The Beatles Hit North Carolina!

Beatlemania hit America when I was eleven. “She Loves You (Yeah, Yeah, Yeah)” conquered the airwaves but I was not impressed. I was in the sixth grade and had been playing flute for two years. My parents set up private lessons for me with a flautist in Bryson City, North Carolina. The tutor was our dentist. He could really do some great jazz riffs. My friend Ivan Gibby and I learned a lot from him.

What’s so great about that song? It’s only three notes! Anyone could play that! Why are girls at Beatles concerts screaming like a werewolf was chasing them? Buddy Holley and the Crickets are way cooler!” I expressed my opinion loudly to my Beatle frenzied class-mates.

Six girls in the sixth grade were my pals. Three of them could sing wonderfully. Bryson City’s school had a great symphonic band, and a marching band. I played in both.

For the next rainy day show, let’s be the Beatles.” I suggested, as we girls chatted during lunch one day.

The school held talent shows on rainy days when recess was not an option. I had in mind a parody but didn’t realize my friends were serious about their Beatle Love.

We practiced during recess, my beautiful friends singing in perfect harmony. They got three songs down: “She Loves You,” “PS, I Love You” and “Love Me Do.” I was to be Ringo, so I practiced belting out rhythms on tree stumps with sticks the band teacher loaned me.

I spent hours making Beatle wigs from black yarn, sewn with care onto run-streaked stockings Mom gave me. I made four, one for myself and one for each singer.

We have to wear the wigs or nobody will know we’re being the Beatles!”

The girls, all with perfect bubble hair-dos, refused at first to mess up their sprayed coiffures but my upbeat excitement finally convinced them.

A rainy week came and the mimeographed memo went out, announcing an end of week talent contest. On Friday, students from all twelve grades were ushered into the huge auditorium. The principal asked everyone to be quiet and enjoy the show. Kids from primary grades acted out skits about how it’s healthy to drink milk. Each grade had skits, singers, kids reciting the Gettysburg Address and other acts.

Finally, it was the sixth grade’s turn. Three boys sang a great rendition of “Walk Like a Man.” They were classy in burgundy and gold blazers, our football team’s colors. They snapped their fingers in time to the music.

Backstage, we four girls put our wigs on, helping each other hide our real hair underneath the stocking caps. I put on one of my brother’s dark colored jackets, to look like a well-dressed Ringo Star. My friends wore lovely shirt-waist dresses. The wigs made us giggle.

I walked out first onto the expansive stage, sat down in a chair, grinned widely, and held up my drum sticks, clacking them together.

After the hum of a pitch pipe, my friends began harmonizing with “She Loves You.” They sounded beautiful. I pretended to slam on fake drums, keeping the beat. Kids applauded. Fantastic! My friends segued into the second song. I got worked up and beat out a more frenzied rhythm, closer to Gene Krupa than Ringo.

On the last song, I flanged my head around, making the wig’s fake hair fly as my hands drummed wildly. I made full use of the imaginary drum set, brushing a snare drum snazzily, tapping my foot for the bass and rat-a-tatting on the high hat.

Students and teachers laughed at my antics. My friends, one by one, turned around and saw me crazily drumming. All gave me furious glares but continued singing and finished “Love Me Do.” Then all three girls stalked off the stage, leaving me alone. I was still drumming, caught up in the act. Ringo had invaded my entire body.

Suddenly, I looked up and saw the whole audience standing and applauding. Some teenaged girls grabbed their hair and screamed, pretending to be Beatle maniacs. Even teachers stood and cheered: “Encore!”

Realizing I’d gone too far with the Ringo imitation, I gestured for my friends to come back. They all had removed the Beatle wigs and fixed their hair with copious amounts of Aqua Net. They took their time but did return to the microphone. They main_900sang “Johnny Angel” tragically. I sat in the chair, smiling, hands in my lap. My friends got their own personal applause.

The principal walked out onstage and handed a blue ribbon to each of us. We’d won first prize! The Beatles had landed in North Carolina!

