Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Random Thoughts on Doubt: The Director/Writer's Commentary

It was fun and informative. However, as I was discussing the commentary with a friend,I wondered just how autobiographical it actually was. Shanley says that it is in large part autobiographical. Shanley himself says that if any one of the boys were him, it would have been a student called Johnny Langdon (I think that was the name) who got into all sorts of trouble. And it was this boy's reaction to Father Flynn touching him on the arm that made Sister Aloysius first wonder about Father Flynn. He tells the story about how he drank the sacristy wine and was kicked out as an altar boy - a story that is brought into the play. Just wondering.

It reminded me of Sylvia Fraser, a Canadian writer, who wrote a book in 1985 called My Father's House. She wrote how, although she had completely repressed her father's sexual abuse of her when she was a child, it seeped out, not only in her life, but in the sexual violence in her novels.

It also reminds me of Dean R. Koontz, the horror writer. Some years ago, a friend asked him why all of his stories contained the same three people: a single man, a young boy in trouble, and a woman who becomes a friend (really obvious to anyone who has read his books). He denied it, then went back and started to reread his books. Lo and behold, it was true. He went into therapy to find out why. [as an aside, you can actually tell when he was having problems - the books (Hideaway, Mr. Murder, for example) during that period just weren't up to his usual compelling style - the solutions felt way too contrived] - he seems to be back on target again (although he has dropped the R. from his name). Then there's James Ellroy whose memoir, My Dark Places, tells his story.

An interesting review of the play when it was on Broadway: Weighing Doubt: One Playwright's Measured Look at the Crisis in the Catholic Church. Now I will have to get the script of the play. Reading (and listening to Shanley talk about the same period and thinking back to my Catholic friends over the years) about how Catholics viewed the 60s and 70s as a time of change, openness and hope always reminds me how different it is for people inside the belief system and people like me, who have had their run-in with the Catholic belief system, but stood outside it. Vatican II seemed to me, when I was studying it at university, to be about changing the trivialities or the externals - it never made any serious change to the core doctrines and dogma of the church - for example, the theology of the sacramental priesthood.

According to the previous review, he (the author, John Patrick Shanley) is not related to Paul Shanley (one of my questions). Well that's not exactly what he says in an interview just before the play opened off Broadway in 2004. What he says is "And the other biggest predator priest is named Paul Shanley, which, frankly, I don’t like. I’d like to take back the family name. I looked us up in a book of heraldry once. Shanley had two lines: “A small group of excessively quarrelsome, excessively religious people.” Whether he is related, even at a distance is not clear.

Just random thoughts.

Doubt

I just finished watching the film, Doubt. What a good film it was. It lays out just how the system worked. The complexities of the boy's relationship at home were well handled and bringing up an issue that is seldom talked about - the fact that young boys who are gay are particularly vulnerable to the abuses of predators simply because they already feel like they don't belong.

The performances were nuanced. The writing was superb.

Now I am wondering how many people think that the nun had doubts about her accusation, when she says that she has doubts at the end. It is clear that the title is meant to have a dual meaning. I know that one of my students told me about the film and how the guilt of the priest wasn't clear at the end and the nun had doubts about his guilt. Guess what I will be discussing in class at some point in the winter term?

I will watch the film again with the commentary by the director. I will also go and look at the reviews of the film and some of what other people have written about it. Maybe everyone got it - that the nun's doubts had to do with her faith, not the priest's guilt.

Stay tuned

Addendum 1 (4:40pm): I have been thinking about the film and thinking that probably the writer does want us to think that the nun has doubts about everything including the priest's guilt. Maybe Philip Seymour Hoffman did such a good job and is so familiar that I can't imagine who would doubt that he was grooming the boy. In fact, his performance was downright creepily accurate. However, if she does have doubts about the priest's guilt - which Meryl Streep's performance at that point doesn't seem to indicate, then does that speak to the power of the belief system - not just the institution but the belief system. I would love to see the next step in the nun's journey through doubt - could be quite interesting.

Addendum 2 (5:31): When I first looked at who the film was written and directed by, John Patrick Shanley, I wondered offhandedly whether or not he could be a relative of Paul Shanley, one of the figures in the Boston "problem" for years. I didn't bother checking it out and still haven't. However, I think that I will. The more I think about the film, the more I see the Paul Shanley excuses, although quite skillfully understated. Paul Shanley always said that he was being persecuted because he was openly gay - notwithstanding his endorsement of, and membership in (I stand to be corrected here because it is a few years since doing research on that area), NAMBLA (John Stewart's favourite target - look it up if you don't know what the acronym stands for, I just can't write it out). He argued that all he was doing was helping the poor underprivileged children, that the church needed to be modernized, etc. No wonder I am reminded of Paul Shanley when thinking about the film. Shanley's case is interesting in that, even David France, author of Our Fathers: The Secret Life of the Catholic Church in the Age of Scandal, ends up sitting on the fence about Shanley (this could have been for legal reasons, we will never know). Even if Shanley didn't sexual assault young boys, his life is so unsavoury, that one still has to wonder why he remained a priest and protected for so long. Well, not really - that was a rhetorical point, only. We shall see.

