Tag Archive | Memoir

“In The Sanctuary of Outcasts,” Neil White.

in-the-sanctuary-of-outcasts

Carville Louisiana

Neil White was a supremely successful southern business man, first a reporter, than a publisher, with a beautiful wife, lovely children, gorgeous homes and a yacht. He was a leader in the business community, contributed to many charities, and was an elite philanthropist, who traveled the world in high style.

White’s world came crashing down when he was arrested for kiting million dollar checks and committing financial fraud by the FBI. White was sentenced to 18 months incarceration in Carville Louisiana, a picturesque, verdant, small, community in Louisiana.

It was not until White arrived at the locus of his incarceration, that he realized he was to serve his time in the nation’s only remaining Leprosorium, for people who were disfigured by Hansens disease. Many of the people in the facility had contracted the disease as children and were living out their entire lives in Carville, to protect them from the cruelties of the outside world. Most had been there for decades.

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Other white-collar criminal types were also incarcerated at Carville. One was new White’s roomy, a Russian born physician and pharmacist, convicted of Medicare fraud for using an compound banned by the FDA, but quite effective for weight loss. He estimated that he had billed Medicaid between $15-$37 million for these useful services. He was sentenced to 15 years in Carville. He was an very interesting man.

At White’s first prisoner group meeting upon his arrival, led, of course, by a priest, another newly arrived con-man criminal, tells the priest group leader, that he didn’t want to “become no leopard.”

Shortly after this first fun group orientation, White receives notification that his wife has, understandably, filed for divorce.

So starts this absolutely incredible memoir. It’s reminded me in some ways of Thomas Mann’s, “Magic Mountain,” except that Mann’s sanatorium was in a TB Asylum in Switzerland, not in a Leprosorium in Louisiana.
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White is an astoundingly good writer, and he strips himself raw in this memoir, examining himself and his life. He enters the leprosorium, an arrogant and self-involved man, and he leaves it profoundly changed by the experience.

The book is not a depressing read. It is incredible, at times uplifting, sometimes tragically sad, but also moving. It is, of course, also true.

The residents the reader meets who live in the Carville facility seem to exist in an alternate universe, separate entirely from our world and ways. The reality of people sequestered away for their entire lives for a treatable, manageable, disease is heartbreaking. More so when you consider the separations and horrific losses this would have necessitated earlier in their lives. By the time White enters the facility most of the permanent residents had lived there for decades. This was their home.

At times, similar to when reading Mann’s Magic Mountain, I felt the residents sense of safety, their adjustment to their completely removed sanctuary, even if it meant they were outcasts.

After all, don’t most  people feel like a bit of an outcast at some time or another in their life?

Shakespeare certainly did. He wrote Sonnet 29 about it:

SONNET 29

“When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries.”

But then he remembers, no matter how outcast he might be in “fortune and in men’s eye’s,” he is not an outcast …..

“For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.”

Something similar to this occurs in this book .  Some of the people in the sanctuary, form bonds of friendship, respect and emotional attachment to each other, that results in an unexpected community, that is quite moving to read about.

In fact, later when I learned they might move the residents out of the only home they had known for many decades, I became quite upset, thinking you can’t rob these people who have suffered too much, of their only sanctuary.

White forms a close friendship with Ella Bounds, an 88 year old black woman and double amputee, who contracted leprosy as a child. She is a dignified and impressive person, who clearly had a powerful effect on White, as she does on the reader. There are more people and stories here that will at times humor you, possibly anger you, definitely surprise you, but in the end, move you profoundly.

White leaves after eighteen months, a changed person, and the reader is a better person also, for having read this book.

Highly recommend.

For more reading on the history of the Carville Facility and the current location of the present facility, please see:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Hansen’s_Disease_Museum

“The Memory Chalet,” by Tony Judt

The Memory Chalet
The Memory Chalet by Tony Judt
The Memory Chalet
by Tony Judt

5908500

Cindy Knoke‘s review

Sep 23, 12  
Such a haunting and beautiful book by such a brilliant man.While dying of ALS Judt envisions heaven as a train on which he rides continuously through the Alps. This evocative imagery has stayed with me and probably always will.While becoming progressively “locked in” by ALS, Judt’s mind remains very much alive. He escapes into “the memory chalet,” a Swiss chalet he stayed in on holidays as a child. He recalls in his memory every room, nook and cranny, the smells, the food, the snow, the happy memories.He does this with other memories of his life as well, and shares these memories with the reader. We are the better for it.Judt who had made such a huge contribution to all of us through his life long scholarship, continues to make a huge contribution to us as he dies. He let’s us realize the power of our minds to help us escape from intolerable circumstances and shows us that memories can be almost as powerful as reality.

