Sunday, May 20, 2007

The world is not an episode of Batman and Robin

The world gets bigger, and I get smaller.

How does that compare with: “As the world gets bigger, I get smaller”?

As in the world’s getting bigger is smooshing me into an ever smaller space?

Like in the old Batman and Robin TV series where the walls would be closing in on the Dynamic Duo. And there would be spikes sticking out of the walls. And Robin would exclaim, “Holy Cow, Batman! We’re getting smooshed!”

But somehow, in the end, Batman, who was smart, would figure a way out.

The music would blare, and the Dynamic Duo would save the day. Once again, good would triumph over evil. Batman and Robin would have squelched the heinous efforts of the Penguin or the Riddler or Cat Woman or King Tut.

Funny how real life doesn’t work that way.

Obviously, if the world were getting bigger, I would be getting smaller. In relation. It is all relative.

If the world’s getting bigger means my space in it is being smooshed in on all four sides, spikes protruding from the walls and ceiling, well….

I am not sure what to make of that.

If it were just the world getting bigger, that would be one thing. Everything would be getting bigger. And we would all have MORE space.

What happens, though, when the whole rest of the world is getting bigger and our space is getting smaller because the whole rest of the world is coming in around us on all four sides?

That would mean we are sucking.

We are being obliterated. Smothered. Smooshed. Squelched. Silenced.

What happens when this is happening but no one else seems to notice?

But you.

Life goes on as usual. People expect you to do all of the things you normally do. People expect you to say, do, look, be a certain way.

How come they don’t notice that you are operating in a smaller and smaller space?

How come they don’t notice… anything???

And you just keep doing all of the things you normally do, saying the things you normally do, looking the way you normally do, being the way you normally are. Because that is what everyone expects and wants and sees.

But in reality you are getting smaller and smaller and smaller.

And smaller.

And pretty soon there won’t be anything left.

But no one will notice.



You are gone.

Friday, May 18, 2007


Lesson #1 – Just because you think no one ever reads your blog, it isn’t necessarily so.

Lesson #2 – If you post something that makes you feel really vulnerable, SOMEONE will read it.

Lesson #3 – I haven’t figured that one out yet.

When I drove by the Dixmont/Wal-Mart site today on my way to work, I noticed that the grass had grown really, really long and that the exposed rock of the cliff/hillside is now sprayed a bluish-green.

Are they trying to grow grass on the bare rock?

Or is this some kind of preventive measure, some chemical spray that can supposedly ward off future landslides?

Is someone going to mow the straggly long grass? I think this because one of my pet peeves is grass not getting mowed by the people who say they are going to mow it but never do, so you end up doing it yourself.

What are they doing to that hillside anyway? Rock is not really supposed to be blue. I think this because it is true. Blue rock is not aesthetically pleasing. Surely, they cannot possibly imagine that grass – or anything! – will grow on this bare strata of rock.

Surely, there must be a reason the entire rockface has been sprayed this unnatural blue-green.

Or not.

Friday, May 11, 2007


I drive by the former Dixmont State Hospital every day on my way to work.

A year from now I may be saying: I drive by the Wal-Mart Supercenter every day on my way to work.

They have already torn down the old buildings, removed all the trees, plowed and bull-dozed the hillside and sprayed it with green grass seed. The big white sign says: “Site of Future Wal-Mart Supercenter.” Still, no one is quite sure if they are really going to build the behemoth or not.

Back in September, a mammoth landslide spilled across both sides of Route 65 and all the way across the innermost railroad tracks. It was a miracle that no cars were on the road when the tons of dirt and mud and shale and rock cascaded in a murky, muddy rush. Cargo rail traffic was halted in one direction. Four lane Route 65 was closed for days, weeks, snarling commuter traffic that had to re-route onto smaller roads or bigger highways.

There was a hue and cry from more than just “Communities First,” a fringe group of concerned and vocal local citizens vehemently opposed to a Wal-Mart Supercenter on the outskirts of Sewickley.

The cause of the landslide was debated. Was it due to overzealous dynamite blasting the day before? The collapse of the underground tunnels that used to connect the maze of outerbuildings of the former mental hospital? Shoddy leveling of the hillside in an attempt to save money instead of insuring a stable platform for the giant store and its accompanying parking lot? Failure to take into consideration the inherent instability of Pennsylvania redbed rock, which was prevalent on the site and perhaps unwisely used as on-site fill? This unstable rock had the characteristic of crumbling and turning into mud when exposed to water, and there had certainly been many days of rain leading up to September 19th.

