Today, kids, we are zooming over to the eastern seaboard of the good old U.S.of A. Near New York, on Lido Beach, Long Island, lives a poet and psychoanalyst named Dr. Pearl Ketover Prilik, Dr. Pearl to us. I must tell those of you who generally skim long articles, that this interview contains possibly the most unusual birth story I have ever heard. It should not be missed!
Pearl can be found, on any given day, at Imagine. As she is an analyst, as well as a wordsmith, her interview ran along some very interesting digressions. It might be appropriate, if you have a laptop, to lie down on the couch for this one, and we can wind the reel back to the very beginning. Close your eyes. What is your first memory :-)?
Poets United: Pearl, I googled Lido Beach and see you live in a glorious spot along the ocean. Lucky you!
Dr. Pearl: Hi Sherry … I must begin by announcing at the outset that I am delighted to have been asked, and that I think interviewing me is an absolutely awful idea. “These reasons will become increasingly clear before too long,” said she,taking a big breath and running her hand through dark hair so long that it touches the top of her waist. First of all, I wanted to thank you for the honour of interviewing me in This Poet’s Life, she said, gazing meaningfully from her living room window out over the swaying marshes that gave way to the channel meandering through the morning mist as a flock of Canada geese rose and raucously stirred the silence – and drew her eyes behind her over the sweeping moors to the sea … the glorious sea…
Lido Beach - A five minute walk from my house
Ahem….I live in Lido Beach, which is reached by a causeway that is truly one of the most beautiful stretches of road I have ever travelled and which affords a sense of sanctuary and isolation from the ‘rest of the world’ of Long Island on the “other side.” I do live quite near the water, which is essential to me. But the ocean proper is a short walk up the road.
I am both delighted to have been asked to be interviewed and also feel that this is an absolutely awful idea. Honored and thrilled, given my deep appreciation and respect for Poets United, and trepidations, given my competing desires for privacy and fame. There is nothing more certain to disturb the illusion of fluid timelessness than by describing one’s life... especially when adult children are involved. So to heck with vanity of conjured numbers – the little woman behind the curtain is about to speak.
Poets United: Rest easy, Pearl. We’re not very famous! But we’re pleased to visit with you!
Dr. Pearl: I came here long ago, to this barrier beach island in Long Island, after returning from St. Thomas in the U. S. Virgin Islands.
What was intended as a brief stop-over is now closing in on thirty years. Just writing thirty years has the effect of my wanting to throw down my virtual pen and call it a day...knowing full well that those who can manage basic arithmetic will now set aside that aspect of me that remains the forever young mother dancing barefoot with her infant boy on her hip on a turquoise sunlit beach.
But back to this being interviewed business, which I think is clear by now sent me into somewhat of a tailspin as I began to think about how I could conceptualize my “Life as a Poet” in a linear rather than associative way. Therein lies the essential contradiction, not only of this interview, which asks that I step away from myself and address the unseen audience commenting on … my self. Hmmm, perhaps the best way would be to let you simply get a word in.
Poets United: (smiling) What does your life look like, these days? Who do you share space with? Do you have any critters?
Dr Pearl: Okay… so here is your first question and you have stopped me dead in my tracks. “What does my life look like, these days?” is a deceptively simple, straight forward question. But, I , a product of at least 800 hours of analysis, immediately read the question and think…. Mhmmm it depends who’s looking?
And if I’m doing the looking I ‘d have to say that I need to answer this question first in an associative, dare I say poetic, way and then in a more direct journalistic way. So hold onto to your hats.. .here we go...
I believe that life is both unfixed and fluid and obviously constrained, finite and time limited with an end that is uncertain. I am, I suppose, a poet and so demarcations of time place station are disconcerting and oddly do not seem real: My me, life, my overlaps. The nursing mother with the mother of the adult son is one and the same and neither defines me... All is fluid...all is real and actual. Life is perception and moving as water...
The plain literal answer is that I have a private psychoanalytic practice out of my home, and I write. I live with my husband and a feral cat who adopted us a year ago and became some absolutely gorgeous and gentlemanly creature. The kids are grown and out of the house.
