Wednesday, October 10, 2007

An Open Query Letter to Literary Agents and Editors

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I was driven to Cherokee, caged in a police car.

Destination: The Cherokee Mental Health Institute in Cherokee, Iowa.

I had never been charged with a crime–just with youthful indiscretion and recklessness. The Woodbury County court system labeled me, an 18-year-old girl, as mentally ill, a "fit subject for custody and treatment in the Mental Health Institute" (from my court records).

I, Driven: memoir of a teen's involuntary commitment opens with a short scene: I, caged in the back of the police car.

The narrative then shifts to Santa Monica and Hollywood, California, Christmas Eve, 1968.

Sex, drugs, and hard rock. Rebellion. Hippies. Flower Power. Vietnam. Make Love, not War. Turn On, Tune In, and Drop Out. The Establishment. The Generation Gap. Naked John Lennon and Yoko Ono. The White Album. Student protests. Hair. The Doors. Women's Liberation. Richard Nixon. 2001: A Space Odyssey. LSD. Purple Haze.

Blue Moons.

As I grooved on, my frightened grandparents, who raised me, plotted to lure me home to Sioux City, Iowa, to help me "get my head on straight."

The memoir’s primary narrative thread covers the months between Christmas Eve 1968 through May 9, 1969: my psychedelic days in Hollywood, return to Sioux City, involuntary incarceration in Cherokee, and, finally, escape to Pennsylvania. The narrative also includes some flashbacks to Fall 1968 and from my childhood. In addition, there is a secondary 2004 thread contemplating my return to Cherokee–this time voluntarily and as a visitor.

The manuscript is 415 pages (about 86,000 words). My target audience: baby boomers–those who walked my path and those who wish they had (well, perhaps a little). Also, the book is likely to draw a younger audience; the first person primary narrative thread recreates the youthful voice of 18-year-old Jennifer L. Semple, who could appeal to an 18 to 35-year-old reader.

My publications include The Re-feeding Program, excerpt from "The Big Diet" (short story), The Non-Dieting Weblog (2006); Copyright: Ethics Versus Education in Macedonia (article, page 12), American Writer: Journal of the National Writers Union (2005); Persona Grata (essay), Writer’s Digest Online (2005); Are You EVER Going to be Thin? (and other stories) (2004).

Below are links to a book summary, blurb, synopsis, notes on narrative thread, and research note. In addition, I have also included short excerpts from the memoir.

I would be happy to send to interested AAR agents and/or traditional editors hard copies of the above and/or print copy of the full or partial manuscript. For more information, e-mail me. If you have read this far, thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Semple Siegel


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Table of Contents for Memoir


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Summary: I, Driven...

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Christmas Eve, 1968: from lunar orbit, Apollo 8 astronauts deliver their Christmas message, a passage from Genesis.

On earth, 18-year-old Jennifer Semple, tripping on LSD with a drug-dealing boyfriend, embarks on her own odyssey.

Jennifer’s coming-of-age memoir begins in California, continues in an Iowa mental institution where she was involuntarily committed, and concludes with her escape to Pennsylvania.


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© 2008, by Jennifer Semple Siegel
Excerpts may not be used or copied without author’s permission.

Book Blurb: I, Driven...

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Christmas Eve, 1968: from lunar orbit, Apollo 8 astronauts deliver their Christmas message, a passage from Genesis.

On earth, 18-year-old Jennifer Semple, tripping on LSD with her drug-dealing boyfriend, embarks on her own odyssey.

Jennifer’s journey begins on the steamy streets of Hollywood, where heads, hippies, drug dealers, freaks, strippers, groupies, college students, Jesus Freaks, counterculture gurus, drag queens, rock stars and wannabe rocksters, svengalis, and con artists converge during one of the most volatile periods in history.

Jennifer’s life soon spirals out of control: she loses her Bank of America job, her boyfriend abandons her, and cops threaten to arrest her. Her grandparents and legal guardians convince her to leave Hollywood and return to Iowa, where she can "get her head on straight."

Instead, Jennifer is committed, against her will, to the Cherokee Mental Health Institute in Cherokee, Iowa, where she is introduced to a world of questionable psychiatric treatments, doctors, psychologists, social workers, and hospital staff.

While incarcerated, she corresponds with a new boyfriend and interacts with other patients: a psychopath who preys on other patients, a 17-year-old unwed mother, a teen cutter obsessed with rats, a young married mother enthralled with "10 ways of suicide," and a 42-year-old mentally challenged man and 25 year resident of Cherokee, among others.

Finally released, she flees Iowa, escaping to Pennsylvania.

In 2004, Jennifer, seeking another kind of release, has returned to Cherokee, this time voluntarily and as a visitor.

