Sunday, May 20, 2012

Not for me cold tea. I much prefer it hot.


I'm out of whack.  This morning when I started to make my usual cup of tea I found myself making coffee instead - the whole coffee shebang, complete with frothy milk.  I usually drink coffee later in the day and start off my waking hours with Earl Grey tea. 

Before I realised I was making coffee instead of tea, I had been lost in my thoughts, which is easy to do on a Sunday morning early before any one else is up, including my husband who likes to leave his tea until it gets cold.  Not for me, cold tea, I much prefer it hot. 

Life is feeling too hot at the moment and my head is full.  I wondered as I fiddled with water from the kettle and milk from the fridge, why I did not know the reason behind one of my daughters being up early this morning well before me.  Unheard of on a Sunday morning.  Perhaps she had told me.  And that’s the thing, I can’t remember. 

I can’t remember either what was the question that Helen Garner asked at a conference yesterday, not a writing conference, mind you, but the famous Freud conference, one in which psychoanalytic ideas get thrown around. 

I have gone every year for the last several years to the Freud conference and each time it is a thrilling event, for me at least, not only the topics discussed, but the audience interaction.  The audience interaction is the most amazing of all.  It is one of those conferences where half at least of the audience of around two hundred people know one another, a small conference by some people’s standards but by the standards of the psychoanalytic community in Melbourne it is huge. 

I expect Helen Garner was there for ideas that might filter into her book on the Farquharson case.  The Farquharson affair is the sad story of a man who killed his three sons on Fathers day ostensibly as an act of revenge against his estranged wife. He pleaded innocent, saying that he had lost control of his car through a coughing fit as he approached the water into which he drove with his sons.  He managed to free himself, but not the sons.  The jury would not buy his defense.  Farquharson, as I understand it, after an unsuccessful appeal, is now in prison. 

I write about it all here dispassionately, but it has rattled me, all this talk of homicide and madness.  I could write about it with my academic hat on, but my point here is more related to the behind the scenes experience of being at such a conference, the shiver of anxiety I felt in a room filled with people many of whom I know, some of whom I'm fond of, some with whom I have deeply personal connections, mostly via my work, and others with whom I have no connection at all, and the odd person – I stress odd – towards whom I feel downright hostile.

I’m writing this in short hand and leave you to read between the lines.  It is one of those situations where I cannot be more specific, though I can be specific about this amazing section of the conference where the writer, lawyer and psychoanalytically trained professor, Elyn Saks, who also happens to be schizophrenic, spoke about her life and her wonderful book, The Centre Cannot Hold – also the title of the conference. 

The topic was unsettling but more so the fact that it was delivered via satellite link-up.  Elyn Saks sat facing the screen and what to her must have looked like an audience of bobbing heads and clapping hands.  She sat at a dark desk which was centred in what looked like a conference room or large office.  We, the audience, could see only her and the chair in which she sat, the table/desk in front of her, all in dark office colours, against a huge white board on a white wall. 

It must have been evening time for Elyn Saks at eleven am Melbourne time but she did not seem so much tired as surreal.  That was until she spoke, at which time she came alive, especially during question time. 

Hers was a plea to recognise that people with schizophrenia and other sharply defined mental illness can and do lead successful lives.  One difficulty among many, seems to be that people with severe mental illness are often told to lower their expectations: Go get a job in Safeway or something, once you get over the hurdle of a psychotic episode.  Don’t try to do too much.

When I asked a question of Elyn Saks during discussion time, I felt this weird collision of worlds.  I held the microphone in my hands and faced the screen where she sat.  It was like one gigantic skype session, only with a audience of two hundred people and Elyn Saks alone at the other end. 

My question, more a comment dealt with the issue of separation, which she describes in her book.  How unbearable she had found it when her first therapist in London left her, because she and her husband were moving elsewhere as I recall.  They had to pry Elyn loose.  I know this feeling well and she spoke to it well.


A family gathering from my mother's day, when she was one of the little girls in the front row.  For some weird and surreal reason this photo reminds me of the Freud conference, another gathering of sorts, where the ghosts from the past settle on our shoulders and our futures are as yet unimaginable.   


