The Dark that Feeds My Light




I love my doctor who is in Houston, but he has a terrible flaw, though one might argue his flaw is what makes him special--- he actually LISTENS carefully to what his patients say.  He is a psychopharmacologist.  Each of his patients has an allotted time, in theory,  New patients have forty-five minutes; already been there done that patients have fifteen-minute appointments, usually known as "a med check."   My dear doctor is also every other patient's dear doctor because he cannot absolutely will not look at his watch or have a clock in his office. This means that he can be and usually is hours late for everyone. 

 Yet we still love him.

His name is Dr. Love.

Friends always laugh when I call him by his name. 

They know how much I love Dr. Love. 

Today I waited.  We were to have a phone session at 9:30 am his time, Houston time;  l0:30 am, my time,  Eastern Time.  

At three o'clock my time, I called his office. His poor beleaguered receptionist said--Twenty minutes, Marsha.  Hold on.  Twenty minutes.

Then at four o'clock I called again.

He seems to have no concept of time, a mindset he and I share.  This is some of what I did while I waited: 

1)  I swept the screen porch, thinking of what I needed to tell Dr. Love

2)  I put all the birdseed into the bucket and fed the birds, twice, and thought about my other doctors, their tunnel vision.

3)  Arranged my scattered books on the table:  Havens and Hideaways;  Stylish Sheds; my cool shed; Auduban Book of North American Birds; Fox Fire.

4)  I cut out printed pictures of myself at Easter, circa l962 for my ongoing collage that I'd wagged from Williamstown to Westport and back.   In the photograph, I stood with my arm in the arm of a papier mache pig that has on a vest, a top coat with tails and a top hat;  I had on my favorite of all my Easter outfits--it was white heavy poplin,  a dress with a two-layered skirt, very stylish.  Along the edges of the skirts there's black velvet ribbon, the piping.   The Easter dress had a Peter Pan collar, also lined with black velvet ribbon.   I had on the only hat I've ever loved completely; it was white and had black velvet trim that matched the dress.   This was an Annie Hall get-up before there was Annie Hall.  

Next to me in the photo was Gail, my oldest sister,  and she held Scotty.  He is called Scott, now, of course.  Scotty was Gail's illegitimate child.  I'd never thought of that word or written that word in terms of Scotty in my whole life, up until now.  But the sense of the word hovered over that boy, now a man, certainly, and I think shaped him by its pressure; he was treated as special, but also as somewhat of a secret.  I have no idea when Scott learned that his mother became pregnant when she was sixteen and in high school.  

Later she would marry her high school sweetheart--not the father of Scott--and they all three moved to Many, Louisiana where Bobby, the high school sweetheart and former football player for Byrd High, would work for my father in the oil fields.  

Bobby's hands suffered the wear and tear of "pulling pipe."   Years after pulling pipe, and with more years to go, Bobby had all of the nerves? tendons? stripped from his hands and wrist. 

I don't know enough about this either. 

The people who know the particulars of this surgery are dead--my parents, Bobby, Gail.  Maybe the surgeon is still alive.

When did Scott know. How can I NOT know?  

I cut the picture of myself carefully--first with scissors and then with an Xacto knife--cut myself out of the context.  I cut out the pig.  I cut out Gail holding Scotty.  I cut out Jan, who is so far on the periphery that it is easy to lop her out.  

I used matte gel to put the picture of myself into the collage.  I put three of me in order to establish visual continuity.  

These are the thoughts I had as I waited for Dr. Love to call.  I noticed more carefully today--as I waited for Dr. Love's call--what I was thinking as I made my decisions, as I added and subtracted things from my collage.

When I first saw Dr. Love eight years ago, I told him, among other things, that I woke every night at around four.  He said, That's hormones.

Later after I'm diagnosed with MS and given Provigil, which gave me a splitting headache for two days, he said, That drug goes to the histamine part of your brain.  No wonder you had a headache.

The neurologists suggested I take Prozac for my fatigue.  He said Prozac would make worse my restless legs.

Later I want ambien.  He said, Nope, that is a depressant, the last thing you need.