"I was driven to Cherokee," the author says, referring to a northwest Iowa regionalism synonymous with being committed. "Writing this memoir has driven Cherokee from me."
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© 2007, by Jennifer Semple Siegel
Excerpts may not be used or copied without author’s permission.
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Synopsis: I, Driven...

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Prologue: Caged, February 19, 1969

The memoir opens with my being driven to the Cherokee Mental Health Institute via a caged police car.

*****

I. Going to Cherokee (Chapters One to Fifty Four, pages 2-176)

In the Iowa lexicon of my youth, "going to Cherokee" was synonymous with going crazy; at this point, I had no idea that I was well on my way; Stoney, my drug-dealing boyfriend, and I were just grooving on LSD, my youthful indiscretion foreshadowing what was yet to come.

On Christmas Eve, 1968, through the haze of LSD, I realized that my life was worth more than just getting high. This wasn’t a linear realization, for during this period, I continued experiencing upheaval, ecstasy, discovery, backtracking, hurt, and anger.

Part I begins my journey toward coming of age, follows me as I stumble toward self discovery, and culminates in a generational clash with my guardian grandparents and Woodbury County, Iowa. An altercation with my grandfather begins at the Sioux City bus depot and continues at the police station, thus setting into motion trumped-up legal paperwork, designed to put me, an "incorrigible" teenager, away.

*****

II. Verdict (Chapter Fifty Five, pages 177-193)

Part II is divided into three sections:

Section one opens with my grandmother’s voice as she tries to figure out what has gone wrong with her grandchild. At the end, she asks, "What has this world come to when you send a sweet, deeply religious girl to California, and she comes back as a dirty long-haired hippie, addicted to drugs, with no morals left?" This rhetorical question, her final passage of the memoir, remains unanswered.

Section two presents my court records, word for word, unedited. Woodbury County, in its bumbling, inept manner, speaks for itself.

Section three closes with my grandfather’s lament: "Where have we gone wrong? It’s enough to drive a sane man crazy." This, too, is his final passage.

*****

III. Driven (Chapters Fifty Six to Sixty One, pages 194-207)

This thematic part, a pause between Woodbury County’s decision to commit me to Cherokee and my actual commitment, depicts the myriad ways of being "driven."

Chapter Fifty Six (February-April 1969) describes the rest of the police car drive to Cherokee, my drive to forget those first hours, and my drive to escape from the institution.

Chapter Fifty Seven (February 1969-April 2002): I was "driven for 33 years: to keep secret" my commitment.

Chapter Fifty Eight (April 2002): I found old letters, exchanged 33 years ago between Jeff Brown (later my husband, now my ex) and me, and I felt driven to reread them. At the time I was experiencing an impasse in my writing and personal life.

I emailed Cherokee for my hospital records, again driven, this time to have some unanswered questions finally answered.

Chapter Fifty Nine (May 15, 2004) depicts a convergence of two milestones: my husband Jerry’s upcoming Fulbright in Skopje, Macedonia, and the impending birth of my granddaughter while we are away. "I don’t want to go overseas," I say. "I want to be there for her birth, to hold her minutes, even seconds, after she’s born."

After reaching a compromise, in which we would return to the U.S. in January 2005, I decide to follow my husband overseas, to use the year abroad as an opportunity to write my memoir.

Chapter Sixty closes on August 29, 2004, with my final decision to revisit Cherokee.

"I’ll drive you there," my husband says.

The opening of Chapter Sixty One (August 30, 2004) continues the literal and symbolic meaning of being driven: "This warm summer day, I am driven to Cherokee, northeast of Sioux City, to revisit the Mental Health Institute. Metaphorically, this trip has taken 35 years and thousands of detours and dead ends."

*****

IV. Cherokee (Chapters Sixty Two to Eighty Four, pages 208-365)

"Oh-my-God. I can’t believe they did this to me," I say on February 19, 1969.

So my Cherokee incarceration begins, continuing until April 15, 1969, and ending with my conditional release from the institution. During the two months there, I cope with doctors, staff, and social workers who would meddle with my future.

I develop a strong bond with the psychiatrist assigned to my case; from the beginning, he has realized that my commitment was an egregious mistake and works toward my timely release. I also develop an ongoing clash of wills with a young and straitlaced social worker, yet, despite my sassy behavior, he also works for my release.

Letters from Jeff, my boyfriend, have become my lifeline to the outside world as we exchange ideas on books, popular culture, music, movies, and politics. However, he admits to experiencing mixed feelings about our relationship–there is another girl–so in these pre-email days, our relationship takes on a sort of snail-mail high drama as we banter back and forth.