I did not particularly look forward to there being a Wal-Mart Supercenter smack dab in the middle of the route between Sewickley and Pittsburgh.

More so than this, though, I missed the old Dixmont.

Growing up, I had always known about Dixmont, the state mental hospital up on the hill above Route 65. It closed down a few years after I graduated from high school, but you could see at least one building (a power plant perhaps?) from the road as you drove to and from Pittsburgh. I had not realized that in its time Dixmont had been a rather elaborate compound with multiple buildings and well-groomed landscaping.

I had always sort of envisioned a gray, Soviet-style, cement block building with padded rooms and bars on all the windows. A sterile, cold forbidden structure that people only referenced in passing.

Dixmont, the oldest mental hospital in Western Pennsylvania, was started way back in 1862. It was named after Dorothea Dix, a pioneering advocate for the humane treatment of the mentally ill at a time when mentally ill people were routinely thrown into jails, cages, or other sordid lock-ups.

When I was growing up, people would use “Dixmont” as a synonym for mental hospital. Instead of saying, one was going to end up in the nut house or the loony bin, people would say, one was going to end up at Dixmont. It was the Kleenex or Coke of mental hospitals, Pittsburgh’s version of Bedlam.

I did not know that Dixmont had once been a small, self-sufficient city. With gardens and orchards and livestock, its own post office, bakery, chapel, train stop, and cemetery. I did not know that wealthy people went there to dry out for a few months in pampered luxury paid for by their extra money. I did not know that early patients gardened and raised livestock and hooked rugs and sewed clothes and canned vegetables and fruits and went to quarterly dances. They played croquet and baseball and tennis, and in winter went for sleigh rides.

I did not know that hydrotherapy and electric shock and lobotomies and drugs had all been tried there as therapies, after the “work therapy” of its longtime head was deemed cruel and unusual punishment. You could not make patients work for no pay. You could, however, submerge them in hot or cold tubs of water for hours on end, send electric shock waves through their bodies, chop out parts of their brains, and turn them into zombies.

Dixmont started having financial trouble by the mid part of the 20th century. It went into a long slow decline and finally had been closed down. The state had had a hard time trying to sell off the 407 acres of land encumbered by crumbling, asbestos-ridden buildings.

Not long after I moved back to Sewickley in 2003, developers came in saying they were going to tear everything down and build a Wal-Mart Supercenter. The level of horror among certain residents of Sewickley was profound, never mind that most of them already frequented the Wal-Marts, Targets, Sams Clubs, and Costcos on the other side of the river. Having such a tacky discount behemoth right down the road from Sewickley was a bit much, however, and people protested that a Wal-Mart would put all of the small businesses in Sewickley out of business. And create a traffic snarl on the major road between Sewickley and Pittsburgh.

There was no stopping progress it seemed, not even contentious progress, and wrecking crews began to tear down the buildings. Once they took down the trees on the hillside and the dilapidated power plant building, you could see the structures of some of the other larger outbuildings. I was stunned that they looked so architecturally attractive.

When crews started tearing down these buildings, I was saddened. I was not sure why. It almost seemed like they were desecrating a sacred spot.

Every time I drove by, I swore I could hear the screams of anguished mental patients. High-pitched, drawn-out, agonized screams. They were all women. I imagined them as the tortured souls of women who had never been allowed to pursue their own talents and interests; been forbidden higher education; or if given the opportunity of higher education, never been allowed to put it to use. Frustrated, overworked mothers and wives who led quiet lives of desperation while doing the biddings of men. I didn’t hear any men’s screams, yet I knew Dixmont had housed both men and women. This wailing sounded eerily like what I imagined my own screams would have sounded like, if I had been a former inmate ghost at an abandoned mental hospital.

Once the buildings were gone, they began plowing away the side of the hill. It was remarkable, sort of what I imagined strip mining to be. The only problem was that the ground under the former hospital was an incredibly unstable mix of shale and limestone and sandstone and mud. Add in a lengthy spate of heavy rains and the fact that all of the trees and underbrush had been removed, and it was a recipe for disaster.

A massive landslide of mud and shale and debris fell down the side of the hill, all the way across the four lanes of the highway, and across the railroad tracks. It was a miracle that no cars were on that stretch of road at the time of the slide. The cars would have surely been swept under the debris and any occupants buried alive.

