What the Hell

What the Hell

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Not again...

In light of the recent news of yet ANOTHER person being pushed into the path of an oncoming subway train in New York city, I feel burdened to make a comment.  This also applies to the Sandy Hook school shooting, as well as numerous other incidents of violence in past years.  

I would hope that by now that in our "enlightened" age that we would be to the point where we don't sweep the pesky, embarrassing problem of mental illness under the rug, but actually attempt to deal with the problem.  This may upset family members of mine who may read this, but I, as do many of you, come from a family with a history of mental illness.  I struggle with it myself.  But I also go to counseling regularly and take medication.  Call it what you want, it doesn't matter what name you attach to it, this is a problem that needs to be reckoned with, and there is no easy way to do it.  In my family there is depression, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, agoraphobia, hoarding, alcoholism, drug abuse and much more.  Ignoring it does not make it go away.  Ignoring it is even irresponsible in the least, deadly at the most.  I wrote in the paper version of the Gazette last year about the tragic shooting that occurred here on the island where we live because a delusional young man (for whatever reasons I cannot say, but can speculate) who was not institutionalized or under a doctor's care was shot to death in the apartment over his parents' garage when he pulled out an axe on police officers who had answered a 911 call.  Subsequently the police chief and multiple police staff have been fired or resigned, and a settlement in excess of a million dollars was awarded to the family of the mentally ill man.  In this economy I need not explain that our city, like countless others, is financially in trouble.  There is not even the money in the budget to address safety issues like maintaining our crumbling roads, which has led to landslides and has forced multiple streets on the island to become "one-lane" roads as a result.  Yet the city is burdened to pay out over a million dollars because a problem was not dealt with before it UNSURPRISINGLY escalated.  It, like countless similar situations across our nation, was a ticking time bomb waiting to explode.  

YES, the police department here failed in not training its officers in the proper way to interact with the mentally ill.  YES, the state failed by closing the state mental hospitals years ago and forcing many people who needed serious help either onto the streets or upon their families who were ill-prepared or perhaps unwilling to deal with the dangers this would cause, both to themselves and their communities.  I was shocked to read after the incident that the parents of the man had "warned" their neighbors to "not confront or talk to their son, but to just avoid him."  This is hardly DEALING with the problem.  How ridiculous and how frightening to have been one of those neighbors.  So the final, and most unsettling, yet preventable lapse is the failure of the family members of the ill person to take the necessary precautions to protect everyone involved.  

I heard an interview recently on NPR with a woman whose diagnosed schizophrenic son years go killed a man in an argument and served several years in prison.  She was commenting on the recent school schooting and the young man who carried out the violence, and how DIFFICULT it is to get someone like that the help that they need. She compared it to the foreclosure process, in which a person who is financially strapped and contacts his or her lender to prevent foreclosure can not even get any assistance until they have missed at least 3 months mortgage payments.  HUH?  So there has to be a public shooting of innocent people before anyone even says, "We should do something about this?"  Or more likely, "We SHOULD HAVE done something about this."  No joke.  She related how her son served his time, and now is receiving treatment, takes his medication regularly and is a valued member of society.  There are checks in place, as there should be, as there HAS TO BE.  She also noted that as uncomfortable as we are with the idea of restricting an individual's freedom, the safety of the public sometimes has to trump that and come first.    We are a nation founded on individual freedom, but there comes a time when an individual's freedom infringes upon that of another...sometimes to the point of taking away the second person's right to life itself.

Hard decisions have to be made, and unfortunately they will RARELY be made by the mentally ill person him or herself.  That is human nature.  This is where the family members, even close friends, teachers, fellow students, fellow employees, WHATEVER...must have the right to weigh in on what they see.  Their observations, as can be seen after the fact in many of these type of violent events, can be used to SAVE LIVES, sometimes only the mentally ill person's, but sometimes those of innocent bystanders as well... I have seen first-hand in my family how an entire family group suffers because of one person's issues rather than stage an intervention with that person.  I don't even believe that interventions are usually successful in getting a person to face their problems and get professional help, but their outcome CAN be  less psychological scars and pain for those who are in regular contact with the person, and actual physical safety for those who might become innocent victims should the worst happen.  

