Catch a fire

It’s not everyday reading something on the Internet can move me to tears, but I’ve given up hope on seeing something like this post (and commentary) at Whiskey Fire. The study is not yet published and I know it only begins to scratch the surface but for the first time since the tests were done on me I have hope, if not for myself I can imagine glad tidings for tomorrow’s little Dickens.

When the neuropsychologist laid it out for me 10 years ago I was crying and he was almost crying, because he couldn’t answer my very pointed questions and account for the disparities in my mental examination. An evaluation spanning eight hours over two days, as comprehensive as it gets, followed by a 25 page report and two hour debriefing and still something missing hangs in the air. In the end I knew that he knew and we both knew what I needed to hear that he couldn’t say. What I didn’t know was that he couldn’t say it because there was no supporting cognitive science to make our unspoken hypothesis official in a formal setting. Correlation is not enough to move the world off its ass, but I have had enough correlation to last a lifetime, and that time is running out. Catch up with me.

He tried to make me feel better like Jake the Snake talks at Whiskey Fire — it’s not a life sentence, keep building up strengths, focus on your incredible resilience and amazing inner resources. Oh please. Show me the science.
Now we’re talking. It’s a start.

“This is a wake-up call…these kids have no neurological damage… yet, the prefrontal cortex is not functioning as efficiently as it should be….researchers suspect that stressful environments and cognitive impoverishment are to blame…The study is suggestive and a little bit frightening that environmental conditions have such a strong impact on brain development…”

Suggestive and a little bit frightening indeed.


I often wonder what it will look like to reach the point of not just surviving my misfortunes but being simply and profoundly grateful for every single thing that has ever happened to me. And why people who want things like that are so perplexing to those who don’t. Those who wonder, in their golden ways what’s so funny about gallows humor, the sole comfort of those who’ve escaped the hangman and an affront to those who have no knowledge of his existence.

Welp, there it is, in black & white, no less.


by W.S. Merwin

with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
smiling by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

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.”

Hey you in the vodpod

Welcome to my world, sorry such a mess. After a thousand hits I’m still learning that one can do things like add tags, change titles, comment on the clips and interact with viewers, so while it’s something of a trainwreck in there, that’s my trainwreck in there. But no worries mate, chaos is a blessing because chaos leads to clarity, as given time will the disordered to the thematic, just you wait. Some day fifteen minutes spent in Writher will be equivalent to six months in the Renaissance.

I don’t know if the people visiting my vodpod are the same people visiting this blog and I don’t know how to figure that out yet. All I know is I get something like messages (?!) on my podpage everyday about certain missing videos, and just want to say I’m doing my best to replace them. I sense an all-purpose rant coming on, since it’s quite the pisser, I do not know why videos are disappeared and in a day or two reloaded, but I suspect the stink of money, the man, royalties and the sheer possessiveness in regulating terms of estate.

Every single video featuring Chet Baker has been taken off youtube, Nick’s Wanted Man disappears 3x a week, and now and then the single most aching concert footage of Billie Holiday’s career goes away and comes back, what are these people thinking? Let’s have even less exposure of under-recognized talent, because some people might be enjoying shit for free and that simply cannot stand! Just today I found my most-viewed clip has been taken from my pod, the best montage of scenes from my favorite movie is gone. I can’t bear the fact of its absence, out of 200 videos where is my most-viewed clip, my Wings of Desire, motherfucker? Who are these motherfuckers? Leave my stuff alone, you don’t even understand it. What kind of pernicious dickhead is afoot behind the curtain here, who does this, who taught them this? I mean, if I’m going to bury my head in youtube 4 hours a day I’d rather go in with the hope I’ll dig up artifacts of excellence to share in a beatitude of plenitude rather than you know, spend my alloted time on Earth policing miscreants who just might be getting away with enjoying an activity my small mind can’t comprehend. Really, it’s not about ripping you off. I don’t even think some people understand what the Internet is for anymore. It’s a place. A kind of place. A kind of pro-social place. Doesn’t that mean anything/something/everything? Why are we here? To make certain every single Chet Baker video disappears in case someone might somehow lose some money? That is worse than a mighty big if.

Let me explain the meaning of currency; these videos are goods people trade in order to connect online and build social networks. We can’t do it without the thing you’re taking away from us. You are robbing me. And these people who trade in cultural currency are known as weirdos collectors. We are your buyers. For every free video seen how many entire collections are purchased? Think, man! Who wants to see a Chet Baker video if not for the kind of patron who collects the kind of music Chet Baker made. But this is too exacting/abstract for shortsighted moneygrabbers to get their arms around, that people live in these worlds and this is what we spend our money on. Plus, there are no guarantees, you can’t predict and control the buying behavior of even the most avid watcher of an obscure jazz video, so you speculate, in recognition of an alternative culture beyond the imagination of the profit/loss spreadsheet. Because it’s fucking elementary, depriving us is shooting yourselves in the foot, betraying your own self interest, not to mention your own economic base, but that’s cool because you despise us for the very intensity with which we respond to your product, and the rather childlike bonding we do over it.

