Prison Abuse: A letter etc.

Edited from a letter to a friend: 

I sent the following message to the White House website — the Office of Public Liaison. It is the beginning of a snail mail campaign (insofar as I am able), geared directly at President Obama asking for a prison and “juvy” reform agenda. So far as I can tell, he has nothing  of the sort at this point and we need one.


This is the very least I can do as I have decided that while I write this blog and books on behalf of my own issues around schizophrenia and mental illness, my political writings and action will be on behalf of a prisoner I am acquainted with who is sentenced to “life without hope of parole.” (I ask you is there a more fiendish mode of inducing despair, desolation and desperation in a soul than such a sentence?)

But my question  submitted on the form available was as follows: “Is there any Obama agenda for humanizing juvenile detention centers and for prison reform?  Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and other foreign-soil prison abuses  did not come out of nowhere. Abuse and yes, torture of prisoners in “juvy” and US prisons are practices both brutal and common that serve no purpose except to create more violent convicts. Most will one day be released – to no one’s benefit, least of all  society’s. NO ONE CARES about them. They have been forgotten, lost, abandoned. PLEASE help.”


I was limited to 500 words so this had to be very carefully crafted and I wanted to get in some of the most important points. I dunno now about the comment about Abu Ghraib, but it seemed to me to be the important name to cite — an accurate reference for all that, according to my source– to draw attention then to the equation with US maximum/moderate  security prisons.


Anyhow, I don’t expect much of an answer (though the website implies the promise of something along those lines) but it was mostly to introduce the subject, into which I plan to go in greater detail in later letters.  


Towards the same ends, I am reading Christian Parenti’s 1999 book on US prisons and the “correctional system” in general, Lockdown America. I have had the book for years but have never been able to read it, though I wanted to. Now, suddenly, due to interest in this prisoner’s plight, I am slowly plowing through it. I admit it is difficult to get myself to sit down and read, but I really want to and so I persist.


My eyes, I think, continue to rebel. I have found that recently I have had to continually wipe my glasses clean in order to see better, or felt that I had to, without real relief. I am not sure what is going on, though. I believe I can still see 3-D okay. I just feel as if there is a scrim of something, a veil between me and the world…But it is more that than anything, and my usual narcoleptic sleepiness that prevents me from reading. Certainly not lack of interest and dedication. Still it remains very frustrating to me that getting through an entire book takes such a long time while writing is so easy (This is due in large part to my antipsychotic medication, Abilify, which I strongly believe facilitates putting words on paper, if insuring nothing at all about the quality of their ordering).




Anyhow, truth to tell? The times are grave…I am attempting to work on a poem about Obama as Messiah and the concomitant end of the world. At the same time, I want to move to higher ground as I wrote in the earlier post, as soon as I get a spot in some other complex out of the Valley. That, however, could take years, I am told, as I am low on the waiting list, being disabled not a senior (I’m 56 and need to be 62 to be so classified, though the cut-off may be 65 by now)…


I do not know if the six years till then will be soon enough, and too, why continue to live if there will be social chaos and a catastrophic flood, famine and widespread panic, the predictable breakdown in all civil order…? I’d rather die, and by my own hand than survive to have to worry about being murdered by –

Argh, you don’t need to hear this, I think. But people are already  filling my head if not the halls with screaming and gnashing of teeth. I fear I may need to barricade the door… 

Up All Night…

 I was up all last night and most of the night before, checking out various places around the state and their relative, which is to say their absolute elevations above sea level and comparing them, hoping to find a suitable place to relocate. I need to move soon — within the next year or so — as the Antarctic ice cap could slide off at any time, not to mention the possibility of Greenland producing such a profusion of freshwater that sea levels would rise precipitously and catastrophically…


What am I talking about? Global warming and one of the most predictable consequences of climate change…. The scenario, as I foresee it, is this (and keep in mind that I am being utterly selfish, thinking of no one but myself here, no one but me and my own small circle of family and friends…): I live in the Connecticut Valley, inland it is true, but at sea level with nothing between us, nothing literally between my building  and the ocean  but the valley floor. If and when the ocean level rises there is nothing that will stop the water from simply flowing right on up the valley. It will not even need to climb a slope as, according to Google Earth, this building is literally only 10 meters above sea level. Even if there is some ground higher than that in between, the water will simply find a route around the high points, making islands of it, and continue flooding wherever else it reaches.


