Sunday, September 7, 2008

New Memoir Excerpt site...


I haven't posted here in a while and for two good reasons:

I decided to revamp my excerpt blog. In fact, I basically restarted from scratch.

Will this bring the literary agents running to my memoir and showering me with 6 or 7 figure advances?

Probably not, but it is my hope to create the best possible showcase of my work. The new site features more excerpts, some "out takes" (text in the original but ultimately pulled), news clips, more art work, and YouTube features related to my story and the late 1960's.

I have changed most of the links here and on the old excerpt sites to direct to my memoir site.

Not much action on the agent front. Rather than bore you, I decided to concentrate on some of my other sites. No point in whining!
So for more information, go directly to



Sunday, May 4, 2008

Quillery Press: What Happens When the Fat Lady Sings (publishing a novel online)

I have just set up an online press called Quillery. I am in the process of publishing What Happens When the Fat Lady Sings, my own novel about what happens when my chunky protagonist attends her family reunion.

And YOU are invited to Samnatha's family reunion!

So if Quillery is an online press, what is a nice editor like me doing publishing my own work? Doesn't that fly in the face of conventional wisdom?

I'll tell you why I am posting my novel on this site:

------1. Charity begins at home. Besides, if I don't believe in my own work, who will? I do believe in Samantha, my sexy fat lady, and she will get her day in cyberspace.

------2. Apparently no one else is going to publish my novel, and why should years of work languish in a drawer?

------3. Conventional wisdom is vastly overrated. Who says self-publishing isn't a real publication?

------4. Most small presses are simply variations of self-publishing anyway; If I start a small press and publish your work, you start a small press and publish my work. That's the way it works--a dirty little secret in the writing biz. A "publishing co-op" is simply a euphemism for subsidy publishing, all dressed up to look good for the colleges and universities who are looking to hire published MFA'ers. I simply refuse to play that game. I'm self-publishing my novel online,

So There!

------5. Some distracted editor or agent might stumble upon it and actually like it. I could also win the Powerball Lottery (No, I haven't done that either).

A Short History of The Fat Lady

I wrote What Happens When the Fat Lady Sings as my creative thesis project for my M.F.A. program at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont.

Shiny new M.F.A. in hand, I, 43 years old, graduated in February 1994. At that time, the internet was still rudimentary and mostly a fearful place, filled with strange computer codes and even stranger geeks. It wasn't a place I ever expected to inhabit. Obviously, I was wrong, but I'll come back to this later.

A copy of my thesis novel resides in the Eliot D. Pratt Library Thesis Room, gracing the same room as David Mamet's undergraduate thesis, which, I must admit, I have perused.

I knew my novel was rough around the edges, so I set out to revise it. From 1994-2001, I revised it several times. In between revisions, it was rejected several times by various agents and publishers--a familiar story for most writers.

A few agents liked it but didn't feel they could take it on because it wasn't a mass market kind of book. Besides, it was "too long." And I was an unknown writer.

In 2001, What Happens When the Fat Lady Sings came very close to being published by a small press. But in the end, the editor felt that the novel was too long and unwieldy, and we couldn't agree on where to cut and other terms. So we parted ways.

In 2003, I decided to lift some of the chapters from the manuscript and develop a thematic short story collection. I carved out a 249-page collection, which retained some of the flavor of the original, but lost much of the tour de force. Thus, it was a muted version of the original with lots of gaps. But to make up for for that, I worked on creating individual stories that could stand alone. I believe I was mostly successful.

I sent it out the collection, facing yet again a round of rejections. My favorite one: "I can't sell this."

I'm not sure what she meant: in her mind, did the book simply stink or was a fat middle-aged woman not likely to appeal to a mass audience?

Well, it doesn't matter; she wasn't about to represent my work.

I seethed for about a year (well, not continuously), but in 2004, I decided to self-publish the collection. After doing a thorough search of self-publishing companies, I chose Infinity Publishing, mostly because the company didn't retain my copyright, and that was (and still is) important to me.

