Susan M. Schultz

Susan M. Schultz is the author of several volumes of poetry and poetic prose, including Aleatory Allegories and And Then Something Happened from Salt Press, Memory Cards & Adoption Papers from the late Potes & Poets, and Dementia Blog from Singing Horse Press. She has edited two volumes of literary criticism, The Tribe of John: Ashbery and Contemporary Poetry (Alabama) and Multiformalisms: A Postmodern Poetics of Form (with Annie Finch, Textos). She wrote A Poetics of Impasse in Modern and Contemporary American Poetry (Alabama). She has edited Tinfish Press since its inception in 1995, and currently blogs about editing and other issues at her blog. Tinfish Press specializes in experimental poetry from the Pacific.

She spends her free time with her husband and two children in Hawai'i, where she teaches at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa and cheers for the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team.

What is (or has been) your favorite editing project and why?

My favorite editing projects have all involved random chance events or accidents. Most of the time the design work and the editorial work are quite separate, but there have been exceptions.

--Years ago, our art director, Gaye Chan, called me to say that someone had given her hundreds of hamburger sleeves, found in a woman's bathroom (of all places). We need to use them, she said. The sleeves are silver, with red cursive writing them, which read “hamburger.” So I asked Steve Carll, a poet who lives in Kaimuki, if he'd write us a little book about hamburgers that we could put in the sleeves. He said yes. I forgot he's a vegetarian. The result: a small book of poems written as a screed against meat. The designer, Ann Sakutori, made the books look like hamburgers—brown covers, some red pages for ketchup, images of tomatoes, onions, cows.

See here for details.

--Tinfish 12 was designed by a Korean designer, Jung Kim. She gave Gaye 350 copies of the cover she'd designed and waited for Gaye to exclaim at their beauty. They were beautiful. But . . . the covers were backwards! The designer had forgotten that English reads from front to back of the book, not back to front. I began to solicit translations from languages that read back to front. The graphic designer designed the book to open from the back. Once you open it and look at the table of contents, you have to turn it around and read it in the “right” way. I call it the “IQ” issue, because it's hard to figure out how to read it.

See here for details.


August 1, 2006

My 16th anniversary in Hawai'i, celebrated in Virginia.


--Shown a photograph of herself and Sangha (2 or 3 years ago), she doesn't recognize herself. That's my mother, she says.

--She looks around the house for her mother; asks the caregiver where her mother has gone. Gets on the phone to ask someone else where her mother is.

--When her mother died, she told me casually as we drove through Alexandria, days after it happened. I was in elementary school, wondered even then (especially then) why she expressed no emotion. Said she only wished her father had been a better father. He died before I was born, of alcohol, mostly.

--On our second day we go to Costco, in Sterling—the exurbs, full of strip malls, townhouse developments, mini-mansion areas, Versailles on Route Seven, at least three mega-churches with parking structures, one with two American flags as large as any attached to a car dealership—and, on our return, mom thinks we just arrived. What a surprise!

--What is your name? she asks Radhika.

--She's not my grandma! says Radhika. We explain to her that she has two grandmas, that this is the one she doesn't see very often.

--What was Africa like? Bryant asks mom. Can't say that in one sentence. I'll let you have three. It was very pleasant. (She was there during the second World War, told stories of ducking in ditches to avoid bombs, of seeing a dead body in a trash can.)

--Wants to know where the bottle of glue is. Needs to put stamps on an envelope. We explain that she can lick the stamp. She wants to cut stamps off an old envelope and put them on a new one. The new envelope has a miscellany of bills and announcements in it. I say we'll buy her stamps today and she can use them tomorrow.

--The power of tomorrow or even of an hour from now. Of later.

--To deal with a person with dementia you need to take a fiction workshop. How to tell the truth, but tell it slant. Therapeutic lying is what the agency people call it.

--Mom took the keys out of the door yesterday. At 4 a.m. Bryant found her pounding on the inside door to the garage. She opens the garage door at 4 every morning for the newspaper people. Sara gets up at 4 to open the door for her, but she is not here at night while we are visiting.

--The keys are the central characters in many of our fictions.

--To take Bush's freedom is on the march in the Middle East, or Rice's we can't have a ceasefire because we want a change in the status quo, which leads to a lasting peace. To take these and so many more "sayings," and reduce them to metaphorical rubble. Poetry can kill a man, wrote Stevens, though I think it's not so much the men as their mutterings we need to kill.

--Cheney was seen in a DC Borders buying a book on armies.

--Mel Gibson blames everything on the Jews. How original.

--The arc of my mother's life, from adventure and danger to the suburban fortress, from work to its refusal. Too serious about her parenting, there were too few accidents in my childhood.

--Parts of your mother are working pretty well today, Bryant says just now. It makes her less happy, he adds.

10 a.m.

