Plans, and a term paper as example of use of fonts

I have a vision.  I want to write my thesis using a variety of fonts.  I discussed this with my friend Joshua last night and he shook his head (as if I’d suggested tossing out my meds) and said, “People don’t read that sort of stuff.”  Of course.  It hasn’t been done.  Publishers hate fonts.  This would be groundbreaking.  Mental illness involves the use of voices coming from different directions, different tones.  We have Microsoft Word with a zillion fonts–why not use them?  My thesis will be a set of personal essays on the subject of mental illness, which collectively will be sort of a collage a la Susan Griffin’s A Chorus of Stones. To convince my advisor that the fonts thing might work, I will bring a term paper I did for a class (enclosed here, below) that I did using fonts.  Other versions of the same paper used more elaborate fonts but in the later versions I found them unnecessary.  Here is the paper.  If you don’t feel like reading the whole thing, well, then, don’t.






Our Shame


 Julie Greene

Holocaust Literature

Professor Murray Schwartz

Spring, 2002












Behold, He snatches away and who can hinder Him,

Who can say to Him, what are You doing?







Weeks and months before being snuffed out, they had already lost the ability to observe, to remember, to compare and express themselves.  We speak in their stead, by proxy.


                        –Primo Levi



Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.
























I. Introduction


There were many emotions used to describe the Holocaust, but none more pervasive than shame–before, during, and after the abomination.  I am referring to both the feeling of shame and the act of putting to shame by one’s oppressors.  During the period between the world wars, child upbringing involved a barrage of shame.  Prisoners in concentration camps felt intense shame as their rights and needs were by gradations denied.  Survivors of the camps were typified as having “survivor guilt.”


I was trying to write a paper on shame and the Holocaust.  I had nine pages written when I noticed the writing was overly stiff and hard.  I became discouraged; I felt like shredding the paper and tossing it into the toilet.



II. Before the Holocaust: Childhood


The infant–in mainstream American culture–has a sense of omnipotence; the infant believes the world exists to meet his needs and give him what he wishes.  The infant believes it is he who causes this to happen.  Some remnant of this feeling continues into adulthood, in many cases, and can be a cause of the adult’s feeling of unfairness.


The latter half of the 19th century was very much the era of the ‘heavy’ father…the wrathful, capricious, exacting, god-like figure that the elder Schreber [Daniel Gottlieb Moritz Schreber] was to his son….  [The elder’s] system of health rules and behavior modification devices; the feelings and welfare of the children were sacrificed to the father’s fanaticism.




Toilet-training got off to a bad start.  “Constipation’ was a word I didn’t understand, but I knew bowel movements were enough of an issue for my mother to give me horrible white medicine.  She’d pull my hands apart and shove the white medicine down my throat.  It was supposed to help me poop.  She put a star on the calendar for every day that I made a poop, encouraging me to move my bowels as often as I could.  Before I had the chance to flush the toilet, my mother would rush in to inspect my bowels to give approval that I’d done a good job and deserved my star.  Once, I divided one up and showed it all to Grandma Ruby, who was baby-sitting, and she gave me a dozen stars.




Elie Wiesel, in his book, Night, quotes Akiba Drumer, portraying him as naive:  “God is testing us.  He wants to find out whether we can dominate our base instincts and kill the Satan within us.  We have no right to despair.  And if he punishes us relentlessly, it’s a sign that He loves us all the more.”  Is this really the attitude we want to apply to the Holocaust?  How could God have possibly willed such horrific devastation?


The existence of terrible overstimulation made for a kind of life that was like existence in a concentration camp….Survival was possible, but only under the conditions of denial of reality and distortion of identity… ‘castration’…a domestic Hitler presiding over docile subjects.



Tragedy requires some controlled image of the number dead–not the pits and heaps and ravines of bodies, dead and dying, that characterize atrocity.




And so, over the next ten years or so, I lost my faith in people, but I didn’t believe my lack of faith made much sense, until recently.  I would have preferred to have an optimistic, trusting attitude, but that is the idealism of youth.  Too often I opened my cloak too soon, revealing imperfection.  I felt as shamed as the child on the toilet whose bowels were counted and categorized by grown-ups bigger and stronger than her.  With haste I pushed the flusher, and when that didn’t work, the plunger would do, hiding the evidence.



Travelers return from the city of Zirma with distinct memories: a blind black man shouting in the crowd, a lunatic teetering on a skyscraper’s cornice, a girl walking with a puma on a leash.  Actually many of the blind men who tap their canes on Zirma’s cobblestones are black; in every skyscraper there is someone going mad; all lunatics spend hours on cornices; there is no puma that some girl does not raise, as a whim.  The city is redundant: it repeats itself so something will stick in the mind.


I too am returning from Zirma: my memory includes dirigibles flying in all directions, at window level; streets of shops where tattoos are drawn on sailors’ skin; underground trains crammed with obese women suffering from the humidity.  My traveling companions, on the other hand, swear there is only one dirigible hovering among the city’s spires, only one tattoo artist arranging needles and inks and pierced patterns on the bench, only one fat woman fanning herself on a train’s platform.  Memory is redundant: it repeats signs so that the city can begin to exist.




Child care was repeatedly compared to plant care; with careful tending a parent can banish weeds, and like the plant, the child mechanically went through stages.  The development of the child’s character was considered wholly dependent on parental guidance.  Obedience, for the German child, must be automatic.


I watched the toilet flush, the waste I’d produced swirl downward.  Concentric circles shrank before my eyes, circles of filthy, shameful material I myself had produced.  I watched the center circle swirl into nothing and swoosh into a cavernous hole like it was being swept away by a moving train, and then the next smallest ring would take its place.




I spent eight hours in the library Thursday, and here I am, at it again.  How did the time fly by so fast?  Why is it that I’ve made so little progress?



I would define shame as an intense desire to cover or hide the self, so no one, not even God, not even we ourselves, can see what we perceive to be out misdeeds.


What appears in shame is therefore precisely the fact of being chained to oneself, the radical impossibility of fleeing oneself to hide oneself from oneself, the intolerable presence of the self to itself.




Identity is lost in a removal of the self from here to there, from first person to third person, from the same to not-the-same.  Or is it from here to there, from first person to non-person, from the same to nothing?


I did not move.  What had happened to me?  My father had just been struck, before my very eyes, and I had not flickered an eyelid.  I had looked on and said nothing.  Yesterday, I should have sunk my nails into the criminal’s flesh.  Had I changed so much, then?  So quickly?  Now remorse began to gnaw at me.




The child was shown the tasks, for instance, associated bedtime tasks.  There was an “immediate chain reaction.”  A parent must be perfectly consistent.  One mistake will cause a weed to grow in the garden.  A parent should always do the same things in the same way in the same order.  “Training by habituation” was essential for gaining the child’s trust.  “Insight of the child, when this involved recognition of a discrepancy in the adult, is fatal to the educational relationship.”  The ultimate goal in German child-rearing was perfect, automatic obedience.  The parents were considered educators of the whole child, his total personality.  It is the parent who has insight into life; what insight the child has is discounted.


We live within parentheses, a reprieve that has lasted fifty years. 

                        –Paul Steinberg


Patients were regularly assaulted, abused, and picked on by staff, often during times when patients were railroaded into gang showers.  Some patients would spend many years at Met State, incarcerated.  I can’t help but imagine  that the state government closed the “hospital” out of shame.





12:30AM-1AM – SHOWER

1AM-1:45AM – E-MAIL

1:45-2 – BREAK


3-4:15 – READ, FEED DOG

4:15-5:15 – FINISH PAPER

5:15-5:45 – WALK DOG


6:15-6:30 – GET READY

6:33 – LEAVE….



“I can take it!  I can take it!” I hear her say, but she tolerated “It,” followed that split in her mind to the point of madness.  What would I tell her?




“One should teach a child a sense of shame.”

                                –Heinrich Himmler


“I will first consider some events concerning other members of my family, which may possibly in some way be related to the presumed soul murder; these are all more or less mysterious, and can hardly be explained in the light of usual experience.”



“EAT YOUR SPINOTCH!” my parents screamed at me in booming voices.  My mother confronted me with a spoonful of it, saying, a little more cheerily, “Open sesame!”  I covered my mouth tightly with my hands.  They yanked my hands away and forced my mouth open, shoving the dreaded spinotch into my tiny mouth and down my throat.



We were not allowed any modesty in front of these strange men.  We were nothing more than objects on which they performed their duties, nonsentient things that they could examine from all angles….It did not bother them that we were women and that without our hair we felt totally humiliated.



“Establish dominance.”  “Permit no disobedience.”  “Suppress everything in the child.” 

                        –Daniel Gottlieb Moritz Schreber


Leonard Shengold repeatedly uses the term “brainwashing” to represent what the oppressive parent does to the blank slate–the child. 


No, I’ve screwed this up.  What I have is a mediocre research paper.  It isn’t me.  When I do a paper, it’s from the unavoidable viewpoint of my experiences in this unusual life.  And it has been unusual.



“With a conscientious upbringing, the child, a mere potentiality, can become a person.”