Are You EVER Going to be Thin? (and other stories) was released in July 2004 and is still available on Amazon.

The book has sold in the low three figures; I'm just a poor marketer of my own work; I'd rather write and work on the computer than go out to hustle book sales. It's my fatal flaw, I'm afraid.

The summer I published my book, I also discovered blogging; my first blog Ask eFatLady still exists, but I haven't posted much there lately.

Last year, I branched out into domaining (learning enough tech stuff to set up blogs with real domain names and add neat features, like Feedburner and StatCounter, but not enough to earn a living), and now I am in the process of developing into a forum, which exists solely because some poetry sites would rather censor unpopular viewpoints rather than engage in constructive debates.

I'm not a poet, per se, but I like reading it. However, I'm finding that I'm not liking much modern poetry, which seems pretentious, boring, and self-aggrandizing. Anyway, that's another story.

But I started to think about the writing field in general; I have concluded that, overall, the literary gatekeepers, more interested in profit, haven't been doing all that well discovering great literature. Three recent great books come to mind: Angela's Ashes, The Kite Runner, and A Thousand Splendid Suns--a pretty pathetic record.

A few weeks ago, an idea popped into my head: why not simply post my novel? Create another blog, slap some ads on it, and I'm good to go. Publish a chapter or two a week and forget about offending some unknown gatekeeper. Instead, become a queen of my own domain.

I'm not going to go out on a limb and say that my work is great--it's not. I just want a break, but if I wait around for someone else to give my work a chance, I'll grow very old, and What Happens When the Fat Lady Sings will remain in the drawer for my heirs to toss away after I die.

At least here in cyberspace, perhaps someone will find my novel and read all or parts of it; a small audience is better than no audience. My work will be out there.

One thing I have learned as a domainer:

Fresh content, even ordinary content, is king--in this case, queen?

And What Happens When the Fat Lady Sings IS 750 pages of unused content--a domainer's heaven.

So, for better or worse, each week I'll be posting (from the 2001 version) a chapter (or two) per week--until all 175 chapters have been posted, the cyber version of a serial.

I will not be revising (except to run the posts through a quick spell check), so it may be be a wild ride, indeed. Since 2001, my style has changed somewhat.

Will I eventually be publishing the longer works of other writers?

Maybe, maybe not.

This little press may end up being a one-trick pony.

However, I will soon be setting up an e-zine called Quill Distillery. In that 'zine, I will be publishing the best work (fiction, poetry, non-fiction, and drama) I can find. Publication will probably be irregular because when I don't find quality work, either by friend or foe, I won't publish. Period.

Check back here for new chapters of my novel.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Just Pluggin' Along...

Today, as I was cleaning out my work area, I found the above November 24, 1993, Pluggers cartoon.

So true! Note the typewriter (though I was already using computer technology for my writing: a computer, a state-of-the-art Toshiba "laptop," 20 MEG hard drive, loaded with WordPerfect 5.0).

Writers tend to be pack rats, and I'm the worst kind, but this cartoon is a scrap that I'm glad I saved. Back in 1993, I didn't have a scanner, and the internet was pretty much the milieu of computer fanatics and people who wrote strange computer codes.

I probably intended to tack this cartoon onto a cork board, but obviously never got around to it.

My first printer, which cost $400.00, was a NEC dot matrix which required spooled (fan-fold) paper and a degree in engineering to figure out how to thread it. In fact, I still have it. You think the Smithsonian might like to have it? For its time, it was a great machine; the print was clear and the ribbon lasted forever. A lot of old manuscripts printed from that NEC are still around.

Yesterday, I bought an HP Color LaserJet 2600n for under $150.00--a breeze to set up. It's a big duffer, but well worth the space; it is connected (through a router) to three computers (why do two people need three computers, anyway?).