Meanwhile, I interact with various patients: a psychopath who preys on other patients, a 17-year-old unwed mother, a teen cutter with strange obsessions about rats, a young married mother enthralled with "10 ways of suicide," and D.J., a 42-year-old mentally challenged man and 25 year resident of Cherokee, among others.

Of all the patients, D.J. has the most impact on me. A kind man, he shows that freedom is relative, for in his mind, Cherokee is exactly where he wants to be–that, for him, release would be a burden. "His day-to-day life is here, always to be the same, following the seasons, nurturing new plants, mourning the dying and dead," I say, on the day before my release. "If I were to return 25-35 years from now, I might find him, an old man, in this same spot, the fir tree a mighty sage."

*****

V. Leaving Cherokee (Chapters Eighty Five to Eighty Six, pages 366-396)

"Hooray! I’m out!"

April 16: I have been released on one condition: that I remain in Sioux City for at least six months. I have refused to live with my grandparents. Also, with regret, I have declined staying with a sympathetic aunt; I didn’t want to place her in an awkward family situation. So the state of Iowa arranges for my room and board at a local boardinghouse.

I find a job in a diner, the owner a bitter woman who mistreats her employees. Within ten days, I have quit that job, deciding to split for Pennsylvania, long before the required six months, but only after I have received my tax refund.

To my dismay, Jeff has decided to visit the other girl, who lives in another Pennsylvania city.

My sense of urgency increases as I, for the next two weeks, wait for my tax refund check.

Finally, on May 1, my refund arrives. On May 5, after a minor confrontation with my grandfather at the bus depot, I leave for Pennsylvania.

This part concludes on May 6 as I step off the bus in York, Jeff awaiting me: "It’s been a long, long journey."

VI: Released: August 30, 2004 (Chapter 87, pages 397-401)

This part wraps up my 2004 journey to Cherokee, both actual and metaphorical. After buying Cherokee Mental Health: 100 Years of Serving Iowan’s [sic], an incomplete history of the institution, my husband Jerry and I leave Cherokee and head back to Sioux City. During our return trip, I flip through the book and scan the Chronicle Times, the town’s newspaper: the ordinariness of the stories strikes me as profound.

"No section called ‘Cedar Loop News’ for the institution," I observe as we cruise into Sioux City. "On this day, as it was for me in 1969, these are two distinct towns, one wide open and transparent, the other shadowy and secret–just a no-name outline on the map."

*****

VII. Final Diagnosis: May 9, 1969 (pages 402-403)

In a short clinical passage, my psychiatrist offers my final diagnosis: "Adjustment Reaction of Adolescence."

*****

Epilogue (Summer 2007) (pages 404-414)

I offer a short update on my life since August 2004 and a short, albeit incomplete, history of the institution, culled from the book Cherokee Mental Health: 100 Years of Serving Iowan’s [sic] where I discover some surprising details about the institution’s history and how it might relate to my story.

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© 2008, by Jennifer Semple Siegel
Excerpts may not be used or copied without author’s permission.
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Notes on Narrative Threads (Flashbacks, Other Voices, and Dramatization): I, Driven...

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Primary Narrative Thread: Christmas Eve 1968 to May 1969. Although the prologue is from the perspective of my current persona–thus, past tense–the primary narrative thread (the bulk of the memoir), recreates Jennifer L. Semple’s 18-year-old voice through the present tense.

My goal: to place the reader in the middle of that volatile time and into the life of a rebellious teen.

I incorporate other narrative approaches as well:

Secondary Narrative Thread: August 18 through August 30, 2004. Beginning in Chapter Eleven, Jennifer’s youthful voice is interrupted by Jennifer the adult attempting to make sense of her past.

On August 18, 2004, as I ponder a return journey to Cherokee, I address some issues I have not really addressed in the primary thread: my relationship with Stoney, my drug-dealing boyfriend and my guilt over a "Dear John" letter I had written in November 1968 to a fiancé, a Marine stationed in Vietnam.

August 29: after experiencing some anxiety, I decide to make the journey to Cherokee to take pictures and remember.

August 30: I describe my return to Cherokee, Iowa, as a sort of catharsis. While there, I experience past emotions, feelings, visions, and smells. I also speculate about the current incarnation of Cherokee.

I also contemplate living abroad for the upcoming year (2004-2005) and reflect on the convention of letter-writing as a tenuous connection between long-distance lovers.

These intermittent present tense passages include Chapters Eleven, Twenty-Six, Thirty-Five, Fifty-Nine, Sixty, Sixty-One, Sixty-Three, Sixty-Seven, Sixty-Nine, Seventy-Four, Seventy-Six, Seventy-Eight, Eighty-Seven, "Released," and "Short History..." (2007 Epilogue).

