Oh, hello there. Welcome back to plzplztalk2me, a semi-regular feature in which I talk to folks who want to talk to me about stuff they want to talk about.
Recently, I corresponded with Andrea Lambert. Lambert wrote Jet Set Desolate (Future Fiction London: 2009), Lorazepam & the Valley of Skin: Extrapolations on Los Angeles (valeveil: 2009) and the chapbook G(u)ilt (Lost Angelene, 2011). Her writing appears in 3:AM Magazine, Fanzine, Entropy, Angel’s Flight Literary West, HTMLGiant, Queer Mental Health and elsewhere. Her work is anthologized in Haunting Muses, Writing the Walls Down: A Convergence of LGBTQ Voices, The L.A. Telephone Book Vol. 1, 2011-2012, Off the Rocks Volume #16: An Anthology of GLBT Writing and elsewhere. Lambert paints in figurative mixed media oils critically referenced as “kitchy maximalism.” Her artwork features in Angel’s Flight Literary West, Entropy, Hinchas de Poesias, Queer Mental Health and Anodyne Magazine. CalArts MFA. Website: andreaklambert.com. Twitter: @AndreaLamber.
p.e. garcia: You mentioned before that you’ve contributed to HTMLGiant in the past. What do you hope the new HTMLGiant retains of the old HTMLGiant?
Andrea Lambert: I took a look at the new HTMLGiant before answering this question to investigate the nature of the beast. Formatting first, I’m glad to see the twinkling star backdrop still being used. The Internet and Earth are all just floating in space. Familiarity is comforting. Plus it’s easy of the eyes.
The guest post I wrote for HTMLGiant in 2012 was a review for a Les Figues Press event called “Q.E.D. – Part 3: An evening of Authentic Objects” moderated by Vanessa Place. I liked that the old HTMLGiant covered the goings-on of the literary community and fascinating dialogues that took place therein. Writers are readers and readers are writers. Entropy Magazine which came somewhat out of HTMLGiant’s ashes serves a similar function.
I hope the new HTMLGiant is still for and about literature with some fun humor bits thrown in there. Looking at the site now it seems to be.
garcia: What do you think about the numerous sites that have sprouted out of the old HTMLGiant? You mentioned Entropy; what do you think about Queen Mob’s Tea House? Dark Fucking Wizard? Ballballballball?
Lambert: I’ve never read the latter three you mentioned. I’ve heard good things about Queen Mob’s Tea House. Love the name as I love faeries. Haven’t heard of the other two. It is great that there are so many out there.
I write for Entropy’s food section. Ardently peruse their “Where to Submit” listings when I have new work. Consult their Small Press Database for research. Entropy is my favorite magazine for writers as it acts as both outlet, media, vehicle and resource.
garcia: What are some other litmags/lit sites you’re enjoying these days?
I suppose Buzzfeed isn’t a lit site but they seem like a good source of news these days given the “kompromat” I learned today from that red-hot dirty dossier. “Kompromat” is the word of 2017.
garcia: I’m very interested in mental illness, which is a bit of an ineloquent way of introducing the subject. I’ve struggled with mental illness most of my life. I was talking a little bit with Sandra Simonds the other day, and she mentioned that she thinks there needs to be a better model of mental healthcare for leftists–one that isn’t inherently misogynistic or bigoted. What do you think about current mainstream models of mental health?
Lambert: I am happy to talk about mental illness. It’s a stigmatized taboo subject that merits further investigation. For the most part I am extremely thankful that modern psychiatry and the government’s way of handling it has evolved to the point that it has by 2017. Thanks to SSDI and Medicare I am able to get the five psychiatric medications and benefits that permit me to live a limited yet creatively functional life outside of an institution.
