Archive for the ‘Proper genius’ 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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She shouts for a reckoning with entire mouth and unspoilt heart. My friend Poodle (“Ursula”) from Christchurch NZ declares her joy, in love with these times. (rule for radicals: that’s why she’s a teacher and you’re not)

so thats me in the corner-thats me over there–was a hard arse interview 2 do-my dyslexia gets in the way some-times-just bear with it and it will show its beauty

Living With the Scars of Abuse

Source: Press, The Christchurch, New Zealand
Posted on: Wednesday, 1 October 2008, 15:00 CDT

New Zealand’s mental health system has a dark history, with hundreds of former patients alleging abuse in state hospitals. Kim Thomas tells the story of one woman who suffered abuse and explores what former patients are doing to try and take back their lives.

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Ursula spent her 22nd birthday huddling near naked in the corner of a bare room at Christchurch’s Sunnyside Hospital.

She was incarcerated at the now defunct mental-health hospital for slicing her arms from wrist to armpit with razors.

During her year-long stay at Sunnyside, Ursula (not her real name) was abused and humiliated.

For at least two months she was housed in an isolation room where she was stripped, sometimes by male nurses, and dressed in a thick woollen smock as punishment for her rowdy behaviour.

Her underpants and bra were taken from her and she was forced to use a pot as her toilet, in a room visible to staff and other patients.

More than 20 years later the scars of Ursula’s Sunnyside experience are still as visible as the razor marks lacing her arms. She is not alone.

Scores of former Sunnyside patients have disclosed abuse during their stay at the Gothic-style institution.

Nationwide, about 300 former patients claim abuse in mental hospitals during the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Many were sent to psychiatric institutions because of behavioural difficulties but then treated as if they had serious psychiatric illnesses. Some were as young as eight.

Allegations include physical and sexual abuse, long periods of solitary confinement and the use of electro-convulsive (electric shock) therapy (ECT) as punishment.

In 2004, Attorney-General Margaret Wilson announced the establishment of a confidential forum where former patients, their families and hospital staff could tell their stories.

It recently announced a new forum, called the Listening and Assistance Service, for people who allege abuse or neglect during their time in state care in the health, child welfare or residential special education sector before 1992.

Justice and compensation is also being pursued in the law courts.

Wellington lawyer Sonia Cooper represents about 200 of 300 former psychiatric patients, including Ursula, seeking compensation for abuse.

They filed their first claims for compensation in 2004 but the matter remains unresolved. Cooper says she tried to negotiate with the Government out of court but failed.

In the latest chapter of this long running legal process, the Court of Appeal recently passed a judgment saying the Government had to prove that the actions former patients say was abuse was actually treatment, Cooper says.

“We want an acknowledgement that this abuse happened and an apology. If the Crown had been willing to deal with this out of the courts we wouldn’t be pursuing legal action,” Cooper says.

The Government has already made one large settlement to former psychiatric patients; in 2001, 183 former patients of Lake Alice’s adolescent unit received an apology and a share of $10.7 million compensation for claims including receiving ECT and injections as punishment, sexual abuse, ECT on the genitals in several cases, and one of being locked in a cage with a deranged adult.

About 240 civil cases are still pending.

A Crown Law office spokeswoman says it is reading the very complicated Crown Law judgement to decide what steps to take next.

Ursula says she would be dead had she stayed longer in Sunnyside. She sought legal counsel and had herself checked out of the hospital.

Ursula has a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder. She says 20 years ago the disorder was poorly understood.

As a result, treatment for her self-harm and erratic behaviour involved being put into an isolation cell as punishment. Good behaviour was rewarded with treats such as winning her underwear back.

For a sexual abuse victim such as Ursula, being stripped was the ultimate in humiliation.

“I saw it as an extension of the brutality I had already had forced on me.”

She says she cannot believe the way people such as herself were treated in an environment that was supposed to be therapeutic.

Sunnyside was demolished last year. But even after its demise it holds a significant and sinister place in Christchurch’s collective conscience.

Christchurch theatre director Tony McCaffrey has recently secured Creative New Zealand funding to develop a play based on the goings on in the former mental-health hospital, which he hopes to open the stage curtains on next year.

As part of his research McCaffrey visited the ruins of the old hospital and pored over patient log books and photographs.

He also interviewed former nurses, superintendents and patients.

“I believe it’s important to acknowledge the huge role Sunnyside played in Christchurch’s history and craft a memorial to that,” McCaffrey says.

“Since I started this project almost everyone I talk to has some connection to the place, whether they knew someone who worked there or stayed there. Everyone has a story.”

McCaffrey says Sunnyside housed people from all walks of life and the way they were treated is an insight into the community’s psyche over the past century.

Sunnyside’s history also provides a window into the dark history of Christchurch because of some of the inhumane acts that happened there.

Mental Health Foundation chief executive Judi Clements said abuse that occurred in institutions is a crying shame.

