A Time to Rest

sabbatical-mug-300x260The word “sabbatical” comes from the same root as the word “sabbath.” Sabbatical means “of the sabbath,” and Sabbath means “rest.” Which is what I am going to be doing for at least the remainder of this year, possibly longer.

I’ve been writing stories since I could hold a pen. Really. My mom had some stories I wrote at the age of maybe ten, all about Ollie the Elephant and my imaginary friend Paula. (Not to be confused with the later real-life friend also known as Paula.) For decades, I wrote nonfiction in the form of newspaper and magazine articles and press releases for WORK and I wrote fiction for FUN.

Around ten years ago, I decided to get serious about fiction. I just wanted to see if I could finish a full-length novel. I did. Then I wanted to see if I could sell it to a big-name publisher. I didn’t. Then I decided it would be nice even to sell it to a small publisher. I did. But the experience with the small publisher was disillusioning to say the least — three changes of editor in the course of editing, a last-minute publication date that allowed no advance time for promotion and a poor job of promoting it once it was published. I started a second book and pitched it to a very big-name publisher  when they held a writing contest. As originally written, the book was a spy adventure with a touch of romance called The Capri Caper. An editor at Very Big Name Publishing took a liking and convinced me to take the characters out of that plot and turn it into a steamy romance. I did. After months of round-the-clock writing and revising to their specifications, Very Big Name Publisher ultimately rejected the novel anyway and I wound up going back to the less-than-satisfying small publisher for an even less satisfying editorial experience than I’d had the first time around.

Then the self-publishing wave hit. I decided it might be cool to get my rights to both books back, get new editors, new book covers and do my own promo. It was fun. The books actually made a bit of money this time. One even made the Amazon Best-Seller List for a little while.

Since that time, about three years ago now, I’ve written and published a couple of short stories and contributed to a cookbook. I’ve started at least three different “chick lit” style novels and failed to complete any of them.

Meanwhile, my nonfiction writing career has picked up enormously in the last year — I’ve been writing half of every issue of a local glossy mag that gets distributed in a major newspaper. I’ve also done a fair amount of PR work for a couple of local clients.

And for the last year, I’ve been struggling to help my son, Dr. Sheldon Cooper as he is called on this blog, transition to adulthood. It is going very so-so at this point. He is still a good kid, still mostly happy, BUT…. And the list of “buts” keeps growing: he rejected offers from two very good local colleges for a major he seemed very sure about in favor of going to community college. Once there he changed his major four times in the first semester until a counselor pretty much ordered him to put down “General Studies” and his father ordered him to not change it again at all if he wants us to continue footing the bill. He has drifted away from a lot of  hobbies he had in high school and refuses to consider even a minor in Music, his one area of true giftedness that could help pay his tuition in the form of scholarships, not to mention leading to a fulfilling career in something he loves and at which he excels. He’s developed a serious and unexpected case of stage fright.

Frankly, life with Dr. Cooper has ever been a roller coaster, but it’s always a worry when the car takes a downhill turn, as it seems to be doing this year. I foresee another season wherein I spend almost every free minute getting him organized, boosting his spirits, cheering him out of his dark moments. A season filled with visits to doctors, counselors, coaches, psychologists, acupuncturists, even priests, trying to get him to Focus! Cheer up! Have confidence! It is an exhausting, time-consuming place to be and it is a place I come back to with him every few years. Many parents of special needs kids or kids with developmental challenges know this place as “Holland,” from the Emily Perle Kingsley essay “Welcome to Holland.” And indeed, Holland is not a bad place to be. But we wouldn’t want to, say, let him take the wrong train entirely and wind up leaving Holland for Outer Slobovia or something even less appealing.

So I will put aside much of my self again and make one last push to try and help him acquire the confidence, the optimism, and the social skills he will need to succeed at an independent life without me someday. I will fit that around the newspaper, magazine  and PR writing that pays so much better than novel writing now (although ironically it was the opposite just three years ago). I will fit it around that stuff because it’s what I do. The Boy Who Was Autistic eventually graduated from a mainstream private high school with a 3.6 GPA and a bright future. I believe he can still find that future, but he needs a few more years of coaxing and coaching and maybe even a little hand-holding to do so.

