Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Grazing the Internets this weekend is to follow intimate, overheard snippets in the shaping of a legacy. So I compile what the people are saying in a downright tsunami of link love, the hours well spent.

Studs Terkel 1912-2008

“The thing that horrifies me is the forgetfulness.”

A cigar and martini man, white-haired and elegantly rumpled in his trademark red-checkered shirts, an old rebel who never mellowed, never retired, never forgot, and “never met a picket line or petition I didn’t like.”

He won a Pulitzer Prize for listening to other people’s thoughts, fears and dreams

which he called guerrilla journalism

but writer Garry Wills described as “underdog-ism”

used his words, whether on radio or on the page, to celebrate the People with a capital “P” and to protest their oppression by the stupid and powerful

whose searching interviews with ordinary Americans helped establish oral history as a serious genre

married for 60 years to a beautiful woman named Ida

a social worker

“Ida was a far better person than I, that’s the reality of it,” Terkel wrote of Ida, who died in 1999.

Studs relied on Ida for, well, almost everything

“It was those loners — argumentative ones, deceptively quiet ones, the talkers and the walkers — who, always engaged in something outside themselves, unintentionally became my mentors,” Terkel wrote in “Touch and Go.”

When Ida grew older she refused to use a cane, “because I fall so gracefully”

he was envious that her FBI file was thicker than his own.

He chronicled the lives of almost everyone who mattered–the hundreds include Martin Luther King, Bob Dylan, Woody Allen, Toni Morrison. Just as important, he chronicled the lives of those who officially didn’t matter, and in doing so made us understand they did.

He searched for the decency in everyone

illuminated America from the ground up, seeking out stories from bartenders, housewives, businessmen, artists, doctors, social workers, coal miners, farmworkers, bookmakers and convicts

coaxed extraordinary tales out of nobodies

shined a light on the kinds of people that most people look right through

the ghost-town storekeeper in Kentucky who says: “The last flicker of my life will be against something I don’t think has to be”

completely free of sociological claptrap, armchair revisionism and academic moralizing

His method was to travel the country, sometimes for years, interviewing hundreds of people about some enormous epoch or theme. Terkel essentially asked everyone a simple question: What was it like?

The result — a series of oral histories — was the poetry of ordinary people, shot through with desperation, hatred, love, dreams realized and lost

Shame about losing a job and going “on relief.” Shame about not being able to provide for one’s family. Shame about the breakdown of families and, almost, the fabric of an entire society.

police officers and convicts, nurses and loggers, former slaves and former Ku Klux Klansman — a typical crowd for Mr. Terkel

“To count is very important.”

“Who built the pyramids?” he once asked in his inimitable sweet growl. “It wasn’t the goddamn pharaohs who build the pyramids. It was the anonymous slaves.”

Terkel’s politics were liberal, vintage FDR. He would never forget the many New Deal programs from the Great Depression and worried that the country suffered from “a national Alzheimer’s disease” that made government the perceived enemy.

“How did the eight-hour day come into being? It began in Chicago and four guys got hanged for it—the Haymarket affair in 1886. What were they fighting for? The eight-hour day.”

He wrote about “the good fight” of World War II because he wanted to remind new generations of Americans that this country had once united to battle fascism.

It would be wrong to say Terkel was colorblind…he was deeply curious, deeply intrigued with all colors of the rainbow…not afraid of other cultures…the only white writer to be inducted into the International Literary Hall of Fame for Writers of African Descent at Chicago State University… The approval vote was unanimous.

Studs developed self-deprecatory clowning to a high art–getting into pitched battles with recording equipment, for instance — as a tactic for putting anxious interview subjects at ease. Authors on his show were almost invariably impressed by how he would enter the studio with their books scored with his scrawled notations as if he were preparing a term paper.

“It isn’t an inquisition; it’s an exploration, usually an exploration into the past,” he once said, explaining his approach. “So I think the gentlest question is the best one, and the gentlest is, ‘And what happened then?’”

As you listen, you know in your bones that each person has never told their story as cogently or as fully before and will never do so again, for that was Terkel’s art.

“He liked to tell the story of an interview with a woman in a public housing unit in Chicago. At the end of the interview, the woman said, ‘My goodness, I didn’t know I felt that way.’ That was his genius.”

He didn’t just carp at the failures of society, he was a drum major for life—a celebrant of the joy of living.

Politics was never a game for Studs. It was the work of a lifetime. He wrote brilliant books about the lives of working people not merely because their stories were fascinating but because he wanted to get a conversation started about class in America.

