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Sunday, November 06, 2011

Bedlam: A fresh look at an old horror

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I am interested in how openly we share intimate stories of cancer, lupus, stroke, heart attack, and other physical maladies, but we are still fenced in about mental illness. Even Alzheimer’s is all right to discuss: it is a physical disease. But when it comes to mental disease, we hesitate to talk about disorders within our families, let alone personal struggles, feeling stigmatized by the mere association.

The days are still too close when people paid money to see the freak show: not bearded ladies, giants, Siamese twins or Elephant Men, but the insane. The wards of the infamous Bedlam asylum were salons for gawking, where fine ladies came to be entertained by raving lunatics.


Tom Rakewell ends up in Bedlam after a profligate life;
one painting in a series of paintings and engravings 
by William Hogarth called "The Rake's Progress"


Bedlam, now Bethlem Royal Hospital, is known as the oldest institution for mental patients (1247) and is notorious for its tortuous and dastardly treatment of patients. Remarkably, now it is a major center for research that promotes the best and most humane psychiatric practice and care. (See the history of Bedlam here.) But the word bedlam will always mean the uproar and chaos exemplified in that madhouse.

Eerily and perfectly timed for the end of Halloween week, two friends of mine have just opened an art exhibit of their Bedlam project. Robert Turney is an art photographer in the media of gelatin silver prints and wet-plate tintypes. (He happens also to be married to my professor, mentor and friend, Diane Wakoski.) Stephen Rachman is an American Studies scholar and chair of graduate studies in my department.

I really love Robert's photographs. Here is a sampling of his previous work, in gelatin silver prints.

Robert's gelatin silver prints


Rio Chama, New Mexico

Shack and Seatless Chair
Goldfield, Nevada

 New York #5

New York #9


New York #10


Robert's wet plate tintypes

And here is a sampling of Robert's more recent work, wet plate tintypes. To watch a stop motion video of Robert developing wet-plate collodian tintypes, twenty minutes shortened to two minutes, go here.





You know I love these two still lifes:



Moonflowers

Previously Robert and Steve collaborated on a subject happier than Bedlam: moonflowers. Robert created 10 x 10 inch gelatin silver photographs, shooting the moonflowers he grew potted in his wonderful town garden, at night. (Robert's garden is famous for certain rows of basil that went into Diane's legendary pesto with twenty-five, yes 25, cloves of garlic, that I ate with abandon, and after which Don would not sleep in the same room with me.)  Of course Robert photographed them at night, when they open. Robert's evening dance in his driveway with lights, medium format camera and moonflowers is enough to send a poet off for a week's contemplation, but combine it with Steve's gorgeous essay "Evening Glories," published with images of Robert's gelatin silver prints in the Red Cedar Review, and I am truly inspired. Below are a couple of Robert's gelatin silver moonflowers and excerpts from Steve's essay; see the twelve piece portfolio here. Read Steve's essay about Robert's moonflowers called "Evening Glories: Robert Turney's Moonflower Photographs" here:

"From 1999-2001, in this seasonal way, Turney pursued the flowers, under clouds, under stars, under the glowing coal of his cigarette. . . . It would be easy to misconstrue Turney’s moonflowers as conventionally romantic. . . . If they are romantic at all then they refer to the romance of ordinary beauty, sensuality, and sex. . . . "

~ excerpt from Steve Rachman's essay "Evening Glories"

Two of Robert Turney's gelatin silver prints of moonflowers:



"One secret of the moonflower photos lies in that Turney has photographed flowers as if they were movie stars from the 1930s and 40s. Think of Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, and Martha Graham rendered by Edward Steichen . . ."    ~ Stephen Rachman, from "Evening Glories"


Bedlam

So what led these two to another textual and photographic partnership, this time about the insane asylum? Robert got to talking about the tintype self portraits he was developing, and Steve began to imagine a fiction about a psychiatrist and a patient, with tintype photography as therapy! The gallery show has single rows of tintype portraits of the patient (Robert himself, acting as G.G.), separated by text written by Steve: imagined journal entries by the psychiatric doctor about his patient G.G. He brings the patient into his studio, observes him under the lens, and sees an improvement in his demeanor. As you progress around the room, the patient in the portraits evolves from a state of violent agitation to calm melancholy.