Seeing Through Walls

Winter 1967. The Vietnam war was in the news every night. High school classmates headed to DC to protest during lunch hour. I caught rides once or twice a week, standing at the periphery of a huge swell of bodies. I was determined to follow the Rev. Martin Luther’s King’s non-violent protest teachings. So instead of yelling “Nix on Nixon!” I shouted “Peace! Love!” and handed out flowers to cops and soldiers.

shadow Dionysus's flower power giftI hardly slept at all. Studying for the AP classes, the terror of having friends send to war, and undiagnosed manic-depression tortured me.  

One morning, I walked into school and a friend rushed up to me, “Dixie! This week is a moratorium! No classes! To observe the war. Seminars on a lot of topics. Like peace-making, non-violent protest, the history of protest songs and all sorts of stuff.”

I couldn’t believe the teachers had come up with this idea. But yes, maybe it was in response to so many of us asking during lessons about Moby Dick, “How is this relevant? There’s a war on! We could all die tomorrow!”

A few friends and I had got together the previous month and produced an underground newspaper. It was on mimeograph paper. I’d drawn a cartoon of the statue of liberty, wearing blue jeans and a t-shirt, her arm lifted up with fingers in the familiar peace gesture instead of holding a torch. One classmate had written an article on why the Vietnam war was a losing proposition. Another drew in between the margins, imitating R. Crumb, people trucking along. One guy’s Mom was the secretary of the PTA. She had a mimeograph machine in the basement of their McLean home. We went over after school one day and ran off 100 copies.

We all dashed around the following day, handing out free newspapers. As I passed the teachers’ table in the cafeteria, carrying a sheaf of the underground paper, Mr. Ward called out, “Don’t we get a copy?” I was stunned. A teacher? Wanting to read an anti-establishment newspaper? “Sure!” I responded and handed my last copies to the grinning teachers.

Many years later, I was a student teacher at Langley High. I realized those teachers had been in their late 20s and early 30s when I was a teenager. I sat in the student lounge with them, laughing about the underground paper and our earnest efforts to end the war.

But it was a moratorium! Students handed out black arm bands. My brother came up to me and whispered fiercely “You freaky little hippie! Don’t even say Hi to me in the hallway.”

So when I came upon my brother and his fellow Young Republicans, I merely smiled and gave them the peace sign. They chanted, “Yay, Nixon!”

I entered the classroom that was usually for American Civ’. A visiting lecturer stood at the podium, talking and talking. I stood there for ten or fifteen minutes before realizing I understood not one word he said. I wandered into the girls’ room and splashed cold water on my face. My cheekbones jutted out, I’d lost weight again. No matter how much I ate, sometimes two dinners (one at home, one at my friend’s house), often finishing friends’ lunch room meals, the hyperactivity kept me bone thin. I went back into the crammed-full hallway. Student were meandering from one seminar to another.

My friend Michael sat on the polished floor, strumming his guitar, singing “I Wanna Go Home.”

I joined him and sang along. Then I realized there was no wall behind us. It was a clear window, overlooking a beautiful garden.

Wow, it’s so cool how they built that atrium overnight.” I stared down into the lush forest.

What atrium?” Michael stared at me with his bright blue eyes. He looked where I was staring.

I pointed at the wall. “Right there. Trees, a creek, birds.”

Wow, Dixie. What are you on? I want some!”

You know I don’t do drugs! Dammit!” I stood up, angrily and walked away from my pal.

Of course there was no atrium in the middle of Langley High. The tiled wall was as sturdy as ever. My mind had gone off on its own, sending me into visions of natural beauty.

Starkweather and My Uncle Earl

I was seven. We lived in a chinzy motel south of Reno. Mom sewed curtains like she always did wherever we moved. These ones had suns on a brown background.

There were lots of gunshots out there at night. “Is that bad guys?” I whispered.

“Don’t you worry about it. I’ve got my owns guns right here.” My father had a .22, a Colt .45 and a shotgun of some type. He told us just point that shotgun and pull the trigger if a bad guy tried to break in. 

