Monday, March 29, 2010

Depression and Reading, Writing, etc.

When you are doing reading, writing and numbers (academic work), what happens when you encounter depression? Probably best known are the writings of Sylvia Plath. But since then, there is artwork, music, and a multiple of other media forms that express the depression of their creators.

Read some young adult books and you will find entire genres surrounding the issues of depression: teenage angst; coming of age; coming out; and, naturally, issues of sexuality. Regarding adolescence, we can find suicidal, homicidal, and family deaths related to depression. Is that not how we accounted for the shooting of parents and family, Columbine, and other school shootings?

There have been studies that point to the decline in health of graduate students as they go through their programs, whatever department they may be in. There is evidence of post-partum depression; numerous cases touted by the media when a mother does harm to her children, or a father thinks that death will save his children. And, of course, a look at most cases of domestic violence, we can see some evidence of depression. The fact that you are most likely to be killed by someone you know seems to make an argument for depression gone to the next level.

But that is not all there is. There are millions of people who try to function day to day, feeling serious, clinical depression. Yeah, yeah, we’ve all heard how many American women are on some kind of anti-depressant medication. So, you meet someone like that and think it is simply a matter of making them happy. But in true depression, it is not. Furthermore, it may not be something handled by Prozac, or Xanac, or any other “happy” pill.

Have you ever experienced being alone? Have you ever felt like you were unloved? Have you tried to find the solution in a bottle of alcohol, a bottle of pills, a snort of cocaine, some ecstasy, sex? Have you ever been 10 years of age and trying to fight those feelings? 15 years of age? 20 years of age? 50 years of age? 60 years of age?

The key I wonder about is no matter what age: have you been in the space where you cannot believe the people who claim to love you?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Music of My Life – Part 3

This third part about the music of my life encompasses primarily four years while I was at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. For me, that was 1970 to 1974, and a bit of time to 1976, while I worked at Connecticut Valley Hospital in the children’s psychiatric unit, before I left to get my Master’s in Developmental Psychology. Wesleyan, at that time, was a unique experience for me. I had never been around other black Americans who were as smart or smarter than me [my high school graduating class of more than 600 had four black people: me, a black guy named Billy, my former best friend, and Billy’s girlfriend, named Carrie, and my cousin Christine]. I had never been around rich black people [my first roommate decided her recently purchased wardrobe wasn’t good enough for Wesleyan and had her doctor father send $500 so she could get new clothes!]. I had been raised in a predominantly white, Jewish and Catholic community, despite the black community in the “Projects” that was one block from where I lived.

If I had to characterize my college years in terms of music, there are only three words: jazz and blues! It was marvelous! There was one student, a white boy who had deferred his admission so he could travel through the south to learn true blues piano! He was awesome. Then there a black student, who refused to wear shoes until graduation (yes, I mean even in winter) who played the most awesome acoustic bass. We had players of all instruments who would gather together to jam in the chapel.

Wesleyan also had its own radio station and that was my public entry. Taught by the one person who had the smoothest voice we all knew on radio, Charlie D [Charles Deramus], I became “Lady Lee” and played smooth jazz in the late night hours. This is in the age of vinyl and cassette. I learned all about the ladies I knew from my childhood and beyond: Nina Simone, Sarah Vaughn, Miriam Mekeba, Chaka Khan, Dinah Washington, and more than anyone else, Billie Holiday.

At parties, it was Earth Wind, and Fire; Chicago; Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; Carole King; Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes; Led Zeppelin; Steely Dan; David Bowie; The Eagles; and so many others. Plus, Wesleyan developed a degree in Ethnomusicology, so we attended concerts by Indian drummers; Pakistani groups; and a number of African groups since we had an exchange program with Tanzania.

I remember attending a concert with Isaac Hayes where Grace Jones performed. Also, a concert at Yale, where Miles Davis played two songs and walked off the stage, throwing his instrument on the floor. But I must admit to crushes on Freddy Hubbard and Ron Carter (who is the featured picture).

But my most memorable experience occurred during my last years in college. I was 21 and my baby brother was having his 16th birthday. I bought him tickets to Shea Stadium (he was into baseball and Shea was brand new). I went home to bring him the tickets and told him to take his best friend with him. He said, “Well, when are we going?” It was then I learned how he had abandoned heavy metal and gotten seriously into jazz. Plus, it was the best baseball game in the world. Oh, yeah, the Mets lost, but I had eight hot dogs with my brother!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Jack-Dog-Dog, Hot Dogs and Reindeer

As a lover of language, I find that despite my attention to how and what I say, some things may get lost in translation. For example, while raising my first daughter, I would keep her away from knives by saying, “No, Honey” and pointing at the knife I would say “Sharp”. Sure enough, as her language developed she always referred to knives as “sharps”. Furthermore, in Nome, Alaska, some common things referred to in the Lower 48, where most of the non-Native adults were raised, we often lapsed into terminologies we expect to be understood.

This came home to me when my best friend and I decided to take her dog, which the girls referred to as “Jack-Dog-Dog”, and the girls out to her cabin near the river for a nice outing. Spring was on its way and, while a bit cool, the day was sunny and bright. Shelley and I gathered up some lunch items, put everyone in the truck, and headed out to her wonderfully homey cabin off the Nome River.