Every word spoken near me or with me, every human action however small which is combined with some noise, for instance opening the door-locks on my corridor, pressing the latch on the door of my room, the entry of an attendant into my room, etc., is accompanied by a sensation of a painful blow directed at my head; the sensation of pain is like a sudden pulling inside my head which calls forth a very unpleasant feeling as soon as God has withdrawn to an excessive distance, and may be combined with the tearing off of part of the bony substance of my skull–or at least that is how it feels.






The authority of the oppressor can undermine the child’s hate of that parent and can actually cause the child to see the torturer as good. 


Walter S: I [got] my number tattooed, which was 117022.  This was supposed to be my name.  I had no name anymore.  This was it.


We would like to believe that good things happen to good people, and the evil are punished.  Indeed, Proverbs 12:21 states: “No ills befall he righteous, but the wicked are filled with trouble.”  And in the Book of Job, 14:7: “{Consider what innocent ever perished, or where have the righteous been destroyed?”



I didn’t consider hanging myself; I had no idea how.  Taking pills would be easier.  It would all have to end.  There was no other way out.




In the reciprocity of active and passive vision, aidos (shame) resembles the experience of being present at one’s own being seen, being taken as a witness by what one sees.




The “voices” manifest themselves in me as nervous impulses, and always have the character of soft lisping noises sounding like distinct human words….Both their content and the rate at which they are spoken have changed considerably in the course of the years.


Predominant is their absolute nonsense as the phrases are stylistically incomplete, and the many terms of abuse which aim at provoking me; that is to say to make me break the silence necessary for sleep.




At once, I felt something hard against my hand — a headlight!  Yes, it was a car.  Two men hopped out and asked me why I was crying.  “You’re lost, little girl?  What’s your name?  Where do you live?  We don’t know where Bridge Street is….Don’t worry, honey–policemen know how to get little girls home.”


It didn’t take long at the station to explain everything the policeman needed to know.  He called my mother.  I didn’t want to talk to her.  I knew I was in trouble.


My mother, when she pulled up in her Renault, looked stern and mean.  She said, “I told you, never take rides from strangers!”  I listened to her monologue on strangers for the ride home.  “Just wait until your father hears about this!” she said.



The mother was considered the main caregiver of the Jewish infant until the boy was three.  Then the toddler started religious school and the girl stayed home to learn homemaking and prepare for marriage.  The young boys experienced a painful separation from their mothers….


Guilt produces sharp pangs, but one can live with it and place it alongside one’s prouder achievements.  One can balance guilt with restitution.  Shame, however, results in a certain withdrawal, a belief that one is not worth consideration.  For the survivor who experiences shame, there is a further disbarrment from humanity.




That was enough to make me feel uneasy, guilty of being too lucky, of having left the others to their common fate.  Of course these feeling surfaced later, after my rebirth.  They stemmed from a morality that had become obsolete in the camp.



The boys, toddlers, had to endure ten to twelve hours of school, five days a week, with a half day on Fridays for the Sabbath.  The man who carried the toddlers to school was very rough with them.  The classrooms were very overcrowded and poorly furnished.  The teacher was strict and would punish the boys severely for inattention or absent-mindedness.  There were no textbooks with pictures, no “story time,” no education al games.  The boys would learn by repetition.


Mengele asked, “Now tell me how you lived with your midget….You will tell me if the little one is the midgets son, or did you have him with somebody else?…[Tell me] how you slept with him.”  Mengele was salivating.



I would like to suggest that some minds are more intact than others, and there is the type that is broken already, split at the root.  It is possible, but not always, to make repairs, but these are conditional at best.  Injuries bear scars that we can’t always ignore, or they will bleed from re-injury.  I am not saying a person’s mind is like a cracked stone that will never be the same, nor am I suggesting the other side, the possibility of re-birth.  Recovery lies somewhere between the two.



Schreber’s son, Daniel Paul Schreber, was stricken with paranoid schizophrenia and was hospitalized in an asylum a number of times.


Bessie K:  Somehow–all my life I was very respectful, because at home, everything was to be honored and respected–and didn’t care, somehow.  The men were standing there, and the German soldiers were standing and laughing all the way, you know, the women are bathing and the way the men are shaving.



If I secretly lined up peas–usually from a can, and sunken in like raisins–in rows of two wide, it was easier to get the peas onto a fork, whether I planned to drop them on the floor for the dog, or actually eat them.



Hitler and Stalin have proven that the strongest adults can be broken and deprived of their individuality and even their humanity….  This can…be learned from the lives of those who have grown up in the charge of crazy, cruel, and capricious parents, in one totalitarian family ambiance that Randall Jarrell calls “one of God’s concentration camps”…



Those who have devised procedures for causing mental breakdown in inmates of prison and concentration camps have resorted to a regimen of emotional deprivation and isolation, alternating with humiliation and torture.




But…you can take it!



One of Schreber’s complaints against God, obviously aimed at his father, is that God does not understand living men and has no need to understand them because he deals only with corpses.  And soul-murdering parents frequently do treat their children like completely submissive cadavers.  It is characteristic of soul murder that the parent not only fails to respond to the child’s identity, but attempts to stamp it out.  Soul-murdering fathers frequently usurp the maternal role in their personal overconcern with every aspect of the child’s behavior and every detail of the child’s care.




All these souls spoke to me as “voices” more or less at the same time without one knowing the presence of the others.  Everyone who realized that all this is not just the morbid offspring of my fantasy, will be able to appreciate the unholy turmoil they caused in my head.  It is true the souls had at the time still their own thoughts and were therefore able to give information of the highest interest to me; they were also able to answer questions, whereas for a long time now the talk of the voices has consisted only of a terrible, monotonous repetition of ever-recurring phrases….Besides these souls who were recognizable as specific individuals, there were at the same time other voices pretending to be God’s omnipotence itself in higher and higher instances…for these the individual souls appeared to act, so to speak, as outposts.





No, this isn’t right.  It seems–well, too fragmented.  I don’t know if I’m making any point here.  I’m trying to say something about shame.  Like when my life was taken over by Evil, rooted in shame and embarrassment.



The men were standing there, and the German soldiers were standing and laughing all the way, you know, the women are bathing and the way the men are shaving.




I learned early on that anything to do with bodily functions, or the toilet itself, was shameful.  I wet my pants about every day into my fifth year.  I remember the hot, stinging urine, how it dripped down the skin of my legs under snow-pants.  I remember wondering if the snow beneath my feet would turn yellow like it did when a dog peed in it.  It wasn’t my fault; it wasn’t because I was weak-willed or morally evil.  I had a physical deformity.  I came to believe that sin was something that happened to you, something you couldn’t control, an inherent badness.  By the time I was five, I understood the depth, the pain, shame, and horror, and the secrecy of badness.  Badness was not in my control.





Punishments, from the Prison Records, 1845


Mode–confinement in a cell, the window of which is darkened by a blanket being thrown over the glass.  Food–one and a quarter pounds good wheat bread per day; water at command; visited by a physician daily; size of the cell 14ft 10-1/2 in long, 7ft 6in wide; average height 11ft 8in…irons are used on the wrists and ancles if necessary…for a time limited to one week.


An officer…testifies that a prisoner was committed, who declared himself unable to work.  The officer, believing him to be obstinate, flogged him repeatedly, (as rules of the prison required,) but fearing he may be wrong, the warden was summoned, who considered it a case of mere deception.  The flogging was repeated very severely in the afternoon; the following morning the man was found dead in his bed.  The post-mortem examination discovered extensive disease!  Had there been a resident physician present, or had a responsible physician been called, what misery might have been spared.


Great, very great inconvenience is experienced from this unhappy class of [insane] prisoners from the prison-officers that appropriate and peculiar care their condition demands.


An insane convict has since been moved…the officer whose duty it was to report the case of insanity forgot it; the insane man refused to work, was accused of obstinacy, and repeatedly flogged till his shrieks and tortures compelled his ignorant and hard-judging officers to suspend the horrid punishment.  He was removed to a hospital for the insane.


The want of pure air in the lodging-cells is, I doubt not, one of the many exciting causes of this [insanity] malady in all prisons, and in all institutions in which ventillation is defective.





They are erecting an outer ward…and the mode of punishment will be deprivation of food, or of bed, shower-bath, solitary confinement, and confinement in a dark cell…..There being 868 prisoners in the men’s Sing Sing prison–in April, 113 flogged; in May, 97; in June, 107….The least number of lashes at one time with the cat 6, the largest number at one time I did not learn.


            –Hon. J.W. Edmonds (Sing Sing), 1845









As young people, we are driven to believe that the world should be fair.  We wish that everything would make sense, that there is a cause for everything that happens.  Consequently, we invent connections where in fact none exist.



Wetting was a moral issue, along with hitting and not sharing one’s toys.  Coming home from school some winter afternoons–late, of course–I’d have to walk very slowly, pinching my thighs together to avoid being bad, but it was no use; the urine gushed out of me before I reached the top of the hill, and the hot, stinging pee-pee streamed down my legs onto the snow-covered road below.  It was useless; I was bad.




