Showing 171 - 180 of 227 annotations contributed by McEntyre, Marilyn
This varied collection of short stories and poems is unified not so much by theme as by their appropriateness to the intended listening audience--the bedridden or homebound elderly. In a brief but moving preface editor Carolyn Banks recalls her work in an adult day care center where she was expected to entertain those who were recovering from strokes or suffering from Alzheimer's disease.
Reading aloud provided sometimes startling moments of contact with patients who were incapable of sustained conversation. Banks realized that while there are many story collections for children and general adult audiences, no one had done a collection for a group with these specific needs.
The collection includes 52 stories--one a week for a year--that cover a range of life situations. Not all focus on age or illness, though some do. In several a grandparent plays a crucial role in a grandchild's life. Some are set in the 1930's, 40's and 50's--periods likely to trigger memories for those now in their 70's and 80's.
Several stories focus on situations of widowhood and other losses, and some on death: Banks insists that death "is not a taboo topic." Many of the stories are comic, since, she comments, laughter is "an important response to court." All are short enough to read in a half hour or less, and "not insultingly simple."
Motivated at first by an attachment to her strict and demanding ballet teacher, as well as frustration and disgust with her own body compared to other dancers', Francesca develops an obsession with weight loss and increasingly ritualized forms of self-discipline in eating and exercise that lead to severe anorexia nervosa. It takes her family several months to see and acknowledge what is happening in front of them, during which she has trained herself to eat less and less, to throw up after meals, and to push herself to the point of exhaustion.
She becomes secretive, isolates herself from friends, and puts up a wall between herself and her parents, who are unable fully to understand the degree to which her behavior has gone beyond her control, but are worried. A compassionate male therapist with clear boundaries and a non-judgmental approach finally succeeds in disengaging Francesca from the mutually destructive downward spiral of family conflict around her illness;
he helps her to envision and desire her own health and to take responsibility for recovery. The story is told in the third person, but from Francesca's point of view.
Katie is a promising figure skater whose divorced mother drives her relentlessly to perfect her skills, at almost any expense. What her mother and coach don't know, but her English teacher begins to figure out, is that when Katie gets to an emotional edge, she hides and cuts herself; the pain and blood help focus her mind. Not until she goes over that edge one day at school and begins slamming her locker door on her hand and then banging her head on the wall does she begin to get the professional help she needs.
After a couple of false starts, she finds a psychiatrist experienced in working with teens in trouble who enables her to tell truths she hasn't for years been able to admit to herself or speak of to anyone else. Her mother resists other adults' help and almost succeeds in getting her out of therapy, especially group therapy with girls her mother labels "delinquents." But Katie finally manages to make some choices against her mother's wishes--an immense step out of the depths of years of co-dependence.
As the story ends, she has come to realize the girls in the group are capable of being real friends--something she hasn't had for a long while--and she is capable of making choices toward her own healing, the first of which is to seek and accept real help and to distinguish it from pleasing adults who are using her to assuage their own pain.
The story begins as an MRI technician assures Baily that "Contrary to popular opinion, . . . this is not a torture device." The test was ordered because her arm suddenly went numb and she suddenly lost most of her vision during algebra class. With no idea what's wrong, Baily speculates about the possibility of a brain tumor, about how disease will change her life, about early death. She is uncomfortable with her mother's cheery reassurances, which consist mostly of simple theories like the possibility that Baily was reacting to missing lunch, but wants them, nonetheless.
Since the pediatric wing is full, she is put in a room with an old woman for observation overnight. The nurse runs her through a series of highly irrelevant questions about her physical health from drug use to dentures. Then her mother is required to leave for the night. In the morning they take her for an EKG before her mother can get there; Baily returns to her room in a state of morbid conviction that she's dying, which is finally overturned when the doctor comes in to explain to her that she had a classic case of severe migraine.
This first-person narrative of a runaway girl's short stay in a residential mental health center develops her impressions, resistances, and accommodations from her admission ("I can see right away it's a nuthouse") to her release. These include reluctant interviews with the staff counselor, uncomfortable encounters with nurses, observations of other patients' erratic behavior, and efforts, finally, to communicate with a very detached roommate.
"Stevie" speaks from a place of anger and mistrust. She attempted suicide in the girl's bathroom by slicing her wrists, but regards herself as otherwise quite competent. A turning point comes for her when her silent roommate sings a song she's written which ends with the words, "Don't forget to cry." This moment of vulnerability, which also unveils surprising talent and beauty, moves Stevie from anger toward curiosity and sympathy.
She takes steps toward friendship with her roommate, and finally toward reconciliation with her mother who, she realizes, really wants her home. As she leaves, Zena really addresses her for the first time, reminding her, "Don't forget to cry."
Divided into three titled sections: "What Man Might Kill," "The Nurse's Task," and "The Body Flute," the poems in this volume detail moments in the life of a nurse who is also a mother who once [in imagination] dragged her daughter from a wrecked and burning car; a daughter who stood on the stairs and listened to her mother's voice; and a lover who is aware of how her own trained clinical gaze and the gaze of desire sometimes intersect.