In terms of length, these passages are short interruptions but important in that they offer a distant perspective of my past and a glimpse of young Jennifer’s future.

Flashbacks to Fall 1968. Although these Hollywood events occur in close proximity to the primary narrative thread, the main focus of the memoir begins on Christmas Eve 1968. Yet, some revealing and important events have occurred before that time. These flashbacks, interspersed throughout the book, are written in the past tense because, for young Jennifer, they were well into the past.

For clarity, most of the Fall 1968 flashbacks have been afforded their own short chapters, which are interwoven contextually (thus, not necessarily in chronological order) throughout the primary narrative: Chapters Three, Nine, Fifteen, Seventeen, Nineteen, Twenty-Five, Twenty-Seven, Thirty-One, Thirty-Three, Thirty-Seven, Thirty-Nine, Forty-Two, Sixty-Five, Seventy-One, Seventy-Five, Eighty-One, and Eighty-Three.

Childhood Flashbacks. In addition, three flashbacks to my childhood, short italicized, present tense, dream-like passages, are included within the primary thread, not in their own chapters.

These passages include a near-death experience at age six (in Chapter Thirty-Four), my younger sister Robin being taken away from our family (in Chapter Forty-Six), and a nightmare, at age four, about bed-wetting and snakes (in Chapter Eighty-Four). These memories tie in with events occurring depicted in the primary thread.

Perspective of My Childhood Guardians. Harley D. Semple, my grandfather, passed away in 1974, Olive Semple, my grandmother, in 1987. Therefore, for their first person narratives, I have referred to interview summaries contained in my hospital records–interviews conducted and summarized by my psychiatrist (and other hospital personnel). I have also relied on my personal knowledge about these people who raised me. Their voices, which I have recreated, are what I remember.

These short present tense narratives have been placed in their own chapters.

During this time in my life, I was harsh and judgmental toward my grandparents; as an adult looking back, I owed them an opportunity to tell their side of my story.

Intermittent passages occurring between December 31, 1968, and February 19, 1969, include Chapters Five (Harley), Seven (Harley), Thirteen (Harley), Twenty-One (Harley), Twenty-Two (Olive), Twenty-Nine (Olive), Forty-Three (Olive), Forty-Five (Olive), Forty-Seven (Olive), Forty-Nine (Olive), Fifty-Two (Harley), part of Fifty-Five (Olive), and part of Fifty-Five (Harley).

Dramatization. In Chapter Fifty-Four, I have included a dramatized scenario between my grandfather and Opal Casey, the Sioux City police matron, as they draw up the papers required for my court hearing, ultimately resulting in my commitment. I based this dramatic scene on my actual court papers, in which my grandfather’s name, as "Informant," has been scratched out and replaced with Opal Casey’s name.


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© 2008, by Jennifer Semple Siegel
Excerpts may not be used or copied without author’s permission.

Research Note: I, Driven...

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Fortunately, I am a pack rat and have saved letters, written from late December 1968 to May 1969, between Jeff A. Brown and me; therefore, I was able to recreate my youthful voice by referring to them. In addition, these letters helped me to remember, for without them, much of that time would have been a blur. I also obtained copies of my court and hospital records, both of which revealed surprising insights into the commitment process, in the days before the powerful 1972 and 1975 Supreme Court rulings on involuntary commitment. In addition, the records also offered some surprises regarding my grandparents’ actions.

I wrote the first draft of this memoir in 2004-2005, while I was living abroad (in Skopje, Macedonia); thus, the internet was very helpful in clarifying the current events of 1968-1969, though I have since cut from the final version most of those references.

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© 2007, by Jennifer Semple Siegel
Excerpt may not be used or copied without author’s permission.

I, DRIVEN: MEMOIR OF A TEEN'S INVOLUNTARY COMMITMENT (Prologue: "Caged")

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(February 19, 1969)
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I was 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, jabbering. I, cargo, to be delivered from the Woodbury County courthouse to the Cherokee Mental Institution.

Outside, the Iowa landscape bleak: cloudy and cold, condensation and frost riming the windows, piles of dirty snow dotting the countryside.

Inside, hot and steamy.

Still, I shivered, my teeth chattering. Please turn up the heat!

But cargo has no voice.

For all the importance of this drive–then and now–I remember little, except for one question:

Am I really crazy?

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© 2008, by Jennifer Semple Siegel
Excerpt may not be used or copied without author’s permission.
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I, DRIVEN: MEMOIR OF A TEEN'S INVOLUNTARY COMMITMENT (Chapter One, Part 1)

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Christmas Eve, 1968

(Ninth revolution around the Moon)

85 hours, 44 minutes, and 58 seconds into the Apollo 8 mission, astronauts James Lovell, William Anders, and Frank Borman broadcast photographs of Earth from lunar orbit.