There must be (and there is ) a legal mechanism in place to restrict a person's freedom if they become a danger to others.  It should not be abused, and many in our society are afraid of this because of the harsh treatments of the mentally ill in institutions of the past.  This is a new era though, with many new understandings of brain chemistry and its effects on human behavior, and these horrible mistakes should not prevent us from being proactive when it comes to protecting the public safety.  There are times in my own family when I, had I been the one making the decisions, would have involuntarily committed a family member to force them to get the care they needed.  This is unbelievably difficult, but sometimes it must happen.  I am not saying that the easy availability of automatic weapons is not a factor because it definitely is, but that is a factor that is being scrutinized very closely in public argument, whereas I don't hear the same passionate advocation of dealing with the problem of mental illness.  

Please, please consider the individuals in your family who are troubled.  It does NOT only affect them.  It DOES affect the others in the family, profoundly and deeply... and it CAN affect those outside the family, in tragic and PREVENTABLE ways.           

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

1st in a series of assemblages, "The Lost Relics"

The hairball from Saint Jerome's Lion

Thoughts on the Holidays...

Been having thoughts about Christmas after hearing an interview the other day with author Stephen Nessenbaum who wrote on the subject, its origin and how it should be celebrated....how about you?  Consider the following:

Since there is no evidence for the observance of Christmas in the Bible, the question arises, What is its origin, and when did its celebration begin? Well, to answer that we have to go back to the 4th century.

Christmas, according to many authorities, was not celebrated in the first centuries of the Christian church, as the Christian usage in general was to celebrate the death of remarkable persons [eg Communion - death of Christ] rather than their birth... Origen, an early Catholic writer, admitted, “…In the Scriptures, no one is recorded to have kept a feast or held a great banquet on his birthday. It is only sinners (like Pharaoh and Herod) who make great rejoicings over the day in which they were born into this world.” Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the church...." -Encyclopedia Britannica, 1946 edition....  "A feast was established in memory of [the birth of Jesus] in the 4th century. In the fifth century the Western Church ordered it to be celebrated forever on the day of the old Roman feast of the birth of the sol [sun], as no certain knowledge of the day of Christ's birth existed.  There is not a word in the Scriptures about the precise day of His birth, or the time of the year when He was born. What is recorded there, implies that at what time His birth took place, it could not have been on the 25th of December. At the time that the angel announced His birth to the shepherds of Bethlehem, they were feeding their flocks by night in the open fields. No doubt, the climate of Palestine is not so severe as the climate of this country; but even there, though the heat of the day be considerable, the cold of the night, from December to February, is very piercing, and it was not the custom for the shepherds of Judea to watch their flocks in the open fields later than about the end of October when the rainy season would begin.   And if any think the winter wind was not so extreme in these parts, let him remember the words of Christ in the gospel, 'Pray that your flight be not in the winter.' Indeed, it is admitted by the most learned and candid writers of all parties  that the day of our Lord's birth cannot be determined.

In the Christian Church no such festival as Christmas was ever heard of till the 3rd century, and...not until well into the 4th century did it gain much observance. How, then, did the Church fix on December 25th as Christmas-day? Long before the 4th  century, a pagan festival was celebrated, at that precise time of the year, in honor of the birth of the son of the Babylonian queen of heaven. In the Roman world, the Saturnalia (December 17) was a time of merrymaking and exchanging of gifts. December 25 was also regarded as the birthdate of the Iranian mystery god Mithra, the Sun of Righteousness. On the Roman New Year (January 1), houses were decorated with greenery and lights, and gifts were given to children and the poor. How much the date of the Christian festival depended upon the pagan Brumalia (December 25th) following the Saturnalia (December 17th-24th), and celebrating the shortest day of the year (winter solstice) and the 'new sun'...cannot be accurately determined. The pagan Saturnalia and Brumalia were too deeply entrenched in popular custom to be set aside by Christian influence...The pagan festival with its riot and merrymaking was so popular that Christians may have been glad of an excuse to continue its celebration with little change in spirit and in manner. Christian preachers of the West and the Near East protested against the unseemly frivolity with which Christ's birthday was celebrated, while Christians of Mesopotamia accused their western brethren of idolatry and sun worship for adopting this pagan festival as Christian.  The 25th of December was the day that was observed in Rome as the day when the victorious sun god reappeared on earth.  So strong was the belief in the Invincible Sun (Sol Invictus) that Constantine I (d. 337), found it indeed perfectly compatible with his pro-Christian sympathies to authorize his own portrayal as Helios, the sun god. And in 354 the Christian church in the reign of his son, Constantius II, found it prudent to change the celebration of the birth of Jesus from the traditional date (January 6) to December 25, in order to combat the pagan Sun god’s popularity—his "birthday" being December 25." -Frederick H. Cramer