It is as if the symmetrical gestures of the two opposite figures of the survivor–the one who cannot feel guilty for his own survival and the one who claims innocence in having survived–betrayed a secret solidarity.  They are the two faces of the living being’s incapacity to truly separate innocence and guilt–that is, somehow to master its own shame.




Shit.  I’m making this sound like I had a terrible childhood with tyrants for parents.  I didn’t.  It was, you know, well, we–my brothers and I–had it pretty good.  We ran the show.  Sort of.



Leon: It’s like trying to describe a nightmare.  How do you describe a nightmare?   Something which is shapeless, amorphous…it is not  a story.  It has to be made a story.  In order to convey it.  And with all the frustration that implies.




Eventually, it would be time for the Jewish boy to marry.  A desirable girl would be one who comes from a family of learned men, therefore will be a good wife–she will be modest and well behaved.  She will put her husband’s religious study above everything.  To a girl, a desirable boy would be learned so that the girl will have a good future.  She cannot achieve this without a good husband.  She is inferior to men.  She doesn’t study; she runs a Kosher home and also earns a living.  A young man and his family would be supported by his father-in-law so the man can study.



Christa M.: In the center there was a man in a long black robe and a long beard.  They had put a big drum around his neck.  They were pushing him and shoving him.  Ad he had to beat the drum, and he had to say to the drum, “I’m a filthy Jew.  I’m a filthy Jew.”  And they shoved him and tried to even trip him.  Every time he staggered and fell, they kicked him again.  It was just horrible, horrible, horrible, horrible.



Hanna F.  On that particular train…One was an opera singer….and [the SS man] recognized that opera singer–she was a Jewish woman–and he got very hysterical, a smirk on his face.  And he made that woman, a middle-age woman, get up, stark naked, and sing.



I went for my usual trip to the small bathroom I shared with my roommate to pee, thereby giving myself a reason to stay alive, when the head nurse, Heide, threw open the door and stared at me while I sat on the can with my pants dropped to my ankles.  Her eyes blazed for an instant like a camera’s flashing device that leaves its imprint on the retina long after it has flashed.  An aura I saw around her, like the ones I saw around everyone else, around objects, and even around ideas I considered Evil, popped like a bubble from a pipe.  I interrupted my piss and stared back.  Before storming off, Heide said, “Shit or get off the pot!”



Are you ashamed because you are alive in place of another?  And in particular, a man more generous, more sensitive, more useful, wiser, worthier of living than you?…it is no more than a supposition, indeed the shadow of a suspicion: that each man is his brother’s Cain, that each one of us…had usurped his neighbor’s place and lived in his stead.  It is a supposition, but it gnaws at us; it has nestled deeply like a woodworm; although unseen from the outside, it gnaws and rasps.



Golly D.: We stood in line now, completely naked.  She soldiers, the SS men, stood right next to it, looked us up and down, and giggled and–and made remarks.  It was most humiliating.



It has come down to cut and paste.  Literally.  Scissors, tape, paper clips, strips of paper everywhere.  I have been at the library for eight hours again.  Snip, snip–the sound of the scissors seems loud within this embrace of silence.




One comes across the unexpected in these people….Alongside the scars and distortions produced by terrible childhoods there are some strengthening effects: some survivors appear to have derived from their experiences adaptive powers and talents that helped them survive….I have observed…the evocation of murder, cannibalism, and traumatic anxiety…the concomitant imperative need for rescue from the unbearable intensities and defense against them; the need to take on the attributes of the tormentor an turn on other victims the abuse was suffered.




Bessie K:  Somehow–all my life I was very respectful, because at home, everything was to be honored and respected–and didn’t care, somehow.




Some of the devices used by Schreber include a back brace to prevent slouching, a metal plate attached to the child’s desk to keep the child from curling over her work, the tying of a child to her bed to prevent poor sleeping posture or masturbation, and enema before bedtime, and immersion in ice-cold water before sleep.


Isaura, city of the thousand wells, is said to rise over a deep, subterranean lake.  On all sides, wherever the inhabitants dig long vertical holes in the ground, they succeed in drawing up water, as far as the city extends, and no farther.  Its green border repeats the dark outline of the buried lake; an invisible landscape conditions the visible one; everything that moves in the sunlight is driven by the lapping wave enclosed beneath the rock’s calcareous sky.


Consequently two forms of religion exist in Isaura.


The city’s gods, according to some people, live in the depths, in the black lake that feeds the underground streams.  According to others, the gods live in the buckets that rise, suspended from a cable, as they appear over the edge of the wells, in the revolving pulleys, in the windlasses of the norias, in the pump handles, in the blades of the windmills that draw the water up from the drillings, in the trestles that support the twisting probes, in the reservoirs perched on stilts over the roofs, in the slender arches of the aqueducts, in all the columns of water, the vertical pipes, the plungers, the drains, all the way up to the weathercocks that surmount the airy scaffoldings of Isaura, a city that moves entirely upward.




The child is seen as a “thing”….and had “no empathy from the parents…deprived of his own will and of his capacity for pleasure and joy.”




“The child should be permeated by the impossibility of locking something in his heart.”


Identification with the oppressor and subsequent guilt had its genesis in the elder Schreber’s inhumane practices.



Schreber’s son, Daniel Paul Schreber, was stricken with paranoid schizophrenia and was hospitalized in an asylum a number of times.


Given the reality of human nature, given the fact that none of us is perfect and that each one of us can, without too much difficulty, think of things he has done which he should not have done, we can always find grounds for justifying what happens to us.  But how comforting, how religiously adequate is such an answer?



And oh — the woods!  The woods were friendly, at least.  Here I could tread silently and invisibly, stopping at some point to smoke a cigarette, then bury it beneath the pine needles.  I wondered if I’d find anyone’s body hanging, some patient who disappeared long ago, who found comfort in these same woods.



Despite all their hardships in childhood, most Germans and Jews referred to their families as “warm, loving, close-knit, protected, and happy,”


Damn!  I just cut myself with the scissors.



When did it all start?  When I was 12, I reported to my camp counselor that the “little men in my head were fighting against each other.”  Or maybe when I was 22 and Martians called me fat and I wanted to hide, or when I was 37 and they all culminated into one Evil Being.  When things really fell apart, I realized that my whole life was a disintegration leading to this: Mind Torture.



After a time, the toilet stopped its swirling and all the water was gone.  Gone!  Then the bowl filled with clear, less unclean water that awaited its next prey.





In Olinda, if you go out with a magnifying glass and hunt carefully, you may find somewhere a point no bigger than the head of a pin which, if you look at it slightly enlarged, reveals within itself the roofs, the antennas, the skylights, the gardens, the pools, the streamers across the streets, the kiosks in the squares, the horse-racing track.  That point does not remain there: a year later you will find it the size of half a lemon, then as large as a mushroom, then a soup plate.  And then it becomes a full-size city, enclosed within the earlier city: a new city that forces its way ahead in the earlier city and pressed it toward the outside.


Olinda is certainly not the only city that grows in concentric circles, like tree trunks which each year add one more ring.  But in other cities there remains in the center , the old narrow girdle of the walls from which the withered spires rise, the towers, the tiled roofs, the domes, while the new quarters sprawl around them like a loosened belt.  Not Olinda: the old walls expand bearing the old quarters with them, enlarged, but maintaining their proportions on a broader horizon at the edges of the city; they surround the slightly newer quarters, which also grew up on the margins and became thinner to make room for still more recent ones pressing from the inside; and so, on and on, to the heart of the city, a totally new Olinda which, in its reduced dimensions retains the features and the flow of lymph of the first Olinda and of all the Olindas that have blossomed one from the other; and within this innermost circle they are already blossoming–though it is hard to discern them–the net Olinda and those that will grow after it.




At the end of the L-shaped bathroom was the yellow toilet surrounded by three walls; it was an easy place to corner a child.  After I had quietly excused myself to pee, my parents stormed into the bathroom while I sat in that little corner, underpants around my ankles — one parent on either side so I couldn’t run past them and escape.


“You should never, never do that again!” my father shouted.


“Oh, no, never!” chimed in my mother.   


“Strangers!  Bad!”


“Yes, bad!”


“Bad girl!  Never again!”


I couldn’t finish peeing after that.  I pulled up my daisy-print underwear and ran to my room, only to wet the bed that night.




There were moments when I felt a kind of wretched admiration for the agonizing sovereignty [the torturers] exercised over me.  For is not the one who can reduce a person so entirely to a body and whimpering prey of death a god, or at least, a demigod?




Looking terrible…means looking other, bearing an image that is not the image of oneself but of someone or something else….The memoir stirs the voice of life, whereas the mirrors stare into the face of death.



Jewish men thank God daily that they were not born women.















In day-time I thought I could notice the sun following my movements; when I moved to and fro in the single-windowed room I inhabited at the time, I saw the sunlight now on the right, now on the left wall (as seen from the door) depending on my movements.  It is difficult for me to believe that this observation was a hallucination because it was made, as mentioned, in day-time, particularly as I remember drawing the assistant physician Tauscher’s attention on one of his visits to this observation, which naturally filled me with horror.  When later I regularly visited the garden again I saw–if my memory does not wholly deceive me–two suns in the sky at the same time, one of which was our earthly sun, the other was said to be the Cassiopeia group of stars drawn together in a single sun.





