Spam harvesting.

daturaa

Spam harvesting.

 

Gabby you’re not to blame;
it was just a matter of time.

Heartbeat of memory agitated,
aroused, cheated.

Guess what. What?

This yearning for closure, guess what, showed-up, appeared in a dream.

The Ignored waited for an opening.

For over three years the Ignored rehearsed in silence
giving repeat performances until it slipped through,
got my attention, followed me from dream onto the crapper,
into the shower; the Ignored was always there, unsettled
whimpering, nagging, wanting audience, spending its time along
the margin of consciousness within the depths of sleep; every
not so often I’d get a millisecond blink, a flash of white-light
calling out her name; had no idea where to go with that; let it go
as fast as it came, continuing on as a busy human fulfilling
the law of entropy; until this dream.

Attending To The Dream.

Lying perfectly flat on my back,
planted on a raised bed of moist earth,
my skin, a composite of embryos absorbing,
ingesting earth’s damp fevers,
branches into a million frenzied roots,
zigzagging, spiderwebbing through the soil,
rooting out the idiocy of,
the suffering of,
the chemistry of,
the unforeseen-foreseen of,
the complicity of,
the probability of,
the inevitability of,
the implacability of Gabby’s death.

Gabby’s roof top garden. Listen to Yourself listening to Her

 Oh,

 and I am buying an apartmenttumblr_ grain
(in the building next door to mine).

 Although I’ll be on the 3rd floor,
I get half the roof (which already has
nice wood 
decking tile on it — but no water source as yet!), so I’ll have a
garden/outdoor space.”

I feel a little stressed about the roof garden because
I have a lot of plants I’m taking from my “yard” and I need to
ensure that, on a full sunroof deck, I have a ready home
for them on the roof.

The plants I am really excited about aren’t the ones
I’m doing from seed, but the stuff I ordered from
Plant Delights — some awesome cannas, colocasias, that
zoblupie clematis I told you about, plus a long standing
favorite of mine, ruellia brittoniana (the tall one, not the dwarf
ones they also have). Plus some other things.

The spam harvesting is kind of negligible, don’t worry too
much about that.

 I decided I’m going to have to try to start the daturas
on the roof — I’m worried enough that (although I have
a separate room to put the plant-light system in) my cats
will get in and demolish everything, but if they got in and
ate that I would never forgive myself.

I really don’t know how this happened,
but I findRosamutabilis_grain
 myself for the first time having
a real design idea, 
and it’s completely
apart from what I’ve done in
previous gardens. It’s both awesome
and scary, and 
I hope it works, but in
a nutshell I’m embracing the 
full sun
condition and going hot with the 
colors
with a couple of cool blues and a tiny bit
of 
white (nigella African bride, a datura or
two, and moonflowers.

My poor vines (moonflower, thunbergia alata “salmon shades”, and
tropeaolum peregrinum)– those that survived the evil squirrel
(really, this squirrel was mean — when I first planted them, he just
bit them off at their bases, but didn’t eat the plant at all, did the
same thing with most of the sunflowers I planted.

Steve and I actually split up in October, but we are on good terms
and he’s staying with me for Josef’s summer visit (which we are shockingly
already half-way into). It’s working out very well,
I knew it could but was also worried beforehand.

My nicotiana knightiana will, at the rate it’s going, bloom in October!
Next year I will start them much earlier, and probably do mutabilis in place
of or in addition to the knightiana (I’ve never seen one in person), and
use a different 
rooting medium (I made a BIG mistake this year).

The job is actually going really well (although there are always the
usual stressors in any legal IT job). I like my boss and he values me
highly, and that’s the best thing.

I ordered a light rack for4.2
propagating things from
seed so I can get the nice annuals that
no one ever 
seems to sell. I feel a
little daunted by the prospect, but years ago
in 
Chelsea I actually hooked up my alcove
with shelves and florescent lights.

I don’t know where I stumbled across
blood grass but when 
I found it I had
to have it.

The falcons had no offspring this year, what a bummer.
Whoever 
maintains the site didn’t comment on it whatsoever,
perhaps this just happens some times.

I am a happy woman as I finally found
two salvia patens at the Gowanus Nursery yesterday, plus
two oxpetalum tweedia, which are a milkweed relative that
have the most awesome little milky blue flowers.

From out of the Outrageous Blue

She flew into Chicago on business while gathering
us up for a get-together dinner.
Haven’t seen her for 20 years. Remember Gabby
as a quiet teenager who sat in a lawn chair 20 feet behind
the adults; who spoke carefully then; now she’s the impetus
who brought us together to meet again for the first time; effortlessly,
Gabby cleared a wide gap of silence held between friends;
she offered to be the catalyst for amnesty.

We were easy together; surely this was thetropperegrher_grain
beginning of a friendship with possibility;
a future, a bond, flourishing with the turn
of the seasons. Yes, we’ll share the
offerings of the natural world; all her doing.
Once the child, no more, she invited us
into her life. We were honored, refreshed;
had no idea how fragile was the germinal thread
that bound us together.

Hey. She worked as a legal IT for a law firm in Manhattan.
How about that? Gabby ran the digital-info-lifeblood,
reigning over computers and its software, converting, storing, protecting,
processing, transmitting, retrieving; a pressure job to be sure.
We were impressed, in awe of her, proud, excited for her.
Gabby, big sister, made it big; Manhattan big; mother, sister, brother,
all optimistic, all impressed, all pleased. But.

But who knew, who understood a “back then” eventuality?
How many of us can look in the mirror to  see the “back then” heading
their way? Yes, there are signs; but they don’t come with answers.

Back then a vital life process, function, ratio of madness to sanity goes berserk;
deep within, below, something churned, cracked, mucked up the soil,
worms smothered, flowers withered seconds after a bloom was born,
arbitrary withering, random flip-flopping — one of daddy’s sperm gone twisted,
gone nuts, insane, bullied its way through, first to the beckoning finish line
before any of its competitors.

Bingo, fertilization; the sicko sperm wins to ultimately curse the year, month,
week, day, hour, minute, the very frigging second. The present made a lousy
commitment to the future much like the same lousy one it made for her father;
for him it was a matter of time, for Gabby it was a matter of time.

Before she jumped from her roof top garden four floors to pavement.
Is it really just a matter of time or was she salvageable if pursued
in time, before her time. There are parents who tried, tried again, plying
all the resources they could muster, could afford, only to learn
it made no difference — life over death lost; there’s no guarantee.
Tragic moments written in code waits for an update; no guarantee.

Spamaranoid

Everywhere Gabby looked she found
spamnicotiana_grain wilt. Gabby the gardener, the guardian,
sworn to a singular self-imposed allegiance,
the keeper and protector of the data and
the flower, standing vigilant like the sun,
ready to thwart, to prune 
the nagging
onslaught of spam swamp. They fired her
because she found spam 
rot wherever
she looked; she refused to leave the office,
loyal to her job description she stayed adamant
by her computer’s side.  

Don’t you understand how crucial, how necessary I am to us.
Please take your hands off me. Let me do my job. Don’t interfer
with the harvest. Don’t tamper with my existence.
There is no existence without me.  

They pried her loose from the office by grip, put her in a
prison psych ward — diagnosis, psychotic; they released her to the street.
Brilliant. Now what?

Her Suicide

Gabby fed her cats that day. Washed a sweater, hung it to dry.
Sat down to write a to-do list. Cleaned, dusted, organize stuff.
All things neat in their place she took her purse with her,
up to her roof top garden, to enjoy her new plants, have a smoke;
that’s all she intended to do, have a smoke, be with her plants.
Her fastidious housekeeping bares witness to intention; yes? no?

Either way, yes or no, a fourth floor roof top garden beckons
beyondOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA for those who seek it, imagine it; for those
vulnerable to whispers. From a selection of Gabby’s
inner-voices one voice finds expression.
It possibly goes something like this:
first a lullaby;
the lullaby metastasizes into a chant;
a chant metastasizes into a litany;
a litany metastasizes into an hypnotic, blinding,
deafening, profane anthem, 
promising her nothing,
pointing the way, directing her to leap-jump that very second,
without hesitation, from her rooftop garden before another
voice binds her feet to the roof top floor.

