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Poem: "The Distillation of Senses" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
Poem: "The Distillation of Senses"
This poem came out of the August 20, 2013 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by a prompt from catsittingstill.  It also fills the "beauty" slot in my card for the Origfic Bingo fest.  This poem belongs to the series One God's Story of Mid-Life Crisis.

This microfunded poem is being posted one verse at a time, as donations come in to cover them. The rate is $.50/line, so $5 will reveal 10 new lines, and so forth. There is a permanent donation button on my profile page, or you can contact me for other arrangements. You can also ask me about the number of lines per verse, if you want to fund a certain number of verses. So far sponsors include: catsittingstill, Anthony & Shirley Barrette

107 lines, Buy It Now = $53.50
Amount donated = $20
Verses posted = 3 of 22

Amount remaining to fund fully = $33.50
Amount needed to fund next verse = $1
Amount needed to fund the verse after that = $2.50

The Distillation of Senses

Shaeth does not know why they come,
at first, only that they do so.
They are jumbled in with the drunks
and the poppy thralls,
but they are not themselves
enslaved to such things
insofar as he has seen.

There is the little artist
who smokes calliope weed
and sketches people's faces
with his lumps of charcoal,
but calliope is nothing like poppy --
it makes people see rainbows
and hear imaginary music, nothing more.

There is the diffident minstrel girl
who plays original ditties on
a battered old lute patched with glue,
who sometimes sips out of the offering cup
on a cold morning, but more often does not.

Something about them plucks at him
and Shaeth does not know
why that should be so either.

The artist Denore will say only
that the people in Shaeth's temple
have interesting faces to draw.
The minstrel Prell claims
that everyone has a story to tell.

They find beauty in this place,
or bring it, or make it.
The boy sketches the windows
pieced together from broken glass
and the candles in their bottles.
The girl does not play during services
but silently fingers her lute and
later picks out the tunes and the lyrics.

Even though they are not
the sort of followers he has come to expect,
the two of them are kind to his drunks
and so Shaeth lets them stay.

The god's instincts whisper
that they are his,

but he does not understand how
until he realizes that
the act of creation is their intoxication,
something they ride, swaying,
through layers of awareness

and he does not discover why
until he overhears them speaking
about their families and their pasts --
the way Denore's mother drank herself to death,
the way Prell's father poisoned himself on poppy.

This, Shaeth realizes,
is what draws them both
to the temple of the God of Drunks
that offers a place for people to sleep,
and the services that speak of
gentle everyday things
or how to deal with bottle demons.

These are things they did not learn at home,
could not learn from the wreckage of their parents,
and so they come looking here.

Perhaps, Shaeth realizes,
his new pool of potential followers
is deeper than he thought.

He looks at them with his god-sight
and sees the cracks in their souls,
glints and chips like shattered glass,
bubbles and smoke left behind
by things no child should have to see.

Shaeth is reminded of Trobby,
who is a drunk himself and a child of drunks,
now becoming a priest -- and there are hints
of the same patterns pressed into his essence.

Something about bottles and bottle demons,
Shaeth thinks, may spill out beyond those
they touch directly. This, too,
will be his to oversee.

He is learning what it is to create,
and people are coming in response to that,
the distillation of senses into beauty
as magical in its own way
as the fermentation of grape and grain.

Before long, Denore's sketches
adorn the pages of liturgy
that Shaeth is compiling.
The boy is still too shy to sell them
but he readily trades them for food.

Shaeth asks Prell if she wants
to play her lute during services some time.
She shakes her head and turns away,
preferring to remain inconspicuous.

Shaeth finds himself stroking
the sunlit spill of her golden hair.
He assures her that the music
does not have to be fancy.
It just needs to make people feel
what she wants them to feel.

In his time as God of Evil,
he had his pick of painters and bards
and ostentatious decorations,
none of which had any loyalty
when he changed his mind
about what he wanted to be doing.

Shaeth is more pleased
by the humble charcoals
and the first tentative notes
floating over his services.

* * *


Intoxication and inspiration have long been linked. Alcohol and other drugs can enhance creativity. Dissolution of the ego is another effect often cited, with both positive and negative results. Creativity and addiction are not directly  linked, but rather, some of the same fundamental traits can lead to those results.  The same is true of creativity, addiction, and madness.  Some people can turn on their creativity spontaneously, while others need (or believe they need) a chemical boost.  But creatives who use mind-altering substances are sailing between Scylla and Charybdis: there is very little margin for error, and it's easy to wreck everything.

In this poem, Shaeth discovers a whole new set of potential followers: family members of substance abusers.  This family impact is something I've been aware of, but didn't connect with this series until some prompters asked about people who weren't drunks themselves but still had reason to show up here. Adult children of alcoholics tend to share certain characteristics and core issues caused by growing up in a dysfunctional household. They often feel they are different from other people.  This is a problem with a solution (scroll down, there are big page breaks in this document). Here is a quiz that can help identify patterns of behavior typical of adult children of alcholics.