Why am I making such a big deal of this? After all, I’m 56, I’m practically elderly. I should think of the younger ones who…But I admit it, my biggest fear in the world is drowning, and I cannot / will not sit around and wait for that to happen, no, I must do something to prevent such a fate now, while I still can. According to Google Earth, even my twin sister is on relatively high ground  – 600 feet – compared to me, even though she is closer to the shore and further south. Nevertheless, she has not put out an invitation, even when I pointed out the disparities of  our elevations. My younger sister, too, resides in the Valley, but she is farther north, in Massachusetts, and at 66 feet is somewhat higher in elevation. However, just a couple of miles out of town, the area not far from her is 300 meters above sea level, so she can get out of Dodge easily when the floods come. I wish she  would move so she wouldn’t be in harm’s way at all. I simply know that she will not listen to me if I bring it up so it is useless to try to get her to prepare. In the meantime, since I cannot count on my twin or any family member or friend to take me in, I must try to find an apartment on my own. I must  get myself to a new town — which one?– somewhere in the northwest hills, where the elevations are the highest and pray that the worst of the worst scenarios does not happen. 


Yet I know it will, and I cannot bear to think of the hundreds of millions, possible a billion people who live along the world’s coastlines who will also be in danger when the flooding starts. My concerns are neither more nor less serious than any of theirs, only more conscious. It could be better not to be so aware of what is to come: ignorance of the inevitable  must surely be less painful than the agony of knowing a devastating future without any ability to change it.


When I contemplate the certainty of mass panic, the evacuation and stampede inland, the fruitlessness of it all, my heart pounds with a horrible anxiety, being unable to bear thinking about so many people suffering…It is then that I wish to be dead myself, wish to have it all be over. I  myself have nothing to offer those suffering millions upon millions, though god knows I would if I could. If I myself cannot save them or help them, I cannot bear to witness the end of the world either. No, I would rather not be there for it. If a billion are going to die, then let me die before they do! I do not want to be left behind in such a world–




Someone ought to do a film on American prisons and the making of a “violent criminal”– from his/her start in the State system of juvenile care (foster, psychiatric and otherwise) to juvy to the vicious cycle of imprisonment and abuse in the so-called “correctional system” until institutionalization and/or brutal three strikes laws make it permanent…Those who somehow think that most violent convicts freely choose to become violent are fooling themselves or are willfully ignorant: the prison system creates violent criminals, period.


 Abu Ghraib did not arise de novo, out of some new bizarre impulse from “rogue military elements”. No, we exported U.S. prison guards to Iraq who knew the tricks of the trade because they already used them in American prisons. Yes, the hoods, the dog leashes, the humiliating nakedness and don’t forget the torture — all are regularly practiced, with impunity, in American prisons. Yes, even President Barack Obama still exempts as legal and reasonable, the use of torture in prisons and during the punishment of prisoners.  


In fact, the Geneva conventions read as follows: Article 1


For the purposes of this Convention, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.


So even the Geneva Conventions agrees that while torture consists of inflicting severe pain on a person by official instigation or consent,  it seems to be allowed in the case of prisoners….EXCUSE ME? Prison guards can beat a manacled naked prisoner senseless and leave him in the “hole” for weeks, even months, no one saying a word about it, and it is fine with President Obama and fine with the Geneva Conventions? Well, I don’t think it is FINE at all. Especially not when the so-called resistant prisoner happens to have mental illness and is in “seg” because of it. Especially not when the prisoner is an 18 year old who just graduated from juvy, where he was sent after having spent years being shunted from one abusive “home” to another, molested in one and raped in another…and where he was not, beaten until he ran away and was sent to reform school. Now, in the Big House for armed robbery, is it any wonder he is both scared out of his wits and violent?