Yesterday I received an encouraging personalized rejection from a huge literary agency--such is life.

All I need is one agent who's passionate about my memoir.

So I'll just continue to plug along, playing with new geegaws...


Thursday, March 6, 2008

Off-Topic: Supporting Hillary Rodham Clinton

As a Pennsylvania resident, I have decided to support Hillary Clinton.

I am NOT adamantly against Barack Obama, and if he is ultimately selected as the Democratic candidate, I will support him fully and enthusiastically. I like him, but I just feel it's Hillary's time.

To back up my support, I have set up a Hillary Clinton website:

I hope to recruit 100 blog team members (explained on the site). I am not asking for money, nor will there be any advertising on this site. This is purely a grassroots effort. If you are interested, feel free to visit this site. It's still pretty much under construction, but I plan to work on it this weekend (along with updating the war dead for February on my It's JUST War! site).

If you're supporting Obama as the Democratic candidate, that's okay. I respect your right to support whoever you wish. But if you're on the fence, check out the site, and come back often.


I am a registered Independent and have been for years.

I have decided to re-register as a Democrat; for me this is a momentous decision because I have prided myself on my lack of party affiliation, my free-wheeling political independence.

However, Pennsylvania may very well decide the Presidential Democratic primary, and, ultimately, the presidency. I would be very upset with myself if Hillary lost a delegate by one vote, so I'm doing something about it now.

If you live in Pennsylvania (or any other closed-election state that hasn't yet held its primary or caucus), please think about the difference you could make by changing your party affiliation.

I have downloaded the proper forms and printed them out; I will be filling them out TODAY.



Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Introducing Body Memoir Politic: Looking (A Play)

Body Memoir Politic:


A Play in Ten Scenes


Jennifer Semple Siegel

© 2008


One pill makes you larger

And one pill makes you small

And the ones that Mother gives you

Don’t do anything at all.

Go ask Alice

When she’s 10 feet tall.

–Grace Slick, “White Rabbit”

Go to the website.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Jennifur: An Internet Baby

"Creating Baby Names, One Domain at a Time."


Question: What's the difference between a $xx,xxx domain and a $x domain?

Answer: one letter "e" morphed into "u."

Domaining is a crazy business that I still stumble around in, but one thing I have learned: one letter in a domain name can make a huge difference in its monetary value.

It's no secret among my friends: I would love to own, but unless I come into a large windfall and a willing seller, that will never happen. Moreover, the .dot-tv people are holding ransom for $500.00 a year. I would be willing to pay a one-time fee of $500.00, but I can't see paying that much yearly for what is basically a vanity domain.

Thanks to my parents, I'm fortunate in that I have a great first name that I love. Unfortunately, during the early 1970s, millions of parents also named their daughters "Jennifer," resulting in an annoying glut of rugrat Jennifers who eventually grew up and are now in their mid to late 30's and making their mark in the world.

And then there's Jennifer Lopez, Aniston, Garner, Love-Hewitt, etc., so the Jennifer domains, in all Top Level Domains (.com, .net, .org, etc.), are highly prized and priced.

So, as they say, "Get over it."

Back in August, I stumbled upon this article; some domain-savvy parents are selecting names based solely on domain availability. Being somewhat new at the domain game, I thought it was an amazing concept, for when I was growing up, parents wanted to name their children after parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, etc. and/or a name that they liked.

But in an odd sort of way, wanting to give one's unborn child a solid web presence is a form of legacy and an act of love--we all want the best for our children, and the gift of a personalized domain is especially important these days and will probably be extremely important in the next 20-30 years and beyond.

Basically, if you don't have a web presence, you don't exist.

One hundred years from now, domain names may be passed down from one generation to the next, so might be willed from father to son or grandfather to grandson. More young women with personalized domains might decide to hang onto their birth names after they marry, and, perhaps, even pass their birth names (and domains) to their daughters and granddaughters.

It's definitely a brave new world.