An addict in the household tends to create dysfunctional family roles ...

Denore the artist is a Placater:
These “people pleaser” children learn early to smooth over potentially upsetting situations in the family. They seem to have an uncanny ability to sense what others are feeling, at the expense of their own feelings. They have a high tolerance for inappropriate behavior, and often choose careers as helping professionals, which can reinforce their tendencies to ignore their own needs.

Prell the minstrel is an Adjuster:
These children learn never to expect or to plan anything, and tend to follow without question. They often strive to be invisible and to avoid taking a stand or rocking the boat. As a result, they often come to feel that they are drifting through life and are out of control.

Here's a longer list of possible roles.  It is difficult to break out of such roles once established.  There are tips for escaping the cycle of dysfunction.

Friends and families can experience a wide range of disruption from one person's addiction.  The effects of parental alcoholism on children are especially harsh, but alcholism affects the whole family. Living with an adult child of an alcoholic can entail similar challenges.  There are resources for dealing with alcoholism in the family, helping friends with a drinking problem, and general advice for friends and family of alcoholics.  This is not the kind of problem that most people can solve alone, and variable amounts of help are available depending on circumstances; but if no help is within reach, trying to solve it oneself is better than doing nothing, and some people do succeed.

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10 comments or Leave a comment
From: technoshaman Date: August 26th, 2013 04:55 am (UTC) (Link)

And some people do get high - and an addiction - from the energy of performance... or any other form of endorphin-releasing activity.

Hmmmm. Going to have to have a think or two here. Thank you.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: August 26th, 2013 05:42 am (UTC) (Link)


>> Mmmmmm.

And some people do get high - and an addiction - from the energy of performance... or any other form of endorphin-releasing activity. <<

Some people get high to create. Some people create to get high. Some people can do both.

>> Hmmmm. Going to have to have a think or two here. Thank you. <<

You're welcome! I'm glad you found this food for thought.
siege From: siege Date: August 26th, 2013 11:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
Your notes on roles in an unstable household led me to write an essay on fundamentalism as a possible symptom of abuse.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: August 28th, 2013 05:46 pm (UTC) (Link)


I'm glad I could inspire you.
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ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: August 29th, 2013 03:45 am (UTC) (Link)


Sadly, I have seen that too. It's pretty common to trade one addiction for another. It took a while for the mental health care industry to recognize such a thing as an "addictive personality" or "addictive behavior pattern" rather than addiction to a specific thing. Some people just have a weakness for one bad habit. Others are bound to be addicted to something, and if pried away from one, will immediately switch to another. That's much harder to break.
siege From: siege Date: August 29th, 2013 03:45 am (UTC) (Link)
I have a pin-on button I picked up years ago that says, "It's easier to be born again, than to grow up."
(Deleted comment)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: August 29th, 2013 03:47 am (UTC) (Link)


>> I'd never seen that list of family roles before. <<

I've seen several lists, some shorter, some longer, but there's a lot of overlap. I'm glad I could find a good example for this series, because when I looked at the list, it was "Aha! And here are some of the established characters as well as the new ones."

>> I definitely fall in the Adjuster category, while my brother became a Hero. <<

Sorry to hear that your background was that kind of challenging, but I hope you find something useful in the resources now that you've seen some parallels with your own experiences.
(Deleted comment)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: August 29th, 2013 03:56 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thoughts

>> Knowing what I'm dealing with always makes dealing with it easier. <<

I'm so glad to hear that. Knowledge helps a lot for some folks, not much for others. I'm the kind inclined to latch onto ideas and put them to into use, but not everyone is.

>>I can see now better how this ties into my depression and anxiety and trust issues, which gives me another handle to work on them with. Thank you.<<

*hugs* You're welcome.

Yeah, there's a ton of material out there about adult children from dysfunctional families and how the different roles work. I've got a bunch of stuff on trust issues and fixing those too. Breaking out of dysfunctional family roles, there's not as much on that, and almost all of it is aimed at the scapegoat -- okay, their role is all about attracting attention, but it would've been nice to see more targeted information for the other roles too.

Anyhow, if you need a hand processing this stuff, let me know.
thnidu From: thnidu Date: January 3rd, 2014 03:37 am (UTC) (Link)
This gives a much deeper resonance to my slogan "Music is my drug of choice". (I've had buttons made of it, and so many people asked me about them at cons that the buttonmaker added them to her catalog.)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 3rd, 2014 03:41 am (UTC) (Link)


For some people, music is very effective at altering mood, with few side effects. I use it myself.

I love your button.
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