Somehow, through brutal honesty, and no-sugar coating, he makes the process of dying from something as horrific as ALS seem less terrifying. His memories provide great comfort to him and to the reader.

Highly recommend this inspiring and moving book.

I wish Judt endless sunny skies  as he rides over the Alps on his never-stopping train.

 

 

“Brooklyn Zoo: The Education of a Psychotherapist,” Darcy Lockman

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Brooklyn Zoo: The Education of a Psychotherapist
by Darcy Lockman

5908500

Cindy Knoke‘s review

Sep 06, 12  ·  edit

I wish someone had helped this author put off writing this book until she got some more experience and insight. I feel like someone should have protected her from publishing this. She seems like a caring person, with good intentions, but remarkably naïve. I’m trying here. I did not dislike her. I’m not angry at her. I am just sort of chagrined by the whole thing. Maybe she just needs time and more experience before attempting this?Here are some examples of statements that dismayed me:Dr Wolfe, a psychologist supervisor, makes a totally obvious inappropriate sexual reference to her regarding her blushing:

She says, “…I couldn’t stop myself from thinking like a therapist. My training had taught me to pay attention to associations….I believed Dr Wolfe believed my blushing a sign like the interviewee in his story, that I was harboring purient thoughts. Given our age difference, I hoped he’d only be flattered, but in moments like those I often felt I’d rather not be privy to the ways of knowing of my field. I certainly was not a mind reader (she certainly is not) as strangers I met at parties sometimes seemed to fear, but like a telepath I did have clues to bits of others private thoughts that a non-psychologist was spared. I guessed I could never go back to being that, and my chest filled with regret.”

Where to start with this? How narcissistic is this? If a rock fell on her toe and it hurt, would her “special ways of knowing” help her realize telepathically that it hurt?

Her chest filled with regret?

I do get that strangers might fear her at parties.

Come on, how many women have sexually inappropriate things said to them from clueless horny men, often in positions of authority? Does it require “telepathy” and special “psychologist ways of knowing,” to identify? We all understand this and pretend to ignore it as a strategy. Recognizing this is nothing special. Sadly.

Sadly, I also completely get why her supervisor gave her a bunch of 2’s on a 1-5 Likert scale rating her performance. I wish she did.

Plus, I really didn’t know anyone believed anymore that schizophrenia’s origins came during the first year of life from “not achieving”… “basic trust and faith in the fact of (your) existence.” I thought the “schizophrenigenic” mother thing got debunked decades ago, when genetic and biochemical correlates to schizophrenia became clear. “Auditory Hallucinations result from the projection of the pathological introject of the mother.” It goes on and on. She is bogged down by psychoanalytic excess.

Plus if you want to be thought of as a caring therapist, you shouldn’t title your book, “Brooklyn Zoo,” implying your clients are animals, your colleagues zookeepers?

She is out of touch with her patients, too involved with herself and her ego, and too critical of allied professionals and colleagues, like other psychologists, psychiatrists, and clinical social workers, even recreational therapists for gosh sakes.

She lacked the experience or competence to write a meaningful book about a therapist’s perceptions. It frightens me when professional reviews say things like, “Want to know what your therapist is thinking? Read this book.”

This isn’t what your therapist is thinking, trust me on this. Bottom line, this book needs to be written by a better therapist, with more experience.

Someone should have protected her from publishing this.

“The Cure For Anything is Saltwater,” by Mary South

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Mary aboard her trawler Bossanovaimages (10)

The Cure For Anything Is Salt Water
by Mary South 

5908500
I confess to having a weakness for non-fiction books about women who check out of their “normal” hum- drum lives, do interesting things, preferably on their own.
I admire this.
Mary South is an interesting woman who did an interesting thing, on her own. She up and quit her job because it was annoying her, and wasn’t working for her, and found a better life.
I’m always am in favor of this if it’s not working for you and you can do it.
Plus I did it, so I’m biased.
She said re: her job environment, “”I was in a contamination zone and I felt panicky about getting out.”
Many of us can relate?
Anyhoo, Mary quit her successful publishing job, took a tough nine week mariners course, met some really interesting people in the process, like a successful high powered attorney, with chronic insomnia, hypertension and a drinking problem who also chucked his job.
“Good for him,” I thought.
In the midst of this she bought a boat.
Your thinking sailing boat, I know, and maybe your thinking, “Oh I’m tired of all these lucky people who buy yachts and sail around the world. The oceans must be littered with all these unemployed people sailing around in them.”
Probably, really, not. Although it does seem like this, to me too.
Anyway, she didn’t buy a yacht. I had to look this up to get it right, she bought a motorized trawler.
Google it. .
She motored it with John from Florida to New York. He is the smart attorney she met in the mariner’s class, who chucked his job.
This trip is what the book is about mostly, but also her life and relationships.
She is interesting and writes well, for example, “The worst of the (storm) front just turned and wandered off, like an exhausted bully with attention deficit disorder.”
She is a person who wrote a memoir who I would actually like to meet and that is saying a lot. Many of these authors, I think, great memoir, probably don’t want to meet you. Augusten Burroughs comes to mind.
Love his books, a lot. Don’t want to meet him.
Anyway, she seems interesting and her book is good. Augusten’s are better….but she is probably a lot nicer.
Recommend if you are interested in this sort of thing.
It isn’t like climbing Mt Everest and being John Krakauer.
But then, what is?