Even as recently as the 19th century Christmas was not widely celebrated in this country.  "A broad element of English Christianity still considered Christmas celebration a pagan blasphemy. The Puritans, Baptists, Quakers, Presbyterians, Calvinists and other denominations brought this opposition to early New England and strong opposition to the holiday lasted in America until the middle of the 18th century."-Rick Meisel
The Christmas tree, now so common among us, was equally common in Pagan Rome and Pagan Egypt. In Egypt it was the palm tree; in Rome it was the fir; the palm-tree denoting the Pagan Messiah.  Decorating the indoors with evergreens as a symbol of new life during the dark days of the winter solstice is a long held tradition.  Our current rendition came to us via Germany and Queen Victoria's German husband Prince Albert in the late 19th century.

I am not saying we should not celebrate Christmas.  I'm not even saying Christians shouldn't celebrate Christmas, although my parents believed that and I didn't really understand why as a child.  But I hear about one group of people wanting to "put the Christ back into Christmas" and another group who says he didn't belong there in the first place. How about trying this:  it is up to each of us to decide for ourselves how we want to combine the world traditions and archetypal symbols of the season in our lives in a meaningful way and establish our own traditions as well.  Just wanted to make the point that there isn't any reason to argue about whether Christmas should be a "Christian" or non-Christian occasion, because there's quite a bit more to it than that.  Like most of life on this planet, it's COMPLICATED....


For more reading see the following:
Frederick H. Cramer, Astrology in Roman Law and Politics
The Origins of Christmas," Rick Meisel
The Two Babylons, Alexander Hislop
The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge
RealTruth.org  (Christmas Unveiled)
Werner Keller, The Bible As History
Stephen Nessenbaum, The Battle for Christmas

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

So Merry Christmas Already.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

So this is Howard.

The wonderful fake fireplace of the mid-century era.

Update on the Little Conehead Kitty

The little cone-head is doing better!  If all goes well he should be able to ditch the headgear by Christmas....Ahhh, the holidays.  The new thing at our house is Howard climbing the Christmas tree.  While I am glad it is him since he's the smallest of the five, I'm still not exactly pleased at the development.  He has always been a challenge.  If he were a human, he'd be diagnosed with ADHD.    

Holidays are a bit tough anyway, since I lost both my parents.  You notice the holes in your family unit more at those times I suppose.  It's not that I actually have wonderful memories of Christmases past...my dad was a workaholic and was always tired when he was at home.  We didn't often spend much time together as a family after I was 8 or 9 years old.  I DO have a happy memory though; strange as it may sound!!  My sister and I LOVED our corrugated cardboard fireplace.  Those of you who were children in the 60's and 70's remember them....they had a tin cylinder covered with red clear plastic that turned on a pin over a warm lightbulb to simulate flickering flames.  Funny the things you treasure isn't it??  I have a real fireplace now but it doesn't have quite the same late mid-century charm...

Sunday, December 16, 2012

She understands the Connecticut mothers' sorrow.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Just Read the News....

Hello scary, cruel world.  Sorry to get back to you late but sleeping on the bathroom floor doesn't give one much rest.  My husband gave me a break about 7 a.m. this morning and sat with sick kitty so I could get some real sleep.  Little cone head doing well, even taking breaks from the collar now and then.  I sit reading the last couple of days' events with a heavy heart. The little ones in this world always are the ones to suffer, the animals and children that can't really speak for themselves.  Heaven help us all.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Our vet, Dr. Bill Larson

Pet Poison Control

****PLEASE consider a tax-deductible donation to the ASPCA!!
One of the Offenders

Second Blog Post....

Post #2.  What a difference a day makes.  Sometimes a good one, sometimes a bad one, sometimes it's difficult to decipher which.  Had to cancel our weekend trip to Virginia to attend good friends' daughter's wedding.  Why, you may ask?  