Monday, 21 December 2009

So Where's the Contrition?

What is contrition?

Concise Oxford English Dictionary definition
Def. 1: the act of being contrite (contrite: feeling or expressing remorse)
Def. 2: (in the Roman Catholic Church) the repentance of past sins during or after confession

Review
Frank MacDonald, "Confession is good for the soul". The Globe and Mail, Aug. 7, 2009.

The review itself is basic, covers the material and I have only one major problem. I don't understand see how "Father MacAskill's life takes on a sense of horror". I may be wrong, but it really is unclear that the Bishop's Man (as I prefer to call him) feels a sense of horror that might, just might, lead to contrition in the Roman Catholic sense. I think that the writing implies that that is what is happening, but nowhere does The Bishop's Man ever state that that is the problem. We are supposed to imply it from his descent into drunkenness, his searching for Bell, and his erratic behaviour. Even before Danny's suicide, he had some inkling that sexual abuse might be the problem, but he never tries to address it with anything other than "call me" to the boy.

I wonder if the author thinks that the Bishop's Man should feel a sense of horror and therefore assumes that he does.

Is this a realistic "confession" from Father MacAskill? I listened to the author discussing how he went about finding whether or not his portrayal of the Bishop's Man was authentic/realistic. He gave it to priests he knew and others who said that it was. If this is truly a valid portrayal of a Roman Catholic priest, no wonder the church is in trouble.

This leads to my question - confession, the book may be, but where is the contrition (def. 2) - where is the repentance?

Feminist theologians like to talk about just what repentance means. The term they focus on is metanoia, which means "a turning around". That turning around means making a change in your life. It is more than saying, "I'm sorry." and then getting on with your life. It is more than, "I won't do that again". It should include some form of restitution. What does the Bishop's Man do in the end? He submits his resignation to the Bishop, has a big fight with the Bishop, tells his story to the lady friend (aunt to Danny) with whom he has become close, has a really good sit down with Father Bell, goes off for a month's vacation in the Dominican Republic (I think that's where the lady friend has her holiday home). BUT most of all, he still keeps, not only all the secrets that he kept before, but some new ones. Doesn't look like he's learned a whole lot. Seems that he's doing more running than he is facing up to who is and what he did. But maybe that's just me!

Commentaries on "The Bishop's Man": Reviews & Blogs

I will be looking at the reviews and the blogs of the book. They have different takes on the book. However, there is a general overall tendency that will be the subject of the last blog on the book.

"Lord Almighty, this has got to be a comforting book for a lot of people."

What I want to do in the next few blogs is do a running commentary on whatever strikes me as relevant, important, angering or downright idiotic.

Last night, I finally had the emotional reaction to the book that was bound to come. Does it affect everything that I analyze? Of course. But nobody can accusing me of hiding my specific point of view!

Where the book (and so far, just about everything that I have read other people say) fails, is in not giving true voice to the real devastation that religious sexual abuse causes over a lifetime. Certainly, the Bishop's Man and the Bishop don't get it. My reaction last night was just to everything that was lost over the years - two marriages that didn't really have a chance at working; an educational choice driven by the need to know; the relationships with male and female friends; the relationships within my family; the loss of a place to belong; the loss of the security that faith in a benevolent deity can bring. It wasn't a major crisis (I don't really have those anymore), but it did include new flashbacks that will integrate themselves over time.

I have been avoiding writing for the last week or so. The one thing the flashbacks and the emotions do, is get me writing.

The book didn't have to be from the victim's point of view - but somehow, I do believe it fails because the victims are just a hinge for story telling. There will more on this in future blogs. Suicide may be the ultimate sin for a Roman Catholic, but living life after the complete loss of everything that ever mattered is very difficult and at times unbearable. Without support, we don't get thought it, just as Danny (the victim "hinge" in the book) didn't. I wish everyone would go and see Deliver Us From Evil, and then read The Bishop's Man. It might give them a slightly different perspective on just how much the Bishop's Man has to answer for.

Friday, 11 December 2009

An unflinching look at evil??????

I have started to flip through reviews of The Bishop's Man on the Internet.

I am not sure that people actually understand what evil is - and this evil in particular. On a surface scan, looks like a few people have problems with the book. However, my gut feeling that this was going to be a comfort to people is probably not far from the truth.