So what's all this got to do with with this blog? Not a whole lot, except this: For the past few weeks, I have been kicking around the idea of writing an internet story or novella about a child who has been named "Jennifur" because this first-name dot-com domain was available.

I have already written Chapter 1; if you wish, you can see for yourself at

So now you know the full answer to the question posed at the beginning of this post: = $xx,xxx = $x

But perhaps my minor creative endeavors will help to build some traffic for

In any case, it will be a fun and interesting experiment in domain-building and writing rough-draft creative work directly on the web.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Horny Women at the Sewing Factory (Poem by Jennifer Semple Siegel)

One hundred years ago, some medical authorities warned that professional seamstresses were apt to become sexually aroused by the steady rhythm, hour after hour, of the sewing machine’s foot pedals.
–circa 1910-1920




The treadle gets them off

every time.

Treadle, treadle, treadle.

Those horny women


how rhythm never fails


Six kids,

one on the way.


Treadle, treadle, treadle...

Ecstasy: groaning

twelve hours a day.

Treadle, treadle, treadle...

One buck

for six days

of delight–

horny women stretching

like acrobats

to end of the month.

Treadle, treadle, treadle.

They come,

they’ll go

home to the stud

sunk into the sofa.

Arousal all day!

Pumping does it every time.

Horny women,

hot bodies–


–bobbing up and down,

pop-up dolls.

A chorus of

Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!
Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!
Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!


six to six,


Orgasms all day,

every day.


horny nymphs never

need needling

for hemming,

hawing, hemming, hawing,








All sewn up





Hoary women

Copyright 2008 Jennifer Semple Siegel

Fourteen Women in Search of a Poet

(One hundred years ago, some medical authorities warned that professional seamstresses were apt to become sexually aroused by the steady rhythm, hour after hour, of the sewing machine’s foot pedals.*)


The above photograph, circa 1910-1920: fourteen horny women pose at their stations at a grubby sewing factory.


I once worked in a sewing factory--though I don’t recall becoming “sexually aroused.” I do remember being fired after one week of sewing misaligned baby sleepers, but arousal?

I don’t think so.

Winter 2004--still at work on my memoir. I set the photo aside and continue writing and then...


Must be the wind. Ignore it.

“Jennifer, listen to us!” A chorus of women.

Now I’m hearing voices?

“Who are you?”

“We’re the horny women from the sewing factory.”

Nice touch of irony.

“Go away. I’m busy.”

“We need a poet.” I feel a ghostly tap on my shoulder. “You!”

“Find someone else. I’m not a poet.”

Perhaps an occasional poet, one or two poems a year--I’d starve if I had to depend on my poetic abilities for a living.

“You must give us a voice.”

Most writers would feel honored to be chosen by fourteen ghosts for such important work, but I don’t need it right now: my memoir burns hot across the page--I mustn’t lose momentum.

“We need you.”

“Why me?”

“Because you know.”

No fair. It’s fourteen against one.

For the next two months, I swat my tormentors away, but they, buzzing, droning bees, always return, hovering and demanding that I act as their spokeswoman.

These misinterpreted women have argued well; not only were they accused of being horny on the job, but also had to endure having bromide dropped into their drinking water--to reign in that run-amok sexuality.

But that’s all in the past, right? Women have it so much better now...


January 2005: a ten-hour transatlantic flight from Frankfurt to Philadelphia. I’m a temporary captive of U.S. Airways and a tight airline seat. No laptop, my memoir inaccessible kilobytes on a CD.

The women return. “Aha!” they smirk. “Gotcha!”

No escape. I dig out scrap paper and pen; somewhere over the Atlantic, I write a first, second, and third draft, opting for free verse, wordplay, humor, and satire. Once I've created several drafts, I’m hooked.

I must revise.

Three years later, fourteen unknown women, long dead, have finally found their collective voice. “Horny Women at the Sewing Factory” will find a home on this blog.