"The vast loneliness up here on the moon is awe-inspiring...makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth," says Lovell. "The Earth from here is a grand oasis in the big vastness of space."

"We are now approaching lunar sunrise," Anders says. "For all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message..."

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth...

(Santa Monica, California)

I’m sprawled out in the work room with Levi, a some-time clerk at The Crystal Ship and a drug dealer on the Strip.

My old man Stoney drops stones into a rock polisher.

Duane and Pi, owners, arrive to lock up for the holidays.

The Crystal Ship sells semi-precious gems in the rough, crystals, polished rocks, pipes, beaded jewelry, incense, rolling papers, and drug paraphernalia.

"You gotta hear this," Pi says, clicking on the radio. "The astronauts..."

And the earth was without form...

"That is so fucking far out," Stoney says, shutting off the polisher.

...And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

President Kennedy’s promise of landing men on the moon before 1970...will it really happen?

...God divided the light from the darkness.

Imagine! Men circling the moon, 250,000 miles from earth, something I’ll never experience–except in my own head.

...called the light Day...

Levi rolls a joint and lights up. "To Apollo 8!"

...the first day.

"Yeah!" Stoney says.

...God made the firmament...

We all take a toke, except Pi, who’s seven months pregnant.

...and it was so.

The shop now closed, we hover around Duane and Pi’s radio, to wonder what Earth looks like from outer space.

...God called the firmament Heaven.

Duane takes the last toke. He hands the roach to Levi, who eats the evidence.

...Let the waters under the heavens be gathered...

"Yummmm," Levi says, "Priceless."

...and it was so.

"Yeah, like not getting busted in my own shop," Duane says.

"I have a present for everyone," Levi says.

...God saw that it was good.

"Not wrapped. Sorry." Levi offers each of us a blue tab of acid.

...from the crew of Apollo 8...a Merry Christmas...

"Blue Moons, the best shit on the market. Merry F. Christmas!"

...and God bless all of you...

"Now we can all split," Duane says, turning out the lights.

...on the good Earth.

"Far fucking out!" Stoney says.
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© 2008, by Jennifer Semple Siegel
Excerpt may not be used or copied without author’s permission.

I, DRIVEN: MEMOIR OF A TEEN'S INVOLUNTARY COMMITMENT (Chapter One, Part 2)

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Christmas Eve, 1968
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(2001 Ivar Street, Hollywood, California)

Blue Moons.

Black dots from the linoleum rise up and float, planets bursting into blue, red, yellow, green, purple, orange.

Birthing galaxies...

Does God feel the same awe?

A blazing light: I am the creator of these galaxies, responsible for billions–

My fault should they go bad...My fault.

Oh-my-god. I am God.

I must destroy life, before it spreads viruses.

A butterfly net appears. My mission: capture these galaxies, trap them in a cosmic jar, smother them before they destroy their Creator.

They will destroy, just as we have our God.

Is God dead?

Define "dead."

Is God Death itself?

To believe is to die.

Is Death God?

Why not?

Who is God?

How.

When is God?

Past.

Does He possess a butterfly net?

Kaleidoscope light???

What color is God?

The essence of light.

What is essence?

The color of God.

What is God?

Why night?

Black, slick water, first smell, like old rubber boots, first smell, primal scent, tangy licorice love drizzling my body.

Luscious rum balls.

Velvet sugar, past boil, butter lust, savored again and again and again.

Is God dead?

To believe is to die.

Is God Death itself?

How.

Is Death God?

The color of God.

Who is God?

Why not night?

When is God?

If not now, never.

Does He need a butterfly net?

The color of essence.

What color is God?

Dead.

What is essence?

Kaleidoscope sky???

What is God?

The Man.

The Man.

The Man.

What is that?

A siren.

Stoney?

The room wavers–nothing has substance.

How can nothing have substance? Can something have nothing? What is nothing, anyway? If it has a name, then it has to be something; nothing would not have a name, if it were truly nothing. Are there empty spaces in something, nothing places to hide? My head spins–a million nothing places, black licorice dots swirling around and around.

Two sirens.

Stoney? Stoney? Oh, Stoney...

No one exists but me.

I know that now.

I am truly alone.

All you people are clowns, and clowns are not real; therefore, you were not, are not, and never will be.

Stoney...

Why are you smiling?

Yellow haze flows when you whisper, Winesap apples when you sing "White Rabbit," orange flames when you shout.

"Fuck you!" Orange and blue flames blast from your lips, tickling my thighs.

Blink. Blue butterflies flutter from your eyes, flicker, land on my triangle–pure geometry.

Yes, fuck me.