But the coaxing and coaching of Dr. Cooper takes a lot of time and mental energy away from things like novel-writing. And then there are all the market changes in the novel-writing world. Self-publishing was fun, but I’m pretty burnt out on the whole phenomenon now. The market is flooded with new self-pubbed authors who have no professional background whatsoever in writing or editing and just hope to hit it rich “like that 50 Shades writer.” Unfortunately, the market is definitely not flooded with an equal influx of new readers, leading to entire sets of full-length books being sold for as little as $0.99. You can see, then, why novel-writing isn’t even on the back burner for me right now. It’s in the freezer, cats and kitties. A freezer in the basement. In the back. And the stairs to the basement are missing.

The bottom line, cats and kitties, as I’m sure you’ve guessed by now is: no new chick noir novel in 2015. Probably not in 2016 either. Even if I get back to novel writing at some point in the future, I suspect it won’t be chick lit. Maybe it will be horror or steampunk or my old first love, science fiction. Maybe it will be a weepy women’s novel or an edgy action thriller. There’s a good chance it will be something for kids or teens, since I’m reading and enjoying more and more of that stuff these days.  But all that is in the vague future. Right now, the focus is on Dr. Cooper and my freelance business.

There will probably be book review posts in the future, and there may be some short stories and another cookbook contribution coming in the next year, but I don’t see a novel coming soon. And trying to pretend I even want to write another one right now has become another thing just making me tired and stressing me out. And so this post: a confession and an acclamation: Lynn Reynolds the novelist is on sabbatical.

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All Apologies

I know, I know. I took that little break in Lent and found seventeen other ways to waste time, and I’ve barely been back here since. I warned you about my attention issues, didn’t I? But I’m back and this week I’m starting a new revolving series of posts:

~ Buried Treasure highlights widely ignored or somewhat obscure movies, books and TV shows

~ This Writing Life highlights tips, advice and other wisdom about – what else? – writing

~ Love Letter To: is just what it says: my love letter to a favorite writer, performer, or maybe even fictional character.

and of course:

~ Random Thinking – like Random Dancing, but with your brain instead of your feet. A catch-all category for all my other blog posts, like all that stuff about zombies, Sheldon Cooper and Nathan Fillion

Hibernation

The Midtown Tunnel in New York City
The Midtown Tunnel in New York City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every year around this time, Dr. Cooper enters “The Tunnel.” The Man and I have called it this since Dr. Cooper was at least six years old. The good doctor enters the tunnel soon after Halloween and doesn’t really come out again until sometime after President’s Day. When he’s in the Tunnel, everything becomes a struggle. He can’t study as well, he can’t focus as well. In general, he’s just not as functional. He’s not suicidal or anything; he’s just got jello for brains and the personality of Marvin the Paranoid Android. Normally, it can be worked around, even in school. The rest of the world seems to slow down after Christmas too, so coursework during the post-holiday season tends to be kind of low-key.

Until this year. Someone in the Head Office got the anal-retentive notion that it was illogical for the mid-term exams to occur prior to the Christmas break because that is NOT the EXACT MIDDLE of the school year. This indivudal (or individuals) decided the appropriate way to deal with this would be to move the mid-term exams to shortly AFTER Christmas break.

Yeah. I know. I’d like to have been there for that staff meeting. “But the kids will have just come back from a two-week break. Even with one week to review, don’t you think they’ll be a little out of the swing of things???” Clearly, if someone did ask that question, the answer was something along the lines of: “Shut up.” Because this week is exam week, and Dr. Cooper is floating around in the middle of that Tunnel. It should be interesting.

We’re fairly sure that along with all Dr. Cooper’s other baggage, he has Seasonal Affective Disorder. We wanted to take him to see a psychiatrist who’s a leading expert in the condition, but the guy’s not in our insurance plan. So instead, we bought his book and are planning to implement some of the recommendations it makes – like using a lightbox and a special diet and some sort of negative ion generator, which sounds like a weapon from Star Trek.

