Monday, August 4, 2014

Scene 17: a brief psychotic break

Late Saturday night, after hours of cleaning up water (thanks Mt. St. Helens for possessing my toilet), I was trying to sleep, but couldn't so I was scrolling through facebook. As you do.

This graphic came across my feed:

My heart was suddenly racing, pumping blood through my veins so fast, I shot out of bed and ran downstairs, thrusting said graphic in my husband's face.

"What is this?" he asked.

I was hyperventilating and it took me about thirty seconds to answer. "That's my poem. Someone made a meme out of my poem and didn't put my name on it!  That's mine. Those are my words!!!" I fumbled with my phone for a minute then shoved it in his face again. "See, it's on my blog. I wrote that."

Click here to see the blog post.

During the next ten minutes, my husband decided we had to follow up on this and listed off all the ways this could make us rich... to which I rolled my eyes. And my mind just kept circling the loop of "those are my words!"

It took me a while to go to sleep, trying to decide on the appropriate reaction/action. I, of course, sent messages out to some of my most trusted friends. Finally, settled on the fact that by morning I'd have some good advice to follow, including that of a lawyer/friend, I fell asleep.

The next morning, I sent a fb message to the author who had posted the graphic letting him know that the poem belonged to me and asking him to either take the graphic down or put my name on it. I referenced my blog post and also the notebook were I had originally jotted the poem down one day in Sunday School. He immediately took it down. He was very gracious about it, apologized even. He even helped me think of ways to tackle the situation, how to track down the graphics creator, gave me the suggestion of creating my own memes and also offered to add my poem in his upcoming book about moving forward so that I could have a published source to point people to. Again, very gracious.

The lawyer/friend, okay my friend whose husband is a lawyer, suggested I google the poem itself and see if anything popped up.  WOW!  Mind=BLOWN! 142,000,000 hits. Did you catch that? One-hundred and forty-two million hits.

The poem was everywhere: being sold on Etsy as both vinyls and already made signboards and also printed on t-shirts; there were hundreds of thousands of memes and other graphics; someone was using it to promote their own book; I found a radio broadcast/blogsite that had dedicated an entire 1 hr radio show to the breakdown of the poem. I was totally freaking out.  Almost every site claimed the author was unknown. A few named random people responsible for the words. Some had made memes of it copyrighted it to their website. I was both infuriated and humbled. But, the question was: How would I ever reclaim my words?

It was like someone had stolen a piece of my soul, repacked it and sent it out into the world. I felt violated and so naked. I felt robbed of my vulnerability. I had to do whatever I could to reclaim what was mine. After all I wrote it in the first place as a form of reclamation. I couldn't bear to have it stripped away from me.

I started by commenting on various sites were memes were posted, posters were being advertised, even contacted the radio show personality, asking them all to either put my name to the poem, or take it down, pointing them to my blog post as proof that I had written the poem.  One lady kept deleting my comments on her meme, so I kept reposting  and then I emailed her a few times for good measure. Dang it! Those are my words.

Then a funny thing happened. After literally hours of clicking on every hit that google brought up, probably after going through at least ninety different pages where the poem was quoted, I found a blog dated February 12, 2009. Wait. What?

The next hit brought up a post from April 2011. The next November 2008. The next August 2012. All of them dated before I had even written the poem, let alone put it on my blog. How in the hell world?

Suddenly, my life was the Twilight Zone. I called down to my husband insisting he come up to talk to me. I showed him the aforementioned sites. "Tell me I'm not going crazy? Tell me I'm not having a psychotic breakdown."

He just looked at me.

"Seriously. I remember every detail about writing this poem. I remember sitting in church thinking about agency and wanting to take control of my life. I remember thinking 'what is it that I really want? What do I choose for myself?' I remember tuning out the lesson and really pondering what I wanted... I wanted to be free. More than anything I just wanted my life to be my own. I remember why I chose each word specifically. I remember why I wrote that I choose to be motivated and not manipulated. I grew up in a sea of manipulation. It was drowning me. I didn't want that anymore. How is this possible? How does something like this happen?" I demanded. "I remember. I know I wrote this."

At that point, I started to cry.

My dear husband hugged me a said, "Honey if you remember writing it, then I'm sure you did. There are all kinds of hackers out there, maybe they just fudged the dates on their blogs so they could take the credit." I knew he was wrong.

I also knew I was right. I had written those words. I just couldn't explain what was happening. For at least three hours I thought to myself: I'm going to end up in a strait jacket by tomorrow.

Then my sister called me. At some point, in my hours of tidying up my life in preparation for the nut house, I'd sent out more messages to my trusted friends and family letting them know that I was obviously crazy or something, explaining my Twilight Zone moment.  My sister did some of her own research. She found cryptomnesia.

Cryptomnesia-- occurs when a forgotten memory returns without it being recognized as such by the subject, who believes it is something new and original. It is a memory bias whereby a person may falsely recall generating a thought, an idea, a song, or a joke, not deliberately engaging in plagiarism but rather experiencing a memory as if it were a new inspiration.

My whole world went numb. For the first time in over 15 hours, my heart slowed, my breathing evened out, my head stopped swimming. Everything was quiet.

I need to be clear, I, in all honesty, have no recollection of reading this poem at any point in my life. This whole situation still feels so surreal. I can't comprehend it. That must be what happened, but... all I remember is writing those words from the depths of my soul. This manifesto, as I called it, still feels very much mine, a vital piece of me, a transformative catalyst for my healing. In the end, however, my magnificent brain simply provided me with the exact words I needed in the exact moment I needed them. How amazing is that?

In researching this phenomenon, I read that a similar incident happened to Helen Keller and that she was so traumatized by it that she never could bring herself to write fiction again. Not that she couldn't allow herself, she just literally couldn't do it. I completely understand that. To create something you feel so enmeshed in, that feels so a part of you, only to discover it never really belonged to you is perhaps the most unsettling thing I have ever experienced. I feel so empty.

Nevertheless, I have no intention of not writing every day for the rest of my life. And even though I didn't originally create this poem, the moment I wrote it in my notebook it became a very tangible part of me and I'm a better woman for it. I can't possibly begrudge or regret that.

There is a theory that there is no such thing as an original thought. That all ideas are created by other thoughts and ideas that we have absorbed from others. I guess it's true.

However, C.S. Lewis has said, "Even in literature and art no man that bothers with originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without having noticed it."

So... I think I'll just Keep Calm and Write On!

*Also, I'll be writing apologies to everyone I slandered/threatened/or called out for plagiarism during my brief psychotic break. As you do.

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