Pardon Bush? No Way…

I watched the inauguration the other day and wept. I wept for joy that we, the American people, have finally elected an African American, and a Democrat committed to Democratic values, to the presidency of this gravely wounded country. And I wept in grief that we have allowed ourselves to have been so wounded by the very men who were elected to serve us as leaders.

After the long dark night of the past 8 years comes the start of a new era, one I hope will be characterized by more truth and humanity than so-called “compassionate conservatism.” That of course was only window dressing to conceal Bush’s robbing of the national coffers on behalf of his cronies and his wholesale, deliberate abrogation of our essential rights, both democratic and human. Contrary to what Mr. Cheney asserted in his final interview, the administration did torture, did wage illegal wars and did despoil the air, land and oceans for corporate gain. “On-message” lies repeated over and over do not make the opposite true, however well-honed the practice.

From the secret energy cabal assembled by Cheney to our shameful lack of preparation for 9/11  (but once and for all, just how did the WTC towers and a third building at the site come down in a manner virtually identical to controlled implosions?), from the lies that permitted the vote for the Iraq war to the gutting or disempowering of so many regulatory agencies, OSHA to EPA — the administration now past is guilty of what could possibly be dismissed as political misdeeds. But to write off Bush’s deliberate breaking the FISA law and his decision to ignore the Geneva Convention and rewrite laws to permit torture is to collude with him and essentially to agree that he was right to do what he did.

No, I do not believe we can or should just “get on with things,” or let Bush get away with scot-free. I do not mean that we need to get revenge, though my angry heart harbors, I admit, some impulse towards schadenfreud. I think there is a difference between political misdeeds and crimes for which even presidents ought to be held accountable. And I believe that if we ourselves do not hold Bush to account for such issues as torture, the rest of the world would be justified in charging him with crimes against humanity.

I thank god that Bush cannot in fact issue himself or Cheney or anyone else a “blanket pardon” — not because he wouldn’t wish to, but simply because no one can be pardoned for a crime with which he has not been charged. It is this fact, that we did not impeach Bush while in office, that will permit charges to be brought against him in the future. I know that people have a tendency to want to move on, to forget (if not forgive) a past they cannot change, because it is easier than dealing with the messiness and difficulty involved in bringing someone like a former president to trial. But I believe it must and should be done. Too many have been grievously harmed and too many continue to suffer the consequences of Bush’s crimes. We do not have the right simply to  “forget” them, victims or perpetrators, simply because it is easier on our stomachs. 

Delusions and Paranoia: past experiences

During the second part of what I call my Y2K Meltdown, when I was hospitalized for 3 months, first in central and then in southern Connecticut, I was extremely — but what I call serially– paranoid. What I mean by this is that plots occurred to me one after another seemingly without end. A new conspiracy would “appear” out of nowhere, as of course paranoid plots tend to, generated as they are by that two step process, described in the “Paranoia and Hallucination” entry. It would “do its thing” as they say, run its course, wreak its own havoc, then having done so, pop or be defused, and disappear. But almost immediately and, without my having any sense that this was happening or had any pattern, in its place another conspiracy would arise to take its place.


An example: at one point during that same hospital stay, having smelled what I was certain was marijuana coming from the art supplies room, I became convinced that the staff had been infiltrated by drug dealers selling weed and stronger drugs to patients. I’d mentioned the smell — no doubt some innocuous meaningless odor, if it existed at all — to a male nurse, and the look he gave me convinced me that he was involved. As a result, I realized that my knowledge of the presence of drugs on the unit made me dangerous to him and the other dealers. I felt frightened that he might retaliate, threaten me, or worse, hurt me when no one was around or could help me or know he was responsible.