The rather mundane house has been redone as much as it can to give it some semblance of character in a neighbourhood that is otherwise unrelentingly suburban. I have chosen to see my actual home as the ultimate mystic Zen challenge to be spiritual and at “one” with “all” since it is far simpler to transcend while gazing at the aqua seas of my beloved Virgin Islands than it is on the lower office level of a reconfigured high-ranch home in Southern Long Island.
I have hesitated mightily, and thought long and hard about why this interview was both so important and stultifyingly terrifying to me, and it is because I detest and fear labels… I am a middle-aged women married almost thirty years … but at the same time I am also each and every one of my experiences....shifting as light shimmers on the sea even as I write these answers. I am that new mother holding that infant son against her breast. That little girl finally, finally, skipping up the huge steps to school, the daughter at her dying father’s bed..........
Grandmas and little me
........or the little girl daughter sitting on a dock as her impossibly handsome raven haired father paints, the tiny girl watching through a Florida vacation window, her incredibly young parents dance in the parking lot under strung collared lights, the grown woman in second career writing a dissertation, the seventeen year old beginning college, or later on a train rocking home after work and night graduate school during that time as a single mother, the still young woman caught off guard and bewitched and entranced by a metamorphosis from friendship to love and quickly from a quiet orderly house of mother and son ( a child so absolutely wise and thoroughly adorable that he at three hugged my neck and said his “heart was overfilling with love” and, at five, after the horrific death of a little friend, said that he believed that he had figured out that God was made up of all people who became a part of him.”)
My now grown son as a baby picking me a hibiscus blossom –
“it” doesn’t get better than moments like these :)
Moving from this intense mother-little son relationship to a family of five - spinning from one graduation to another, hanging silk unicorns in a girly bedroom with white eyelet comforters, on college leavings and then weddings, harking back always to my own wedding - standing under a simple chuppa just the five of us- and one good friend in my father’s greenhouse blizzarded snow holding us all like figures in a snow globe in the only wedding we would have...yet knowing the feel of walking down an aisle veiled and young in an itchy alecon dress.. ....
I live with my husband DJ (Ira) and with Oliver, our mystical cat - who seems to have selected us for some still unrevealed feline rationale.
But I still live also with them all, slipping on my grandmother’s silk slips twirling as a princess on her velvet forest green carpeted floors....running down a Colorado hospital corridor to meet a stepson’s baby girl who looked just like me ...and a second baby girl three years later. And, in holding these infants, enabling me to hold a sense of him as an infant finally, all of it shimmering inside each experience.
Of course, not being psychotic, I am aware of my actual, observable life as well, living in that mentioned reconfigured high ranch house...pleasant enough with ceilings I vaulted as high as I could, white French doors wherever they might fit, dark shining wood floors, flowers in spring and in summer enough greenery through the glass to truly feel as though I am in a country landscape...enjoy the proximity of the beloved essential sea close enough by.
My husband DJ
I revel, laugh, am astounded, disoriented and completely at peace with my best friend being my husband of nearly thirty years, as I am simultaneously sitting on a park bench with him sharing a tuna sandwich and stories of my imminent planned return to the USVI and proclaiming my desire to never ever marry "again". Catapulted to knocking on doors-standing in the audience listening to an impassioned crowd and filled with a wonderful sense of wanting to “work for this young guy” … who just happens to be my son, pulling a lever with his name on it, as “my son the attorney” ran for State Senate.
My life includes my maternal grandmother slipping years ago into a gentle and kind-to-her dementia where “young men” would fly through her apartment windows, visit and bring her tea, and she would allow them to rest in her bedroom, my mother young forever, a kid brother, the recipient of my teasing and willing, wide-eyed listener to the tales I spun. Dr. Seuss, DH Lawrence, fat Russian novels and slender love stricken women under wheels of trains...all of it is where I live...all of it...little children in uniform shining faces calling a twenty year old me "teacha" south Jamaica Queens NY ...junior high kids who had never been out of their train-screamed neighbourhood riding that train with them into Manhattan...the steady stream of school kindergarten “stop look and listen chimes” through to NYU, an undergraduate English majored degree a masters on English secondary Ed ...another masters in SW, a doctorate in SW, a dissertation on moral reasoning and adolescents’ exposure to violence pulling in a thread ...the ongoing quest for "understanding" and peace of mind .... All of it ... Part of some glorious tapestry shot through the simple fabric of life with these golden threads...this gossamer weightless tapestry that floats within that singular droplet that is my life.
