Saturday, April 17, 2021

Papa: A Poem and A Short Angry Review of A Doc

 


Papa

 

No one gets you, not really. How I suffer when I hear them argue.

I loved you when you woke in Paris

while Hadley slept and you washed the Bumby bottles

and afterwards, went down for the papers

then you wrote 


You taught me everything I know.

You raised me, word by word.

I listened carefully to your Zen description

of the elephant and the lion, the fish and the sea, the boxer and the bullfight.

How the old women went up the hill in the early morning

to drink the bravery and came down grey faced.

When Pilar washed her feet in the stream, I knew I’d come home.

You named your boat Pilar. Of course you did.

 

You were truly One.

 

Because of you,

I keep my baby picture on my windowsill

to remind me of my promise.



I cannot bear to hear lesser lights talk about him. I turn into a romantic hero who unsheathes his sword and cries out, “I will cut his name out of your foul mouth!” Complaining lesser lights, dim lights, alcoholic this, alcoholic that, whined Mary Karr. ("Who are these people and why would  care what they have to say about Hemingway?" my husband asked me as we watched the doc.) Write one true sentence and then you can speak about him! I remember one true sentence of Mary Karr's from The Liar's Club:“Jim’s dick was always rock hard!” She slammed her fist on the table as she spoke. I’m paraphrasing, so maybe I don't remember it.


After seeing Ken Burn’s and Lynn Novick’s documentary, “Hemingway,” I felt brutalized emotionally. That week, my daughter gifted me a book, a small yellow volume of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s remarks about drinking, called On Booze, and I, so very traumatized, carried this book with me for at least two days, cradled it to my bosom as a touchstone, you, Scotty, you understand.


I didn’t learn anything from the Burns doc that I hadn’t already known. But, I was absolutely appalled that Burns and Novick would abandon Hemingway as a doddering old damaged paranoid drunk when he complained and was terrified of possible FBI surveillance. True fans know that Hemingway was right about the FBI, but Burns does not mention what we now know and even Hemingway’s wife, Mary acknowledged, that yes, Hoover had a file on Hemingway for years, considered him a dangerous Communist sympathizer, surveilled him, followed him, wanted desperately to arrest him. Arrêter, to stop. Here’s a good article about Hemingway and the FBI, thank you Salon, thank you David Masciotra!


I always love to watch a good doc about artists. I’m usually pretty content to bask in the glory for an hour or so, but I was very disappointed when this one skipped lightly over Hemingway’s Paris years with the artists and writers who made Paris, well, Paris! Come on! Let’s face it, what we feel about Paris began with Hemingway and his friends! I loved Sylvia Beach spreading the legend of Hemingway liberating Paris after WWII - great stuff! But, why didn’t Burns mention how Hemingway’s little boy, Bumby, called her Silver Beaches? Or that when they were poor, Hemingway washed the Bumby bottles while Hadley slept? Or that he always regretted divorcing Hadley? 


Why leave out any of the true, good stuff? 


©Patricia Goodwin, 2021


Patricia Goodwin is the author of When Two Women Die, about Marblehead legends and true crime and its sequel, Dreamwater, about the Salem witch trials and the vicious 11-year-old pirate Ned Low. Holy Days is her third novel, about the sexual, psychological seduction of Gloria Wisher and her subsequent transformation. Her latest novel is Low Flying, about two women suffering psychologically abusive marriages who find and nurture each other. Her newest poetry books are Telling Time By Apples, And Other Poems About Life On The Remnants of Olde Humphrey Farme, illustrated by the author, and Java Love: Poems of a Coffeehouse.


Within this blog, Patricia writes often about non-fiction subjects that inspire or disturb her, hopefully informing and inspiring people to be happy, healthy and free.


