Author Archives: Carol Weis

The Moving Wall

The Moving Wall

I lost a high school friend to the war in Vietnam and wrote this poem for him after seeing his name on The Moving Wall Memorial.

THE MOVING WALL

We visit The Wall  the one they

pull apart  cart around  and lay

to rest for seven days  in far

off sections of a country that

arms boys and hauls them off to

war.  The women who sit in the tent   

with furious July sun blazing on their

kindness  give us a print out with your

name  Meade, Thomas Allerton  uniformly

typed  below the bold faced  Etched In Stone   

that embodies the exhibit. My eyes cruise the page   

the way your ’63 Chevy sought out chicks  and my

knees begin to buckle  when I capture the words 

HOSTILE, DIED  ARTILLERY, ROCKET, MORTAR.   

A deluge of images from nightly news explode before

me  and I finally discharge your death  and that god

forsaken war  as a rocket fire of tears flash over my face   

while I whimper across the green  toward The Wall.

And there you are  Thomas A. Meade   

standing guard on line 62  panel 37 E. 

Sitting on a bench   I snatch up tissues

from a box that sidles beside me 

as the WELCOME HOME

VIETNAM VETERANS

banner  flaps

in a bitter breeze. 

(c) Carol Weis

Tommy Meade

His yearbook photo.

Tommy Meade Etching from Vietnam Memorial

I took the rubbing from the Vietnam Memorial in DC.

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SAT’s: JUST ANOTHER ROUND OF LETTING GO

keep-calm-it-only-sats11

This piece is from a mother/daughter memoir we’ve  been working on for a number of years.

********

My daughter took her first round of SAT’s. Before delivering her to the site where hordes of anxious adolescents stood by padlocked doors waiting access to this barbaric rite of passage, we argued about food. She didn’t want to eat. I told her she needed fuel for her brain.

Of course she won.   

As she stepped from the car she whisked off her jacket, exposing a pink tank top filled with her young ripening body, then flung the garment into the back seat. My heart stopped. First no breakfast, now no jacket. How will I ever get through this? I cried the whole way home. A sophomore in high school, she’s far too young for the rigors of this pre-college inquisition. I’m almost certain I weaned her from my left breast the other day.

This only child of mine has always been a good student, using grades to fill the gap our broken home left in her psyche. Testing has never been a problem for her. I don’t believe she even grasps the phrase test anxiety. This was not the case for me. An affliction I’ve been intimate with for many years. Far more intimate than I’d like to admit. 

A second child, I’m one of the middles of four siblings. My sister, the academic headliner of the family, was a master performer on the scholastic stage. Waltzing her way through high school with top honors, I had the inconvenience of trailing behind her—three years her junior—not enough time for teachers to annihilate her brilliance from their memory banks. Ah, Sue Weis’ sister, they proclaimed upon eyeballing me my first day of freshman year. We’re SO glad to have another Weis at our school. Despite emerging from the same womb, my sister and I had little in common, a romance with testing was not one of our shared attributes. Witnessing the nonchalance my daughter brought to the task, sauntering from the car as if meeting a small gathering of friends, I considered her the same alien pedigree as my sister.

SAT takers

I vaguely recall the day I took the SAT, certainly not in my sophomore year, as I slogged my way through the mire of high school that year. With desks crammed together in a stuffy classroom, I imagine sweat pouring from pits and gushing from palms, prohibiting me from holding my pencil in place, that cursed #2 point slipping from the page, marking the wrong minuscule circles on the answer sheet that seemed an irritating blur before me. Or being so nervous my blood sugar plunged off the hypoglycemic charts, which meant not one clear thought surfaced during the test session, let alone a correct answer.

sat-test

Naturally my scores reflected my battered composure. My math score slid into second at 485 and my verbal struck out swinging somewhere around 423. I believe they gave us two hundred points just for showing up and scribbling our names—a bribe of sorts—the only surefire way they could guarantee my attendance. As my mother used to say, in a tone far too syrupy for the message she aimed to provide, My darling daughter, you are your own worst enemy.

Those words chimed in my ears as I fetched my daughter after completing her exam. She smiled brightly as she slid into the car next to me. Though I’ve suggested that testing is not an issue for her, I detected a different demeanor, a bit more relaxed. I asked how it went. She shrugged her shoulders as she always does, not exactly sure how to decipher her own performance. I only left five blanks, she said proudly. All the others I knew.