And here’s a quote from Samuel Beckett, to help you on your way: 

‘You must go on.
            I can't go on.
            You must go on.
            I'll go on. You must say words, as long as there are any - until they find me, until they say me. (Strange pain, strange sin!) You must go on. Perhaps it's done already. Perhaps they have said me already. Perhaps they have carried me to the threshold of my story, before the door that opens on my story. (That would surprise me, if it opens.)
            It will be I? It will be the silence, where I am? I don't know, I'll never know: in the silence you don't know.
            You must go on.
            I can't go on.
            I'll go on.’ 

Before I stop I must acknowledge my good blog friend, Kath Lockett from the Blurb from the burbs blog, and Goofing off in Geneva, who graced me with a Liebster award.  With many thanks, Kath.  




32 comments:

little hat said...

Madness, schizophrenia, genius, the mundane. A gathering of Freudians! Sounds pretty wild.
Strangely (in the ordinary sense) I saw a show last night in Brisbane which was an account of the life of Eve Langley. It was essentially a one woman show with actor/therapist Margie Brown-Ash in that role. It was confronting. I knew little about Eve Langley but suffice it to say she had a troubled and sometime brilliant life. Mother of three children, schizophrenic, 7 years in a mental institution, and obsessed with Oscar Wilde - she went as far as changing her name by deed poll to his in 1954. Fortunately I have not experienced any "madness" but Eve's story was a harrowing 70 minutes. I felt for her and even more so for her children.

Jim Murdoch said...

Whack. Something people are often out of but keep it to themselves when they’re not; no one ever says, “I’ve plenty of whack this morning.” And what exactly is this whack stuff anyway? I assume it means beat—which is probably why ‘beat off’ and ‘whack off’ are synonymous—but I’ve always thought it was generally considered quite a positive thing to march to the beat of one’s own drum which, strangely enough, isn’t considered synonymous with being out of whack with the world. I looked it up. It seems the expression first appeared in American newspapers during the latter half of the 19th century. The phrase "in fine whack" had previously been used to describe something fit and sturdy. As John Hale describes Abraham Lincoln in 1863: "The Tycoon is in fine whack." So "out of whack" likely arose as an opposite to the saying "in fine whack." The origins of ‘whack’ are open to debate but I’ll leave you to click on the link if you’re interested. And, frankly, I can’t imagine anyone not being interested.

A few years back, when I was at my worst, I would often walk into the kitchen and forget how to make coffee or, after my wife telling me ten seconds earlier to make her real coffee, proceed to make two mugs of decaffeinated coffee. The worst—the scariest—part though was when I’d just look down at the tray containing the various containers and implements and, for a few seconds anyway, not remember how to make a cup of coffee. Walking out of a room and forgetting where I was going or walking into a different room and doing something else I did all the time; it annoyed me but it didn’t shake me as much as suddenly being rendered incapable, even for a few seconds, of being able to do something I had done thousands of times before.

I don’t like Earl Grey tea. I’ve only tried it once and it was a while ago although I have no burning desire to give it a second chance. I was quite the tea jenny when I was young but somewhere along the line I got turned onto coffee and never went back. We have teabags and every once in a while I’ll have a cup if we have milk in the house which is rare; I’ve been drinking my coffee black for several years now. No milk, no sugar, no caffeine—hardly worth the effort really—but I still down about eight mugs a day. Cold tea doesn’t do much for me nor iced tea but I am partial to those Frappuccinos you can find in the chiller cabinets these days but I resist usually since they’re quite heavy in calories and although I’m not obsessed about my weight since I’ve become even more sedentary than I used to be I am conscious of it.

I’ve not been to a conference in years. I’ve never much seen the point to them. They never say anything that couldn’t be transmitted in written form. Yes, I know there’s the whole social aspect but being an antisocial pig I can get by happily without all the small talk thank you very much. I’ve never used Skype. Carrie tried it once with her son a few years back—I’m sure the technology has come on in leaps and bounds since then—but they stick to phone calls and neither of us have suggested having a go at it when she’s in the States.

On. On is a favourite word of Beckett’s. It crops up all the time. My novel The More Things Change is in four sections entitled ‘On’, ‘Twenty Years On’, ‘Another Twenty Years On’ and ‘A Little Further On’. If Milligan and Murphy is touched by Beckett then all I can say about The More Things Change is that it is steeped in him. Your quote from The Unnamable—no ‘e’ (I have to check myself all the time)—is, in strictness, wrong. The final sentence of the book is over two and a half thousand words long. At this point the Mahood’s rant becomes pure logorrhoea. A kind fellow called Colin Greenlaw has parsed and punctuated it here though.

