Thursday, August 25, 2011

Bar Tales of Costa Rica

I need a break from upset.  Maybe my readers do, too.

Once when I was in Costa Rica, working on another unpublished book, Deep Calling -- that's my depressing book about being depressed, as opposed to Prozac Monologues, my funny book about depressed -- I needed a break from being depressed.  I took my breaks at the bar at the Pato Loco in Playas del Coco, Costa Rica.

My sister, the Voodoo Princess and proprietor of the Pato Loco also needed a break from my being depressed.  So she was delighted to learn that the Pato Loco inspired and regularly supplied material for my third book that is not published, Bar Tales of Costa RicaBar Tales is not about depression.

This week we all take a break together, with the first of the Bar Tales of Costa Rica.

Shut Up, Lenny!

How are you today, Rosie?

Oh, I could use some de-stressing.  You can’t tell by looking at this big black beautiful woman in shorts, sleeveless and flip flops, but she’s running a several employee travel agency back in the States while she sits in front of her laptop in the dining room of the Pato Loco.

Rosie set up the wireless for the hotel, when she was living here while her condo in Hermosa was under construction.  That took so long, she became a member of the family, another sister.  Mama had a colorful past, we say when somebody raises an eyebrow at the introduction.  As a matter of fact, she did. 

De-stressing you need?  Let me see what I can do.  Here’s a story for you.  You know our neighbor, Lenny, the Hot Dog man?”

Yeah, I’ve been trying to buy one of those hot dogs.  Every time I go downtown, he’s never open.

No, he‘s out of business for the time being.  I guess the Pizza Hut truck had a prior lease on that lot where he had his hot dog stand.  They moved back in, what with high season coming.  So he doesn’t have a place to put his cart. 

It was a great spot, right there across from Zouk Santana and the Lizard Lounge.  Lenny said he was selling 70 hot dogs an hour between 2 and 3 AM, when the bars closed.  He said one night, he ran out of chili.  They kept buying the dogs.  He was selling them faster than he could cook them.  They bought them raw.  Four bucks a pop, chili or no, 300% profit. 


It is a triumph, that hot dog stand.

Costa Rican Developers

I don’t really care about Lenny’s success.  He’s a newbie from Texas.  And he isn’t a hot dog salesman anyway, at least, not in his head.  He says he’s a developer.  Everybody claims to be a developer.  Except me.  I claim to be a writer.  I guess it comes down to the same thing, a lot of dreams, not so much cash.  Except I really do write.  I don’t publish, but I write.  Developers seem to talk mostly, over beers at the Pato Loco, since the Bohio has been torn down for being too close to the beach, now that the tides have shifted.

The tide comes in, the tide goes out.  The beach is never the same.  They’re putting in a marina where the Bohio and a lot of other nicer bars and restaurants used to be.  I don’t cheer for developers.

What Lenny really does, or talks about doing, while the luxury condo deal is still in development, is sell vacation packages.  Ninety-five bucks buys you four vacation packages in Maui, Orlando, Las Vegas or Puerto Something.  Ninety-five bucks and a couple hours of your time while people try to sell you a time-share in Maui, Orlando, Las Vegas or Puerto Something.

The hot dog stand is the hook.  You’re cooking the dog to order, piling on the chili, the onions, peppers, cheese, and all the time talking about vacation packages, four per year, ninety-five bucks.  Except when the bars let out and you’re selling the dogs seventy per hour at 2 AM.  Not so much time to talk then.  Just, You want ketchup?  Mustard?  Mayo?

We didn’t meet over hot dogs, but on my front porch, Lenny and me, when I returned to Costa Rica this winter and said hello to my new neighbor.  He was telling me about the hot dogs when, out of the blue, You want to make a couple thousand a week?

Couple thousand what, colones?  (That’s four bucks.)

I’ll pay you twenty bucks for every vacation package you sell.