My friends and I would sit around the radio like it was a little fire we warmed ourselves by. He read everything. He led such an examined life. He remembered everything.

Our Boswell, our Whitman, our Sandburg

“She was really something,” Studs recalled, “with that gardenia in her hair.” Holiday once sang Willow Weep for Me for Terkel and nine other people. “We weren’t weeping for her, we were weeping for ourselves,” he later said, “That’s an artist.”

There was the time he was robbed in his house. The thief said “GIVE ME ALL YOUR MONEY” so Studs gave him all his money from his pocket. The thief turned to go and Studs said “Wait a minute! Now I’m broke! Give me twenty bucks!” The thief smiled and peeled off a twenty, then left. Classic.

People call Terkel’s business “oral history”, but it is more like the weaving of a fabulous verbal tapestry, the threads of which are human preoccupations. It is the rich art of taking the vernacular, and making it eternal. Such a process does not merely record the details that keep people’s minds busy, it gives them value. Terkel harvested not only the most complete American history of this century, but the most compassionate.

“My epitaph? My epitaph will be, ‘Curiosity did not kill this cat,'” he said. He then said that he wanted his and Ida’s ashes to be scattered in Bughouse Square, that patch of green park that so informed his first years in his adopted city.

Bughouse Square, the park across the street from the Newberry Library that was home to all manner of soap box orators.

“Scatter us there,” he said, a gleeful grin on his face. “It’s against the law. Let ’em sue us.”


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This summer it’s been living on the Outskirts of the Intranets since I found my library card, but have to mention a new toy making the scene; it’s a time-sink but beautiful, and about time. Just follow this link, cut, paste, Java does the work, you reap the warm inordinate glow of artistic accomplishment. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes, he says, though judging by the spellbinders my learning curve has hills to climb. But for now some thoughts inside my head are free. Sobering, yes I know.

they work best when you click them

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Because “when fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag.”

That’s the principle behind NAMI’s propaganda-as-philanthropy campaign to exonerate themselves in the eyes of the world, which  continues apace. And on the back of consumers, natch. They’ve delivered sets of 20 books to seven libraries. Who does that, and why? Imagine if the KKK did this, the outcry would be instant and deafening. But these people are pro’s, the nation’s hate groups could do worse than look at NAMI to take their lessons.

The paperback books cover the gamut of mental illnesses through a variety of authors who are experts in the field.

“We’ve been concerned for some time that there’s no up-to-date information in our libraries on mental illness and it has changed so much that we really need to be educating, or perhaps re-educating the public on mental illness,” Pinion said. “Everything has changed greatly, even in the past five to 10 years. Mental illness is a 100 percent, certified brain disease, and we need to get that information out.”

And the money quote:

Pinion said the books will also help eradicate stigma associated with mental illness.

Against who? For whom does NAMI advocate? They’re not hiding anything, but the truth has a way of getting lost. NAMI’s focus is on removing social disapproval, you betcha. But that focus is not now and has never been on eliminating the social disapproval placed on those diagnosed with mental illness. If you don’t understand that perhaps it’s because they are doing such a bang-up job in fulfilling their mission.

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The Miami Hurricane on the University of Miami Counseling Center:

After it became public that Virginia Tech student Seung-Hui Cho had been diagnosed with severe anxiety disorder before going on a shooting rampage, several universities looked into training faculty and administrators to monitor student behavior.

Although UM faculty members do not go through any formal training, Counseling Center Director Pamela Deroian, a licensed psychologist with a doctorate, said she encourages faculty members to notify her of “irregular student behavior.”

“Faculty have a different vantage point of what goes on with students,” said Deroian, who has been with the counseling center for 17 years and became director in June. “We’ve focused a lot on the English Department, specifically creative writing, and I’ve gotten calls from professors about several things to look into.”

Yes let’s do, let’s look into several things, beginning with Deroian, who, as a psychologist, holds the defacto privileged point of view, against which no mere English teacher can begin to compare, it being “different” from hers and therefore easily dismissed. The implicit question she’s avoiding is this — who better to teach us what makes people tick, the author of literature or experimental research?

Exhibit A:

Carson McCullers, American writer of novels and stories that depict the inner lives of lonely people.

Exhibit: n:

BF Skinner, highly influential American psychologist, abandoned English literature to raise his daughter in a pineboard box.

