Hallucinations, Writing and Literacy

Okay, I officially understand why drug addicts like to get high.  Yesterday culminated in a whopper of a sinus infection.  I used to get them often and was thrilled to be infection free for about seven years.  Unfortunately, sinus infections are like accidently slurping down a cupful of sour milk.  Once you’ve experienced it, you will never forget.

My teeth were ready to fall out, my head throbbed and my cheekbone ached.  Enter a nice pharmacist who gave me the strongest over the counter meds to help ease the symptoms.  Wow, were they strong!

I think I hallucinated in my dreams.  They (take your pick, the dreams or the hallucinations within the dreams) were vibrant, imaginative and filled with nuances that piled up like blankets on a cold winter night.  Amazing. 

Writing is a bit like that.  We come to the paper with unique ideas and layer them with plots, subplots, characters, setting and voice.  In the rough draft stage creativity flows and it’s a little like hallucinating.  Some things make sense, while others seem to pop out of nowhere for the sole purpose of being pretty distractions.

However, hallucinations aren’t the only side effects of taking meds.  My stomach hurts, I’m exhausted and I feel shaky, as if there is a disconnect between my brain and my fingers.  Reality seems just outside my grasp.  Even within my mind, it is hard to focus on any one thing.  I start thinking about dogs and find myself considering the merits of recycling only seconds later.  My world exists in bits and pieces. 

In my writing and in my life, I welcome the return to reality–a place where my head doesn’t ache, my ears don’t ring and hallucinations don’t haunt me.  I would hate to live in a world where I felt high all the time, and I firmly believe people would be less apt to use illicit chemicals if they knew the magic that books held.  After all, drugs are often used to escape one’s reality.

In books, fanciful worlds emerge between the covers.  Colorful characters and sinister settings pull us throught the pages on adventures never before dreamed of.  Intricate plots weave together to make spell-binding stories come to life.  For just a few moments, hours or days, we can slip into an alternate reality with no side effects.

Studies have proven a direct link between literacy levels, criminal activity and poverty.  Drugs are a common component in the lives of illiterate individuals.  These problems compound, perpetuating the cycle between poor literacy and poor living environments.  True escape becomes increasingly more difficult as these life patterns become more ingrained.

Have you considered your part, as a writer, in perpetuating literacy?  Have you participated in, or made plans to participate in, literacy campaigns or programs? 

What can you do on a personal level to create future readers?  Or, is it even our responsibilty to do so?

14 responses to “Hallucinations, Writing and Literacy

  1. I guess my biggest contribution is that all of my gifts to the children in my life are books. Finding the right ones is an adventure (and I usually end up reading the book first to make sure it’s appropriate). 🙂

  2. I bet you are doing your part: as a parent you are always the primary teacher. Don’t let the formal education system tell you otherwise. You talk to your kids, have books and other literature around, read to them. And not every kid will become reader but at least you did your part. Also, get to know your kids’ teachers and also listen to them explain your kids progress in school, the areas they need working. You are your best kids’ advocate and fight for any support they need to succeed in school. Then rest.

    You want to improve education of others so make sure families are strengthened in any way can be. Two parent families always make a difference. Eat dinner together. If you don’t do your job first, your kid is handicapped before they even enter school. You are always the primary teacher. I raised two so I have some idea.

    • Siggy,

      Thanks for bringing the message home about the fact that literacy starts in the home. A stable homelife always gives kids a leg up in the world. However, not all kids have two parent families with dinner on the table and books on the night stand.

      Is it our responsibility to help these children who lack what we so easily, naturally and readily give our own?

  3. How many of us turn to books to “escape” from reality? I know I do, and in a way, reading is like a nice drug.

    We need to keep our school libraries funded well since they are often the ONLY source of books for poor kids. Parents providing good examples to their kids by reading, reading to them, and having their kids read aloud to them help out a lot, too.

    • Christina,

      Good point about the libraries. They are a free source of books for kids–many of whom would never be exposed otherwise. My best memories were of the library.

      Ways to help out our libraries can be donating used books for book sales, purchasing new library bound books and donating those or simply handing over a cash donation. Libraries are the bomb.

  4. Like many, I’ve always thought of volunteering for literacy programs, but never have. Instead, I try to help other writers all that I can.

    • Barbara,

      I think volunteering your time can be hard in our day and age. Every little bit counts, including helping other writers put valuable literature in the hands of youngsters. Thanks for all you do.

  5. I am raising money for a literacy charity called First Book this year. They provide books to poor children and help them learn to read.

    Every month when I meet my writing goals my sponsors (3 people so far) make a donation in my honor to First Book. If I fail to meet my monthly writing goal, then *I* have to make the donation instead, so either way, the charity wins.

    I can’t take credit for the great idea though. My friend Ami Hendrickson came up with it and she and I (and her husband) are collaborating on a website to try and promote this. The site is called MyGoalPosts.com and we’re trying to win a Pepsi Refresh grant to get it up and running and keep it that way.

    If you have a big goal in your life it’s a great way to stay accountable to your friends and family and also raise money for a great cause. So far this year I’ve raised $30 for them and hope to get more sponsors as the year goes on.

    • Kelly, that is awesome. What a great idea and a wonderful goal. I hope you get the Pepsi deal and the recognition to help make this a sustainable project. I wish you the best and will check in on your goals.

      : )

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I appreciate the time.

  6. As a teacher, I do this every day. We’ve had a lot of workshops this year, so I’ve had several substitute teachers in my room. Each and every one of them has commented on the fact that the best part of the day was independent reading. My kids love to read. The older kids in the school still come to my room instead of the library to borrow books because I have a much better selection 🙂

    • Jemi,

      Maybe the government would be best off cloning you and putting you in every classroom across the nation. I see the opposite of that–too many kids who don’t have strong advocates, too many families with a lack of education to help their children and too many schools with little or no funding to support decent education for all children.

  7. Writing is like a hallucinogenic dreamstate or, as John Gardener said, “a vivid, continuous dream” and I love the chaos of the rough draft, words flowing across the page in overdrive, and, no, it doesn’t always make much sense but from that we build a foundation.

    I give only books to my neice and nephew who are addicted to television and movies and computers. My gifts are always their least favorite and the last to be opened. I hope that won’t always be the case. Sometimes you feel like you’re banging your head against a wall, like the woodpecker that keeps tapping its beak against the window.

    I like how you’ve noted the comparison between literacy levels and crime. And some states spend more on prisons then schools. Talk about depressing!

    • Yvonne,

      Good for you for persevering with the books. I give books as gifts to. Sometimes they are appreciated, sometiimes not. I think there is no greater gift in the world than literacy.

      I work as a child advocate and often see the backlash of poor literacy. It has been estimated that 75-80% or our juveniles in foster care and juvenile detention centers have some kind of reading disability. To me this is the saddest thing in the world. If we would simply reallocate our spending and use it on prevention–ie, critical education for at risk kids–instead of forking out money on the backside when these kids turn to lifers in prison, we wouldn’t have so many wasted futures. Think of the potential that is lost simply because kids cannot read well enough to succeed.

      They buy into the idea that they are incompetent and worthless, lazy and stupid. It is only natural for them to fulfill those prophesies spoken by angry parents and frustrated teachers. It breaks my heart.

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