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Slick, Sick Trumpery: or Maybe it is more complicated than Crazy is as Crazy does

Today, my faithful and faithless followers, the Good (and Not So Good) Words asks you to look at the margins. To not focus on the spectacle at the center of the three ring circus of national politics. Trump is a bad clown act, but he is not the Ring Master.

Trumpery = Showy but worthless.

Today, I ask you to refrain from calling him crazy. Today, I ask you to think carefully about what it means if he lives with a mental illness. Today, I ask you to ask yourself who benefits if he is called crazy. Today, I ask you to ask yourself how you benefit if he is called crazy.

If he is mentally ill, then he deserves our pity, even if his mental illness is one of the nasty ones like narcissistic personality disorder. Mental Illness is not something you shake off. It is not a character flaw. It is a complicated system of conditioned behaviors and chemical reactions that affect the whole body. Mental Illness is a long-term health condition that seldom, perhaps never is cured. Instead, those of us who live with one (or more) adapt more or less successfully to living with it.

You can be a nice person and have a mental illness. You can be a bad person and have a mental illness. You can an extra heap of suffering because you live with a mental illness and also are from an oppressed group. You can be in denial about your illness if you are privileged enough that your extreme behavior is at the far end of what your allowed for your group. Old, white, straight, nominally Christian men can get away with a lot- and so it is easier for them to make it despite mood or personality disorder.

But unless you have been in the grips of an extended, ugly episode, you can’t know just how badly mental illness warps your personality. It brings out your worst. It will make shitty choices your only choices. Some of us will come out of an episode and grieve for the ways that mental illness harms those around us. Others will never, ever understand the impact of their actions, because of the nature of their illness. They may never be well, their condition is not episodic, or their illness makes it impossible to care for others. And some are shitty, selfish, and short sighted even at their healthiest.

So if he does live with a mental illness, he deserves our pity. It does not absolve him, but it makes it more complicated when we look at him.

But as I said, we shouldn’t be focusing on him. He is not the ring master. Power is never just about the figure head. Mental Illness is never just about the person who is ill.

To understand my political point, I have to get personal. Please understand, I am not simplifying the political to say that it is the same as my personal experience. I am juxtaposing to pull out patterns.

My mother lives with borderline personality disorder and epilepsy. She and her sisters suffered severe physical and emotional abuse. Momma is mean. Momma is emotionally abusive. Momma twists bits of half remembered information and outright untruths into bizarre, nonsensical narratives. And if I disagree, and I often disagree, then I am the enemy. I have been the enemy since I was a young child. (And I am only now realizing why the current political climate has set off an extended, paralyzing depressive spell). Momma is short sighted, selfish and shitty, even at her best.

But Momma is not the only reason my childhood sucked. Daddy also comes from an abusive family. Daddy lives with a mood disorder, though he has not been diagnosed, and if you add in his hoarding, he probably lives with at least two mood disorders. When I was a child, the adults in my life did not lie about my mother’s illness. They did not have fancy DSM words for it; they said she was crazy. They did not protect me and my sister from her. They did not help her live the best life she could. They held her in contempt. She was the bad guy.

You see, all the adults in the Bishop Family Compound were living with histories of abuse and mental illness. And they all got something out of her being the problem. They could feel better about themselves because at least they were sort of (not really) functioning. Everything my mother did, everything she liked, every time she was angry, it could be labeled wrong or bad because she was the crazy one.

My mother loves tomatoes, cottage cheese, and coffee. My mother loves Perry Mason and Disney. I was taught to hate those things because the crazy person liked them. It took years for me figure out what I actually like and dislike. (I like coffee. I like cooked but not raw tomatoes. I like cottage cheese in some things, but don’t really want to eat a cup of it. I can tolerate Disney and Perry Mason). I still am untangling myself from this warped, bullshit family narrative.

