Making Crazy for You (with Delight in Disorder)

As we enter the last week of our mission campaign for Delight in Disorder, I decided to go a little crazy. I made a Spotify playlist called Crazy for You (with Delight in Disorder).  It’s a fun-tastic blend of classic country (Patsy Cline, Hank Williams), blues legends (Buddy Guy, Billie Holiday), rock standards (Lou Reed, Van Morrison) and alternative twists (The Feelies, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Violent Femmes).

So spend an evening (or afternoon, or morning) going a little crazy. Maybe it will help you discover delight in disorder.

Crazy

For All Our Wounded Warriors: The Story of Poor Old Tom

Today is a day to celebrate the service of all soldiers who have sacrificed their personal freedom to contribute to the freedom of our nation. Such service can take a tremendous toll on the lives of young men and women, as we see in the case of wounded warriors damaged beyond repair. The following song tells the story of one such soldier – “Poor Old Tom”.

 

A Tennessee boy joined the US navy in 1950 he was 17
A quiet kid who never seen the ocean
his mama died his first trip at sea
He learned to work and he learned to whistle
he learned to gamble and he learned to fight
He learned to suck a bottle and go out whorin’
Somehow he learned to stagger in at night
Poor old Tom he don’t know
why his teeth’s gotta rattle shiver and shake
The night wind’s free to blow wherever it pleases
Tom’s free to walk to the cold day break

Poor old Tom he’s tellin’ it all
His thoughts are roarin’ like a waterfall
He never cared about money and there’s no doubt
he never had much money to care about
Taifuns and (…) on the great Pacific
proud to be serving the USA
He worked hard on board and he got promoted
he got VD but it went away
Poor old Tom he ain’t right
he went out in San Francisco on a Saturday night
Sunday morning his ship set sail
Tom was arrested in the Oakland jail

Now it’s 35 years since his incarceration
on a morals charge the words he said to me
From the brig on Treasure Island to the institution
they treated his depression with shock therapy
Poor old Tom he don’t know
he’s got trouble a callin’ he’s history
At the drop of a coin he’ll start to ramble
how the whole damn thing’s a mystery

His eyes bulge out as we talk on the corner
he turns on the gurney and They held him down
one morning they wheeled him to another building
a surgery room with doctors standing’ round
He cried Lord help me as they put him under &
he sailed away on an ether sea
Ever since that day all he does is wonder
Did the surgeons perform a lobotomy

Poor old Tom his story is true
he’s got nothin’ to show, no one to show it too
The word for him is never the less
He fought for freedom, never took a free breath

Now the radio’s blare musak & musak diseased are cured every day
The worst disease in the world is
to be unwanted, to be used up and cast away
So as we make our way towards our destinations
fortunes are still made with flesh and blood
Progress and love got nothing in common
Jesus healed the blind man’s eyes with mud
Poor old Tom he don’t know
why his teeth’s gotta rattle, shiver and shake
The night wind’s free to blow wherever it pleases
Tom’s free to walk to the cold day break 

by Peter Case  from his album Thank You St. Jude.

Peter Case

Peter Case, photo from Kevin Geraghty-Shewan

Building Community by Featuring Followers IV

Time for a Stat-ervention? Checking you blog stats can become addicting. I challenge you to walk away for the month of Oct and see if you can refocus on the joy of blogging.

The statisticians here at “A Way With Words” have advised me some time to put out only one post a day, saying –

Your optimum visits-per-post ratio can best be achieved with a single, targeted daily post. 

I say,

Get a social life.

Tonight I’m in the mood to “share the love” and feature more of my followers, hoping to further build community and simply sow seeds of gratitude for having faithful readers.

To read more, visit my new blog address by clicking on the title below —

“Building Community by Featuring Followers IV”

Building Community by Featuring Followers III

 It’s Sunday afternoon.  Morning worship is over.  The Colts have the game well in hand. Over two hours before evening worship.  It’s time to fire up the virtual grill and welcome a few more followers over, carrying casserole dishes of flash fiction, bags of poetry, and coolers of life reflections.  A good time will be had by all.  To join in the fun, simply visit any of the sites or featured posts and tell them Tony, who has “A Way With Words” sent you.