But the thing I found the most interesting in reading this book, is that it has taken me nearly a month to get through it. Now, normally I read faster than Harriet Klausner. For realz. But there comes a time when I just slow down to a snail’s pace. Plus I spend every day walking around in a fog and getting a whole lot of nothing done and moaning about how fat I am and how much I hate my life. Suddenly, I realized that I’ve probably got it too. After all, these things don’t happen in a vacuum and we know the good Doctor inherited much of his other more interesting “quirks” from us. We know his most Asperger-y traits come from Dad’s side of the family, and that my side has gifted him with tremendous reserves of Attention Deficit (me) and massive anxiety (my late, great mother, the Queen of Worry). Now it looks like he gets seasonal depression from my side too. Another thing he can resent me for!

The upshot is that, if I’m honest, I probably won’t be remembering to blog every week in the new year. Or even to cook dinner and clean the house. But it’s okay. That’s why God invented pizza. And as my late, sweet, old co-worker Agnes used to say: The dust will wait.

I’m going to try and knock out a batch of blogs and schedule them to pop up weekly. That feels sort of like cheating, but mostly, it requires more organizational ability than my brain possesses at this time of year. So don’t hold your breath waiting for it, okay? Right now, I’m thinking it will be a successful month if I just get the Christmas tree down before Valentine’s Day.

If you’re also barely able to function this time of year, you could move to the Tropics. But if you’re broke like me, you could read Winter Blues by Dr. Norman Rosenthal. And see a therapist if you need to. I have in the past, and Dr. Cooper does from time to time as well.

But for today, I think I’ll just lay on the sofa in my Snuggie and not do anything. Sometimes, that works too.

B*tches Be Crazy

So it’s looking like Dr. Sheldon Cooper is turning out to be an even bigger magnet for weirdos than I was in my youth. And I was an incredible weirdo super-magnet, believe me.  Plus. he’s starting with the weirdo magnetism way earlier than I did—in his teens, whereas I was such a wallflower, I didn’t start pulling them into my orbit until my early twenties! So kudos to Dr. Cooper once again for being an overachiever.

As for my personal collection of weirdos: first there was Ralph, your standard unemployed loser with a wispy mustache who lived with his mom. There was Jack, who played a mean game of darts but was mean in so many other ways too. A couple of dysfunctional married men, of course. And last but not least, Rich the Elvis Impersonator. Because how can you call your life complete if you haven’t dated at least one Elvis Impersonator? [Note: Rich was not nearly as cute as Drew Ahearn.]

But enough about me. We were talking about Dr. Sheldon Cooper‘s nascent love life. I say nascent but at the rate it’s going, it could in fact be stillborn. [Actual quote from Dr. Cooper—who is not very religious at all—after the latest “incident:” Maybe I should just become a priest.]

We’ve talked before about the tragic figure of Ophelia, whose ongoing battle with severe mental illness informs Dr. Cooper’s reaction to all “interested” females (for lack of a better term). When he met the new girl, who shall henceforth be known as Annie (after that famously self-involved neurotic, Annie Hall), things seemed to be looking up. They met at a school mixer and she asked for his number. This will be quick, I thought. Because I am OLD.

[Okay, I’m not really that old. But it was too entertaining to pass up. Thank you, Retronaut!] Back in my day – you know, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, wearing shoulder pads and really big hair, a girl would never have dared ask for a guy’s number. Then she would never have dared use that number. And if she had used it once, she would never have used it again, because she would’ve then taken the hint if he didn’t call her back. Even if he was just clueless and didn’t actually mean it as a hint to stop calling.

But that was B.C. – Before Cellphones. Now, with the joyous advent of mobile technology, you can politely give out your phone number to someone you barely know—and be pursued by them relentlessly for a year or more even if you offer almost no encouragement whatsoever.

And of course, that is exactly what has happened to Dr. Cooper. Both he and Annie are, frankly, remarkably lame when it comes to social skills with the opposite sex. So was I as a teenager, but without cell phones and Facebook, I had a lot less opportunity to display my lameness.