My father, my Nana (his mother) and my Uncle Eddie were less ill (at the time) than my mother. And they took unconscious advantage of her illness. They centered the drama of her illness because it meant that they did not have to see their own. My father is an amazing person, but he still uses my mother’s illness to hide from his own disordered moods, to excuse not getting help with his hoarding. He benefits if she’s the problem. I don’t think Daddy would consciously choose to do this. He also has been shaped by his history and his illness. But he, as the slightly more well person, bears a larger responsibility for trying not to replicate bullshit.

If we shift back to the political, what does it mean if the people working around Trump believe that he lives with a mental illness? If he has a mental illness, and they know it, they bear a larger responsibility for what is happening in our country. It is worth asking how they plan to use his possible illness as a way to excuse their bad behavior. If he is the bad guy, if he is called crazy, then he can be pushed out after they’ve used him as a wrecking ball.

If those of us in the center and on the left, call him crazy, if he is the bad guy, it is easier to ignore how we all are warped by poisonous, abusive systems. It is easier to believe that we do not benefit (to greater and lesser degree) from those systems. It is easier to pretend that what is happening now is new, not just an extreme expression of what has been happening all along. Our recent, former presidents,-Obama, both Bushes, and Clinton- were more stable than our current President, but all were culpable for supporting fucked up social, political and economic systems.

Today, I ask you to not call him crazy. Not just because it is offensive, but also because it hides the more complicated, painful truth that we all are complicit in crazy making systems of inequality.

Bad News Blues: Pondering how to make the news good

Today, my faithful and faithless followers, I spend a bit of time writing about the bad news blues. I should be working on a job application, so I can pay for the upkeep of this here Mission to Save the Whole Wide World and Little Old You, but that can keep.

Most mornings I check the news. I read email summaries from The New York Times. (I especially like their Evening Briefing). I pop over to NPR, then to BBC for a bit of an international perspective, and then I indulge in Huffington Post, the Cheetos of news sites. I used to spend more time scanning Facebook for news, because I appreciate the longer format pieces from sites like The Atlantic that some of my friends will post but find that my feed is too full of friends being fooled by fake news, or even worse by bullshit, Anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Also, I hate that Facebook thinks it knows what I want to see, often it is wrong.

Today, I cannot deal with how many people have posted stills from that video of Mr. Crutcher. I am weary. I want to know the news about Mr. Crutcher, but I don’t want to see countless shots of Mr. Crutcher frozen with his hands up.

Today, I wonder if we were required to write a short paragraph about what in the news we found most compelling, disturbing, and/or informative before we were allowed to post videos and photographs that shock or headlines that hook, would we be more thoughtful about what we post and how we post? I want to be informed. I want daily news and longer form investigative news pieces. I want opinion pieces and profiles. I want hard and soft news. I want some infotainment, but I don’t want the infotainment to be the headlines.

Today, I think the way we are doing news now is bad news for all of us. Capitalist consolidation, the internet and human nature have overemphasized “if it bleeds, it leads.” I don’t have an easy, 10 point with cute GIFs answer, but I think we are going to have to re-invest in and re-invent the fourth estate. I would love to hear what you think we should do to make some good news.

Today, my faithful and faithless followers, I ask you to do some simple things to make help combat the bad news blues. I ask you to be more careful about what you post. To read the article not just the headline. To check the facts. To not be swayed by the emotional gotcha headline. To avoid fake news sites. To consider what it means that, due to the Facebook echo chamber, many of us will see the same painful image over and over and over again.

Saving the Whole Wide World and Little Old You: A Reboot

Can I get an Amen?

Can I get an Awoman?

Can I get a some days it feels like we’re going to hell in a hand-basket, a hand-basket that is simultaneously on fire and flooding?

Life is hard. Life is complicated.

In these almost-but-not-quite End Times, we are facing catastrophe, calamity, chaos. The world is flooding. The world is burning. In the face of the devastating news about climate change’s changes speeding up, I have been pondering what to do.

In the midst of the ridiculous reality TV shitstorm that our political process turned into this year, I was asked by two people to reboot Bishop Bishop’s Mission to Save the Whole Wide World and Little Old You. They told me that they need to hear this voice. And so I say to all my faithful and faithless followers, today, I reboot Bishop Bishop’s Mission to Save the Whole Wide World and Little Old You.