Terrified enough to start talking, I told the doctor, and I called my sister and begged her to come in and sign me out. Please take me anywhere else, I begged. I would agree to any other hospital only get me out of there where I was in mortal danger. It was, I knew, after visiting hours, indeed it was after bedtime, but she had to come in and get me, now, or I might not survive the night.


Incredibly, she actually came in, if only to make sure that the staff was aware of my extreme distress. I knew only that she came to check out the drug situation and was devastated when she left without taking me home with her, though by then she had managed to “talk me down” some, convince me that I was in less danger than I believed, and that at least some of the staff were on my side and would be watching out for me all night.


Somehow, her words got through to me, and by the next day, the matter of the drug  conspiracy was resolved, though I cannot recall exactly how.


All I know is that as the urgency of that situation ebbed, I became aware that a new patient had arrived on the unit. Cally wore a raglan-sleeved sweater made of what I immediately apprehended was a washable wool yarn called “Candide.” Now, I knew only one other person aside from myself who knitted sweaters like that made of Candide yarn and she was the woman who had taught me to do so. “Lisa” not only knitted many such a sweater but did so for her long lost daughter, “Cally,” who had been given away for adoption many years before. The fact that “Cally” lived in North Dakota, last I knew, was of no importance to me. What seemed of paramount, vital and decisive importance was 1) the Candide wool and raglan sleeves, and 2) the fact that Cally appeared to have Lisa’s ballet-slender body type. These two coincidences in fact absolutely clinched the matter. Cally was “Cally,” wasn’t she?


These equivalences might not have been so critical to me, except that, it suddenly seemed that Lisa had died. She had committed suicide, so the message was communicated to me, and I had now to inform Cally of the fact that I’d known her mother way back when. I felt it was incumbent upon me to tell her what she had been like, that was the mission I’d been given. But  first I needed to ascertain beyond a shadow of a doubt that this Cally was indeed Lisa-my-former-friend’s daughter “Cally”…


If this was not a true paranoia that instantly arose following the death of the drug dealing plot, it was a delusion coupled with the felt urgency to act on what I was certain I knew (not so different from the marijuana delusion after all). And it was only one of a long string of plots and serial delusions that followed one upon another almost without a break that winter and spring. Just as I described in my entry of the other day, not once in the midst of any of these conspiracies or delusions was I cognizant of what was going on or able to step back and analyze the situation with any objectivity. At that time, I did not even have the tools I have now to dissect an incident after the fact: I was at the utter mercy of my brain illness, without any insight whatsoever. Now, at least, I can step back after the experience and say, Wow, I must have been really paranoid to think such a thing, or That was a hallucination after all…My goal, and a real triumph would be to recognize these things in medias res, that is, right while they are happening, but so far that does not seem to be possible.


Paranoia and Hallucination

Argh… An incident of paranoia and, hallucination unrecognized by any of us, including me, caused certain people close to me unnecessary distress this week.  I won’t go into the details of that particular incident, except to say that I had absolutely no appreciation for the fact that I was both paranoid and under the influence of false perceptions and so took what I hallucinated as solid reality, with predictable consequences. Since I felt attacked and “heard” corroborating evidence, when I accused the responsible parties, as I felt certain they were, you can imagine how people reacted…Anyhow, I don’t really know how to make things right now, since the accusations themselves seems to reveal a fundamental lack of trust, however paranoid and generated out of the whole cloth that is my imagination going full tilt…I don’t imagine it would  help anyone much to say that this has happened many many times before, and that I have accused so many people of so many outlandish things that it embarrasses me even in the remembering…Nor that some, no, most of the accusations have had utterly NO basis in fact other than the predisposition of my brain at that precise instant in time. They didn’t even reflect any longstanding attitude, so much as a temporary, very fleeting feeling that burst out as full-blown paranoia-of-the-moment.