A sampling of Robert's self portraits, as asylum patient G.G., with some of Steve's journal text,
progressing from extreme agitation to almost beatific calm:


"G.G. converses rationally on most subjects often with amiable feeling and charming manners; and yet he is incapable of going among people without severe mental agitation and reflection. G. G. exhibits great terror and excitement at the prospect of crowds."




". . . And this, it occurred to me, might in the end be what the camera reveals: I have always been struck by this phenomenon in cases of insanity. The insane pose for the sane in postures of madness—or feigned sanity—much as we pose for the camera."


(This one, above, is my favorite of Robert's tintypes;
it moves me in ways I cannot describe.)


Here are two fascinating pages of Stephen's text, which are especially interesting to me, in light of our discussions about translation and poetry at the Rilke blog. I hope you can read my images of them:



I asked Robert if he found himself in any emotional distress while photographing himself as Bedlam patient G.G. "No," he said. "I just made faces." And he asked if I knew the work of Sally Mann, who photographed her children, at home, in intimate poses, sometimes naked. Yes, I did. He said, "She is the only one who could take those photographs, they are her children, in her rural home." He said that these self portraits are like that. He was not exploiting a patient in a mental hospital. He was imagining himself as one, yet thankfully (?) with emotional distance.

For me, through Robert's faces I felt the pain of mental disease, and the terrible history of ostracism and stigma surrounding it. Yet I did not feel disturbed the way I anticipated feeling at Robert and Stephen's exhibit, linking to the ghosts in my own family's history, like that shadowy hand mysteriously moving between candlesticks in Robert's tintype, above. These were after all imagined portraits and journal entries. (Before attending the show, I thought Stephen had discovered real Bedlam documents.) There was jaunty jazz playing in the background. Stephen's fictional journal entries reflected sometimes humorous aspects of the patient's world, stepping over the sacred line of treating mental illness in only morose and somber terms. This kind of open exploration and artistic imagining can help us bust down fences about the ways we may feel threatened by the topic of mental disabilities.

But no matter how painful the topic—and reality—remains, we will still have the tender melancholy of moonflowers for comfort. In the end, perhaps it is only a full frontal look at ourselves, that includes our dark shadow side, that will heal us and make us whole.

"There is one that Turney doesn’t particularly care for (because the blossom appears more like a pansy than a moonflower) but might just as easily serve as an emblem of the study. It consists of a full frontal blossom. It is the moon almost full but for a petal edge bending into a deep shadow, the moon become a flower, a flower become the moon."    ~ Stephen Rachman, from "Morning Glories"





Robert Turney and Stephen Rachman,
Bedlam art exhibit at Scene Metrospace in East Lansing, Michigan
The show opened Friday and will run until December 11.

I hope you'll forgive me for going on a little longer in an already too-long post for a blog. While I stood before one journal entry at the exhibit, in dialog with my friend Reade about my findings in the bits of research I'd done on Bedlam and how people paid money to see patients writhe in torment, I told her about William Hogarth's painting "A Rake's Progress" at the top of the post. She then told me about the opera by Igor Stravinsky (libretto by lifelong friends and collaborators, the poets W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman) of the same name, based loosely on Hogarth's paintings and engravings of Tom Rakewell whose dissolute life led to the poorhouse, and then to Bedlam. Here is another imagined Bedlam story, in which Tom cavorts in London with a bad sort of fellow, Nick Shadow, who turns out to be the Devil. It is a moralistic tale, and Rakewell ends up in Bedlam, affirming the belief held by some that "For idle hearts and hands and minds the Devil finds a work to do." Dawn Upshaw sings a lullaby, "Gently, Little Boat" as Anne Trulove, Tom's betrothed, in this touching scene toward the end of the opera.




