Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace, A Review, Part 2

Every Love Story is a Ghost StoryWe come to the end of Every Love Story is a Ghost Story knowing maybe more factoids and ‘things that make you go hm’ about DFW than we otherwise might have, but not enough more about the people in his life…the people Amy refers to when she devastates listeners of her interview by saying, “the hardest thing about this is fighting so hard for someone and still losing them.” And what is it that they – including DFW – fought so hard for/against?” The other main qualm I have with this rendering of DFW’s life is that D.T. Max did not challenge the narrative of mental illness – odd, since this is David Foster Wallace we’re talking about. But, to be fair, nothing else I’ve read on DFW challenges the narrative, either. Continue reading Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace, A Review, Part 2

Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace, A Review, Part 1

Every Love Story is a Ghost StoryDavid Foster Wallace, the greatest writer of his generation, began captivating my attention in late 2014, over six years after he hanged himself in his California home, not even mostly as a writer (though his Infinite Jest gave me, among other things, howling compassion for drug addicts), but more as a person. He had what I and so many other writers pine for and he didn’t want it. And yet, I get it. Much more, I get it. DFW has since become my favorite theologian. I will qualify that I never met David Foster Wallace; but then, neither did his biographer, D.T. Max, and he wrote a whole book about him. Continue reading Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace, A Review, Part 1

“Just Mercy,” A Review

Just Mercy
In preparation for lawyer, activist and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative Bryan Stevenson‘s visit to Seattle on Feb. 24th (Queen Anne Methodist Church), I read his gripping and heartbreaking work Just Mercy. Working at a law firm that specializes in protecting the vulnerable, giving the underrepresented their day in court and fighting for the voiceless, I know how fierce the fight for justice is and expected that Stevenson’s story would be one of great difficultly and constant struggle. But not even I, cynical and way-over-informed as I am, was prepared for just how deep the brokenness of our ‘justice’ system goes. Not only does it seem to be this country’s first response to those who have been traumatized, but it itself is incorrigibly traumatizing to those who fall into its claws, which barbarically include children, women, people with mental and intellectual disabilities and, as I’m sure we’re all aware by now, a vastly disproportionate number of people of color. Continue reading “Just Mercy,” A Review

The Body Keeps the Score, A Review

The Body Keeps the ScoreBessel van der Kolk is a Dutch psychiatrist with 30 years of experience and infinitely more compassion. Reading his work felt like a hug, firm against my railing and flailing but not constricting or threatening. I have a friend who met him, and that’s apparently how talking to him “in the face” (a concatenation of “in person” and “face to face” I made when I was young) feels, too. I’m tempted to simply repost all the quotes I’d put up on Facebook, in an effort to be seen and known, while I was reading this book, right here because they really are the best reasons to read this book. You don’t have to be a therapist or doctor to benefit from this book; its technical precision and ‘shop’ language don’t obscure the message for the lay reader and his gentle yet urgent tone belies his deep concern for those who suffer, both at the hands of those who are supposed to care for them and under the care of the system that is supposed to help them heal. Continue reading The Body Keeps the Score, A Review

Comfortableness, Part 1


First published in Real Change on Jan. 6, 2016.

Things are pretty messed up. The impending ecological cataclysm aside, that millions are fleeing their homeland to come to the country with the most mass shootings in the world (and clearly zero political will power to address that) should be evidence enough. So I’m about to say something that will probably sound offensive. You hear a lot about how fear is driving the bigoted buffonery of one of the candidates for the highest job in the land and his equally dangerous but less obviously so competitors (don’t you miss the days when Sarah Palin was the scariest Republican candidate?). How fear is fueling the sky-rocketing gun sales. How fear is behind the militarization of the police, the scapegoating and subsequent locking away of those experiencing what is commonly called mental illness and on and on. But I’d like to submit that fear is not our greatest problem. Comfortableness is. Continue reading Comfortableness, Part 1

Actually, We Can Understand

EmpathyMental health is getting more attention in the media lately, maybe in part because of the growing number of celebrities “speaking out” about their experiences. A lot of the more popular and mainstream-y sites like Buzz Feed, Huffington Post and similar do these “specials” – like, where they explicitly cordon off in their own little spot the articles on mental health, just like with “minority” voices and call them “features” but what they really are are the “optional” reading on the syllabus (which is where they keep all the female, black, Latina, Native, Asian, disabled, poor, gay, transgender voices) – and it all eventually comes down, in my perspective, to drug commercials. In other words, those are easy for me to write off. Continue reading Actually, We Can Understand

“Inside Out,” A Review

040915_InsideOut_CharactersPart innovation, part flagrant stereotype: just a few notes on Inside Out.