Be that as it may, instead of dissecting this particular incident, I want to discuss paranoia of the rather prosaic sort that afflicts me these days, rather than the grandiose and global kind — involving the usual suspects like the CIA plus certain shadowy figures known as The Five People — which used to. These days, paranoia — which I’ve been taught to recognize and deal with by my psychiatrist, though success at either task remains elusive as best — reveals itself most often at the grocery store or the post office or the lobby of my “elderly-disabled” apartment complex. Or it might pop up in my suddenly suspecting  theft by someone near and dear, or accusations of malfeasance or betrayal by someone who would have no possible reason or motive for such an act, if an act of that sort were even in the realm of being contemplated. But usually the accusation is so outrageous as to be laughable if it weren’t so insulting or potentially dangerous to reputation or livelihood.


What happens in general is something like this: (and Dr O has broken it down for me, knowing the neurology of paranoia) my brain generates a feeling, that is the amygdala spontaneously, chemically, spurts out neurotransmitters of some sort that spell “fear” or “threat” coupled with a sense of absolute certainty. I don’t know if there has to be a trigger for this amygdala burst or not, but it seems to me that stress does induce it more often than calm does, and that certain stresses bring it on more often than others. But that is not to say that I can ever predict when or if my amygdala will produce an outburst at any given time; it is definitely unpredictable to the max! So imagine that I am, say, visiting someone in the hospital with another friend, and in that stressful situation — crowded hospital, stress of strange place and sick friend and not knowing what to do — my amygdala pours out the fear neurotransmitter. I’m suddenly on alert and feeling threatened. Someone is attacking me, my brain decides, and he or she is right there in the room with me! In fact, I just heard them both conspire against me, the sick friend and the well friend visiting him…They are both in on it and against me! I hate them both, they got me here on false pretenses and now are plotting against me, they want to hurt me, to do something to me, they…And so it goes.


Anyhow, after the primary flood of “threat” feeling (“the feeling is primary” and that feeling is almost always fear in some form or another) the brain’s longer pathway — as I understand it — kicks in and generates an explanation, a storyline to go along with the “threat feeling.” The important thing to know is that the storyline need not make any sense whatsoever. The brain doesn’t give a damn whether there is any evidence outside of it to explain the threat feeling, because the threat feeling is already inside and felt…So anything can explain it, literally anything can seem or feel reasonable, and does. So wherever the mind goes, or tends to go at that moment, will be the form of the storyline that explains the threat-feeling. If one’s brain travels along the line of (I should only be so reasonable) “why do I feel so threatened?  Did they just say something bad about me? Maybe I’d better ASK them! then one is in good shape, because at least then one can check out what is going on, and short circuit any tendency to mistake false perception for reality. But for me, while I do not, often, these days go so far as to opine that cosmic forces are behind my threat-feeling, I do find other less than reasonable sources than reality to explain it: voila paranoia. 


One example, when I am in the grocery store, particularly when alone, I almost always hear and as a result know that I am being followed, and instructed as to what I can and cannot buy. I generally race through the store in an effort to get out, and get away from my pursuers,  or if I do not, suffer from dreadful fear of imminent assault or at least dire consequences. At a minimum, in the best of times, I know that someone is following me and keeping track of what I put in my cart, and will be transmitting the “evidence” to a central authority, which will lead to later consequences that I will regret (which my mind spins into longer more detailed scenarios that change each time I am in the store but which vanish as soon as I am safely back in the car or walking down the hill a distance away…)


So that is both an explanation of how paranoia arises — from Dr O’s mantra, “the feeling is primary” , meaning the fear that is initially and instantly generated from that burst of neurotransmitters or neuroelectricity to the brain’s subsequent confabulation of a narrative, an explanation for that all-compassing feeling of threat and the certainty that the threat is real. And I hope I have given some examples of paranoia, specific examples, where the situation stimulates the content without the two being necessarily significant or significantly related. For example, in the instance of the two friends at the hospital, it is the fear and the feeling of threat and certainty that provides the stimulus for the paranoia, rather than any underlying distrust of the friends. The friends are simply the carriers of the fear and the certainty of the reality of the threat, which would have been borne by almost anyone stepping into the picture at that time…

Papier Mache Artwork

I thought I got her eyes down particularly well...
I thought I got her eyes down particularly well...