Next post. Promise.

As writers, how often have we lamented the insidious blank screen, the dreaded writer’s block? Inspiration is a gift, even when it drops in at inconvenient times, and shouldn’t be denied. Listening to my persistent muses has paid off: a rejuvenated writing life.

My momentum hasn’t suffered at all.

Next post: the poem.


*From: Cherokee Mental Health: 100 Years of Serving Iowan’s [sic]

My Agent Search is On!

The other day, after conducting some careful research (primarily to rule out the scammers, who run wild in this industry), I sent out some email queries to agents.
The research aspect is very important because a memoirist should not bother an agent who specializes in Science Fiction. Contrary to popular belief, email should NOT equal carelessness. I made sure to personalize my queries to each agent--thus, no mass, scattershot messages.
Later today, I will send out snail mail queries to agents who would prefer not to receive email queries. I don't want to say "older" agents because that would be stereotyping; I'm older, and I'm totally comfortable around email, blogging, and the internet in general. I even do a little html.
I see many arguments pro and con for accepting email queries--I have one email address that receives so much spam that I spend most of my time deleting lottery winnings notifications from El Gordo and frantic messages from Nigeria and Romania offering lucrative financial deals, which, should I accept, are guaranteed to wipe out my bank account. I can only imagine the crank emails agents must receive from disgruntled (and unstable) writers.
If available, I checked agents' websites; some are elaborate webpages with detailed instructions to prospective writers, accompanied by lists of client books; others are minimalist portal pages with the most basic of contact information.
Two of the agents I queried actually require email queries, but they specify precisely what to place in the subject line; I ask the same from my students, albeit with mixed success.
If I were an agent, I would probably be in this camp. Who needs all that paper around? It's easier to reply to an email than a letter.
I suppose that if an author did not follow the agent's email instructions, he/she would be zapped from the queue without a thought. It's a buyer's market, after all, and there isn't a shortage of writers wanting to be represented.
My experience so far has been surprisingly pleasant:
--Agent #1 sent me an immediate rejection reply but was exceedingly prompt and pleasant. My book wasn't right for her--just that simple. I appreciate her honesty; besides, I don't want someone who is lukewarm about my memoir to represent it. I responded with a polite and short Thank You. Even in 2008, courtesy has not gone out of style, and she did take the time to read my letter.
--Agent #2 agreed to read a sample of the book; I have learned not to read too much into that, but it's a nice start.
I haven't heard from the others yet, but of course I don't expect immediate answers. I may not receive any answers--such is the ephemeral nature of cyberspace.
What a far cry from last year when I sent a snail mail query (with SASE) to an up and coming agent at a major agency and received no response at all. It may be a buyer's market, but, still, what does it take to pop a form letter into the SASE with a polite "No Thanks"? That agent's name will always remain with me, albeit in a very negative way. If she/he does this to enough writers, he/she will earn an underground reputation as a baddie (No, I'm not going to name names).
In any case, I'll probably avoid that agency altogether.
Anyway, searching for an agent is just one aspect of my life right now; I'm currently at work on a novel, tentatively called ...And God Won; my protagonist is a 60-something woman whose husband has Alzheimer's. I also teach and am working on an internet startup.
If anyone is curious, Jane Godwin, the character, has her own webpage. I have some rough notes so far, but plan to get serious about diving into this project this summer.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Involuntary Commitment and the Mentally Ill

In 1969, when I was involuntarily committed, patients were at the mercy of the local courts and, sometimes, misguided or even greedy relatives who might have had a financial agenda in deciding to commit a parent, spouse, or child to a mental institution.