We lived in a trailer one place where bad guys robbed a gas station and shop. The old owner and his wife always gave me and my brother candy. “Just one piece.” We’d take forever choosing which one. I usually got a Tootsie Roll. Bob liked changing each time. We only lived there two months. Then Dad had to get movin’. The robbers shot both dead. I didn’t ask why. They were no good sunuvabitch bad guys.

We stopped at Grandma’s in Wyoming on the way to somewhere else. I think Montana. We moved so much I can’t remember every single stop.

Uncle Earl came over for dinner. He was lean and tall. Always wore a white cowboy hat. He let me sit on his Appaloose horse, China Boy. Nearly 20 hands high. His mother was cream with white spots. The sire was a Belgium draft horse. Earl said, “That’s your horse now, Dixie.”

He wrote me a letter care of Grandma in Georgia a year later. Had to sell the horse. “Sorry. Got $6,000 from some guy in Kentucky. Saved the ranch.”

I cried under Grandma’s bed for an hour. Then got ahold of myself.

Oh yeah. Back to Wyoming that one time. We were all sitting at the dinner table. It was venison. Some high school buddy of Mom’s got a deer. I wouldn’t eat it. Just mashed potatoes and corn for me. For once, my mother didn’t put meat on my plate.

Red haired Aunt Kate said, “Well, kids. Your Uncle Earl’s a big hero now.”

“What’d he do?” I already thought my uncle was a hero. He was a real cowboy and the Sheriff of that whole county. He rode his horse through town every day from morning ‘til night.

Earl put his lips together hard. “That story don’t need tellin’ over n’ over again.”

“Saw it in the papers all over. Driving from here to there. Earl’s picture with that little girl.” Mom said. “What in the world?”

“What little girl?”

“You don’t need to know about that. Just a damn dumb kid.”

“How many’d he kill?” Dad’s eyes were sharp black.

“Eleven all tolled. Girl’s whole family. It was in the papers.” Said Grandma.

“Your uncle shot that boy right in the ear! And oh my did that killer cry.” Aunt Kate leaned back, reached for her pack of menthols with those red shiny fingertips.

I never knew killers would cry. I heard they had ice water in their veins.

“He was a god-damned yellow coward. That’s all I want to say on the subject.” Earl stood up, slapped his rough, tanned hands on the lace table cover. Went out on the porch and smoked a Marlboro.

I followed him out. Sat on the chaise lounge and swung. Earl sighed hard. Tossed the butt down and crushed it with his steel toed cowboy boot.

A kid from across the street came running over. “Wanta play? There’s lightning bugs!”

“OK. Let me get my brother and sister.”

We got about fifteen but let them go because Dad said they’d die in that jar.

“Your uncle caught a killer.” The neighbor kid had a lot of freckles.

“I know it.”

“Wellp. Gotta go. See ya!”
He didn’t even look both ways before crossing the street. Maybe he’d grow up to be a rule-breakin’ bad guy. You never know.




Bed Raft

Dixie Bat.jpg

Fingers clutch desperately to the sides of my double bed/life raft. The sea is rough, waves 40 feet tall! Crash, they threaten to thrust me into the deepest part of this ocean. Down to 118 pounds. The slightest tip and my frail body will slip into the sea.

Stare up into the sky, through bedroom ceiling. Pitch dark night a comfort, always. Steady. Focus. “Be a good soldier.”

Find the North Star, Polaris. The one you pledged to follow when UFO aliens demanded “Choose!”

It isn’t there! Constellations whirl like a wild carousel, blurring as they pass my frantic, searching eyes.

Suddenly, I’m far above the bed/raft. Winds use my body as a sail. I hover over a desert land. A man strides ahead of a huge crowd, gesturing as he speaks.

“Kill him!” That evil voice insists, whisper-shouting in my ear.

“Kill him!” Now we’re close enough to see features on dark skinned faces.

“NOOOO!” I scream, wailing through centuries.

Mom comes into my room. She wraps her arms around me so tightly, I cannot breathe.

“I’ve seen, the man, he’ll be killed. Someone will listen to the voice of ancient evil!”

My babbling makes no sense.

“You will always be my firstborn.”