I'll write comments as I read the reviews and the comments on the reviews.

I wonder if David Clohessey (nat. dir. of SNAP) has read the book. He commented on the NYT's short blurb on the Giller Prize winner. It was relatively generic - good when people write about these things

I am going to watch Doubt next week - I'll write a review of that as well.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

The Bishop's Man - Spoiler Alert!

He pulled "a Kazantzakis".

Well, I finished The Bishop's Man by Linden MacIntyre. When it comes out in paperback, I will add it to my bookshelf. The book has a long waiting is at my public library so I brought it back as soon as I was finished reading. No one else that I know has read it yet, so these are my thoughts.

If MacIntyre sounded befuddled about how these things could happen (see previous blog, August 30, 2009), that befuddlement is at the heart of the problems that I have with the book. I was mildy dissatisfied when I came to the end. As I started writing the blog, I must say that I became extremely dissatisfied with the novel.

First, the book is not a bad read. I wouldn't say that the protagonist is a filled out character. In fact, the construction of the story is such that it is a bit confusing rather than compelling. As a novel, its plot is highly contrived. Some of the mysteries were solved, but too much of it left a bad taste in my mouth.

If the author can be said to have had an agenda, it was to explain that a) life wasn't easy for the bishop's man and by extension for all priests; b) it is the institution rather than its members that is to blame for the sexual scandals of the church; c) good priests are being ruined by the sins of a few; and d) celibacy isn't easy. Oh, and priests were abused as children too. Oh, and when children are abused, it's usually by family members. Lord Almighty, this has got to be a comforting book for a lot of people.

In the final analysis, this is a "whodunnit" of child molestation. In my opinion, the book trivializes the problem, although I don't think that was the author's intention. I have heard him being interviewed. However, I do think that it all started with "this would be a good idea"; how will we do this? Oh, I have a good idea. Let's make it a mystery. Let's make it look like the priest did it, but it was really the uncle." Like most of us, MacIntyre is bothered by the problem of priest who sexually abuse children. As a Roman Catholic, I suspect that he would be unable to actually delve very far into the issue without hitting his own brick walls - but that is just my opinion.

In some ways, the book reads like an over-the-top melodrama: a series of bizarre "Three's Companyesque" not so hilarious misunderstandings! The three main examples are:

  1. the boy who became the Bishop's Man misunderstood his father's being in his sister's bedroom late at night - we are supposed to think that the father had sexually abused the sister, but really he was having a PTSD moment of something bad that had happened to him in WW2. The Bishop's Man feels guilty about this his whole life until he found out that his sister wasn't an incest survivor. He finally asked her. Except that it is not quite spelled out in the novel exactly what happened.
  2. the priest (I think his last name was Bell) whom the Bishop's Man had hidden away with Father Mullins after an unsavory drunken single incident of sexual abuse of a minor in Newfoundland, hadn't abused that boy who commits suicide. However, all the way through the novel, we are led to believe that was what had happened and what was eating away at the Bishop's Man (not that he did anything about it). Whew!!!!!!!!!! It turns out that it wasn't Bell (in fact, the priest, Bell, had been abused as a boy himself and that's why the boy who committed suicide was talking so much with him - victims recognize other victims). The Bishop's Man had spent all that time worrying about it for nothing.
  3. then there's the story of what happened in the Caribbean. Another case of mistaken identity This time, the Bishop's Man was having an affair with Jacinta, a good friend of his priest pal, Alfonso. One night Alfonso is murdered by a man sent by Jacinta's ex-husband. However, he was supposed to murder the Bishop's Man. He had been told to kill the "red" one. He thought it meant someone who was a communist (or communist-like). But really, he was supposed to kill the Bishop's Man who had flaming red hair. He was the intended target. Need I mention that the Bishop's Man has also been carrying around that guilt.
Then there are the moral issues.

