Showing 61 - 70 of 293 annotations tagged with the keyword "Obsession"

Summary:

Poets on Prozac contains sixteen essays written by poets about their individual struggles with a variety of psychiatric disorders. The editor, physician and poet Richard Berlin, has gathered these essays in order to examine, and shatter, the long-standing notion that madness, particularly madness in poets, enhances creativity---we need only think of the myths surrounding writers such as Sylvia Plath and Dylan Thomas to understand how the relationship between madness and creativity might foster both fear and longing in novice writers.

In his informative and comprehensive introduction, Berlin poses these, and other, questions: "Do poets need to be mentally ill to produce great work? What is the influence of substance use/abuse? Does a person have to be 'crazy' to write good poetry? What do poets themselves define as crucial elements in their creative process?" (p. 2). He goes on to site current evidence that madness actually impedes creativity, as well as evidence that "some forms of mental illness may enhance, or at least coexist, with creativity" (pp. 4-5); he reviews the findings of researchers who have looked at "The Myth of Inspiration" and "The Myth of Very Special Talent" in creative persons (pp 6-7).

But it is in the wonderful essays themselves that we take a privileged peek into the lives, the often tortured lives, of successful poets (Berlin only considered the essays of poets who had published at least one book). Reading the essays is somewhat like eavesdropping on the therapy sessions of highly articulate and self-aware patients. Clearly Berlin has created a safe place for these writers to look again at their creative lives and how those lives intertwine with, and sometimes have been overgrown by, mental illness. All the essays, happily, come to a place of resolution; the writers find, in various degrees, that understanding or relieving their emotional distress results in the possibility of increased creativity. Along the way, they give us writing alive with metaphors, images and intelligent musings on art, poetry, life and suffering.

In the first essay, "Dark Gifts," Gwyneth Lewis writes about her depression: "I became Woman in a Dressing Gown. At my worst, the duvet on my bed looked like a body bag and I was the corpse inside it" (p. 13). Finally she concludes, "I've learned that depression is one of the most reliable guardians of my life as a poet. It's like a fuse in a house with suspect wiring" (p. 22). In his essay, Andrew Hudgins describes cortisone psychosis this way: "I was a fire station in which the alarm bells seldom stopped clanging and the firemen were exhausted and indifferent" (p. 163). In "The Desire to Think Clearly," J. D. Smith says, "Being a poet in despair does not necessarily make one a poet of despair" (p. 23). As most of the poets do, Denise Duhamel uses examples of poems within her essay to demonstrate how her illness, in this case bulimia, variously inhibited or influenced her writing. The rawness of illness shows up, again and again, in her ability to be brave and resolute in her poems: "I'm still working it out, as they say, as therapists say, as my friends say, / as I guess I'm saying now in this poem" (p. 37).

Many of the poets approach their illness histories with wry humor or pointed irony. Caterina Eppolito states that "Poetic form is an anorexic form of writing. So instead of restricting calories, I was restricting words" (p. 118). Ren Powell asks, "Maybe when it's all over I can ask my children if they think the days of dancing in the kitchen were worth the days I spent shut away in the bedroom" (p. 52). Powell, like most of the authors in this anthology, honors hard work at the craft as the measure of success, and says, "If I have any success at all as a writer it is as much despite my disorder as because of it" (p. 57). Other writers admit wondering, sometimes, if their writing success might be due to their disorders. Jesse Millner writes, "After all, wasn't it the melancholy that led me to write?" (p. 67). Most writers agree that abusing substances did not enhance but sidetracked their poetic energies, while prescribed medications often, as Jack Coulehan says, helped: "The obsessive traits softened, so I felt free to approach life in a more flexible manner. Despite this new experience of freedom, my productivity did not suffer; in fact, it increased" (p. 101).