This pronouncement stabs my entire being with terror. Throughout all history, every incarnation, I’ll be this woman’s firstborn child? NO!

My parents’ friends sit in the living room. Ralph says, “That damned LSD.”

A fragment of my broken mind lights up. I run to face him eyes to eyes.

“I have NEVER taken LSD! NEVER!”

It’s true. The thought of a drug to sending me into Alice’s horrific Wonderland made me avoid acid and all other hard drugs. Booze and pot had been comforts but I’d quit smoking pot while living in the crash pad and stopped drinking, too. No, it was evil. Voices had taken over my brain. The virus infected my entire being.

“It got my son.” He muttered.

RUN! Screamed a thousand wide-open mouths.

Bolt out into the darkness, seek its peace. Away from accusing eyes, eyes, eyes.

“Get her! Bob, get her!”

My six foot tall younger brother groaned and dashed out to fetch me.

“Come back here, you crazy hippy.”

Bob grabbed me by the shoulders, turned me around and dragged me away from the beautiful forest. I am a prisoner. Trapped. The brick walls of my parents’ home are a fortress.

Next week is the appointment with another devil, the psychiatrist. He’ll lock me up in the loony bin! No hope. No escape. No Exit.


Having read numerous books (including all of Kay Redfield-Jamison’s) and articles (in JAMA and BMJ, etc.) and consulting with psychiatrists, I now know I’d been in the grip of an extreme mania for three months in 1971. The severe insomnia (sleeping less than 3 hours a night) and frenzied mental state, along with a raging strep throat infection, had sent my brain into deep psychosis.

Kith & Kin: Secrets

My Uncle Jack, Dad’s younger brother, told me: “Your Daddy got th’ mean gene. Mama had it, her Mama had it. All th’ Reynolds women had it. Your Uncle Will didn’t get it & I like to think it passed me by. But it hit your Daddy full force.

Dad blamed his fits of temper on the Irish genes. I inherited that flawed allele. He told me stories about his Great-Aunt, who lived in a shack on stilts in a Georgia swamp. She entranced him with tales of their family from long-ago.

She was the family story-teller. Now I am. You’re the eldest Elder, so it’s your job to memorize everything about our lives.”

I nodded, age 7 & gravely serious.

Dad was born in 1920, so those family stories went Way back. According to notations in a giant Bible Dad’s mother kept in her bureau, 3 brothers (William, David & John) left Scotland in 1789 to seek their fortune in America. That’s all the Bible said, other than dates of birth, death, marriage & children.

Dad quoted his swamp Aunt:
“Them Elder brothers
landed on a beach in Virginia. The Eldest Elder, William, deemed it fine t’ go on South. He farmed rich Georgia soil. Bye & Bye, he became a minister, like Edward Mayo. William married a beautiful indentured servant on a plantation where he preached to the slaves & house servants. She had a chile. Name of Asa.”

I’d heard stories Granma Miz’ Bonnie & her sister Tempie told. So I could hear the rolling Georgia accent as my father recounted the tale in his college educated grammar.

The other two brothers, John & David, traveled North. Nobody in Dad’s family knew what happened to them.

The big Bible was inherited by one of Dad’s cousins after Miz’ Bonnie died. I spoke with my second cousin on the telephone once, writing down information she read to me from the onion-skin pages.

Decades after my father told me about those Scottish Elder brothers, my husband Peter & I were wandering around in Northern Scotland. I took out the road map & saw the town of Golspie.

Let’s go Here! Golspie.”

Peter pulled our tiny red rental car over onto a shoulder.

That’s a five hour drive or more.”

PLEASE!” I begged, not sure why–just an urgent need to get to that village.

Ever kind, Peter drove South. We got to Golspie at sundown. Checked into the first B&B we could find. It was a lovely place, stone walls covered in October red ivy. We put away suitcase & backpacks, then walked across the road to Sutherland Castle. I sat down on a wooden bench & something flew over my head.  

An Owl!” Peter stage whispered.