“The Glass Castle,” by Jeanette Walls

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
The Glass Castle
by Jeannette Walls

Cindy Knoke‘s review

Aug 13, 12  · 
This has to be the best memoir I have read.
Jeanette Walls has a lot guts.
She worked as an entertainment editor for MSNBC when she wrote this book, hob-nobbing with celebrities and such. No one she worked with could ever have imagined this successful, attractive, bright, high-functioning woman, could ever have come from the background and childhood that she did.
This is what makes her gutsy.
She told everyone.
She shreds off the patina of her social status and tells us in heartbreakingly beautiful prose what her childhood was like She doesn’t minimize or gloss over things. She gives us the whole sad story.
Two, umm, “eccentric” parents? Basically an artsy, but mentally ill mother. An gadget-gizmo-tinker, alcoholic dad. A vagabond childhood of continuous movement and upheaval. Being destitute, eating out of trash cans, wearing ragged clothes, worrying about her siblings, caring for them with parents whose heads were someplace else.
The family ends up in horrific circumstances in a West Virginia mining town in her father’s childhood home with relatives straight out of an Alfred Hitchcock horror flick.
Yet, she doesn’t really describe it like this. She includes all the above unflinchingly.
But so much more.
There is love in this book. Lot’s of it. Love for her parents, and her brothers and sisters. She describes her parents in many ways, affectionately. She recognizes the creativity and intelligence behind their oddity. She describes her father teaching her about science and astronomy. She describes her mother and her positive thinking and her love of art.
This is what makes this author so unusual and admirable. Her memoir is beautifully written and un-self pitying. It is a tour-de-force.
Highly recommend..

“The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness” Elyn Saks

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Elyn Saks is a remarkable and impressive person. She is a law professor At USC who has schizophrenia and is an advocate for the rights of involuntarily hospitalized psychiatric patients. She is an expert in mental health law and has a special interest in limiting the use of involuntary physical restraint on psychiatric patients which she is interested in due to her own terrifying experiences being involuntarily hospitalized and restrained. She is also an Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry at UCSD and recipient of a MacArthur Foundation genius grant which she is using to fund the “Saks Institute for Mental Health Law, Policy & Ethics.”

 
Saks bravery and honesty in presenting herself and her experience is remarkably compelling. Although this book chronicles Saks frightening experience with her disease and the societal response to it, it is ultimately an inspiring book that will help to educate people about the realities of the disease of schizophrenia and provide hope to people struggling with it. She is quoted as saying, “there is a tremendous need to implode the myths about mental illness, to put a face on it…”
This is precisely what she has done. Elyn Saks is a magnificent role model and this is an excellent and empowering book.
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Elyn Saks

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail, by Cheryl Strayed

 
 
 
by Cheryl Strayed(Goodreads Author)

5908500

Cindy Knoke‘s review

Aug 11, 12  · It is noteable that this author chose the name “Strayed” for herself, because stray she certainly does in her life choices, emotions, and finally solo on to the Pacific Coast Trail to hike it, by herself.
Initially the book annoyed me and I even decided to stop reading it. Did I really want to read another memoir about a sex addicted, heroin injected, husband dumping, mother obsessed woman, who made up her name and maybe her memoir?
Well, yes.
It was her decision to deal with these, uh, problems, by hiking the Pacific Crest Trail that hooked me. It was a novel approach to some seriously common problems.
Plus she really doesn’t try to make herself look good in this book at all. She is unfailingly honest, even about the really embarrassing stuff, like how woefully unprepared she was to hike the trail and how many really dumb mistakes she made while doing it.
So this book, like this author grows on you, and once she is on the trail, boy are you rooting for her!
It was a subtle change for me, from not liking her much at first, to genuine admiration that slowly builds. All the while though she stays humble, pointing out to you how imperfect she really is.
Good for you Cheryl. You did it. You strayed back on course with your hike, this book, and your life.