I'm grateful that psychiatrists like James Hillman, who continued the work of Carl Jung, have encouraged us to stop moralizing about our dark side, denying or rejecting our shadow selves. I want to keep that open and eager spirit alive and working, to gently love the shadows in myself and in others, or as Hillman puts it, to see generously:

Shadow is the very stuff of the soul, the interior darkness that pulls downward out of life and keeps one in relentless connection with the underworld. . . . the shadow may be reconceived. (James Hillman, The Dream and the Underworld)


. . . you find your genius by looking in the mirror of your life. Your visible image shows your inner truth, so when you're estimating others, what you see is what you get. It therefore becomes critically important to see generously, or you will get only what you see; to see sharply, so that you discern the mix of traits rather than a generalized lump; and to see deeply into dark shadows, or else you will be deceived.” (James Hillman, The Soul’s Code)
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52 comments:

Mimi Foxmorton said...

Brilliant work!

I have always been fascinated by the history of Bedlam!

Thanks for sharing!

~Mimi
www.collagepirate.blogspot.com

Heather said...

Ah, Ruth! I knew that you'd come up with the perfect way of talking about Robert and Steve's show. It was enlightening to read about Bedlam. Also, great to get a history of Robert's previous work. Have you sent this to Robert? I'm sure he'd love it.

erin said...

there is so very much inside of this post that i kept turning in terms of my response. on any given day, or in any given moment, i might turn in a different direction.

let me say first off, that this is art and that art is necessary and that your two friends are so very talented and brave. i am grateful for them.

secondly, i am wondering this without knowing exactly how to say it. it begins with the reference to Sally Mann, And he asked if I knew the work of Sally Mann, who photographed her children, at home, in intimate poses, sometimes naked. Yes, I did. He said, "She is the only one who could take those photographs, they are her children, in her rural home." He said that these self portraits are like that. He was not exploiting a patient in a mental hospital. He was imagining himself as one, yet thankfully with emotional distance.

i wonder about that distance. i know we do not want to use anyone or be gluttinous about their situations or conditions, but if we are to be truly brave, if we are to look the dragon in the mouth, do we not look the dragon in the mouth? i think about the photography of maxi matuschka as seen here, a real woman considering her real condition, her real state of humanity and transience. http://womenartistschangingbodies.blogspot.com/2011/02/maxi-matuschka-106.html

i wonder if we can ever really explore that with which we do not directly experience without the distance that your friend experienced. i do not mean this as a criticism but rather as a call for the next step in bravery. if we are to look at mental illness as a man or woman who walks among us, for surely she or he does, then we must be brave enough to show our own haggard faces in the midst of it. it is a fine line to not use our humanity and vulnerabilities against one another, but it is necessary to look the real dragon in the mouth.

i can't help but think of eva rubinstein's photograph of a mental patient and the dialogue that surrounds it. here is a link to an important conversation between eva and frank horvat: http://www.horvatland.com/pages/entrevues/10-rubinstein-en_en.htm

i am so glad for all of this, you, your friends, this opportunity.

xo
erin

ellen abbott said...

for some reason the first part of your post made me think of the film King Of Hearts.

Fragrant Liar said...

Fascinating project. Unfortunately, BEDLAM will always be part of the stigma. You are right, we must give better, more honest voices to our mental illness issues, including just your basic anxiety. Maybe one of these days . . .

Lilith said...

I think that artists can imagine what it is like to be this or that, but I also think that imagining is not the same as living.

I look at my own beautiful daughter who cannot cope with the world, not because of insanity but because of her brain, a brain which was unable to mature beyond the point of a two or three year old child. Emotions whip through her like storms, twisting her this way and that. Emotions assault her, especially her anxiety. It has taken it's toll on her. At the ripe old age of nineteen, she physically removes herself, sits always at a distances, unable to interact with others much because of this anxiety. I can imagine, a little of what this must be like, but to live it everyday is beyond me. I don't know how she gets up each day and faces the world.

Wow, this comment went way off in a different direction then I intended. Thanks for making me think. I especially like the last quote by James Hillman. I have had a difficult week, not only with myself but with others, unable to see sharply or deeply. It is always so disturbing to look deeply within, to see the hideousness that I am capable of.

hedgewitch said...