Child SculptureIguess I don’t have to say too much about these photos since they pretty much say it all. The Child is papier mache painted with metallic acrylic paints. I made her clothes out of poster paper and paper toweling and her hair from tissue paper, the rest of her skin is mostly a layer of  heavy duty newsprint or packing paper.


We are having an art show in my building in March so I am trying to finish a few projects in order to be ready for it. Alas, the Child is taking up so much time that I dunno that I will have finished much else besides by March…since I needs must also review the galleys of my book of poems and write several articles and perform any number of other necesary duties. Here are two other small sculptures I have made that I could add to the show:



Crazy Fruit Bowl with Mini-Melon
Crazy Fruit Bowl with Mini-Melon

MuuMuu Mama

Vision Therapy, Stereopsis and Seeing At Night

I gave up driving at night many years ago — I simply could not see properly, and it seemed to me that I often saw things that were not there, or mistook vague shadows for the wrong objects, which was unnerving at best and dangerous in more than one instance. As time passed, I simply designed my life around this lack of night vision and planned to be in before sunset unless I had someone else do the driving. It never occurred to me to ask a doctor what might be wrong with my eyes. Nor did any doctor ever inquire as to why I could not drive at night, even when I said as much…It seemed to be simply accepted and acceptable to all, that I, starting at age 35 or so, should be unable to see well enough to drive when it was dark. Perhaps because I was already disabled and unable to work this seemed relatively unimportant to them, perhaps because I was a psychiatric patient it seemed to them somehow “reasonable” or understandable…Or perhaps because I myself showed no particular distress, only acceptance. But this was later not the case, and yet still the MD eye doctors remained aloof and uninterested, dismissive, as indeed my ophthalmologist largely was about my double vision when he couldn’t solve it immediately. It was only when I spoke to my optometrist friend, L, that I felt taken seriously. Not only did she immediately tell me to come see her in the office, that we would get to the bottom of the problem, but once we did, she put prisms in my glasses then encouraged me to see Dr D for vision therapy, knowing how important the chance of regaining stereo vision was to me.


Be that as it may, as to my lack of night vision I gave up a great deal because of it. I used to be a folkdancer and for many years it was a passion of mine, but when I grew unable to drive at night I had to give it up. I stopped visiting anyone after dark if I couldn’t walk there and back and I did not even go to the movies or grocery shopping, except when the drive was extremely well lit and I was willing to take a chance.


Now let me jump ahead to vision therapy. After my eyes “clicked” into place that afternoon/evening and even more in the days that followed I began noticing details and even whole objects that I had not seen before. It seemed that because my eyes had not before resolved certain details, like the boundaries between a near object and the background, which (and I know this sounds weird) had always been just a jumble and confusion of lines, not a crisp boundary, they simply ignored them. What that boundary defined simply disappeared for me. So, for example, if I were looking at a group of objects against a complicated background, the background and the foreground would simply mesh and much of the “picture” would be lost to my sight, to my understanding. A  collection of plants sitting in front of a  messy bookshelf might defeat any attempt to resolve it into more than a mass of greenery and generic books. I would not have been able to separate the plants into distinct leaves on distinct plants nor distinguish one book behind all the greenery from another. The meshing of lines and confusion of background and foreground would have made it all impossible.


THis is very difficult to explain to anyone who has not had this experience. Indeed, I cannot recapture it for myself, now that I have stereo vision; I can only remember what I saw when I did not have it. Imagine you are looking through an aquarium window and you see dozens of fish snoozing in perfect rows. You can see the rows and sight down them, 12 fish deep, counting each fish and see that there is space between each fish. But without stereopsis there is no space, and the consequence of that is tremendous: Without palpable space, there can be no perceived division, no distinction between the fish either, so that you actually cannot tell how many other fish are there, nor count them precisely. You might know, somehow, vaguely, that there is a “mass” of fish, but to say exactly 12 would be impossible, unconceivable to you without stereopsis. In point of fact, you’d have trouble resolving the fish into anything but a vague notion of  a “mess o’ fish.” At best they merely overlap like sheets of paper, rather than sitting each in its own three dimensional pocket. At worst, you can’t tell anything more than that there are a bunch of fish in there. And I’d be hardpressed to say which was indeed worse.