With almost no encouragement, Annie Hall has continued to text Dr. Cooper about her life on a semi-regular basis, clearly hoping at some point he will ask her out. Or something. Dr. Cooper confided that while he would like a “female friend” to invite to dances and other obligatory adolescent social events, he really does not want a “girlfriend.” And who can blame him after the Ophelia incident?

Over the summer, the texting stopped, but now that school has resumed, so has the texting. My theory? Summer romance gone wrong, Annie Hall has decided to target her back-up option. Mildly annoying but no big deal.

And then, last week this:

U R A WASTE OF TIME! GOOD BYE

WTF?

Well, it turns out that while Dr. Cooper was meeting with his algebra tutor (with phone turned off, of course, because algebra tutors are like that, especially when they’re also head of the school’s Discipline Committee)—Annie Hall had repeatedly texted him. The entire content of those texts: “Hello.” Followed by the ubiquitous and annoying, “Hey.” Apparently, his failure to respond solicitously was the last straw. Thus the searing wit of her “Waste of Time” missive.

RED ALERT! RED ALERT!

I would like to say I found all this out because Dr. Cooper confided in me and asked my advice, but alas, he did not. Truth is, I snooped. Since the Ophelia incident, I figure my job is not to be his friend or his friend’s friend. It’s to proactively protect. Some experts might call it “helicopter parenting,” but that is because no one ever tried to commit bloody suicide while talking on the phone to their thirteen-year-old. Call me Tiger Mom. Rowr. Also, I pay for the damn phone, so I can look at whatever’s on it. After three or four days of Brooding Dr. Cooper with no explanation, I checked out the call log and discovered the message. But it turned out, that wasn’t what had annoyed him. What really annoyed him is that he thought the “Waste of Time” message meant she was out of his life. But of course, with girls and Dr. Cooper, it can never be that simple. Two days later, she had texted him while he was hanging out with friends at the Homecoming Game. 

HEY. I’M HERE.

And when he didn’t respond to that with a heartfelt invitation to come sit with him, she dashed off an irritable:

FINE. I AM LEAVING NOW.

I’ve got a newsflash for Annie Hall: Once you call a guy a “waste of time,” it’s kind of over. Unless your next text is, “So sorry, it must’ve been the vodka and PMS. Forgive me.”

But even then, you might want to just delete that phone number from your Contacts List and find someone who gives a darn.

Here’s hoping that in college (if not sooner), Dr. Cooper can start attracting girls with higher self-esteem. And not so much of the passive-aggressive Bella Swan Velcro Personality Disorder so popular with teenaged girls these days.

MORE ABOUT WRITING NEXT TIME. I SWEAR. CAN I HELP IT IF MY LIFE IS A TEEN SOAP OPERA?!

Back in a minute…

Stephen Hawking being presented by his daughter Lucy Hawking at the lecture he gave for NASA’s 50th anniversary. He is probably thinking about how doing those guest shots on ST:NG and The Big Bang Theory helped pay off her student loans, so she had better give him a damn award. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was really doing good with the blogging every week thing, but then I got this thing called a JOB. You have to put on real clothing (which does not include t-shirts and yoga pants and flip-flops, apparently) and you have to show up at their office at specific times of day and then – this is the really freaky part – you stay there for HOURS and do what they tell you to do.

I vaguely remembered jobs. I had several before giving birth to the shrieking, colicky mess that eventually became our own  Dr. Sheldon Cooper. For most of Dr. Cooper’s young life, I’ve been self-employed, freelancing for area magazines and newspapers on a pretty regular basis. Until about three years ago. In that time, the range of freelance assignments on a local and regional basis has gradually dwindled down to almost nothing. One of my former editors walks dogs and teaches yoga now. Another manages the county senior centers. With the advent of outsourced sweat-shop style journalism via “content providers” like Journatic, freelance news writing is pretty much a dead end these days.