Not seeing was a way of not knowing…the just among us [felt] neither more nor less shame, and pain for the misdeeds that others and not they had committed, and in which they felt involved, because they sensed that what had happened around them and in their presence, and in them, was irrevocable.



Clara L.: The one who was lucky got a long dress, so she immediately would tear off a strip from the dress to cover her head.





12:30-2 – OUT WITH JOE




3:15 – WALK DOG




So I bought more pills at the supermarket and stored them in my room at Hall Mercer.  I had my stash: pills, razor blades, plastic knives, cigarettes, lighters.  I stopped eating, except for a candy bar at four o’clock in the morning every day from the vending machine.  What was the point, I thought; without sleep I’d be dead sooner.



Victor: This is true. And what you are not told, what you don’t know, is also true…what is not in the book is also true.



“Tragedy requires some controlled image of the number dead–not the pits and heaps and ravines of bodies, dead and dying, that characterize atrocity.”



Abraham P.: Here are people, religious people, who always wore long clothes, and their privacy was so–it was–I can’t even fine–I mean, here is a man who is a religious man and he has to go and–and take care of his personal need right in front of so many people….They would rather suffer pain than go out and empty their bowels in front of people.



The synagogue door — a castle!  She pulled at the knob and twisted it clockwise and counterclockwise, then realized the door was locked.  She turned to face the street and its music.  It wasn’t fair.  She sat on the steps, choking on her own saliva.  The wind blew a Kleenex down the sidewalk; it hopped into the gutter, where it melted.  Sarah shivered.  She had forgotten about her coffee.  A man with a shopping cart floated by, carrying a trash receptacle.  He looked at her, and waved.  She waved back, then settled into fetal position, leaning on Temple Beth Hell’s door.


The coffee was cold and bitter.


From the first beginnings of my contact with God up to the present day my body has continuously been the object of divine miracles.  If I wanted to describe all these miracles in detail I cold fill a whole book with them alone.  I may say that hardly a single limb or organ in my body escaped being temporarily damaged by miracles, nor a single muscle being puled by miracles, either moving or paralyzing it according to the respective purpose.  Even now the miracles which I experience hourly are still of a nature as to frighten every other human being to death; only by getting used to them through the years have I been able to disregard most of what happens as trivialities.  But in the first year of my stay at Sonnenstein the miracles were of such threatening nature that I thought I had to fear almost incessantly for my life, my health, or my reason.


I did not tell Joe that I’d been abusing laxatives.


How many times…I spent on that kommando, did I cover the last mile back to camp with my right hand jammed between my buttocks to keep the diarrhea that was slowly draining from me, soaking through my trousers and running down my legs into my clogs?…You had to march in time…eyes right and sphincter tight.  Hundreds of us walked with that telltale step.




My mother had stuck a rectal thermometer into my butt and had gone into the kitchen to fly around for a while.  What child wouldn’t want to know what would happen if she pushed the thermometer in further?  And so, I felt the top end of the thermometer get shorter, shorter, until — at last! — it slipped inside me completely. It had disappeared, perfectly.




Frank S.: [This biology teacher] pulled me up on my sideburns and he put me in front of the class and you see how, “here’s a Jew,” and he started to describe my nose and cheekbones, my hair and my features, and how to recognize a Jew.  And I felt humiliated.



Joe said I looked too skinny, like I came from a concentration camp.  Eighty-one pounds, he said, was not enough.




The parallel universe, the one where logic, ethics, codes no longer apply…are replaced by another logic, another codes, which we must assimilate quickly, on pain of dying even more quickly.



I did my best to hide.  The embarrassment, that I felt around my peers, cut, like the sun pierces a fog as it sets itself upon the ground, penetrating everything it touched: my skin, the soft part opposite my elbow, shooting straight into my trembling heart; it poisoned me and made turning back impossible.  Once, when I was on the road, I saw a cop drive slowly by.  I darted into the woods.



Jacob K.: We were all standing up, my mother naked, all of us, three brothers, my father, the other ladies, naked.  It was a terrible sight for a young man to see.  They took out matches…they struck out genitals–the women’s and the men’s.



After a trip to the supermarket for cigarettes and more pills, I treaded fifty yards or so along dry, flaxen grass until I came to a circular opening where some trees had forgotten to grow.  I sat and smoked and looked over the Square and beyond, at shingled rooftops and shabbily-built porches with clothes — sweaters, skirts — hanging from the porch corners.  A breeze made my cigarette glow brighter and bigger.  I took one more puff then buried it deep, under the dry grass and into the earth.  I stamped on the spot until I was sure the cigarette underneath was out.




It was over for a while.  It is still not over.  Twenty-two years later and I am still dangling over the ground by dislocated arms, panting, and accusing myself.  In such an instance there is no “repression.”  Does one repress an unsightly birthmark?  One can have it removed by a plastic surgeon but the skin that is transplanted in its place is not the skin with which one feels naturally at ease.




I awoke at three in the morning and straightened out my room.  I made the bed without a wrinkle. I folded and re-folded my clothes, smoothing them out and lining them up perfectly.  Then I cleaned the floor by hand, picking up stray threads and pieces of dust and dirt by hand until I was satisfied.



Martin S.: I would tell the kids [classmates] everything…we were all in a circle and he said, “Why don’t you tell one of your bullshit stories?  And from that day on–this was 1946, 1947–I did not say a word, I would say, till about five, seven years ago.  The hurt was almost as much as being hurt by the Poles and the Germans because the realization, “My God!  My own, they don’t believe me!”



I had an appointment with my therapist.  I had decided to give her some of my last drawings, sad designs that had no set top or bottom until I’d signed them, “J. Greene,” and the date.  I wondered if my therapist would be suspicious hearing my slurred speech, which I couldn’t control on account of the Benadryl; in fact, keeping my balance while walking was tricky. I decided I’d take all the Benadryls after my appointment, and go off into the woods at a place no one would find me, behind a lone boulder, buried in leaves, far, even, from the “forbidden” path, and be dead by nightfall.




Helen K.: I don’t know if it was worth it.  Because you know, when I was in the concentrations camp, and even after, I said to myself, “You know, after the war people will learn.  They will know.  They will–they will see.  We will learn.”  But did we really learn anything?  I don’t know if we learned anything.  Or if we ever will.  I don’t know.




Whoever has succumbed to torture can no longer feel at home in the world.  The shame of destruction cannot be erased.  Trust in the world, which already collapsed in part at the first blow, but in the end, under torture, fully, will not be regained….it is fear that henceforth reigns over him.  Fear and also what is called resentment.  They remain and have scarcely a chance to concentrate into a seething, purifying thirst for revenge.



If there is punishment, there must have been guilt.  –Primo Levi


Edith P: And [a German] hit me about ten times on my back with a whip…I didn’t cry.  I did not cry!  The humiliation pained me terribly. Not the physical–one can survive physical pain.  But how does one survive emotional pain?



****I don’t know what to put here****nothing, I guess****


Martin S.: We ultimately went in. You had no choice.  And when finally water came out–but again, you thought this was the end of you.  It is impossible to describe the thoughts, the feelings.



She screamed as she fell, face down in the middle of traffic.  Spikes of pain riveted her cheeks and lips, as sand infested her tongue.  A stinging sensation pierced the soft places on her skin.  She pulled her hand toward her face, staring at it.  A large nail cut between the bones of her hand.  Blood oozed forth.  She screamed.


“Lady, get out of the way!” said a teenager wearing a bomber jacket.


“Please, help me–”


The kid laughed.  “What a klutz!”  He spat on the sidewalk, then ran to join another teen on a side street.


“Help me!” she called out.


Nobody heard her.  An acrid odor filled the air, spoiled steak cooking on a grill.  Gross.  No, it was flesh.  Her flesh, burning.  The flames reached up from her feet, where two more nails attached her feet to a stake.  No.


Why did it happen?  Why did I survive?  To write about it?  Will anyone believe me?  Will anyone listen? 


I lived and am still living in humiliation, I have never managed to wipe my image clean.  I am still the person who slapped the old Jew, the boy hiding out in the latrines, he toady who fawned on the brutes and murderers to make sure of his extra helpings of soup.


I am just a peon.


Guilt is the penance one pays for the gift of survival.


Was that the purpose of all this?  Does it matter? Can I change

one person’s life?




Agamben, Giorgio. Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive. NY: Zone Books, 1999.


Amery, Jean. “Torture.”  Trans. Sidney Rosenfeld and Stella Rosenfeld. Art from the Ashes: A             Holocaust Anthology. Ed. Lawrence L. Langer.  NY: Oxford, 1995. 121-136.


Calvino, Italo. Invisible Cities. Trans. William Weaver. NY: Harcourt, 1974.


Dix, Dorothea Lynde. Remarks on Prisons and Prison Discipline in the United States. Montclair,             NJ: Patterson Smith, 1967.


Getraux, Rhoda.  “Parents and Children: An Analysis of Contemporary German Child-Care and             Youth Guidance Literature.” Childhood in Contemporary Cultures. Ed. Margaret Mead             and Martha Wolfenstein.  Chicago: U. of Chicago, 1955. 204-228.