The chemical basis for some mental disorders is acknowledged in many of the essays. In her discussion of postpartum depression, Martha Silano notes, "I'd simply woken up in a foreign country without a map, without a dictionary, with no way to understand this strange place" (p. 142). Silano, like others in this collection, found that once the chemical imbalance was corrected, something good happened to the writing---she moved from writing about her own personal experience to writing that reached beyond her fears: "Now I was writing poems with a more universal, all-encompassing vision" (p. 146). Liza Porter says it this way: "Voice comes from safety. Silence becomes words. The truth can be told" (p. 153). But the downside of medication is admitted as well. Chase Twitchell laments the loss of "metaphor-making," and compares it---in quite a fine metaphor---to someone turning "off the spigot" (p. 176). "It takes longer and requires far more doggedness than it did before medications" (p. 176). But medications also give many of these poets what Vanessa Haley names "the emotional insight and stamina to write" (p. 76). If these excellent essays are any indication, they are, and will continue to be, writing extraordinarily well.

 

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The Pastures of Heaven

Steinbeck, John

Last Updated: Nov-07-2009
Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

One of Steinbeck's earliest published works, The Pastures of Heaven is a collection of stories about the inhabitants of a fertile valley in California, beginning with the Spanish corporal who first stumbles across the "long valley floored with green pasturage on which a herd of deer browsed" and concluding with the families living there during the first stages of the great depression.  Most of the stories take place in 1928-1929, although many are rooted in flashbacks and narratives that span the generations before.  

The novel consists of short stories that describe particular times and places within the valley, and collectively form multiple different perspectives on life there; they are linked by the valley but also by the relationships between the families, and in particular, the Munroes, whose pleasant, mild appearance in almost every story heralds disaster.

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Elegy

Bang, Mary

Last Updated: Aug-02-2009
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

Elegy is a poetic journal, comprised of 64 short poems, describing the year following the poet's son's death. Ms Bang's 37 year old son, Michael Donner Van Hook, died in June 2004 in lower Manhattan of an overdose of prescription medications. Giving herself a year to write the poems in Elegy, Ms Bang submitted many of them individually and then published them in the current monograph form in 2007.

The elegy is a poetic form going back over 2500 years and originally consisted of elegaic couplets, alternating lines in hexameter and pentameter. Traditionally they were initially used for lament. Since the earliest Greek and Roman poets, many poets have written poetic laments, very few of them any longer in elegaic couplets. The most famous elegies in English have been Milton's Lycidas, Shelley's Adonaïs, and of course Tennyson's In Memoriam. Modern poets writing elegaic poetry include Heaney, Hardy, Stevens, and Plath, the last particularly when writing about her father. 

Ms Bang's Elegy, written for her son, is a powerful collection of individual poems, not a long flowing poem of parts; it consists of mainly short poems rarely exceeding a page in length, with the exception of "The Opening", four pages long. She often addresses her son directly.  All the poems depend on tropes that recur frequently, e.g., clocks and numbers to discuss hours and time, the cycle/circle of past/present/future (in this case, a non-future) time; the irony of the cyclical nature of memories but not the physical presence of her son's ashes in a box; many Classical mythical figures; dreams; the sea; and the interplay of vision, glass and mirrors.

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Murder in Byzantium

Kristeva, Julia

Last Updated: Apr-05-2009
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Clever, investigative journalist Stephanie Delacourt is sent from Paris to the mythical Santa Varvara to cover police inspector, Northrop Rilsky, in his quest to solve a series of high profile murders with political overtones. The back of each victim is “signed” with a carved figure 8 (or infinity?). At the same time, the distinguished historian Sebastian Chrest-Jones (CJ) disappears. Unbeknownst to everyone but the reader, he has just murdered his Chinese mistress, who is pregnant with his child.

Anxious that CJ has come to harm, his wife appeals to Rilksy, drawing on the connection that he is a step-relation of the missing man. She has been conducting an affair with CJ’s assistant who soon becomes another corpse signed with an 8. Suspicions fall on CJ.

Distracted from the murders she was to cover, Stephanie becomes increasingly involved in CJ’s historical research on the first crusade and the twelfth-century Anna Comnena, considered Europe’s first woman historian. In tracing the connections that CJ has drawn between Anna Comnena and one of his own (and Rilsky’s) ancestors she “derives” his obsessions and his likely whereabouts.

Late discovery of mistress’s corpse offers bizarre genetic clues about the identity of the serial killer and the paternity of the child, again tying the two mysteries into one. A thrilling climax is set in monastery of Notre Dame du Puy en Velay.