  1. MacIntyre wants us to understand that this issue is a problem of an institution that is too big; that it is wrong to place so much faith and time into making sure that an institution is not sullied by scandal. The Bishop is the person who articulates this answer to the question, "Why?". Well at least to the question, "Why the coverup?" MacIntyre needs to go back an take a basic course in Roman Catholic dogma, starting with the Fourth Lateran Council. The Church is Mother; the Church is Father (see B5 for Strazinski's critique on the Roman Catholic church - the Psych Corps: the Corps is Mother; the Corps is Father). The church is also the imago on earth of the heavenly city of God. The Church can do no wrong; the Church has, is and always will be right. Maybe most people in the pew no longer believe that, but I'll wager any money that Pope Benedict XVIth does.
  2. Then there is Father Roddy, the priest who teaches philosophy and has been the Bishop's Man's mentor. The Bishop's Man caught him with a young boy. He reported him to the Bishop and that led to th Bishop's Man being sent to the Caribbean (see above for what happened there). Nowhere in the book do we really see the Bishop's Man break ranks - even after he realizes that the Bishop has know all along that Father Roddy has been seuxally abusing young boys for decades. Father Roddy was a close friend of the Bishop. Even after there is a suicide (not THE suicide) and law suits, the Bishop's Man doesn't come forward with what he knew. He just has a fight with the Bishop. In fact, for all those years, he constantly questioned whether or not he had actually seen what he saw.
  3. MacIntyre also wants us to understand that the priest's life is a lonely one. They have no one to share their lives with. This is why they drink too much, for example or, I guess, why they sexually abuse children - they need the comfort?
  4. Nowhere in the story does anyone try to intervene with the boy, Danny (let's use that name) who commits suicide. Everyone know that there is something wrong. Even in the 90s, this boy is exhibiting behaviours congruent with a sexually abused boy. His parents & family figure he'll grow out of it; his fiancee doesn't understand it. But the priest doesn't seem to suspect it either - sort of. It is not cear when he thinks that maybe that is the problem. The thing of it is that he thinks that maybe it is the priest Bell, whom he placed in that small town. So rather that spend any time really trying to find out what is wrong with the boy, the Bishop's Man hides behind the idea that the boy will eventually come to him. However, he makes it fairly clear that he really doesn't want to talk about it. Besides if Bell had sexually abused Danny, then it was the Bishop's Man's fault and he is unwilling to have that known. Even when he keeps trying to contact Bell, it is not really clear why, except to salve his own conscience? This is a shallow, shallow self-absorbed man. Now it may be that this is what MacIntyre intended, but from the interviews, I don't get that feeling. I think that we are supposed to understand and feel sorry for the Bishop's Man, or at least have some empathy for his difficult life.
The book feels like a whitewash. No institution stands without the men and women who make up that institution. The institution only works if the people in it make it work. It is people like the Bishop's Man who let the church get away with the coverup for years and years - centuries actually (but that is a book in itself).

What really bothers me is that at the end of the book everything is still a secret. Nobody, but nobody spoke for the boy who had committed suicide. So is it enough that Uncle Willy is dead - possibly killed by the Bishop's Man? Is it enough that the Bishop's Man hands in his resignation to the Bishop (at least I think that is what happened)? I haven't even mentioned the reporter who is chasing the different stories and the Bishop's Man lies to him. He may resign but is he going to call up that reporter and tell him the truth? Wouldn't bet a plug nickel or a million$$$ on that!

The book barely scratches the surface of the problem. Could we call it a whitewash? I don't think that Linden MacIntyre did that on purpose. I think that he just doesn't get it. He creates a world where everyone is idolated. In the end, everyone is a victim so you don't have to feel really, really, really angry at the poor priests who are just trying to do their job.

Just once, I'd like to see a priest, bishop, whatever, turn state's evidence - blow the whistle on the whole bunch of them. There are priests like Father Thomas Doyle, but they are few and far between.

Obviously, the author doesn't know any abusing priests (or if he does, I have a hard time understanding why the Bishop's Man's crisis is so muted), nor I suspect is he familiar with the abused (perhaps as reporter with the Fifth Estate), at least not on a close personal level. The objectivity of the reporter just didn't work for explaining a personal crisis that the protaganist was supposed to be undergoing. I really wonder if he sat down and watched Deliver Us From Evil, if only to get a sense of just what an abuser is really like and how the coverup really works. Would the book have been the same if he had?

Why is it important? Many people are going to read this book. It won the Giller Prize, which means that in Canada, at least, a lot more people are going to be comforted by the message of this book, rather than be discomfitted.

The question is why did it win The Giller Prize? The following is the blurb on the Giller website. It reads like a synopsis of the book, not a reason why it won - unless the reason is just that it was written at all.

The Bishop’s Man centres on a sensitive topic - the sexual abuses perpetrated by Catholic priests on the innocent children in their care. Father Duncan, the first person narrator, has been his bishop's dutiful enforcer, employed to check the excesses of priests and, crucially, to suppress the evidence. But as events veer out of control, he is forced into painful self-knowledge as family, community and friendship are torn apart under the strain of suspicion, obsession and guilt. A brave novel, conceived and written with impressive delicacy and understanding.”

Did we read the same book??? Maybe my personal and professional experience has made me way too cynical.

I am now going to track down as many reviews of the book as I can. I will analyze them in the next blog. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

A "Kazantzakis" (Spoiler Alert)

What is a "Kazantzakis"?