Can I get an Amen?

Can I get an Awoman?

Can I get an about fucking time?!?

For much of my art career, and Bishop Bishop’s Mission is part of that career though I’ll admit that it also is something more than art, I have struggled with self-censorship. With feeling that there are too many voices, saying too many things, in almost the same way. It is so easy to stop making work. A large part of that is due to how much depression warped my creative process, how much depression, despite my being more well than not, still shapes me. Some of it is that there really is a insane amount of garbage online. Some of it is that I let an MFA program’s bullshit narrative about what makes something worthwhile as art get under my skin. Some of it is that I am lazy as hell and a procrastinator. Some of it is that I am afraid. Some of it is that I am mad as hell about the fact that my main art making medium, performance, is unlikely to ever pay the bills, that I continually have to restage my Jill-of-All-Trades skills and crooked career path to make it acceptable for employers. Some of it is that jerks stomped on my artist territory- and I have been indulging in an extended temper tantrum. Some of it may be part of my process, as painful as that is.

This is the second, long dormant period. The first one was four years in my twenties. This current one has been more or less five years. Now, I don’t stop being engaged with art making. In my twenties, I furiously wrote though I couldn’t finish anything, I took lots of classes, and I did some stage managing. In my forties, I have taught performance, written a bit here and there, performed in a few things, took part in two 24 hour Play Fests, wrote and directed a play, produced a show for another artist, and done some storytelling. But I have been more or less inactive for the past three years. And sometimes, touching art with my tippy toes hurts more than it helps.

I want to wade in the water. God/dess, please trouble the water.

I keep committing to diving in. But it is hard to start again. Especially when people have seen me fail, time and time again, to keep on keeping on. I have so many projects I have not quite finished. I have announced some projects as coming soon, over and over. But the projects are like a mirage of water on a hot road. I never get there. I share this because I think we all are facing this particular pain. We keep committing to making the world more just, more sustainable, more artful, more loving. And we fail to keep on keeping on. We chase the mirage, but never get there. And now we are faced with catastrophic consequences for our failures.

We don’t get guarantees that what we do in the world will help more than it will hurt. I think this may be the hardest lesson I have learned.

I have to wade in the water with no guarantees that I will see the light. No guarantees that I will help more than hurt. I cannot really save the whole wide world and little old you. But I can wade in. The water calls.

Today, I ask you to wade in the water with me. I will write up some specifics in another dose of The Good (and Not So Good) Words.

I ask you to wade in the water with me. Help save the whole wide world and little old me. Help save the whole wide world and little old you. The water calls. The fire burns.

Can I get an amen?

Can I get an awomen?

Can I get a a pair of waders and a fire extinguisher?

You know I can. You know I can.

Take care and keep on keeping on.

Microfracture 3rd Day After

Less drugs, but oddly, more sleeping. Wish I could get my own glass of water. Friend dropped by and I couldn’t focus. I sleep and read and work my way to the bathroom to pee. Still no poop. Ah, how I want to poop. In some ways, I move much easier, but now I’m unsure, what is safe. I know what I can’t do. But I am not so sure what I can do. I am tired from being stuck in one position while napping.

I periodically check the news. I mourn for Paris, I mourn for Beruit. I find that I cannot be bothered with the rhetoric. Huge heaping slabs of not so tasty words. 

Microfracture 2nd day after

I felt sorry for myself today. Trapped in the house, stiff and sore, and lonely, on a bit of a bluesy trip from the pain meds. Things felt unreal. But the world continues to spin out atrocities, which also feel unreal. Tonight, I cannot write about the surgery. I think about History, & War, & Paris. I dream of Josephine Baker singing & dancing. Joy & pain. 

Microfracture 1st Day After

I will write more of the why, what and how of the microfracture surgery when I feel a bit better. Surgery went well. Yesterday was hard but not impossible. Only a few teary moments of absolute frustration. Two months on crutches without putting any body weight on my left leg will be no small feat, but I am already finding my feet, so to speak. We bought a toilet seat riser thing, and Daddy put in a metal handle on the wall today, and getting up and down from toilet became much easier. I crowed with glee when I could go to toilet on my own. Small pleasures.