She was hungry and craved a high caloric breakfast from McDonald’s, a sausage biscuit to be exact. That sounded good to me. Comfort food was what I needed. Because I am still my own worst enemy. I’m the one who worried for days about my daughter’s SAT, worried about her getting enough rest the week before, about her skipping breakfast the morning of and relinquishing warmth for fashion before entering the test site. And as I watched her chomp down on her sausage biscuit, I sighed, knowing I’d just gone through another round of letting go.

Are You a High-Functioning Alcoholic?

High-functioning alcoholics

Happy New Year!

Twenty-five years ago today, I had my last drink.

And now I’m working on a book proposal for a memoir about my drinking years and recovery, researching articles and sites that support my project. When I found this piece on high-functioning alcoholics, I found myself. At least, who I was.

A bona-fide HFA. Could you be one too?

How to Recognize a High-Functioning Alcoholic | Intervention.

Warning Signs and Symptoms of HFAs

Although some of the warning signs and symptoms of HFAs are similar to those of other alcoholics, they often appear at different stages of the progression of alcoholism. Some signs may not be present in all HFAs, or may occur in clusters. One thing is certain: the longer the HFA goes without treatment, the more likely he or she will display some of these warning signs and symptoms.

• In the company of others who drink – The HFA surrounds himself with others who like to drink. This assimilation makes it difficult to pick out the HFA as being different from the rest. Besides, the HFA truly enjoys drinking and being around others with similar likes.

• Obsessing over alcohol – The thought of alcohol is never far from the mind of the HFA. Counting hours until the next drink, mentally savoring the mellowness and pleasure of the impending drink, calculating how much alcohol can be consumed without any outward signs of drunkenness – the HFA obsesses over alcohol.

• Consuming craving – One drink is never enough for the HFA. The lure is too strong, and the craving consumes the HFA until he or she can have the next drink – and the next, and the next. Before long, the HFA has lost control over total alcohol intake – even though he or she still may appear outwardly normal and in control. After all, they are masters of discipline and concealment.

One drink is never enough

• Alcohol is part of their lives – The HFA would no more give up alcohol than they’d give up their identity. Alcohol is so much a part of their lives that they cannot imagine a life without alcohol.

• Finishing drinks of others – If someone the HFA is with leaves a drink on the bar or the table, the HFA may pick it up and finish it. “Don’t want to let this go to waste,” he may say in a joking manner. Related to this is the example of the HFA downing his own drink when it’s time to leave – to go to the table at the restaurant after waiting at the bar, for example – and then quickly ordering another. If a family member or friend doesn’t touch his or her drink, the HFA often drinks it along with his own.

• Experiencing shame over drunken behavior – Being such masters of concealment, the HFA does often experience remorse and/or shame over instances where their behavior has become sloppy after drinking. Such behavior isn’t part of their carefully crafted images and they consequently work even harder to avoid such mistakes in the future. But they won’t quit drinking.
They’ll just watch their behavior more.

• Self-deluding – Some HFAs drink only expensive wine or liquor in the mistaken belief that this means they’re not an alcoholic. It’s a self-delusion that allows them to continue to drink with impunity.

wine-bottles

• Fit life into compartments – Another familiar sign of HFAs is that they are able to conveniently separate their drinking lives from the rest of their existence. Who they are at home, on the job, or to casual acquaintances is totally different from their drinking routine and environment.

• Tried to quit but failed – At some point the HFA may have tried to quit drinking but failed in the attempt. This pattern may often be repeated, but still the HFA refuses to seek treatment. It is part of their personality makeup, their self-constructed identity that they feel they can handle their drinking on their own. Such refusal to get help is difficult to overcome.

• Excuses and rewards – HFAs feel they work hard and deserve a drink as a reward. Drinking, to the HFA, is both an excuse and a reward. The HFA may even use those words in defense of his actions – to himself and to others.

• Hiding and sneaking – When others are going to be around – and watching – the HFA may sneak a drink early, drink before going out, or drink alone. Such secrecy is part of the concealment of the HFA’s true problem. He or she has to get in the drinking, but can’t take the risk of others finding out or suspecting the real problem.

Overdrinking

• Emotional and physical consequences don’t matter – Whether minor or severe, emotional and physical consequences of drinking don’t make a difference to the HFA – who will continue to drink, regardless. It’s only when things really spiral out of control that the HFA, or those closest to him, may seek help for the problem.

• Blackouts, memory losses, or worse – At the end of the HFA’s downward spiral – just as with any other alcoholic – blackouts, memory losses, increasing physical, emotional, psychological, social and/or legal problems intensify. It’s at this point that the HFA either gets treatment or continues to deteriorate.

The Kiss of Death

On July 14, with the encouragement of my daughter, I started working on a memoir about my drinking years and recovery. I finished the first draft on November 21.

