to attempt to express oneself with an impairment that affects language at times than through mediums for which there are no words in the form of visual art or where the words don’t necessarily have to abide by any rules like poetry.
My take away from this is that the organic brain syndrome or schizophrenia, either, impeded with my connecting with my father. And the things that he was able to accomplish in life, though comparatively small perhaps for someone without an illness, left an impression on me none the less and helped me to form my own identity now as a writer myself.
So maybe, in the fulfilling of that identity I’m able to bond in a way with him. My mother too loved to write. So I’m sure that reinforced that sense for me. It fits in too with the poverty framework I grew up with--in as much as the artist is often a starving type.
I’ve experimented with different writing forms—poetry, short stories, even attempting a novel once for national novel writing month. Nothing really stuck for me except for this blog, well so far anyway.
So instead of walking away in disappointment in my discovery. I once again take pride in the all abiding power of the written word.