To read more, visit my new blog address by clicking on the title below —

“Building Community by Featuring Followers III”

Bon Apetit!

the planet blue potluck!

Building Blogging Community by Featuring Followers II

I had so much fun and have received such a good early response to my previous post featuring seven of my blog followers, that I thought I’d feature seven more.  If the first post was a pot-luck, this is like going back for seconds.

To read more, visit my new blog address by clicking on the link below —

“Building Blogging Community by Featuring Followers II”

blogs

A Thick Brush with Genius: On Seeing Van Gogh’s “Landscape at Saint-Remy, 1889”

          Today, I decided to take a pilgrimage to the Indianapolis Museum of Art.  I was a man with a mission.  I wanted to witness a Van Gogh in person.
          The museum is lodged on a beautiful campus not far from downtown Indy.  Admission is free.  Their website indicated a charge for parking, but I found a spot that wasn’t in the main lot (don’t tell anyone).
          The signs were promoting an exhibition of Ai Weiwei dubbed “the most controversial artist in the world”.  I wasn’t enticed.  Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate controversy as much as the next fellow, but not when it costs me $12 to see.  I like my controversy for free.
          On arrival, I went to the information desk and was told I would need to place my backpack and water bottle in a locker.  Not a problem.  The lockers cost only a 25-cent deposit.  I asked about Van Gogh and they directed me upstairs to the European collection.
          After checking in at another desk, I entered a very spacious area with winding rooms.  The walls were filled with paintings of various sizes.  I recognized Gaugin, Pissaro, El Greco.  But I couldn’t find Van Gogh.  I asked a guard.  A young boy with a clipboard.  A middle-aged woman with a fake tan.  They all pointed me in different directions.
          Finally, I saw it.  “Landscape at Saint-Remy, 1889”.

          While it didn’t take my breath away, I was definitely captivated by this living example of Van Gogh’s work.  It clearly stood out from the other pieces – not just for the thick brush strokes (as if the paint were applied with a putty knife), but for the delicate blending of colors.  The blue sky was seamlessly woven into the grey-ish hills which joined the yellow-green fields harmoniously.
          The small figures of a tree and a man are subtly hidden into the landscape, but as you examine it deeper, they come alive.  They tell a story of survival – the tree is barely more than a paltry collection of limbs with a splash of greenery.  The man in blue is bent over carrying large bundles of hay almost bigger than he is.
          A sign near the painting suggested that in this work Van Gogh reveals his “pantheistic beliefs”,  but I certainly don’t think the piece commands such an interpretation.  Whatever Van Gogh in fact believed, the painting conveys a sense of man’s insignificance in the scheme of Creation as well as the hard labor required for survival.
          Overall, as I reflected on the painting, I gained a measure of peace in the harmony of nature and humankind’s relationship with it.
          The note beside the piece also gave s0me context, that it was painted –
in the provincial town of Saint-Remy, as Van Gogh recuperated from a nervous breakdown on Christmas Eve during Gaugin’s fateful visit.
          The painting suggests that Van Gogh, at least for a time, was well into his recovery as the “Landscape” conveys a peace in the harmony of nature and humankind’s relationship with it.
          image above “Vincent van Gogh – Landscape at Saint-Remy – 1889 – Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis from Ceanna Pins in Paintings I Love – 13

The Suicide of Sam Stone: Remembering All Our Fallen Soldiers

 John Prine’s song “Sam Stone” tells the story of a soldier who comes home from Vietnam, a wounded warrior.  Not only is he physically injured, he is also psychologically and spiritually consumed.

And the time that he served,  

Had shattered all his nerves,  

And left a little shrapnel in his knee.   

But the morphine eased the pain,  

And the grass grew round his brain,  

And gave him all the confidence he lacked,  

With a Purple Heart and a monkey on his back.

We then see the terrible impact of Sam’s wounds on his family as the chorus shifts from a third-person narrative to a plaintive first-person plea from the perspective of Sam’s child.

There’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes,  

Jesus Christ died for nothin’ I suppose.  

Little pitchers have big ears,  

Don’t stop to count the years,  

Sweet songs never last too long on broken radios.  

Mmm….

Sam’s addiction leaves him ill-equipped to face the demands as a worker and father.

Sam Stone’s welcome home  

Didn’t last too long.  