Last week, xoJane published a piece from the memoir. Would love to hear what people think.

xoJane screen shot 4.9k

Have You Had Your Memoir Fix Lately?

I loved this interview by my poet friend, Donna Marie Merritt, and Jack Sheedy, about the writing of his memoir, STING OF THE HEAT BUG. I especially loved Donna’s introduction!

Donna Marie's Peace & Poetry

The STING OF THE HEAT BUG is a memoir (admittedly somewhat embellished, but with good effect) by Jack Sheedy. Jack is not a movie star or athlete. He is not a recognized name. Why read about his life then? Everyone has a story, so what makes his so interesting?

His voice. Jack has a way of telling a story. I nodded in recognition as I stumbled across underlying universal truths scattered throughout the book. I laughed at the way he described some memories and I cried when reading about others.

You can almost devour each short chapter as a separate essay, which is perfect for people like me who must snatch time for reading wherever I can get it. And yet, when you string the chapters together, the story reveals itself as a touching whole, encouraging the reader to do some reflection of his or her own. After all, our…

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Remembering September 11th

Sept_11_Tribute

An excerpt from our yet to be published mother/daughter memoir, WAKE UP MAGGIE! GO AWAY MOM! The Dueling Diaries of a Teenager and Her Mom.

Carol: Tuesday, September 11, 2001

I send Mag off to school and go back to bed. Still tired from a fitful night’s sleep. I drift into a zone-like state at 8:40 or so. Having a sense something’s terribly wrong. I wake at ten. Switch on my laptop, connect to the web. See the image of Twin Towers enveloped in flames. I think it’s a joke. Similar to “War of the Worlds.”

Dazed, I stumble downstairs and turn on the TV. Peter Jennings, whose voice is always a smooth stone, sounds scared. “Oh God,” I say out loud, “this is no joke.” I pick up the phone, call Laurie, as the second Tower tumbles to the ground. The acid in my stomach rises like the cloud of debris I see on TV.

We babble a few minutes. Find solace in the rambling. As I hang up the phone, I quickly dial Maggie’s school, need to know she’s okay. A knee jerk response to a crisis like this. Annoyance pervades the secretary’s voice. She obviously doesn’t feel the same. How many calls has she gotten like mine? They’re watching it on TV, she says. They won’t be let out early, she says. Don’t know if they’ll have drama practice, she says. My stomach lurches, along with the acids. What will I do until she gets home?

Laundry? I think not.

I glue myself to the TV. Then bolt to the kitchen to escape. I try some melon. Hoping my favorite fruit will calm me down. With planes exploding, and people jumping, blazing across the screen, I can’t taste a thing. Never occurs to me to turn it off.

Shit.

Those damn images imprinted on my brain.

Getting through this without drinking, a major miracle.

I call Laurie again. She invites me over. I shake my head no. It’s hard to be alone. But can’t leave the house. Have to be here for Maggie.

Phil calls. From Montana. He planned to come home tomorrow, but planes are grounded. He tried reaching Ma in NJ. But phone lines to the New York area are tied in knots. We don’t talk much, this brother and I. He feels like a lifeline. So, when you comin’ home? I say. No idea.

By the time I speak with Jim, the day is sinking in. The sound of his voice softens my heart. For the first time, I surrender to tears.

When Maggie gets home, we hug fiercely. I study her face. This event will change her forever. Rob her of her innocence, more than any man ever can. I want to see if that’s happened. She only needs to say a few words and I know it has. She seems wired, but held together, as she is most of the time.

We watch the news far too long. Order out for pizza like a video’s being viewed. At times during the day, I’m certain that’s what I’m watching. One of those movies, I never go to see. By now, it has sunken in. Tears spill from my eyes. The dissolving buildings bring back the dissolved marriage. How I long for Jim’s arms to ease this horrific pain.

Instead, I go for the pizza. Drive through town to Paisano’s. I examine the faces of people there. Everyone looks so different.

Have they really changed or is it me?

Riding back home, I notice the flags. They hang from telephone poles along the way. Put up for Old Home’s Day,[an annual August event celebrated in our town]. Just a week ago, I felt irked by their continued presence. Tonight, I see them in a new way. A source of comfort on the lonely ride home.

Late:

I wake in the middle of the night, feeling that old terror I felt as a child, when A-bombs were being tested in Utah. Visions of air-raid drills, of us kids at St. Joseph’s grade school crouched under desks or ducking in halls, goose step in my head.

My heart’s cracked wide by this event.

Grief spills like an open hydrant.

When will it end?