Mental health care has progressed far past the abuses I saw in American Horror Story: Asylum or the Scientologist ”Psychiatry: An Industry of Death” Museum. Asylum is set in 1964. Not that long ago. As an out queer since I was 15 I am thankful homosexuality is no longer pathologized. Reading Victorian lists of behaviors people used to be put in asylums for I understand how lucky I am to be able to live independently in this magical modern era. In the past I would have been burnt at the stake or chained to the wall of an asylum to rot. I studied Antonin Artaud with Stephen Barber at CalArts. Artaud received a truly excessive amount of electroshock therapy. That too I would prefer to avoid.
All this medication permits me to be fairly high-functioning for a mentally ill person. It’s cheaper and easier for everyone involved to allow me to handle what of my own shit that I can. That is: most of it. I just can’t work at a remunerative job anymore. But I can produce art and writing so that is what I do instead to give back to the society that tolerates and supports me. My SSDI functions as the NEA grant I would never get in the current Republican political climate.
The neurodiverse brain is different from the neurotypical brain. Mental illness is a legitimate medical disability. I am disabled. Thus I work extremely hard at the few things that I can still do and am educated for. Division of labor based on skill set. “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” as Marx says. I am happy to provide free entertainment and content as that is all my disability permits me to do. I am thankful the current mainstream mental health model allows this satisfactory equation to persist.
However, having once been diagnosed with hysteria in the psych ward while in graduate school I would say that there is still room for improvement in mental health treatment. The mustachioed psychiatrist said to me at Langley-Porter hospital, “Hysteria is when something happens to a woman that we don’t understand.” I researched Charcot’s theory of hysteria and subsequent abuses of female sexuality for a book I was working on in 2006. Misogynistic, nightmarish old psychiatry used to oppress women. Hysteria as a theory is long past it’s expiration date. My female County Mental Health’s psychiatrist’s diagnosis of a psychotic break and seizure brought about by taking expired medication seemed much more plausible.
garcia: I’m horrified–though unfortunately not surprised–that someone would diagnose you with something as both antiquated and blatantly misogynistic as “hysteria.” It reminds me of a psychiatrist I had when I was institutionalized who once sarcastically told a suicidal patient that was going to prison to “enjoy his time in jail.” I also recently had a psychiatrist who told me that he didn’t consider my suicide attempts as “legitimate.”
Something I ask folks a lot–as it’s something I struggle with–how do you know when you’ve found a good psychiatrist or therapist? What do you look for?
Lambert: You know, I too was so horrified by the hysteria thing I wrote a chapbook about it called “Lexapro Diary.” Sent it out a bit last month, we’ll see.
Having spent ten years going to County Mental Health I have had my share of good and bad psychiatrists. Those Haldol injections? Only getting fifteen minutes with a psychiatrist once every three months? Nurses who couldn’t contact my psychiatrist and just told me to go to the ER when I called in crisis? Not what I would call good psychiatry. I understand that government low-income services are strained to their breaking point. Have a high burnout rate. That’s a tragedy but I’m grateful those rudimentary services still exist at all.
I am thankful to now have private health care providers. Currently I have an excellent psychiatrist and therapist both in Los Angeles that I do phone sessions with. I know they are good because they are both female, take Medicare, are reliable, don’t judge me for my religion or lifestyle choices, and both before and after my move have remained accessible and in contact. This permits me to stay functional.
When I look for and assess psychiatrists what I’m looking for is someone who will listen to me when I request to stay on my current medication or change a medication that’s not working. Allow me to refuse medications as I now refuse Haldol and Thorazine. Doesn’t change all my meds on the first visit as many male psychiatrists will. Accepts the diagnosis I was given previously and doesn’t feel the need to re-diagnose. Signs and completes what governmental paperwork I must bring them. Prescribes liberal benzodiazepines as that’s all that’s effective against my raging anxiety disorder. Will allot me further emergency Xanax as needed like around the holidays. Calls/e-files and refills prescriptions monthly or gives adequate refills if we’re skipping a monthly appointment. Has nice support staff that I can call and coordinate appointments and medication with when necessary. It helps if they seem to care about me even if they’re just pretending to as it’s their job.
I’ve been mentally ill for twenty years. This is not my first rodeo.