So, once I had stereo vision, I finally noticed, in the sense that I literally could see the plant leaves, the fish and other things I hadn’t seen before. Another newfound aspect of vision was that the foreground became sharp when I focused on it, but the background blurred. I had heard about this phenomenon, but had never seen it before, wondered what people were talking about all my life. When “laser photos” were first shown at an exhibit on the New Haven Green in the early or mid  1970s, everyone was oohing and ahhing over the crispness, the lack of blurring of the background, how everything in foreground and background was so detailed…But I remember thinking, What is the big deal? I see that all the time. And I didn’t understand at all what they meant by blurring of the background compared to the foreground…It was all mumbo jumbo to me. Of course, since I didn’t understand, I simply remained mum about it. I figured, okay, maybe I didn’t get it, maybe I was too science-stupid to understand. I was in fact either an A student just out of high school science or a pre-med post-college student, but since I couldn’t figure it out, I simply chalked it up to my lack of intelligence and moved on. Had I understood the implications both of what I did and did not see, I might have happened upon the problem earlier in my life. (THough likely not a solution, since they were telling people at the time that stereopsis could never be regained in adulthood.


So, here I am, Jan 2009, newly stereoscopic, able to resolve details I could not before, seeing more of the world and even able to notice that the background blurs when you focus on the foreground, and I decide, maybe I’ll try to drive in the dark…just once. I don’t know why I thought it might be different, but I had the sneaking suspicion that I might resolve the darkness differently too.


I started up the car and waited for the lights to turn themselves on (so I wouldn’t forget to turn them off). Then with a little trepidation, I pulled slowly out of the well-lit parking lot. Immediately, I could tell the difference. For one thing the whole world seemed better lit now. I could see, well, details where before there had been only darkness, and confusing chiaroscuro. Streetlights defined things, rather than merely casting shadows onto them, and assisted my vision rather than merely making matters worse. I could see into bushes, could see branches and inside the hollows. Dark recesses, doorways became just that: recesses, doorways, and not just patches of darkness, black blurs to stump and confuse me. My sole difficulty lay with the headlamps of approaching cars — these as always tended to unnerve and “blind me.” I found however that if I concentrated on the road and the side of the road, I could see right through them, that they did not in fact blind me at all.


 I once was blind to much of my environment and didn’t even know it. I thought at the time I started seeing Dr D that all I wanted was to recapture the experience of beauty I’d gotten a glimpse of when mesmerized by tree bark — the reason I embarked on Vision Therapy (no pun intended). I never dreamed that I would gain so much more vision and so much more functioning in my life in the process.

On Writing and Memory

I am trying to start a new book, another memoir. This is an exciting endeavor but I’ve gotten stuck on the problem, a perennial one I imagine, of how much does one really remember, and how much does the mind “make up,” that is, remember improperly? I know that some writers of autobiography — to my mind a more stringent form, requiring research and some historical context –and memoir make the claim that every word they have written is factually accurate, to the extent that they have checked each one against the memories and records of others. Then there are the infamous ones who have played so fast and loose with the truth as to have lost all semblance of it. These have produced literary scandals (as well as books that probably earned their authors much more income than if they had actually stuck to the facts) and more or less short-lived discourses by the punditry on the nature of truth and memory: what can we really know? Since I am something of a sucker I tend to take both of these at their words, when in fact I daresay that neither of them ought to be. True enough, the one has done more work than the other, and has made an honest effort to search for the “real facts” in his or her history, but my question is this: Can it be done, one, and two, why should the collective memories of say, ten people chosen by the author (biassed) be more “objectively real” than the simple truth of what the author herself remembers? Yes, you might build up a larger group of pieces-of-the-elephant if you have ten blind people who feel only one part. But unless you have someone who knows how the pieces fit together, you still only have elephant pieces…And so ten pieces are no better than the one in the end.

