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Prologue: Caged





(February 19, 1969)
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Caged.

I was caged.

Then, I was driven.

Driven to Cherokee.

A hazy memory of riding caged in the back of a police car.



Two shadows in the front seat, the county sheriff and a female escort.

Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” buzzing from a tinny transistor radio.





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Outside, the Iowa landscape bleak:



Cloudy and cold, condensation and frost riming the windows, piles of dirty snow dotting the countryside.

I, cargo.

Destination: Cherokee’s other place, the outline on the hill.

Shifting, crossing my legs…

Please, can we stop?

Hot and steamy inside.



Shivering, my teeth rattling.

Please…I have to go!

Hear something, George?

Naw, nothin’ important.


Laughter.

Cargo has no voice.

Madness has no voice.

Listen, crazy girl…

Two voices: We have come to take you away, ha, ha…

“I’m crazy, crazy…”

Fragments, crazy-quilt impressions, acid flashbacks…

I, crazy?



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From I, Driven: a memoir of involuntary commitment ("Prologue")

© 2008-2010, by Jennifer Semple Siegel

Excerpt may not be used or copied without author’s permission.





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Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Cautionary Tale: At 18, Did I REALLY Say That?


For the past month or so, I have been going through Memoir Madness with a fine-tooth comb, tightening up the text (I have a tendency to overwrite) and fixing minor flaws.

I realize that a text can never be “perfect,” but I thought it was worth one more go-through before committing it to print publication.

And I was moving along at a fairly fast clip.

“Not too bad,” I thought. The text seemed fairly polished, and I was feeling very pleased with myself.

Then about halfway through, I stopped short at this passage, where I, in 2004, attributed a quote to my 18-year-old self:
Shortly after I was released from Cherokee, I still struggled with my resolve to abstain from LSD and its relationship to the measured movement of time:
I have this thing about the way time moves; sometimes, it zooms by (when you’re having a good time, like at a party), and, sometimes, it crawls.

Cherokee seemed like two years.

Maybe it’s because I didn’t know when I was going to get out.

Then there’s acid time: super slow and rapturous–maybe that’s why so many ex-heads turn into Jesus Freaks.

It has been so hard to put down completely, though I know I must never drop acid, ever again.

Both groovy and scary.

I keep telling Jeff that we can mimic the psychedelic experience without acid, but, as much as I might wish otherwise, that’s not exactly true.

Acid does magnify the psychedelic experience a hundred times over. That trip on Christmas Eve was the best ever.

I just wish acid weren’t so dangerous.
I stopped short.

Really? Did I really say this at 18?

I know how I was at that age, and introspective I was not. Flighty and flaky, yes, but definitely not prone to deep thinking

The entire passage felt unauthentic. Fake.

So I stopped editing the manuscript and spent two days combing through my letters to Jeff, to look for anything that could corroborate that long passage.

Nada.

Not even close. Maybe a few glimmers here and there, but it was a stretch. I did suggest to Jeff that we could mimic an acid trip in other ways; also, there were a few references to “acid time” and about how Cherokee seemed like forever, but nothing about the movement of time in general.

In a revision, I had attributed 2004 introspection to my 1969 self. And it has taken about two years to realize it.

So to bring this passage back to 2004, where it belongs, I spent two days rewriting it:
...My incarceration felt like a lifetime.

In a sense, it was a lifetime, a lifetime spent questioning and second guessing my own sanity.

Even now, I obsess about the way time moves, how it zips by when you’re happy and having fun and crawls through difficult and boring events.

Cherokee seemed like two years–perhaps because I didn’t know when I was going to be released–

And when I finally got a copy of my hospital records, I was shocked to see that my time there had been less than two months.

Perhaps flawed perceptions explain why memoirists often get their time lines so wrong.

Then there was my LSD time, super slow and rapturous, the inverse of regular time: elastic minutes stretching to hours, hours to days, days to months.

Perception warp.

Ecstasy. Religious experience.

Perhaps explaining why so many ex-acid heads eventually turned to Jesus–The Rapture–as evidenced by the 1960's popularity of Reverend Blessitt’s “His Place” on Sunset Boulevard.

For years after my last acid trip, I struggled with my resolve to quit.

So difficult to quit...although I knew I could never again touch acid.

Back and forth...acid, no acid, acid, no acid, teetering between heightened sensory perception and risking blown synapses.

As I worked through altered-perception addiction, I insisted that we–Jeff and I–could mimic the psychedelic experience with black lights, music, sex, and, perhaps, a bit of weed, but, as much as I might have wished it so, that wasn’t exactly true.

Acid had magnified my psychedelic experience a hundred times over and no amount of pseudo-tripping could ever replicate LSD’s effects.

No denying it: my Christmas Eve trip with Stoney had been the best ever.

“I just wish acid weren’t so dangerous,” I often told myself.

Before my commitment, I had already quit for good, but my craving for the mind-altering and life-changing LSD, a multi-year struggle.

Slowly, though, my desire disappeared.
My letters consistently referred to my desire not to take LSD anymore, but feeling conflicted about it, which matches my memory.

However, that first version simply was not authentic, just wishful thinking on my part. In many ways, the first passage is more interesting and compelling, but it’s a fiction masquerading as the truth.

I’m not totally happy with the revision, but I’m going to allow it to percolate for a few days and then revisit it (I will not be posting the revision here, though). Still, it’s more accurate in that it represents the thoughts and reflections of a 53-year-old woman looking back on her 18-year-old self.

I just wanted to post this here because I now better understand how memoirists can fall into these little traps and allow small untruths to creep into their work.

I probably would have gotten away with this flawed passage, but it would have pricked at my conscience. It’s one thing for a minor gaff to slip through without my realization, but, in my mind, this one was too big to ignore.

This is just a cautionary tale for all writers who are thinking about writing a memoir.