About which she says, in her father’s defense:

My early childhood, it’s true, was certainly unusual – but I was far from unloved. I was a much cuddled baby. Call it what you will, the “aircrib” ,”baby box”, “heir conditioner” (not my father’s term) was a wonderful alternative to the cage-like cot. [!!!] My father’s intentions were simple, and based on removing what he and my mother saw as the worst aspects of a baby’s typical sleeping arrangements: clothes, sheets and blankets. These not only have to be washed, but they restrict arm and leg movement and are a highly imperfect method of keeping a baby comfortable. My mother was happy. She had to give me fewer baths and of course had fewer clothes and blankets to wash, so allowing her more time to enjoy her baby.

Back to the University of Miami, where Counseling Center Director Pamela Deroian, a licensed psychologist with a doctorate is busy

in the process of writing policy guidelines for the Counseling Center because there currently are none. Some other universities, such as Tulane and Emory, use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as guidelines.

Although involuntary hospitalization never happens outside the psychiatric system (except in case of unconsciousness or the inability to communicate), all states, including Florida, have “mental hygiene” statutes authorizing involuntary holds for psychiatric examinations. Florida’s law is known as the Baker Act. Under it, 25 UM students were hauled off to the psych unit last year on the word of a mental health professional:

One student, a junior who lives off-campus, said he was committed to Mercy Hospital for one night his freshman year in spring 2006. The student said he was no risk to himself and recalls saying he loved life while at the counseling center, but he thinks his disheveled appearance was the reason he was sent to the hospital.

“He sought help by professionals, but they didn’t help,” said his mother, who went to the hospital that night to see her son. “Instead it cost us thousands of dollars, aggravation and maybe even humiliation for [student’s name]. I wish I hadn’t been reminded of this horrible incident. There was a huge lack of human warmth.”

Patricia A. Whitely, vice president for Student Affairs, said the university errs on the side of caution when using the Baker Act, especially after Virginia Tech.

“If my staff determines a student needs to be Baker Acted then that’s the decision they will make.”

“I know that sometimes we look like the bad guys, but everything we do is in the best interest of the student.”

So there you have it. The design:

And the Vantage Point.

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Back in ’92 I was thumbing through an anthology one night and came across To Bedlam and Part Way Back, I’d read it before, but this time it confirmed my wish to leave this world behind and move toward that one. I spent the rest of the year writing out her poems, carrying them in my purse, like currency, taping them to mirrors, reciting them on my answering machine, leaving her graffiti on bathroom walls, catching the one-woman spoken word show that toured the country after her biography came out, riding my bike to the Ransom Historical Center where they said some of her drafts and letters were kept. For six months I didn’t care about anything else because nothing else compared with her, not because she was gratifying or admirable, but because she was the first, and for that reason will have to be celebrated. So there. Happy birthday, Anne Sexton, to the best of my knowledge this week’s music video quite captures your essence.

NCATBS; There She Goes, My Beautiful World

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Radical Honesty promises a better life for everybody by learning to tell the bald faced truth. To everyone, no exceptions.

It’s an impossible ideal and a movement I hold dear, and is highly touted by psych survivors, artists, seekers and bohemians, human potential mental health types and countercultural old farts. It is however a fringe movement, and anytime Radical Honesty turns up in the press it will be mangled, ridiculed and presented as the path of choice for self-justifying obnoxious assholes with untreatable personality disorders.

RH leads to compassion, intimacy, and the shedding of unfounded fears about living openly, but journalists can’t get passed the fact that its founder Brad Blanton is a cussing white trash hedonist who burps and farts his way through interviews.

Right, so Esquire ran a piece on Radical Honesty, I Think You’re Fat, which focused not on the aesthetic depths of this high-minded relational theory, but asks the standard questions required to hold the attention span of the target audience who reads Esquire and therefore, naturally thinks with its dick.

I e-mail Blanton to ask if I can come down to Virginia and get some pointers before embarking on my Radical Honesty experiment. He writes back: “I appreciate you for apparently having a real interest and hope you’re not just doing a cutesy little superficial dipshit job like most journalists.”

I’m already nervous. I better start off with a clean slate. I confess I lied to him in my first e-mail — that I haven’t ordered all his books on Amazon yet. I was just trying to impress upon him that I was serious about his work. He writes back: “Thanks for your honesty in attempting to guess what your manipulative and self-protective motive must have been.”

The entire interview consists of just such willful vapidity as the horny little boy riffles through the truthteller’s underwear drawer for all the dirty little secrets, because a sexual history must be where all the bodies are buried.

Brad’s had sex with 500 women and a dozen men, do tell! He let his dog lick his dick, ZOMG are you kidding this is making me so hawt!!1!!