I received very disappointing news about a job that I wanted. I cried a bit, no doubt helped by the meds. But now I am calm. My first priority is healing. Everything else, I will take as it comes. Next week, I will begin applying again. I’m taking care and doing my best to keep on keeping on.

Microfracture future

It is 5:30 am. I’ve been up since 3 am. Owls are vocalizing to one another. One of cats cleans herself. In about an hour, B will drive me to the surgery center. In four hours, I will be knocked out and the surgeon will clean out the crumbly, crunchy cartilage, drill into my bone marrow to let blood clot to creat scar tissue that will be almost, but not quite as good as the original. I will be on crutches for two months. I won’t be able to put any weight on it two months. It will feel much better long before I’m allowed to walk normally. I will have to be patient. I am not patient. I’ve decide to make this process a spiritual practice. 

I have an the intention of writing a dose of the Good (and Not So Good) Words every day while I recover from knee surgery, even if just a sentence or two. I will detail the backstory later.

Scripture is where you find it. I’ve decided to find it here. 

Filling The Thank Full: Second Sunday 2015

Today, I am grateful for Florida seasons. 

The temperature has shifted– today, the high was only 82 F or so, tonight it will get down to 63 F or so, giving us a taste of Fall. The temperatures will go back up, though not quite as high, as the next batch of rain comes rolling in (the rain keeps falling this summer). This taste is not what those of you accustomed  to more defined seasons would call Fall, but for Floridians, it is a hint of the hope that summer will let go. And we savor this short cool snap. 

I plan to savor the Florida Fall in all its regional specificity. Since it may be the last fall I spend here for three or more years. I am moving to California in November. The San Francisco Bay Area has very different weather than Florida, though it also does not has the classic, clearly defined four seasons of the Northeast. I plan to savor the weather in California, but I will miss Florida weather.

Today, I am grateful for Florida weather.

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Community Cant: The necessary but flawed fantasy of what community can do

A month or so ago, someone I worked closely with died in one of those devastating ways. Several, in their social media posts, reminded people that if they are hurting to reach out to the community that cares, to call a crisis line, to do anything but what this person had done.

This piece of The Good (and Not So Good) Words is not about the person who died. This piece is about why any of us who have suffered in that particular way may not, will not, sometimes cannot reach out to the community that believes it cares. It cares, but the nature of that caring is more complicated than we want to accept. Communities are flawed, even the ones on the left that think somehow they have escaped the status games and power plays that govern all human societies.

I cannot speak for the person who died, but I can speak myself. For all the reasons why I have not reached out to community when contemplating my own death. First, let me show you a bad moment from a few weeks ago. A moment like this does not happen much anymore, but it still does happen. It used to happen everyday.

Devil in Blue
I’m battling the Blue Devil today. It’s been a while. Oh, the Blue Devil has crept up & whispered hateful somethings to me from time to time. S/he doesn’t want me to ever forget how much s/he can take away from me. But the Blue Devil hasn’t been the star of my show for awhile. Today, the Blue Devil hogs the limelight.

Can I explain the way that all words become fraught? Missteps and errors are magnified. The consequences for being human, and thus flawed, are dire. The reasonable brain argues, “No one will die. Yes, it would have been better not to have said or done that. But no one will die.” The disordered brain, pricked by the Blue Devil, responds, “I want to die when I say or do this. I have to die because I said or did that.” The contemptuous part, also egged on by the Blue Devil, sneers “You’re so melodramatic. Don’t you know that others really are suffering?” The reasonable brain reminds me, “You’ve been here before. You’re okay.”