This is a term that I started using after reading Kazantzakis' The Last Temptation of Christ. This refers to authors, film directors, tv writers and others who "cop out" from pushing their stories where they should really go. In other words, they don't want to deal with the tough issues that their stories often entail.

In The Last Temptation of Christ, we start off with Jesus surviving the crucifixion, meeting with his disciples (including, if I remember correctly, Paul), getting married, being involved in the movement of his message into the larger Greco-Roman world. Kazantzakis is a strong writer and I enjoyed the whole novel until I got to the end & IT WAS ALL A DREAM (foreshadowing of Dallas??) - the Devil's last attempt to keep Jesus from dying "for the greater good". I felt cheated. It was such a bold envisioning of what might have happened if Jesus had actually survived the cross (& this was one of the issues right from the beginning). The discussions on whether or not Paul should be allowed to change the message to take it to the Gentiles were fascinating. The world that Kazantzakis builds on the limited outline in the Acts of the Apostles was brilliant. Then it ends with actual death. I have often suspected that this may not have been what he wanted to do, but it was his way of avoiding the problem of being accused of heresy.


One of the greatest recent example of a Kazantzakis is the introduction of a character in Star Trek Voyageur (played once more by Brad Dourif), who is a murderer because of uncontrollable anger and impulses. Rather than deal with the issues that this brings up in a society that has all but wiped out this type of behaviour, the writers decided to kill him off "heroically" by having him save the ship & its crew. However, the truly more interesting, logical but complex story would have been to kept him on the ship working with the Vulcan to control the murderous impulses. Another lost opportunity for Voyageur - my least favourite of the Star Trek franchise.

Two writers who haven't pulled the Kazantzakis are J. Michael Strazinski (in Bablylon 5 - the Forgiveness episode discussed in blog, May 8, 2009), Josh Whedon (so far in Dollhouse).


Why am I writing this? See the next blog, which is a review of Linden MacIntyre's The Bishop's Man.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

No, No, No, No

The sexual abuse of children in the Roman Catholic church is not something that just arose because of Vatican 2. This always seems to be the excuse that people want to fall back on. The most recent example is the interview with Linden MacIntyre this morning on the CBC's Sunday Edition. The blurb reads:

"
Earlier this month, word came out that Catholic priest, Bernard Prince had been defrocked on orders of the Vatican. Prince was a former Monsignor in the Diocese of Pembroke, Ontario. He's currently serving a 4-year sentence after being convicted of molesting 13 young boys, over a period of 20 years. And Bernard Prince was no ordinary priest. He was reportedly a friend of Pope John Paul ll. And he was appointed as the General Secretary of the Pontifical Work for the Propagation of the Faith.....a very prestigious position within the Catholic Church. It is alleged that he received this appointment after the church became aware of the allegations of abuse, allegations the church denies. There is a multi-million dollar lawsuit in the works, now, on behalf of several of Bernard Prince's victims. That's awaiting mediation. Nothing has rocked the Catholic Church in North America like the sexual abuse scandals perpetrated by Prince and so many others like him. Scandals which emerged during the 1980's and 1990's, and continue to unravel even now. There've been books, and documentaries, and magazine articles about all this. And yet, while they mostly document what happened, there is still a sense, they haven't quite explain how. That's at the heart of Linden MacIntyre's new novel "The Bishop's Man" . ...

At one point he sounds almost befuddled at trying to explain how the sexual abuse could have happened. I wonder how a journalist - for years on the Fifth Estate, an investigative news program on the CBC - can not actually look at some of the basic facts - most of the accused priests were pre-Vatican 2 - pre the 60s "sexual" revolution trained. This is not a problem of the church needing to keep its priests. This is a problem that has been going on for centuries and is only finally being treated differently because it is out in the open and can't be hidden anymore. The church wants to believe that this is a "western" problem and most people seem to buy into it. As I have commented in earlier posts, this is not going to be solved by just letting priests marry, or women be priests, - although both of them would be a good idea. And it isn't going to help to get rid of homosexuals, either.

However, it sounds like the book is going to be a good read. I'll get it shortly and then do a book review. I will at some point (soon?) fix the link to my article, “It Can't Be True and If It Is, It's Not Our Fault: An Examination of Roman Catholic Institutional Response to Priestly Paedophilia In The Ottawa Valley” in HISTORICAL PAPERS 1993: Canadian Society of Church History, Annual Conference, Carleton University, June 8-9, 1993, pp. 229-45.

I think it is time to write a book. I keep meaning to but life gets in the way (as good an excuse as any!!) And this weekend it has been the FanFest in Toronto!

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Clinical Depression & Psychotherapy



Have I ever mentioned that I love the Ramones?