The poems range from a whimsical reverse-reel footage of memories that reach back to the moment of conception in "The Smoke We Make Pictures Of" to a scene from childhood when she was rushed to the hospital and came home vowing to love like the "women in white bright enough to burn / running with me in their arms"--a love she describes as "Fierce. / Physical," to a poem that imagines the life of the murderer, to poems that let us into the intimacy of a nurse keeping vigil by the dying, cleaning shriveled bodies, attending women giving birth. "I Hear the Cries of Women" is a litany of memories of "Women in the clinic waiting room" who "wanted to please / wanted to be whole / had no choice / couldn't speak / wasn't heard."
Stark and striking, these poems revel in language that calls suffering by its many names. They alter the distances we keep on pain, reframe what we are repelled by and honor the gritty, sometimes gory work of nurses who are willing to imagine the lives of their patients and lean close over the stink of decay to bless the dying.
Fourteen-year-old Kelly is torn between being "best friend" to her mother, who, though she is sprightly and lovely, seems to have withdrawn from adult relationships, and pursuing her own friendships and life at school. Her father, a pilot, is gone from home a lot of the time, so she and her mother live a fairly isolated life.
It is not until her mother is suddenly whisked off to the hospital at the end of one of the father's visits that Kelly learns there is something seriously wrong with her. No one, however, will tell her precisely what happened or what's wrong. She is sent to her grandmother's in Florida to wait out her mother's hospitalization, and for a time isn't even allowed to communicate with her mother by phone.
Eventually she learns that her mother is clinically depressed and has been suicidal. In the meantime she learns a great deal about coping with loneliness, uncertainty, and new adult relationships, with a strait-laced grandmother and a senile grandfather as well as a disabled young man, a neighbor in Florida, who takes her seriously and helps her find a new self-assurance in spite of--or perhaps in part because of--her difficult circumstances. Faced with a choice of boarding school or returning to a mother still in gradual recovery, Kelly firmly opts to live with her mother and learn about both the responsibilities and the limits of caring for a parent who needs love but not co-dependency.
Skye Johnson, a high school swimmer, is training for state finals when a new boyfriend distracts her from her single-minded pursuit of athletic championships. As the romance begins to turn abusive, she finds her boyfriend becoming more of a problem in her life than her brother, who has Down's syndrome, and who accompanies her almost everywhere because he needs supervision.
Her divorced, single mother holds down two jobs and can't be home to care for Sunny, the brother, so he has been largely Skye's responsibility since she entered high school. Sunny wants to learn to swim. Skye knows he is teachable, and could be prepared for the Special Olympics, but doesn't want to devote time to training him, so she secretly arranges to give him lessons with her babysitting money.
A serious confrontation with her boyfriend leaves her with an injured hand which prevents her swimming in the state competition, but which, it turns out, allows her to be present when Sunny swims in the Special Olympics. She finds herself deeply proud of him, and able to see again why she loves this brother whom she's regarded for some time largely as a burden.
This memoir of a clinical psychologist (also a professor of psychology) chronicles her own depression over a period of a year and a half, from early symptoms, through near despair, electroconvulsive therapy, and hospitalization to recovery. The journey is detailed, not only in its treatment of her emotional states, but of her struggle to maintain family and professional life, keep her house and office organized, and attend to a dying friend.
As her bouts of panic and disorientation grow more apparent, first to herself and finally to others, she seeks refuge in spiritual retreats and in conversation with colleagues, ultimately submitting to treatment. She names the emotional "undercurrents" suggested in the book's title with moving precision: panic over sudden disorientation, anxiety about what to keep secret, frustration with her own unreliability, dread of small duties and ordinary appointments, heartache over her faltering efforts to be a good and present mother.
The consent to hospitalization costs a great deal in humility, in risking a controversial treatment, and in letting go of a professional persona she doesn't know whether she'll be able to retrieve. But clearly the book is written by a woman whose clarity is a testimony to regained mental health and exceptional intellectual clarity. It is not a professional record, but an intensely personal memoir of what was both an encounter with serious mental illness and a spiritual journey.
Marina, a fourteen-year-old recently transferred from a mental hospital to a boarding school, can't speak. Her muteness is a reaction to trauma; in a moment of fury at her mother, her father threw photographic acid in the car window and, instead of hitting his wife, hit his daughter's face. Severely scarred, both inside and outside, resentful of her mother and bewildered by her father's pain, anger, and now imprisonment for assault, she records her daily life tentatively in a journal assigned, but not read by, a favorite English teacher at her new school.
The girls in her dorm have been apprised of her problem and treat her mostly with respect, but only one of them is fully able to keep making the moves that open a door to friendship. Despite Marina's silence, even in sessions with the school counselor, she begins to heal as she makes her journal (the text of the story) a safe place, allows herself to be included in the family lives of her teacher and friend, and finally summons the courage to visit her father, with whom she retrieves the language she needs, finding, as the title suggests, she has "so much to tell him."