She says many staff from those times still feel ill at the things that went on.

However, they were often only doing what they were told or what was best practice at the time, Clements says. In time, people will probably look back at certain practices which occur in the mental health sector now, such as electric shock therapy, and condemn them as cruel or unnecessary.

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Welp, I went ahead and signed up to put in my time and am delighted to find the Obama campaign has impeccable taste. Tonight’s local debate party will be kicked off with music by the world’s most charismatic outlaw who’s sly compassion is as legendary as his high and lonesome zensoaked warble. Jimmie Dale Gilmore is a Saint. This is not hyperbole, but a well-known fact. I can’t find the words and believe me I’ve tried. Anyone familiar with my (cough cough) oeuvre might recall I spent year one in Austin determined to self-destruct in a flamboyant way but what you don’t know is it was Jimmie’s weekly supper gigs at Threadgills that kept me tethered to the planet.

And I didn’t have to pretend I wasn’t hateful, alienated and falling down drunk or the last thing I wanted to do was gather round a picnic table in red-checked oil cloth, pass catfish platters to the homespun hippies sitting next to me and literally rub elbows with women who wear their hair down to their ass in 110 degree weather. Navigating his fan base was not for the squeamish but they are what they are and blessyerheart, we’re not in Kill City anymore.

All this was almost 2 decades ago, a single year that’s now a Texas legend, singing and supper with Jimmie at Threadgills, who saved me on a weekly basis without a single word between us and I know I’m not the only one.

I can’t find any Threadgills footage at youtube but here’s JDG in Norway around the same era doing his single hit Dallas. Heartfelt thanks to the Democrats for putting him on the bill tonight, now I got me some memories and buses to catch.

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    Nature Boy:

I was just a boy when I sat down
To watch the news on TV
I saw some ordinary slaughter
I saw some routine atrocity
My father said, don’t look away
You got to be strong, you got to be bold, now
He said that in the end it is beauty
That is going to save the world, now

And she moves among the sparrows
And she floats upon the breeze
She moves among the flowers
She moves something deep inside of me

I was walking around the flower show like a leper
Coming down with some kind of nervous hysteria
When I saw you standing there, green eyes, black hair
Up against the pink and purple wisteria
You said, hey, nature boy, are you looking at me
With some unrighteous intention?
My knees went weak,
I couldn’t speak, I was having thoughts
That were not in my best interests to mention

And she moves among the flowers
And she floats upon the smoke
She moves among the shadows
She moves me with just one little look

You took me back to your place
And dressed me up in a deep sea diver’s suit
You played the patriot, you raised the flag
And I stood at full salute
Later on we smoked a pipe that struck me dumb
And made it impossible to speak
As you closed in, in slow motion,
Quoting Sappho, in the original Greek

She moves among the shadows
She floats upon the breeze
She moves among the candles
And we moved through the days
and through the years

Years passed by, we were walking by the sea
Half delirious
You smiled at me and said, Babe
I think this thing is getting kind of serious
You pointed at something and said
Have you ever seen such a beautiful thing?
It was then that I broke down
It was then that you lifted me up again

She moves among the sparrows
And she walks across the sea
She moves among the flowers
And she moves something deep inside of me

She moves among the sparrows
And she floats upon the breeze
She moves among the flowers
And she moves right up close to me

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I just found this, Dr. Mark Dombeck’s fine tribute to Elliott Smith in what he calls his Gift of Vulnerability Music at Mental Health Net:

…. I was seduced again by the rawness and immediacy of the pain that the man was able to capture; was talented enough to shape and record; was courageous enough to share with others. Listening to this song it is so obvious how completely depressed and hopeless he was feeling in the moment of creation. Since I am not feeling low these days, my reaction is not to identify with him (as I have identified with artists in the past), but rather to resonate in sympathy. If there is a song in the universe that better captures the spirit of self-loathing and hopelessness characteristic of depression, I don’t know what it is…. It is important to share this stuff, so that other people can discover and benefit from it.

His piece includes the above youtube music sample and an interesting comment by a reader who has no blood on his hands and blames suicidal psych meds, full stop.

He was told to get off of the “bad” drugs and get on the “good” drugs. How about no drugs? I really wish someone had introduced him to Jung, or Gurdjieff, or the Gospel of Thomas, or NLP, or the Pali Canon or any line of truth that can actually help someone, not help them fail. He was an angel and he was betrayed. His blood is not on my hands.

To which I reply:

Us oldtimers call this a “pathetic aesthetic”, leading stars include Kurt Cobain, Nick Drake, and Mark Eitzel, the King. It is characterized by more social criticism than what’s found in the navel-gazing shoegazers and emo kids, and we need to honor that aspect to do the artists justice and let them be understood. After all, Kurt did write Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle, if that’s not revolutionary I don’t know what is.