Anonymous said...

My goodness, Elisabeth! So much to digest,
Making coffee instead of tea. Not Remembering why your daughter rose early. Memory problems?
Your husband likes his tea cold. Mine loathes cold tea, as do I.
Why is life hot for you at the moment? Personal or the hangover from the conference?
I have never heard of the Freud conference. It sounds like a highly charged place to be. I can only imagine the conversations one would hear there.
Helen Garner is never afraid of controversy.
I always remember my aunt, who lived in the area the Farqhuarson boys died, saying "I never knew there was a dam there and I have driven that road 100's of times." it was one of those profound moments that said to me what a calculated crime it was. The randomness was too high.
The mixture of emotions you have towards the people around you. Someone's professionalism at work is
causing me concern - and hostile feelings, at the moment.
Elyn Saks - schizophrenic and productive. I have also watched someone in a similar position and been amazed at their creativity - mostly in the lead up to an episode. Over the 30plus years I have known her, she has aged beyond her years.
The video link up - we have been communicating with a dear friend via Skype who has been isolated during a bone marrow transplant. We visited him at home tonight for the first time in nearly a month. The last time was the night before his hospital admission. He and his wife have been warned to expect set backs - lower their expectations?
The Samuel Beckett words. Now that will take a while for my limited brain to process. It will probably come to me in the middle of the night.
May there be peace inside your head soon.
Regards, Karen C

Kath said...

Elisabeth, your 'between the lines' conjures up the idea (many ideas) for a novel, based just on the conference and your experiences and background and opening the door on your story and .....

who said...

There are so many different things that can happen in a person's life that cause them to be flabbergasted, and all sorts out of whack.

Sometimes these are good things, like the days you can't even remember your name for a good minute or two until you regain feeling in your body again. If you're lucky you will regain full consciousness before all feeling comes back as often it may take a good twenty minutes for your finger tips to no longer be numb. The best things in life are like that, the first signs that it's happening (tips of fingers going numb) are usually the last to go back to normal.

Sometimes if there are stairs you might want to work around the room for a bit to make sure you will be able to stand. While it may be funny and a good sign if you try to walk to the bathroom and fall over from jello legs, it is not funny when it happens down a flight of stairs.

I hope for your daughters sake it wasn't you and your husband that woke her up, kids need lots of sleep these days.

If it is the bad kind of frazzled, I hope you know that people who are manipulative and you don't recognize it are trouble. Esp if they are a significant part of your life and you believe lies they tell you. When you believe lies, you often have to ignore feelings of "something is fishy with that story."

It is no good because when you force yourself to ignore feelings that are accurate appraisals of the situation, you are mis-calibrating your intuitiveness and it serves to disconnect you from the real you, your body, spirit, and mind together as the whole self.

Being around people that you let such an occurrence happen can cause a person who typically only experiences mild negatives states often fall into severe panic or anxiety attacks due to the confusion which if exasturbated by manipulative people.

I hope you had your head in La-La-land for the good reason Elisabeth

Kirk said...

"One difficulty among many, seems to be that people with severe mental illness are often told to lower their expectations: Go get a job in Safeway or something, once you get over the hurdle of a psychotic episode. Don’t try to do too much."

I've never worked at Safeway, but I have worked in retail, and let me tell you, there's a quite a bit of work involved. It's entirely possible to do "too much." Just because a job is at the bottom rung of the income ladder and doesn't require a college education hardly makes it easy or simple. I know zilch about schizophrenia, but if a person who suffers from that can handle a job in retail, I imagine they can handle anything.

Kirk said...

Oops, almost forgot. I wanted give my thoughts on tea. I prefer it cold, as in iced. Actually, I don't dislike hot tea (in fact, I like it more than coffee, which I don't like at all, no matter the temperature. God knows, when I was 18 or 19, I spent much effort trying to force myself to like coffee, because drinking coffee is one of things that supposedly makes one an adult) but unless I've just come in from the bitter cold, I prefer all my drinks to be cold. I do like my food hot. Hot food and cold drink. The yin and the yang.

Christine said...

It was a terrific conference - I was there, too. The message, for people with this illess, to not lower onesexpectations and also to not accept such advice from well-meaning people was certainly well said. It is as if the illness must define a person and not, as Elyn Saks shows, the other way around. Sometimes one must fight to be recognised for who one is, rather than placed for the comfort of others.