You ram a needle into your pulse–amber liquid whooshes through arteries to your heart to veins, from heart, back through your circulatory system, every branch, down to the smallest capillary, racing through your body, up stream to your brain, down river to your fingertips, flowing down to your toes, looping around and around...

You light up, a star burst covering the sky with flashes: red, gold, white, green, purple, blue, silver...then fading, whirling diamond chips, crackling and descending, descending, descending, disappearing behind ocean waves.

Your eyes, paisley.

Your heart, a rainbow.

Your body: granite, a quake.

An Odyssey.

You come. A single red rose blooms.

I catch petals as they drop, wine red and smooth, cold as polished stone.

Stoney.

Oh, Stoney.

Warm as barberry oil.

Your solidity: a trick…

You cannot be.

Three sirens. The police!

No, just me in you.

Yes.

Stoney fizzles, soft as a mother’s breast.

*

The room zigzags, we congealing to the floor.

I move, even as my legs melt into the dead dots.

The room has turned to sea.

I have grown gills.

I am back in a mother’s womb, only she is not the mother I knew–this Mother is all wise–

Blue Moon Mother.

Blue Moon hurtles me through the galaxy...

We zip through one million galaxies, head filling with sights, sounds, aromas, music, tastes, textures known only to a God.

She is the galaxy.

She is my God–

I am Her Daughter.

I am the Child of God.

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© 2008, by Jennifer Semple Siegel
Excerpt may not be used or copied without author’s permission.

I, DRIVEN: MEMOIR OF A TEEN'S INVOLUNTARY COMMITMENT (Chapter Two, Part 1)

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December 1968

(Tenth revolution around the Moon)

Christmas Day, 89:22:34. On the far side of the Moon and out of radio contact with Houston, Apollo 8's Service Propulsion System (SPS) has been ignited to accelerate it out of lunar orbit.

At 89:34:16, radio contact has been re-established with the crew.

89:34:25. Astronaut Lovell: "Please be informed there is a Santa Claus."

(Hollywood)

Far out Blue Moons.

Stoney and I don’t come down until after three–we crash for a few hours. Then, about seven, we go to Cecil’s Stand for cheeseburgers and fries.

Later we exchange presents–he gives me a jade ring and a petrified wood ashtray in psychedelic colors; I give him a blue rock. Both from The Crystal Ship. I’m not sure what he likes.

After we open our presents, we argue about his being too wild when we play. He wrestles too goddamned rough sometimes, today getting me into a hammerlock and flipping me on my back. Something snaps–my back hurts like hell.

"You jerk," I say, "You could’ve broken my back."

"Shut up, bitch, stop your squawking."

We exchange more words. Don’t I have the right not to be injured?

We calm down.

"Let’s not wrestle anymore."

Stoney has an unfair advantage.

"That’s cool," he says.

I think he understands; he apologizes, anyway, promising not to be so rough. We’ll see.

The two of us look like hell. I feel like hell.

We go to bed early and make love, and rap about our acid trips.

Weird. I thought we had connected last night, but we didn’t, not really. We were on separate trips.

Stoney only remembers shooting heroin and balling.

For me, it was so much more.

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© 2008, by Jennifer Semple Siegel
Excerpts may not be used or copied without author’s permission.

I, DRIVEN: MEMOIR OF A TEEN'S INVOLUNTARY COMMITMENT (Chapter Two, Part 2)

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December 1968
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Stoney left 45 minutes ago for San Francisco, to score some acid. We decided it would be best if I stayed behind–save money to buy a van.

It’s so cold in here, no heat, no one to keep me warm. I wish I could have gone with Stoney. He says he’ll be back, at the latest, by tomorrow evening.

I can’t wait. I’m so alone; no one’s around anymore. Pam went back to Arizona for the holidays, and Jeff split weeks ago. Why did Big Brother Jeff just up and leave? Not even a goodbye kiss. I don’t understand why his going back to Pennsylvania was so important. He talked about it, but I never thought he’d actually do it.

Now that Stoney’s away, I’ve been thinking a lot about Jeff. He’s a puzzle. If he were here, I’d find him and invite him over; we’d sit up all night and rap about music, movies, and books. He’s really bright, but sometimes he talks over my head, with all that philosophy stuff. He should go to college, do something important with his life, not bum around like Stoney and me, go to college at USC or UCLA and still be a part-time hippie.

I wrote him a letter, begging him to come back.

What does Pennsylvania have that California doesn’t?