--Mom goes for a walk. After 15 minutes I go in search of her. She's seated on a bench on someone's porch at the end of the street. When are you leaving for the day? she asks. I return to the house.

--After another 15 minutes, Sangha and Radhika and I head out with a bottle of water for Grandma Wawa. She's no longer on the bench. So we go to Connie's house, on the other side of mom's. Connie is away; usually, mom opens her door with the key and makes her coffee, usually in the morning, sometimes in the middle of the night on one of her wanders. Mom's there on the porch. I tell her Sara will be late because she's been stuck on the beltway for two hours in traffic. What I went through to get that woman out of my house, she says, and for you to invite her back. Mom, I say, lacking the therapeutic lie, you've got dementia, and you can't be in the house by yourself. They're all telling stories about me, she responds.

--And then the kids demanded cereal. More cereal, more milk.

12:30 p.m.

--What followed was anger. High decibel kine. Agitation, disturbance. Followed later by a quiet lunch. The cycling is fairly quick, as if years of our lives were streaming by, unimpeded by obstacle of clock or historical fact.

--I can't decide if it's the details that are moving, or the larger fact of her absence from us. She is still "herself," as one says, but lacks the anchor of consistent memory, or even the anger she used to sustain for days. Why is Wawa so angry? asks Radhika.

--The great generation, the one that refused weakness, aid, whose retrospection is more historical than personal, because introspection is a weakness.

--How do you spell butterfly slowly?

6:55 p.m.

--How do you spell slowly? The day has been slow, with many shifts of mood. As we left for Lisa's, mom was telling me that her caregiver had stolen from her (and more). On our return, Sara said she and mom had become good buddies.

--She told the man up the street on whose porch she sometimes sits that her heat wasn't working right. Virginia this time of year is over 90 degrees each day, the air thick with humidity. He came by, checked it out, told her the heat was working just fine.

--The best policy is to say yes. If she says, call your sister and tell her to take you home, you say yes. If she says, call a taxi and get that woman out of my house, you say yes. I said no. She screamed at me: whose house is this anyway? How dare you say no to me!

--How to govern my tendency to repeat myself. The pull back, the desire, not for revenge, but for intervention, to say (again) what is wrong and what is right. Of course you trust your mother, even when she's not "right." Of course you trust her.

--We force her to take medications she never would submit to taking herself. That they would have made her better then means only that now she is slightly more calm in her askew-ity.

--The old episodes of rage return in their clarity, but do not make more sense than they had. In this instance, the effect cannot explain the cause. Does dementia uncensor the tongue, like alcohol? Or does dementia cause an utterly new violence? Does the demented person mourn her loss of culture, as Lissa puts it? Or are her mind's chemicals suddenly awash in the substance of anger itself, merely attaching to specific objects, ideas?

--Alan, who suffered an early dementia, would get angry, and then sweet, would forget, and then be acute, at least for a time. The intellect, before it goes out, returns as paranoia, as anger, as interpretation that can only reveal one's own weakness, against which only the will seems an appropriate weapon. The words still come, and they still mean things. But they do not mean the right things.

--Acute neurotics always create the circumstances in which their greatest fears will be realized.

--Mom's caregiver Sara lost her son to a brain tumor earlier this year. The smell of blood in the hospital. She gave him injections, because she had to, though they had made her sick.

--She's lost even the dream of suicide.

--None of this is new. Dementia is bricolage, is collage, is mixed-up syntax. It is nothing new. To describe it is to say nothing new. It cannot be analyzed, because its origins, and its ends, cannot be located. The maps are hanging from laundry lines in a humid country; the ink that is their roads has dripped off the dark paper that had enclosed them.

--Sangha calms himself with "the air force." He flies two paper airplanes around the room for an hour, making their sounds himself. Beside the Pentagon three huge blue curved spikes are going up. A memorial to the Air Force. Franco could devise no more gaudy monument. Elsewhere, a Marine Corps monument will be built. I support the troops.

--With age, the world becomes more literal. Then curves off into the no-time of the old mother playing hide-and-seek with her dead mother. Where is she? And if she were to find her mother, what then? They who never could abide.

--Sangha's drama emerges from the bathroom. Radhika and Bryant chant about rice in the pot, three days old. We called Tiare, who says Tor slaps her on the cheek each morning at 6 a.m. Who only eats with company.

--Have you taken my keys? Have you taken my phone? Are you eating my food? Are you stealing my money? What are you still doing here? When are you leaving?

--And so what do we do? Some of us tell fart jokes in the back seat, or tell us that we smell, or make childish pacts, or play jan ken po with both hands at a Mexican restaurant. And others of us watch those who play jan ken po and are content that such moments are still possible. Just don't look at tomorrow's newspaper.

--Why is six afraid of seven? Joseph asks. Because seven eight nine, he answers.

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