No, thank you, Lenny.  I do not want to sell vacation packages.  I do not want to make a couple thousand dollars a week.  I don’t make that much money in the States, and I didn’t move to Costa Rica to make that much money here.  I moved so I could live on what I make in the States, so I could write.  I am not a salesman.  I am a writer.

As far as I can tell, it’s a pyramid scheme.  Lenny sells this job to apparently (and in this case mistakenly so) aimless people who want to stay in Costa Rica on dreams of a couple thousand a week.  The job is to sell brochures that will lure drunks, who actually intended to buy a hot dog after they were evicted from the bars, to go to some other vacation spot, where somebody else will try to sell them time-shares, so they can come back to where some other hot dog vender, or maybe Lenny himself next year in a different location, will try to sell them some condo that he has developed, thereby justifying his self-identity as a developer.

But to pull this off, he needs the person willing to serve the hot dogs in the hopes of selling the brochures.  Since I do not want to make a couple thousand dollars a week, I do not qualify for this job.  Ironically, with a different pitch, I might be willing to help him out with his dogs.

That’s what I think Lenny really does, sell hot dogs.

Costa Rican Hot Dog Stand

And it is a triumph, not for Lenny the developer, but for our other next door neighbor, David, who bought the hot dog stand online from Canada, had it delivered to his home in Atlanta, and then shipped it through Miami to Costa Rica.

David isn’t a hot dog salesman.  He’s a pool man.  He’s also a very nice guy who made some sudden and poor financial decisions last fall.  It was a bad time in his life.  He decided that Dennis, the maintenance man at our condo, could use some extra bucks.  So David decided to set Dennis up in business as a hot dog salesman.

Except Dennis isn’t a hot dog salesman, either.  He’s a construction guy, who can do a million different things with his hands, all of them very well, but is not into handling hot dogs.  Dennis is Costa Rican and proud, and Costa Ricans are not into hot dogs, neither buying nor selling, which is why it’s hard to find a good hot dog in this country.

But both of them, David and Dennis are very nice guys, and their friendship survived this awkward spell, when the hot dog stand was taking up space outside the bodega (storage shed) next to the pool for several months, until Lenny moved to town and discovered it there while he wasn’t developing anything but his story.

I will say this for Lenny, he makes a very good chili.  And he did manage to find a vender, a German who lives in San Jose, who sells him a decent quality dog.  Not Chicago quality.  There’s no snap, none at all.  But it’s got a bit of smoke, and for Costa Rica, it’s pretty darn good.  And lots of the ex-pats (the North American ex-pats) get frustrated, looking for the hot dog stand, which often is not in operation for one reason or another.

I will also say this for Lenny – he operates on Costa Rican time.  Which is to say, he gets it open when he gets it open.  If he says 5 o’clock, don’t bother showing up until 7.  The frustrated ex-pats don’t get his business plan.  He is not into food service.  He is into money.  And he can make a whole lot of it, more than enough to live in Playas del Coco, between 2 and 3 in the morning, seventy dogs an hour, $3 profit on each one, even when he is selling them so fast he doesn’t have time to cook them.  He does not have to open when he promises or sell hot dogs during the lunch hour.

But right now he’s not selling hot dogs at all, since the Pizza Hut truck came back to town with the same business plan as far as volume and drunks go and, more importantly, the lease on his location.

We think maybe he went on a bender.  We didn’t see him for three days, but his car’s been there.  And with his muffler, we know when he moves it.  He starts it up, backs the car the hundred feet to the gate, turns off the engine, gets out and opens the gate.  I guess he only has one key chain.  Then he starts the car, pulls through the gate, turns the car off again, gets out, closes the gate, gets back into the car, starts it the third time, and leaves.  Our house is right by the gate.  So we know when he goes anywhere, since he doesn’t even walk the hundred feet to the gate.  Lenny doesn’t walk.

The Voodoo Princess, owner of the Pato Loco, interrupted, You could buy him another key chain.  She likes Lenny, and he eats at the Pato Loco a lot, since you can eat only so many hot dogs, if you want to keep selling them.