At the cabin, we proceeded to do some preparation for the coming of “cabin” [aka summer] weather: shoveling the walkway, unloading pellets for the stove, dusting and cleaning. Jack, her black Labrador, was happy to be in the wild and just ran around, letting the girls chase him, checking out every little hole in the tundra, and generally feeling good. Somewhere around noon, we called everyone in and asked what we should have for lunch. Shelley said, “Well, why don’t have some hot dogs?” I chimed in and said, “Yeah, hot dogs would be good, don’t you think girls?”

My daughters, then perhaps 4 years and 2 years, suddenly looked stricken. “Hot dogs?” Shelly and I happily said yes. The girls looked at each other and said, “Hot dogs? Jack-Dog-Dog? No, Momma, no! We don’t want to eat Jack-Dog-Dog!”

Amidst a few tears and a great deal of explanation, we explained the difference and had a lovely lunch, feeding Jack-Dog-Dog some of the hot dogs.

The worst part of this is that was also the day we lost Jack. We think he must have gone off chasing some of the reindeer that were being domesticated as a food source for Nome. The reindeer herder had already warned that if he found dogs chasing his reindeer, he would shoot them. We went home that night, after having our hot dogs, with no Jack-Dog-Dog.

Jack, we still remember the joy your brought to our lives.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Music of My Life: Part 2

Being born in the early 50’s, my teen years were dominated by The British Invasion. I remember vividly watching The Beatles debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show” (and teen debates about if you could spell “antidisestablishmentarianism”). My personal favorite was The Dave Clark Five. Of course, there were The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, Dusty Springfield and Petula Clark. There was also the California movement epitomized by convertibles and surfing, which we did not do on the beaches of Long Island: Jan and Dean, The Beach Boys, and one of the most memorable drum solos by The Surfaris (Ahhhh, Wipeout!). And I cannot forget “My Boyfriend’s Back”, “Soldier Boy”, “Leader of the Pack”, and everything recorded by The Supremes.

I became aware of the Viet Nam War. I discovered boys. I discovered poverty. I took weekly accordion lessons. I found the library was the best place to be other than home. I played these songs as I sewed all my own clothes and learned to knit and crochet. I figured out I would never look like Twiggy. Alone, I would go to the movies for the Saturday matinee featuring my television idols, Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon, Sandra Dee, Connie Francis, Haylee Mills, and admittedly, Shirley Temple (would I ever look like these girls? I don’t think so.).

In my house there was also “The Mitch Miller Show”, Elvis, Buddy Holly, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Leslie Uggams, Sam and Dave, Frank Sinatra, Otis Redding, the annual Christmas specials by any number of songsters. At school, there were The Temptations, The Four Tops, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Simon and Garfunkel, Bobby Vinton, Mamas and the Papas, Dylan, Baez, and many more. I discovered music that seemed to accurately reflect my sadness, my adolescent angst, and could also make me dance with joy. I started dealing with death, bullying, and feeling like an outsider. But I also had “All in the Family” and more shows involving people who looked like me. It was definitely a time of interest.

I also had a “baby” brother who had to deal with not only our father’s death, but the deaths of many of our closest relatives, and a mother who had her own issues. Once, my mother made me take my brother to my regular Saturday matinee trips. I took him to see “Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte”. He hasn’t forgiven me to this day.

I’m sorry, Brother Mine. But it is said I have “Bette Davis Eyes”.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Science, Religion, Belief and Fantasy: Who Knew?

I was taken aback reading Nation by Terry Pratchett. This amazing novel, written for the Young Adult market, sent me, a mature adult, into a spin about my beliefs, spirituality, what Oprah has referred to as “the authentic self”, and organized religion.

Mau, an island boy, has just completed his rite of passage to adulthood by being sent to a separate island for his final test of endurance. As he is taking his canoe back to his home, anticipating the wonderful ceremony which will greet him as a man, a tsunami occurs. Daphne, a proper English girl of similar age, is on her way to meet her father when the ship on which she sails is also caught in this natural phenomenon. When the two meet on Mau’s home island, they must find ways to communicate cooperate and collaborate in order to survive. They are soon joined by refugees from other islands, as well as from the British ships. Each must cope with not only the problems of building a functioning community, but their individual cultural, moral, spiritual, and societal systems and beliefs.

My recommendation for this work of art has multiple facets. For parents, who either want to introduce issues related to science, culture, social structures, and belief systems, or whose children may be entertaining such questions, reading Nation and then recommending it to your children could open communication doors. This book does illustrate how true believers can question their values; that questioning will lead to a period of discomfort and doubt; how such a process is not “weird” and is fairly common for people, especially when individuals are confronted with contradictions. Most importantly, the book clearly illustrates that such periods of questioning and discomfort are not everlasting. There are interesting issues of intergenerational relations, respect, cooperation and collaboration, tolerance, leadership, bravery and courage, and what it means to believe in one’s self.

Thank you, Terry Pratchett, for this wonderful piece of writing.