I tried to tell someone on that very bad day, a bit about how bad it was. She stiffened. She retreated. It hard to stay still, to be present, when someone hurts. We don’t know what to say. And several weeks later, I am okay, though not as well as I would like. I am okay, but let’s be honest, if this cycle spins often or fast enough, then I won’t be, because I haven’t been. The problem with having been a regular patron of this particular brain state, is that I know there are no guarantees, that I could get caught and not get out next time. Once the brain has cracked hard enough, often enough, it is forever fragile. The option to opt out never is off the table completely, even at my strongest. At my most well, I almost can understand why others are baffled by someone’s choice to kill her or himself. Almost. I now go months at a time without wanting to die. But I haven’t gone a year yet without the Blue Devil being an unwelcome guest.

Pride goes before the fall.

Those of us who for lived with these sorts of painful loops for more than a few years think we are good at managing them. We’re not. But our egos can’t accept that we can’t manage it. Pride. We often do not tell others when the loops starts spinning. We don’t want to bother people. It will be over soon. We don’t want people to see us as weak. We need to feel strong and together. And many believe we are stronger than we are, even if they know some, small part of our pain, because they want to believe the facade as much as we do.

Now I have systems. I go to therapy at least once every two months even when well, because the warning signs need to be caught early. Recently, due to the stress of an upcoming big move, I started going every two weeks. If I need to, I will go every week. Medicines don’t work for me. I tried for years. But good sleep, good food & good movement make a big difference. It all makes a big difference, but these systems cannot completely protect me, thus the recent episode.

Fake it ’til you make it.

Few people know when the Blue Devil is back in my life, and for the few I will tell, I soften how bad it is. They may know I having a hard time, but not how hard. I have learned that most people, even caring people, can’t take it. Most don’t want to believe that their friend, this person who is so smart, so bright, so competent, so vivacious, is thinking about dying. Also, I sound so reasonable about it all. I intellectually understand the process. I even sound wise, from time to time. “Sure, Sheila’s having a hard time, but she knows what’s happening. She has it under control. She’ll be okay.” It took me years to understand that I couldn’t think my way out of it. I fooled many therapists. I necessarily fooled employers. I fool my friends. I fool myself.

They’ll believe it, when they see it.

For complicated reasons, at work, I became the news source about the memorial service for the(former) coworker who died. And somehow, I was their confessor. People told me “He was so good. He was thoughtful. He was together. I never knew. I never saw. I never would have thought. How could he . . .?” I tried to point to one person that we have a fantasy about what a person with a mood disorder or substance abuse problem will be like. That fantasy always makes the person’s suffering visible. They have to be marked by their suffering in ways that the rest of us can see. We have to know. Our communities, even the lefty ones, don’t like to be reminded how hidden this suffering can be, that we are blind to much of the pain our colleagues, friends and loved ones carry. It is intolerable to us that people suffering this way are just like us. We don’t want to believe that we could be carrying that pain, that we might vulnerable. I don’t think this is a rational response, but I think there are good reasons that our communities have a hard time accepting that this kind of death is available to any of us. Suicide is contagious. Communities protect themselves against it.

A slippery slope paved with good intentions

Our communities fail time and time again in the face of major mood disorders and/or substance abuse. I want you to understand how community has failed me. How it continues to fail me. And why I or someone else might not turn to it.

I will be blunt. I may not be fair. I may be unreasonable. My conclusions may be shaky. But if you feel attacked, or defensive, maybe you have failed me or someone like me. I know I have. I have. I bet you have, too.

While it is true that I isolate myself during the worst periods of my mood disorder, I pull back from my community, I stop showing up because it is too hard to pretend, my community also pulls back from me. During a bad spell about ten years ago, I was honest with some about why I was pulling back from the activist community, though I rarely shared just how bad it was. I couldn’t stay in contact, and my community didn’t stay in contact with me. Yes, it sucks when you have to do all the work, and the other person rarely, if ever responds. But it is not about you. Not if you believe that community can help. Yet someone I know, who was diagnosed with a physical illness, an illness that began to have visible effects on his body, well, that community stayed in contact with him. It is so much easier when the illness is physical.