Let's just say I'm typing this entry on my laptop in my BATHROOM looking at one of five cats wearing the cone of shame (plastic Elizabethan collar) on his dear little head.  It's a long story, one that began last night about midnight as I realized to my horror that I had left my Vitamin D-3 soft gels on the kitchen counter in a quest to find an adequate container for them that the TSA at the airport would approve of when we arrived this morning.  Three out of five cats were discovered ON said kitchen counter licking their chops.  Five Vitamin D capsules were missing.  After a phone call to the animal emergency center, a phone call to the Animal Poison Control hotline (Thank you ASPCA, please every animal lover out there send them a donation for Christmas), and a harrowing 47 minutes googling the effects of D-3 toxicity in cats, I finally caught a few winks in the wee hours of the morning.  Upon awakening, I informed my husband of the situation, and we tearfully decided to nix the trip (of course by this time the bus was 10 minutes from the end of our driveway...yes I said driveway; we live on an island) and the ferry was likely to sail without us.  

Since then we have talked to numerous hotels in the Newport News, VA area, Frontier Airlines, our vet and my sister.  That last one will become clear in a minute...  Our wonderful vet (he makes house calls) just left.  The Vitamin D seems to be a bit of a red herring at this point; but let me just say that I believe things happen for a reason....an oftentimes inexplicable, even incomprehensible one, but a reason nonetheless.  I DO NOT want to live in a world where this is not true; a world of total randomness and chaos.  I grew up in one, but we'll get to that.  And more on my world view later.  So we think the toxicity of the Vitamin D has not been reached (after mathematical calculations on the part of the Poison Control Center, myself, and our vet....HOWEVER, one of the five cats, Pumpkin, has beginning stage renal (kidney) disease, for which he takes a compounded medication (actually calcitriol, which IRONICALLY, is a form of Vitamin D) and subcutaneous fluids which we administer every 10 days.  I often feel the need, incidentally, to divulge to visitors that we are not some kind of frightening drug addicts just because we have an IV bag hanging from a coat hanger in our downstairs bathroom.  He has done great in the two years we have had him on this regimen.  But because too much D can compromise the kidney function, and we can't absolutely rule out that he could have gotten into some of the vitamins on the counter, we need to err on the side of caution with him.  So, as I said earlier, the vet was here to draw blood to check kidney levels.  

While this procedure was being carried out; however, Pumpkin was seen to have another problem.  An abscessed anal gland (for you pet owners out there, you know what this is, for others, let's just say it's a literal "pain in the butt" for him and us) which needed to be drained.  Thus the cone on his head, otherwise referred to as "the cone of shame."  Our two geriatric dogs wore those off an on for years when we lived in Los Angeles and they developed allergies to something in the smog, so we HAVE  done this before.  Don't try it at home though, unless your vet absolutely insists.  I feel somewhat relieved now at our having made the decision to stay home.  Antibiotics will be involved, and warm compresses twice a day.  I won't say more.  Oh, and the bit about my sister....her cat had this unfortunate condition earlier this year and we cat people have to stick together for moral support and practical tips on feline caregiving.  Meanwhile I see my usually dignified cat trying to maneuver around the bathroom without the benefit of any peripheral vision.  Eating should be interesting for him when we attempt that later...  

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Kitties in Question.

First Ever Blog Post.

Ok, wow.  My first post ever.  Here goes.  I had all kinds of ideas for what I was going to say here but I'll just keep it simple for now.  I live on an island a ferry ride from Seattle.  I've noticed it takes a certain kind of person to live on an island.  A person who wants some sense of separation from the rest of the world.  We've been here almost 3 years now and I'm still developing that theme.  The others I encounter here are an odd lot, an assemblage of characters including the Buddhist monk in saffron colored robes who walks our island's roads beating a drum (for peace I think?), the peacocks who occasionally perch themselves on my roof and shriek,  and the jogging juggler.  My husband is the local "cat artist" at the co-op gallery and during the week commutes to his job with a computer game company in Seattle.  I am the crazy cat lady (we have five) who holes up in her house unless the world is looking a little less chaotic and terrifying on any given day and perhaps safe for a little venturing out to test the waters.  I am an archivist when I'm working, and a part time assemblage artist and writer.  I like symmetry, order and predictability.  Which I don't often get. My art may be an attempt to make sense of the random pieces of life, but except for those few fleeting moments of clarity (AHA!), it usually doesn't.  I read ALOT.  I research ALOT.  I crave information.  Which is not always a good thing.   These solitary pursuits suit my introvert nature, but also make me susceptible to the same curmudgeonly retreat from the world that my father engaged in often.  Maybe we are part troll.  I fight it when I think it is an unhealthy impulse, but sometimes it's hard to tell....