Fortunately, in 2008, there are protections in place, specifically two powerful Supreme Court decisions rendered during the 1970's:
  • Humphrey v. Cady, 405 U.S. 504, 509 (1972), which ruled involuntary civil commitment to a mental institution as “a massive curtailment to liberty.”
  • O’Connor v. Donaldson, 422 U.S. 563, 574 (1975), which ruled that there is “no Constitutional basis for confining such [mentally ill] persons involuntarily if they are dangerous to no one and can live safely in freedom” and that the presence of mental illness “does not disqualify a person from preferring his home to the comforts of an institution.”
Had these two rulings been in effect in 1969, this blog (and my memoir) would not exist, and my life would have been dramatically different. I doubt very much if I would be living in Pennsylvania; I probably would have remained in Iowa or returned to California. But my life is what it is because of my involuntary commitment, for after I was released from the hospital, I would have fled to Hell to escape my "captors": Woodbury County, Iowa, and my grandparents. So, at that point, Pennsylvania looked a great deal better than Iowa or Hell. As I saw it, I knew one person in Pennsylvania and that was enough to get out of Dodge and flee to this lone savior: Jeff Brown who later became my first husband and father of my son.

I clearly did not belong in a mental institution, but while I was in Cherokee, I met some other patients who needed to be there, but for very different reasons: Wolfie and D.J. (not their real names).

Wolfie, in his 20's, was a psychopath, who was allowed to interact with other patients, but only with two strong attendants close at hand. To this day, I don't know what Wolfie did that landed him in Cherokee, but he was extremely violent; he once attacked me at a social event (his two attendants had to pull him off me). He nearly attacked me at least two other times, but, by then, I had learned how to sidestep him and his homicidal tendencies. For the protection of society at large, he needed to be incarcerated--in my opinion, kept under lock and key for the rest of his life.

Wolfie has to be one of the scariest people I have ever met.

D.J., on the other hand, had been committed, at 17, by his dying mother (his father had abandoned his family years before); D.J. was mildly mentally challenged, but with help and training, he could have lived on his own. Unfortunately, by 1969, he had been incarcerated for 26 years, and he viewed Cherokee as his home; he had his routine and led a very structured institutional life. He loved Cherokee, its lovely grounds (see photo at the end of this page), and his job as an informal groundskeeper; he never wanted to leave. At the time, I could not understand why anyone would ever want to stay there. I had only one thing on my mind: ESCAPE! I just assumed that the other patients felt the same.

A scene from my memoir reveals how D.J., a simple man with a big heart, depicts a life painted in shades, not just black and white:

A middle-aged guy, carrying some two by fours, is tromping through a snowbank when he drops the boards to the ground, stumbles over them, and then falls flat on his rear.

I run over to help. “You okay?” I assume he’s part of the maintenance staff.

“No, no, I mean, yes, I’m okay.”

“Let me help you.” I grab his hand and help him up.

“Thank you.” Very formal.

“You’re not hurt?”

He laughs and brushes himself off. “Nope.” He sticks out his hand. “I’m D.J.”

He looks about 35, a big man but not fat, with dusky, reddish skin and slicked back shiny black hair, blue eyes, and thick lips. He wears a red knitted winter cap with ear flaps. No mittens or gloves.

I take his hand. “I’m Jennifer.” D.J. has the biggest hands I have ever seen, broad like paddles, with long thick fingers. His handshake is tentative, respectful.

He wears no winter coat, but he’s obviously layered in several shirts, the top one a gray flannel. A matching scarf wrapped around his neck. He’s clad in brand new overalls and old rubber boots, the kind with those lattice metal buckles that we all wore as kids. He looks a bit unsteady on his feet.

“You sure you’re okay?”

“Yeah, I’m always tripping over my own feet. I got a little bit of palsy.” Then he says, with a bit of a stutter. “I’m-m re-tard-ed.”

“I see.” I help him pick up his boards and walk with him to the maintenance shed, just to make sure he’s really okay. We rap–mostly, he raps–all the way to the shed.

D.J.’s kinda cool, and he’s only slightly retarded–if he hadn’t told me, I would’ve just thought a little slow. He works on the grounds, but he’s also a patient.