Hubris was the word that popped into my mind. Developers who wanted to make a ton of money, Wal-Mart coming in to create yet another outlet. Not listening to anyone else, not listening to concerns about the environment or the impact on local economies. Just plowing ahead. Posting their sign with a projected “Opening Soon!” proclamation. Trying to level the hillside so as to make the largest parking lot possible, instead of being worried about making a stable foundation for their store. That sort of thing.

Sometimes, when I am feeling out of sorts or in a funk – and I can’t always tell what is causing this depression -- I feel like my insides are shifting. I am all alone on the unstable slatey, muddy mass of the Dixmont hillside. I feel like I am hanging on by a thread, that the world as I know it is shifting precariously beneath my feet. I feel raw and on edge. Exposed. Waiting for everything to come crashing down all around me and inside me and all over.

The sound that accompanies this feeling is fingernails scratching down a chalkboard. I hear it constantly.

I wonder if other people ever feel this way, too. I mean, I figure they must. But then you never know. Maybe not.

It is not too much caffeine, too little sleep, or hormone imbalances. It is not PMS. It is not an odd alignment of the stars and planets.

I don’t know what it is. And that causes part of the paralyzing fear.

I do not know what is causing this feeling; when it is going to descend; or how long it is going to stay. External events can exacerbate it, and when the fingernails are screeching like frenetic, out of tune violins, I feel at a loss to find any kind of optimism or “positiveness” in my life. Even if I want to. Which normally I do.

I pretend that I am made of granite.

Scratch the surface, though, and I think you might just find a strata of Pennsylvania redbed rock instead.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Let her

I would write this as a letter.

Only no one writes letters anymore.


I would call someone up and confide in him or her.

But I hate talking on the phone.

Of course, both venues imply there is actually someone out there I could write to or call. And I cannot imagine one person on this planet whom I could write to or call up and just talk to.

And say…

"I think there is something really wrong with me."

Not just your ordinary weirdness. I mean, I know I am weird.

I am talking “wrong.”

It is not the events or circumstances of my life that are overwhelming me. It is something far different.

I cannot keep or maintain a positive, upbeat attitude or approach to life. Even if I want to. Even if I try to. And Lord knows, I try!

This comes and goes.

Sometimes I feel fine. Sometimes I feel manic. Sometimes I feel about as low as low can be.

And none of these feelings has anything to do with what is going on in my life. I mean, my life goes on. Nothing traumatic has to happen or change for my moods to wildly fluctuate. I cannot relate it to anything in particular. Some people suggest PMS, others astrology and the passing of some planet in front of or behind another. I myself can discern no pattern.

Sometimes I feel fine. And other times, like now, I feel as though I am being pushed and pulled and smooshed and suffocated.

I used to think: “And this too shall pass.”

And it usually would. And maybe will. Probably will.

But I cannot tell when or for how long I am going to feel this awful inside. And the whole time I am just supposed to go on doing and being all the things I am always supposed to be doing and being. Like nothing is wrong. Like everything is fine.

At the same time, in the grand scheme of things, nothing is wrong. Everything is fine.

The world keeps going, moving, regardless of whether I feel good or bad.

I want to be the person who sees the glass as half full. Hell, I want to be the person who sees the glass as three quarters full even when it is only one quarter full. I am at heart an idealist. An optimist. I want to trust others, always. I want to believe that people will do the right thing, even if they prove time and time again that they never do the right thing, simply because it is right to do the right thing. I believe that man is naturally good.

I do not believe in the devil. I do not believe in hell.

I want to believe in God. Even if there is no God.

I need there to be meaning in life. I need there to be meaning in the universe. Even if there isn’t.

I cannot tell people these things. I cannot tell people the huge, heavy, black darkness that pervades my every waking moment.

It comes, it goes. But I always know it is there.

I cannot tell people much of anything. Real.

No one wants to hear it anyway.

There is nothing horribly wrong or bad about my life. I keep telling myself I have so many things to be thankful for, to rejoice in. And I “know” I do. But I can’t always perceive the world through that lens.

Even if I want to.

There are so many people in this world who suffer because they have no home, no food, no family or friends. They live in war, they live in chaos. They have nothing.

How can I EVER complain? Ever, ever, ever, ever???

I cannot.