A man whistled & giant Cedar landed on his leather glove. We talked with the bird sanctuary keeper for a good while. Then went to the castle. Parts of it were roped off “Private.” The Sutherland family still dwelt in some of the rooms. The rest of the place was a museum. We paid entrance fees & walked inside, entranced by history.

Peter meandered off to look at armor & weapons from Medieval times. I walked over to a glass case in the first room. Inside were large ledgers, each narrow column headed with dates. Elegant script in tiny letters listed names, acreage & other data. I saw “1789” & ran my eyes down that column.

There they were: my ancestors!
William, David & John Elder to America. Acrage to Rossesthe ornate script said.

Oh my God!” I shouted. A teapot-shaped woman rushed up to me.

Sorry,” I apologized for my outburst.

She was delighted, “Did ye find yer family, love?”

YES!” I cried.
I ran to find Peter. “It’s Dad’s family, he wasn’t
making it up!”

When we got home, I called my father to let him know the news. Dad & Mom had been to Scotland twice. All Dad knew was that his ancestors had come from “east of Loch Ness.” He’d spent days hiking around & in Pubs, asking people if they’d heard of the Elder Clan. Everyone knew the name but nobody could say where they came from or where they’d gone.

Mystery solved!

Years later, using an online roots search, I found census records with my father’s, his parents, grandparent’s & great-grandparents’ names. Beside each name was a letter, indicating race. “C” was for “colored” as people used to call African-Americans or Native-Americans. “N” meant Negro, full African. “W” was for whites.

In the 1920 census, names of my grandfather Edward Mayo Elder, his wife Bonnie Blue Reynolds Elder & great-grandpa Asa were listed. Beside Edward’s & Bonnie’s name were neat “Ws.” Next to Asa’s was no initial. Just the word “Negro.”

Dad & Jake, Asa, Dad bellbottoms

page from photo album: Dad’s grandfather Asa (top left)
Dad (Cullen age 15 in bell bottoms–top right) Bottom: Dad (age 2 with best friend Jake)
All photos taken in the 1920s in Georgia (including Damascus, where my father was born.)

I called Dad. “You’ll never guess what!”

I was excited. Family history was important to my father & me. It was a link, something to talk about. I used it to veer him off rage fits when I was young, asking for stories from his swamp dwelling Auntie.

Asa was a Negro!”  

My father always insisted we use the 1950s respectful term “Negro” from the late 1950s onward. My father was mapping the Deep South for the USGS so we lived in swamps, bayous & small towns all over that region. I lived in fear of being lynched for being a “N**** lover. We were Never to use that pejorative. Our parents taught us kids to respect people of every race, color & creed.

Despite his high ideals, Dad’s response to my discovery was to yell:
The hell he was a Negro! His mother was full-blooded Cherokee.”  

But who was his father? Maybe he was a slave on that plantation where she worked as an indentured servant. You know, after that soldier let her off The Trail of Tears. Before she married the minister.”

I quoted ver batim from tales Dad had repeated to me, those he’d heard from Swamp Lady.

Dad slammed down the phone. He was furious. His 1/3 Scot, 1/3 Irish, 1/3 Cherokee ancestry was in question. Like many Southerners, his family had African blood running through their veins.

As pale white as Dad & I were, there was a percentage of mysterious genetic make-up inside us. I was happy with this information. It explained my love of Soul music & Soul food! Yeah!

My father, William Cullen Elder, Navy ID photo (WWII)

Dad Navy Photo

Hearing Voices



Staying up late to study or switching from day to a night shift can play havoc on anyone. But it’s exceedingly bad for us polar bears**. The time change in spring sets off horrific insomnia for so many people who have bipolar/manic-depression.

At first, it’s fun. You get So much energy—cleaning is easy! Vacuum, dust, polish furniture, do laundry & hang it outside on the clothesline, clean litter boxes, scrub counter tops & toilet all in 2 hours. In between, you paint a picture, dance & play with your cats. No problem!

I have never taken speed or meth’ but from what people have told me (those who have experimented with those drugs), being in a super mania is like taking speed. Your brain goes 200 mph, you talk a mile a minute & can’t stop yourself. You literally cannot. A small part of you says: “Shut Up! Let someone else talk!”