He’s been here for 26 years, since he was 17!

Oh-my-god! I can’t even imagine being here when I’m 43. I’ll be an old lady, one foot in the grave.

But D.J. seems happy. When I asked him, “Don’t you want to split this joint?”

He shrugged. “Not really,” he said. “I been here almost all my life. I got a job, my own room, and three meals a day.”

“But what about your freedom?”

“To do what?”

“Well, you could get an apartment, a job on the outside, an old lady–”

He shook his head violently. “Naw, no, I don’t think so. See, I don’t add and subtract too good, and I can’t read or write none too good either.”

“You like it here?”

“I dunno. It’s all right, I suppose. I don’t know any different.”

I hadn’t considered the possibility that someone would actually want to stay.

Maybe that’s what happen when you get stuck in the system and can’t get out.

D.J. clearly wanted to stay, but I often wonder how the 1970's Supreme Court rulings affected his life; what would have been my salvation might have been a nightmare for D.J. and other long-term patients like him. I lost touch with D.J., but I often wonder if he was given a choice whether to stay or leave Cherokee, or if he was simply given the boot?

I suspect the latter.

For D.J. that would have been tragic, simply because he had been entrenched in the system too long. The 1940's, when D.J. was still young, would have been the time to help him live on his own, but the times were different then, when mentally challenged people were routinely warehoused.

In this instance, the Supreme Court rulings might not have offered a good solution for the long-term mentally-challenged patient of the 1970's.

In the January 23, 2008, edition of the York Daily Record [York, Pennsylvania], a story about a mentally ill man who set fire to his own apartment in a suicide attempt reminded me of Wolfie; in the days before Humphrey v. Cady and O’Connor v. Donaldson, M.P. (not the man's real initials--if you wish to read the full story, you can Google it easily enough) would have been housed in a mental institution or structured halfway house; however, a local agency had placed him in an apartment of his own and without supervision. Unfortunately, his actions displaced about 46 other apartment residents. Fortunately, no one was injured, but a lot of people lost their possessions and homes.

Evidently, M.P. had second thoughts about suicide; he jumped out of his third-story window to escape the flames and landed in some bushes which broke his fall.

This very ill man was allowed to live on his own because of the 1970's rulings on involuntary commitment. Before yesterday's fire, this man had no police record of significance, so there was no reason to place him in an institution, and, legally, authorities could not place him there without proving that he was a danger to others and himself. Certainly, one can be mentally ill without being a being a danger to society, and proving future harm is problematic and nearly impossible.

Society is now safe from M.P.; he has finally demonstrated (in a rather spectacular fashion) that he is a danger to both himself and others. He has been charged with 231 counts of arson, 10 counts of criminal mischief, and 45 counts of risking catastrophe; he will be incarcerated in jail or a mental institution for a very long time.

A lot of people seem to be placing the blame on the social services agency that placed him in the apartment, but what else could they do? The law is clear. They were forced to follow the law and grant M.P. his freedom, even if social workers suspected that he was incompetent to run his own life.

The 1970's Supreme Court decisions were absolutely correct in righting serious gaps in mental health law, but they also resulted in unintended consequences in that the severely mentally ill and incompetent tend to fall through societal cracks; proving future crimes is impossible.

In my case, involuntary commitment was shockingly easy; trump up the right paperwork, find a crooked doctor to sign off on the case, and choose a senile lawyer to defend my interests--no need to prove anything. (I discuss this process in my memoir.)

Yes, 46 people were displaced yesterday by one crazy man's action, and last April 32 people died at the hand of a deeply disturbed young man who probably should have been committed.

Unfortunately, those random acts of violence are the price for living in a free society.

It would be so easy to enact draconian laws to help circumvent such tragedies; however, I wouldn't want to live in a country where I could be taken away and held against my will just because someone else says I'm "fit for commitment."

Been there, and done that already.


Jennifer Semple Siegel