As Gabby fell all of us who mattered rushed, leaped, flew towards her,
stretching every bone, muscle, cartilage beyond limit, ripping ligament,
rupturing flesh, reaching out to her, our desperate hands, fingers
aching to catch, clutch, cradle, cherish her; she floated through our hands
as if we were not there.

 by hblume

 

How many good poems does it take to make a poet?

evapicola_1-03 SYLVIA PLATH in an interview was asked how she first began writing poetry, what sort of thing did she write about when she first began?  Sylvia Plath’s reply:

“Nature, I think: birds, bees, spring, fall, all those subjects which are absolute gifts to the person who doesn’t have any interior experience to write about. I think the coming of spring, the stars overhead, the first snowfall and so on are gifts for a child, a young poet.

Twelve year old Eva Picová had the “interior experience” Sllvia Plath speaks of — it’s called the Terrezin concentration camp, renamed Theresienstadt by the Germans. It’s called premature adulthood at gun point.

Theresienstadt concentration camp, a transit camp for children and the elderly who were eventually packed into cattle cars pointed towards Auschwitz and their death. Also a camp for men and women selected for forced labor. Beatings, torture, starvation and disease were commonplace. Eva Picová lived through a typhus epidemic, seeing her friends and others succumb to the disease.  She saw adults saw her parents suffer, saw them agonize, languish, struggle under the brutal and terrorizing treatment wielded by the Nazis.

The adults at Theresienstadt manage to provide art and writing classes for the children. Despite severe congestion, food shortages and compulsory labor, the extensive educational and cultural activities in the ghetto reflected the prisoners’ will to survive the unsurvivable; provided a distraction from their eventual selection to the gas chamber, a distraction from the harsh bare-bone living conditions; gave them, especially the children, a voice to resurrect hope from despair.

A Dr. R. Feder gave Eva Picová’s poem to the State Jewish Museum in Prague. She most likely wrote more. She was allotted one more year to do so.

You can find a collection of children’s art and poetry from Terezin in the book titled “I Never Saw Another Butterfly.” Included is Picová’s poem.

jewishchildrentoauswitch-04

IF EVA PICOVÁ DID SURVIVE THERESIENSTADT CONCENTRATION CAMP I IMAGINE THAT SHE WOULD CONTINUE TO WRITE POETRY, JOINING THE FEW SURVIVOR POETS AND WRITERS WHO GAVE US A PERSONAL HISTORY OF THE UNIMAGINABLE, THE ABSURD, THE MERCILESS. WHO GAVE US THE TELLING OF —  FINDING THEIR OWN VOCABULARY/VOICE TO EXPRESS WHAT IT WAS LIKE TO BE THE CHOSEN PEOPLE — THE PRIMARY PARTICIPANT IN THE FINAL SOLUTION — WHAT IT WAS LIKE TO WITNESS AND ENDURE THE NAZI’S SYSTEMATIC DEDICATED SLAUGHTER OF 6 MILLION JEWS. THEN & NOW —

Poet and writers born from the Holocaust.

  klugerboth-10Ruth Klüger  (born 30 October 1931)  is Professor Emerita of German Studies at the University of California and a Holocaust survivor. In Auschwitz, Kluger composed poetry in her head and, somehow, knew there would be a future for her after the war. Ruth and her mother along with a girl they adopted in Auschwitz were lucky and resourceful: they survived, and when her mother died in 2000, Kluger “felt a sense of triumph, because this had been a human death, because she had survived and outlived the evil times and had died in her own good time, almost 100 years after she was born.”

Her book “Still Alive: A Holocaust Girlhood Remembered” was named one of the year’s 10 best books by the Washington Post, 2001. Winner of the Thomas Mann Prize and the Prix Memoire De La Shoah

Ruth Kluger, an amazing women; her chutzpah, insight, honesty, creativity, survival instincts comes through In her book and everything else she takes on. Ruth Kluger didn’t call it quits after escaping Auschwitz. Risking her own life she help save the lives of Jews during the Holocaust by smuggling them on ships into Palestine.

The following:
SPIEGEL, a German publication interviews Ruth Kluger. Nov 7, 2006

SPIEGEL: Ms. Klüger, at the moment you have a research post at the University of California in Irvine, and before that you were a guest lecturer at the University of Göttingen. Do you sometimes go back to your home town Vienna?

 Klüger: Yes.

 SPIEGEL: But the emotions you experience in Vienna must be very different to how you feel in Göttinge

Klüger: Yes, what is strange is … how should I put it? Our personalities are such that we instinctively rely on our own experiences rather than using our brains. For me Göttingen is not a Nazi town, even though I know that Braunschweig is very nearby…

 SPIEGEL: Braunschweig is of course where Hitler was made a German citizen in 1932.

Klüger: Exactly. But Vienna reeks of anti-Semitism. For me every cobblestone in Vienna is anti-Semitic. If I hadn’t fled with my mother and her friend in time, by the end of the war I could have ended up in Bergen-Belsen. But I have never been there, and I don’t go to these concentration camp memorial sites.

SPIEGEL: These memorial grounds are certainly not built with you in mind.

Klüger: It is just not my camp.

SPIEGEL: But you do you travel occasionally to Vienna?

Klüger: I did a guest professorship there. It was very unpleasant. The people I had to work with were awful.

SPIEGEL: So you believe that anti-Semitism is still deeply ingrained in the city? That it will always be there?

Klüger: Vienna will never be rid of anti-Semitism. I have the feeling the city doesn’t even want to be. When I got the invitation to go there, I couldn’t help thinking: “This is the university where your father studied.” And the first few weeks I was there, I couldn’t shake off the feeling that my father was standing behind me. I kept asking myself what he would have said if he had been there. And after a few weeks I knew what he would have said: “You are pretty stupid to have come here.”

select for the complete interview

Nelly Sachs  (10 December 1891 – 12 May 1970)

nellysachs-06 a Jewish German poet and playwright whose experiences resulting from the rise of the Nazis in World War II Europe transformed her into a poignant spokeswoman for the grief and yearnings of her fellow Jews. She fled to Sweden in 1940 with her mother just before being deported to Theresienstadt concentration camp, and lived in Sweden for the rest of her life, emotionally unable to face the idea of returning to Germany.

In 1966 she was awarded the Nobel prize for literature (for her “German Jewish” poetry).

Her following poem questions the unfathomable  — all of the German, Lithuanian, Ukrainian, Romanian people who had a ‘hand’ in the Holocaust.

HANDS  by Nelly Sachs

Hands death’s gardener,
you who from the cradle-camomile of death
growing on the hard paddocks or hillside,
have bred the hothouse monster of your trade.
Hands, what did you do,
when you were the hands of little children?
Did you hold a mouth organ, the mane of a rocking horse,
did you cling to your mother’s skirt in the dark ….
You strangling hands, was your mother dead, your wife, your child?
So that only death was left for you to hold in your hands,
in your strangling hands?

Abraham Sutzkever sutzkever1_2-07was one of the great Yiddish poets of his generation who evoked the nightmare of the Holocaust with images of a wagonload of worn shoes and the haunting silence of a sky of white stars.

He was forced to dig his own grave at gunpoint; his newborn son was poisoned by the Germans in the ghetto hospital. Less than a year later, Sutzkever wrote a poem from a child’s viewpoint begging its mother to:

Strangle me with your Mama fingers

That played On my willow cradle.
It will mean:
Your love is stronger than death.
It will mean:
You trusted me with your love.

In 1941, he and his wife were sent to the Vilna Ghetto. Ordered by the Nazis to hand over important Jewish manuscripts and artworks Sutzkever and his friends hid a diary by Theodor Herzl, drawings by Marc Chagall and other treasured works behind plaster and brick walls in the ghetto. On September 12, 1943, he and his wife escaped to the forests, and together with fellow Yiddish poet Shmerke Kaczerginsky he fought the Germans as a partisan.