I’m telling a story here, little sister.  Work with me.  The Voodoo Princess is my little sister.  We have a diverse family.  Mama had a colorful past.

Costa Rican Neighbors

Anyway, this morning we heard from him again.  It was about 9 o’clock when he shouted, Shut up!  A couple minutes later, we heard it again, Shut up!  It took about three or four times, Shut up! before I figured this out.  Luis, the neighbor on the other side of the wall, has a mynah bird that says, “Buenas!”  The bird says it all day long, “Buenas.”

It used to bother me, David interjects from the bar where he is nursing a club soda, But I have become one with the mynah.

Yeah, now it’s just part of the sound track of Costa Rica.  But this morning it was:

Buenas – Shut up!

Buenas – Shut up!

Rosie is laughing now.  It’s good to hear Rosie laugh.  He knew he was talking to a bird?

Well, I don’t know.  Because then it became – 

Buenas – Shut the f*** up!

Buenas – Shut the f*** up!

Rosie is doubling over, He said, f***?

No, actually, he filled in the vowel and the final consonants.  Things were definitely escalating.  I wondered if he was going to go next door and throttle a mynah bird.  And then I hear it.  Our whole condo association hears it –

David knew what was coming.  He verified it, Yes, we did.

Buenas Shut the f*** up!  Comprende?  Shut up!

She’s screaming now.  Comprende?

Comprende.  One more time, I was just about to go over there, if he said it one more time.  – Lenny, it’s a bird!  I know it’s irritating, ‘Buenas.’  [I flattened those vowels as flat as a tortilla.]  But me, I’m listening to ‘Buenas’ – ‘Shut the f*** up!’  I don’t think I’ll have much success with the bird.  So I’m going to try with the drunk.  Lenny, shut the f*** up!

So, how did that work out?

Well, I never got the chance.  Maybe the bird did comprende.  Because they both got quiet.  So, how are you feeling now, Rosie?

Thanks, I needed that.  I’m feeling a lot better.

Pato Loco logo used by permission
photo of family table at Pato Loco by Mary Cox and used by permission
photo of chili dog by LG2, in public domain
drawing of condo by tomwild, in public domain
photo of bird of paradise and front porch by author
photo of mynah bird by Dhabyany, used under the Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Uptown Bill's - One Candle

Okay, let me be very clear.  And let you not perversely misunderstand.  Justice beats charity any day.  The current tax structure of the United States is unjust.  At least, that is what Jesus and the Prophets would say.  Charitable people can't make up for the size of this injustice, and shouldn't have to try.  The fixed notion that we can is diagnosable.

Fair Taxes

Warren Buffett was curious and did some research.  Last year Buffett's taxable income was roughly $40,800,000.  That's after deductions.  His taxes were 17.4% of that amount.  Every other person in his office paid somewhere between 33% and 41% of their taxable income, an average of 36%.  He doesn't think that's fair.

Nobody thinks that is fair.  In fact, a lot of rich people and the Republican Congress think he paid too much.  Nevertheless, there are indeed other rich people who agree with Buffett, that they get more than most out of government services, the type of services that help them accumulate even more, and they should pay more.

I have enough to rant about without taking on tax policy.  So let me focus on the implications of our current tax policy for mental health policy.

What Jesus And Amos And Muhammed Said 

Last week I told you it is time to step up, join with others, and do what the government and the people who own the government do not have the political will to do.  Feed the hungry.  Welcome the stranger.  Visit the sick and in prison.  Those phrases come from the Christian Scriptures, Matthew 25, but were spoken by a Jew who got his religion from a long line of Jewish prophets.  We can round out the authorities of monotheism with the Muslim requirement to give alms.  For you non-theists, you have to be your own authority.

I'm just saying -- Do it.  Charity is an insufficient substitute for justice.  Do it anyway.  While Facebook and the blogosphere are filling up with calls for justice, people are dying out here.