And writing Internet content, which I tried for a while, is a poor substitute for actual print journalism. The emphasis with Internet content is to make your story short and fast. That means churning out lots of not-very-carefully researched articles week after week. Which might be worth it if the pay was stupendous. But in fact, the pay for producing Internet content is more in the range of – wait, let me do some math here: zero times zero, carry the zero. Yes, the pay range for Internet content is more in the range of laughable.

My fiction writing has begun to produce a very modest but steady income, but if I kept trying to churn out laughably under-compensated Internet content, I’d have no time to work on the fiction. So I’ve pretty much given up freelancing of all kinds at this point.

Meanwhile, Dr. Cooper is rapidly approaching the College Event Horizon, at which point he will become a singularity. The gravitational waves produced at the College Event Horizon are known to be more powerful than those emitted by a Black Hole. Stephen Hawking himself has commented, “If I had known how expensive raising a kid was going to be, I’d have canned the Physics crap ages ago and got myself a nice reality show gig on TLC.” Okay, maybe that wasn’t Hawking. Probably it was Bruce Jenner. Or that scary-looking chick with the huge lips. But you get the point.

So the bottom line is – lots less time for blogging, more time wearing make-up and real clothing. No pantyhose required, though. Thank God. I think I’d turn to a life of crime to fund Dr. Cooper’s college education before I’d start wearing pantyhose again.

Once Dr. Cooper is back in school in the fall, I should be able to spend more time on all my writing – including this blog – since I won’t be balancing the JOB with my priority duties as Dr. Cooper’s chauffeur.

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The Death of a Minivan

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man with a dying car must be in want of common sense. For no greater love hath a man than that for his car.

Yea, even though that car may be an Oldsmobile Firenza or a Plymouth Acclaim or even, verily, a FORD WINDSTAR MINIVAN — truly no man has ever parted willingly with his vehicle.

For no matter how bland and boring that vehicle may be, it is HIS vehicle and he loves it as though it were his own child. Indeed, sometimes he loves it better than his own child, particularly when that child is sitting in the backseat of that vehicle saying things like, “Mom was right, we should have taken her Subaru.”

Thus it came to pass that we as a family found ourselves stranded in the right turn lane of South Street (I think) heading onto the Schuylkill Expressway on the hottest day of the year in decades. For the Man’s Ford Windstar minivan (circa 2003, odometer reading 200,000 miles) or The Beloved, as it shall hereafter be named, was dying. I would say that it was in fact dead, and that it had in fact been dead for a good week and a half at this point. Indeed, I would call it a Zombie Car — but the Man would argue that point, as he did on the morning in question — assuring me that the latest mechanic to look at The Beloved had found the root of her problem and truly fixed her this time. The problem being a pesky tendency for the entire electrical system to simply cut out in mid-drive. With a blazing suddenness reminiscent of the first episode of “The X-Files,” everything in the car would stop functioning. Air conditioning, lights (including headlights and hazard lights), radio — you name it, in the blink of an eye, it was gone. And oh yes, the engine too. If the engine was hot enough, it had enough life to limp into some parking lot — as long as that parking lot was not too far away.

Many wise men with grease under their nails and girlie calendars on their walls had inspected The Beloved and pronounced various verdicts as to what was wrong — the alternator, the battery, the serpentine belt, or even some undetectable lose wire that could require hours or even days of random prospecting. None of the fixes held for more than a day or two.

You would think that dying in heavy traffic in Philadelphia in 100 degree heat would have convinced the man to take The Beloved out back and shoot it in the transmission. But you would be wrong.

After a morning stop at the Penn Museum to see their very cool Mayan Exhibit, we planned to go to lunch and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Instead, we wound up spending the rest of the day in the tiny waiting room of Wayne’s Garage on Springfield Avenue (certified female friendly and no girlie calendars anywhere in sight!) Once we had limped home with The Beloved, I felt sure we would be calling someone to tow it away the next day. Instead, the Man took it to yet another mechanic for yet more tinkering. Granted, his intentions were noble. We are at this point, in technical terms, broke, and he was trying desperately to eke another year out of the Zombie Car.