Can't say how much I enjoyed this, and how intriguing the collaborative work of your artist friends is for me--to visualize and examine madness, and the homely everyman face it wears in the photos, and the journal excerpts.."Every photo is a synonym for the reality it depicts" really struck me. My favorite though(probably predictably) is the moonflower excursion. I've grown them, and they are sumptuous and alluring things, beautifully simple, and the night moths that come to pollinate them like visitors from another planet. Thank you Ruth, for all the effort that went into this post, and much appreciation to the artists involved; if only I could see that show! But this is the next best thing.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this. I was able to give a glimpse of the exhibit to a friend of mine in Scotland. I had really enjoyed it.

Maureen said...

Marvelous photographic work! And what a terrific collaboration! The images of the moonflowers leave me in awe; so eerily beautiful. Those of "Bedlam" haunt, as they should; they need no words.

Cait O'Connor said...

You have put so much into this and all is brilliant art, I am lost for words really to express my appreciation.

Robert Mc said...

Thanks so much for posting this. I have always loved Robert's work, and learning about what he's creating currently is a huge treat.

elizabeth said...

Really wonderful post. So deeply moving.
Do you know the novels of Antonia White, who, as a young woman, was hospitalized in the Bethlehem Hospital (Bedlam)?
Beautifully written.
Also John Clare, a contemporary of the Romantics who ended up in Northampton Asylum
"I am, yet what I am, who know or cares?"
On a personal note, Northampton Asylum became St Andrews Northampton one of the first semi-humane hospitals. My grandmother grew up on the grounds as daughter of the superintendant

George said...

Thanks to you, Robert, Stephen, and James Hillman for this enlightening post. "See generously!" Yes, indeed. Is that not what the poet, the painter, the photographer, and the psychiatrist — perhaps even the psychotic, to carry on with the alliteration — are encouraging us to do?

Yes, let us bring mental illness into the light. It is, after all, just an illness, and it can be found in most families if one can get beyond denial. We need not be threatened by mental illness any more than we are threatened by a physical illness. Perhaps more important, we need to be compassionate about those who live in the shadows beyond the consensus view of normalcy. Who knows? As I learned years ago from the great movie, "King of Hearts," the consensus view of sanity has its own flaws.

California Girl said...

Robert gives one something new to think about in the art of flowers. I tend to always think of O'Keefe whose flowers tend to be monotonous but still powerful. His work is delicate but it draws me in. Wow.

I was a big fan of Hogarth when I was studying art history in college. I made a point of seeing his work in one of the London museums, probably BM, altho' it's so long ago. He captured everything he did in each series succinctly, particularly his engravings.

The psychiatric series of photos is powerful although not my cup...too creepy.

My husband will love this post, Ruth.

rosaria said...

This is rich, Ruth!
Artists who bend and search beyond the visibly pretty, the obvious perspective, hand all of us permission to face our deepest truths head on.

Vagabonde said...

I have read all you back posts – your hair is lovely. I think you could wear one of the glamorous 1930’s style, the kind we call in France “avec des crans” (translation? Hairstyle with wavy notches?)

I enjoyed reading Lines of Winter by Mark Strand – but 2 days of snow a year here in Georgia is beautiful … and quite enough.

Your latest post is excellent – and if you feel it is too long, then I may as well stop blogging since mine are usually that long or longer! The pictures are striking and the emotions conveyed in the accompanying words are tremendous. I did not know that rich ladies paid to watch Bedlam patients. This reminded me of the rich people paying to watch the poor children eating Christmas dinner starting in 1898 in New York before PR made Christmas respectable. The New York Times at the time said “They saw them feast” – they would watch from the galleries of Madison Square Garden – The rich then liked to be amused by watching the insane of the starving gorge themselves.

Ruth said...

Mimi, thank you for reading!

Ruth said...

Thanks, Heather! I did send this to Robert and Stephen. I hope they are happy with how I've represented the show.

Ruth said...