That is where I left off last week.  This week, the example I promised, one light lit against the darkness, Uptown Bill's.

Bill Sackter

Bill Sackter spent most of his life in a Minnesota state institution, placed there when he was seven, because he was mentally retarded.  He got out when he was 53, when institutions downsized and transferred care to the community.  Only there wasn't a community.  There was one social worker with a case load too large to give Bill adequate help to adjust.

Bill was on the verge of going back to that hellhole, as he called it, when Barry Morrow, a young filmmaker in search of a project met him, befriended him, became his guardian and brought him to Iowa City, Iowa.

Barry worked for Tom Walz, the head of the University of Iowa's sociology department and the kind of idealist that thrived in Iowa city in the 70s and 80s.  Except Tom is a practical man.  And he listens.  And he got Bill the kind of job that Bill could do.  He could make coffee.  He couldn't make change, but he could make coffee.  That was fine, because the social work students who patronized Wild Bill's Coffee Shop could make change for themselves.

Barry made two movies about Bill's life, starring Mickey Rooney, and Bill became a symbol of how people with disabilities can contribute to our common enterprise.

Uptown Bill's

That would have been the end of it, but, like I said, Tom Walz is a practical man.  A practical man with a vision.  When Bill died and Tom retired, Tom helped to create Uptown Bill's, a small mall of businesses owned and operated by people with a variety of disabilities, a book store, a graphics design business, vintage store, furniture repair and refinishing, and yes, Wild Bill's Coffee Shop.

Today Uptown Bill's includes all of the above, plus a music shop, home repair and maintenance business, classes on how to start e-businesses, and programming in the arts.

This is community care that works.  Emphasis on the the works.  I think it works for two reasons:

1) People with disabilities have abilities.  My dog Mazie taught me that we all come with surplus.  To lose one, or even several, leaves us with loads.  Well, we all have things we can and cannot do.  Whether we fit into the economy, whether the community is structured so we can contribute and receive, says more about the community than about us.  For that matter, our labels say more about the way the community is structured and less about us.

That is both obvious and invisible in the public arena.  But some people have eyes to see.  So a place like Uptown Bill's is possible.  People with disabilities can run our own businesses.

2) If you own the business, you don't get laid off when the funding gets cut.

Now after the manner of Hebrew poetry, I said there were two reasons why Uptown Bill's works, and I add a third.

3) There are people who do not carry the label disabled who decide to work in partnership with others who do carry the label.  They don't run the show, but they add their own abilities to the mix.  These people don't have to believe in one sort of tax structure for the United States or another, have one faith perspective or another or none at all.  They just have to want to live in a community that can receive the contributions of every member of it, without regard to labels.

Off The Grid

I write this from Costa Rica.  I live in a little fishing/tourist/beach town with enormous disparities of wealth.  Michael Jordan and Madonna own property in this part of Costa Rica, though I don't think they can see the doorway where that man sleeps from their infinity pools.  I live behind razor wire, in a middle class/working class mixed neighborhood.  Some of my neighbors make do with barbed wire.  And I watch the United States on a trajectory toward the same.  Except there won't be papaya trees growing wild up north.

When I go downtown, I see a mentally ill and homeless person who makes a living by buying a pack of cigarettes and selling them one and two at a time for a profit.  I see people who buy their cigarettes one and two at a time from him.  Because they are a pueblo.

Sure, keep trying to turn the Titanic around.  But do something else, as well.  Our government doesn't work for us.  I think it is time to figure out how to piece together a pueblo, instead, to join with others and do what we can with each other.  One candle, one cigarette at a time.


flair by facebook.com
scales by Johannes Regiomontanus, 1512, in public domain.
image of the prophet Amos by Gustave Doré, 1866, in public domain
book cover by amazon.com
dvd image by amazon.co
photo of razor wire by Helen Keefe and used by permission
photo of cigarette in public domain 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

1000 Points of Light Revisited

                              OR

Gosh, We Could Use A Candle Down Here

I wonder if the US has passed the tipping point.  For decades, a thriving middle class fueled the economy and supported our democracy.  In the Bush years we decided to pay for those two wars, um... later, so the super rich could get richer.  During the Obama administration we decided the tax cuts will stay; so the poor, the sick and the elderly will pay for those wars and the tax cuts.  Meanwhile, the middle has shifted.