Greene, Joshua M. and Shiva Kumar, Eds. Witness: Voices of the Holocaust. NY: The Free Press,             2000.


Greenspan, Henry.  On Listening to Holocaust Survivors: Recounting and Life History. Westport,             CT: Praeger, 1998.


Griffin, Susan. A Chorus of Stones: The Private Life of War. NY: Doubleday, 1992.


Hass, Aaron.  The Aftermath: Living with the Holocaust. NY: Cambridge U. Press, 1995.


Kushner, Harold S. When Bad Things Happen to Good People.  NY: Avon, 1981.


Levi, Primo.  The Drowned and the Saved. Trans. Raymond Rosenthal. NY: Vintage, 1989.


Normberg-Przytyk, Sara. Auschwitz: True Tales from a Grotesque Land. Trans. Roslyn Hirsch.              Ed. Eli Pfefferkorn and David Hirsch.  Chapel Hill: U. Of North Carolina, 1985.


Patterson, David. Sun Turned to Darkness: Memory and Recovery in the Holocaust Memoir.             Syracuse: Syracuse U., 1998.


Schreber, Daniel Paul. Memoirs of my Nervous Illness. Trans. Ida Macalpine and Richard A.             Hunter.  NY: New York Review, 1955.


Shengold, Leonard, M.D.. Soul Murder: The Effects of Child Abuse and Deprivation. New     Haven: Yale, 1989.


Steinberg, Paul. Speak You Also: A Survivor’s Reckoning. Trans. Linda Coverdale. NY: Picador,             2000.


Weisel, Elie. Night. Trans. Stella Rodway. NY: Bantam, 1982.


Zborowski, Mark. “The Place of Book-Learning in Traditional Jewish Culture.” Childhood in             Contemporary Cultures. Ed. Margaret Mead and Martha Wolfenstein.

            Chicago: U. Chicago, 1955. 181-141.


I should have told her to fuck off, don’t you think?





A woman named Deb, who is a fellow member of my weight loss team, The Losing Streaks, e-mailed me today to tell me I wasn’t getting enough protein or vegetables, that fruit is nothing but sugar and rice cakes are nothing but air.  She said probably that’s why I didn’t lose weight this week.  You and I know better: I binged on Saturday and again on Monday.  I was having some symptoms (confusion, agitation) and bingeing was how I responded, unfortunately.  I didn’t tell my team.  Shame on me!


So I was up 1.2 pounds, and Deb’s criticism didn’t sit well with me.  She herself eats very little or no carbs, and seems to think her way is better than mine.  I don’t think it’s anyone’s place to criticize my eating, nor do any two people agree on particulars of nutrition.  I was doing the best I could, and that was the best I could do.


I could have told her off, told her she had no right to criticize what I put in my mouth, but I thought twice about it.  I realized that eating is a sore spot for me, and that I was probably overreacting.  Best not to cause trouble.  I wrote back a friendly, polite note “thanking” Deb for the advice. 


I thought she’d stop there, but she wrote yet another e-mail criticizing my eating, and another, saying, “I raised three kids, I should know.”


You know the type.  Know-it-all.  At this point I was rather ticked off, and I felt the urge to cry.  I realized that my feelings were escalating, and that this stress may bring on more symptoms, so I took a Thorazine and ate lunch. 


I came back to the computer.  I considered sending Deb a polite note saying, “Get off my case,” but then I remembered the advice I gave in my entry, “On Anger.”  Not only did I let go of my feelings, but also I sent back an e-mail thanking her again for her wonderful advice, as if I believed she was truly right and I was always in the wrong.


I realized that if I thanked her enough, she would probably feel good, if not somewhat embarrassed by my compliment. 


Yes, I’ve stuffed my feelings.  But that is better than allowing annoyance to turn to anger from an ensuing argument.  It is better than arguing and then getting symptomatic from stress.  Stuffing mild feelings of annoyance is better than stuffing my face.  And we all had a better day as a result.

More bad writing.. and self-absorbedness





I am told that I am passionate, and that this quality has certain disadvantages.  Passion is akin to obsession, more often than not a cancer that pushes aside everything in its path, by degrees.  Healthy tissue squeezes into impossible spaces; a lump of evil grows and obliterates whatever it touches.  It’s not something for which one asks.  One wakes on a cold morning to find coal in one’s stockings.  You are the doomed, the one chosen to follow the flame to wherever it leads.  And it can lead to horrible places.


Male psychiatrists love to reduce their female patients to “feeling machines,” and “menstruating machines” follow closely behind.  “You are sad.”  “You are envious.”  “You are angry.” 


The latter is a favorite of Dr. B, who last I knew worked at the Short Term Unit at McLean Hospital.  He tried to convince me that I was the angry one that harbored this cancerous feeling, that I didn’t know what to do with my anger, that I acted on anger inappropriately (often turning it inward, he said).  Convening with other patients proved correct what I suspected, that the good doctor had repeated this exact same anger mantra to every patient on the floor.  We were amused, and our amusement heaved up like an iceberg.  Yes, the doctor himself had made us all rather pissed off.


But back to passion: I am embarrassed to admit that I was once passionate about ending my life.  All my thoughts and actions were channeled into a single, forbidden, one-way path where the sky was not luminescent, where blood was rigid and eyes dull, where a weary person could find some rest by a cold fire.  For about six months I thought of nothing else.  My therapist, Dr. M, reminded me at every session that her job was not to help me die, but to help me live, and should she find herself in the former role, she would politely bow out. 


It’s not something I talk about much.  Talking about suicide annoys people, and it annoys me to hear others ruminate on the topic (I generally “taddle” on them).  I spent days by the railroad tracks memorizing the train schedule, but when it came time to lie on the tracks I decided to wait–just one more day.  And for those months I walked that tightrope.


It seems incredulous to me now that I kept a journal throughout that difficult time.  I kept careful records of everything from what medication I was on to how many cigarettes I’d smoked that day.  I kept all my papers in neatly labeled notebooks:  “Julie’s Progress.”


I suppose a therapist would place utmost importance on what followed, how I found cyberspace and discovered that I was capable of making friends and helping others in ways I never realized, how I broke the cycle of self-generated codependency and stopped allowing life to jerk me around.  I discovered writing.


At first it was little more than writing in my journal, but soon I began a novel and finished a draft eight months later.  I kept on writing, wrote two more books, majored in writing, and graduated from Emerson College ( summa cum laude in 2003.  All this you probably know from visiting my site, 


And you know what followed: Joe’s death.  The notice of his passing still tops my website’s home page.  I can’t let go of it, even now that three years (this August 19th) have passed, even now that I have reluctantly been in other relationships.  I miss him like crazy.  I also lost my dog, Tiger.  She is in heaven with Joe.


Writing stopped at that point.  Two days after Joe’s funeral I found out I’d been accepted into Goddard College’s MFA in Creative Writing program.  I accepted the invitation but worked at school half-heartedly, having lost my drive to write entirely.  My fellow student and friend, Jennifer, and others have reassured me that every writer goes through dry periods, that I should simply open a blank document and write.  Just do it.  But I can’t.


I don’t look the same anymore, having put on over 100 pounds from the medication Seroquel, an antipsychotic doctors love to prescribe because it makes us shut up.  As I increased in size, obsession over my weight grew, a cancer that pushed aside all passion for writing, and masked my grief for Joe.  It’s easier to think about my weight than to feel grief over the man I loved passionately for 13 years.  When I should have been writing, concentrating my efforts on sentences and paragraphs, I was dieting instead, stepping on the same scale over and over.


During my last hospitalization I revived my journaling.  I picked out a cute pink notebook decorated with coffee cups from the Occupational Therapy room and began to write: “In this setting, we are treated like children.  The groups are like third grade all over again.  Today we had coloring….I left the group because I didn’t think it would enhance my treatment….I didn’t know where I was, even though I’ve been [to that place] many times.  I lost five things today.  When people talk, I can’t hear them properly, and when I talk, all hell breaks loose in my head.”  That notebook is mostly filled now, with comments on various life activities, rants, and stories of QB, my new dog.  And yes, there’s plenty in there about my weight. 


I’ve started going to the library to write, in attempt to smother out the diet-centered self and allow room for the writing self to grow.  Can passion truly be redirected?  I am making an effort.  I am opening documents and starting to write.  Folks who read my words don’t care what size I am.


Come, follow me as I blog along, as I stumble, shake myself off, and then begin again.

I wrote this last June, and I still have this damned dream….





Following one of my hospitalizations, my parents rent an apartment for me.  Usually the apartment appears very small.  The building is on a hill much like the dormitory area at UMass/Amherst where I once lived.  The apartment is at the far left as you face the hill, and the entrance is in the back.  It was tough finding this place, and I can hardly wait to move in.  There is a halfway house about–yes, halfway up the hill that rents rooms and serves meals, but I have no interest in living in any situation that compromises my independence. 


One evening, I ride my bike to the trolley stop, which apparently is in Newton, Massachusetts, a ten-mile bike ride from the hospital where I’ve been staying.  The bus to the top of the hill runs every 20 minutes or so.  I leave my bike by a tree and just make the next trolley.