Christine said...

It was a terrific conference - I was there, too. The message, for people with this illess, to not lower onesexpectations and also to not accept such advice from well-meaning people was certainly well said. It is as if the illness must define a person and not, as Elyn Saks shows, the other way around. Sometimes one must fight to be recognised for who one is, rather than placed for the comfort of others.

Windsmoke. said...

That's nothing because one morning i actually grabbed a cup, put a teaspoon of coffee and a tea bag in the same cup but i didn't realise it until i started drinking it YUK! :-).

Elizabeth said...

I'm sitting here, soaking up your Beckettian prose, wishing I were in Melbourne, drinking Earl Grey and attending Freud (not Freudian) conferences and getting in whack.

rosaria williams said...

Reading between the lines is what readers, writers and analysts do! Yes, we must go on, with or without help, with or without all our faculties. By going on we choose life and choose to be self-directed.

India Banks said...

I see your choosing coffee instead of tea as an act of subconcious rebellion against the status quo. Fascinating. How I envy in the best possible way your daughter and husband inside your kitchen AND your attending a conference on Freud. It all sounds so charming.

Elisabeth said...

I did not know about Eve Langley, Little Hat, until now from this comment of yours and I'm grateful to read about her. What a sad sad life. As much as we might feel for her children I also feel deeply for her. She suffered the same fate as Janet Frame, though it may be that her diagnosis of schizophrenia was accurate. I'm always pretty wary about these things.

Have you ever read a short story called the Yellow Wallpaper. It's a classic that deals with women, writing and madness. You can read it online. It was written by a woman named Charlotte Perkins Gilman. See: http://www.pagebypagebooks.com/Charlotte_Perkins_Gilman/The_Yellow_Wallpaper/The_Yellow_Wallpaper_p1.html
if you're interested.

Thanks, Little Hat.

Elisabeth said...

I think I picked up the expression out of whack from my husband, Jim. His family is several generations Australian and he spent most of his childhood living in the bush on a farm. His father started out as a wool classer and farmer. Therefore my husband has plenty of expressions which he uses so often that in time they have become part of my vocabulary. Expressions such as a dingo's breakfast consists of 'a drink of water and a good look around', or if something is obvious 'it sticks out like dog's balls'. He also uses a great deal of rhyming slang. Many folks in australia, at least of our generation do. Like my china derives from from china plate which rhymes with mate, meaning my friend.

I could go on. As for people's tea and coffee drinking habits to me talking about them is rather like talking about the weather. We all have our idiosyncrasies, our stories including those who avoid caffeine altogether.

As for conferences, I have a mixed relationship with them. So far I mostly enjoy them, but there's the odd one that's been more difficult and mostly the difficulties have to do with the audience and times in between talks when socialising is a necessity and it can be painful. Not for you,though.

As you say, you avoid conferences altogether. But I grew up in a large group: my family, as you well know, and in that sense I'm drawn to them, groups that is.

Thanks, Jim.

Elisabeth said...

I'd like to think my head is more settled today, Karen, at least more settled than it was on Sunday when I wrote this post but I can't say it is. The weekend events have passed but other events have caught up with them and taken over. Life's like that I reckon. Never a dull moment.

I'm not visiting my blog friends as much as I'd like. I seem to be trying hard to get through all the writing demands I've set myself beyond my work and my family life and all in all it's hard to give blogging the dedication I'd like, but I still dip in and out of other people's blogs when I can.

I'm sorry to hear about your sick friend. Situations like the one you describe highlight the value of skype though. It's such a blessing. In fact I find most technology a blessing. Its a different way of connecting and to my way of thinking it's not as bad as many of the naysayers suggest.

Thanks for your wonderful comment, Karen. It's always good to hear from you especially when you don't have a blog I can visit or not as far as I know.

Elisabeth said...

If I could write fiction, serious fiction, as do a few of my writing friends who lose themselves in their imaginations, I would love to go in between the lines, but I seem to be too much earth bound.

Time's a factor, as you would know. You need time to fictionalise, more time than to write non-fiction, or at least that's my take on it.

Thanks, Kath.

Elisabeth said...

My head's out of la-la land, Who, but maybe not yet fully balanced. My daughter's antics were perfectly reasonable the other morning. She was called out for work early and didn't want to wake us to let us know. The point for me here is that I could not remember whether she'd told me about it in advance.