Friday, March 19, 2021

HOLY DAYS: Gods and Goddesses

 




After seeing the documentary, "Allen Vs Farrow" on Prime, I was struck anew by an exceptionally weird phenomenon of sexual abuse - that is, that the abused child is pulled away from what I like to call "real activities," innocent activities, playing ball, swimming, running, reading, laughing, etc, to have sex with an adult. It's one of the creepier aspects of sexual abuse and it stays with the child forever. The victim doesn't have a strong feeling for real activities, the child thinks she should be having sex. In Holy Days, Gloria comments on her admiration of "real people doing real things." Here is an excerpt from Holy Days, the chapter called "Gods and Goddesses." 


GODS AND GODDESSES


When the boys and girls came down the street on summer evenings, after sunning all day at the Beach, the boys’ pastel shirts stood out against the buttery tan of their necks, the girls’ athletic knees strode surely and strong, their hair a shade lighter than when they’d awakened in the morning, tinted with sun and surf; they laughed cruelly and gaily at each other. My heart leapt to see them, luminous and gilded; my heart sank to be excluded from them. I watched them from afar, from the confines of my porch and my fatness, my ignorance of smart manners, my terrible shyness and fear of anything graceful, anything glowing as they were, a rank of young gods and goddesses straight from their mother’s dinner tables on their way to a Little League baseball game.

Preston and Ha were already at the ballpark. Calling him Ha out loud in front of people was forbidden to me, but I called him that secretly when I was alone. Ha and Preston were in prep school now. They strode past wearing real baseball uniforms that shone beautifully in the setting sun, grey and sparkling white, with blue and white socks that shaped their firm legs like colonial pantaloons and stockings. I snuck down after they’d passed my house: the crack of their bats, their shouts, the way the girls sucked on straws stuck in real Cokes. There at the baseball park I studied them: the murmurs of players and the scraping of their cleats in the dugout, and if I stood on top of the dugout, I could feel through the soles of my sneakers, the vibrations of real people doing real things.

I meant to write about Rick Likus and his friends, the group of boys and girls Rick went with, but my own classmates strolled down Hichborn Street instead. Rick’s group was very much like them, except for age, of course, and religion. The popular kids in my class were Jewish. Rick’s friends had no religion; they were wild.

If the boys and girls I knew were gods and goddesses, Rick and his gang were satyrs, centaurs and nymphs. They ran around the streets and islands, in and out of the houses and cars, their little goat hooves and bare nymph feet flying as fast as the pandemonium they left behind.

Frankie Carter, tall and blonde, quiet, always watching. Jerry Finley, skinny, with long, curly red hair that shined copper in the sun; he delivered our Revere Journal. On the days he collected, I answered the door if I didn’t have a pimple. “He’s here to collect,” Ma said, like a song, “He’s here to collect.” I was in love with Jerry Finley for years because he was so skinny and his red hair shone like golden metal when he slapped on our steps that rolled up Journal Ma devoured. She clicked her tongue over the stories and obituaries, repeating Revere names, “Leach, tsk, tsk,” “Roposo, tsk, tsk.” She made me sick every week. The sound of everyday Revere names made me sick, though the sound of magical Revere names, Frankie Carter, Jerry Finley, Rick Likus, Ha and Preston, resonated over Ma’s and Daddy’s, Jakey’s and my tongues, ringing bells of familiarity, inspiring adoration sometimes strangely mixed with contempt or fear.

Other boys whom I didn’t know were in Rick’s gang, their faces and bodies merged with the group as vague dirty brown jackets and dungarees, dirty brown hair and faces. The girls were tough as tree bark; they had harsh voices like crows cawing that cut across the street, laughter like sin. They wore ruffles on their bathing suits even though they didn’t need ruffles to flesh out their figures. Their long, bronzed legs shone out of cut off dungarees; they had stiff, sun-bleached hair that whipped their faces like dirty mops.

