Stan’s pyjamas

Stan was a very naughty man because he winked at his dear wife before dying and she had no chance to respond.
That is so typical of Stan, she said to Annie, her best friend.
Well, at least he went peacefully.Annie replied in a kindly tone
And to think I had just bought him 6 new pairs of pyjamas.
You can’t blame him for that.You always buy too much, Annie murmured politely
Well, I suppose I like to be prepared, Mary muttered.I felt so helpless as he went thinner and thinner.
QqWhat are you going to do with them all, Annie whispered.
There’s only one solution.I’ll have to find a man to fit the pyjamas and marry him
That’s a strange way of choosing a new husband, Annie said in a shocked voice.
In the end however rational we try to be, life is down to luck.
Yes, didn’t Churchill say, chance favours the prepared mind?
It wasn’t Churchill, it was Blaise Pascal.Mary told her in of voice rich with wisdom
Well, why not marry him? He sounds intriguing
He’s dead, Mary responded succinctly
Oh, what a pity.He sounded just right for you, Annie said tearfully.Are we going to the funeral?
I am afraid he died before we were born, Mary said in an anguished tone.
Well, he’s no use.Anyone else you fancy?How about Dante? Annie screamed
Which Dante do you mean?I thought he was Italian, Mary informed
her.
It’s not far by plane, though Brexit might be a problem, Annie said wisely.
Let’s be realistic.No dead, great genius will be revived by the Lord to marry me.Mary said as if she were lecturing to a big class on differential geometry and its use in economics.No wonder we had the Depression
That might be blasphemy, Annie informed her.After all, if God is omnipotent he can do anything at all.
To me, he sometimes seems incompetent, said Mary wildly.And of all the lonely people in the world, why should he aid me in my grief? Anway male geniuses are very demanding.I think a cook or chef might be more practical.
Oh, look, we’ve missed Mass again.
We’ve not been for 40 years and just when we decided to go we started talking about these powerful creatures and a husband for you
Never mind, why don’t we wait till Xmas?
And so say all of us.

Reflections

I knew myself in his face when he lived

But now I have no mirror,I’m alone.

I learned myself reflected in his love.

An actual mirror seems like a dull stone

I was alive when mirrored his eyes

For those who hate us do not give us life.

What’s the answer when when the loved one dies?

Without a husband there can be no wife.

All alone my blood seems not to flow.

The wellspring of my heart is arid,dry.

My hands curl up protective on my heart

I have no tears and so I cannot cry.

Yet I bleed inside from every part.

So where is my reflection, where my grace?

I feel I cannot live without his face.

Nervous Breakdowns Can Be Good – The Atlantic

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2021/03/bring-back-the-nervous-breakdown/617788/

The term nervous breakdown first appeared in a 1901 medical treatise for physicians. “It is a disease of the whole civilized world,” its author wrote. This disquisition built on the work of a Gilded Age doctor, George Miller Beard, who posited that we all had a set amount of nerve force, which could be depleted, like a battery, by the stress of modern life. Beard had argued that an epidemic of nervous disease had been unleashed by technology and the press, which accelerated everything. “The chief and primary cause of this … very rapid increase of nervousness is modern civilization,” he wrote in American Nervousness in 1881.

This idea of the nervous breakdown as a natural response to modern life gained currency through the go-go 1920s, and then achieved cultural ubiquity with the economic collapse of the 1930s. “Is a nervous breakdown a sign of weakness?” asked a 1934 book titled Nervous Breakdown.

Not at all. You have put up a good fight, but the odds were too heavy against you … Nature has warned you and given you respite. The breakdown is a definite indication that you are still functioning, and have within you the material for recovery.

Famous cases illustrated this. Rockefeller’s best-remembered achievements—the national parks, the art museums, Rockefeller Center—came after his breakdown in 1904, which sent him to the south of France for six months’ relief from strain. Weber wrote The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism while prostrated by an excess of the very work ethos he described. (He recovered and resumed teaching just in time to die of the 1918 pandemic flu.)

But by the mid-1960s, when the Rolling Stones recorded “19th Nervous Breakdown,” the concept was getting pushed to the margins by the rise of mass-market, prescription-driven psychiatry (presaged by another Stones single, “Mother’s Little Helper”). The developing field had little use for an affliction that could be treated without the assistance of physicians. Diseases like major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder—diagnosed and treated by specialized doctors dispensing specialized drugs—replaced the nervous-breakdown catchall.

This did quite a bit of good: Many people with psychological ailments gained access to medical treatments that could be effective. But something important was lost.The nervous breakdown provided sanction for a pause and reset that could put you back on track.