The ride is quick.  I get off at the last stop and wander about.  Aren’t the shrubs arranged differently?  Where is my building?  Where is the apartment? 


Alas, I’ve rented an apartment, don’t have the telephone number or address of the landlord, and haven’t a clue where the apartment is.  I try the key in several locks, which brings suspicious looks from neighbors, and one resident picks up her phone to call the police on me.


I step onto the next trolley back to Newton.  Without an apartment, I have nowhere to go except back to the hospital.  The trolley is near empty because it is late at night, and the ride goes without incident.


I head back to where I left my bike.  But my bike has been stolen!  Why didn’t I lock it?  What am I going to do now?


I wake up wondering why I have this dream repeatedly.  It has been a long night.

Rambling on and on about insomnia

This really rambles….





I once had a bout of insomnia that lasted several months.  I slept two hours a night.  After a time I became agitated.  On a walk with Tiger (my dog) I saw a man standing by the side of a tire shop, smoking a cigarette, and I wanted to kill him, just because he was there, and at that moment it took everything in my power not to do him harm.


It all started when I saw psychiatrist named Dr. Michael Detke, who eventually stopped treating patients and went into research.  He couldn’t understand why I wasn’t sleeping, so he sent me to the sleep clinic at McLean Hospital. 


There I met with a psychologist (not an MD) who told me I had bad “sleep hygiene,” meaning poor habits regarding sleep, and that’s why I wasn’t sleeping.  (Looking back, there was nothing wrong with my sleep habits.)  The psychologist told me I should turn my clock so that it doesn’t face me, and stop listening to the radio as I fell asleep, and those were the only changes she could think of that would help.  I had to keep sleep charts, which was my first and only reason for using Microsoft Excel, noting what time I went to bed, what time I woke up, and so on.


This continued for several months with no improvement.  At my last appointment, the psychologist told me I was doing “extraordinarily well.”  As he said these words, I struggled to keep my eyes open and my head erect.  I was on the verge of collapse.


Meanwhile, Dr. Detke continued to raise my Effexor, a stimulating antidepressant, and lower my Seroquel, a very sedating antipsychotic.  At the hospital, it was more of the same: insistence that I needed more antidepressant.


The doctors at the hospital were just as incompetent as Dr. Detke; in fact, my first inpatient doctor was fired from the staff while I was there.  I was transferred to another incompetent, Dr. Abraham, who raised my Effexor more, then threw his hands up in the air and said, “Your insomnia will take a year to solve.  Goodbye.” 


Goodbye and good riddance. 


On that note, I was released from the hospital.  I had no desire to see Dr. Detke ever again, and I found myself with a wonderful doctor named Dr. David Brendel.  He asked me a few questions, to which I sleepily replied, then he looked at my medication list and said, “Whoa!  Your medications are all wrong.”  He took me off Effexor entirely and gave me more antipsychotics, including Thorazine.  After two weeks of treatment with this new doctor, I slept.


It is said that Pope John Paul II slept only an hour every night.  People suffering from mania sleep very little.  I need about eight hours.  Most people with mental illnesses notice their symptoms worsen when they are sleep-deprived; I am the opposite.  I have deliberately deprived myself of sleep at times, to “protect” myself from Evil Beings, and it works.  I wish I could keep it up, but eventually my body forbids me to stay up any longer.  A periodic all-nighter does me a world of good.  A research study suggested sleep-deprivation can help people with depressive symptoms, but the study was dismissed as unsubstantiated, and I’ve never heard of sleep deprivation as a “cure” for psychosis–quite the opposite.  For instance, last night my puppy woke me for his usual midnight romp.  (Pain in the butt that he is, I do love the little squirt.)  I felt restless and stayed up the rest of the night.  Today I feel cleansed of illness. 


People of certain religions believe that denying oneself food is cleansing to the body and soul.   Many religions encourage a modest lifestyle and restraint regarding pleasurable activities.  A person who eats excessively is a glutton.  One who sleeps too much is lazy.  A drinker is a drunk and a woman who overindulges in sex is a slut.  But to hold back, to restrain oneself is considered stoical and brave.  I am reminded of the giving up of pleasures for Lent, a practice traditionally upheld by Catholics and many non-Catholics nowadays.  To quit smoking is admirable.  Giving up sweets will improve one’s oral health.  But to quit entirely something the body or mind requires for functioning is impossible or at least unwise. 


People with severe mental illnesses require medication to stay mentally healthy.  A certain few will refuse medication and still live fairly reasonable lives, but the vast majority of us require medications.  Stopping medication is the number one reason that mentally ill people are re-hospitalized.  I have occasionally gone without medication, though at these times I usually am mistaken as to whether I’ve taken the pills, and the result was hospitalization each time.  Even lowering medication, without my doctor’s approval, has led to disaster.  Unlike restraint for the purpose of cleansing, going without medication is not only looked down upon, but also considered damn stupid.  Almost all violent acts committed by people with mental illnesses are done while the patient is not taking the required medication; patients who “cooperate with treatment” are no more violent–if anything, less violent–than the general population.  Perhaps we can consider it an act of discipline to take one’s pills every day!


When I can’t sleep, I suffer; when I choose not to sleep, I thrive.  Perhaps choice is the factor here.  To take control of one’s life is to choose wellness over excessiveness, moderation over extremes.  To be in control of one’s actions, though one can’t always control the results of one’s actions, is a reasonable way to live.


But what of adventure?  Don’t I need to give up that control every now and then, to set out without a map or compass just to see where I end up?  Certainly, a person with an excess of control has little enjoyment in life.  I have known a handful of people who wrestle with that problem.


To control what one can, and to let fate control the rest, is the key.  To rest my head on my pillow is my choice; whether I sleep well is less controllable.  I choose to take my medication (though I hate taking it), and take good care of myself, but that won’t prevent breakthrough symptoms to appear now and then.  Adventure has its place, as does regularity.  I’ve deprived myself of sleep–or, perhaps it is my puppy who has denied me sleep–let me sleep well tonight.  If I wake up tomorrow morning alive and breathing, I’m having a good day.


Sweet dreams.




Beings and The Thing

Many people have asked me to write about the Beings and The Thing.  I am only now beginning to be able to write about them effectively.  This video illustrates what it can be like living with Evil Beings:

Click here 

The Thing was worse.

Sometimes I try to write about The Thing and the Evil Beings try to interfere.  It can get very complicated.

Something I found today

I ran into this at  It’s old news but I thought it was interesting.  Discussion followed on the boards.  I can’t quote any of it because of the confidential nature of the boards, but I can say that there was some talk of whether Mark Vonnegut was part of the “antipsychiatry” crowd, and whether he was oversimplifying or generalizing.  Someone pointed out that the DSM definition of schizophrenia has changed since the time Mark Vonnegut was diagnosed with the illness (1970’s), and if he were diagnosed today, the DSM-IV would have him classified as bipolar.  I will give you my opinion shortly.

Mark Vonnegut Speaks at Convention

May 17, 2003
Mark Vonnegut, M.D.

I’m happy to be here. Thirty years ago I wrote a book about
going crazy and have been trying to blend in ever since.
It’s about time I came around to see what NAMI was all
about. I don’t rush into things.

Thirty-two years ago I was diagnosed with schizophrenia but
with newer definitions my disease is more consistent with
manic depression or bipolar disease, mostly because I’ve
gotten better. These labels can be more trouble than they
are worth. There are manic depressives who don’t get well
and look more and more like chronic schizophrenics as they
go along. With the deck stacked against them, a considerable
number of schizophrenics do get better. Until we have some
unambiguous diagnostic test, we are all talking through our

Whatever the diagnosis, the care for serious mental illness
is in disarray. Meaningful leadership and reform in my
opinion is more likely to come from patients and their
families. The needs of patients and families dealing with
manic depression, schizophrenia, autism, depression,
substance abuse are very similar. We need a commitment to
improving care and the means to do so…

I’ve been lucky. I received good care early, and have had a
small number of episodes. Rather than a suicide or
chronically disabled son, brother, friend, I’m what they call
A &W, alive and well. The turn around on the investment for
recovery is substantial. I’m happily married, have a
wonderful life and three strong handsome very smart sons who
would not otherwise be. I could be dragging down a dozen or
more people.

If nothing I say sparks any thoughts or identification, it’s
possible you’re taking too much medication. If it’s the
greatest talk you’ve ever heard, you’re not taking enough.

There will be some tangential thinking and loose
associations. Being crazy has had a definite effect on how I
think. Not all of my good ideas are good.

Family history. My mother’s mother’s father was an alcoholic
who I strongly suspect drank to keep the voices away. My
grandmother was a very smart very accomplished woman who was
in and out of psychiatric hospitals much of her adult life.
She warned my mother not to marry my father because there
was instability in his family. My father’s mother who was
addicted to barbiturates and wouldn’t come out of her room
for weeks at a time and who eventually killed herself on
Mother’s day, told him the same thing. I’m the fourth
straight generation in my family of people who hear voices,
have bizarre delusional thinking and hyper-religiosity.
We’ve each saved the planed earth several times. My famous
father Kurt is not manic depressive. He’s not particularly
well, but he doesn’t hear voices or get all pumped up.