From Vernellia R. Randall, Professor of Law, The University of Dayton:  [In the last two decades] the gap between the rich and poor in the United States grew at the same pace as the economic growth.  Statistics show that the richest 1 percent of the US citizens own 40 percent of the total property of the country, while 80 percent of US citizens own just 16 percent.
 
Since the 1990s, 40 percent of the increased wealth went into the pockets of the rich minority, while only 1 percent went to the poor majority.

From 1977 to 1999, the after-tax income of the richest 20 percent of American families increased by 43 percent, while that of the poorest 20 percent decreased 9 percent, allowing for inflation.  The actual income of those living on the lowest salaries was even less than 30 years ago.

Businessinsider.com tells the story in graphs for you visual learners.

And here is the way Warren Buffet tells it.

The upshot from the mental health perspective -- states are slashing mental health budgets.

After the Jared Loughner shootings, Arizona talked a lot about the need for better services.  Then it cut $36 million from its mental health budget, or 37%.  Across the nation, the average cut is 8%.  Emergency rooms, jails and homeless shelters take up the slack.

There is a lot of slack.

Home ownership, those 401K's we were supposed to use to replace pensions...  I won't linger here.  I just wonder if this income shift can be turned around.  Mostly I wonder what we will do in this new America, which will look more and more like other countries that have wealth gaps this large and the security budgets to protect the spread.  Mexico comes to mind. 

What We Will Do

We were a decade into the beginning of the shift when in 1989, at his inauguration George H. W. Bush called for 1000 points of light, voluntary organizations across the country to address human need, the homeless, children, persons addicted to whatever substance (including welfare, he said), unwed mothers.

This was the Read my lips: No new taxes guy.  So there was a certain cynicism mixed with his compassion, a rich man calling on the virtues of those with less to take care of those with even less.


It sounds different when the poor themselves say it.  And, of course, Bush was referencing the poor man who said, You are the light of the world... let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. (NRSV)  The guy who said that said it to other poor people who were taxed into poverty to pay the salaries of the police state that was just looking for a reason...  In his case, they found one.

The philosophical debate, to what extent should the United States of America accept a common responsibility for the common welfare, is just that, a philosophical debate.  As a political debate, it is pretty much over.  We won't.    Them that's got shall get; them that's not shall lose.  And them that's got have got the government, the means to keep the government, and no intention whatsoever of paying for the benefits they receive from the government (infrastructure, security, subsidies, an educated - more or less - work force, international trade agreements, subsidies.)


So we are back to those 1000 points of light, or rather, to You are the light of the world.  For what it's worth, the only light there is going to be.

Those voluntary organizations that Bush Sr. was counting on to pick up the tab never had the resources to do it.  And they have less now.  Voluntary organizations have been contracting since 1964.

This is candle in the wind time, folks.  But it's time to sign up.  Why?  Because it's getting dark down here, and you are the last flame.

It is time for secular humanists to get over their sense of intellectual superiority.  It is time for the spiritual but not religious to get over their allergy to accountability.  It is time for religious people of whatever stripe to get over their delusional straining for influence.  The only shot we have is to do it together.

Somebody has to do something, and it's just incredibly pathetic that it has to be us. -- Jerry Garcia.

But there it is.  Those of us who have lost our jobs, our pensions, our insurance, our health, or are bracing for the blow have to get it together and do it ourselves, have to organize, to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, visit the sick and in prison -- whatever kind, compassionate, fair, sensible thing it is.