Paul Celan “There is nothing in the world for which a poet will give up writing, not even when he is a Jew and the language of his poems is German”

paul-08

Paul Celan was born in Czernovitz, Romania, to a German-speaking Jewish family. The death of his parents and the experience of the the Holocaust are defining forces in Celan’s poetry and his use of language.

Celan was imprisoned in a work-camp for 2 years, until February 1944, when the Red Army’s advance forced the Romanians to abandon the camps, whereupon he returned to Czernovitz shortly before the Soviets returned. At that time friends recall Celan expressing immense guilt over his separation from his parents, whom he had tried to convince to go into hiding prior to the deportations, shortly before their death.

After escaping the labor camp, Celan lived in Bucharest and Vienna before settling in Paris. In Paris, he translated poetry and taught German language and literature at L’École Normale Supérieure. Though he lived in France and was influenced by the French surrealists, he wrote his own poetry in German.

Celan’s poems often contain brief, fractured lines and stanzas, with compressed and unpredictable imagery, with the forms of the poems echoing the difficulty of finding language for the experiences he witnessed. Celan received the Bremen Prize for German Literature in 1958 and the Georg Buchner Prize in 1960

Celan committed suicide by drowning in the Seine river in Paris, April 1970.

His most famous poem, the “Todesfuge” (Death Fugue)

Death Fugue

Black milk of daybreak we drink it at evening
we drink it at midday and morning we drink it at night
we drink and we drink
we shovel a grave in the air there you won’t lie too cramped
A man lives in the house he plays with his vipers he writes
he writes when it grows dark to Deutschland your golden hair Marguerite
he writes it and steps out of doors and the stars are all sparkling
he whistles his hounds to come close
he whistles his Jews into rows has them shovel a grave in the ground
he orders us strike up and play for the dance

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at morning and midday we drink you at evening
we drink and we drink
A man lives in the house he plays with his vipers he writes
he writes when it grows dark to Deutschland your golden hair Margeurite
your ashen hair Shulamith we shovel a grave in the air there you won’t lie too cramped
He shouts jab this earth deeper you lot there you others sing up and play
he grabs for the rod in his belt he swings it his eyes are blue
jab your spades deeper you lot there you others play on for the dancing

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at midday and morning we drink you at evening
we drink and we drink
a man lives in the house your goldenes Haar Margeurite
your aschenes Haar Shulamith he plays with his vipers
He shouts play death more sweetly Death is a master from Deutschland
he shouts scrape your strings darker you’ll rise then in smoke to the sky
you’ll have a grave then in the clouds there you won’t lie too cramped

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at midday Death is a master aus Deutschland
we drink you at evening and morning we drink and we drink
this Death is ein Meister aus Deutschland his eye it is blue
he shoots you with shot made of lead shoots you level and true
a man lives in the house your goldenes Haar Margarete
he looses his hounds on us grants us a grave in the air
he plays with his vipers and daydreams
der Tod is ein Meister aus Deutschland
dein goldenes Haar Margarete
dein aschenes Haar Shulamith

Primo Michele Levi always wore a short-sleeved shirt with a suit, even in winter, so that his prison tattoo was exposed whenever he removed his jacket.

primolevi number-05

Primo Michele Levi, an Italian Jewish chemist and writer, the author of several books, novels, collections of short stories, essays, and poems. His best-known works include “Survival in Auschwitz”, his account of the year he spent as a prisoner in the Auschwitz concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. For the last forty years of his life Levi devoted himself to attempting to deal with the fact that he was not killed in Auschwitz. “The worst survived, that is, the fittest; the best all died,” he said.

primolevi-09

Campo di Fossoli was a deportation camp in Italy during the Holocaust taken over by the Germans. On 21 February 1944, Levi and other inmates were transported in twelve cramped cattle trucks to Monowitz, one of the three main camps in the Auschwitz concentration camp complex. Levi spent eleven months there before the camp was liberated by the Red Army on 18 January 1945.

Of the 650 Italian Jews in his transport, Levi was one of twenty who left the camps alive. The average life expectancy of a new entrant at the camp was three months.

Levi died on 11 April 1987, when he fell from the interior landing of his third-story apartment in Turin to the ground floor below.

The coroner ruled that Levi’s death was a suicide. Oxford sociologist Diego Gambetta, “If Levi wanted to kill himself he, a chemical engineer by profession, would have known better ways than jumping into a narrow stairwell with the risk of remaining paralyzed.

CENTRO PRIMO LEVI NEW YORK (CPL) is a New York based organization inspired by the humanistic legacy of writer and chemist Primo Levi, who survived Auschwitz and contributed significantly to the post-World War II debate on the role of memory in modern societies. CPL fosters and supports those interested in Primo Levi’s work, the Italian Jewish past as well as those interested in current perspectives and conversations about the Italian Jewish community today. It offers programs, publishing and networking activities and provides links to libraries and museums, academic and scholarly updates and a monthly newsletter. CPL is a dynamic and informative English language portal offering information and resources on Italian Jewish culture and history to audiences around the world.

A poem at the beginning of his book “Survival In Auschwitz”

 If This Is a Man

You who live safe In your warm houses,
You who find, returning in the evening,
Hot food and friendly faces:

Consider if this is a man
Who works in the mud,
Who does not know peace,
Who fights for a scrap of bread,
Who dies because of a yes or a no.

Consider if this is a woman
Without hair and without name,
With no more strength to remember,
Her eyes empty and her womb cold
Like a frog in winter.

Meditate that this came about:
I commend these words to you.
Carve them in your hearts At home,
in the street, Going to bed, rising;
Repeat them to your children.
Or may your house fall apart,
May illness impede you,
May your children turn their faces from you.

Assisted suicide for jumpers.

jumperonledge_1-03

Life Ends Six Meters Above The Ground

Meet Sascha Vongehr: scientist, philosopher, physicist, mathematician, a nano-quantum-blackhole-obsessive-compulsive thinker.  His credentials speak highly of, for, about him; an impressive list of kudos suggesting a profound ken and a dense intensely convoluted brain mass, maybe too dense, too convoluted.

Sascha harnessed his power of perception and calculation to prove this: when jumpers commit suicide they’re in luck, no pain felt, they officially go dead 6-meters above ground before impact. Good news, right? Sascha  got the math to back it up.

 Sascha comforts jumpers-to-be on their way to the edge:

 “The greatest hurdle before committing suicide is the fear of dying and death as well as the fear of hurting people we care about. In order to assist suicide, Suicidal Philosophy alleviates these fears rather than stoking them like traditional Philosophy of Suicide does. Suicidal Philosophy is much more science than philosophy, as the following outtake of a long article aimed at helping people in distress exemplifies. It explains why it is that if you jump out of a 20 story building, your life already ends peacefully more than six meters before impact with the ground.”

Sascha addresses the supposed misgivings a potential jumper might have about jumping — fear, death, pain. His intent, a rational, gentle push over the edge, an assisted suicide by premise, coaxing her or him closer to the edge …“ your life already ends peacefully more than six meters before impact with the ground.”    

To further alleviate any misgivings a jumper might harbor Sascha cites: “The fear of dying involves fearing pain and plainly fearing fear. Anybody who has ever endured a panic attack or so called horror trip will fear this ‘fear of fear’.” Alleviate the fear of fear and you’re that much closer to the edge.

To begin with: 1. Fear of fear is a misnomer. When I felt a sudden rush of blood to my face and head after over indulging on the fleshy steak-like chunks of the delicious shelf fungus ‘Chicken of the Woods’ I had a panic attack — not because of my fear of fear — I thought I poisoned myself. “Fear of” is about fear of something causing fear. 2. Jumpers don’t have a fear issue.

Fear is not part of the equation, especially with jumpers. 

Those who choose jumping from heights to end their life aren’t about to consult Wikipedia on the Philosophy of suicide. Jumpers know no fear. They could care less about Sascha’s 6-meter cushion or his Suicidal Philosophy. All they’re interested in is ease, speed and the certainty of death.

