Sometimes the line between mental illness & regular jerkassery can be a fine one.
Case in point: Recently I was pulling a shift at a boutique that features our traditionally hand-lettered, hand-painted signs, furniture & decor. Just before closing a tall, disheveled man with a guitar case strapped to his back entered.
Guitars can cover a multitude of appearance-related sins, so at first I didn’t realize he was crazypie. He was getting ready to move up into the mountains, he said. “Natch-l” was more his style. Having to wear clothes down here in the city these past forty years had been chafing his skin & his spirit.
Okay. Well, nekkid musicians aren’t entirely unheard of round these parts.
“More than that, though,” he added, “Denver’s wickedness is driving me out.”
Great, I thought. Just please don’t mention “the Lard” speaking to you personally. In my experience, those can be some mean folk.
He let out a big grin. “The Lard’s calling me high up into His mountains so I can watch Denver light up like fireworks. I hope He’s a-preparin’ me a big ole bucket of popcorn to eat while I watch them people burn. Ha-ha, ha-ha!”
This being not long after the nearby Aurora shootings, I wondered what was inside that guitar case. “Well, best of luck on your journey, then,” I said in the neutral, I’m-not-scared-but-let’s-cut-this-short way of the mental health professional tribe, of which I’m a member, at least for the weekday job. Then cringed, because I’d caught my mistake too late:
“There is no luck, missy, only God’s will!”
“Of course. May your journey be…a fine one,” I answered, locking the door.
…And, sweetness, may your chosen ass choke to death on that popcorn. While fully dressed.
(Nobody said therapists – or philanthropic boutique workers – have to think nice thoughts.)
Though Perhaps the Poor Soul was Truly Mentally Ill
Yes, perhaps. Or maybe he belonged to some creepy sect in which delighting in the suffering of others come Armageddon while exalting oneself is perfectly “natch-l.”
It can be hard to distinguish between religious &/or culturally-derived nuttiness & individual, clinical mental illness. Or both, as the case may be.
When making a diagnosis of mental illness, it’s assumed that how the larger culture generally operates is correct. The disturbed individual, then, is not in step with the larger culture in clinically significant ways. How specifically one isn’t fitting in determines diagnosis.
Some attention does get paid to smaller subcultures within an individual’s framework. An Amish guy, for instance, would hardly be diagnosed with a mental illness if he didn’t want to work his little heart out for a smartphone like good people should.
But the mental health of the larger culture itself isn’t questioned.
After a tuneup, then, the soldier gets sent back into battle. It was obviously her problem, her maladjustment. Certainly there’s nothing to question about war itself, or any particular war. It is always righteous, meaningful & good, or at least necessary. Never question that necessity.
Unless of course you’re a loser.
Cold War Wishes, Nuclear Dreams & a Golden Giveaway
Unemployed losers, hippies & housewives, Kristen Iversen’s father called the protestors outside the local nuclear weapons factory. Many felt this way. Rocky Flats provided good jobs to thousands.
Decent citizens weren’t supposed to ask questions during the Cold War, Iversen notes in her book, Full Body Burden. Part memoir, part investigation of Rocky Flats & the nuclear weapons industry, this story transcends both to point out just how deadly silence can be.
Under the code of silence, you don’t question your own father’s alcoholism, much less the bizarre childhood cancers in the neighborhood, or the deformed animals popping up on nearby farms & ranches.
Lucid as a nightmare, this, for me, was a book to read in one sitting, with sleep breaks. And not just because Rocky Flats happens to be next door, or because I happen to meet former Rocky Flats employees in my weekday job. (Nice people. Most don’t blame the facility for their multiple cancers, their rosters of developmentally disabled children & grandchildren. Not that it would matter if they did.)
It’s the colossal human stupidity behind it all. Who could make this stuff up? The Atomic Energy Commission (now Dept of Energy) decides a nuclear weapons factory upwind from a major metropolitan area sounds reasonable. Dow Chemical running the joint? Solid as a rectangle.
But even more fascinatingly, why mass produce nuclear weapons in the first place? If one plutonium trigger, about the size of a human palm, contains enough breathable crap to kill every single person on the planet, literally, why would we need 70,000 of them?
Because they kept us safe.
(Wanna copy of the book? Don’t be silent, then. Leave a comment! Share on social media for more entries, with a comment to let us know.)
Poor nekkid guitar guy. An angry deity hurling wrath upon the Denver area likely won’t be necessary. Rocky Flats, closed since 1989 after an FBI raid, of all things, will continue to release radiation into the metro area for the next, oh, half million years or so.