I didn’t dare look at the girls too closely. I didn’t know their names. I was afraid to look at them except sideways. If they’d caught me, they would’ve beaten me. I could hear them calling Annie Likus, “Hi, Rick’s mother!” Everything was Rick’s. They didn’t call Annette or Linda by name, the girls sang out across the street, “Hi, Rick’s sister!” from where they dangled their wondrous legs over the side of Rick’s little Triumph.

Rick’s gang played hockey for the High School. They were a fierce team, eager to fight, proudly limping, sneering with scarred eyes and broken teeth and lips torn up and pasted back together a little lop-sided.

Even amongst demi-gods, one god stood out. He didn’t need to be the strongest or the handsomest. He didn’t need to be the King.

I saw him on a summer morning when the pear tree shone green in the bright sun bearing heavily its load of tough, fat pears, while Daddy was mowing the lawn, sending the sweet smell of green into the air, while I sat on our porch steps reading a book, I looked up and he was walking down the street, as it turned out, to Rick’s house.

Our eyes met across the street. He didn’t know who I was, or wasn’t, so he reacted normally, kindly, as he would every time he saw me as long as we were alone with the street between us. A soft boy, gentle, he had light brown hair and brown eyes, a round face, a kind smile. He hung on the outer fringes of Rick’s little gang; he was the soft one, the sweet one, softer and sweeter than any of the girls. They called him Tweetie.

I looked up from my book, across the street into those gentle eyes.

“Hi,” he said, softly.

“Hi,” I returned, unsure that he could be so kind.

I was in love.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing when he opened Rick’s door and went in.

Who was he? I ran in and asked Jakey.

“What do you want to know for?”

“Who is he? How come he went into Rick’s house?”

And Jakey told me all he knew. The boy’s name was Richie Silva. I couldn’t believe his first name was the same as Rick’s. He lived - I’ll tell you where he lived, where I snuck down in the middle of the night to stand in front of his house. It was a dear little forgotten road, half-paved as though the city had run out of tar right there, so the wild roses and lilacs, the morning glories and lilies, the skunks and stray dogs and cats took over. The scrub trees and bushes, black green where I stood under the street light, smelling the fierce odor of skunk, praying I wouldn’t be sprayed; Ma would kill me. I sniffed, trying to filter out of the smell of skunk and diesel fuel, always present on the air, to find the perfume of roses and the salty scent of the sea flying straight up the hill to my nose. This little street would be so dear to me, just kitty corner from the park where Helen Krauss had squatted and shat on the way home because she couldn’t hold it any more.

One night Richie came home with his friends; he stood on the curb, he laughed, “Ya, right!” into the car. He laughed, “Ya, right!” into the car. I could repeat that forever, strong as it is with memory, love and terror. “Ya, right!” He laughed with his friends. He didn’t see me. I wish I’d run up to him. I wish I’d run up and kissed him. At least once.

I saw another movie late at night. The night is filled with things. If I went down and turned on the television, in the middle of the night, I would see a thing I knew I wasn’t supposed to see: a true thing, a secret thing, hidden under the black screen of TV Land. Just turn it on, that’s all, just turn it on. There. A girl. She was on a bed in the dark. I could see nothing but her face, her hair, her shoulders. I knew she was on a bed because under her head were the black and white stripes of an old bare mattress. But, something was going on. The door of the room kept opening, throwing a weird light over her; she’d squint into the light at the boy coming in. Sometimes, she laughed. Her dark hair was spread out on the black and white stripes, flung out about her laughing face. But, then, if she didn’t like the boy whose turn it was, she made a grimace at him and his head blocked out her face for a moment; she reappeared over his shoulder and she looked angry. Several boys went into the room for her, but it was the last one she loved. Her face lit up with joy when he entered and came toward her. She held out her arms to him and in her mind, she whispered, her silent face rapturous over his thrusting shoulder, “You’re the only one, my love. You’re the only one.”