Refer to the following selection from the NY Times:

What makes looking at jumping suicides potentially instructive is that it is a method associated with a very high degree of impulsivity, and its victims often display few of the classic warning signs associated with suicidal behavior. In fact, jumpers have a lower history of prior suicide attempts, diagnosed mental illness (with the exception of schizophrenia) or drug and alcohol abuse than is found among those who die by less lethal methods, like taking pills or poison. Instead, many who choose this method seem to be drawn by a set of environmental cues that, together, offer three crucial ingredients: ease, speed and the certainty of death.

The Urge to End It All  ·  By Scott Anderson
Published: July 6, 2008 NYT

Six meters above ground is moot.  Either way, at 6-meters or at “thud” the jumper will experience an immediate drop in transmission  — no pain to the brain — brain death — a no brainer. Thanks anyway Sascha, those jumpers out there just don’t need the assist. But I have to admit, 6-meters is in some uncomfortable way comforting to know.

 Here’s Sascha’s reasoning & “the math.”

Fall

A signal travels about 20 milliseconds (ms = a thousands of one second) from a receptor to the brain. If the nerve wiring is used to pre-process data, like this occurs in the eye’s retina for example, the time goes up to 50 to 100 ms. Hardwired reflexes or trained responses like fast table tennis returns can be unconsciously dealt with in 200 to 300 ms. Taking into account how slow nerves transmit and how much calculation is involved to complete high level functions like conscious thought, a delay of 500 ms is an unexpectedly short and entirely necessary holdup.

 Nevertheless, it is long enough to be of some comfort to anyone committing suicide by jumping from an elevated structure. Selecting a 20th floor of a building ensures at least 60 meters height – a safe estimate employing only 3 meters per floor although office buildings have mostly around 3.5 meters per story. Falling down a height of sixty meters onto the deserted asphalt below gives one’s body a velocity of about 34 meters per second after 3.5 seconds [one hits the ground with v = (2 *60 m * 9.8 m/s2)1/2].

 Falls from a mere ten meters onto unyielding ground have already often deadly consequences, but 34 m/s, that are 76.2 mph or 122.4 km/h, are enough to immediately switch off and destroy one’s brain regardless of the body’s orientation at impact.

 Assume a cautiously conservative estimate employing a neural delay of only dt = 200 ms. Approaching the ground to about six meters above of it, then having a velocity of 32 m/s, one falls more than six meters (32 m/s * 0.2 s) during the time dt between the eyes receiving the light and the occurrence of the neural correlates of consciousness (NCC) [6] of the seen situation.

 Resultantly, the conscious perception is that of a fast approaching ground, but this movie stops playing when the ground is still more than six meters away! One does never even come close to experiencing the impact, let alone having any pain because of it.

For the complete post click here.

 Cosmic and planetary suicide

Sascha is a member of an organization called the lifeboat foundation / safeguarding humanity, where he and others take on cosmic and planetary suicide, existential risks and snafus, among other endeavors. They’re a heady group, a likely place for the likes of Sascha. I recommend a look-see. Membership is huge, members brainy with lofty existential concepts.

medium_vongehr

Sascha Vongehr

Below is Sascha’s Curricula Vitae / Resume. It’s impressive. 12-point type doesn’t do it justice. I was compelled to feature it in headline text where I, you can take it in, enjoy big blocks at a time.

resumeschsa_top-01

resumesascha-01

Serial killer dream

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whenmydaughter-02

Several years later the dream divulged my crime. With the same hazy figure floating behind me I had this awful epiphany. I committed the worst, the unforgivable and immutable. I killed someone. Who? Never saw the victim. Never knew in what manner I killed but there was no escaping the verdict of murderer and the fear, anxiety and guilt experienced in the dream and upon awaking. Judgment day will come. I will pay the price. Murderer.

About the 11th year the dream offered up a self-synopsis of the killing. It occurred to me within the dream that my crime was a familiar one, a crime of killing that I had committed in the past, had repeated again and again and will repeat in the future. The dream expressed a history of its self; included its passage of time, predicted its future and reflected its status quo. I will spend eternity as a serial killer dreamer in limbo, never apprehended except by my own guilt. I will go on killing ad infinitum until I go numb with guilt.

Time came when my serial-killer dream surfaced not during sleep but mid-day when I was overwhelmed with grief, during my daughter’s funeral service, it leaped out of the blue, slapped me breathless, the blood in my veins came to a halt. I knew then I would never have the serial-killer dream again. I got the message. I understood, finally, but way-way too late. I was too late, too late to intervene, too late to find the courage, strength, will to extract myself from myself, to be there for Robin, my daughter, the shadowy figure besides me, the victim in the dream. No more serial killer dreams. The victim was laid to rest.  I blew it big time.  Judgment time now holds its enduring prosecution. The future holds no daughter. No more serial killer dreams.

Robin Blume, 21 years old, on Jan 31, 1988, at 1 o’clock in the morning got out of bed, walked downstairs to the back door, walked across the yard to the garage adjoining the alley, entered the garage and meticulously covered the garage windows with duct tape so no light could escape to the outside.  With the garage lights turned on she meticulously taped every single breathing opening to the outside. She taped along the interface where the bottom of the garage door sits on the cement floor. The back door to the entrance to the yard she taped as well. Sitting in the front seat of the car she placed along side her a favorite doll from her childhood, Lou Lou, a letter addressed to her family and a letter to Randy her brother. She had with her 2 cassettes, one Pink Floyd and one Roxy Music. No note for dad.

You’d think Robin’s psychiatrist, Dr. Kreche would have alerted Robin’s mother and stepfather to the tell-tail signs of a child prepping for suicide.  Gail, her mothers berates herself for not picking up on those signs which seemed so obvious in hindsight: Robin began giving away stuff, to her friends her jewelry and books, to Randy her stuffed animals.  The  week before she took her life she joined her family for dinner every night, not like her, she usually ate in her room behind closed door. She was attentive with everyone, even talkative, not her usual behavior. Gail and Bob thought that her appointment at Mayo Clinic might be responsible for her mood change.

I met with Dr. Kreche 3 months after Robin’s death, my question to him was after 3 years of treating Robin why hadn’t he had some indication that Robin was suicidal. I’m sure they had to discuss it. How did it get by him? Why hadn’t he cued the family in on what indicators of suicidal behavior to be on the alert for? I don’t recall his answers. He was stunned by her suicide, never expected it.  A year later he left Chicago for California, the reason he uprooted his abode and practice rumor said was because of his failure to intervene.

Talk about failure to intervene. What about my colossal failure as a parent? How many nails did I drive into her coffin?  More than one given I was and wasn’t a father from the day she was born.

Would it have made a difference if I understood the dream’s message early on, when Robin was 2 or 3 years old — when I really could have made a difference? Would she still be alive today? Would I have heeded the dream’s message? I’m not sure, don’t think so, I’d need backup, firm guidance, a lobotomy, my parental skills sucked, my priorities loveless.

“The essence of being human is being connected with other humans and the schisms we have setup have kept us from realizing that vision when awake, a vision that has never been lost while we are asleep.  Dreams never give up on us. They are with us every night urging us to face issues that restrict and discourage us, that limit our inventiveness. They remind us of the responsibility we all have to free up our emotional life. They are in their way, our personal spokesmen for a saner living.”   Dr. Montague Ullman

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Suicide Paradise

Cascadilla gorge bridge

So: the deal, pact, commitment I made with my self if I didn’t return home with the job I wouldn’t return period, end of story. I’d jump from one of Cornell’s bridges, the Cascadilla gorge bridge, the Fall Creek bridge, convenient, it’d take me less than five minutes to get to either one of those breathtaking views once the meeting was over.

“No chickening-out, Howard.”
“No problem, I won’t.”

Taken from the pedestrian bridge looking down into Fall Creek gorge.
credit: dennieorson’s photostream

We, Kay my wife and I spent seven years on a farm in Interlaken New York, 20 minutes outside of Ithaca, New York, home of Cornell University. We made a hand-ladled goat cheese, sold to specialty food shops, supermarkets, restaurants in Manhattan and throughout the Atlantic and mid-Atlantic.  Great experience, stressful, sold lots of cheese, acquired a great reputation with cheese mavens and foodies. Profit margin, invisible.