I’ve no wish to go back to Sioux City–I’d rather stay here by myself, in this smelly, dirty dump, a strange pad, bright blue paint, hardly any furniture. Our first day here, I turned on the tap and whoosh! Water, water, everywhere, a missing pipe. What a mess; we’re only going to stay here another month. I didn’t want to move out of the dorm until after Christmas, but Miss Miller said Pam and I had to get out by the first of the year, but we decided to split on December 1; Horton and Miller kept hassling us; they hated Stoney and Jeff and their smoking in the sitting room (la, de, da). And Stoney was forced to move out of The Crystal Ship–Duane paranoid about Stoney’s stash.

We three pooled our money together for this place, though Pam stayed back at the Dorm. Why did she kick in if she’s not going to live here?

Now I’m flat broke, no job; I quit two weeks ago–well, I just stopped going. The bank has probably figured out I’m not coming back.

I bounced a check last week. I had no choice–Percy, a friend, needed help, though he turned out not be such a good friend, but a ripoff artist and bullshitter. He claims he has sex with rich and famous queers for money and needed a loan to get a dose for the clap. Said he got it from Liberace. Gross.

Percy spent the money, my money, on new boots and a cowboy hat. He did buy me breakfast, though.

Far fucking out.
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© 2008, by Jennifer Semple Siegel
Excerpts may not be used or copied without author’s permission.

I, DRIVEN: MEMOIR OF A TEEN'S INVOLUNTARY COMMITMENT (Chapter Two, Part 3)

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(December 1968)
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Still waiting for Stoney, but it’s early yet. I just got up–I slept 14 hours straight. So tired...I just crashed in the middle of writing a letter to Jeff.

I’m going to cut back the dope–wish Stoney would too. He can be difficult, especially when he’s high. He’s careless with his dope, leaving it all over the apartment. The other day, when I picked up a newspaper, weed and seeds fell all over the floor, and I had to pick it all up by hand. What if the cops come? We’d never flush that shit down fast enough.

God, I’m so worried about him–he’s bringing back a lot of acid, hiding it in his coat lining. I think the heat is onto him–it’s only a matter of time before the cops nail him. We might both end up in jail, and that would really freak my grandparents out.

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© 2008, by Jennifer Semple Siegel
Excerpts may not be used or copied without author’s permission.

I, DRIVEN: MEMOIR OF A TEEN'S INVOLUNTARY COMMITMENT (Chapter Two, Part 4)

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December 1968
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147:00:42. On December 27, Apollo 8 splashes down in the Pacific Ocean. The U.S.S. Yorktown is on scene for the rescue: the astronauts on board by 12:20 p.m. (EST), the Apollo capsule by 1:20 p.m. (EST).
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(Hollywood, California)
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Stoney’s back. He shows me 500 tabs of STP bought from his San Francisco source. I’ve never seen so much acid at one time.

We drop some Blue Cheer–yeah, I am going to put down for good–just one more trip...

Stoney undresses; we try making love, but it just isn’t happening. On the way home, he visited some dealer friends and shot up heroin. God, I hate that stuff. How can anyone enjoy shooting up a drug that makes you stupid? Heroin addicts just lie around, drooling and slurring their words–no fun at all, human door stops, always passed out.

Once the acid kicks in, I no longer care about screwing Stoney–I’m off on my own trip, a bummer...enter the King of Schlock...Slip, slip, slip into Bobby Goldsboro hell, a world of clowns:
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See the funny little clown
See him laughing as you walk by,
Everybody thinks he’s happy
Cause you never see a tear in his eye.
No one knows he’s crying,
No one knows he’s dying on the inside...

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Stoney’s drug dealing friends show up; everyone’s a clown, I’m in a roomful of clowns, red cheeks and noses, white pancaked faces, all in clown costumes, with ruffles around their necks, hands, and feet. Big curled up shoes and psychedelic wigs the color of rainbows, and they’re all singing "See the Funny Little Clown," some cartwheeling all over the place, others balling up bread bags, setting them on fire, and dropping the sizzling balls to the rug.

Smoke and burning plastic fill the air.

Even the naked clowns still wear their shoes, ruffles, and wigs, even as they make love with other clowns...

I’m just a spectator.
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© 2008, by Jennifer Semple Siegel
Excerpts may not be used or copied without author’s permission.

I, DRIVEN: MEMOIR OF A TEEN'S INVOLUNTARY COMMITMENT (Chapter Two, Part 5)

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(December 1968)

Stoney and I look at a VW van. I found my old savings passbook from Sioux City: cool! I still have $136.14 left. We need two or three hundred yet. If we don’t get the van, then maybe I’ll use the money to visit Big Brother in Pennsylvania.

I love Stoney, but I’m sick of being stoned all the time. If I’m not wired, I’m in a daze, always tired and feeling shitty. And the dope is getting scary; last week, we smoked some grass cured in embalming fluid. I passed out.