What I am saying is this: the author, the person who lived the life has to be the one to make sense of it. She might have a thousand “elephant pieces” — memories given her by ten people, yes, or only her own memories but in the end she must construct what the elephant – her life–looked like out of them. In some sense, there are facts and there are facts, but the work, and the life, and the living is all in the interpretation; always was and always will be.

That said, I am having trouble getting started, because I don’t know whether I want to use more “objective” sources or evidence this time, or not. I am perfectly comfortable using what is close at hand: my journals, my photos, the people I can easily consult. And I do feel very uncomfortable with mining deeper records: I do not particularly want to see what is written on my hospital charts during months-long stays when I was ranting and screaming for days, or engaging in outrageous behaviors like taking a dump on the floor of the seclusion room, or disrobing and…I can scarcely bear to think I did such things, frankly, and do not want to read what was written about me at the time, knowing nothing can be corrected or updated to show them the “new me”. A sad fact about hospital records and workers: they only see you when you are at your worst; they rarely get to know if you get better. Much less get to know you when you are well. And if you ever wanted to sit down and tell them what was actually going through your brain at the time they believed XYZ, but in fact QRS was happening, well, forget it.

So, I am loathe to overturn those stones, growing mossy as they nearly are now, some four years later. It pains me even to bring my mind across the memories of them. I have no wish to flagellate myself. My own journals say little, but it’s about all that I want to know. At the same time, my own brow-beating conscience tells me, NO, you must do what you do not want to do. The very fact that you do not want to do it means that you should. No pain, no gain—

Oh, I just go on and on. I would make this next book a torture to me, nothing of pleasure at all, just to serve my scruples. Be gone! If the writing is only to torture me, why do it? I’d be better off with my artwork and sculpture. But writing nurtures me, so long as I do not let my illness turn it into a punishment. Is there any need for me to use the historical records in telling the tale of my life? Did my first book lose anything in my not doing so? I would change a lot in DIVIDED MINDS, if I could go back and do so — add scenes here, take out one or two, most certainly make better transitions — but except for appending a much clearer discussion of this very issue, and also a better disclaimer, I wouldn’t change the way we wrote it.

So I might have talked myself to a place from which I can start, allowing myself the freedom not to have to delve into the official records or consult professionals involved in my care unless I am currently in treatment with them.

Your past after all resides as much in what you remember as it does in anything documented. You are mostly what you remember, and what you remember is sculpted by time and changes over time. If you think your memories remain the same, read back in a diary you haven’t read before, and recover the accounting of a incident you thought you’d recalled with accuracy…You’ll see how inaccurate your “memory” was and how formative this memory had been nevertheless. Then remember that the accounting is itself a memory, tainted by emotion and interpretation and consider those “ten people with their elephant pieces” who tried to give you objective memories of your history. Were they truly objective? Were their memories, even collectively, any more factual and objective than your memories?

In the end, memory is fiction, as someone once wrote in The New Yorker magazine, memory is, well, made up, not real, imagined. I agree, but it is all we have. Literally. Without memory we would be without anything at all, no culture, no civilization, no nuthin’. So let’s not pretend that the fact that memory is fiction isn’t critical. We need memory, and memory is, well, fundamentally untrustworthy, which is why we need thinking, and thinkers and writers to interpret history and memory… Memory is the most important thing we have, the most important attribute we can impart to anything: in almost every sense of the word, when we remember something we keep it alive. Maybe not literally, but then again, it is memory that keeps a conversation going on longer than five minutes. If you forgot what you were talking about ten minutes ago, or to whom you were speaking, nothing much would get said…