And I am not complaining about my life.

I am just saying that I feel despair, hopelessness, pain. That never really goes away.

Maybe tomorrow I will not. Maybe next week I will not. Maybe next year I will not.

I don’t know.

All I know is that sometimes I feel fine. And other times I do not. And it seems to have absolutely no relation to what is going on in my life. I cannot make this feeling go away. I cannot will myself to feel differently. I cannot control how I feel.

I am sure it is a sign of weakness as a human being that I cannot push it down, aside, and out of the way.

I do push it down, aside, and out of the way. Only it never goes away. At least not for very long.

Tomorrow I may feel fine. Jolly. All right with the world. And then I will read these words and feel embarrassed. Ashamed. Horrifeid. I will think, how could I have felt so awful yesterday and feel so great today? Especially when nothing in particular has changed?

I don’t like to feel this way. I don’t want to feel this way. I don’t know how to make it go away. I just hope and pray that it will, at least for a while, even though I know it will eventually come back again.

I think I will go cook dinner now.

Aside comment

It’s not that I have been ignoring the blog.

Or doing other things, instead of writing a new post.

I have been working on a very complex piece. For a while.

I guess I could post other stuff in between. (So… my bad.)

I think the problem with my piece is that I keep trying to get other people to say it.

I keep trying to get characters in Delphi to speak it. But, ultimately, I think that is my problem. None of them can speak it. Really, only Sibyl or Kaitlin would be potentially viable options. But in the end, neither of them is a viable option. While Sibyl might be sad, she is not depressed. And there is a big difference between sadness and depression. And Kaitlin has no idea what “depressed” would even feel like. She is an upbeat, optimistic sort of gal. She might have problems and worry about stuff, like her pre-teen son, but she always sees the glass as half full.

The piece I am working on at the moment is the perspective of someone who is incredibly low and depressed and worried about slipping over the edge.

Alas, no one in Delphi can take on that role. Unless I introduce an entirely new character, which at this point in time, I do not want to do. I cannot force something into Delphi that does not belong.

I want to finish the piece and post it, though. My reticence is that it will then clearly be MY post.

Delphi just makes things so much simpler for me. All of the characters of Delphi are me. And none of the characters of Delphi are me.

However, once I have created – or hashed out – or come to know any of the specific characters, then I cannot honestly alter them, or have them do something they would not do. Well, I could, but then it would be untrue. And what’s the point of that?

So, the only thing to do, I guess, is to finish the landslide piece. And post it. Separate from Delphi. I could just not post it, but I have spent so much time working on it, and it is crying out to be told.


It requires me to climb way far out on a limb, which I do not like to do.

One of the things I truly love about living in a small town is that I can walk pretty much wherever I need to go. And I will invariably bump into multiple people I know, and we will stop and chat. This morning I walked to the bank to deposit my child support check; to the small independent bookstore where I used to work (to hang out and catch up with the owner and the other woman who works Saturdays); and to the only grocery store in town (a small, mom and pop store) where I could pick up a few things to make dinner for tonight. [Sunday is usually my Giant Eagle day. I HATE going grocery shopping, but I have to feed an army (two teen boys!). I try to do it all at once, so I only have to go once a week. I know, SOOO un-European!!!]

Anyway, as I am walking along, doing my errands, running into friends and acquaintances, and observing people passing by and on the street, I keep seeing and noting and recording all of these really great scenes for stories. I don’t know how NOT to do it. It is pretty much automatic, and I can’t stop myself from doing it.

These people I pass by and observe, surreptitiously out of the corner of my eye, have no idea they are wont to end up in one of my stories. The dialogue is priceless! The conversations I have with friends are fodder for future fictional interchanges. Is it my fault they say such clever, interesting things? In such clever, interesting ways?

I want to capture it. All of it.

I want to capture the ins and outs of daily life, the details, the mundane, the unconscious gestures, the turns of phrase, the flips of hair -- all of which cloak the drama and pulse underneath.

Is there any meaning to life, or is it we who lend meaning to our lives?

The answer is in the details.

The answer is in the telling.

The answer is in the gesture, the glance, the odd phrase.

I must observe it and write it down. All of it. None of it. Some of it.

All of it gets written down in my brain.

Some of it gets written down on paper or on the screen.

None of it matters.


In the end.

Or does it?

And even if it doesn’t, maybe I still want to write it down anyway.

Because I have to.