Darlene E Skinner
May 2, 2011
My life is a never ending poem.
Cynthia Wicks is an amazing woman, who has repeatedly overcome more than her share of difficulties. She has used her poetry writing as a survival tactic. She, half-jokingly, claims it is the only fair way to make people fall in love with her. She states, “Without writing, I had no identity-now I do.” Then without a second of thought, she quoted one of her favorites, “I rise up in equality, equal to the rest of humanity.”
Rising up to equality has not been an easy task for Cynthia. She currently lives in a group home in Kealakekua; the home is for residents who are afflicted with at least one mental health diagnosis. I felt oddly aware of my own narrow-minded preconceptions, when I found her home setting to be the opposite of what I had imagined it would be. My illusions, evidently guided by outdated movies, expected to find a dark gloomy house, hiding behind a group of trees. Instead, as I drove into the narrow driveway, I was surprised to find a large, overtly exposed, two-story, white rectangular house. It seemed to scream out, “come see how normal we are; we’ve nothing to hide.” Later, Cynthia described it as her ivory tower—her safe place. I couldn’t help but wonder if the grimy looking brown Chow dog, guarding the front door, was a replacement for her missing moat. Cynthia had been waiting studiously, both hands neatly folded in her lap. She was adorned with a, meticulously applied, bright red lipstick that matched her red tinted strands of hair and floral blouse.
Cynthia greeted me with childlike enthusiasm and a welcoming smile, yet her eyes shyly averted mine. She handed me a signed copy of her recently published book, Kindergarten for Grown Ups. Underneath the title, in chalk like print, was her pen name, “Pinuppoet”. “Here, this is for you”, she offered generously. We decided to go to Donkey Balls for coffee. There, I was able to return her favor with a bag of goodies. As she slowly removed the cookies, malt balls and package of Kona coffee, Cynthia announced, “I feel like a celebrity!” Rather than a gal in her forties, she reminded me of a kid enjoying a long awaited outing. Her humble gratitude warmed me to the core and made me wish I was as easy to please as she.
Having met Cynthia through mutual friends, I was happy to get the chance to get to know her better and to find out what path she took to get her book published. She told me that while attending High School in Salt Lake City, Utah, she began to write lots of poetry, performed Shakespeare on stage, saw “Richard III” nine times and Loved Tennessee Williams. Her mother later told her that, while in fifth grade, her teacher had described her poems as extraordinary. At age 17, Cynthia was diagnosed with multiple personality disorder. At that time 15 unique personalities were discovered. She wrote to compensate for being shy and introverted. She managed to graduate High School and then attended the University of Utah.
In college she took performing arts classes, participated heavily in theatre and took beginner poetry classes. When I asked Cynthia what forms or techniques she preferred to use, I expected her to name some of the many confusing (to me) forms that I had read about on the Poet.org website. Instead, her answer was simple, “Metaphors…I think in metaphors.”
For almost 20 years, life, health and alcohol issues prevented Cynthia from writing. In 2005 she sobered up and became worried that her creativity would not return. She began journaling and wrote five journals in five years. In the interim, a dear friend, Ray, gave her a computer and inspired her through emails. She chuckles and says, “My whole life changed when I learned how to copy and paste”. She began to attach her poems to emails and send them to friends. Ray sent her links to new poets, gave her books, and introduced her to the works of Frank O’Hara and other poets. She joined up with the Hawaii Island Writers Association, was introduced to Kona Lowell(a local author), and began to read from her journals on Public Access TV.
Cynthia’s writing process is not at all complicated. When things enter her mind, she just goes with it. She goes with her first instinct and enjoys luxurious time, “soaking in thought.” If she is out and about and receives an inspirational thought, she carries it with her. Like an egg ready to hatch, she will not put it down until she’s home safe with her computer, coffee and cigarettes. “My fingers are impetuous children, they do as they please.”
A couple of years ago Cynthia had a mental breakdown. She decided that, more than anything, she “needed to be in a book”. It took her 1 ½ years of writing and being turned down by publishers before she received her letter of acceptance. She was thrilled, but not nearly excited as she was on the day of her book signing. She recalls how nice everyone treated her and how very special she felt. That was when she realized, “I have something to offer now”.
Unlike Dickinson, who kept most of her poetry unpublished during her lifetime and kept to herself in her later years, (EmilyDickinsonMuseum) Cindy now writes for an audience—to uplift them. When asked what she is most proud of, she replies, “My son…he amazes me. He sings, writes songs and plays the electric guitar. He’s my posterity.”
Today, Cynthia’s is mental health diagnosis is schizo-affective disorder, a combination of the schizophrenic spectrum and the mood swings of bi-polar. She is a mental health advocate, a loving member of our community and a wonderful poet. It appears that writing has saved her life.
I wondered how creative writing interacts with mental illness. James Pennebaker, PhD of the University of Texas At Austin “has found… mental health benefits from writing—but only when the writer crafts a narrative or makes connections between thought and feelings. J.C. Kaufman, of the American Psychological Association, theorizes that poets may not garner the same benefits from writing that other writers do because poems seldom form a narrative. However, Pennebaker cautions that there is no data yet that proves that poetry writing isn’t beneficial.”(Bailey)
I asked Cynthia whether she thought people with mental health illnesses are more inclined to become poets. She answered, “There are many people with mental health issues that do not write poetry and who do not write therapeutically.” She went on to describe herself as a radical supporter of the Icarus Project. Their mission statement includes, “We recognize that we all live in a crazy world, and believe that sensitivities, visions, and inspirations are not necessarily symptoms of illness. Sometimes breakdown can be the entrance to breakthrough.” (Icarus Project)
In her poem, Something to Remember, Cynthia wrote, “It is my hope that I’m not wearing out the world’s welcome. I cling to my invitation as though it might dissolve.” How sad and scary it is to fear the things that are not real. It’s nearly impossible to make something go away that never existed in the first place. My time with Cynthia was one of the most uplifting times of my life. Hopefully, by the time her second book is published she will have written her way into enough hearts to feel the warmth that her words radiate and know that she will be forever loved.
Autonomous, ed. The Icarus Project. The Icarus Project, 4 May 2011. Web. 4 May 2011. .
Emily Dickinson Museum. Trustees of Amherst College, 2009. Web. 3 May 2011. .
Poets.Org. The Academy of American Poets, 6 Apr. 2011. Web. 6 Apr. 2011. .
Smith Bailey, Deborah. "The "Sylvia Plath" effect." 42. N.p., Nov. 2003. Web. 4 May 2011. .
Wicks, Cynthia. Kindergarten For Grown Ups. Baltimore: Publish America, 2010. Print. Pinuppoet.