But all those thoughts Have to Come Out! Or you will Die! That’s how it feels. It’s as if you had to go to the bathroom but were trapped in a car & no restrooms for 50 miles. The urge is horrible, painful. So you babble on & on & on….

In Spring, I write 200 poems a week. Maybe 3 of those are decently good. The rest make No sense. My husband deserves to be canonized as Saint Peter, patron of Madwomen!!! He tries to read library books while I run around the house, gesticulating so wildly that it frightens our cats.

Innit??” I say at the end of each sentence.

We use the Irish contraction to make sure the other person is really listening, since both of us can get caught up in books, projects & the internet.

Peter answers, “Yes, my dear. You did laundry. Thank you very much. And cleaned the entire house. You wrote great poems. I see the stack & promise to go through them all—I’ll give you critiques on each one. Oh, and yes you are painting again. Lovely. I don’t mind spots of yellow up & down the hallway. It’s acrylic. It will all come out in the wash.”

As he’s saying that, I am still talking, exuberantlyOh my GOD! I was typing a chapter in my memoir but my little finger hit a weird key & the Internet came up. Hahaha Inter-web (inside joke). Then you’ll never Guess What! There was a photograph of Gustaf Skarsgard! We Have to go to the Video Station & see if any new Vikings episodes are available!!! Innit!?”

Yes, the internet is a mad thing, indeed. Vikings would be great. Would you like a cup of tea?”
It goes on like that all spring & often into summertime.

Spring of 1971, I’d been living in a crash pad for over four months. I actually cannot recall how long, I was so messed up. I’d quit smoking pot. Quit drinking. Registered for 4 classes at a community college. Ran the cash register at a tavern 25 hours a week. Deeply involved in anti-war projects. I was a sign painter (“War Is Not Healthy For Anyone!”), drove AWOL soldiers & draft dodgers to places where they could be picked up safely by other “underground railroaders” and ultimately, taken to Canada.

Lum's uniform Dixie 1970

Me, age 17 in my Lum’s Tavern uniform.

I’d had recurring bouts of strep throat & fevers (104-106 F.) since December, 1970. Even tho’ I’d “run away” (at age 17) I made sure to have a First Aide Kit like Mom kept back home. Thermometer, band aids, gauze, nurse’s tape, scissors, etc. were neatly arranged in a lunch box.

I’d gotten anti-biotics at a clinic, tried to rest. But fear of getting bad grades at college & terror that my boss would fire me from the tavern kept me rushing around. When my car broke down, I ended up hitch-hiking to NOVA & Lum’s every day.

By May I was up all night long, driving my beau RW & his family crazy. Mama San, you need Sleep!”

I’ve got Homework! I have to read all about the reign of the Czar and Czarina! Alexander & Nicholas, memorize dates & pogrom locations. Did you know they killed Jews, too? Augh! I used to like them! Plus MATH! I can’t do it. It’s supposed to be the Easy class for Lit’ majors. But there’s Algebra. It’s not Fair! English I love. But I have to type up a 10 page essay & do an oral report on our topic. So I’ve Gotta be at the library to use their typewriters. I chose to compare James Joyce’s Ulysses to the original Odyssey. Which is easy but my note cards got lost when I was hitch-hiking last week. They must’ve fallen out of my back-pack! Nothing makes sense.”

I don’t know nothin’ about college. But you are sick as a skinny pup. That fever” (he touched my forehead) “is gonna kill you. Go lay down. I’ll bring in some ice water.”

I flopped onto a mattress on the floor of a small bedroom I shared with RW’s younger sister.

The ice water felt fantastic going down my sore throat. RW brought me a cold washcloth & lay it firmly over my burning eyes. My thin limbs thrashed less with no sunlight blazing into my brain.

But frenzied manias kept me awake all night for weeks afterward. I may have slept 2 hours off & on during those crazy nights. However, I was up walking around outdoors from 3:00 a.m. until Dawn. So it wasn’t like I imagined being wide awake—I really was!