When I listen to Elliott, which is frequently, obsessively, and I daresay prayerfully, for lack of a better term, I am struck by how aware he was that the medical model would be the death of him. NAMI? Listen to Everybody Cares, Everybody Understands, that’s a message for YOU.

Elliott, whose father was a psychiatrist, knew the mental health system inside out, and that it promotes chronicity, dependency and soul-murder. He was a psychiatric survivor calling out to his community, listen to his words as messages emanating from his lived experience, because they were, and it’s all there, then ask yourself who abandoned him. There’s plenty of guilt to go around, no doubt.

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An action alert from Dr. John Breeding about the fifth annual Roky Erickson Psychedelic Ice Cream Social Celebrating Electroshock Survivors.

As someone who has been out of the closet in love with Robyn Hitchcock for half my life, it blew my mind to see his stand-up appearance midway through the video; now all his songs and my devotion make so much more sense. Michelle Shocked appears, as does REM’s Peter Buck, JT Van Zandt, and Roky his own self closes out with the 13th Floor Elevators classic You’re Gonna Miss Me. Visitor Robyn once called Austin the city of groovers, one look at this crowd will tell you why we live here.

You can vote everyday, by following these simple steps, or be non-linear and play around the site til you figure it out, but if you can take a minute to vote, throw us some love.

Background, in excerpts, by the honorable and rocking Dr. John Breeding:

In the last two years, our Coalition for the Abolition of Electroshock in Texas was very active, carrying on an initiative in Austin to challenge the use of electroshock at our area’s most prolific shock hospital, Seton Shoal Creek. As described on our website, we carried on with them quite a bit, including direct interaction with the hospital board and medical director, a series of protest rallies at the hospital, a resolution from the Texas legislature, and a hearing on electroshock with the Austin City Council.

In March 2007, we had a magnificent, unprecedented event–a concert featuring a number of terrific musicians and artists, a number of whom were also shock survivors now joining forces to call for a stop to this horrific procedure.

Now our own fantastic videographer, Mary Luker, known professionally as Mary Marvel, has created a short (20 minutes) documentary of our event. It is terrific, and we intend to use it to promote our effort to abolish electroshock, and to create safe haven for artists, who all too often suffer this horrific assault.

In support of our cause, Mary Marvel has submitted her documentary to an internet contest called Famecast. In order to have the greatest impact, we want to win this contest. In order to win, we need you to get on board and enjoy a ride, bringing music and a big message –END OF SHOCK– to the world.

1. Register on FAMECAST as a Voter or Fanatic. Click where it says ” The Audience Votes”
2. Click here to view our documentary
3. Click the “Video” tab to the right of the movie
4. Click the “Vote for me in the Open Round” link
5. Click the “Vote” button at the top right hand corner of the video

Steps 2 will take you to see our video. Steps 1, 3, 4, and 5 are necessary to vote.

P/S: Here is my favorite album by Robyn Hitchcock, this my favorite Soft Boys release, and this could be the most moving ode ever to hero worship.

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Oh my god it worked. Something actually, for once, when we need it most, all the efforts generated by the Autism community the last week have drop-kicked the above campaign into the mess with us and we’ll mess with you acid vat of wrongheaded proposals forever without end, amen.

Via Wall St. Journal Blog, NYU Bows to Critics and Pulls Ransom-Note Ads:

After sparking widespread criticism, the New York University Child Study Center decided this afternoon to pull ads, which featured ransom notes that personified mental illnesses as kidnappers of children suffering from the conditions.

The center’s campaign, which began earlier this month, featured images of ransom notes to drive home the message that 12 million children are being held hostage by mental health problems, such as depression and autism…

Intended to raise awareness for childhood psychiatric disorders, the campaign instead mainly provoked the ire of many patient groups, who called the ads stigmatizing and fear-inducing. In spite of a quick backlash, Harold Koplewicz, director of the Center, stood by the campaign at first, saying it was bringing national attention to mental health concerns.

Today, Koplewicz told the Health Blog that he decided to pull the ads because “the debate began to become focused on the ads themselves” rather than on the disorders that they were intended to highlight.

Koplewicz insists there wasn’t a particular incident that spurred the decision, but told us that “many intelligent individuals and reasonable individuals were telling me they were reading the ads in a different way” than they were meant to be read. Many parents said they felt blamed for their child’s illness even though they were getting their child the best treatment they could, which was not the intention of the ads, says Koplewicz.

He has received thousands of phone calls and e-mails since the ads became widely publicized, about 70% against the campaign. Although he heard from parents who said the ads spoke to them, “simultaneously we unintentionally hurt many other people’s feelings,” Koplewicz says.

Disability rights activists have their shit together, and every time we cross paths at the statehouse I’m in awe that as a group they’re the only people who are having a good time. Categorically speaking, disability rights is not my scene, but everytime I turn around they’re making progress for people with psychiatric labels. Leaders are by definition worthy of keen attention and the highest praise. They got it.

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