It appears Dr. Blanton knows what he’s dealing with, and he runs with the narrative in-the-moment because that’s how you live the experiential life. But fuck it, Radical Honesty deserved more pushback from its founder, and the pissant who did the interview might have included a page from Blanton’s actual argument. Here is one of those pages, from the site, Radical Honesty:

The heart of the message of Radical Honesty is that we can come to recognize each other as beings in common. We do this by being honest and by demanding honesty from others. This is the fundamental faith of both Radical Honesty and its corollary religion, Futilitarianism…Futilitarianism is about the futility of any belief whatsoever…

…beings who relate as beings, one to another, can work out the problems that come from having minds and personalities and cultural and religious and traditional differences, since those differences are all bullshit anyway! We can change how we live together by acknowledging the being we are, (nothing mysterious or mystical—just the sensate being in the body), as the universal context in which the mind occurs. We recognize each other as alike. One pathetic, mind-controlled, culturally conditioned pitiful sonofabitch, anywhere in the world, looks just about like another. Underneath all that confusing and alienating bullshit we are beings in common.

Who I am, is a present-tense, noticing being, and the idea of me—my case history and culture and values and beliefs—is secondary to my fundamental identity as a noticing, present-tense being. I can see, at the same time, that this is true for everyone else. I relate to everyone else as equals in this way. I relate to these fellow beings by being true to my own experience. This being-to-being relatedness is what allows me to make compassionate, collective decisions with my fellow cripples—I mean human beings.

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Wait, work with me here. From A Fragile Revolution, a book about our little niche liberation movement:

Lord and Hutchison (1993) found that the process of empowerment usually begins with individuals getting angry or, more properly stated, becoming aware of their anger. In the context of their new awareness, they also have to have the opportunity to try out new behaviours and, paradoxically, the freedom to fail. Further, it is critical that they are supported by the external material resources that constitute the most basic of human needs, secure housing and an income, so that they can have at least some measure of control over their public, as well as private, selves. Finally, Lord & Hutchison insist that no one can become empowered on their own. They must have the company of their peers, who like themselves are struggling, improving, regressing and triumphing. They also need access to welcoming community environments such as self-help groups, social action organizations, churches, schools, employment, friends and family.

Watts and Abdul-Adil…suggest that there can be an intimate connection between personal empowerment and politicization—the process of acquiring political awareness leading to social action. They postulate five stages:

Acritical (“individuals accept the legitimizing myths of personal blame and natural causes”);

Adaptive (“people try to adapt and benefit from whatever the system can offer”);

Pre-critical (“acknowledgement of power differentials but the social structure is perceived as immutable”);

Critical (”realization of the sources of oppression, accompanied by the impulse to work towards social change”);

And, finally, Liberation (“involvement in political action to eradicate personal and social injustice”) (p. 139).

We can interact on this, if you’ve a mind to share. Pick a stage — past, present or speculative and riff on it.

I go back and forth with it, but I know for sure am done with the first two. Following the legislature has been my awakening. I have no major personal beef with my own mental health treatment, and was oblivious to pressing problems in modern practice until October 2004, at the very first committee hearing I covered, Health and Human Services. They were looking at state foster children and psychotropic polypharmacy, the meeting lasted all day with what seemed like a hundred witnesses. From that day forward psychiatrizing foster kids became a Texas scandal, now resulting in statutory change, so I can say for a fact the disastrous circumstances I heard about in 2004 are moving forward toward inklings of improvement, thanks to activism and a responsive legislature.

I have real square tendencies. I want nothing more than to stay at this stage of development, let the patriarchs handle it, eventual self-correction is bound to happen when we pursue orderly reform within the institutions of power. But I can’t hang onto that, and believe I moved to the fourth, Critical stage last Fall during a hearing on Child Protective Services, again to an overflow room made up of parents, MHPs and social workers, everyone at odds with the system and each other.

On that day I learned Child Protection has capitulated to the medical model, and is little more than a handmaiden to Big Pharma. CPS now removes from intact and functional families rambunctious kids whose parents refuse to put them on Ritalin while ignoring child-destructive environments and insisting on interventions that put the child-victim squarely into the punitive behavioral health system. Tearful ex-social workers testified that they are drugging abused kids, and doing nothing to disrupt the violent homelife, much less identify and address the trauma that the children are enduring at the hands of their untreated parents.

It boggles the mind, what should be the child’s advocates are actually collaborators with their abuse. If I didn’t hear about this happening I could cling to hope for reform within the system, but it’s not changing anywhere for kids, as far as I can tell.

I don’t want to turn into someone who talks too often about where I am in my process, it’s just another way to pass the time. So who’s next, anyone out there Liberated yet? I used to think Liberation was all about staying drunk, so very transgressive, don’tchaknow.

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