Thanks so much for your engaged response, erin!

Thank you for the links. The self portraits by Maxi Matuschka are beautiful. They remind me of my friend Alek Lindus's work of her friend who had one breast removed. I find both photographing oneself, and another, this way, to be very brave, and I wonder which would be more difficult.

I have read some of the dialogue between Rubinstein and Horvat, and it is very interesting. I have read Susan Sontag on Diane Arbus, and how she wanted to take photos of people in pain. So many questions arise!

We are all hungry for something. We are also all comfortable with various things. Perhaps it is the most intense among us, those who want to experience and understand, or even just show, the most painful realities of human existence, who will keep all of us pushing toward that edge, even when some are less able to "look the dragon in the mouth." Arbus was farther on the spectrum than Rubinstein in the face of people's pain, and in a different way. Dorothea Lange presented images of the Great Depression that stay with us forever, they represent it, they make us think we know! And yet, the family in the one famous photo, of the woman with two girls turned away from the camera, were deeply wounded by the photo and felt manipulated by Lange.

Well, there are too many questions to be answered here. I guess my thought is that much will come from the work of others that may or may not be intended by the artist. It is what I bring to it. I am so moved by the image of Robert with his hands on his chest, his face looking away. Knowing that he was not in a state of emotional distress, that this project did not take him into any despair, both relieves me (he is my friend, and I do not want him to be in pain) and almost disappointed me. YET! Is it not my own response to the human condition, and to art representing it, that matters? Perhaps for some, it matters how the artist her/himself felt and thought. Or even what they were like, their lifestyle! Think of Rilke, and how often we are confronted with his choices, and then we live through the sublime insight of his words.

Ruth said...

Ellen, thanks for reading. Before your comment I wasn't familiar with "King of Hearts" until your comment. George also raised it. So I have looked it up, and it sounds like an intriguing story.

Ruth said...

Fragrant Liar, thank you for reading and contributing to the conversation. It's hard enough to live with mental illness itself, without the added cultural stigma!

Ruth said...

Dear Lilith, thank you for allowing yourself to go off in a different direction than you intended! Art is important for pushing at our emotional responses. I found myself so excited anticipating this show. And I kept wondering, Why?

Hearing what you say about your daughter is so very painful. As her mother, your pain must be very great. It is not really, or only, her pain you feel, but a mother's pain. I don't know if there is any love more intense than a mother's, and so perhaps the pain of a mother is more intense than most. I think that the more we talk openly about these things, from within our experience, the greater our understanding of one another will be, and I think compassion will grow.

I am sorry to hear about your difficult week. These things are fluid. Some periods of time are much more difficult than others. I don't know about you, but sometimes I need to pull back into a place of comfort and distance.

Ginnie said...

You know I worked in a psychiatric hospital, sister, on both open and closed wards. What intrigues me as I think on it now is what I remember of the humor of it, similar to when I worked with Alzheimer's residents in assisted living. Maybe it's a statement of life in general: if we can't laugh at ourselves, we'll never be truly well/whole! In that regard, I loved the shortened video of Robert developing wet-plate collodian tintypes. It lended levity to your post.

On another note, Astrid's father was in a mental hospital for 10 years, while she was 17-27. The stories she can tell.... One day, maybe she, too, will be able to laugh. I pray so. She already laughs at her dark side, which is "simply" part of being human, she says. That means she's already well on her way re her dad. I will try to broach this with her....

Ruth said...

Hedge, thanks so much for engaging so enthusiastically with my post and the artists and their work. I am interested in how we are drawn differently and in various degrees to these examinations. Just like all of life, we are who we are, we choose our life, yet I hope for most openness, freedom and honesty as we carry on.

I am so glad you enjoyed Robert's moonflowers. I hope you saw the whole portfolio. The light he managed to convey is really incredible. I would love to read what you might write about your moonflowers and their aliens.

Yes, this post took a bit more work than most of mine, but when I compare the few hours I spent with Robert's painstaking tintypes and Stephen's journal fictions, and with the topic and its history, it seems vastly deficient. But maybe it will be a window for myself and others into other explorations.