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Cutting for Stone

Verghese, Abraham

Last Updated: Mar-08-2009
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Ethiopia, 1954. Twin boys conjoined at the head survive a surgical separation and a gruesome C-section delivery. Their mother, Sister Mary Joseph Praise, does not. The Carmelite nun, a native of India, dies in the same place where she worked as a nurse - the operating room of a small hospital in Addis Ababa. The facility is dubbed Missing Hospital, and it is staffed by some remarkable people.

Thomas Stone is a British general surgeon. The only thing that he loves more than medicine is Sister Praise. When she dies during childbirth, he has a meltdown - abruptly fleeing the hospital and leaving Africa. Although Thomas Stone is the father of the twins, he blames the babies for the nun's death. Decades later, he is working at a prestigious medical center in Boston where he specializes in hepatic surgery and research on liver transplantation. The twins are raised by two physicians at Missing Hospital - Dr. Ghosh and Dr. Hemlatha (Hema) - who get married. Hema is an obstetrician-gynecologist. Ghosh is an internist who becomes the hospital's surgeon by necessity after Thomas Stone departs.

The fate of the twin boys, Marion Stone and Shiva Stone, is sculpted by their experiences at Missing Hospital and the growing pains of Ethiopia. The African nation is full of possibilities and mayhem. Both boys are highly intelligent and unusually bonded. Shiva is eccentric and empathic. Although he never attends medical school, Ghosh and Hema train him. Shiva becomes a world authority on treating vaginal fistulas. Marion narrates the story. He is repeatedly hurt by love. The girl of his dreams, Genet, opts to have her first sexual encounter with Shiva. Genet plays a role in hijacking an airplane and rebels against the Ethiopian government. Although innocent, Marion comes under suspicion because of her actions. He escapes the country for his own safety.

Like his father, Marion lands in America. He completes his residency training as a trauma surgeon in New York. He locates his biological father but reconciliation is difficult for both men. Genet has also come to America. She shows up at Marion's apartment, and they have sexual intercourse. Genet exposes him to tuberculosis and Hepatitis B. Marion delevelops liver failure due to hepatitis. He is going to die. Shiva and Hema travel to New York to be with Marion. Shiva proposes an experimental treatment for his brother - a living donor liver transplantation. After all, there is no better organ donor than an identical twin. Thomas Stone performs the operation along with one of Marion's coleagues. The surgery is successful. Then Shiva has bleeding in his brain and dies. Marion returns to Ethiopia and Missing Hospital. Half a century removed from his birth, Marion is back at home and still conected to his twin brother. The lobe of liver donated by Shiva is functioning perfectly.

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Strangers on a Train

Highsmith, Patricia

Last Updated: Feb-13-2009
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Up-and-coming architect, Guy Haines, is traveling to Texas to obtain a divorce from Miriam, pregnant with another man’s child. He has nothing but contempt for her and cannot wait to begin a new life with more sophisticated and loving Anne. On the train, he meets slender, disturbing Charles Bruno, who hates his father. With a lot of booze Bruno goads Guy into confessing his hatred for Miriam. Bruno then proposes a double murder plot, where each would kill the other’s problem.  Appalled, Guy leaves, forgetting his book of Plato.

Not ten days later while vacationing with Anne’s family in Mexico, Guy learns from his anxious mother that Miriam has been murdered. Increasingly tormented that the unstable character on the train may have actually done it, Guy finds his life unraveling as Bruno mails evidence that he is Miriam’s killer, threatens to expose Guy as the instigator, and leaves anonymous letters for Anne. Guy’s work suffers. He drinks heavily and slowly sinks into a state where he realizes his only salvation is to kill Bruno’s father according to the precise plans that have repeatedly been sent. He does.

Guy’s career seems to pick up. But Bruno cannot leave him alone. He turns up uninvited at Guy’s wedding and insinuates himself menacingly into his married life. Guy is miserable, but plays along, aware that he has an impulse to defend Bruno as well as himself. He tells many lies and is wracked with guilt. Anne is worried and suspicious. The two men are bound by their secret, which encompasses a kind of animal attraction rooted in the sensation of having taken a life.

Things could continue indefinitely but for Gerard, the persistent but clever detective who worked for Guy’s father. Having known Bruno for years, he already suspects him of his father’s murder; then he finds Guy’s Plato. To say any more would spoil the gripping conclusion.