“The very general and ill-defined characteristics of the nervous breakdown were its benefits,” Peter Stearns, a social and cultural historian of the nervous breakdown at George Mason University, told me. “It played a function we’ve at least partially lost. You didn’t have to visit a psychiatrist or a psychologist to qualify for a nervous breakdown. You didn’t need a specific cause. You were allowed to step away from normalcy. The breakdown also signaled a temporary loss of functioning, like a car breaking down. It may be in the shop, sometimes recurrently, but it didn’t signal an inherited or permanent state such as terms like bipolar or ADHD might signal today.”

The nervous breakdown was not a medical condition, but a sociological one. It implicated a physical problem—your “nerves”—not a mental one. And it was a onetime event, not a permanent condition. It provided sanction for a pause and reset that could put you back on track. But as psychology eclipsed sociology in the late 20th century, it turned us inward to our personal moods and thoughts—and away from the shared economic and social circumstances that produced them.

“The psychiatric approach tends to say that you have a specific problem that other people don’t have, and we’re here to fix your problem independent of what’s happening to everyone else,” Stearns noted. The effect is atomizing even in normal times. Today, “everyone is so isolated that you have even less sense than usual as to what the collective mood is. So we may need something like the nervous breakdown—something that is less medically precise but encapsulates the way people are encountering the moment.”

But in a society reflexively suspicious of rest, getting a restorative break tends to require a formal mental-health diagnosis. Otherwise, you risk getting called a slacker. That’s what happened to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez a couple of years ago when she announced she was taking a few days off for “self-care” after a grueling election. “Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez hasn’t yet started her new job,” Fox News blared, “but she’s already taking a break.”

This got me thinking that maybe we need to bring back the nervous breakdown, to protect the nation’s collective reserve of nerve force at a time when it’s stretched so thin. What would the modern version of a culturally accepted, nervous-breakdown-precipitated time-out look like?

A century ago, the famous Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan marketed itself as a “Temple of Health.” Under a canopy of glass and hanging ferns, bathed in sunlight and the super-fresh air provided by elaborate ducts, patients—the diseased and the nervous; distinctions blurred—engaged in quiet conversation or opulent repose. In one building was the gymnasium, flanked on either side by the hydrotherapy wings. Other rooms housed vibrating chairs and therapeutic light baths. Outside, naturalist talks. And in the dining room, staff serenading diners with the Chewing Song. (The sanitarium’s superintendent, John Harvey Kellogg, believed that each bite of food should be chewed no fewer than 40 times; to aid digestion, he had invented a special breakfast cereal, cornflakes.)

Sanitariums like Battle Creek became places to restore whatever ailed the body or spirit. To be sure, quackery abounded: Kellogg believed in spinal douches and eugenics. But with the right combination of relaxation, engagement, and yogurt enemas, you could leave feeling like Rockefeller, who came for a stay in 1922.

Sometimes, the treatments even worked. “People responded to the fact that something was being done for them,” Edward Shorter, a medical historian and the author of How Everyone Became Depressed: The Rise and Fall of the Nervous Breakdown, told me. “The placebo is a very powerful treatment.” And the experience of communal recuperation prevented the social isolation of private seclusion.

But the cost of a sanitarium stay in the 1930s could run as high as $3,000 a week in today’s dollars, putting it outside the reach of the comfortably middle class. That would still be true today. And even if we could somehow eliminate the financial hurdles, we’d be faced with the cultural ones that Weber traced to Ben Franklin—time is money, idleness is sloth, and all that. Anything that smacked of, say, government-subsidized spa days, no matter how healthful those might be, would be considered un-American.When Daimler employees take time off, they can opt to have their incoming emails deleted on arrival.

So rather than the nervous breakdown writ large, we could introduce a more modestly scaled version of it: a series of buffers, firebreaks, or (to use a bankruptcy metaphor) bridge loans to stave off the full Chapter 11 scenario. The French lent us reculer pour mieux sauter—literally “to withdraw in order to make a better jump.” We could slip something more muscularly American, like power break or power-up, into our national lexicon. “Boss, I need a power-up” isn’t an admission of weakness; it’s a simple statement of fact. Achieving widespread cultural acceptance of the practice may take less time than you’d expect—consider how swiftly paternity leave traversed the gap from unheard-of to expected.

The mini-break could insinuate itself into American life in bite-size increments. When I asked an intensive-care nurse what a power break might look like for her, she said it could be small. A two-minute “debrief” after a death in the unit—a moment to stop, reflect, and connect with the constant and familiar—would go a long way in helping someone regroup before they have to lurch to the next crisis. Though the psychic needs of an ICU nurse are particular, the basic concept is generalizable.