Others who have this type of brain understand. People who go through five or six nights of sleeping poorly due to job or family worries get that it’s no fun losing sleep. But it’s us polar bears who wander around in all night, pulled by an irresistible golden thread from the moon that tells us “You are magical! No one else has The Message!So I began hearing voices Again that Spring of 1971. I’d heard voices since grade school. Some told me (in hateful whispers) “you are an idiot!” But the elfen ones said things like, “open that door 3 times, then run down the hallway.” I had to do what they said or something really bad would happen.

I got a reputation at Langley High in the 60s. Class-mates asked, “Dixie, where do you get your acid?” When I answered, “I don’t do LSD!” They looked at me in utter disbelief. How could someone so wacko Not be on acid?

The 1971 voices were super intense. They bellowed night & day, Abbie Hoffman’s evil quadruplets announcing urgent messages to me through bullhorns. Ocean waves or radio static muffled the shouts but I could pick out random words.

Go! Construction! Post Haste!

Wood! Wood! Now!”

Red! Red!”

So I roamed around construction areas. Collected 2x4s, scrabbled in iron trash cans for bits of red paper.

One day, I got lost. I was headed down the highway to catch a ride to college. But there was spray paint on the side road & on grass alongside the street. I knew intellectually that this was for surveying—ultimately, a pothole or sewer would be fixed according to the lines painted. My father was a geological surveyor so I knew about surveying. But the Urge forced me to follow bright orange spray-painted lines, arrows, circles & numerals.

I spent hours counting up the numbers, writing them on my arms with purple, orange, red and green markers. It Meant Something! It would solve algebraic equations for school! My backpack was filled with art supplies. One of my favorite classes was Art 101, so I always had colored pens with me.

Suddenly the sun was directly overhead, burning into my pale scalp. That meant I’d been following painted lines since 7:00 a.m.! I turned back toward Reston’s Section 8 housing. Ran with parched mouth panting.

Mrs. P was at work. So was RW. His brothers were gone but his younger sister was at home.

What the heck?”

She looked me up & down. All those markings. Nobody back then had tattoos (except Navy guys). It wasn’t a common sight, a young woman covered in ink.

I need a shower.” Even at the height of insanity, I could feel shame about my bizzaro-world actions.

Hot hot hot water & soap got most of the marks off my arms & hands. I wrapped myself up in a thin towel. It was hot as Hades. Humid Virginia spring-time heat. Bleaugh! I went into the kitchen & collapsed in a chair.

Drink this water.” I guzzled a big glass down.

Listen, Dixie. Mom loves you but she hates how you’re acting right now. So do I.

Do you think I Love it? I can’t help it. I’m going crazy.”

Well, maybe you should see another doctor.”

Like with what money!? Every cent I make goes to food, school, art supplies. I can’t even get my car fixed. I don’t have the cash!” I burst out crying.

It’ll be OK.”

She gave me a hug and left the apartment. Nobody wanted to hang out with Speedy Freaky Acid Head Chick Dixie.

The voices softened. I lay down on the mattress and zonked out. Didn’t wake up until people were milling around in the kitchen, arguing over who had to clean up after dinner. It must be 6:00! I’d slept for hours! What a relief!

But after a meal of generic spaghetti with government cheese grated on top, the hyper-engine inside my chest started back up again. I scrubbed pots & pans. Then ran down three flights of stairs, back up, back down in an effort to wear myself out so I could sleep that night.

When running stairs didn’t make me tired, I darted toward the road that led to Reston’s Lake Anne & the library. Didn’t stop running until the stones of that village’s oval courtyard were under my feet. Leaned against a fountain sculpture and gasped for breath.

Then went into the Peace Love Café.

Out for a jog, are you Dixie?” An old Irish nun I loved was on duty. Bridget.

Yeah,” I lied. Not able, ever, to explain what was going on with all the forcible runs, marches & other mental mayhem which had tortured me since I was 7 years old.
Here you go.” She set a cup of coffee gently on my table. It was half cream, the only way I could drink coffee back then. I shook four sugar packets into the cup and stirred. Ah! Heaven. Poor people’s dessert.