This is a learning moment. As I have been writing over the last year or so, I have begun to think again about the past and how it is once more restructuring itself. This is only because more and more information becomes available. It is also because more and more, relationships undergo changes, and because it is easier to actually look at the past without all of the anxiety and emotional hangovers that were always attached to my visions of the past.

I have had many bouts of "depression", or what I now know is clearly what they call "clinical depression". It was only after my last episode back in 2003 that I finally began to look back and actually see when I had specific bouts. Surprisingly, when I saw my 1st psychiatrist when I was 20, I was at the tail end of a cycle. What surprised me was that I could actually pinpoint how long it took me to get out of the depression - three years. I shortcircuited a number of them, but nevertheless, they were very specific. When my psychotherapist sent me to the doctor in 2003, for the first time I finally agreed to think about an "anti-depressant". In the 24 hours that I waited to see my doctor, I was calm enough to think about the past and when she asked me if this had ever happened before, I could say, not only "yes, but when she suggested Paxil, I said, "why not?" - if I didn't have to spend 3 years climbing out the hellhole that I was in, I'd give it a try - better 3 months than 3 years.

Serotonin reuploaders are just fine with me. To me, it is the equivalent of getting B12 shots, taking iron pills, or getting blood transfusions. I had always refused to take any kind of anti-depressant (and thank god for that), and thus had to work my way out of the depressions with great, great difficulty. The causes were clear (see previous blogs). The problem is that, if one has inherited the genetic predisposition for serotonin imbalance when under extreme stress, then, the clinical depression sets in and down the rabbit hole we go. As I can attest to, it is possible to get the serotonin working properly again over a lengthy period of time with a good therapist, etc. However, to never have to enter that hell again, is one of the blessings of science. There was always the fear that one day, I would not be able to climb out of the hole and would die.

For someone who wants to live forever, the idea of willfully losing my life is scary beyond belief. For example, I have to know what is going to happen in Dollhouse. I want to see my great grandchildren; I haven't gone to India or Nepal or Tibet (actually anywhere in the Indian subcontinent); I still need to see the pyramids; and I want to live in Japan for a while. I also want to see if they every manage to create transporters for real - space travel - there is soooooooooooo much and I will probably not get to live that long - but let me die one day in my sleep. So in the end, thank science for serotonin reuploaders.

To try and explain clinical depression is difficult (but see the blogs below). It is not just "being depressed" and "not knowing where to turn". There is a lot of truth that comes out of the psyche; and there is no control over the pain and helplessness and hopelessness that one feels - and it is constant. I can feel it, even now and I know that it is not what most people think depression is. It is a place that I never want to go to again.

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Michael Jackson: the questions they ask

I don't not know how often students and other friends, acquaintances have asked but do you really think he had sex with those children.

Of course he did - he was a pedophile attracted to male children and he had sexual relations with them. (And no - this does not - I repeat, DOES NOT make him a homosexual) As with many pedophiles, he was sexually attracted to boys within a specific age range. Now that all the confidentiality agreements are null and void, there is going to be a lot of information coming out.
If you get the chance watch the BBC (or ITV) documentary on The Passionate Eye (CBC) from last Saturday night, it is quite interesting.

About the only thing that I can say is that the child who became Michael Jackson was certainly abused from childhood - just go to the Huffington Report and start reading the articles there. All of the horrors that were perpetrated on the Jackson Family's meal ticket (Michael) will be coming out of the closet. I was not surprised when the child abuse charges came out; nor was I surprised when the families were paid off ($20 million can buy a hell of a lot of therapy - in the one case that we have had information about).

And then what about Lisa Presley's children? From what I remember, her children were too young at the point when she left him to have interested him sexually. This would have left them with only good memories of a fun guy. Although who knows, but as far as the pattern goes, this should be the case.

His music was great; it was influential and innovative and worked with Quincy Jones - the best there is. I wasn't a particular fan but then there was lots of music in the 70s & 80s that I wasn't in love with. Give me the Ramones or Blondie, or the Eurythmics any day.

But Thriller always gave me the creeps - I understood why it was so mesmerising - and I was impressed. However, I remember thinking at the time that here is someone who wants to die or already thinks that he's dead. Minor plastic surgery had already been done - it was clear that he didn't like himself and wanted to be someone else - this is a recipe for disaster and disaster after disaster followed him - personal and in the wider society.

His children weren't even his own - does anyone talk about how horrible it must now be for them??? He wasn't their biological father (DUH!!!!!!!!!!); now it seems to be that his wife wasn't even their biological mother, only a surrogate.

He died alone; he had been running for the last 15 or so years trying to find a place to live; he became more bizarre by the year; he was despised by so many people and he was broke (which appears to be the reason that he agreed to this tour in the first place).

That has to be enough, since there is no hell. He is gone and there will be fewer sexually abused male children in the world. Amen

Monday, 18 May 2009

Truisms?