And I don’t know how to make or even upload videos so can’t begin to imagine the grief a creator must feel to see their labor of love wiped out in an instant, and that is such total bullshit, since another delinquent is only going to upload the same damn footage in a montage tomorrow just to see it wiped out in a day or two again. Which makes their removal an exercise in nothing but mean-spirited pointlessness but as Willie put it, if you got the money I got the time to defy this ridiculous set-up day in and day out. It’s all so 1970s punk rock I could hurl, maybe that’s the best can be said about this situation. As I understand it.

So now we wait. Wait for some bloke to upload an English scene from my favorite film, inspired by the poems of Rilke, where angels seemed to dwell. A beautiful drifty sad trapeze artist who lives in a trailer and dances by herself to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Hapless but knowing angels who can only observe, powerless to intervene. Wiki has a fairly unpretentious page on background. But it’s in words and we’re supposed to be passed all that. Paltry language, nothing but a muddy, hulking impoverished substitute for streamline video. There, I said it. The fact is, words have always wanted to be video, I think you must agree. If in doubt, get a load of this old school film professor deploying the sad convention of words on screen to describe my favorite WoD scene, “dying motorcyclist,” where the angel Damiel takes the I/Thou dialogic to the next level by pulling up the deepest thoughts of a man dying in the gutter. Ya with me reader, notice we are switching gears? You would if this was a sequence of still images representing scenes in motion! OK, serious hat now; the dying man’s inner monologue begins as you might expect, with fragmented ranting at dumbstruck passers-by:

Don’t look at me so stupidly. Haven’t you seen anyone die before? Shit, is it this easy? I’m lying here in a puddle, stinking like an oil tanker. I can’t really end up here like a wilting flower! Everything so clear! Why are they standing there? Gawking at me like that? The oil smudge…

As he approaches the dying man, Damiel kneels behind him, places his hands on either side of the dying man’s head, and leans his own head down, listening intently for or tuning into the thoughts trying to form themselves in a deeper layer of the dying man’s mind:

(Dying Man’s inner voice): Karin, I should have told her yesterday… This thing got out of control. …I’m so sorry. Karin! Now I’m lying here. I can’t simply… I have to… Karin, I still have so much to do! Karin, Baby, things look bad for me.

It is at this point that Damiel begins speaking for the dying man, helping him to focus his thoughts on the things that had meant the most to him during his lifetime. Damiel, speaking for the dying man begins-

As I emerged from the valley out of the fog into the sunshine…the fire at the edge of the prairie…the potatoes in the ashes…the boat-house far off at the lake…

Now the dying man joins in speaking the invocation, so that both his and Damiel’s voices are heard simultaneously. DAMIEL and the DYING MAN:

The Southern Cross, the Far East, the Great North, the Wild West, the Great Bear Lake!

At the very end of this segment we begin to hear the strains of cello music. In the final moments a young man is seen hurrying along the bridge toward the scene of the accident. … Damiel looks up and cedes his place to the young man, who places his hands on the dying man’s shoulders. Damiel caresses the young man’s head (with an immaterial hand), as he rises to turn back toward the bridge… and walks back across it. We continue to hear the inner thoughts of the dying man, now spoken in a strong voice, which replaces the enfeebled one heard in the opening shot.

Tristan da Cunha. The Mississippi Delta. Stromboli. The old houses of Charlottenburg. Albert Camus. The morning light. The child’s eyes. The swim in the waterfall. The spots of the first drops of rain. The sun. The bread and wine. Hopping. Easter. The veins of leaves. The blowing grass. The color of stones. The pebbles on the stream’s bed. The white tablecloth outdoors. The dream of the house in the house. The dear one asleep in the next room. The peaceful Sundays. The horizon. The light from the room in the garden. The night flight. Riding a bicycle with no hands. The beautiful stranger. My father. My mother. My wife. My child.

For the love of all that’s holy will someone upload this clip? Thank you, that is all.

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.

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

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.

(click to enlarge)


Last week I caught myself blathering on to my best friend about the differences among veterinary insulins. Truly blathering. Somehow, realizing how I sounded and how little she must care about the details of dealing with my cat’s disease, I cut myself off before she hung up on me.

I don’t want to be that person. I don’t want to be the freaky cat lady who only talks about her kitties and their ailments. A funny story now and then, OK. A lecture on 100% beef vs beef/pork PZI, not OK.

Save me from myself.

The mark of a gifted writer is the ability to make any subject fascinating, so forget feline diabetes; the blogosphere just lost a truly great presence.

I’ll get by. If only I would have told her what a hero she was, since Angelbait’s diabetes has opened up a new social circle wherein I don’t fit, and whenever it seems there’s no way I can relate to mental midgets I think of her blog as evidence that there is room for grown-ups in these quarters. Snark, acumen, irony, disdain, dangerous empathy and brainy, self-deprecating introspection does place certain social demands on groups that prefer fraternal baby talk, but I know excellence is permissible because Nancy is that, and she is loved.

A shimmering blog has closed while the writer mourns the loss of her pet and her fans mourn the loss of her voice, wandering through her archives in awe.

Yes, it would be a mistake to assume the subject matter bears no relevance to people not living with feline diabetes. That’s not quite what Nancy was on about. See here to know that. Here, too. And above all, here.

Jimmie Dale Healer

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.