It gets better, though: With no irony whatsoever, the immediate area surrounding Rocky Flats is not only about to open to the public, but will be a designated wildlife refuge & recreation area.
…Perhaps they’ll put up a carousel.
One one-millionth of a gram of plutonium – about the size of a grain of rice – has long been proven to cause human cancer, slow-growing ones that don’t show up for a few decades. But all’s clean now, the Fish & Wildlife Service says.
It’s just that 2600 pounds of plutonium seem to have coyly slipped away from the site.
Did the soil, air & water steal it? The area is already known to be heavily contaminated, will be for the next couple thousand centuries, has & will continue to spread through fires, burrowing animals, water runoff, development, etc.
Requests for further soil testing? Denied.
Requests for signs to be put up, at least, to warn the current & next generations, the outdoorsy transplants & tourists, that their $300 hiking togs might stir up some crazydust?
Denied. Bad for business.
The War on Beavers + Giveaway #2
Why do we perpetrate misery upon ourselves, upon our own offspring, upon their offspring, even?
According to the documentary, I Am, the Native Americans of a few hundred years ago thought it was because we, their new continental overlords, were mentally ill.
(Like, as if they were qualified to diagnose. Any advanced degrees in stockpiling nuclear weaponry just in case they got invaded & needed to melt all life instantaneously? Hm?)
They believed the whites – as a culture – must be sick because they took more than they needed. Hunting local beavers for food, clothing & tools, for instance, wasn’t enough. Needed thousands more of them pelts for the huge hat industry overseas. Who could question the rightness of supply & demand? Until, within 40 years, the beavers just about went extinct.
Stupid beavers. Fashion had already moved on, anyway.
The Native Americans found this type of collective behavior weird. Decimating that which was essential to one’s own survival, namely the land & its contents? Again, nobody asked them, but there it is.
I Am isn’t one of those documentaries with doomy piano music in the background, by the way. It’s actually kind of zippy. Watch it several times in a row & then gift all your friends & relatives with the dvd, like me, because I’m annoying that way.
You can have a copy, too, if you’d like! Same rules as the book giveaway.
Licensed to Ill
A child of mine once said she would kill – if necessary – for a house as big as her McMansionette friends. (Remember high school? Sociopath factories, I swear.)
No doubt this bit of sweetness was based on desire for “safety.” Social safety, that is, fitting in amongst friends, mainstream culture. This can feel urgent, especially in adolescence, & probably is based in turn on a truly fundamental need for community.
Regardless, Johnny D & I are always so pleased to see our values reflected in our children.
Certain kinds of acquisitions really do make us happy. Nothing brightens a cold, naked, hungry person’s day like a freshly killed beaver, for instance. (Unless said person is nekkid by choice. See photo above.)
Basic human needs must be met. As I Am points out, the problem comes with thinking lots & lots of dead beavers — or smartphones or popcorn or continents or plutonium triggers — will make us even more secure & thus happier.
Just about any excessive behavior can then be justified under the rubric of ensuring safety, or “safety,” especially when the whole culture operates under the same delusion. Thus we have the right to steal security, or “security,” wherever we can, regardless of the suffering of others, even our own tribe.
Engage in jerkassery, in other words. Take more popcorn than we need & watch from the top of the mountain while the city below burns.
Then, too late, realize that city is us, & we’re on fire, too. There is no true separation. It’s only us vs. us.
Last anecdote from I Am: Martin Luther King, Jr. taught his followers to resist violence by helping them see themselves as teachers. By modeling dignified resistance to tyranny, their oppressors might in turn catch a glimpse of their own humanity, through which lay their potential healing.
And so here’s my pretend second chance with the nekkid religious weirdo. Perhaps this time, instead of thinking mean thoughts, I’ll recognize in his wobbly eyes our – likely — shared fear of random shootings, endless warfare, institutions lacking wisdom, or even common sense. Perhaps I’ll consider brain tumor, from contaminated water & culture, as a potential diagnosis.
The guy is sick, that’s for sure. My sick brother. Not the kind of brother I’d prefer at the Thanksgiving table, but my brother nonetheless.
To recognize him as anything less would be crazypie.
Don’t forget to leave comments & share to win Full Body Burden or I Am or both! Winners posted on 11/26.
Do check out Hope Tank in the Santa Fe Art District if you’re local. Really cool handmade & vintage stuff, with 10% of all proceeds going to charity!