POEM: Madmen on the March

by Gustave Dore (via Wikipedia)

 

Madmen on the march
Clones de la Mancha
Pouring through the arch
Lacking lingua franca



Seeking common thrills
An army of sham knights
Tilting at windmills
With more pride than fight



It’s not a sickness of the brain
that scripts this lunatic life.
It’s chasing the sanction of “sane”
that breeds this stream of strife.



[Note: A poem on the hilarity of defining sanity as the recognition of reality. As if any of us knows what’s real in a meaningful sense. Sanity is being able to pretend you know what’s real with sufficient confidence to avoid grinding against society’s sensitive spots.]

BOOK REVIEW: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's NestOne Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon page

 

When a sane man, Randle McMurphy, enters an insane asylum to get out of prison, he turns life in the ward upside-down. The book’s fictional narrator is the patient who sleeps next to McMurphy. He’s an American Indian of giant stature, named Chief Bromden, who’s become convinced that he’s shrunk. Besides childhood problems stemming from his father’s emasculation—i.e. having to take his white mother’s name (hence, Bromden) instead of the more usual family name of the father—Chief is haunted by war. Our narrator has the hospital staff convinced that he’s a deaf-mute (and probably mentally deficient, as well) and thus has a unique view of the ward, the staff speaking freely before him.

McMurphy is everything the other patients are not. He’s gregarious, confident, and risk-loving. He’s also a con-man extraordinaire—hence, his ability to trick the authorities into shifting him out of hard labor and into the mental hospital. But he’s not completely lacking in morality, and displays a kind of hard-nosed compassion. While the patients are occasionally distressed by McMurphy’s behavior, they find his willingness to stand up for them (at least when it’s in his best interest, though later a sense of justice or camaraderie guides him) worth the price of his wheeling and dealing.

McMurphy’s real opposition is Nurse Ratched, a former Army nurse who runs a tight ward. Nurse Ratched is used to controlling the patients through a combination of soft power (maternally convincing them that she acts in their best interest), bullying, and fear of the treatments she can get the doctors to rubber stamp (namely electro-shock and—in extreme cases—lobotomy.) However, she’s met her match with McMurphy. He can play patients and doctors as well as she. He, too, is capable of being cool and cunning at the same time. He’s able to provide a counterbalance to the authoritarian democracy in which she asks the patients for votes after telling them what to think. The reader doesn’t know how, but knows this conflict between McMurphy and Ratched must come to a head to be resolved once and for all, and it is (but I’ll leave the how to the reader.) At times McMurphy seems to be ahead, and at other times Ratched has the lead.

The book was influenced by Kesey’s discussions with patients at Menlo Park Veterans’ Hospital, where he worked as a night aide. Interestingly, Kesey volunteered for a study of hallucinogens during the same period (funded by the CIA as part of MKUltra), and, thus, for some of the conversations he was baked on LSD. At any rate, the experience had profound impact on him, and he became convinced that not all the patients were insane. Many, he believed, just didn’t fit well in society or families, and were pushed into institutions. The themes of the book are that differentiating sanity from insanity isn’t always easy and that mental healthcare professionals had too much power–and often wielded it unwisely.

The story is well crafted with an intense ending. The characters are developed, and this isn’t easy for the mentally insane—though Kesey’s experience with LSD may have helped on that end. Though we only really experience the insanity of Chief, because the perspective is his and he’s one of the few patients that legitimately seems to have trouble differentiating reality from illusion (at least through much of the book.) But we don’t really know how much of Chief’s problem is from his medication, and how much is the illness. There’s a beautiful descriptive scene in which Chief comes off his meds and is looking out the window watching a dog and the world go by. It’s vivid.

I’d highly recommend this book. It’s an evocative story with insights into mental health, some of which—sadly—are as valid today as they were then.

View all my reviews

POEM: Einsteinian Insanity

Einstein tongue.jpg
Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8970653

 

Einstein defined what’s nuts,

clear as day, no ifs or buts.

Doing the same, time and again

and expecting change is insane.

 

So when you hit a fail,

don’t hammer the bent nail.

Pull it out, start anew,

and don’t let bent nails accrue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

TODAY’S RANT: Invisible Conversants

Proposed addition

Proposed addition

A few years back, I was leaving an office building when I saw a man ranting full-bore. He was gesticulating wildly, delivering karate chops to the air with vicious intent, pulling at his hair. What was even more disconcerting was the potty mouth on this guy; he weaved together a chain of expletives that would make a mafia don blush. Yet, I could recognize his words as one half of a conversation, though there was no one else to be seen. He would pause and respond, and I could vaguely imagine what the invisible conversant would have said to invoke such a response.

I, of course, concluded that this poor soul should be committed to an asylum.  I was wondering if I should call the guys with the straight jackets to bring their rubber-lined van when the man swung around to pace the pavement in the other direction and I saw the BlueTooth headset clinging to the side of his head.

I then realized that this man was not certifiable.  He was just a rude douche-bag with a bad temper.

In the good old days, when someone was talking to an invisible conversant, you knew that they had an imaginary friend speaking in their ear. While this didn’t necessarily make them a danger, it did put one on notice that voice in their head might just be saying, “Get stabby.”

Today, I think we are being desensitized by miniature wireless headset technology. Now instead of assuming the someone chatting up an invisible conversant has gone around the bend, we assume that they are communicating with a real, live, flesh-and-blood person. This may be to our own peril.

What I’m suggesting is that Bluetooth headsets be made more conspicuous. They should be in bright neon colors, and should have a flag viewable by people from all directions. The flag would indicate that they aren’t hearing the voice of Beelzebub in their ear telling them to have a nice killing spree.

Just a suggestion.

It’s only going to get worse, when the first people start getting surgically grafted cell phones.