When I thought of Richie Silva and I thought of him every day and night, I thought of him that way. I knew I was the girl on the bed and the boys were all coming to me, one by one, Rick, Jerry, Frankie, the Nazi, Daddy, but when Richie Silva entered the room, he was the only one.

It was strange, eerie. A few years later, when I met the beautiful Junie, out of the blue, she said, “I’m gonna call you Tweetie!”


©Patricia Goodwin, 2015


Patricia Goodwin is the author of When Two Women Die, about Marblehead legends and true crime and its sequel, Dreamwater, about the Salem witch trials and the vicious 11-year-old pirate Ned Low. Holy Days is her third novel, about the sexual, psychological seduction of Gloria Wisher and her subsequent transformation. Her latest novel is Low Flying, about two women suffering psychologically abusive marriages who find and nurture each other. Her newest poetry books are Telling Time By Apples, And Other Poems About Life On The Remnants of Olde Humphrey Farme, illustrated by the author, and Java Love: Poems of a Coffeehouse.


Within this blog, Patricia writes often about non-fiction subjects that inspire or disturb her, hopefully informing and inspiring people to be happy, healthy and free.


Friday, January 29, 2021

HOLY DAYS: Bettina and Susie

 Lately, I've been finding a lot of strength looking at family photos. Here is a photo taken in 1957 of my mother, her beautiful red hair in pin curls, my great aunt and her movie star pretty girlfriend. They seem to be looking at a family photo album - fitting. My aunt and her girlfriend were brave. My mother welcomed them; no one else in the family would receive them. They came to do my mother's hair and insisted on having a reason to come when my mother would say, "Oh, just come over!"

Here is a chapter from my novel, Holy Days inspired by my Great Aunt Bettina and her love, Susie.


REVERE, 196-

BETTINA AND SUSIE


“In the home,” Daddy was saying, his voice cracked with sobs, “they never let us...”

“Take it easy, Billy,” consoled my mother’s Aunt Bettina, with her deep voice,  “that’s all over now. You got a nice family now and a nice home. You made it out of there. Right?” 

With her own strong grip, she held his trembling hand across the kitchen table. He didn’t often do that, break down about the home in which he had spent much of his childhood, but, occasionally, if the conversation hit a nerve, he crumbled.

They’d been talking about me reading at the dinner table, how I always had a book and whether or not it was a good thing. Daddy broke down because the priests wouldn’t let them read books. If they were caught doing nothing, as the priests called it, they’d be given work to do, like scrubbing the toilets or the long staircase in the rectory.

Aunt Bettina had a voice as deep and gruff as a man’s could be. She fooled me every time she called on the phone. 

“Rosie, there?” she asked in the playful tone of a man, who was strange to me, but who seemed to know Ma secretly and very well.

My back went up like a little porcupine. Who was this guy who thought he could talk to my mother like he was her boyfriend? Annoyed, I handed Ma the receiver.

“It’s a man,” I said, disapprovingly.

She looked quizzical. Her insurance broker? A salesman?

I could hear the male voice laughing, deep and loving, echoing along the little space between Ma’s ear and mine.

“It’s a man, Rosie! It’s a man!” Aunt Bettina teased.

Ma laughed, looking my way and shaking her head.

“It’s your Aunt Betty, you stupid,” she said, affectionately.

We were supposed to call her Auntie Betty, but I couldn’t resist calling her Aunt Bettina, which was a much prettier name. She was a small woman who wore her thick brown hair short and combed straight back from her noble forehead. She smoked more cigarettes than Daddy. When she visited Ma, she drank Lipton tea, but I always envisioned a heavy set glass of whiskey rather than Ma’s crockery mug with the tea bag’s tiny string and label dangling out that seemed so fragile in front of her square body. Aunt Bettina was Grandma’s sister, but our family was the only one who would receive her.

She came, always, with her girlfriend, Susie, who called her Tina, in a secret pet way, which was lovely to hear. Susie had pressed gold hair that she wore in the style of the glamorous movie stars of the Thirties, like Carroll Lombard or Betty Davis, in permanent waves cascading close to her skull. She held her neat, golden head very erect upon her tall, thin frame, like a ballet dancer. 

