I am grateful and honored that I was awarded a career development artist-in-residence through Hinge Arts at the Kirkbride, a community development and artist residency program at the historic Fergus Falls State Hospital, or the “Kirkbride Building.” Launched in Spring 2015, Hinge Arts is intended to create opportunities where artists and community members gather to explore themes of transition, connection, and innovation inspired by the community’s 124 years of hosting a state mental institution.
Before I delve into things, I want to thank to my writing mentors, Elizabeth Birmingham (AKA BETSY the Queen) and Cindy Nichols from NDSU and Justin Hocking, Oregon book award winner (The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld) from Portland. Also thanks to writing editor friends Sarah Nour and Kate Thoreson and the MN Springboard for the Arts.
What in the Sam Hill is an 'artist-in-residence' mean, some of my friends and family have asked? Stuffing oneself with bonbons draped over velvet-ensconced chaise lounges whilst talking about dead people's art and sculpting bird replicas out of fine aged cheese? Nah. It is an opportunity to work on a major project away from the pressures of daily life, with access to an artist apartment, studio, career development activities, and workshops along with sharing my work with the community.
I plan to work on my memoir with the tentative title, Lessons in Defying Gravity. This lyrical, hybrid-genre memoir fuses together personal narrative about mental health and addiction with an exploration of the relationship between mental illness and creativity, psychology, and astronomy. I seek to explore the complexities of these issues within the context of a society that simultaneously stigmatizes and romanticizes mental illness and addiction, raise awareness, and shatter stereotypes. I hope to expand the reader's conception of what memoir and madness mean through experimenting with form, experiment, and fuse research with narrative in a non-linear story arc.
Here is just a brief excerpt that kind of explains why there are three major "threads" throughout this book.
“If sanity and insanity exist, how shall we know them?” –David Rosenhan, Ph.D.
"Madness is simultaneously a volcanic eruption and a dramatic implosion. Gravity grabs violent hold of some of us. I know this intimately- this cataclysmic rift within the self. And so it is only right that this should be written in the form of a fractured narrative, a narrative of layers. A narrative informed by Jacques Derrida who writes, “Deconstruction is not the mixture but the tension between memory, fidelity, the preservation of something that has been given to us, and, at the same time, heterogeneity, something absolutely new, and a break.' "
The kind of collapse I speak of is intricately entwined with loss. I used to romanticize this collapse- wanted to be like my teenage literary idol Sylvia Plath I wanted to burn brightly then become crushed by gravity just as they were. For years I continued embracing the myth of the suffering female poet, despite the fact that I was only suffering and hardly writing. Suffering compelled me to explore the romantic correlation between madness and creativity. This correlation dates back to Plato, who described the poet as one possessed by a “divine madness” and Aristotle who said “no great imaginative power without a dash of madness”
(Excerpt below titled "Architecture of the Broken" originally Appeared in Oregon Humanities Magazine, Spring 2015)
I have an opal-colored, oval rock on my five-dollar rummage sale bookshelf, carved with the word inspire. My licensed addiction counselor gave me this rock on my graduation as a message of encouragement, something to turn to when times were tough. It made my triumph traceable and palpable, something I held in my hand after a difficult day.
One year and six months after graduating, I got a call from my counselor. I immediately recognized the fluttering frequencies of her sweet soprano. I had sent her a card almost a year ago to thank her. I thought she had forgotten about me, that I was just another faceless patient. But she asked me to come to treatment and tell my story.
Maintaining sobriety for more than a few months seemed beyond my outstretched fingertips. But I made it. And I would be on the other side of the equation this time. Upon returning to treatment, I felt a strange alchemy of emotions: elation, pain, happiness, apathy, pity, gratitude.
Since I left the treatment center, management had changed. They had taken down the fading picture of a haggard-looking Pope Benedict that was plastered on the wall outside the cafeteria. My junkie friend Tom and I tried to steal that picture for a souvenir of our pilgrimage through rehab. We meant no disrespect to the pope.
Other things had not changed. There was still a group of young and old and in-between people hovering around the perimeter of the building, stitched together by billowing cigarette smoke and brokenness. The bathroom still smelled pungently like garlic cloves.
I was among the architecture of the broken. These walls seemed too sturdy and at the same not sturdy enough. The lighting was still fluorescent, harsh, unforgiving.
I spoke, fidgeting, shaking, and fumbling. The patients’ eyes brimmed with the same emotions I felt when I was in those same hard-backed brown chairs. I knew how their bruised limbs yearned for tenderness and hoped my words might provide some solace. I realized how peaceful I felt among them despite, or maybe because of, their brokenness, because I am still one of them. Broken people know this without asking. It is an invisible thread that knits us together.