There are times, when it has been at its worst, when I wished I had cancer. Then people would bring me meals, they would understand why self care (teeth brushing, eating) can be so difficult, they would hang out with me and not expect me to do anything but be, they would keep trying even if I wasn’t reciprocating. Then they would understand just how devastating this illness was for me. Oh, they still would fuck up. Communities also have a hard time with physical illness. But my experience is that even the well meaning, even the bright can’t deal with severe mood disorders. Community will chose the easier path.

Two for you, none for me. Three for you, none for me. All for you, none for me.

After the wreck of a seven year relationship in my 20’s, due in no small part to my out of control mood disorder, my ex got to keep the community. Now some of it is that I moved away. Some of it was they didn’t realize what was going on because we both hid it. Some of it was that in the midst of a particularly bad episode, I couldn’t stay in contact. I was focused on more important things, like trying to find the energy to brush my teeth & feed myself, or to make it through hours when I was so agitated I wanted to rip my skin off (this is not an exaggeration) or was thinking about various ways I could die. But some of it was that it is easier for them to stay friends with the person who wasn’t caught in the hell of mixed states.

I understand that it was complicated. Yes, it was a messy breakup. Yes, people tend to choose who to stay friends with after even less messy breakups. Yes, we were young. But we aren’t now. I am not angry at him, but sometimes I resent that he got to keep the community. Over the years, I have rebuilt friendships with individual members of that crew. Occasionally, they all get together. I’m never invited, though I see the photos of Facebook. I was part of that community for years- this community of left leaning, smart as hell, New College types. And not one them seems to be aware that my not being included in these reunions is an example of how community does not deal well with mood disorders.

I find this somewhat painful, but I cultivate equanimity. I get that it is really hard for others. I understand that some probably don’t know that as I got to know them, way back in the early 90’s, I also was starting a journey through 20 years of unrelenting mood disorder. This mood disorder shaped how they saw me, this mood disorder made it difficult for me to connect. But some of them do know, at least somewhat. And still I am not invited.

Even with life jackets, people still drown.

Here is a hard, hard truth to hold. Even when communities do step in, they may not save that person.

My cousin Robby died by suicide in October 2008. He was going to a doctor. He had a therapist. He was taking medicine. He had a stable job and a stable schedule. He exercised regularly. He took care of his health. And his community was there for him. He lived with his brother, who knew what was going on. His friends also knew and were rallying to help him. The night before he died, he worked out with friends. He knew he needed to ground himself in those social connections. At 3 in the morning, he tried to call another friend. He reached out when he was suffering. His brother left for work early the next morning, and Robby, in a moment of terrible pain, decided to shoot himself.

It is almost the anniversary of his death. Some years, it feels more distant. This year, after two deaths by suicide in my circle of friends and family, it feels very close. I grieve.

Community Cant/Community can’t

My illness is not cured. It is in remission, kind of, sort of. It will flare up again. It could be quite bad. When the Blue Devil comes knocking on my door, and s/he will, I doubt I will tell you. I have been punished enough by this illness, and by your inability to be present for it. I have been punished enough.

Filling the Thank Full: Fourth Sunday June 2015

Today I am thankful

that I gave myself a break after hard two year push to finish the MLIS (I graduated May 2nd). I let myself goof off for the better part of two months. I needed time to unwind. Now I pick projects up joyfully. I have writing projects, performance projects, house projects & health projects. And I’m slowly figuring out how to schedule the time to do the work. The next year is going to be amazing in terms of what I get done.
for clean clothes, fresh washed sheets, a freezer full of homemade chili (8 weeks worth of dinner.

for Supreme Court rulings that bend toward justice &  all the people celebrating & for the people saying that it is not enough.

that I finally am beginning to use all these damn devices to my advantage. I don’t want to spent all my time on device, but I do want to make that time work well for me.

that I can afford to make donations to causes I believe in. 

for theater. I love it more than I can say. I love teaching it, writing it, directing it, performing in it. I love watching it & thinking about it.

for writing groups. I recently joined a speculative fiction writing group. I love reading other people’s work & talking to a group about what works & doesn’t work. 

for afternoon thunderstorms.

that I know so many amazing people do so many amazing things.