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Friday, February 22, 2013


[Related Post: MEMORY by Erin Virgil]

I am so honored to receive Erin Virgil's HANDBOOK FOR WITHDRAWAL as a new mini-book for SitWithMoi!

After reading HANDBOOK FOR WITHDRAWAL for the first time, I was reminded of Susan Schultz's work in crafting poetry from experiencing her mother's lapse to dementia, in part presented in her (recommended by Moi) book DEMENTIA BLOG (Singing Horse Press). In her book, Susan says in a Foreword, "Dementia destroys the self, but that destruction is oddly, horribly, poetic."

Erin's mini-book is, from her Author's Note, "a few notes I took between Thanksgiving 2012 (when I finally went off Cymbalta--a drug I'd been on for a decade--for good), and New Year's Day, when I finally felt steady."

Erin wasn't "destroyed" by her experience -- all you  have to do is read her Blog to sense her wonderful non-impaired spirit.  But as with Susan's experience with dementia, Erin's experience also generated poetic moments, such as this

the comic book version and the real script may
switch places: just a side effect of withdrawal

as well as this
If you are withdrawing from SSRIs in a cold climate, remember
to wrap up your kidneys, keep them warm. They are decision-
makers, and they don't like being cold.

"SSRIs," as helpfully explained in the mini-book, stands for "Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor" and refers to how, during the first 24 hours of drug withdrawal, "there is something called 'SSRI Discontinuation Syndrome,' which is the brain realigning itself, a process that can take up to two months."

Here are two more "poetic" moments (as always on this blog, you can click on images to enlarge them):

memory comes back in a
     basket which has
          one handle only and

people may say
you look more sincere
off the meds

they are probably right

It would be crass, of course, to just focus on what's "poetic" about the mini-book's content.  I don't know anything about Erin's medical history, but I'm happy for Erin that she's gone off Cymbalta if it was not or had ceased helping her ("90 mg a day x 10 years, / that's what you took"). As she notes in her mini-book, "People have been messing with serotonin for a long time, with mixed results."

Synchronistically, as I was in the middle of writing my engagement with Erin's mini-book, Susan Yount's package of books arrived, including her MINI BOOK but also OVERPASS, a fabulous collection of poems by Steve Davenport.  I want to share OVERPASS' front cover image here as the pill-festooned tree resonated even more when I saw it whilst in the midst of engaging with Erin's HANDBOOK FOR WITHDRAWAL:

Given its topic, it's fitting that HANDBOOK FOR WITHDRAWAL is such a physical object.  That is, its physicality is one of the first things you notice about it.  The book and its pages are thickened from glue so that handling the mini-book is a much more tactile experience than handling the average paperback. Yet, despite the thickened pages, one also gets a sense of fragility from how the pages are sewn by a very thin, loose thread to the binding so that the pages move around a little within its covers.  When combined by the mini-book's palette of brown and tan, the mini-book becomes a metaphor for a body -- entirely fitting, as I said, given the narratives contained therein.  I'm even happy the book is larger than SitWithMoi's targeted 2" x 2" as the topic seems to warrant a larger scale (it's 3.75" x 3").

Aptly, then, the book also won't lie flat because of its thickened pages and cover.  Here's what it looks like when it's laid down on a table:

I think the effect is also fitting.  Because if Erin just got off Cymbalta in late 2012, then the story of who she is when not on the drugs (that didn't alleviate the "sad[ness] in [her] heart") has only just begun to be written (and includes HANDBOOK FOR WITHDRAWAL in this new beginning).  The book is still open ... there isn't yet a conclusion with which to close it.  Thus, I'm happy to close with what's actually the first page of Erin's mini-book, that says:
before, chemicals wrote
on your bones

but there are blank lines
on your rib bones, and
the hammer in your ear.
     proceed. write their
This may be a "mini" book, but HANDBOOK FOR WITHDRAWAL is a huge-hearted testament to human resiliency and Erin's own vibrant spirit.  Thank you for sharing, Erin.

And now: where oh where shall we "shelve" Erin's mini-book?  Well, I guess it'll be on the rocker which was made by a craftsman who also ... persevered!


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