No more dropping acid three and four times a week. On Christmas Eve, I almost flipped out on that blue shit; ever since, I’ve been having flashbacks. Having a good time for 12 hours or so is one thing, but freaking out when I haven’t dropped anything is totally scary. It’s freaky when you’re at work and start tripping for no reason.

I’m glad I quit that stupid job–I hate that bank and those stuffy people; I don’t give a fuck about who gets a loan for a Toyota or Ford.

After we look at the van, Stoney drops me off at the apartment and leaves to score some mescaline for New Year’s, says he’ll be back in an hour or so.

John Steinbeck died about a week or so ago, and I just found out. I liked The Grapes of Wrath, even though I had to read it for high school.

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© 2008, by Jennifer Semple Siegel
Excerpts may not be used or copied without author’s permission

I, DRIVEN: MEMOIR OF A TEEN'S INVOLUNTARY COMMITMENT (Chapter Two, Part 6)

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(December 1968)

Stoney didn’t come home last night. I worry that he’s been busted, so I hunt all over Hollywood and Santa Monica for him. I even check with the fuzz down at L.A. County.

I find him hanging out at The Crystal Ship, flirting with his ex old lady Syndi, she hanging all over him. She’s a skinny chick with short red hair, in a pixie style popular about three years ago, all doe-eyed, and looks about 15. But there’s nothing innocent about her; she’s fucked half of Hollywood, and I wouldn’t put it past her to have another go-round with my old man.

"You better not be screwing that bitch!" I yell.

I shove Syndi away from Stoney.

Stoney pushes me away. "So what if I am?"

We get into a huge argument, right in the shop, and stay at it until he shoves me smack into the wall. I lose my balance; Stoney grabs me, steadying me to my feet.

"Fuck you!" I push him away. "You’re an asshole!" I stomp out of the shop.

I storm back to the pad and sulk–trying to think up things to make his life miserable. I could kill that bastard.

An hour later, he drags himself through the door and apologizes, says he ate some strange mescaline that made him sick; he passed out at the shop and couldn’t move. Says he didn’t fuck Syndi: "No way. Took me months to get rid of her," he says. "Why would I want to reopen up that can of worms?"

I believe him. I still want to sock him, though I’m glad to see him safe. But then he ruins our good karma.

After the bad mescaline, you’d think he’d be a bit reluctant to use any more dope, right? Wrong. He pours those 500 tabs onto the table, counts out 13.

"I wonder what would happen," he says, holding them out in the palm of his hand, "If I dropped every last stinking one of these?"

"I wouldn’t try it," I say. "Probably kill you."

"I’d have one helluva super trip."

"Maybe your last trip."

"The ultimate trip!" Then he pops them into his mouth.

"No!" I try prying open his mouth, but it’s too late–he’s already swallowed the tabs.

He grabs a Coke from the refrigerator and guzzles it. "I’m on my way to the best trip of my life!"

"Oh, shit!" What am I going to do? Call an ambulance? I can’t call an ambulance; there’s too much dope in this place–after the doctors pumped his stomach, we’d each get about 50 years...

Stoney laughs. "Jesus, Jennifer, you’re such a drag."

God damn. If he’s willing to risk his life for the ultimate trip, then who am I to stop him? I’ll stay here, pop some bennies, keep watch on him all night, and if he gets to a critical stage, I’ll get Rudy from downstairs to help me out; he’ll know what to do without ringing in the heat.

Stoney slips into some strange trance-like state; he doesn’t move, but his eyes and muscles twitch like crazy, and his carotid artery looks like it might pop out of his neck. Yet when I put my ear to his chest, his heartbeat sounds regular, though I don’t know exactly what constitutes a normal rhythm. Though his face is puffy and little redder than usual, he doesn’t seem to be dying. He’s even smiling–something cool’s happening in there, so who am I to ruin a perfectly good trip?

Okay, so Stoney blows some circuits; he’s done that already–what’s a few more?

While I watch him, the mail arrives–a letter from Jeff. Cool letters, a bit over my head. But he’s groovy and sensitive–I doubt if he would drop 13 tabs of acid.

God, just look at Stoney–that shit’s got to be eating up his brain cells. Strange. I love him, but I don’t always like him. We don’t do regular things together. Yeah, we drop acid and, sometimes, make love, but he leaves me alone a lot–does his own thing–and, at times, he can be hateful and mean. Then he does stupid crap like dropping 13 tabs. I wish he were more like Jeff, not do so much dope, but some of the time, he’s very sweet and gentle.

Then there’s Jeff...When he was still here, we did a lot of fun stuff together–we laughed and carried on like two kids, ran around the strip.

Haven’t I known him forever?

No, only since October.

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End of Excerpts

© 2008, by Jennifer Semple Siegel
Excerpts may not be used or copied without author’s permission