Sometimes days and events slide into one another, and it's hard to keep abreast of it all.

Thanks for your support and kind words, Dusty Who.

Elisabeth said...

Elyn Saks made that point, Kirk, namely that a job in a supermarket could be stressful for anyone, and especially if it's something a person doesn't enjoy or is not particularly good at. As well, retail involves a fair degree of sociability.

Her point was that people with so-called mental illness are best encouraged to do what the are good at and what they enjoy rather than take up basic occupations in order to keep them less stressed. It's a bit like the old idea of basket weaving in hospital for people after a stroke for some of whom such activities can totally meaningless and/or demeaning.

Thanks, Kirk.

Elisabeth said...

Hot food and cold drink, Kirk. I can understand the yin and yang of that but what about the reverse: cold food such as raw food and ice cream, versus hot toddies and soup. I suppose the truth is we need both. What we like or prefer is another matter. Idiosyncratic.

Elisabeth said...

I agree, Christine, the business of placing others in lowly, supposedly non-stressful positions, can be more about the comfort of others than about the needs of the people so placed.

I'm glad you enjoyed the conference, too. As far as I'm concerned it was a real winner. What a day. It's still with me.

At least we managed a brief hello in the so-called real world, in time we'll make it longer.

Thanks, Christine.

Elisabeth said...

Yuk, indeed, Windsmoke. Tea and coffee mixed together sound revolting. At least I didn't get as far as trying them.

Thanks, Windsmoke.

Elisabeth said...

You have it in one, Elizabeth. The Freud conference is not Freudian, but in many ways analytic eclectic. Thank goodness.

I think you'd enjoy it here in Australia with our version of Earl Grey tea from England and our wonderful coffee.

Thanks, Elizabeth.

Elisabeth said...

There is always so much between the lines, Rosaria, as you say. It's a large part of the stuff that keeps us going on.

Thanks for the encouragement, Rosaria.

Elisabeth said...

I enjoy the occasional bout of rebellion against the status quo, India and relish the thought that maybe that's what my unconscious was aiming at.

Thanks for the insight. I'm glad you find the idea of my domestic scene charming. It has its moments, but essentially it's okay, or at least good enough.

Syd said...

So many of the mentally ill are on medications that put them in a stupor. Hopefully, that has been changed in recent years. I used to volunteer at a half-way house for mentally ill adults many years ago and what thorazine, stellazine and lithium did wasn't pretty. I don't know how some of those people held any kind of job.

Anonymous said...

Elisabeth, for me to maintain a blog would take dedication and clarity of thought - on a consistent basis.
I have a nagging thought that I may be afflicted with ADD.
I do know my mother was already drinking heavily before I was born but that doesn't mean I shouldn't try.
Karen C

little hat said...

I've written a bit more about Eve Langley including a lovely poem by her. http://mymissinglife.blogspot.com.au/2012/05/madness-eve-langley.html

Thanks for the other reference. I've dipped in and will return to complete my read asap.

Elisabeth said...

I worked with folks on long term antipsychotic medication in the seventies and early eighties, Syd, and what that medication did to them was horrendous. Tongue rolling and ataxia, among other things. The poor souls could not stand still for a minute.

You have to wonder what was worse their mental ill health or the consequences of their treatment. It's better these days, I reckon, but still not without its problems, especially for those assigned to a lifetime on powerful antipsychotics.

Thanks, Syd.

Elisabeth said...

I'm not sure that blogging requires much clarity of mind, Karen. I'm not sure how clear mine is from blog post to blog post. In fact I think blogs are ideal for folks who do not want to settle too long on an issue. Maybe that's unfair of me to suggest. There are many times when I wish I had much greater clarity of mind. Thanks again, Karen.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks for the link to your Eve Langley poem, Little Hat. It's beautiful and tragic - like her life - all rolled into one.

rhymeswithplague said...

My two thoughts on your post are completely unrelated.

1. Here in the states of the Old Confederacy, iced sweet tea is practically the Southern National Drink. My wife and I prefer hot tea (green, decaffeinated) with a teaspoonful of honey; it wards off bronchitis in the wintertime. It really does.

2. Just this morning I ran across the following quotation in my documents. How serendipitous! It seems to fit perfectly with your report of the conference:

"For last year's words belong to last year's language. And next year's words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning." --T.S. Eliot in "Little Gidding"

Bob Brague (Canton, Georgia, USA)