One of the strangest parts about being on the other side of the panic attacks, the flashbacks, the incapacitating depressions is the "truisms". Yesterday's post held one of them "take/accept people as they are - not as you want them to be".

Others include: this too will pass; what doesn't kill you will make you stronger; don't make mountains out of molehills; pull up your socks, get over it, and do stuff. These and more may well be true. However, they are only true if we survive.

They are also only true when we aren't being driven by debilitating emotional impulses that are controlling what we do. Most of the time, it is because we are tapping into emotions that come out of the past. If we could only pick the right time to deal with them.

The truism are only real for those who don't have severe trauma in their childhood. Those mountains that we make out of molehills are just put there to help us avoid dealing with what is really wrong. Even when we know that they are molehills, we can never truly be sure that they aren't mountains until we burrough far beneath molehill. And that is always painful. The real problem is that we expend so much energy trying to avoid pain that it is inevitably difficult to keep on going. So, one day we have to dig deep because we can't avoid it any more. Keeping the memories behind the walls uses up too much energy that we need for other things. From experience, I can say that it has to be done - it just isn't easy.

The one truism that doesn't work is "time heals all pain" - it doesn't because the memories just won't let us be until we face the beast in the closet and the monsters under the bed.

I can only say thank whatever, we have tools now to help get to the trauma and the pain - now if we could only persuade "the citizens" that this is all too real.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Is forgiveness when you stop blaming someone for being who they were and are?

Forgiveness is one of those "trigger" words. This is particularly so for Christian "survivors". We are told that we will find peace, if we forgive our abuser. This is the way to healing - as we were forgiven, so we should forgive. But the word brings up all sorts of issues; among them are the following

How do you forgive, if you don't remember what was done to you?
How do you forgive when the past can't be undone?
Why do you need to forgive when you no longer believe?
Is the ability to forgive something that happens after enough grieving has been done?
How does one grieve when one cannot remember what was lost?

And then there is the problem of all of the people that we have hurt along the way, however unintentionally. Our own conundrums!
How can you say you're sorry, if you don't know what you did?
Saying you're sorry won't do a damn bit of good if the person isn't ready to forgive.
Saying you're sorry means nothing if the person that you have harmed doesn't remember what you did.
Saying you're sorry won't change the past; sometimes explaining why you did what you did helps.

But what do you do when there is no way to explain that when you are in the middle of a flashback crisis, there is really no way to control what you don't really understand. The world is truly incomprehensible and any attempts to control it are futile.

So you get lots of therapy and you finally understand almost all of what was driving you. Why you did, what you did - both good and bad. All the pieces of the puzzle are finally in place. Then what do you do? It can be overwhelming to feel so bad about some of the things that happened because you were driven to find answers. And you needed to find answers in order to survive.

You pray that somehow, the damage that you might have inflicted won't be fatal and won't last forever. And you need to learn to forgive yourself.

At one point over the years, I used to think that if I could just forgive God for abandoning me, then I could forgive my husbands, my parents. When I finally got around to grieving the death of my god, I found out that forgiveness wasn't a necessary component of anything. Understanding what I had lost was the key and I had to move on from there. It freed me up to understand that I had choices about establishing relationships and re-establishing relationships with whomever I wanted. The other side of the equation was that they didn't have to say that they were sorry. Sometimes they could, sometimes they couldn't. All human relationships are complex. They are made up of give and take. Maybe it is just a case of the good outweighing the bad and when the bad outweighs the good, the relationship is null and void.

(Strangely enough, I have never felt any need to forgive the priest - it was as if he was dead to me - what I would say today, is that there was no desire to continue any kind of relationship, so it wasn't an issue. Besides the long term impact of the evil that that man had perpetrated was unforgivable. He didn't just harm me, he harmed every relationship that I ever had.)

This brings me to the most complex of my relationships - the relationship with my mother. I have done a lot of thinking since writing my post on Sunday, September 7, 2008, How will we change the past, if we don't know what it is?

I have wondered just what is my relationship with her. Now that I have begun to put her life into some kind of perspective, how do I understand it. Maybe the word "forgive" is the only one that we have to explain what happens when you stop blaming someone for being who they were and are. My mother was and is as much a product of her past as I am. She did the best that she could have, given what I know. She was as driven by emotions that she didn't always understand as I was. We now have tools and understanding of how humans react to trauma that didn't exist even 30 years ago. Her inability to say "I'm sorry" had more to do with her avoidance of emotional pain as it did with anything that we did. She never spoke to her own mother after she was 27 and that after 12 years of not speaking to her. How could she have ever begun to deal with our emotional pain when she had never dealt with her own? There are many stories that could be written to explain that question. Those have to wait for a while yet. In all likelihood, she did better by us, than her parents did by her. We are all still here with her. She did love us as much as she could. There are many things that will always be sad and will hurt from the past. I am no longer angry about them.