Next week, an example.

book jacket for The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman from amazon.com
photo of emergency room by Thierry Geoffroy and used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license
print of Lazarus and the Rich Man be Print by Gustave Doré, 1891, in public domain
photo of candles by Nevit Dilmen,  Permission granted to copy under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License  

Thursday, August 4, 2011

NAMI Convention and the Persistence of DNA

The second of my NAMI Convention posts is about opening my heart to the other side.

History Of NAMI

Even if its origins were to be forgotten, a system does not escape the DNA of its founding.

But it is not forgotten.  NAMI began in 1979 when a mother in Wisconsin published a notice of a meeting at her house for the parents of children with difficulties.  She discovered she was not alone.  Her living room filled to overflowing by parents, desperately concerned for their children with schizophrenia.  Together they pushed back against the medical establishment that said it was their fault.  Together, they pressured for the research that revolutionized basic scientific paradigms of mental illness.  No, schizophrenia is not caused by schizophregenic families.  It is a disease of the brain.

Then real treatment began.  Better understanding about the disease led to better medications.  People were able to leave those lost locked wards.  Yes, some live in the streets today.  But some live in sheltered homes.  And some live on their own.  I know people with schizophrenia who work, who are married, who have good lives.

Okay, some have moved from locked wards in psychiatric hospitals to locked wards in jails and prisons.  More than half the residents of our jails and prisons have a serious mental illness.  But back to NAMI...

NAMI was created by and for families.  Its signature program is Family to Family, and this year's convention celebrated its 20th anniversary.  The testimonials go on for days about the difference, the support, the education and hope this program has offered a quarter of a million people so far.

Family to Family is part of the DNA and enduring legacy of NAMI.

The Miracle Of Medicine

NAMI was built on the medical model.  The medical model created the medications.  The medicines made miracles.  And that, too, is the DNA of NAMI.

Nineteen companies and organizations supported the Convention at the Logo-on-the-program level.  Nine of them were pharmaceutical companies.

A regular feature of NAMI Conventions is the Ask-A-Doctor sessions, where people line up at the microphones and get little five minute consultations on how to tweak their current medications and what else to try. There is always something else to try.

NAMI's Mission Grows

Meanwhile, people who themselves have mental illness joined NAMI.  And this part of the history I can't tell you, because we aren't celebrating it yet.

Our part of the story is different.

Families talk about the miracles of medicine.  What they want to know is how to get their loved ones to take them.  People who have these brain diseases talk about how how the medicines aren't good enough.  And we want to know about Recovery.

Recovery?

There are no biomarkers.  There are no cures.  There are no vaccines.  There is no War on Brain Disease, no national motivation, and less money for research and treatment every day.

Half of us have developed our brain disease by age 14 and 75% of us by age 25.  So we have to live with it a long time.  Granted, not as long as we might otherwise.  We die, on average, 25 years sooner than everybody else.  We have the same life span of the people of Bangladesh.  These numbers come from Dr. Thomas Insel, Director of the National Institute of Mental Health, who spoke at a special session the second night of the Convention.

We are not impressed by the Miracle of Medicine by trial and error.

So while some of us are still stuck in those Ask-A-Doctor lines, looking for a better miracle, the rest of us have gone to work on a concept called Recovery.

Recovery is the core concept of the NAMI program that didn't get mentioned at this year's convention -- Peer to Peer.  P2P is a ten week course on what to do after you have been discharged with a prescription and a follow-up appointment, what nobody told you about when they showed you the door, because frankly, they don't know about it.  Dr. Ken Duckworth, medical director of NAMI was asked about nutrition at the PTSD Ask-A-Doctor.  His response, Doctors don't learn anything about nutrition.  It's just too bad there was no Ask-A-Nutritionist session.  Because even if you have found the very best hammer in the world for your job, if you want to build a house, you will also need a screwdriver.

Recovery is about building the whole house, about living the best life possible under the circumstances.  It is about every paradigm, every treatment, every health practice and habit we can find that will improve our lot and add value to our lives, short as they may be.  It is about putting it all together and getting on with our lives. 