Adam Waytz, a management professor at Northwestern, says that to be effective, breaks should entail true disconnection from work—which is to say we need to be able to slip off our electronic leashes. Both France and Spain have made “the right to disconnect” from after-hours work communication an actual legal right. Daimler, the German auto manufacturer, may have gone the furthest of any company toward establishing full mental-bankruptcy protection for its workers: When Daimler employees take time off, they can opt to have their incoming emails deleted on arrival, with senders getting politely notified that their message has been destroyed and that if they need something urgently, they can contact an alternate person. “The idea,” Daimler has said, “is to give people a break and let them rest. Then they can come back to work with a fresh spirit.”

Existing bits of U.S. legislation could augment efforts like this by private companies. For instance, an expiring provision of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act that reimburses employers for up to 12 weeks’ paid leave if an employee’s kid’s school closes could be a starting point for building broader availability of paid time off for family crises or restorative breaks.

Nervous breakdowns, as F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote of his own in his 1936 essay “The Crack-Up,” are “not a matter of levity.” He’d found himself “like a man overdrawing at his bank”—“I began to realize that for two years my life had been a drawing on resources that I did not possess, that I had been mortgaging myself physically and spiritually up to the hilt.” At that point, Fitzgerald was well into terminal alcoholic decline, and on his way to an early death.

The past year has made clear the tremendous emotional and social damage that accumulates when whole populations get pushed beyond easily endurable limits. Alcohol consumption is up; drug overdoses are up; reports of anxiety and depression are up. Even once this pandemic wanes, its psychic effects will linger. The previous century’s flu pandemic lasted until 1920, but a spike in suicides was seen the following year, in 1921. Which is why, individually and collectively, we would be wise to do better than remain bundles of never-ending nervousness, too frayed to provide much solace or support for anyone, waiting for the psychiatric-industrial complex to handle America’s growing mental-health crisis, and doing little or nothing to head it off.

Better a more economically feasible and culturally acceptable nervous breakdown now than something worse later on.


This article appears in the March 2021 print edition with the headline “Bring Back the Nervous Breakdown.”

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The face

The face that was familiar is no more
Yet in my dreams he is alive again
Thus his image lives inside my store

In our sleep we find the open door
We see the precious faces of those gone
The face that was familiar is no more

A nightmare,anxious, running as before
To find our car, to bring home my dear man
Now his image lives within my store

His voice to me sounds muffled by great doors
He wonders how I manage all alone
The love that was so potent is no more

An anger at the doctors made me roar
A dying man ignored by every one
Now his love lives on in my deep core

Death will capture all but is that fair?
We live then die at last of all good bare.
The face that was familiar is no more
Yet his sweet love still haunts my deepest core

Summer air

Summer

Feelings drift in summer heated air
As silent reverie gives minds their ample space
Trees so heavy with excessive leaves
Droop like shades across their garden home
Sun near horizontal in its streams
Creates deep shadows where it cannot reach.

The ripened plums are almost out of reach
Their fragrance lends a splendour to the air
And as their leaves fall gently by the stream
More gaps are made and sunshine gets deep space
Such a cherished respite is our home
Where small wild creatures rustle in the leaves.

Yet even here the world outside can reach
Despite our music sonorous in the air
For News we hear, and pity from us streams.
We cannot stay for always in quiet space
Technologies now stamp around the home
Take up our mind and good thoughts outward leave

And yet we must still reach for mental space
Streams of mercy leave homes aired with grace.

Intimacy and solitude: S.Dowrick’s fascinating book

https://www.smh.com.au/culture/books/stephanie-dowrick-s-lessons-of-intimacy-and-solitude-from-the-pandemic-20210102-p56rb4.html

My digital art

D

the answers she gave to a New Zealand journalist recently about the effects of loneliness and the “beautiful benefits” of solitude. And here’s her blog about how desperately important connection and communication can be in a time of pandemic.

“I know how distracting it can be if you are having an interesting conversation and have to eat and order as well,” she says. “Although I won’t be eating much. But you must order something that you would really like, perhaps duck or prawns; that would make me feel a lot better.” I tell her that I am happy with her vegetarian choices of golden tofu (which she says “sounds lovely”), crispy dumplings and pad Thai.

Infuzions Thai in Cammeray is our venue because of its proximity to a studio where the Balmain-based Dowrick has been recording the audio book for Intimacy and Solitude. As it happens, recording has been completed, so there is plenty of time to move around the largely empty restaurant in search of the best spot for recording and photography.