Poets United: Wow, kiddo, I am digging this stream of consciousness. You must be so proud of your son! And I love your Grandma’s “men”. A couple of those zooming in and out my window would perk up my old age considerably (Cackle!)
Dr. Pearl: I began reading at two and probably peaked intellectually somewhere around nine, when I was reading Dickens and so forth, astounding at nine, expected at seventeen, unremarkable as a fully fleshed out educated woman.
My husband DJ (Ira) and myself out for our 25th anniversary
So many couples describe their long-time spouses as their ‘best friend.’ In this case, it is actually true. Although we will be married thirty years in December… 12/12/12 , he was my best friend. I remain pleasantly astounded at how and when we rounded the corner of long walks and good talk to marriage and raising a family together.
Yet, we did. He is my golden anchor to my rickety white sailed boat…. He is my right brained mathematical physicist cum antique gallery owner to my …. Well you get it… No, he does not “complete me” … we do balance one another; he is on one end of the continuum of rational/logical thought, and I easily sit comfortably on the other – but what is comfortable, magical and mystical is that we have a long broad expanse - a causeway, if you will - that we can walk together between these two poles. He is simply a great guy and inexplicably perhaps a perfect match.
Critters you ask? Mhmmm… After years and years of wonderful German Shepherds – usually two, at one point seven – (puppies!) - there is a rather hackneyed yet humorous comment that goes something like “life begins when the kids leave and the dog dies.” Well the “kids” grew up and left and the last dog died. I must admit that for a year or three there, it was surprisingly delightful. I live within fifty feet of marshland – that is populated by a shifting but always present colony of friendly-ish feral cats (yes, I ‘ve been involved with spay-neuter-release programs over the years so the population is not huge). Kittens do occasionally appear but they are impossible to approach. Soooo I was surprised one early rainy afternoon, to hear the tiniest mew and see this tiny ball of coal fluff, weighing in at less than two pounds, who came to the door three times. He was so tiny that he needed to stretch his entire wet being to reach the door jamb. Surprisingly, he let me pick him up and dry him off. I was delighted to have been able to finally rescue a kitten, and couldn’t wait to find him a good home. I had no idea that this “good home" would be ours.
Oliver, the first day
Apparently, my husband, formerly highly allergic and very much a German shepherd and not a “cat person” fell completely and totally in love … and Oliver now has his own room which he sleeps in each night as a good child might, and has grown into a beautiful gentleman, who allows me to give him a quick bath each morning. So there you have it. We have been completely ‘adopted’ and there is no small measure of wonder in our selection.
Poets United: Oliver is adorable. Have you always worked from home?
Dr. Pearl: I had several different private offices in Garden City, not Manhattan, but a lovely city on Long Island for about 16 years ... Three years ago, I moved my practice full-time to my home office . It is a fabulous commute on snow winter rainy spring days or steamy summer afternoons… the isolation is sometimes a downside – but I mix it up by the lively virtual conversations upstairs on the computer in my study. I really do need to get out some more.
Poets United: Oh, you live in heaven. I would never want to leave! Have you always lived around New York? Where did you grow up?
Dr. Pearl: I was born in Boston, in my father’s hospital bed. My entrance into the world, is, I suppose “my story” … One doesn’t have anywhere to go but down when one’s birth is seen as a magical experience and such was the case. My father and mother were very young and my father was in Boston Children’s hospital (he was 19) with a coarctation of the aorta. This was long enough ago that treatment was experimental. My mother did not know she was pregnant with me and the afternoon before his surgery dressed in the fashion of the day wide shouldered suit and a jaunty matching beret she felt a bit queasy. She and my maternal grandmother, so goes the “legend of Pearl” went to the cafeteria for some lunch – on their way back to the room… my mother’s water broke… my grandmother (an elegant lady who much later, well into her eighties, watched a film with Sharon Stone gasping unmistakably under some shower jets and asked “what is she doing?”) had no idea what had happened and assumed that there had been some "accident of nerves.”