Reader, we failed. A few days after the Philadelphia debacle, the Man and I found ourselves drifting powerless down a steep hill. We were on the way to Walmart, and I thought to myself, Now this is a truly stupid and embarrassing way to die. A lot of screaming happened. Mostly me screaming things like, “Get it into that parking lot over there now! Before we get killed!” Followed by the Man shouting thing like, “I can get it started again! I can really get it started again! Just wait!” And finally, me shouting semi-incoherent replies that used lots of Anglo-Saxon words plus a few words like “idiot” and “divorce.”

Finally, after some frantic rocking back and forth in our seats in an effort to give The Beloved enough momentum to drift safely into an empty school parking lot, the Man finally admitted defeat. He hung his head and almost wept, he was so dejected. You would think that car was Old Yeller. He was so sad, I completely forgave him for nearly getting us killed. Repeatedly.

Sadly, the new part-time job I managed to land after 18 months of looking will not pay down existing debt or build a small college fund for Dr. Cooper after all. Instead, it will pay for this:

On the other hand, it has a fabulous stereo system, an iPod port and even a USB port, as well as hands-free Bluetooth with voice command. So even in death, we see that there is new life. Or at least, a better sound system.

Funeral services for The Beloved will be held later this week and will involve the traditional removal of the tags, followed by the ceremonial tax-deductible towing away by the Salvation Army. There might also be a fair amount of drinking involved, because I’m Irish and you can’t have a proper wake for anything without booze. Ask Dr. Cooper about how Mommy dealt with it when his Betta fish Steve died many years ago.

In lieu of flowers, we ask that you remember to change your transmission fluid regularly and give your own cars a loving pat on the hood. For who knows when their hour might come to pass, and you too may find yourself bereft and sweaty on a busy highway in a strange city?

The Syd Barrett Moment

We had one of our Syd Barrett moments this weekend. The inspiration for Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon is a biographical note I think most of us would feel better not having. And yet, in the end, that was Syd’s greatest claim to fame. But why he inspired that dark masterpiece is what concerns us here today. It’s because he was pretty much crazy.

Cast out of Pink Floyd, the band he’d help create, Syd recorded a couple of haunting solo albums, and then did serious time in mental institutions. It’s said that a visit to him when he was in one of those institutions reduced his bandmate Roger Waters to tears, and that Roger never went back. Some people think that sounds weak, but that’s only because they don’t have a Syd in their own lives. We do. Our Syd is a girl. Read more…

Syd Barrett in 1969
Syd Barrett in 1969 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We had one of our Syd Barrett moments this weekend. If you’re a “certain age” (like me), then probably the name Syd Barrett immediately conjures up slightly disturbing images in your head. The inspiration for Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon is a biographical note I think most of us would feel better not having. And yet, in the end, that was Syd’s greatest claim to fame. But why he inspired that dark masterpiece is what concerns us here today.

It’s because he was pretty much crazy. A physically beautiful young man and talented musician, Roger “Syd” Barrett got heavily into LSD and, as she is sometimes wont to do, the Acid Queen opened some doors for him that should never have been opened. Increasingly erratic, cast out of Pink Floyd, the band he’d help create, Syd recorded a couple of haunting solo albums, and then did serious time in mental institutions. It’s said that a visit to him when he was in one of those institutions reduced his bandmate Roger Waters to tears, and that Roger never went back. Some people think that sounds weak, but that’s only because they don’t have a Syd in their own lives.

We do.

Our Syd is a girl. We might want to call her Ophelia for the purposes of this story, since Ophelia, although fictional, is another fine representation of that scary moment when a sensitive, creative mind crosses some sort of line. Or opens the wrong door.

Ophelia was best friends with Dr. Sheldon Cooper throughout his time in middle school. They were both phenomenally talented musicians, members of the school theatre group and dangerously high-strung. She was also two years older than our young doctor and fashion model pretty. Except for the high-strung part, she seemed like a great kid. She reminded me entirely too much of myself as a teenager, and so I probably didn’t limit their time together to the degree I should have. Although, to be fair to myself, I remember thinking “loose cannon” the first time I ever saw her, and being convinced by the Man and other family friends that I was being a laughably overprotective mom. Besides, their time together consisted of going to movies with a group of mutual friends, participating in school activities, and talking on the phone. How dangerous could that be? A lot, as it turned out.