I’ll start with Sadness because I felt a lot of resonance there. I read a critique of the film that Sadness’ character “normalizes depression,” but maybe we need a dose of that. We’ve so pathologized life’s grief, sadness and feeling low that we have a whole industry around “treating” the feelings while ignoring what to me are obvious causes of them. We live in a culture where even our friends direct us to professionals (without thinking that having to pay someone to listen to you might just make you feel shittier) or police; the rate of expert deferral is keeping pace with the rate of “mental illness” diagnosis. And in my experience, it’s true that memories that sadness touches don’t “turn back.” It’s not that you can’t heal, it’s that “healing” doesn’t always mean “happy.” Continue reading “Inside Out,” A Review

What Should Be Done About Mass Shootings?

question markThe New York Times asks its readers this question. They only give room for 250 words but this, written with the assumption and knowledge that others will mention sensible gun legislation, was my response:

1) Address the “lone wolf” syndrome* that many of the recent (white, ring-wing ideologists) shooters feel. The most effective way I see for doing that is to rebuild a sense of community. We must temper this overweening emphasis on individualism (which is not the same thing as individuality) with a sense that we are needed in community and we need community. We should champion – rather than shame – people for asking for help, sharing life and material possessions. American life is making people crazy – from the authoritarian education/medical/mental-health care fields to the dismal job market to the equating visibility with value, we are crushing people into believing that the only way they have any value is if they do something big and noticeable.

2) Actively speak out against scapegoating those with mental illness – these folks are more likely to be VICTIMS of violence than perpetrators. Report the real causes of violence – poverty, isolation, history of violence (see above).

3) Take away incentive: stop making shooters famous in media coverage. If you must cover a shooting nationally, name the victims, not the perpetrators. Stop promoting despair and helplessness when it comes to shootings – these viral “how to survive a shooting” videos, marketing bullet-proof blankets, etc., are admissions of defeat (not to mention the videos are terribly inaccurate and contradictory).

4) Lift the ban on researching deaths related to gun violence.

5) Make it as hard to get a gun as it is to get an abortion. They do, after all, have the same end result.**


(Links and footnotes note included in my response to The NYT)

*Not that anyone really is a “lone wolf.”

**Before you flip out, should you be so inclined. try asking about my views on abortion.

What I Want The World To Know About Wanting The World to Know, Part 2

the red carpetA few weeks ago, I’d written about writing To The World and how counter-productive I think it is. That’s coming from a place of deep concern for those who experience mental and emotional distress. Not enough people are angry about the hideously broken system that is mental healthcare and I want that to change. One of the ways I see that happening is for people to raise their voices…effectively, at appropriate targets.

Most writers of the articles I detailed in my first post about this would probably vigorously deny that they commit any of the errors therein. If that’s the case, then you’re not really writing to The World. That’s fine – preferred, in my opinion, but then stop claiming to. What does “What I Want The World To Know” really mean? It seems to me that it means, “Ouch, Stop Hurting Me.” It seems to me that it means “I Want Stuff To Change.” It seems to me that it means “Can We Come Together On This Thing Here?” Those are all beautiful statements, far less presumptuous and tired than “What I Want The World To Know,” so why not say them? Authenticity is more than a buzzword. Continue reading What I Want The World To Know About Wanting The World to Know, Part 2

What I Want The World To Know About “Wanting The World To Know”, Part 1

hands-on-world1My compulsive and nervous-boredom-induced stroll down Facebook’s news feed every morning is revealing yet another up-the-wall-driving trend. It’s two-pronged and it’s going to make me look like either a Luddite or a very insensitive, butthurt jerk to point it out: a) celebrities “coming out” about their struggles with mental health and b) the glut of articles and blog posts, the volume of which is rapidly approaching the amount of memoirs (especially, horrifyingly, of people under 30) water-logging the creative nonfiction market, titled something like “What I Want The World To Know About Bi-Polar Disorder/Anxiety/Post-Partum Depression,” etc.”  Continue reading What I Want The World To Know About “Wanting The World To Know”, Part 1