My mother, for her almost eighteen year old part, had little more understanding of what was happening and rushed to my father’s room … “Sit in the chair” said my grandmother, so goes the story, as she rushed to get a nurse… at which point my mother describes a shocking sensation of sitting on a bowling ball. Within the next several minutes, my father groggy from pre-surgery drugs took his place in the chair and my mother in his bed – when the summoned nurse arrived – my mother was leaning on her elbow – beret still on her head - smoking a cigarette… with me lying across her ankles.
Poets United: Now THAT is definitely the most unusual response I ever got to that question!
Dr. Pearl: The rest of the legend has it that the following day of surgery, the operating physicians decided that if they continued as planned the “boy”, now turned father, would have some unknown but certain severe impairment and decided to “close him up” and have him enjoy his family.
He did, and lived long enough to have what became routine surgery when I was thirteen, and die of completely unrelated causes long after his first grandchild was born. Any way…… What was the question? Yes, so I was born in Boston, but only lived there for my first ten days and then returned to Brooklyn, NY where I lived until twelve, when my parents decided that we needed to head for ‘better environs” in Queens.
My young parents
Poets United: Your parents look wildly romantic!
Dr. Pearl: When this is the love story you are born into, your perspective is forever altered. I graduated from NYU and had the chance to wear black armbands, hum great folk music and then go off in my senior year, (after an ill fated meeting involving a veil and a long white dress – enough said about that! ), on a vacation to the Virgin Islands.
St. Thomas - view from the house
Poets United: You say on your site that your move to the Virgin Islands changed the way you look at life. Would you like to tell us a bit about that?
Dr. Pearl: From the moment the plane doors opened and the perfumed embracing air welcomed me...I felt oddly and profoundly a sense of homecoming. What was supposed to be a two week trip lasted almost six years...and became my template for being able to actualize desire. I could see my life standing as a just turned twenty year old on that steamy tarmac melting onwards from twenty until, well the end...and knew that this was the time to step off the conveyor belt of my otherwise conventional life... I didn't want to return in retirement. I needed to stay there right then, at that precise time of my life. It was a decision I never regretted. I experienced moments of sheer awestruck joy in simply being, including the birth of my son, several times each day for nearly six years. I know that if I had not stayed then, I would have been bereft now of the joy, which continues to sustain me all these many years later.
Poets United: I so know that feeling of "home". In 1989, I followed my heart to the West Coast. So, Pearl, when did you first know you are a writer?
Dr. Pearl: I am only recently coming to terms with being able to actually define myself as a “writer.” I suppose that when I either write or publish the book I want to read, I will consider myself a writer. Until then, it is more or less up to others. It is the single label I would choose for myself, but I am still in the process of earning the title. I can share that I have been writing regularly since shortly before age nine.
Poets United: Sounds like a writer to me! What do you love about poetry? What keeps you writing?
Dr. Pearl: Poetry is the language of association. I do believe that life and experience is like the sea or water, it comprises many levels. Yet communicative language forces preciseness and, in so doing, limits choices in speaking of only one thing at one time. Poetry, on the other hand, permits the complexity of image to coexist, and meaning to be derived from the coalescence of the movement of imagery. It is diametrically opposed to communicative prose, speaking and/or writing. I would say, hmm I did say, that poetry is another language altogether.
I suppose that is why I find, and others sometimes describe, poetry as simply “arriving.” Poetry is a balm, a vehicle to express the interior world which is not at all linear. Poetry simply expresses the ‘felt’ and ‘seen’ world in a more accurate portrayal of the ‘thing observed and/or experienced’ and its related associations. It also provides me with great release and pleasure and some inexplicable sense of satisfaction (again as though I am speaking my “first” language).
Poets United: Interestingly put. What do you strive for in your writing?
Dr. Pearl: Boy, when I start striving, I write really awful things. I have several novels I could attach to prove the point.
Poets United: (smiling) Where do you most find inspiration?
Dr. Pearl: The simple, both grandiose and trivial answer is that I need only to be asked to write a poem to write one. Prompts, pictures, the need to memorialize a feeling or experience for myself or another. I think that no “inspiration” is needed, other than a simple request, because of this notion that for me poetry is the only other language I speak, so it is simply translation – that does not require inspiration.