As time passed, we all began to realize that Ophelia was more than just dangerously high-strung. She was just plain dangerous. Her fondness for Dr. Sheldon Cooper turned into an obsession – a clingy, manipulative obsession that caused him to withdraw from us for many months before we fully realized what was happening. We thought his new silent, brooding personality had been triggered by some serious health challenges I was going through at the time, and no doubt that contributed. But the main problem was that his friend was going crazy before his very eyes and he had no vocabulary for it. Finally, the depth of Ophelia’s obsession made itself known when she attempted suicide while talking to Dr. Cooper on the phone one night. He was thirteen years old when this happened, and he’s still pretty stand-offish with girls as a result.

At the end of that year, we moved Dr. Cooper to a new all-boy school. He tried half-heartedly to keep in touch with Ophelia and his old group of friends. She was in an intensive treatment program and seemed to be improving. He joined her and the group for a nostalgic trip to the movies last summer. When I dropped him off at the theatre, I took one look at her and knew she was in another downward spiral. There’s a look that someone with a truly serious mental illness gets. I remembered it then from the schizophrenic friend I’d had in college. It’s a look that seems to be coming from a planet about ten light-years away. A look that says, “the voices in my head are more real than you are.” Because for that person, at that moment, they are. That kind of illness is different from being anxious or depressed, serious emotional problems that I’m familiar with from the inside-out. That kind of illness is the kind that leaves its victim detached from everyone around him or her. They become unreachable. In the end, all you can do is have a good cry and walk away.

A few months after the movie get-together, I heard that Ophelia had “taken another bad turn” and was in a local residential treatment center. Then she was back out and started calling again. Dr. Cooper became brooding and anxious. We blocked her number on all the phones but one – mine. Because I just had to know how she was doing. Is it because I’m nosey? Maybe a little. Mostly it’s because I remember being very close to opening that door when I was in my late teens, and again when I was in my early twenties. The first time, I walked away from it all on my own and went to England instead of trying to kill myself. The second time, a very spiritual friend (who I barely knew at the time) called me out of the blue and asked me to spend the summer with her in Arizona. I did, and her little gesture helped me be able to face the world again. But in the end, I think I was just lucky – or blessed. I never heard those voices that Ophelia hears or that Syd Barrett heard too.

We hadn’t heard from Ophelia since last summer, although we’d heard about her from mutual acquaintances. We were under the impression she was getting better and knew that she was supposed to start college this past January. We were busy with jobs, and school activities and new friends. Honestly, I don’t think Dr. Cooper had even thought of her in months.

Then this weekend came the call – the Syd Barrett moment. She said she was in a “boarding school,” which was weird since she’d already graduated from high school last year. Further talk made it clear she’s in another residential treatment center and that she’s had a “hard time adjusting” lately. She thinks in the fall she might get out and be able to go to a community college. Her parents always expected her to play in a symphony orchestra, but she tells me all she really wants to do now is knit and sew. Maybe be a tailor. She doesn’t want to be a musical genius, she just wants to sew a pretty dress someday. I wish her luck and tell her to keep in touch. Dr. Cooper refuses to come to the phone. I tell Ophelia he’s out at the library, studying for exams. She’s a little let down, but I get the feeling she’s not surprised he “can’t” talk to her anymore. At some point, he had a cry and he walked away, and he’s done now. They say insanity isn’t catching, but for some emotionally fragile people, it sure feels like it could be. Sometimes, walking away is about self-preservation.

I don’t know why some people never come back from that dark place on the other side of the door. Syd Barrett eventually closed the door and went home to live with his mom in Cambridge. The brilliantly innovative guitarist remained on the other side of the door, in the dark place. He went back to being just plain Roger Barrett and it’s said he found a measure of peace and contentment painting abstract canvases and tending the family garden. I hope that’s true. And may it be true of Ophelia too, and all who suffer as she does.

Lord, we know what we are, but know not what we may be.

John Everett Millais - Ophelia - WGA15685