Ruth said...

Anonymous, thank you for reading and sharing with your friend! Blessings.

Ruth said...

Maureen, thank you for reading and responding to Robert's beautiful art! I suspect that Robert and Stephen's collaborations are not over. I hope not!

Ruth said...

Cait, even though words failed you, I appreciate so much that you left your response. This is really just a window. Into much of what life is, that we have no words for. But we need to see generously. Thank you.

Ruth said...

Robert Mc it is really great to have you visit, knowing you admire Robert's work! I am happy that you were able to see something of his show here.

Ruth said...

Elizabeth, thank you for reading and responding so well and generously.

I do not know Antonia White or John Clare. We need their stories, out of the isolation of mental illness and the institution. To feel invisible, or worse—ostracized, in one's pain only adds to the pain.

Thank God the light of illumination began to dawn on professionals, as in your grandmother's Northampton Asylum. These evolutions can't be undervalued. They help give us hope and encouragement to persevere in making things better in all arenas.

Ruth said...

George, thank you very much for your affirmations of the spirit in this post! I am so struck by your inclusion of the psychotic to participate in seeing generously—Yes! No assumptions should be made about any individual's experience of the world. I think of some as having too tender and fragile a presence with others (which is what I see in that one photo of Robert's that I love so much). We call it "madness" because a person can't function in our society's constructs very well. But aren't many of the constructs of our society utterly MAD?!

Thank you for echoing Ellen's mention of "King of Hearts" which I did not know about. It sounds very interesting, and I would like to see it.

Ruth said...

Thank you, California Girl.

Yes, I love Robert's approach to flowers. The wet plate ones are so gorgeous, and often he brings in a surprising element that links the flowers in subtly evocative ways.

How cool that you got to see Hogarth's paintings and engravings in London! It is not clear to me (need further investigation) whether he created the fiction about Tom Rakewell.

I understand your response to the Bedlam portraits. I wonder what your husband thinks.

Thank you!

Ruth said...

Thanks, Rosaria! Yes, I agree. Even if all of us can't face the same intensity of looking, we all benefit, I feel, from how others push boundaries.

Ruth said...

Dear Vagabonde, thank you for reading my posts so thoroughly!

I'm glad you like my hair. I think it is a lot like yours!

I'm glad you like Atlanta's amount of snow. I feel something like what you said, in reverse, that I could not take so much heat in that place. :-)

Oh I did not know about people paying to watch poor hungry children eating Christmas dinner. It makes me sick, to think of a public display of such voyeurism. We are still voyeurs though, and I must be honest about it. But maybe we as people have evolved from that time. I do wonder about it though, for there is too much cruelty, intended and otherwise, that suffers the poor to exist as they do.

Ruth said...

Dear Boots, I am amazed that you could work in the psychiatric hospital, but of course someone must, and I'm grateful.

Thank you for watching Robert's video, and for your observation about levity and humor as we approach such serious subjects! As a person who has only recently learned to laugh at myself, I'm interested in the topic, very much, and how people respond to it.

I am sorry to hear that Astrid's father suffered from mental illness. It sounds as though it is too painful for her to face now, but as you say, perhaps she will be able to one day. We each do the best we can! And the universe brings us small windows (and sometimes cosmic two-by-fours as Inge says) to open our eyes. Consciousness is a strange and fluid thing!

SamaraZone said...

I loved this one! I struggle with a mother who suffers from serious mental illness. A once loving and gentle woman, with a soft face, now has a face of pain. It's been a heart wrenching journey to witness someone you love face their days this way.

The Solitary Walker said...

Such an interesting and thought-provoking post, Ruth - objectively written, and also quite moving.

I remember RD Laing and other 60s/70s psychologists and psychiatrists believing 'madness'/'mental illness' to be a justified and inevitable response to a 'mad' society/world. I think this is true.

Ruth said...

SamaraZone, I hate that you face this with your mother, that she lives in such pain. I hope that you will have strength to help her through this cruel time! Thank you for reading, and I'm glad you loved it.