My first episode was in 1971. I believe I would have gone
crazy eventually regardless of outside events although they
were very crazy times. The assassinations of JFK, MLK, RFK.
Kent State, the music, the drugs, the counter culture… My
father, was transformed from a not very good car salesman
who couldn’t get a job teaching English at Cape Cod C.C. to
a guru super star. By the time I started hearing voices so
many other unlikely things had happened it didn’t seem out
of line. I assumed everyone was hearing voices. To try to
find out and so as to not appear unsophisticated, I remember
sitting down next to someone and saying, “So what do your
voices tell you?”

There are many people who fully recover from major psychotic
episodes and go on to live full rich lives. Most of them
choose to keep quiet about it. In the middle of my illness
when I was far from sure that I would survive, I made a
promise to remember and tell the truth about whatever it was
that was happening to me. I think it helped. For me,
remembering and trying to tell the truth is part of my
defense against this disease.


Thorazine, ECT, massive doses of vitamins, were the initial
medical intervention tried on me. It should be noted that
I’m a very positive person. I’ve responded positively to
virtually everything that’s been tried on me. If you
sprinkle happy dust on me, I get happy, at least for a
little while. What I loved and continue to love about the
medical model more than the actual medical means, is that
it’s hopeful. It lessens shame and blame.

Now, just about everyone accepts the medical model. We have
more effective medications with fewer side effects. I should
be happy but I find myself uncomfortable. More and more just
about all the questions and all the answers about mental
illness are about medication. Mental illness causes poverty
and poverty causes mental illness. The same is true of
trauma, prejudice, lack of education, lack of skills, loss
of spiritual values. Learning how to live well in spite of
your illness is at least as important as medication.

I saw a study the other day showing that some atypical anti-
psychotic was at least as good as mood stabilizers in
preventing suicide. It’s a very good thing to decrease
suicide but we should care at least a little if I’m not
killing myself because I feel better or if I just can’t
remember where I put the damn gun. I want patients and
families to have more power. When the interests of patients
and families are not perfectly congruent with those of the
insurance and pharmaceutical industries, the patients will

I would never advise patients to waste as much time as I do
ranting and raving about the insurance and pharmaceutical
industries. What is much more important is to make, for
yourself, in your own terms, a clear distinction between
yourself and your disease and where you want to go as
opposed to where your disease wants to take you. Doctors,
therapists, medications can only be helpful when they are
helping you go where you want to go. Otherwise all the help
is just a bunch of crap strewn around a messy room. The road
to medical school started with a job mowing lawns I was far
from sure I could handle.

People with mental illness are very much like people without
mental illness only more so. What we loose with a psychotic
episode is the comforting assurance that we can’t loose our
mind. When most people look down they see solid ground. When
I look down, I’m no so sure.

Crazy thoughts are not the problem. Everyone has crazy
thoughts. Hallucinations and delusions tend to catch the
attention but aren’t the problem. The problem is that the
world becomes discontinuous. We can’t attend to the world
and take care of ourselves. So others try to take care of us
and they do an imperfect job of it. There is no substitute
for being well.

Patients and families should not be left to play one on one
with big corporations and providers whose resources dwarf
their own. Patients and families should not have to re-
ent the wheel over and over.

Even though I’ve only had 4 psychotic episodes and I am now
17 years and 4 months from my last hospitalization, I still
worry about it happening again. The bad news is that the
worry doesn’t go away. The good news is that worrying about
your mental health doesn’t have to stop you from having a
full life. I comfort myself with the knowledge that I’m a
hypochondriac in other areas. Headaches that last longer
than an hour might be brain tumors. George Gershwin died of
a brain tumor, why not me? Anxiety or chest pain might be a
heart attack. Just because they haven’t been yet, doesn’t
mean much, nor do the normal EKG’s or stress tests I’ve had.
Tests are often wrong. Doctors are all a bunch of miserable
quacks avoiding their own problems by hanging out with sick
people anyway.

My job was and remains, to be well enough to be able to
politely dis-invite the beneficent attentions of others as
many steps as possible prior to hospitalization and
involuntary medications.

It was not easy to go from being one of the seven righteous
pillars holding up the whole planet and human race to being
just another mental patient. I remember talking to a woman
who was ending racism and asking her if it was part of a
bigger program or if racism was the whole deal. As someone
who had gone back to the beginning of time and dealt with
issues of whether or not life itself was a good idea, I
wasn’t sure that just getting rid of racism was a big enough

When I got a good look at the inner workings of the universe
and sadly realized that I couldn’t go back to life on the
planet earth knowing what I knew, the voices suggested that
I could go back but it would have to be through a
psychiatric hospital with the cover story that I was crazy.
“Ya. Like who’s going to believe that?”

In the eighties when I was called out of retirement to
defeat communism, it was over my strenuous objections. “I
don’t even dislike communism all that much,” I objected. “It
seems so beside the point.” “The Republicans are going to
take credit for this and ride it into the ground,” I
correctly predicted. After winning many many preliminary
rounds which I honestly hoped I’d loose, I was smuggled into
what was thought to be just another psychiatric hospital
where the Russian bear took one look at me, declined to
dance, and the rest is history. My delusional world always
felt kind of tinny and hollow, but that never helped me get
out of it.


As a form of gross overcompensation with a chip the size of
Montana on my shoulder, I decided to try to go to medical
school. I applied to 21 Medical Schools. Most rejected me by
return mail, probably on the basis of my age and
undergraduate grade point average. I didn’t need a
psychiatric diagnosis to be a questionable applicant to
medical school.

I gave serious consideration to saving the $50 and not
applying to Harvard at all. I honestly think that they
admitted me partly to prove that I wasn’t schizophrenic,
partly because they thought I’d be a good doctor, and partly
just because they’re Harvard.

It’s amazing that I’ve been through what I have and practice
medicine. Today I’m glad I don’t see any particular cosmic
significance or purpose in these events. I just feel lucky.
Today it’s nice to be able to entertain odd thoughts without
having to marry them all. Thank God. I can think whatever
the hell I want. Entertaining odd thoughts won’t make you
crazy. Refusing to entertain odd thought won’t make you


During my recovery from my last episode a very wise friend
told me that other people’s business was not my business. I
felt insulted that he bothered to tell me such an obvious
thing. He then said that what other people thought about me
wasn’t my business. Harder but still not earth shattering.
He then went on to say that what I thought wasn’t really my
business either, which has kept me puzzled ever since.

I’ve come to believe that I’m at my best and that it’s a
beautiful world when my feelings are like the weather and
that what I think is not my business.


A surgeon during my core surgery rotation said that he knew
who I was, but that he was going to treat me as if I were
normal. I sincerely thanked him and said I’d do my best to
act that way.

Are people who have been crazy held to unfair standards?

Of course, but it’s not in your best interest to complain.
If you’re paranoid and people are looking at you funny it’s
best to let it pass. Psychotic people have an uncanny knack
for making their own worst dreams come true. Depressing
things happen to depressed people way beyond what you would
expect from random distribution.


I don’t think the people today who start hearing voices,
stop eating and sleeping, and run amuck are likely to get
good treatment. Having more knowledge, better diagnostic
capabilities, better medications with fewer side effects,
can’t make up for the fact that most patients are being
treated by doctors, therapists, and hospitals, who are
operating under constraints and incentives that reward non-
treatment, non-hospitalization, non-therapy, non-follow-up,
non-care. Lost to follow-up is the best outcome a health
insurer can hope for.

I take Lithium and believe that it has saved my life. I wish
I didn’t need medication. I’m not wild about the tremor and
think I might be 20 lbs lighter without Lithium, but what I
really hate about medication is that it helps me, which
means I’m not nearly as perfect as I wish I were. I should
be able to maintain my mental health by the exertion of my
amazing will.

There’s a big difference between believing you can fly and
flying. The romance about creativity and mental illness has
come from the hard work of great artists struggling against
the illness not giving into it. The best defense against the
seduction that mental illness will make you creative, is to
actually be creative. Please don’t give the disease that
tried to kill me credit for my writing and painting.


Let me be clear that there’s no romance. I never want to
dance that dance again. The more times your wheels go into
that rut, the harder it’s going to be to get out. I dread
nothing more than the next break, and am certain of nothing
more than that there’s nothing positive for me in the
psychotic state.

You can’t look a the paintings of Van Gogh, and other
achievements of manic depressives without concluding that
there are positive capacities associated with this illness.

What you do when you accomplish something is to say, “bugger
off disease.” This disease is never your friend.


My illness, my enemy, is a valuable compass. I can usually
figure out whether or not something is moving me closer to
or further away from a break. And I can lean from others
what things they think help defend them against the next
break. The way to live a healthy life is to get a chronic
disease and take good care of it.


It’s alarming that someone like myself with such a
pathetically underdeveloped respect for safety issues became
a pediatrician. When asked by parents about car seats, I
have to work at not letting it slip that I don’t really
care. I also can’t stand it when mothers talk to their
babies in high squeaky voices. It’s a true miracle I’ve
lasted as long as I have.