I can only believe that I did better by my children. I know that there are many things that I would have done differently if I could have. I try to understand that I did the best that I could. At this point, the only thing that I can do when things come up is to be honest about my failings, say that I am sorry things weren't different, apologize for the pain that I caused and hope that they accept me as I am and know that I love them more than life itself.

Friday, 8 May 2009

The "little forgetting pill" and Dollhouse

One pill to Erase your bad memories. Would you take it?

I could have blogged on the healthkicker site but this is one of those constant questions that those of us with "bad memories" have: understanding that the past is the past and however painful, we have to learn to integrate it (if we can). Would I take it - no! Should anyone take it - no! I grant you that this was not an option for me, but I depended so much on my intellectual abilities even as a child, I doubt that I would have willingly taken a “forget me” pill.

Have you been watching Dollhouse, the new Josh Whedon drama? If Hitler's social programs are eugenics and genetic modification taken to its logical conclusion, then Dollhouse is the "little forgetting pill" taken to its logical conclusion.

Watching Dollhouse week after week is intriguing. For those of you who don't know what Dollhouse is, it is about a "corporation" that has brought the best technology (and people) that money can buy in order to be able to gather up a person's brain structure and put it into a largish USB drive and store it. The "dolls" are people whose minds have been wiped and then are kept in a high end "camp-like" place where they are monitored, kept healthy and wait until someone buys a particular service. [These dolls are the “Actives”; others are in the “Attic”.] A doll is then programmed with a variety of memories that will allow them to perform the required task. Each doll has a keeper who goes out on assignment with them and brings them back when the assignment is over. The show has always hinted that the corporation says that this is not creepy high end prostitution or jail, but rather that there is a greater good that can come of this. That, naturally, makes it all right to conduct experiments on other human beings.

The story line on May 1 was convoluted, but gave a hint at what some of these benefits of this process can be. Echo (the story's heroine doll) has volunteered to spend time at a youth home (i.e., an orphanage) for troubled children. The opening sequence has her reading a fairy tale to the children when one of the girl's starts acting out. Echo tells the woman who is in charge that she completely understands the girl.
Back at the Dollhouse, we are told that an experiment is going on. Echo has been imprinted with a brain engram (self assured and surviving well) that has been developed from the brain engram of the girl who was abused as a child. (where did they get the girl’s brain engram??) We are told the girl's back-story (addict mother dies, girl left with mother's pimp boyfriend who then sells her as a prostitute). We then see the healthy brain image that could develop if proper intervention can take place.

We return to Echo who is talking with the girl who is crayoning all over the pictures in the fairy tale book. The dialogue that takes place is on target. I have one major problem - Echo promises to return - given the trust issues inherent in the situation; what will happen to the girl if she doesn't? Echo's final lines about the abused girl are spoken to the woman in charge of the group home - "it will take time and it will be painful" but she will be fine.

There is no question in my mind that the ethical issues of this episode are raised deliberately and the writers of the episode put them side by side. The FBI agent is raging about the slavery upon which the Dollhouse is built; we get to meet Alpha, a male doll gone bad. Against this, we see the Dollhouse staff attempting to do some good, albeit with an ulterior motive, one can only assume. The Dollhouse is evil.

I hope it lasts. There are other Whedonites who complain about not being able to like any of the characters. In the beginning, it didn’t really go anywhere. But I remember the first few episodes of Buffy – it took a while to get going. I prefer to trust that man who gave us Buffy, Angel and Firefly. Dollhouse has great potential. Josh Whedon's latest sci-fi drama is about what makes us who we are. If we don’t have our memories who/what are we? Dollhouse pushes the envelope of what has been only hinted at in Babylon 5(watch it, if you haven't already).

In B5, it was the mindwipe. This was something that was done to criminals as a substitute for capital punishment. Their minds were wiped; they were given new personalities and spent the rest of their lives serving the community. The B5 episode dealing with the mindwipe is called "Passing Through Gethsemane” It starred Brad Dourif as a serial killer who had been mindwiped and was now a monk. He finds out that he was this serial killer and the person he has now become cannot live with the guilt he feels over what he did. One conundrum of this episode is “who is he really – the killer or the monk?”

Our brains already have ways of forgetting, of hiding our truths until we are ready to deal with them. Who’s to say that the little forgetting pill won’t leave traces – there will be gaps in time, for example. Take our cue from SciFi – monkeying around with the brain can cause big headaches.

Do we all want to end up as dolls? The “little forgetting pill” could take us there.