He went to work when he’d spent his last dime  

And Sammy took to stealing  

When he got that empty feeling  

For a hundred dollar habit without overtime.   

And the gold rolled through his veins  

Like a thousand railroad trains,

And eased his mind in the hours that he chose,  

While the kids ran around wearin’ other peoples’ clothes…

Ultimately, this wounded warrior chooses to end his struggle.

Sam Stone was alone  

When he popped his last balloon  

Climbing walls while sitting in a chair  

Well, he played his last request  

While the room smelled just like death  

With an overdose hovering in the air  

But life had lost its fun  

And there was nothing to be done  

But trade his house that he bought on the G. I. Bill  

For a flag draped casket on a local heroes’ hill.

On this Memorial Day, it is important we remember all those who have given up their lives in the service of our country.  Some died (and are dying) while fighting on a military battlefield.  Some died (and are dying) fighting the effects of war in the battlefield of their mind.  My prayer for each of them, as well as for those they’ve left behind is,

“God rest your soul.”

 

Veterans Suicide Help‎   (800) 273-8255

Caregivers of Wounded Warriors SparkTeam from Torrey Shannon in Caregiver Resources

The Hollywood Silver Linings Playbook: Fake Right, Go Wrong

To do justice to “Silver Linings Playbook,” I’m dividing this meditation in two parts.
First, I will tell you how great a movie it is and encourage you to see it. Then, I will tell you how wrong the movie’s message is in the end.
First, the movie is great.
Never has a film been made that so accurately and compassionately depicts the turmoil of people battling Bipolar.  As Pat (Bradley Cooper) plows through volumes of reading (reacting quite viscerally to A Farewell to Arms), erupts in rage over his wedding song played at the psychiatrist’s office, and explodes in violence toward his mother when he can’t find his wedding video, we see the ravages of the illness.  Yet, the person of Pat is not far away, as he moves quickly to remorse and regret.
Cooper’s portrayal of Pat is nothing short of brilliant.  Standing beside Robert DeNiro (as Pat, Sr.), Cooper more than held his own.  Jennifer Lawrence did a competent job as the fragile, volatile, yet strong-willed Tiffany.   The supporting cast contributed greatly, particularly Chris Tucker, as the funny delusional psychotic looking for every way to get out of the hospital.
Not only does the movie accurately depict one man’s mental illness, but the “craziness” in the family system within which so many Bipolar folks emerge.  From the gambling addiction of Pat Sr., to the barely controlled marital rage of Pat’s friend Ronnie (John Oritz).  Even beyond the family system, the scenes where a neighborhood kid drops in wanting to take a video for a class report on mental illness is spot-on.  The craziness of Bipolar is not an isolated aberration.  It is part of our culture.
Finally, the story itself (until the end) is exquisitely complex.  I often find myself trying to anticipate resolution as I watch films and this one had my mind going in so many possible directions.  It was a roller-coaster ride I thoroughly enjoyed.
But then, there is the end.
Every movie has a message which is driven home by the way the movie ends.  While the primary intended message of this movie may well have been to de-stigmatize mental illness (in which case it succeeded), there was a more subversive (perhaps secondary) message that won the day, likely as a result of Hollywood’s formulaic equation for romance films.
The “Hollywood Silver Linings Playbook” for battling Bipolar has basically seven steps –
First, meet a mentally ill woman who has stopped taking her meds, is lost in grief and is actively pursuing a sexual addiction.
Second, when you can’t handle her sexual aggressiveness (an offer “to f&%! me, as long as the lights are off), start back on your meds to mellow out.
Third, let down your physical and psychological boundaries when she tries to pretend to be your wife.
Fourth,when you discover she has lied and deceived you, go through with your commitment to her.
Fifth, when she tragically tries to pick up another man at a bar, rescue her.
Sixth, leave your wife and profess your undying love for her.
Seventh, Live happily ever after.
There are so many ways the movie could have ended differently that would have conveyed respect and understanding for both Pat and Tiffany’s brokenness without offering a prescription for spiritual and psychological catastrophe.  Instead, after over an hour of creating a compelling, compassionate story about two strong survivors, the movie disregards their unique needs and throws them together romantically to fit the formula.
One of the great tragedies of such thoughtlessness is that Bipolar folks desperately tired of fighting the demons within themselves and particularly those struggling to work on a troubled married relationship are given the fairy-tale illusion that “you can experience fulfillment if you just find someone as broken as you are who understands and accepts you.”
Forget your marriage.
Forget your meds (in the case of Tiffany).
Forget your values (like honesty).
Just feel good snuggling together on a comfy chair trapped in a system that perpetuates the chaos within you.