Poets United: Who would you say has had the most significant impact on your writing?
Dr. Pearl: The global answer is “everyone I know, have known or will ever know, including all animals and creatures.” Directly, my father, whose eyes lit up whenever I said just about anything as a small child, who filled our Brooklyn apartment with music so loud that it vibrated in my chest and who would hold my small hand in his and ask me to close my eyes, to feel and to tell him what I was feeling. Once, during one of these crescendoing violin endings, I peeked and watched a tear trail down his cheek, it was astounding.
On a more prosaic but absolutely directly impacting manner – my third grade teacher. A rather straight-laced slightly blue-rinsed-hair slender woman given to blue suits and a very quiet assertive demeanour. One crisp blue morning, Mrs. Doyle had us look out the window and asked us to raise our hands and tell what we saw… one by one children described … and when we had finished she stood tall and in a clear voice turned her head to the windows looked outside and announced, hands clasped at waist level: “I see brilliant red and white and deep blue and the wind waving … I see our country.” She followed this impassioned, face-flushing passion with a few words that echoed throughout the halls of my mind for all time… These are called “picture words.” Picture words: Mrs. Doyle conceptualized and integrated precisely the elusive feeling that was already so much a part of me and gave voice to my interior world. Thank you Mrs. Doyle.
In fifth grade, Mrs. Klasowitz sealed the deal of writing forever – bohemian Mrs. Klasowitz with her hair piled atop her head and stuck somehow with black and red enamelled chop sticks, who played classical music and had us paint, paint, paint to Peter and the Wolf, had a small “private” library and selected special monitors to dust her books and yes, to change her shoes in the morning from walking low heeled pumps, to sensible black tied orthotics. Mrs. Klasowitz decided and announced that I was ‘creative,” left a stack of yellow paper on her desk and gave me public permission to write whenever the need struck… my desk was in the first row and I felt that need every time she turned to the board and began arithmetic … leaving me to this very day with a daunting deficit in decimals and only the most fractitious relationship with fractions, but boy did I write. I loved Mrs. Klasowitz, and my first foray into a creative spirit, to this very day.
Poets United: What a wonderful story! When you’re not writing, what other interests might we find you pursuing?
Dr. Pearl: I have this problem… in that once something passionately interests me, it seems to become a ‘career.’
I think that is part of the reason that this interview for Poets United frightened me… it was one of my last vestiges of doing something simply for fun. I liked reading, became a Reading and English teacher, interested always in the workings of the mind from finding a relative’s Sigmund Freud Psych 101 college text at age eight and continued reading professional and psychological novels… mhmmm became a psychoanalyst… and on and on it goes. I am working on finding something to not work at.
The truth of the matter is that currently when I am not writing, I am watching TV… something like Downton Abbey or Law and Order SVU … my guilty now-exposed secret is that when not writing I will watch anything to ‘swipe’ my brain, nap and recharge – most delightful, during these times, is if Oliver deigns to climb up and sleep at the other end of the couch, close enough to let me know he cares. But basically, my “other interests” are obsessing about not writing.
Poets United: Any causes that are dear to your heart?
Dr. Pearl: Causes.... I am passionate about the possibility of the end of all war, where all come to recognize that we are actually, not simply poetically or perspectively, in this existence as one interconnected system. In terms of other causes, I will write or make calls or donate what I can to anything involving children, ending illness ...basically I can no more separate a favorite cause than separate those droplets in the sea.
Poets United: Best book you ever read? What do you love about it?
Dr. Pearl: Best book? Impossible in this fluid rush to isolate, but I suppose the very earliest ones had the most impact. The only book on my writing desk is Anne of Green Gables, read before I was nine...the fields, the sense of kindred spirit-ness, giving voice to something felt and never before as clearly articulated.
Poets United: Would you like to talk a little about the books you have had published?
Dr. Pearl: My published writing? I am far enough along to no longer display the arrogance of dismissing my incredible good fortune in having the first book I submitted a query letter for accepted for publication, for that book to be printed in paperback by a major house, and to be revised and gain a new life with a different house. I had a few books published on the topic of Step-mothering years ago.