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Assassination Vacation

Vowell, Sarah

Last Updated: Feb-12-2009
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Investigative Journalism

Summary:

Obsessed with the history of presidential assassinations and captivated by the power of places and objects to evoke the past, the author writes about her travels to the sites commemorating the lives, illnesses, deaths, and burials of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley and of their murderers. The greatest attention is given to Lincoln.

The context of the killings is presented in atmospheric detail and goes well beyond the individual deaths to the political tensions in which they occurred: slavery, the Civil War, the Spanish American War, partisan manipulation, economic strife. Special attention is given to wounds and body parts and to chattels, pus, and bits of bone.

The quirky research method of inveigling a sister and several long-suffering acquaintances (invariably introduced as “my friend XXX”) to drive the author to her desired destinations generates a counterpoint. Perhaps, the spiciest commentary on her investigations comes from the ever reliable insights of Owen, a four-year-old nephew.

This past is also about the physical objects--guns, tombs, statues, letters, plaques, buildings, furniture, and clothing--that memorialize and are fetishized by their contact with greatness. And it is about the people who care for it in the present--the curators, volunteers, collectors, and writers.

An encounter with the marvelous, stunningly beautiful (but now late) Gretchen Worden, curator of Philadelphia’s Mutter Museum, as she speculates on the future of her own corpse, will be a poignant surprise for those who knew her in person or through her many appearances on the Letterman Show (p. 93-99). As Vowell wrote in her acknowledgements (p. 258): “The world is a little less interesting without her in it.” Indeed.

The result is a highly readable set of interconnected chapters that blends extensive knowledge of American history with a fanatic’s zeal to get at the true story, sense, and emotions, especially those investing objects and places with what is called—"wie es eigenlicht gewesen [ist]"--as it really was.

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Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

Summary:

New York is the setting for thirteen linked stories that profile a long line of curious and sometimes loony doctors who are passionate about medical science but often lack common sense and good judgment. Beginning with Dr. Olaf van Schuler in the seventeenth century and continuing over more than 300 years with generations of his descendants (the Steenwycks), missteps and madness loom large in this inquisitive and peculiar medical family.

Most of these doctors share common goals: They strive to eliminate pain. They attempt to expand the scope of medical knowledge. They seek the soul. In their quest for cures and enlightenment, many of these physician-scientists, their relatives, and patients embrace off-beat diagnostic techniques or unproven remedies: phrenology, magnetism, bloodletting, hypnosis, radium-emitting apparatus, electrical shocks, and lobotomy.

In "The Siblings," a doctor performs a lobotomy on his sister. She dies a few months after the operation. In "The Story of Her Breasts," a woman develops rheumatoid arthritis that may or may not be caused by her silicone breast implants. She also experiences guilt and worry after encouraging her 18-year-old daughter to undergo breast augmentation. In "The Baquet," hope is undeniable and a miracle cure is mesmerizing. In the book's final story, "The Doctors," two physicians - a father and his daughter - grapple with their strained relationship and the man's progressive deterioration that might be due to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

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Summary:

When Jamie Heywood, the eldest of three brothers in a tight New England family of engineers, learns that his middle brother Stephen (they all are in their 20’s at the outset of this drama which begins, for them, in early 1998) has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), he has just assumed the position of entrepreneur in technology transfer at Gerald Edelman’s Neurosciences Institute, the prestigious think tank of the 1972 Nobel Laureate in Physiology and Medicine, in La Jolla, California.

Jamie quickly announces his resignation and simultaneously his decision to devote his life to helping his brother in the only way he can--as manager, CEO, COO and staff of, initially, a loosely organized team effort to develop a cure for ALS, an insidious wasting disease of the nervous system that progressively leaves the person with the merest remnants of voluntary motor function.

Jamie’s resignation and his move from the West to East coast is but the mildest of changes in the weather for what becomes a perfect storm of technology recruiting, fund-raising, career-rebuilding and the emotional equivalents of El Niño, profoundly affecting at least four families, three of them Heywoods: Stephen Heywood, the strapping carpenter/house-restorer with ALS, and his wife, Wendy; Jamie, and Melinda, his belly-dancing wife with a PhD in medieval French literature; the brothers’ mother, Peggy, and father, John; and, lastly, the author and his father, Jerome, and mother, Ponnie (a Polish diminutive).