Bettina and Susie had to have a purpose for coming, usually to do something for Ma. Maybe, that was their way of rationalizing this risk to Ma’s standing in the family. I had no idea why Aunt Bettina wasn’t welcome at Grandma’s house, Grandma, who was the most generous person I knew, but the only thing wrong with her was her voice and her hair, so, I assumed, whatever these were clues of, that was the reason. This “reason” floated above Bettina and Susie like - curiously enough - halos, since it seemed to single them out for a perverse kind of sainthood.

In fact, there was something uncannily sweet and fine about Bettina and Susie. Bettina and Susie. Why do some of the names of our pasts ring out like the bells of heaven? And others like the tolls of hell? Bettina and Susie, two saints, two angels kicked out of the church, but, I was sure, not out of heaven.

On this night, Susie stood and retouched Ma’s hair with Blondex while everyone talked. I was reading Dickens, “real reading,” not for school. I always read every book the author had written, not just what I had to read for school. “Real reading” became like a song for me.

Ma sat without her glasses, her beautiful eyes puffy from the shampoo, a towel spread over her shoulders, the squirmy terrier in her lap. Susie called Tareyton, “La Pishashta,” in bastardized Italian, the little pisser. Ma handed Susie bobby-pins as Susie sectioned the wet, dark red hair, spun the ribbons of hair on her finger and pinned them in little circles against Ma’s head, till Ma’s hair disappeared and she was wearing a bathing cap of tight red spirals. Daddy sat with us, which was a phenomenon, a tribute to Aunt Bettina, really. He kept trying to give her “a little shot” with her tea.

They were asking me about the tiny print and the thin pages in my book.

“Look at the pages! So thin! Like the Bible! How the hell kin you see those words, Gloria? You’re going to ruin your eyes! Billy, you should get her a magnifying glass, no shit.”

Daddy laughed, kind of proud of me, “Ah, she loves that stuff! The smaller the print, the thinner the paper, the better! What’s that? Shakespeare?”

“Dickens.”

I called all the books by their authors now, no matter what the title, they were Dickens or Stewart or du Maurier.

“Oh!” he said, like he knew.

“She should be a teacher,” Aunt Bettina advised.

Susie agreed. She nodded, bobby pins jammed in her mouth.

“I’m going to be a writer,” I said.

“Mmmm!” Susie murmured, impressed.

“A what? What, like for a newspaper?” Aunt Bettina growled.

“No, like for books.”

“That’s no good! Be a teacher! You get your summers off.”

Everyone agreed, I could travel, they said. I’d get paid for my summers and have them off too. 

“She’s always reading,” Ma told them. 

“Oh, yeah? You should be a teacher, then.”

“She even brings a book to the table. I have to tell her every night, no reading at the table,” Ma said, proudly, handing Susie another bobby pin for her mouth. 

“Oh, that’s no good. You shouldn’t read at the table,” Aunt Bettina told me.

“I can’t stop,” I said. 

That’s when we noticed Daddy’s eyes had gone all red and the tears started to drop, one by one, on the table. He sniffed and Aunt Bettina asked him what was wrong.

He told us about the orphanage. Things leaked out, from time to time, about his past, things leaked, just like his tears, one by one and fell before us. I still don’t know everything I should about my father’s life, all the mysteries, all the reasons. But, I couldn’t stand to see him cry. My stomach hurt, as though someone powerful had grabbed it full in his fist and twisted it mercilessly. Tears gathered in my own eyes, Susie looked pained and Ma looked down at the pins held tightly in her red-tipped fingers. 

“I keep having this dream,” I said, quietly.

They all looked at me.

“What? Like Martin Luther King?” Aunt Bettina joked uncomfortably, trying to break the tension.