Stephanie Dowrick
Stephanie DowrickCREDIT:EDWINA PICKLES

Dowrick’s vibrantly patterned dress, in what interior designers would call “jewel” colours, blends well with the richly coloured Thai cushions and warm woods. “Lead, Kindly Light,” she jokes, quoting a famous hymn, as we search for the most flattering spot. In addition to being a versatile author of almost 20 fiction and non-fiction books, and a psychotherapist, Dowrick is an interfaith minister who was based at Pitt Street Uniting Church from 2006 to 2017. More recently she has been co-leading “sacred gatherings” at the InnerSpace Centre in Five Dock.

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It quickly becomes clear that the meal is secondary to Dowrick, who I have met several times over the years through her publishing work and journalism. She wrote a popular Inner Life column for Good Weekend between 2001 and 2010, and was a regular guest of both Geraldine Doogue and Tony Delroy on ABC radio. These days she contributes opinion pieces to newspapers, primarily on social justice, human rights and ethical issues. And as she is my friend on Facebook, I am also aware of the joy she reaps as a mother and grandparent – and of her “later life” marriage in 2017 to Darwin-based paediatrician and health activist Paul Bauert. (“Because he lives 4000 kilometres from my home, I can continue to evolve my understanding of intimacy as well as solitude!”)

Today, and perhaps always, conversation and ideas interest her. Dowrick is a woman of intense blue eyes, a direct gaze and gently probing questions; she invites confidence and confidences, and indeed becomes the interviewer as much as the subject. It is fortunate that she arrived with her background dossier.

Stephanie Dowrick.
Stephanie Dowrick.CREDIT:EDWINA PICKLES

First published in 1991, Intimacy and Solitude was an international bestseller and has been revised and expanded several times since then. The latest edition was sparked by a recognition that the unpredictable events of 2020 had made the book’s message more relevant than ever. It is an encouragement for readers, a message of hope that blends readable case studies with deeply considered but accessible wisdom. Dowrick is convinced that we all have the potential to respond to both familiar and new situations freshly and creatively, especially if we renew our closeness to ourselves and to other people.

Comedian and author Magda Szubanski, musician Clare Bowditch and politician Kristina Keneally are among her raft of fans.

“If the pandemic taught us anything at all, it is that we are utterly and inevitably connected – and not only with this earth on which we wholly depend in all its brilliance, beauty, fearsomenesss and biodiversity,” Dowrick writes in her new 7000-word introductory essay. “COVID-19 showed us plainly that we protect ourselves best by willingly and generously protecting one another – even when separate or ‘distanced’.

“As powerful as those two potent words are individually – intimacy and solitude – they together describe and evoke a steadiness of inner support and resourcefulness that brings more than resilience and inevitably extends beyond ourselves to other people.”

‘My instinct has been unwavering: that not just I, but most of us, want to do at least somewhat better in our connections with others.’

Dowrick says that in addition to interviewing many people for the book, and “surveying screeds of psychological wisdom for the finest ideas”, she reviewed her own rich catalogue of “missteps” as well as what had made life “most worth living”. “My instinct has been unwavering: that not just I, but most of us, want to do at least somewhat better in our connections with others.

“A relatively healthy sense of self lets you accept what others can give you, even when it isn’t quite what you yearned for … It’s also dependent on trusting that your life matters – whether or not it is lauded by others. And that you deserve to care for yourself as respectfully and supportively as you would a trusted and cared-for friend.”

Golden tofu on crispy wonton with crushed peanuts.
Golden tofu on crispy wonton with crushed peanuts.CREDIT:EDWINA PICKLES

Dowrick was born in New Zealand and spent some of her formative years in isolated Maori and Pacific Island communities, where her parents were teaching. Her mother, Mary, died in her late 30s, when Dowrick was eight. It was, of course, a truly terrible experience and not one that she wishes to dwell on overly in an interview.

However, in her book she writes of the loss, which has affected the rest of her life: “Unsurprisingly, I was incapable of much self-care, never mind what ‘independence’ adds up to. I had gained immeasurably from the years of unstinting love my mother could give me when she lived. She was also, in her moral and emotional intelligence, in her creativity and pride in her profession as a gifted teacher and her commitment to service to others, an exceptional example to me.”

In the late 1960s, a lack of career opportunities in New Zealand for a clever and determined young woman led Dowrick to head for London where, with delight, she fell into book publishing (where senior women were still a rarity and her colleagues, mostly men from public schools, addressed each other by their surnames).