Challenging life events during that time: my daughter committed suicide, a close friend, an cinematographer, was murdered while filming in Puerto Rico, a good friend’s son, bipolar, committed suicide, Kay’s mother and father passed on. Both of us were on antidepressants, me for a debilitating fatigue precipitated by Lyme disease, Kay’s depression most likely from a bad string of DNA.

The inevitable straw that broke our back: in the middle of finishing an addition to the creamery we lost our milk supply, went belly up, down the drain, bankrupt. In no time we ran out of money.  Had to beg for cash from family, scrounge money from friends, could not find work, felt isolated, in fact were isolated, depression no meds could fix, humiliated, angry, furious; if I could keep it up for furious, furious is what kept me going. I was looking for a fight, needed someone to beat the crap out of me. Kay and I, we both went into a tailspin. I never gave suicide a deadline till that morning.

Cascadilla gorge

Back then there
weren’t any physical
deterrents to impede jumps.
Clear sailing.

Cornell campus is plush with elegant mature plantings embellished and tended too by skilled, schooled landscapers; then to top off the scenery greenery they have two infamous wondrous gorges; the Cascadilla gorge and Fall Creek gorge, framing the campus to the north and south, formed over 2 million years ago by the endless, relentless fury of water and ice racing, pushing downward, carving, cracking, grinding, rocks, pebbles, sand, again and again, over 100 ft deep in places, creating spectacular haunting towering cathedrals, offering plants cracks in its wall to take root in, luring cliff swallows to nest in its crevices and mesmerizing folks, students, faculty, any one standing on one of the bridges looking over the edge facing down into its awesome beautiful terrifying abyss, beckoning. The vista so powerful you can feel engulfed by it, absorbed.

“Ithaca is Gorgeous.” You find this phrase printed on sweatshirts, T-shirts, mugs. You might also see the phrase “Ithaca is Suicide.”
And “suicide” is also expressed as: “gorging out.”

Thurston Ave Bridge

The campus has suffered six student suicides in the 2009-2010 academic year, three of them from jumps off the Thurston Avenue bridge. Two tragedies were back-to-back, one on a Thursday, one Friday. According to CNN, the university worked to become a model of suicide prevention after gaining a nickname, legitimately or not, “Suicide University,” in the 1990s.

The university’s mental health initiatives director, Timothy Marchel, told CNN that he did not know what may have prompted the recent wave of suicides was unclear, as Cornell had no suicides from 2005 to 2008. CNN reported that the school has consistently fallen within or below the national average, according to Karen Carr, the assistant dean of students at Cornell.

Cornell spent brainpower brain-picking, from the 1940’s to this current decade, masticating on the profile of a jumper and his or her predictability, as did psychiatrist and social-orientated professionals. Administrators hemmed and they hawed: what measures should they take to curb a jumper from jumping?  When fences were first suggested Cornell balked. Why bother? If someone intent on committed suicide by jumping off a bridge is discouraged by a fence they’ll eventually find some other way to off themselves. Not true, as evidence will bare-out.

Another consideration for nixing fences: Cornell, part of the student body and citizens of Ithaca were concerned with bridge esthetics: a fence will mess up the view. True but what holds more value, is more precious, a life or the venerable view. Don’t ask that question to a parent who lost a daughter or son to the gorgeous gorges.

Three students committed suicide by jumping from bridges within a month of each other. According to the newspaper, 27 people committed suicide between 1990 and 2010 by jumping from the bridges, including 15 students

Temporary Fences

Bridges lend
themselves to passion suicides — spontaneous combustion
verses
premeditative suicides — slow leak

My daughter was a plotter, her suicide premeditative. She wrote letters, gave her things away, carefully picked the hour and the means. My suicide, one of passion. I gave it a go as I headed out the door, no goodbye note.

There are those who display the classic symptoms of so-called suicidal behavior, who build up to their act over time or who choose methods that require careful planning. And then there are those whose act appears born of an immediate crisis, with little or no forethought involved. Just as with homicide, those in the “passion” category of suicide are much more likely to turn to whatever means are immediately available, those that are easy and quick.

 Excerpted from: The Urge To End it all.
Scott Anderson. NY Times

Back
to
my
suicide

Left the meeting, got into my car, drove off. I got the job; that would take care off us for 5 months. As I turned onto route 89, the scenic route along Cayuga Lake toward Interlaken, to the farm, it hit me; an adrenalin jolt to my gut, my being, my pact, my commitment, the deal to jump. If I didn’t get the work, instead of holding this steering wheel heading home, at this very instant I’d be cascading down into the gorge heading to my certain death. In one blinding flash I stop breathing, no longer was at the wheel. I jumped, dropped, fell through the car seat to the bottom of the gorge, then off to the great beyond and back again, my hands once more on the wheel.

Stunned, wiped, zombie-like, running on empty, scared shitless. “I came close to killing myself.” Driving back to the farm I was sure I would have jumped, gave myself no choice, signed on the dotted line, written in stone, a deal is a deal, loose face if I didn’t hold-up my end of the bargain. I could not face the future without a future. Fortunately the coin turned up heads, don’t have to put my commitment to the test, a reprieve. I’m driving back facing Kay, 2 German Sheppards, Sweet Pea and Winter, 5 cats, Brewster, Little Bear, Squirrel, Minky, Edwena, our goat Albert and Stinky the Bankruptcy.

When ever I think of life on the farm when I was on the verge of committing suicide, when it could have gone the other way, I find myself trying to talk my self out of the jump.

“ Howard, you know you could have never made that jump.”
“ Easy for you to say that now, Howard. Try it back then in the Gloom
n and Doom, the Sturm und Drang.”

Note: bridge of my own choosing. 

All the time we spent going to and fro from Cornell’s dairy department back to the farm, driving over Cornell’s bridges, over the gorges, I never thought of them as a means to my end. They were nothing but beautiful. Never heard or read of the bridges described as a “suicide magnet.” When I came to consider suicide I came to it all on my own, my choice of method my own. No suicides were flagged in the media that provided inspiration or reference, no external prompt. It was a simple one on one transaction. There I was. And there it was. “Make it and they will jump.”

◊◊◊

 From cradle to bridge. 

Cornell Alumni, Jakub J. Janecka

What drives Cornell Alumni, Jakub J. Janecka, 33 years old, to return to Ithaca ten years later after graduation and take a dive into the Cascadilla Gorge? Witnesses described his jump as headfirst.

What does a headfirst dive tell us: determination: nothing will interfere: allows no change of heart: quick and unfailing.  How long ago did Jakub J. Janecka entertain self-immolation; a passing thought as he walked over a bridge when a Cornell student, then rekindled years later by one bad month or by years of depression? Sudden impulse? Gradual realization?

Jakub J. Janecka received a Bachelor of Science in biology from Cornell University and a master’s degree in theology from the University of Scranton. The past spring, before he jumped, he earned a master’s degree in biology from Catholic University of America.

What an awesome combo — biology and theology. He had to be quite a bright unique person given this marriage of two apparently opposing views of the world. No doubt he had much to offer. I would have looked forward to meeting him. There must be others who enjoyed his company; yet no sign of contacts or friends on the social net work except a facebook friend, Jane Goldschmidt, most likely a classmate of his at Catholic University of America.

Deciphering God’s DNA

Deciphering God’s DNA, a rare specialty for a student to pursue. Jakub J. Janecka, born in the Uherske Hradiste, Czech Republic, went to grade and high school in Lake Ariel, PA. With Jakub we have the makings of a passionate, exciting, brilliant, fascinating soul. What the fu__ went wrong. How could anyone taking-on the miracles of life and the miracles of God want to off himself?