I’m supposed to tell adolescents about high risk behaviors.
I told one moth
er who asked me to give her son THE LECTURE,
that if one more person told her son about sex, drugs, and
alcohol, he was going to vomit. I told him I thought I
should have posters on the wall saying:

“If you’re having trouble with decisions, smoke marijuana.”
“Safe sex is better than no sex at all.”
“Drink yourself into a black out whenever you can.”

This is all by the way of leading up to say that alcohol and
drugs will almost make things worse for anyone recovering
from mental illness but each may have to learn that for


It’s possible within any given moment of any given day for
me to choose between self and disease. I am rarely faced
with big heroic choices that will settle the matter for once
and for all, though the disease likes to tell me otherwise.
I look for the smallest positive step. I try not to argue
too much. If I’m right, I don’t need to argue. If I’m wrong,
it won’t help. If I’m OK, things will be OK. If I’m not OK,
things don’t matter.

Thank you for your time and patience.


Here’s a reprint of my famous writing on anger, written in June, 2006.  Note that this is Part One, and that I never did supply a Part Two as I had promised.  A Part Two follows.





There are three kinds of anger: annoyance, anger, and rage.  What most people don’t realize is that about 90 percent of all anger is mere annoyance and the remaining 10 percent anger, plus a minute sliver of rage.  Many people never experience rage in their lifetimes.  I can only remember two times that I’ve felt true rage, and these incidences were within a month of each other around August 1997, which I will discuss in a future post.  Since then, the anger I’ve felt hasn’t even come close.  There is no particular reason for this, except that no one has pissed me off enough to merit my getting into a rage state.


I am terrified at the thought of another person getting angry with me, a trait I’ve had since I was very young.  This explains why so many of my “friends” dominated me when I was a child and teen; all they had to do was to threaten to show anger and I’d do whatever they asked.  I suppose I learned this fear from my parents, who used scare tactics when I did something wrong.  They talked to me in booming, ominous voices.  They were big and I was small, helpless, and scared.  I remember the word “Bad” repeated until it sunk in, a word similar to Evil, which has special meaning for me even today.


I am less afraid of my own anger than I am of that of others.  I generally dismiss most things that anger me as annoyances.  This is what you do about an annoyance: you let it go.  The neighbor’s dog goes poop on your lawn: clean it up and let it go.  You get a parking ticket: pay the fine and let it go.  You hold the door for someone and he or she doesn’t say, “Thank you”: then assume the person was lost in thought, let it go, and for god’s sake don’t be obnoxious and say, “You’re welcome,” just to teach the errant person a lesson. 


Many people won’t let go of annoyances.  This causes all sorts of problems, and these people I would think of as “angry people.”  Still others are proud of their anger and claim that it is fuel for action.  My feeling is that it takes something other than anger to initiate activity; it takes passion.  After reading about conditions that face inner city kids, you volunteer to work with them.  When you notice a neighbor hasn’t shoveled his walk, you write a letter to the town paper regarding homeowner responsibility in winter.  And here’s my favorite, a habit I have that no one seems to understand:  When someone doing a service annoys me, I over-tip.  If the cab driver is rude, or goes a roundabout route to get me home just to increase the fare, I tip 30 percent.  When a waitress served me instant coffee instead of regular–horrors!–I tipped nearly 150 percent, adding a dollar bill and some spare change to the 69 cent coffee price (for that amount, what did I expect, really???)


Anger that is more than annoyance must be dealt with carefully.  When you are angry you do get a chance to think about your reaction.  You don’t have to go with your gut every time.  A man stopped his car to yell at me regarding my dog messing on the yard.  It happened to be my own yard, but he didn’t realize this.  I should have ignored him but instead we got into a screaming and swearing match–this was quite a while back–and it ended badly, with the man threatening to call the cops and I feeling damn stupid to have argued with him.  Looking back, I should have thought first.  A more effective reaction would have been to thank the man profusely for his kind advice, and to walk away. 


You can’t argue with an angry person.  They are thinking irrationally, and they are probably much more worked up than need be.  It’s like trying to argue with a drunk, because the person is in an altered state.  At times like these you can only feel sorry for him; he is to be pitied while still respected.  If you pray, try praying for the person who is angry with you or with whom you are angry.  Wish him the best.  Have a happy day.  God bless you.  You don’t need to believe in a god for this to work.


I must admit I’m no expert on rage, having only experienced it twice.  Unlike anger, rage has to come out, and there’s no way it’s going to come out constructively.  I have seen people in rage states for days on end.  Most of the people confined to the “quiet room” on psychiatric wards are experiencing rage.  I have seen it happen and wouldn’t want to be witness again if I had the choice.  I remember screaming into a pillow more than once.  Some people harm themselves.  Some commit suicide.  I have never known rage to last forever, and it never starts suddenly; there is a buildup, of which many are unaware.  I saw a woman in the hospital progress from worrying about hygiene products to full rage in about two days.  There’s no way to predict what one may do when in this state, but I can state from experience that it is never comfortable, never constructive or useful in any way.  Perhaps the key is to diffuse annoyance and anger before they become rage, in the manner I’ve described above, if at all possible.


Today I have not been angry, just annoyed when the bus driver wouldn’t give me a transfer, and annoyed at myself for being such a lazy housekeeper.  The dog hair billows out from under my door into the hall, and someone will surely complain.  I’m annoyed that it’s been raining so much lately.  I’m annoyed, but very shortly will forget all that and concentrate on writing:  There are three kinds of anger: annoyance, anger, and rage.





Rage is akin to fear.


There were two times in my life that I was in a rage.  Both times I feared that circumstances would take Joe away from me.  I was uncertain as to what these circumstances would be.  Fear of the unknown is the worst kind of fear.


Joe had the same fears.  He told me he was afraid, at that very same time, when he said goodbye to me, that something would happen and he’d never see me again.


It was at a time when The Thing, an Evil Being that lived in my head, was very powerful.  It was at a time that God was just as present in my life, but I could not feel God.  When I prayed, The Thing answered and told me I was a phony.


One evening Joe turned down the radio in the van and we held each other as if we’d never see each other again.  Joe didn’t have his beard then.  His neck felt damp, and I could feel his heart tapping in the soft spot between his clavicles.


“We might not be able to get together like this–like we do now,” he said.


“We will.”  I knew I didn’t sound convincing.  “Baby, please?”


He lit a cigarette and said nothing for a long time, then put the van in gear.  “I’ll take you back to the hospital.”


“We’ll see each other tomorrow, won’t we?”


But we didn’t see each other the next day, or the next day or the next.  Circumstances got in the way.  God was engineering the world in a way that wasn’t convenient for the two of us.  Here was the first point of rage.  As I type these words, my hands tighten, my forehead bristles, my ears become more sensitive; I am on high alert.  It’s scary just to think about it.


The second point of rage came when I was put in the position of taking care of Joe.  The past two years he had taken on the role of caregiver, and suddenly the roles had been reversed.  I was angry with the doctor who had given Joe the medication that made him so doped up he couldn’t help himself, but I was enraged at Joe for being the needy, dependent one.  I couldn’t even take care of myself; how was I to take care of another person?


I came home, feeling sick.  The Thing kept repeating the number 4 to me.  Four this.  Four that.  I took four Tums to settle my stomach, then four Klonopin to calm down, four Benadryl to get to sleep, four Risperdal in attempt to squelch The Thing, then four more Benadryl, then four Tylenol, four, it had to be four, four, four….


Death is secure.  Death is knowing.  When Joe died, I did not feel the rage I always anticipated I’d feel upon losing him, because I was certain of what had happened, and there was nothing left to fear.  To say I felt flagrantly cheated would be a more accurate way of putting it.  


Anger is drive.  Anger can be creative.  Anger is occasionally useful.  Anger is even occasionally funny.  Rage is filth.  Don’t go there.








A couple of days ago I played my MP3 player too loud.  For hours afterward, my head felt raw, as if some of its lubricant were missing.  My neck creaked.  My skull bones rubbed hard against my brain until blisters formed.  All the sounds I heard during those hours were like the crunching sound one hears and feels underfoot following a powder-crisp January snow in Vermont, while trudging to the barn, or worse, to the outhouse.


I came to the library to find sanity, instead I found the “Faire on the Square” happening next door, with booming music and families bumbling about from booth to booth, grabbing cotton candy, hopping on rides, admiring pumpkins–the noise!  I tried turning up the music on my MP3 player to drown out the drums and singing out there, but it was hopelessly noisy.  I felt like strangling Curious George, who had taken up residence outside the library to amuse and be amused by us all.


I moved.  To a corral away from the windows.  I’m parked there now.  The kids downstairs make constant noise.  I turn up my MP3 player loud to drown them out.  Out with you all!  Out, out!  Music up so loud my ears hurt.  Castrate Curious George!  Louder, louder!  Kill the kids!  Kill ’em!  Kill ’em all and stuff ’em in the toilet!  Get out of MY library!


Problem is, toilets clog when you stuff them with kids, especially big kids, and police sirens make an awful lot of noise.