The Dream Team is a Nightmare

The Dream Team .... So funny

In yesterday’s post (“Madness in Media”), I listed some books, movies, paintings, and songs, that had shaped my understanding and impacted my experience of Bipolar disorder.  One of the movies I listed was “The Dream Team”.  My brother-in-law owns a copy of this film on VHS, so last night after dinner we sat around with buttered popcorn and soda and settled into an evening of fun and laughter.

Or so I thought.

You see, I remember when I first saw “The Dream Team” (likely around 1990 – before my diagnosis), I laughed hysterically (hysterical being the operative word).  I’m not sure what drugs I was on then (probably none), but I could’ve used more.  Watching it now, with 5 hospitalizations under my belt, a steady regiment of psycho-tropics in my blood stream, and the stigma of a Bipolar on my back, well…  it leads me to conclude that the movie must have been written by someone woefully unfamiliar with mental illness who has the sense of humor of a very silly 7-year old.

I have 3 major problems with the film.

1)  The underlying message (if you want to call it that) is that if people with psychosis just stop taking their medication and face extremely stressful (Outward Bound-style) challenges, they come to their senses and are healed.  I realize in 1989, there were still a lot of psychiatric patients overprescribed massive amounts of Thorazine, but a new generation of psycho-tropics were emerging and, in many states, long-term institutional care was no longer an option.  The film takes place outside New York City and I’m pretty sure New York was either closing or had closed its state psychiatric hospitals by then.  The movie tries to be “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and fails miserably.

2)  The movie laughs at (rather than with) psychosis.  The characters are very one-dimensional and, apart from one family scene (with Christopher Lloyd’s character and his daughter) that is supposed to be touching (I couldn’t care less by then), it simply mocks characteristics of typical psychotics rather than reveals humorous foibles they find in life.

3)  It’s just not that funny.  The funny bits could easily fit in a trailer.  In fact, I can only remember one – when Peter Boyle’s character (who thinks he’s Jesus Christ) tells a man on a stretcher to “Rise and walk.”  The man tries, and falls.  Okay, now that I think of it, that isn’t even funny.

So, if you have a mental illness (or even if you don’t) and you are looking for a prescription for some laughs, do yourself a favor and don’t watch “The Dream Team”.

Thanks to all who sent in recommendations of books, paintings, music, and movies depicting mental illness.  I’m expanding the project and will be collecting suggestions through May 31, so if you think of more, let me know…

(image above “The Dream Team …. So funny” from  Kate Abate in MOVIES, SHOWS)

Madness in Media

I’m currently working on “The Study” chapter of my book Delight in Disorder: Meditations of a Bipolar Mind in which I will reflect on a few books that have had a significant impact on my understanding of my mental illness.  I also plan to include an “On the Shelves” section in which I list more resources (literature, visual art, movies, music) worth further exploration.

This is where I could use your help.  Below I’ve listed some of the resources I will either review or list.  I’d love to hear your experience with “media-depicted madness”.  Have any of these works touched you, or do you know of other works I might explore?

Books

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness by Kay Redfield Jamison

Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

Manic: A Memoir by Terri Cheney

Brilliant Madness: Living with Manic Depressive Illness  by Patty Duke

Madness: A Bipolar Life by Marya Hornbacher

Touched With Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament by Kay Redfield Jamison

Darkness is My Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness by Kathryn Greene-McCreight

Movies

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

The Dream Team

Benny & Joon

Shine

A Beautiful Mind

The Soloist

Music

Vincent (Starry Starry Night) – Don McLean

Visual Arts

“Scream”  – Edward Munch

“Vase with Twelve Sunflowers” – Vincent Van Gogh

“Spirit of the Dead Watching” – Paul Gaugin

 

What would you recommend?

 

(image above “Van Gogh’s Starry Starry Night” from Rae Leff in Art I love)