I smiled. “Kind of. The Communists come marching down the street. Right down Hichborn, with tanks and soldiers doing that step - what is it?”

“The goosestep,” Daddy sniffs.

“Yeah, the goosestep. I can see them and hear their feet coming right down our street where we use to play and I’m terrified. Next thing I know, they’re storming up the steps to my room; they make so much noise it scares me to death. They have guns with bayonets and big boots and helmets, like the Nazis. I keep getting them mixed up with the Nazis. They start tearing the books off my shelves and they’re going to arrest me and take the books away and burn them. It’s funny, one of the books they take is The Diary of Anne Frank. And in my dream, I walk right up to the leader, the sargeant, or whatever he is, and I say, “You can’t take them from me. I’ve already read them.”

They were silent a minute, then Aunt Bettina said, “You should come down and talk more often, Gloria.”

It was true. I never came down from my room. I’d created another world up there with my books and my heroes. But, I’d made a special effort this night because Bettina and Susie had brought me clothes. Beautiful clothes. Aunt Bettina’s old cashmere sweaters that had a faint odor and coating of dry cleaning which clung to my hands like a film of oldness after touching the soft cushy fabric, but I didn’t mind; the colors were deep browns and greens, the colors of the forest at night and no one had ever given me anything so fine. There was also a fuchsia wool jacket of impeccable tailoring, not that I would have known what such a thing as impeccable tailoring was, I just knew it when I saw it. The jacket had short sleeves and I marveled that a woman could be cool enough to need a jacket, but warm enough to not need sleeves.

It was then that Jakey walked in the back door with Rick right behind him. 

“Where you comin’ from?” Daddy asked Jakey.

Jakey shrugged, “Nowheres.”

Aunt Bettina studied them both. Susie went on with Ma’s hair as though she had no need to study them, she already knew what she’d find. 

“Clean your feet!” Ma hollered, after they were on their way upstairs.

As he passed me, Rick mumbled, “Body by Fisher” and Daddy’s head jerked round in my direction.

“What did he say?”

“I don’t know,” I lied. It was from a car commercial, something about the sleek body lines of the car. Earl Rizzo had started calling me that.

“He’s a little scumbag, huh?” Aunt Bettina asked Daddy.

Daddy polished off the dregs of his beer.

“You said it!” he agreed.

“What the hell happened to his face?” she asked.

There was an awkward silence for a minute while we waited for each other to answer her. 

“He was hit by a truck when he was little,” I said.

“Jesus!”

“Want some more tea, Betty?” Ma asked her.

“Sure, Rosie.”

“Kin I interest ya in a wee drop o’ the creacha’, Betty?” Daddy teased with a mock Irish brogue.

It was amazing how quickly and how often my loyalties shifted. How war wasn’t as simple as it should be - it was more like the stories people tell afterwards, as when a prisoner actually has to live with his enemy and the enemy takes care of him, nurses him back to health, and, finally, hides him from his own side and helps him to escape. There was never a time when I could forget, never a time when I could believe that Daddy was my father. At times, he was the enemy and I was his prisoner, and at other times, I was caring for him and hiding him, sorry we were enemies. Never did I plan his escape. No, in fact, I was sure I should kill him. If I were honorable and brave, I would have killed him by now. No hero would have eaten his food or drunk with him at his table. I should have run him through with my sword a long time ago. That much was clear.

What was not clear was why his tears cut through me like a sword. Why it made me proud sometimes to think of him. Why it repulsed me right now to watch him getting another drink, and absentmindedly scratching one foot with the rough, peeling skin of the other. Why I let Rick talk to me like that. Why I was proud to have him think I had a Body by Fisher. Why I was proud that he’d been hit by a truck and was so tough he was still walking around. I should kill them both. I should kill them. Why didn’t I? Why?