Maggie: September 12, 2001

Fourth period was just starting, when my principal, Mr. O, came on the loud-speaker and announced that terrorists had just flown two planes into the World Trade Center. Everyone was crowded around the speaker, silent and shaking. Miss Filler turned on the TV in time for us to see the towers collapse. I went numb. Then I felt sick. I was torn between crying and throwing up. Instead, I just sat and watched the planes crash into balls of fire, over and over again. We actually tried to make a couple of jokes – what about, I can’t remember now.

For the rest of the day, the TVs were on constantly, even during lunch. By the time sixth period rolled around, we were discussing the politics of it all. The whole situation felt so out-of-place, but it distracted me from the TV for a while. And that image. Those two beautiful buildings, collapsing in on themselves.

Mom cried a lot. I couldn’t at first. But it hurt to breathe. I felt sick as I climbed in bed. Mom gave me a back rub. That’s when it started. First a few tears, then some more, then some more. I screamed and sobbed. I couldn’t stop. So many thoughts came out of my mouth. Was I going to die? Were any people still alive in the wreckage? How could people hate us so much? Why do I deserve to live?

Spent the night in Mom’s room. On a mattress on the floor. Surrounded by stuffed animals I hadn’t touched in years.

I didn’t go to school today. Instead, stayed home and watched the news.

Down they go.

The world will never be the same. The US has been attacked and we are no longer safe. I have had one of those times when the ‘immortal moment’ has happened. Like “where were you when Kennedy was shot?” or when Princess Diana died? I will always remember I was in calculus class when the Twin Towers fell in on themselves, and thousands of people died.

Writing Is (also) My Prozac

I loved this post by Kathy Weyer on Writeonsisters.com so much, I needed to repost it here.

Writing Is My Prozac

Storm Coming, photo by Carol Weis

I call it The Beast.

As a mental health professional, the death of Robin Williams struck a profound chord. He had it all – fame, money, respect, children, a new marriage. Many people are asking – how could he?

We’ll never know what happened in his head, but clearly he saw exiting the world as his only way out of whatever pain he suffered. He tried drugs and alcohol to escape and found that destructive. It’s a good guess that he was being treated professionally for his depression. His Beast could not be slayed.

Many writers suffer from depression, often called malaise or melancholia. Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Virginia Wolff all suffered from depression. It grips you and won’t let go.

Believe me, I know. It occurred to me that that’s why I write. It helps exorcise some demons.

While there may be some root causes for depression (grief that sticks, then becomes a habit of sorts,) most is organic, meaning the chemicals in the brain are off and medication will help organize them back into shape and help balance out your moods. That, along with talk therapy, will often be successful. But it’s a lifelong process.

I don’t have the statistics, but I would bet that most creative people have some sort of emotional or mental issue. Artists, writers, most craftspeople, really, have a different slant on life. Geniuses abound in the creative world, and, coincidentally, in recovery centers. Not all geniuses are alcoholics, but a lot of alcoholics have IQ’s that are off the charts. Alcohol is a depressant; perhaps it calms the storm going on in their heads. I don’t know because I’m neither a genius nor an alcoholic.

People who abuse drugs and alcohol are trying to find peace through escape. The Beast takes a nap for a bit, but, like a vampire, he reawakens, ready to ruin your world, which is tight and dark with no windows and no options.

I am editing stories for someone who had a drug and alcohol problem for twenty-seven years – from age thirteen to forty. He never completed high school and therefore his writing and grammar skills can use some polishing. It’s an addiction problem with him – first smoking, then alcohol, then drugs, then working out. Now it’s writing.

When he’s not working, he’s writing on an old computer, banging out stories from his experiences in flophouses, making deals, living off the streets, in jail, and with others. The stories are tough – there is one where he’s in a hotel room with a young girl who shot up heroin and gave herself too much. She died, but, all by himself and with the nervous energy that methamphetamines give you, he banged on her chest and got her heart started again. It’s repulsive and riveting.

He says he can feel himself shifting with every story as he reviews the true happenings in his life and can examine them from different angles. I send them back with notes “go deeper”, and he does. He talks about the lack of feeling at the time, lack of remorse, lack of respect for himself and others. He’s learning about himself as he spills out the story of his life.

Writers are very seldom rich people. We don’t do it for money or fame, although that would be nice. We do it for ourselves and hope and pray that it appeals to others. Every idea, every story, every plot and concept comes from somewhere deep inside us, from our own experiences. It all means something very personal to us, even though we may not recognize it at the time. (“Where did that come from?”)

We need to get to know ourselves better, and writers have found a way to do that, creatively and hopefully artfully. But in the end it’s about going deeper, finding out the why, the how, and the lesson of each story of our lives.

