Germany, Summer 1924

Self has arrived at Part Two of The Gallery of Miracles and Madness, by Charlie English. It’s been a fascinating read so far. Germany after World War I seems like a decadent place, fertile ground for art movements like the Surrealists. Also, “obscene poetry” recited in cafés!

Alas, things do not continue on this fascinating path. Hitler enters the picture.

In the summer of 1924, Hitler was serving time for his role in a failed insurrection. (So many parallels, I swear!)

In November 1923, he and two thousand Nazi storm troopers had tried to seize control of Munich, the first step in a plan to topple the Weimar Republic. But the Beer Hall Putsch, as the coup attempt would be called, had been a disaster: Sixteen Nazis and four state police officers were killed, and Hitler was caught and charged with high treason. On arrival at Landsberg, raging at the prison psychologist, Alois Maria Ott . . . flecks of spittle showing at his lips, Ott assessed the new inmate as “a morbid psychopath . . . prone to hysteria . . . with an inclination toward a magical mindset . . . Surrounded in jail by forty sycophantic co-conspirators, with piles of expensive gifts sent by admirers and with even guards whispering “Heil Hitler!” in his ear, he became convinced that he was the messiah for the German people, their Fuhrer.

The Gallery of Miracles and Madness, pp. 63 -64

Yes, I am Schizophrenic. I Also Make Art.

Hans Prinzhorn begins his amazing collection, gathered from inmates in mental asylums all over Germany, in the decade immediately following World War I:

Around three-quarters of Prinzhorn’s artist-patients were diagnosed with schizophrenia. The rest shared a range of conditions from “manic-depressive” to “paralytic,” “imbecile,” and “epileptic.” Though more than half of the patients living in German asylums were female, fewer than 20 percent of the works Prinzhorn received were by women, a reflection both of their status in society and of a narrow definition of art, which excluded many traditional female handicrafts. An exception to this trend was Agnes Richter’s jacket. Richter, a Dresden seamstress, had been committed in 1893 after being arrested for disturbing the piece. In the asylum at Hubertusberg, she began work on an institutional garment made of gray linen, re-stitching the arms on backward, and embroidering it all over with expressions of her plight. “I am not big,” read one; others spelled out “my jacket,” “I am,” “I have,” “I miss today,” and “you do not have to. Her asylum laundry number, 583, appeared again and again. The writing was mainly stitched to the inside, where it would have lain next to her body — an attempt to reinforce her sense of self, perhaps, in a place where that was easily lost. The jacket was Richter’s only item in the collection.

— p. 23, The Gallery of Miracles and Madness, by Charlie English

If you want to know exactly what this jacket looked like, author @CharlieEnglish1 (the author himself) tweeted a picture of it on Sept. 10.

The System

The system is broken. When you have adult children hustling parents off into “assisted living,” and giving up the home they’ve lived in for four and a half decades.

The parents give in because, at the end of life, we all become children again. We become helpless. It makes me angry.

3/4 of I’ll Be Seeing You is about what is past. The past is very pretty. The present isn’t. And the future doesn’t even bear contemplating.

Me thinking as I read: Why would anyone want to look at a bunch of total strangers and do crafts? What is so damn delightful about living in a place where you have the crafts option? Who cares about keeping busy? Why doesn’t “assisted living” have a library?

At the same time, the parents are such a burden to the author. She has meals with them, every gesture delicately described.

To me, the parents are functional. Childish, but functional. In the home, they become truly lost, not themselves. They have to adhere to meals at set times, and talking to people. Isn’t the fun of growing old the fact that you can do whatever you like? Because you’ve earned it, right?

And then the big end-of-life talk. Which comes, deadeningly, at the end. It’s so predictable, and really sad.

This is the third week that my mother has been in hospital in Manila. She got COVID. No one in the family has seen her. No one can visit because COVID is raging through the Philippines. She has a trach.