In therapists I look for someone who is a good listener. Helps me make important life decisions. Let’s the session be about my problems not theirs. Gives helpful advice and guidance that I see improve my life over time. Is reachable by email if no support staff as they usually don’t have. Respects the mutually agreed upon boundaries of the medical relationship. Has some understanding and expertise on creatives, the LGBT and widows. Recommends TV and films that I should watch to learn from. Gives me the validation of their reality check sane person opinions.
Most mental health care providers, in fact, most people including me, have a healthy
respect for the supernatural. My preferred mental health providers understand that for mentally ill people such dabbling can he helpful and healing. My current therapist shares my fondness for Tarot and ghosts which is wonderful. Witchcraft is certainly a better hobby than my former alcoholism as per things to do alone inside at night. Harm reduction tolerance in all forms is preferred.
garcia: How do you draw any connections between your own art (of any kind) and mental illness?
I have Schizoaffective Disorder, anxiety and PTSD. Schizoaffective Disorder is concurrent Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia but a less severe case of each. Just as having these lifelong incurable genetic illnesses has shaped my life they have thoroughly shaped my creative work.
I went on SSDI right after getting my MFA from CalArts. My Schizophrenic break of 2008 made teaching or employment impossible. For the next almost a decade now I have been solely devoted to creative work with occasional volunteer literary organizing. My mental illness gives me the free time to be a writer and artist. My mental illness enables me to be creative as it disables me from doing anything else. Except self-care, yoga and cooking which don’t help anyone other then myself.
I write novels, essays and poetry about being mentally ill as that is the only perspective which I am familiar with. A woman in a writing group I was part of in 2010 said that she found the mental illness inherent in my “Scaffolding” manuscript “sickening.” I apologize if my disability is repulsive to some readers. I have already apologized for my genetic disability so many times that I am running out of regrets. Not quite out of fucks to give but getting there. Reading my work is a choice. It’s not like I have any choice but to be this way.
I use the detritus of my mental illness in my mixed media oil paintings. My Hollywood and NSFW Series use pill bottles and Saphris casings as hot glue-gunned
borders. I used Mod Podge image transfers of my old prescription leaflets with oil paint over them for those two Los Angeles series. The alchemy of art is turning the struggle into decoration.
Now I live in Reno instead of Los Angeles. The cockroach infestation that drove me out of Hollywood may have been partially brought on by my art hoarding. I’ll never know. Hollywood is cockroach paradise. Thus I don’t save my prescription bottles to make art anymore. New circumstances bring new material. Such as the forty years worth of National Geographics in my grandma’s basement that I am collaging for my in-process Reno Basement Series.
garcia: What do think about death?
Lambert: I think everyone dies in their time. Death and aging are inevitable and inexorable. I really didn’t expect to live to be 40. At this point I am absolutely thrilled to still be alive.
My beloved wife Katie Jacobson committed suicide in 2012. I found her body the next morning. Since then my Schizoaffective Disorder gifts me the healing delusion that I can communicate with her ghost. This manifestation helps me to cope with the pain of widowhood. I entertain the delusion that I communicate wth my dead grandparents. When I meditate in the morning I pray to the ghosts of what dead ancestors I know the names of. It can’t hurt, and really, it helps.
For the month of January 2017 I am taking care of my one remaining grandparent before moving alone into a house. Grandma is 99. Being this close to someone who could die at any moment yet is hanging on with this indomitable will and amazing lack of dementia is intense. Finding one body in one’s life is enough. I would prefer not to be the one to find my grandmother’s.
Watching grandma and the tight-knit extended family she created prepare for her death as we have been for some time now has got me thinking a lot about death. How society deals with what is left behind. Legacy. Primogeniture. The life cycles of vintage clothing and antiques. How I would prefer my own death to go in another forty or fifty years. Not that we ever really have any control over our own death. It’s always a surprise.