Concomitant with Stephen’s development of ALS, Ponnie begins to evidence the dementia of Steele-Richardson-Olszewski syndrome, also known as progressive supranuclear palsy, a form of brain decay uncannily similar to ALS. (Fortunately for the Heywoods, ALS involves only the motor nerves, not the cognitive apparatus.)

The author’s decision to include his family’s ordeal is wise, generous and instructive. The Heywoods and Weiners are both engineering families with an academic engineer as the pater familias and both are trying their best to cope with a deteriorating illness that dismantles the center of all cerebral engineering activity, the brain. The comparison of the diseases and the responses of all the players involved are culturally and psychologically dissected with the author’s trademark precision and kindness. But this book, as the title indicates, is more about the keeper than the brother.

Within minutes of his learning of Stephen’s diagnosis, Jamie becomes a man possessed. He moves quickly, as though by intuition and almost a fated skill, from technology transfer to technology-bricolage; genetic therapy on the fly; and people-, funding- and support-transfer. In fact, when there is no transfer involved, Jamie creates in order to transfer.

Like Gregor Samsa, in the short story by Franz Kafk, from whom Weiner also deftly borrows another parable, "An Imperial Message," (to illustrate, metaphorically, the pathophysiology of ALS as a disease in which neural messages, like the Imperial Message, go awry), Jamie undergoes a metamorphosis, albeit admittedly much less drastic than Gregor’s. He molts his undergraduate degree in engineering at MIT to emerge as a self-appointed manager of any and all ALS research and gene therapy in the U.S. that might help retard the progress of his brother’s illness.

Recruiting, petitioning, nourishing, cajoling, funding, and courting researchers and clinicians alike, Jamie meets, entertains, enlists and co-ordinates the efforts of gene therapy researchers and other medical scientists. He becomes a fund-raiser with the help of Melinda and her family of belly dancers, raising $240,000 as a result of the First Annual Belly Dance Extravaganza. His efforts involve the Heywood and Weiner family members, as epicentric waves of activity inevitably affect them all.

We watch, through Weiner’s eyes (and the diaries of Wendy and Melinda, whom he cites with permission), as the four families experience the predictable mood shifts that accompany a devastating illness and the great adventure of a risky attempt to work a miracle (a miracle that Jerome E. Groopman grumpily and stuffily bemoans in a cited Wall Street Journal editorial): excitement when a genetically engineered ALS mouse outlives its cohorts and money starts to flow; and disillusionment, when Stephen’s disease relentlessly progresses, Jamie’s marriage dissolves for a lack of boundaries, as Melinda, Jamie’s wife, records in her diary, and the author’s mother slips deeper into a dementia that Lucretius, Weiner’s authorial inspiration of the book, would easily recognize as part of the world explored in his famous treatise De Rerum Natura.

By the end of the book, there is an air of exhaustion yet surprising calm--perhaps the calm after the storm--as we witness the normalcy of Stephen, in his motorized wheelchair, playing with his son. As Stephen repeatedly affirms to Weiner, now a family friend and no longer merely a reporter, "I’m fine."

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Safe

Wigfall, Clare

Last Updated: Jul-30-2008
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Babies in Great Britain are vanishing - from homes, the park, and even a moving car. There is no explanation for the disappearances. The count of missing babies reaches 83 and still not a single body has been found.

Lella follows the news closely and is quite worried about her own baby. The mother clings to her daughter. One day, Lella spots mouse droppings in the kitchen. She telephones an exterminator but they are too busy to come to the house for at least one month. She next sees a large rat in the living room. Then Lella finds a nest of rodents and flushes it down the toilet.

The distraught mother becomes a recluse. She cannot sleep and has no energy. The doctor evaluates her. He prescribes some blue pills. He notes that "her hormones are still unsettled and her body weak" (107). She only pretends to swallow the medicine. Lella's husband takes a leave from work to care for her.

A tired Lella puts her baby in a cradle and later notices a rat next to it. She picks up a butter knife on the bedside table and is poised to stab the rat. Her husband enters the room, grasps Lella's wrist, and tells his wife it is only her imagination. He is correct. There is neither a rat nor a baby in the cradle, only a folded blanket.

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