The stories I’m editing have taught me a great deal and opened my eyes to giving permission to delve deeper, open those windows and shed some light on your past, and ultimately take steps to slay The Beast, one story at a time.

Mother/Daughter Road Rage?

road-rage

My daughter and I fought daily throughout her teen years. Sometimes rather viciously, which I’m sure comes as no surprise. Since then, we’ve settled into an agreeable, parent/adult-child, besties-kinda-relationship. That is, until we slide into the front seats of a car.

Recently, we took a trip to visit my sister, our annual 4th of July excursion to Vermont, where we ordinarily celebrate our nation’s birth with great gusto and ample amounts of goofy behavior. Since I’d be starting a job the following Monday, teaching an intensive week of theater camp with 6-11 year olds, we agreed that I’d drive up and she’d steer us home. I no sooner turned the ignition key, when bam, the fighting began. Granted, it was a hot day, hovering at a steamy 90 degrees, which meant the inside of her black-upholstered Elantra, could’ve been mistaken for a sauna.

The nit-picky disputing began over fuel and where we’d gas up. She vied for Gulf, a station on the left side of the street, one that she preferred, and bitched and moaned when I passed it by. After filling up at the local Pride, we argued over which was the best route to I-91, a highway seven or so miles from our house. Each time I flicked on the directional, “why are you going this way?” slithered through her lips. Tired and cranky, I handled it like a petulant teen, as two days prior, I’d gone to bed at sunrise, and hadn’t fully recovered from that back-flip into adolescence.

I’ve never liked being told what to do, with 12 years of Catholic school to thank for that, and she managed to activate all those authoritarian buttons. Having just completed her Masters in Social Work, my daughter wears confidence the same way I exude self-doubt. I often feel myself shrinking in her presence. As tired as I was, I rebelled, just as I did back in high school, and she didn’t like it one single bit. So, we fought our way to I-91, then fought our way up the interstate.

You’re going too slow!

Don’t backseat drive!

You’re going too fast!

Make up your mind!

Watch out for that truck!

Shit, let me pull over, so you can drive.

We bickered like this all the way to my sister’s. The relief from getting out of the car was palpable.

On our way back home, I thought about our vehicular quarrelling. How we seem to erupt whenever we drive together, these days, quite often in my daughter’s newer car. We both carry considerable baggage that fuels our fears. Along with that, comes the need to control. It’s something we both wrestle with, and seems to rear its ugly head when we’re trapped inside the confines of an automobile.

Music of Her Love

Image

Ma and Betty Boop at Wobbly.

Today is my mom’s birthday.
She would have been 95.
This is how I like to remember her…

and the jar…it’s to my ear.

MUSIC OF HER LOVE

Hanging up the phone   after
chatting with my mom  I want
to seize our conversation  and
place it in a jar   one of those
twelve-sided All Fruit beauties
I save   and I’ll set it on the
top shelf of my refrigerator
knowing   I will take it out
later in the day.   Opening the
lid   I’ll nestle the rim to my ear
the sweetness of my mother’s
voice swirling inside   her
lilting words   a cherished
lullaby   and I will carry it
to my room   where the
music of her love   like
postcards sent   to tuck
me in   on this cold  drab
January night   will softly
sing me to sleep.

© Carol Weis, all rights reserved

Hi. My Name is Carlos!

Art by Matthew

Art by Matthew, 2nd grade

On Friday, I subbed in a 2nd grade class, at a school where I also do poetry residencies.  As I scanned the plans the teacher left for me, I noticed a tip-off at the top of the page. A list of children’s names that might cause trouble, along with those I could rely on if I needed help. Often good information to have, but the former is not always true from this sub’s point of view.

The kids streamed into the classroom at 8:50, bundled to the hilt in their winter gear. It was 7 degrees outside and we all knew there’d be no recess that afternoon.  Seven-year-old chatter rang through the room, as I stood amongst them, a tad overwhelmed by the early morning chaos a sub always brings.

Though I’d printed Ms. Weis in large blue letters across the white board, a small boy came up to me with sparkle in his eyes, and asked me my name. When I told him who I was, he thrust out his little hand in search of a handshake.  And as I placed mine in his, he shook it firmly and announced in his little-man voice, “Hi. My name is Carlos,” with a smile that lit up his earnest face. My heart opened wide and the tenseness I always feel as I approach a new subbing assignment seemed to melt away.

His name was one of those on the troublemakers list, and I imagined whatever else he did that day, would be fine with me.  Though Carlos had difficulty staying focused through much of my time with them, I sensed this little man/child would make it just fine in this world.

Let’s face it.  Who doesn’t like a nice firm handshake coming their way?