I wrote the book, got a call from Viacom before I had any research done and asked them to call back… I’m still waiting, and learned when opportunity knocks (they were doing a special on stepparenting) answer! At any rate, after the book was published, I returned for doctoral training and learned that what I had done was a “grounded research study”. Who knew? I suppose the point for new writers is that, if you don’t know that something is not likely, you might be a great deal more successful.
I just kept on sending out query letters, certain that somebody would publish my book… and they did… Stepmothering A Different Kind of Love (Forman Press 1990 and Berkley Press 1990), The Art of Stepmothering (WD Publications 1993), and Becoming an Adult Stepchild (American Psychiatric Press 1993).
I then returned to graduate school for six years, in a career change. My dissertation was The Relationship Between Adolescent Exposure To Violence and Moral Judgment Reasoning, 1996.
I continued on at the Post-Doc level to become a psychoanalyst – during which time I was editor of the Derner Institute Post-Doc (Analytic) Society Newsletter for five years (2000-2005).
Like most of us, I would suspect, I have a small forest of unpublished and unsubmitted short stories, a children’s collection that was solicited and set for publication until the publishing house went bankrupt, two completed novels, etc. etc. etc.
I have now had some online micro fiction published at Postcard Shorts, a poem coming out in a Sea Girafee, a Poets On Living Waters open mic.
Recently, I edited Prompted:An International Collection of Poems,
a self- published collection by a group we called “The Anthologists” - 40 poets who regularly submitted and commented on each other’s poems online over at Poetic Asides –many of those names are known over here at Poets United as well. Robert Lee Brewer, the Editor of Poetic Asides wrote the foreword and I secured permission to use ten of the prompts that we had written to over the years and agreed through a voting process were our ‘favorites.”
Editing Prompted was truly a labor of love, with proceeds donated to LitWorld, an international literacy organization. It gave me tremendous hope for a time, that if on a micro level, forty individuals could come together for a poetry collection, there was great hope on the macro level for world peace… now if that’s not a leap I don’t know what is… but I find hope where I can, and tend to run with it.
When I had the idea to ‘try’ online poetry, four or five years ago, I hit Poetic Asides because it was a Writers Digest-sponsored site, and it seemed like happy serendipity. I started a blog “Imagine” soon thereafter and found myself submitting profusely . I have to say that the instant gratification of a comment on a poem from the online community is truly transformative – on my part I try to comment as much as I possibly can wherever I can.
Poets United: I know, the feedback, encouragement and support of the poetry community is wonderful, isn’t it?
Dr. Pearl: I am currently working on editing another collection titled Beyond the Dark Room, which has expanded to include poets from many other sites. I found Poets United and have been increasingly drawn to the diversity of the prompts, the gentleness of spirit I have found here over the past several years. I have a great deal of respect for this site.
Poets United: We thank you, Pearl. Do you have any advice for a beginning writer?
Dr. Pearl: Write and submit – write and submit – do not edit and consider every rejection letter a sign that someone out there took the time to read what you have written.
Poets United: Good advice! Anything else you’d like to share with Poets United?
Dr. Pearl: Anything else? I feel as though I’ve long ago worn out my welcome… and moved into territory of PKP – The Never Ending Song of Her Life. I do feel that I have given you a picture of my life without pulling down the curtain on, in my case, the " little woman behind the curtain" in my own land of Oz. It's all a matter of perspective, I suppose my responses will be read as either evasive and intellectually diagnostically scattered, defensive and, simply put, rather odd...or representative of the freely associative poetic way I experience life specifically and as a whole.... or perhaps “door number three,” a little bit of it all.
I thank you for the opportunity to illuminate for myself how truly ephemeral and fluid are my thought processes... and in so doing to see why poetry just seems to "come effortlessly" from someplace else, as though I am translating. Because, indeed as I have suspected, poetry is a form in which I can articulate this felt multi-simultaneously layered experience that is This Poet's Life.
Thank you, for the opportunity.
Poets United: My pleasure, Pearl. Thank you for allowing us this paddle along your richly moving river of thoughts.
Pearl: I now have a good head start on my memoir, the Never Ending Song of Myself : the Illustrated Coffee Book version :-)
Well, there you have it, kids. Life as experienced on the eastern seaboard. Isn’t it true that the people behind the pens are the most interesting people around? Come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!