But she is a fighter to the very core. She is somehow hanging on, and a few days ago they transferred her out of the “critical” section of COVID patients. What I think I am trying to say is: Don’t count the very old out. Never, ever count them out. Give them that last shred of dignity, and don’t count them out.

I am nearly through with this book. On p. 171, author states she hopes her 90-year-old father “will find a friend.” His “assisted living” place offers the author a partial schedule of the father’s daily activities:

  • current events
  • exercise
  • lunch

The children auction off of all their parents’ precious things: “the auctioneer arrives promptly” and offers them five hundred dollars.

I am outraged by the author’s nostalgia for all the events that happened in her parents’ house. How dare she indulge in touchy-feely emotions while her parents aren’t allowed to have them. She expects them to be “objective,” to accept that what is happening is inevitable.

REALLY?????

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

The Wall Street Journal, Friday, 13 March 2020

p. A4: CRISIS TESTS PRESIDENT’S AD-LIB STYLE

Does self care? She means, about the testing of the President’s “ad-lib style”? No, not really.

President Trump’s rare prime-time speech Wednesday was designed to reassure the nation about his administration’s response to a quickly spreading coronavirus.

Instead, Mr. Trump’s scripted speech included errors about health-insurance payments and European travel restrictions, people involved in the speechwriting said Thursday. He also inserted his own mistakes as he spoke, the people said.

During the 10-minute speech — with its one stray word suggesting that the U.S. would ban cargo from Europe — stock futures fell sharply, and the global market rout that followed led to U.S. stocks’ worst drop since 1987 on Thursday.

Selma Blair, Beautiful

selma-blair-attends-the-2019-vanity-fair-oscar-party-hosted-news-photo-1131915763-1551063010

Went to the Vanity Fair Oscar Party! YES! Look at that gown — beautiful and ethereal. Who was the designer?

This actress is so beautiful and so fierce.

She told Vanity Fair that she realized, finally, that what she really wanted to do was to act. “But I don’t know if it’s too late.”

SELMA, YOU CAN ACT.

Stay tuned.

CHARLIE CHAN IS DEAD, Vol. 1

For the workshop this weekend, re-reading some old stories to show different ways of writing memoir. In particular, thinking of a story called Lenox Hill, December 1991, which Jessica Hagedorn included in the anthology Charlie Chan is Dead.

When Jessica contacted self to solicit a piece, self had nothing, nothing, nothing.

Her sister had died just the month before. She did keep a diary, though.

The diary became the story. The first story in what later become a cycle of grief stories: Mayor of the Roses (Miami University Press)

For a while, a course called Ethics in Medicine, taught at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, included the story in their syllabus.

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Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

NYTBR 17 April 2011: David Foster Wallace and Two Memoirs

Books self is interested in reading after perusing the 17 April 2011 Issue of The New York Times Book Review:

1.   After reading Tom McCarthy’s front-page review of two works by the late David Foster Wallace, Wallace’s unfinished novel, The Pale King, and Wallace’s essay Fate, Time, and Language:

  • David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King
  • David Foster Wallace’s earlier, groundbreaking novel, Infinite Jest (which self hasn’t read yet because she is waiting for a time when she has nothing to do for six months but read)

2.   After reading Gail Caldwell’s review of Meghan O’Rourke’s The Long Goodbye, about the death of her mother:

  • Meghan O’Rourke’s The Long Goodbye

3.   After reading Abraham Verghese’s review of Diane Ackerman’s One Hundred Names for Love:  A Stroke, A Marriage, and the Language of Healing, about a devastating stroke that left Ackerman’s husband able only to repeat one meaningless syllable, over and over:

  • Diane Ackerman’s One Hundred Names for Love:  A Stroke, A Marriage, and the Language of Healing

(And, BTW, the book self is currently reading, Laurence Bergreen’s Marco Polo:  From Venice to Xanadu, is a very enthralling book.  Which is why she is still reading it, almost a month after she began, in early April)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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