Let’s find out how, think it through, write a film script or novel based on Jakub’s life, a dramatization patching together what is known of him, which is scant, and fill in the unknowns guided by creative instinct, sensitivity, psyche, pathos and passion; find the conflict, the relationships, see where it takes you. Follow Jakub from cradle to bridge. If you’re a  filmmaker, writer, novelist, its yours to take on.

Jakub J. Janecka return to Ithaca to seek his destiny, to find a bridge, his bridge, the bridge with his name on it, the bridge he envisioned when he decided to commit suicide, envisioned as he drove from somewhere to Ithaca, New York. He must have known that a jump from a Cornell bridge would make news, get him attention. Is that what he sought? As it was he received minimal attention. Several one-day announcements in the local papers.

Three responses to Jakub J. Janecka death.

1, A mention in the blog “Cornel Watch”: The Strange Case of Jakub Jan Janecka: The name of the body found yesterday in Cascadilla Gorge has been released, and the details may shock you. His name is Jakub J. Janecka of Lake Ariel, PA, and he graduated in 1998. Why Cornell alum would such make an eerie pilgrimage to Ithaca to commit suicide is as strange a question as it is tragic.

2. Dennis Cheng a friend from high school: “Jakub was one of my closest friends in high school. He was a brilliant student, bringing a much needed international view to a backwards, rural Pennsylvania public school. He was always one of those people that kept appearing in random thoughts, a name from the past to try to hunt down. I always pictured him doing big things. I learned of his untimely death today, too late to attend his service. I am sick over it.  My thoughts are with his family. He will be missed by many.”

( Two close high school friends never kept in touch with each other since they graduated. Jakub finally made contact with Dennis through his obituary piece in the newspaper. Not much of a friendship. )

3. Eight years after his death I ask: what about his close friends, his family. He has a brother and sister both with the title of doctor; did they know what he was going through? What was it that turned Jakub against Jakub?

Was his pain so quiet, so hidden from his family, friends that none of them saw it?  Did anyone look at his face to read, “ I’m not okay! Help!” Did he seek help? Was he a loner, terribly shy? What went bad for Jakub? Was it a sudden alteration in sugar levels, hormones, neurotransmitters? I imagined myself with Jakub, grabbing his shirt collar, trying to drag him back off the bridge. He had to be spent, blinded, tortured by pain, depression, despair when he took that bullet dive.

If there were fences installed on the bridges at the time Jakub returned to Cornell he might still be with us, he might have survived long enough to get help. I will miss Jakub J. Janecka based only on the compelling fragments of what I know of him; but that’s enough.

◊◊◊

Sylvia Plath & The British coal-gas story.

For generations, the people of Britain heated their homes and fueled their stoves with coal gas. While plentiful and cheap, coal-derived gas could also be deadly; in its unburned form, it released very high levels of carbon monoxide, and an open valve or a leak in a closed space could induce asphyxiation in a matter of minutes. This extreme toxicity also made it a preferred method of suicide. “Sticking one’s head in the oven” became so common in Britain that by the late 1950s it accounted for some 2,500 suicides a year, almost half the nation’s total.

The mining and export of coal was a major industry in Great Britain and proved to be responsible for “the execution chamber in everyone’s kitchen,”

Those numbers began dropping over the next decade as the British government embarked on a program to phase out coal gas in favor of the much cleaner natural gas. By the early 1970s, the amount of carbon monoxide running through domestic gas lines had been reduced to nearly zero. During those same years, Britain’s national suicide rate dropped by nearly a third, and it has remained close to that reduced level ever since.

How can this be? After all, if the impulse to suicide is primarily rooted in mental illness and that illness goes untreated, how does merely closing off one means of self-destruction have any lasting effect? At least a partial answer is that many of those Britons who asphyxiated themselves did so impulsively. In a moment of deep despair or rage or sadness, they turned to what was easy and quick and deadly — “the execution chamber in everyone’s kitchen,” as one psychologist described it — and that instrument allowed little time for second thoughts. Remove it, and the process slowed down; it allowed time for the dark passion to pass.   The Urge To End it all.  By Scott Anderson. NY Times

Sylvia Plath

“outcast on a cold star, unable to feel anything but an awful helpless numbness. I look down into the warm, earthy world. Into a nest of lovers’ beds, baby cribs, meal tables, all the solid commerce of life in this earth, and feel apart, enclosed in a wall of glass.” 

Written by the British poet Sylvia Plath, 6 months before she sealed the windows and doors to her kitchen, turned on the gas and knelt in front of her stove. If she had natural gas, instead of coal gas would the outcome differ; before she could find a convenient, easy, sure-fired means of suicide her doctor could have her placed in a psychiatric hospital as he was trying to do before she committed suicide. He was in the process of finding her a bed in an over-filled psychiatric hospital — any day now, a bed for her. Natural gas could have bought him and Sylvia more time? What would happen after a hospital stay and therapy? Don’t know, more poems and extra years she would have never had with goal gas; still eventually suicide, some would say inevitable.

The  message

Don’t make it easy for the jumper. Create an obstacle. Buy them cool-off time. Read the entire NY. Times piece, “The Urge To End it All” by Scott Anderson.  You’ll find research shows that most of the would-be impulsive jumpers — those who are quick to suicide, those who often don’t have time for goodbyes or suicide notes — once the attempt is thwarted they loose interest; they won’t attempt to fulfill the act again.

Most importantly, there is the scientific research on means restriction, which suggests that bridge barriers are an effective tool in suicide prevention,” she said. “Five or 10 years ago, there weren’t any articles on this. Suicide prevention as a discipline is maturing.”   Susan Murphy, Ithaca Times

A few chuckles and research demonstrating no plan B

Following is Scott Anderson’s interview of Richard Seiden, a professor emeritus and clinical psychologist at the University of California at Berkeley School of Public Health, best known for his pioneering work on the study of suicide. Much of that work has focused on the bridge that lies just across San Francisco Bay from campus, the Golden Gate.

“At the risk of stating the obvious,” Seiden said, “people who attempt suicide aren’t thinking clearly. They might have a Plan A, but there’s no Plan B. They get fixated. They don’t say, ‘Well, I can’t jump, so now I’m going to go shoot myself.’ And that fixation extends to whatever method they’ve chosen. They decide they’re going to jump off a particular spot on a particular bridge, or maybe they decide that when they get there, but if they discover the bridge is closed for renovations or the railing is higher than they thought, most of them don’t look around for another place to do it. They just retreat.”

Seiden cited a particularly striking example of this, a young man he interviewed over the course of his Golden Gate research. The man was grabbed on the eastern promenade of the bridge after passers-by noticed him pacing and growing increasingly despondent. The reason? He had picked out a spot on the western promenade that he wanted to jump from, but separated by six lanes of traffic, he was afraid of getting hit by a car on his way there.”


Excerpted from: The Urge To End it all.
Scott Anderson. NY Times

The Education of Cornel University
Tuition: 27 suicides

1990-2008: 21 deaths from jumpers, 15 were from Cornell.
These figures differ from source to source

2009: Three students, bridge suicide:

February 17, 2010: Brad Ginsburg, bridge suicide

March 11, 2010: William Sinclair, bridge suicide

March 12, 2010: Matthew Zika, bridge suicide

Nov 21, 2011: Brad Ginsburg’s father sues Cornell

2012: The University is now working with the City of Ithaca to install nets under six of the seven bridges on or near campus. The seventh, the Suspension Bridge over Fall Creek Gorge, will be enclosed by protective netting.

Bridge Security

What do you think? Howard Ginsberg got a case?  

Ginsberg has got to be asking himself where is “my responsibility in my tragedy.” “What signs might I have missed?” “Could I have intervened if I paid more attention?” Once loosing a child, life is forever soiled, scarred, diminished, unacceptable, cruel, bitter.

Should Cornell bare all the blame? Can the courts divide blame? It took many years and a prominent body count before Cornell finally went the whole nine yards and installed proper suicide deterrents on the bridges. But there was a learning curve for all of the Universities when it came to student suicides; no one got it right the first time around or the second.  How should that effect the courts decision if not at all? It’s easier to see Cornell’s culpability, not for public consumption Howard Ginsberg’s.

