Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Notes on illness, regression, and poetry

I am really, really, really done with the sore throat and cough thing. But it is not done with me. So here I lie, laptop on lap, my mental capacity so diminished that all that comes to mind is memories of being sick as a kid and watching television. Yet I feel strangely compelled to share those memories with you.

Ha! You thought you were getting some deep, Freud-inflected think-piece! Not when I'm this addled, hon.

So. As a little kid I was sick fairly often. I did not like school, and thus developed a repertoire of vague complaints which I was able to burnish into viable excuses for staying home whenever I needed to. (The low-grade fever was a particular specialty; I somehow managed it without holding the thermometer under the light.) My illness established, the black-and-white television was then ceremoniously hauled into my room, and I settled into a full day of viewing (highlighted by Kraft Mac and Cheese at lunchtime--which I ordered extra-runny). I got pretty familiar with reruns of Andy Griffith and I Love Lucy, although to this day I find the latter borderline unwatchable.* I can't stand shows in which the entire experience involves watching someone become more and more humiliated. Plus all the screeching. But I did not turn the show off, because Gilligan's Island, or maybe it was the Banana Splits, was on next, and you could not turn off the TV for fear that it might never come back on.

Then as now, there were talk shows. I was a big fan of Mike Douglas, because he had Sly Stone on a lot. And David Brenner. But it was not Mike who spurred me into the flight of poetic expression that really put me on the fourth-grade literary map.** That was Phil Donahue. It was one of those great class assignments the adult author always remembers as a turning point. It went like this: Write a bunch of poems. So I wrote a bunch, and then (because we had to do a total of five, or ten, or whatever) I tossed in this couplet, titled Donahue:


Every time I have the flu
Dry toast, ginger ale, and you.

As always happens in artistic endeavors, the teacher was completely unimpressed with the poems I had actually worked on. But he went nuts for this one. He wrote "Wonderful!!" in huge letters next to it, and I believe he put it on the board.

What is the point of this little tale? Is it that effort is worthless in art, and that true art can only occur serendipitously? That my teacher was a cynic of some sort, who was having his own private joke on all of us*** kids, after which he repaired to his Gremlin to smoke and drink from a flask? That rhymed poetry is amazingly memorable? Is it time for another Ricola?

*Actually the former is now totally unwatchable.

**May have been fifth grade, or sixth. Actually, as I think about this even more, I may have written the poem in college. But the point is, I was--and am--recalling a formative childhood experience. I'm sick, OK? I don't remember.

***Possibly college-age

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