Recovery?

I didn't hear about Recovery at the NAMI Convention.  Well, I wasn't everywhere.  I have the dvd with powerpoints and audio, and will be exploring and reporting on what I missed.  Rumor has it that the sessions on borderline discussed therapy.  Therapy would be one of the tools in the Recovery toolbox.

There were recovery tools in evidence at the convention.  I attended a drumming circle during lunch one day, drama during lunch another day.  There was an exercise class during lunch.  Yoga was offered during dinner, a poetry slam during the party.

I expressed my regret on the evaluation form that there was so little coverage of recovery concepts, and that little bit was pushed to the corners of the schedule.  Two pages later on the evaluation form, I found a question asking me to evaluate the entertainment portions of the program, the drumming, the drama, the yoga...  Entertainment?

So, yes, people living with mental illnesses are part of NAMI and were present at the convention.  But we are still at the kiddie table.

Parents With Adult Children With Schizophrenia

So there I was, at  the end of the Stars of Light Theatre Troupe's amazing performance, when the players were introducing themselves.  It was Saturday, the last day, and I was feeling irritated by the organization of the conference and its emphasis on pharmaceuticals, even while speakers recognized they don't work that well.  (I haven't even mentioned the previous night's major speaker slot given to the guy who has a book and a treatment plan for how to get people to take their meds.  That was offered and addressed to family members entirely, while the rest of us were invited to a movie... Now in an of itself, it raised some excellent issues -- but I am talking about a pattern here, a deeply encoded pattern.)

Evidently, this irritation of mine is because I have bipolar, and when people with bipolar experience something that doesn't seem right, we get irritated and complain because we have a sense of entitlement.  Duly noted.

Somebody asked if being in the troupe helped the players deal with their symptoms.  That would be a recovery-type question, and why I would not have thought to call this presentation part of the convention's entertainment.  And one woman answered, Not only do I have bipolar and borderline and some other things, my son also has bipolar with psychotic features.  I don't know where he is right now.  Without this group, I don't know how I could manage.

So I was flipping madly through my program looking for an empty space where I could write down her words, because I knew I needed to remember them.  I saw, and with this woman's words in my head the eyes of my heart were opened so that I saw, that half of Thursday morning's sessions had been given over to estate planning.

Estate planning.  At a mental health conference.

My wife and I are doing retirement planning right now, a little concerned about how we will manage to make that money last as long as we do.  We are not doing estate planning.  Because we don't need to.  Our son does not have schizophrenia.

Then a woman stood up in the audience and expressed her support of the first.  She said, I am not worried about my son this weekend.  Because I do know where he is.  He is in the hospital.

I thought about my son.  I know where he is.  He is living with his most excellent wife, getting a PhD at a major university and doing the thing he loves best, teaching.  That's a Phi Beta Kappa cord around his neck in this picture, taken the day he graduated from college.

Broken Hearts

And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be upon thy heart. -- Deuteronomy 6:6.  The student asked the rabbi, Why on?  Why not in?  His answer, That way, when your heart breaks, it will fall in.

NAMI is about broken hearts.  The DNA of NAMI is mother love.  Does a mother forget her baby, or a woman the child within her womb?  Being a mother, I know there will be no forgetting, no changing what NAMI is about.

It will take time and tears, no small irritation, some shouting, experiments, mistakes and careful negotiation for people with mental illness to take our place at the grown-up table.  Somehow in that process, we will have to take care of our mothers.  Because they do not forget us.

It's just that, some of us do not have such parents.  And even the others grow up.

graphic of clozapine's chemical formula by Harbin and in the public domain
photo of Thomas Insel, Director of NIMH, in public domain
photo of toolbox by Per Erik Strandberg and used under the Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license
ceramic of children playing by Hannie Mein and used under the Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license
photo of graduation day by Jenny O'Day