Barbed wire fence credit: http://www.samuelmcquire.com

An artist’s rendering of vertical steel-mesh nets draped over the Suspension Bridge.

slug

Footnote

Chain-link fences on Thurston Avenue Bridge. Since the installation of the fences, they have been both decorated and vandalized by students.

Don’t worry about my funeral

A suicide note written by 12-year-old Stefan Ciure to his mother, after she left him in Romania to work as a house cleaner in Rome.  Stefan took a picture of himself with his cell phone, pinned the note and picture to his shirt and hanged himself with a leather horsewhip from a cherry tree.

His mother:  “Stefan’s death is the tragedy of my life, but I left because I was poor and couldn’t feed my children.”

Stefan’s suicide note, pragmatic, carefully thought through, considerate. He the young man of the household makes sure his funeral expenses are covered so not to spend any of his mother’s hard earned money. For his sister he gives advice: “Study.” He warns his mother about the harsh world, the stoic voice, he the young man of the household. Then comes the request from the child ”PLEASE CARE FOR MY PUPPY”

Stefan, child, youngman: how could you leave your puppy behind, that’s a tortuous decision I think a 12 year old would never-ever come too. Stefan how could you?

Because; because your mother left someone she loves behind; because the only warmth you’ve known, held and that held you abandoned you to the care of an alcoholic father; because you exist in a small overcrowded unkempt cheerless house with little resource to heat its frigid walls; because you sentence yourself to isolation in your own room for days on end; because.

In Romania, Children Left Behind Suffer the Strains of Migration
The New York Times


Aquan Lewis, a nano-whisper

That’s one version. Oakton Elementary School, Evanston, IL.
Aquan Lewis found around 3pm on Tuesday, February 3, 2009 on the bathroom floor unconscious by a school janitor who administered CPR.  Someone or some others told the janitor they found him hanging in the stall and had lifted him off the hook; those first responders identity never disclosed.  Aquan was taken to Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago where he was pronounced dead at 4:05am the next morning, Wednesday, February 4, 2009.  Medical examiner ruled it a suicide.

A teacher had a confrontation with Aquan that day. He told the teacher he was going to kill himself.  The teacher and possibly other informed school staff did not take his threat seriously. No one noticed his absence from class.  There is talk of bullying, other children have complained of it. Every button on Aquan’s shirt was buttoned, something his classmates said he never did. Maybe he did it this once — or someone did it — to assure his shirt would hold taught for the hanging.  Someone thought that through.

Aquan had recently finished his first season of tackle football; all speed and bouncing agility, 80lbs of him made the flyweight squad of Evanston Junior Wildcat Football; he rotated between running back, receiver, corner back and safety. A friend of the family said “He loved to read, play sports and enjoyed school. He was a happy kid.’”  His coach put him on offense after Aquan repeatedly ask to run the football. During the final home game he got his chance. He caught a pass and ran 50 yards before he was tackled near the end zone. His coach quoted by the Chicago Tribune said: “He laid there for a minute. It wasn’t that he was injured, but he was so sad he didn’t score a touchdown. He had the potential not only as a citizen, but as an athlete, he had the potential.”

Lallie Marshall, Aquan’s great-grandmother, told ABC News.com that the family believes he was hoisted onto the hook by a group of boys.

Police corroborated the Cook County medical examiner’s finding that Aquan’s death was a suicide.  Mother and a few neighbors are not buying it. They can’t believe Aquan, given the position of the seat, hook and shirt collar, could have physically pulled-off a self-hanging.  His footprint was found on the toilet seat. That footprint clinched the act of suicide claimed the authorities.

“My son loved life said his mother, he’d never tried to hurt himself.”

I find it difficult to believe a ten year old would take his own life.  A friend of mine who had taught at the school told me Aquan’s family life was seriously troubled. The smoking gun we always look for — a public record search showed his mother Angel Marshall pleaded no contest to cocaine possession in 2003 and was sentenced to community service in 1999 on a handgun charge. The press laid out that info about her as-is without comment. No doubt comments did follow.

“My son loved life said his mother, he’d never tried to hurt himself.”

You need to look at a photograph of Aquan Lewis to suffer an inkling of what deep wrenching suffocating guilt and pain his mother has gone through and still is. The news media featured a frayed creased pocketsize photograph of him, a beautiful, glowing handsome happy looking boy, too innocent, too wholesome to commit suicide.  “Pictures don’t tell the whole story.” That’s what the judge said to Gail, my ex-wife and to me when I showed him pictures of Robin, our daughter, 9 years old laughing and mugging into the camera.  Gail’s parents attempted to get custody of Robin. We were in the judge’s chambers upon his request — to assess us as responsible parents. For evidence I handed him several photographs of her to illustrate what a good time she had with her father.  “ A smiling face isn’t any indication of how much or well she is cared for,” said the judge.” That wasn’t a judge espousing judicial insight.  It was his reasonable reply to my naivety verging on stupidity.

Lanny Berman, executive director of the American Association of Suicidology, told ABCNews.com:  “The suicide of a 10-year-old is “very rare” and usually doesn’t happen without clear warning signs, such as very serious symptoms of aggression or just being out of control in some other ways. Suicide at this age is very impulsive and if Aquan had indeed threatened suicide to a school employee, it should have been taken seriously no matter how flippant it may have sounded. We always advise to take every threat seriously. If you’re wrong, big deal. If you’re right you may save a life.”

American Association of Suicidology  – Suicide Among Children

    • In 2005, 270 children ages 10 to 14 completed suicides in the U.S.
    • Suicide rates for those between the ages of 10-14 increased 50% between 1981 and 2005.
    • Although their rates are lower than for Caucasian children, African American children (ages 10-14) showed the largest increase in suicide rates between 1980 and 1995 (233%). In 2004, the rate for African American males ages 10-14 was 0.62 per 100,000 in 2005 (the rate for Caucasian males was 1.92 per 100,000).
    • In the 10 to 14 age group, Caucasian children (ranked 3rd leading cause of death) were far more likely to complete suicide than African American children (ranked 5th leading cause of death). Caucasian males.

“The medical examiner, before the police have ever done the investigation, has concluded suicide … I think it’s reckless, frankly,” said his Aquan’s mother’s attorney.


”If there is someone to blame, I have to take the blame for that because I’m the superintendent of schools,” Superintendent Hardy Murphy told an ABC affiliate.

Neglect allegations have been lodged against the school with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services in connection with Aquan’s death, DCFS spokesman Jimmie Whitelow confirmed.

That’s about it. Nothing else to tell. The news media gave it two to three weeks. Apparently Aquan’s family did not contest the verdict of suicide, did not pursue litigation against the school. Whatever ultimately concluded went on under-wraps.

If at several crucial junctures along Aquan’s life-path several right-hearted people and a right-headed coalition gave him tender loving hugs, attention and consul he still might be with us. If you, they, whomever is given the chance of caring for another Aquan Lewis get it right this time. Not to point fingers, we know who we are — now live with it.

♦♦♦

 

In Search of the Miraculous, Give or Take

robinme_a

cluster_ver1

1 The dreads and the gargoyle
2 Serial killer dream
3 Celestial body
4 Robin’s suicide
5 What for dreams?
6 Dreams, no bullshit
7 Howard, The lesser of 5 evils
8 Psychic phenomena via parent-child constellation
9 Psychic phenomena via parent-child synchronicity

1990  –  2012
Monday Sept 17, 1990

I woke this Monday morning and once again not more than 3 feet tall, inches from my ear, originating from somewhere within my digestive tract but undigested and indigestible stood the gargoyle, somewhat perched on my left shoulder.

Kay, my wife lies next to me sleeping soundly

The dreads and the gargoyle

Before the gargoyle made his appearance I woke with the “dreads” only — a suffocated feeling stuffed with doom and helplessness. Monday mornings were and still are the worst. They have more angst than the other mornings of the week but every morning bares weight. I’m impressed when I’m on my feet stumbling away from an empty pillow where moments ago I was pinned; the simple act of getting out of bed felt heroic.