Ruth said...

Thanks, Robert!

As for your comment about Laing and the others saying that madness is a justified and inevitable response to this mad world, I must agree. Sometimes I wonder that we are not more fragile as people, and how we go on surviving, getting up every morning. I am blessed with great happiness in my life, but there is so much inconceivable, institutionalized madness!

Marcie said...

What an absolutely fascinating photographic project. Not sure if I love or hate it...but am definitely intrigued.

Peter said...

Yes, it was a long post, but interesting as it was, I could have continued reading, watching, listening... This is what I like about (some) blogs, it's an excellent way to learn ... and here I learnt a lot!

Margaret said...

What a rich post! A bit of history, stunning photographic art, opera... Wow. "Insane" how much I loved all you effort! (forgive me that bad pun)

Grandmother said...

I am coming late to this post but am absorbed by it. 36 years as a psychiatric nurse gave me deep compassion, enormous gratitude and a sense of camaraderie with the mentally ill. Each person has a story, each person has a dark side, a shadow self. Keep that in mind and we can "see generously" as Hillman counsels. I hope the artistic work of your friends opens the world of the mentally ill and makes it more accessible to those who shun it. I listened once to a woman who was paranoid tell the tricky tortures of trying to do her food shopping and felt amazed and humbled. They are us, we are them. This post took work and research- than you.

souldipper said...

Ruth, this is generous! What a tremendous study - an important key.

There is so much that I will have to return a few times.

I wish my mother was here to read this. She was an advocate for women who had so much trouble with menopause that they ended up on psych wards. Doctors really didn't know what else to prescribe until valium came into existence!

Shaista said...

Erm... Can I just say, you said lupus :)
It's funny, because I did just post exactly that... An intimate portrait of it all. And yet not that intimate, because nothing ever is once displaced from our own bodies and minds.
I always think the most fearsome thing about having illness of any kind is the treatment of it - if you are blessed, the treatment will be humane and compassionate and holistic. But the other side of things, the inability of others to cope or respond humanely, that is where the darkness lies. Not in the illness itself.

Ruth said...

Thanks for reading, Marcie! I understand conflicted feelings for the project. It isn't comfortable!

Ruth said...

Merci, Peter! There was much more to say, and much more I wanted to learn. I would like to see the project in book form so that I could have the journal entries at hand. Apparently Robert had 80 tintypes, but he only hung half that, I believe.

Ruth said...

Margaret, that was a terrible pun, but I forgive you and thank you for reading and being enthused! :-)

Ruth said...

Oh Mary, I admire you and your 36 years! To come away from what must have been an arduous career with compassion, enormous gratitude and a sense of camaraderie with the mentally ill, with humility, tells me much about you. It has been said that we all have varying levels of madness, so it really is true that we are them. I really appreciate you reading and bringing your perspective from the field of psychiatry.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Amy! Your good comment reminds me of that dreaded etymological link between the Latin word for womb and hysteria.

Ruth said...

Dear Shaista, my friend. Of course it was you in my word lupus, but thankfully that word and disorder do not contain you.

I'll repeat my thanks here and will again at the Cambridge article post you've shared, for how you lighten up the darkness by sharing your beauty, from within the painful experience of your symptoms and medical treatment. Blessings xoxox.

Oliag said...

There is so much here that I don't know where to start...so I will keep it simple and just say how amazing and talented your friends are. I am so in love with the Moonflower photos and the Bedlam photos...how I wish I could have been at that exhibit!

And now I am going to go and listen to Dawn Upshaw.

Jeanie said...

Write as long as it takes, my friend, when you have something so stunning to share as these photos and the words behind them. You're right about mental illness. I have two family members who are affected -- they are functional, sometimes normal. Sometimes a little freaky. Seeing these photos makes me grateful that despite our challenges dealing with this issue as a society, that things are indeed better than bedlam. And the moonflowers are stunning. I was going to ask you where this is -- I was pleased to see Scene! Maybe Anno and I can get over there Saturday when she comes up for lunch! (Do you know former blogger Anno?)