©Patricia Goodwin, 2015


Patricia Goodwin is the author of When Two Women Die, about Marblehead legends and true crime and its sequel, Dreamwater, about the Salem witch trials and the vicious 11-year-old pirate Ned Low. Holy Days is her third novel, about the sexual, psychological seduction of Gloria Wisher and her subsequent transformation. Her latest novel is Low Flying, about two women suffering psychologically abusive marriages who find and nurture each other. Her newest poetry books are Telling Time By Apples, And Other Poems About Life On The Remnants of Olde Humphrey Farme, illustrated by the author, and Java Love: Poems of a Coffeehouse.


Within this blog, Patricia writes often about non-fiction subjects that inspire or disturb her, hopefully informing and inspiring people to be happy, healthy and free.


Monday, January 18, 2021

Wormwood or How I was Poisoned by My Martini

 


"The Absinthe Drinker" by Viktor Oliva, 1901, Prague


Wormwood. It sounds like a new western starring Brian Cranston. 


But, it’s the poison that poisoned me. Poisoned my already delicate nervous system. I remember when I had my consultation with Michio Kushi in 1975 - my husband had just been named Vice-President of the East West Foundation, a macrobiotic org, and I was asked to see Michio, our mentor and teacher, for a health consultation. I was ushered into the elegant, serious study in his old fashioned home. I sat down and faced him, a small, thin man in a dark suit and tie. He took one look at me and said, “No stimulants!” 


Outwardly, I nodded. Inwardly I thought, “Oh, dear. We’re going to have a problem.” As a writer I feared I would not want to live without coffee or wine!


If you read my blog post, Anxiety Now! You already know how I was poisoned. Martinis. A very sophisticated and elegant stimulant, loved by writers for decades. I used to have about two, maybe four a year, on special occasions, in equally elegant restaurants. But, since COVID, I’d been making my own at home. Two a night. (A doctoral thesis could be written about the comfort foods of COVID and their often terrible effects on human health!) 


Since two months of martinis, my husband, daughter and I noticed a huge increase in my anxiety that was making sleep impossible. Even when I wrote Anxiety Now! I hadn’t known exactly what had happened to me. Something kept nagging at me. Something, I thought, must be IN the martinis. What was it?


It had to be in the vermouth! I researched the mysterious, bitter, spicy vermouth, googling the ingredients - cinnamon, cardoman, ginger, cinchona, chamomile, and there it was - the same ingredient that had once been (and still was!) used to make the infamously poisonous absinthe that the French writers, poets and artists had taken to flirt with death and insanity - granted it was prepared differently - but, there it was - wormwood.


Wormwood, often called artemisia, whose side-effects are seizures, muscle breakdown (rhabdomyolysis), kidney failure, restlessness, difficulty sleeping, nightmares, vomiting, stomach cramps, dizziness, tremors, changes in heart rate, urine retention, thirst, numbness of arms and legs, paralysis, and death. 


As described on BBC Culture, “The spirit [absinthe] was a muse extraordinaire from 1859, when Édouard Manet’s The Absinthe Drinker shocked the annual Salon de Paris, to 1914, when Pablo Picasso created his painted bronze sculpture, The Glass of Absinthe. During the Belle Époque, the Green Fairy – nicknamed after its distinctive colour – was the drink of choice for so many writers and artists in Paris that five o’clock was known as the Green Hour, a happy hour when cafes filled with drinkers sitting with glasses of the verdant liquor. Absinthe solidified or destroyed friendships, and created visions and dream-like states that filtered into artistic work. It shaped Symbolism, Surrealism, Modernism, Impressionism, Post-Impressionism and Cubism. Dozens of artists took as their subjects absinthe drinkers and the ritual paraphernalia: a glass, slotted spoon, sugar cubes – sugar softened the bitter bite of cheaper brands – and fountains dripping cold water to dilute the liquor.