Crispy dumplings with leek, mushroom and ginger.
Crispy dumplings with leek, mushroom and ginger.CREDIT:EDWINA PICKLES

Her star rose. At the height of “second wave” feminism, in 1977, she convinced British publishing entrepreneur Naim Attallah to back a groundbreaking feminist imprint, The Women’s Press, and became its first managing director. Writers Janet Frame, Andrea Dworkin, Michele Roberts and Lisa Alther were among those who joined the list and, in 1983, with the Commonwealth publication of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Color Purple, commercial success was added to its cult status.

Stephanie Dowrick in 1985 after the publication of her first novel 'Running Backwards Over Sand'.
Stephanie Dowrick in 1985 after the publication of her first novel ‘Running Backwards Over Sand’.

Shortly afterwards, Dowrick moved to Sydney and had two children, Kezia and Gabriel, in quick succession; her first novel, Running Backwards over Sand, which tells of a journey of self-exploration by a young woman who has lost her mother, was published in 1985. Subsequently, she worked part-time as a publisher at Allen & Unwin and broadened her writing to focus on self-development and further explored spirituality, most particularly through the work of German poet Rainer Maria Rilke (on whom she wrote a PhD thesis that evolved into a book, In the Company of Rilke).

On learning to live with isolation, the author, an “impatient patient” who fell ill for four months and was in hospital for 10 weeks before the pandemic hit, says that while the lockdown was a crisis of communication for social beings it could also offer “an opportunity to consider with fresh interest how we can more thoughtfully support others – receiving with grace and gratitude what they may have to give”.

Pad Thai with tofu.
Pad Thai with tofu.CREDIT:EDWINA PICKLES

While many have been feeling “flat”, she says it is important to be more consciously open to receiving, even when what’s coming your way doesn’t quite fit your expectations of how things should be. Like any change, some detachment is needed to see things anew, as is stillness, which is best achieved by not being constantly busy. (“Being busy is for me a psychological defence.”)

“In illness, our world shrinks. In social isolation, our world shrinks. Yet it’s precisely now that our vision must enlarge. Choosing to be the smallest bit more generous, perhaps more tolerant in both directions (giving and receiving), is itself an act of empowerment, an act of self-respect and even love – for ourselves and for all with whom we share this planet.

The bill please.
The bill please.CREDIT:SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

“When we’re down, our thoughts leap into a future that’s frightening. When we slow down, by contrast, we can experience this moment and – when we can – infuse it with greater vitality and hope. We can surround people and situations with the energies of loving-kindness and care, rather than anxiety or raw terror. And when we do this, we ourselves will benefit.”

The afternoon is slipping away, but Dowrick proposes we move on to coffee and pavlova. She wants to ask me some more questions.

Infuzions Cammeray

439 Miller St, Cammeray

(02) 9957 1122

Daily, 11.30am-9.30pm

Intimacy and Solitude by Stephanie Dowrick is out now from Allen & Unwin.Save

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Shona Martyn

Shona Martyn is Spectrum Editor at The Sydney Morning Herald. She was previously the Publishing Director of HarperCollins, the founding editor of HQ magazine and an editor of Good Weekend.Connect via email.

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Interview – Stephanie Dowrick

https://stephaniedowrick.com/interview/

What did you learn from this success?

That I am lucky enough to be writing about what eventually matters most to people – their personal and social relationships, their questions about meaning. This is an incredible field to work in. You can never run out of new things to know, reflect on and puzzle through. My subject matter never fails me. But – it is also extremely daunting to work with these topics. I take it seriously. I doubt myself over and over again. I spend months and months sometimes on a single chapter. The first section [on the Self] of Intimacy & Solitude took me a couple of years! Perhaps I wrote it fast

Where does our hate come from?

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/27/opinion/rich-poor-immigration-fear.html

In his 2019 book, “The Human Tide,” Morland wrote: “If the biggest global news story of the last 40 years has been China’s economic growth, the biggest news story of the next 40 years will be Africa’s population growth.” It’s striking, Morland continues, “to realize that in the continent as a whole in 1950 there were far less than h

Morland wrote: “If the biggest global news story of the last 40 years has been China’s economic growth, the biggest news story of the next 40 years will be Africa’s population growth.” It’s striking, Morland continues, “to realize that in the continent as a whole in 1950 there were far less than half as many people as there were in Europe. Today, Africa’s population is around a third larger than Europe’s, and by 2100 it is likely to have quadrupled again, while Europe’s will have shrunk.”

Right direction

If you are going in the wrong direction there is no pointt hurrying.

Don’t start walking until you have had a very good look at where you are literally or metaphorically.

.Have you got a map?

If you wear spectacles clean them

In any case .more haste less speed

How do you no if it is the right direction?

By instinct or intuition and by conversations with a good friend

But don’t wait for too long as you might grow roots.