I dug into my jean pockets and found a quarter. Yeah! Dropped it into the “What You Can Afford” jar, saluted the caring workers with a firm Peace Sign. Ran out the door, around Lake Anne, up and down numerous twisty-turny lanes.

The sun was setting. I sat on the pier for a little while, then dove into the water, fully clothed. It felt miraculous.

Dixie in Reston 1971

Me at Lake Anne in Reston, Virginia (age 18)

My fever was healed by Lake Anne. She spoke to me. Dixie, you have a mission. Stop the war.” Her words were watery, divine.

I dove deep, touching murky bottom. I burbled into the beautiful twil-lit water.

I will. I’ll Do It!”

I was Joan of Arc! I’d read zillions of biographies about her since I was a kid. There was a Classics comic book about her on sale at a dime store near our trailer park. I was six. Had money from doing dishes & sweeping the trailer. I paid the friendly shop-keeper lady 10 cents.

My atheist father snarled, “What damned stupid book to read. She was nuts.”

I didn’t care. Reading helped me escape the instability of my home life.

Finished the comic book in one sitting, I walked down to the school library and found a children’s biography of Joan The Warrior. Fascinating! At fourteen, I read two adult versions of her life’s story. At sixteen, I went to the Library of Congress and read ancient documents regarding her life and death.

Jeanne D’Arc was born with part male and some female physical characteristics, according to one book I read. That was me! Although I had normal feminine body parts, I felt like a guy inside. I was tough. A cowboy. My brother & I competed to climb the highest trees, leap furthest over creeks, dig the deepest snow forts, build better tree-houses & go-carts. Until I was 13 and Bob was 11, I could out-wrestle him.

It was Spoken! I was the 60s Joan of Arc! Peace Warriors would follow me into Non-Violent Battle! The war would end! Everyone had to listen to me, my voices were Angels. Lake Anne Knighted Me!!!

I raced back to the crash pad, determined to tell No One my amazing secret. I clutched my ribcage to keep my heart from leaping outside of my body. Excitement & euphoric high were so fantastic, it was as if I’d turned into a hot air balloon, tethered to earth by a slim rope.


I’ve read a lot about The Brain. It’s a wild frontier. Even great neurologists (like my Dr. Marilyn Newsom) do not fully comprehend all the twists & turns of a bipolar person’s mind.

People with “Polar Bear”**hallucinate sometimes. It’s not just folks who have schizophrenia. We with bipolar disorder hear voices & see things that ‘normals’ don’t. This comes from severe, extreme insomnia which happens in manic times.
I get super manic in spring-time. Usually euphorically manic. My great neurologist told me, 
Let’s call it ‘Dixie Brain.’” I’ve got 3 types of seizures, OCD, bipolar (manic-depression, mostly manias), panic attacks & PTSD. Dixie Brain is a good way to put all those DSMV diagnoses into one box.

People with brain differences (schizophrenia, bipolar, clinical depression, those within the autism spectrum) are Not all alike. No two people with bipolar have identical symptoms. Medication that works for me won’t work for others who have this complicated brain difference.

Kay Redfield-Jamison is a gifted author who writes about convolutions of the brain. She was in med’ school when extreme manias hit her. I recommend Dr. Jamison’s books for anyone dealing with a brain dysfunction (when stable enough to read). Family members/friends who want to understand would benefit from reading Redfield-Jamison’s books. These include “Touched with Fire,” “The Unquiet Mind,” “Night Falls Fast,” and “Exuberance: The Passion for Life.”
I’ve read them all, as well as her medical journal articles (& watched videos of her speeches). She is erudite, writes clearly & is intensely honest about her own mental condition. The new film “Touched with Fire” was partly inspired by her writings. The writer/director has bipolar disorder. It is wonderful that people are going public about their experiences with mental differences (I refuse to use the pejorative term “illness.”

(**from the Great movie, “Infinitely Polar Bear” written/directed by Maya Forbes. She is the daughter of a highly intelligent man who was diagnosed with manic-depression in the 1960s. One daughter in the movie says to new friends, “My father has Polar Bear.”)