Absinthe was, at its conception, not unlike other medicinal herbal preparations (vermouth, the German word for wormwood, among them). Its licorice flavor derived from fennel and anise. But this was an aperitif capable of creating blackouts, pass-outs, hallucinations and bizarre behaviour. Contemporary analysis indicates that the chemical thujone in wormwood was present in such minute quantities in properly distilled absinthe as to cause little psychoactive effect. It’s more likely that the damage was done by severe alcohol poisoning from drinking twelve to twenty shots a day…”


As a student, we were told of raging artists running mad through the streets, and I confess to the urge to leap from the bed and run screaming through the house, something to the effect of “I don’t even waaaant to sleep!” But, I didn’t want to drag my family into my horror. I took comfort and still do in the fact that they were sound asleep. I was so glad it was me and not them.


The Chinese have a word for it - though it’s not exactly what I have, it’s close - they call the phenomenon, “Revenge Bedtime Procrastination” or the desire to delay bedtime while you enjoy the pleasures of light and daily activity. Something about control. But, add old age to the equation and you have the terror of death in which the darkness - which we need in order to make melatonin, that chemical that naturally closes our eyes and brings on the mystery of restful sleep - becomes death, particularly if you know you are in the last room of your life. It’s a beautiful room, but I must learn to embrace death. The movie “Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” comes to mind. Even the cold assassin, Judberg in “The Edge of Darkness” feared the dark - “something about the dark,” he said. I’ve been using screen time, watching reassuring movies and shows that I have seen many, many times to lull me to sleep. I pause the scene and hold it there all night to comfort me that I am not alone. Screen time pollutes the eyes with light and tells your body to not go to sleep. I can’t help it. I need to see Carrie Bradshaw - she tries so hard - or Mary Spaulding - she’s so smart - or Olivia Benson - she’s so fearless - that they are with me - and then, I can close my eyes.


It’s a point of pride with me that Virginia Woolf was also diagnosed with a “no stimulants” delicate nervous system. She was a marvelous writer, whose prose was sheer poetry - deep, clever, courageous, profound, and beautiful. But, I don’t want to end like her. If you know her, you know that she saw “the shark fin on the horizon” and wanted to spare her family from further pain. However, though she wasn’t allowed alcohol, Virginia consumed copious amounts of stimulant in her daily tea. We all know that the English drink very strong tea and take it for everything from wet, cold feet after a walk to something to calm the nerves after trauma. Hmm. The shark is in the hen house.


I’m continuing my journey to freedom from wormwood. I tried Tylenol PM for nearly two months - it worked wonderfully! Till I got a few nasty side effects that I am still dealing with, mostly from dehydration; I couldn’t drink enough water! Now, I’m trying melatonin, which, after asking out on Facebook for help, I discovered most of my friends are already taking in 5mg to 10 mg form! I’m only using 1 mg and so far so good…like Steve McQueen says in “The Magnificent Seven” after telling the joke about the man who leapt off a four story roof; at each floor people heard him say, “So far so good!”



***Disclaimer: Patricia Goodwin does not blame or endorse vermouth. Many people may enjoy vermouth with no adverse effects. She wishes them bon appetite and bonne santé!



Patricia Goodwin is the author of When Two Women Die, about Marblehead legends and true crime and its sequel, Dreamwater, about the Salem witch trials and the vicious 11-year-old pirate Ned Low. Holy Days is her third novel, about the sexual, psychological seduction of Gloria Wisher and her subsequent transformation. Her latest novel is Low Flying, about two women suffering psychologically abusive marriages who find and nurture each other. Her newest poetry books are Telling Time By Apples, And Other Poems About Life On The Remnants of Olde Humphrey Farme, illustrated by the author, and Java Love: Poems of a Coffeehouse.


Within this blog, Patricia writes often about non-fiction subjects that inspire or disturb her, hopefully informing and inspiring people to be happy, healthy and free.


***Disclaimer: The information on this blog is not meant to substitute for medical care. Please consult your physician before beginning any new dietary guidelines.