So I wait hours for his call.  I bent over the collage and tried to concentrate on "my process" because I am house bound, because my assistant has said perhaps I should write on my blog about the steps I take, the way a piece of my art takes shape.

Dante--photos of Dante--are in the collage with me.

 In a strange unconscious twist, I realized today that we are the same age--the age he was in his Easter photo.  The age I was in mine.   He is being hugged by a tall man dressed in a rabbit suit. We are both seven, yet years and years and years apart; except in this collage.  I have put three of Dante in my collage. Our images move the eye across the piece, or that is the way my art teacher would explain it.  

These decisions were not conscious. I discovered them today, as I waited.  As time was slowed, as I thought of the patient Dr. Love might be seeing this hour, then the next; the bipolar teenager that has been given medicine for years that made him worse; the therapist who has black moods that Dr. Love calibrates carefully with a cocktail of drugs her body has stopped making: serotonin, dopamine, estrogen, thyroid.  No one took the time before; she'd gone from doc to doc, in despair.  

Dante is one of my closest friends.  He cut himself out of the family when he was sixteen, left his parents' house (my brother Jimmy and his wife Dayna) and decided not to go to Bobby and Gail's house, where he'd lived from six months old until six.  My sister was angry that he chose to come to me instead of go to her.  

I rummaged through the basket of fabric. Annie, the woman who owns School for Style--where my collages had been for sale-- the hip shop on Spring Street in Williamstown, Massachusetts, had given me an elegant black lace 1940s hat that also had the black velvet ribbon running throughout.  One is meant to pull some lace across one's face so one will be sexy; perhaps while sitting in a jazz club in Harlem, listening to Billie Holiday.  That is who I listened to as I waited for Dr. Love's call.

I called the office and Ethel, the receptionist who gets the brunt of the disgruntled backed up people in the waiting room, said--That man has to get his head on right. 

While I waited, I cut and pasted from xeroxed copies of photos of my family.  

My family seems magically to show up in my art. 

I had glued myself into the world with Dante.  Just like in life.

The art piece started out cheery, the dominant colors were pinks and blues, the color of Easter eggs.  Then it grew darker.  My friend said, This has changed.  You should write about what you are thinking as you go along.......

First, I thought that Faulkner's Girl, my first long rectangular piece, would be the dark side.  This companion piece--in shape and size--would be the light side.  First I had the brightly colored rabbit.  Then I added the rabbit's Jungian shadow self.  Now he/she had cast a spell across the width and length of the piece, as if reminding me of the dark side of Easter, what the eggs and bunnies celebrate--spring, renewal--also replace the dark frozen winter as life stood still, its breath held, waiting for the spring.  The Easter finery?  A celebration of the resurrection, the leaving behind the painful past, the nails, the betrayal. 

When Dr. Love called, I leapt up from the floor where I was outlining in black the scary rabbits, mimicking  the piping in my Easter dress.  

After the hellos, Dr. Love said he'd "heard" I'm doing things I never thought I knew how to do.  (I have a friend who also sees Dr. Love.)  Two years ago I gave him a box I'd collaged for him.  This afternoon he said, Do you remember that little thing you gave me?  (of course I remembered!)

He asked,  You know that jumble of medical journals and textbooks, that mess that is my bookshelf?

 He told me that once a week, yes, he said, AT LEAST once a week some client notices the gift and says,  That's really cool.  

 Dr. Love and I talked about Lyrica, the pain of MS, the possibility of Lyme Disease still lurking in my central nervous system. I told him about Cindy.  He said, She has it out for you now.

After we hung up,  I sat in the screen porch and looked at the whole of the collage piece.  The sun was setting, the golden hour, the best light, the last light of this long day.  

At the end of the day I was reminded that sometimes someone sees some light across a room, as happened in Dr. Love's room, a space filled with heavy weather, stories thick with clouds of sadness, dark stories, black moods.

Yet, sometimes, Dr. Love told me,  in that room there is a pause, a break of attention, a frisson. Something shines out from the crazy clutter of a bookshelf,  a handmade thing, and someone stops and steps out of her story and into mine.   

We wait, together.