January 8, 2017 Nevada’s Truckee River and much of Reno flooded. I mustered every Girl Scout teaching of my youth to prepare for possible evacuation. The Girl Scout Motto is “Be Prepared.” When I lay down to sleep that night I had completely come to terms with the fact that I might drown in my sleep and never wake up. I said the Lord’s Prayer after I took my Saphris and I’m not even a Christian. I was quite deliberate about how I wanted my body to be found if that was to be what happened. Fully clothed in Adidas leggings wrapped around my laptop with my arm looped around a fringed handbag of medication clutching my iPhone. Let them figure me out by the machines that would outlive me. Yet I did wake up the next day. Now that I have prepared to die once I feel a bit more ready for it when it does finally come along.
garcia: It seems beyond insufficient to say that I’m sorry to hear about your wife; there aren’t words to contain that kind of loss. I’m glad, though, that you have your meditation and your communication and your ghosts. It’s interesting me to think of a ghost not as something that can haunt you, but rather as something that can comfort you.
I think I used to be obsessed with death in a very dark way; I was never able to let it go that I would (and could) die at any moment. I don’t know if I’ve let that go or just repressed it, but I feel more mystical about it these days.
You described a situation in which you imagined how you might like to be found, but what would you like to happen after? Both to your body and to your ghost?
Lambert: I’ll never get over my wife’s death or remarry. My future home in February will have her funeral photo over the fireplace. As the widow of a brilliant yet very young writer who did not get the recognition she deserved while she was alive I feel like keeping her memory alive is my sovereign duty. I leave the Featherless and Lost Angelene websites up as online memorials to her so that she can be digitally remembered.
Being mystical about death is about the only way to cope with it’s inevitability and cruelty. We don’t have any idea about what happens next so it’s amusing and comforting to imagine things.
Ideally, I would like my body to be cremated as my wife was. Put in the mausoleum with a plaque at Hollywood Forever Cemetery where we had her funeral. Hollywood Forever is such a sacred place to me that even when I still lived in Los Angeles I couldn’t go there after her death for Day of the Dead or cult film screenings.
How cute, I’m already so morbid I’ve chosen my preferred cemetery. Turning 40 will do that to you.
If I do end up a ghost? My fondest dream is to haunt whatever museum I hope a few of my paintings end up in. Or the LGBT museum where the hers and hers couture Louis Verdad weddings gowns we wore at our in Prop 8 circa 2011 wedding could be historically placed. Ideally. Everything may end up at Out of the Closet or farmed out to what living relatives remain. Haunting the young girls who buy my vintage dresses and books from thrift shops would be fun. I don’t know. I‘m sure I will care substantially less about all that when I am dead.
The day after I thought I would die last week I started writing a new book about artist ghosts haunting a museum on another planet in the future called “After the Apocalypse.” It’s the first book I’ve written that’s all imaginary Sci Fi speculation so that’s escapist fun. Inspired by William Gibson. It’s something to do. I’ll just add that book to the iCloud of unpublished manuscripts that have accrued thus far. Currently four in the queue.
Other places I would like to haunt? What a fun question! If anyone ever does a seance for me, of course. That’s polite. The odd anonymous Ouija Board but kindly, I don’t want to be a poltergeist. That’s not nice. My House of the Rising Sun where I hope I live until my death and would prefer to die. It would be nice to haunt and comfort whoever remembers and misses me after I’m gone, if anyone.
I like the idea of ancestral ghosts. As I don’t have any children and neither does my only sibling the only living generation remaining to haunt if I do live a full life would be my cousin’s children. If any of them I’ve met remember me when they grow up.
There is power in naming. If I end up a ghost and some witch or psychic or old friend or relative invokes my name I’ll try to manifest. I’ll haunt what parts of the Internet I remain on. Anyone who reads my writing or owns one of my paintings. Eternity is a long time.
All that is an appealing fantasy, anyway.There are a lot of “If’s” here. In dystopian times such as these such fantasies are comforting and entertaining. That’s what writers are for.
I., Double Teamed, Widow, and Three Ladies by Andrea Lambert.
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