He first came to my shoulder earlier this year. I woke in the morning and perched on my shoulder, long last, was a representative of the dreads. Lying on my side, one side of my face consumed in pillow I opened an eye to see a figure, a shadow, maybe at first I sensed something, seconds later I realized the gargoyle. He dawned upon me. He held a list.

I’m not the only one that has the morning dreads to be sure. There’s got to be a ton of us who wake with their version. Those in the profession call it clinical depression. Our malaise — feeling like shit — doesn’t necessarily hinge on how well or bad life is going. Something is embedded at the core: a DNA of suffering. Circumstances have given that DNA cause; could be a bi-polar disorder, borderline personality disorder, a whatever disorder coupled by bad parenting, bad luck or a combination of them all.  Thus to the rescue comes my gargoyle. Gargoyles are accustomed to this kind of work. Over millenniums they stood guard above church portal vomiting torrents.

In pre-gargoyle times I woke with unarticulated dreads. Now the gargoyle gives my dreads a voice, a spokesperson so to speak, a stand-up comic working me for laughs, there on my shoulder to lighten things up, wasn’t going for belly laughs, a chuckle, a snicker would do.

Keep in mind Jackie Mason, hailed as the ultimate Jew, belting out his material in his usual mischievous, melodious, burbling Yiddish style to a packed nightclub of hungry, ready for fun dolled-up Jews and Christian derivatives.  And keep in mind the gargoyle.

(To clarify if need be: I did dream of the gargoyle. He did make it to my shoulder. His spiel, his dialogue I wrote as if I was the voice of the gargoyle a cappella Frits Pearl and Gestalt therapy. Frits would say to a patient, “Speak as the ocean in your dream. What does your ocean have to say?” What does my gargoyle have to say? )

For openers: he read through the list, crumbled it, stuffed it in his mouth, chewed, swallowed, gulped, smacked his lips and feigned gagging

Thus spoke the gargoyle.

 “Enough already. Enough is never enough. Every time you get enough, “poof,” what happened, it’s not enough. You don’t have enough money to pay the mortgage, enough for the electric, enough for the phone, taxes, the living, the sick, the dying. Enough? You got enough? Poof, not enough. Enough is only enough when it’s too much. Too much is enough. Anything less than more than enough isn’t enough. So forget it boychic. You’re a born looser, a serial failure, a schlemazel, a schlemiel, a schmendrick and last but not least a smuck!  You don’t have more than enough and from where I’m standing you’ll never get it. So enough already. You have 21 days to discover a cure for anything. Anything.  Forget about it. You’re out of time. You’re middle age, can’t afford health insurance. What a mess, an altacocker without health insurance. Name one respectable altacocker who doesn’t have health insurance. What we got here is a kosher anomaly — a kvetch up to his pupik in schmaltz, the only living breathing Jew from Sullivan High School that hasn’t made it to big macher status. Fifty years old and bupkis — not a pot, cornisht, empty, nothing, zilch. A Jew with no pot. That’s it!  No bagels for you my friend, No maza ball soup — well maybe a cup of maza ball soup without the balls. Wait! What I want to know is where  — where is your God-given Miami Beach Arizona nest egg with a view? Bubbeleh, bubbeleh, bubbeleh, don’t look so flummoxed. So big deal, you got a mane like a lion. Lions drown in

tar pits, why shouldn’t you?  Fascinated with the homeless? Right? Can’t take your eyes off them. Right? Enough! That’s when enough is way too much. When it comes to the homeless. Stay with me on this boychick, huddled, groping, tangled, sleeping under cardboard boxes men, women, children — human shards — they shiver, starve, defecate, yes shit and piss and go meshugana on that concrete. You boychick are only a checkbook away from the pavement. A cashmere v-neck sweater away from a killing chill.  What a punum brags your mother as she squeezes your cheeks to death. How can a good-looking Jewish boy like you blow it she asks.  Take a look in the mirror. Is that the punum of a failure? You looked so good coming out of the gate — a winner. What happen she asked? What happen I ask? Maybe your father’s got the answer — but he stoops, he limps, a fragile caricature  of you — you a verklemptverblunget  caricature of him.  Give your father a kiss, here give a hand, help lower him into his grave for crying-out-loud.  Arthur Murry, Carmen Miranda, Gene Kelly  — they have the answer. Dance the light fantastic. Keep moving, justify your existence.  Don’t stop. Once you come to a halt you’re hospitalized, then you’re dead, they bury you. So bubbala, boychic, whatever, embrace your tsuris, worship your tsuris, keep dancing cha cha cha, hold onto your tsuris no matter what. That’s all you got is tsuris. You’re going to take your tsuris to the grave with you. Is that devotion to tsuris or what? cha cha cha.”

That’s the gist of his routine. It would vary from dream to dream. It wasn’t so easy to come up with fresh material based on my gestalt he’d tell me. There are some life events even he would have the decency not to touch no matter how big the laughs.

FOUR MONTHS BEFORE THE GARGOYLE MADE HIS APPEARANCE MY 21-YEAR-OLD DAUGHTER ROBIN COMMITTED SUICIDE AND MY DREAM-LIFE TOOK OFF.

AT THE TIME MY DREAMS WERE VIVID, HAUNTING AND CONVINCING, DENIED THEY WERE DREAMS, TRIED TO PERSUADE ME THAT I BUY THEM AS REALITY.

AS IT WAS THROUGHOUT MY TWENTIES AND THIRTIES MY DREAMS TRIED THEIR BEST TO GET MY ATTENTION. COULD NOT SPEAK THIER LANGUAGE. THEY REMAINED A MYSTERY, INDECIPHERABLE. UNTIL.

Serial killer dream 1967 – 1988

When my daughter was about a year and half I began to have this dream. No one else appeared in the dream except a fuzzy out of focus figure hovering nearby, standing slightly behind me off to my right side.  I had committed a crime, some thing heinous, terrible. The dream never revealed what it was.  I woke drenched in guilt and apprehension. This dream occurred every few months.

Several years later the dream divulged my crime. With the same hazy figure floating behind me I had this awful epiphany. I committed the worst, the unforgivable and immutable. I killed someone. Who? Never saw the victim. Never knew in what manner I killed but there was no escaping the verdict of murderer and the fear, anxiety and guilt experienced in the dream and upon awaking. Judgment day will come. I will pay the price. Murderer.

About the 11th year the dream offered up a self-synopsis of the killing. It occurred to me within the dream that my crime was a familiar one, a crime of killing that I had committed in the past, had repeated again and again and will repeat in the future. The dream expressed a history of its self; included its passage of time, predicted its future and reflected its status quo. I will spend eternity as a serial killer dreamer in limbo, never apprehended except by my own guilt. I will go on killing ad infinitum until I go numb with guilt.

Time came when my serial-killer dream surfaced not during sleep but mid-day when I was overwhelmed with grief, during my daughter’s funeral service, it leaped out of the blue, slapped me breathless, the blood in my veins came to a halt. I knew then I would never have the serial-killer dream again. I got the message. I understood, finally, but way-way too late. I was too late, too late to intervene, too late to find the courage, strength, will to extract myself from myself, to be there for Robin, my daughter, the shadowy figure besides me, the victim in the dream. And as I said, then my dream life took off. But I was right — no more serial killer dreams. The victim was laid to rest. I blew it big time.  Judgment time now holds its enduring prosecution. The future holds no daughter.

Celestial body

She gave a yank at the bottom of the sheet covering Kay and I. Startled I abruptly flew from sleep to a sitting position yanking the sheet back. I woke to see floating pin-points of bright lights, a constellation, a milky way cluster of stars set against a black chunk of universe giving shape and dimension to a young women standing before me at the foot of the bed.  Everything in the bedroom was vivid, clearly detailed, highly saturated. I sat up in bed stunned, fixed on the vision sparkling before me.  In no way was I going to take my eyes off this galaxy of her. I wanted to take in her stunning visitation as long as she remained before me. If I turned away for one second then turned back just as quick she might vanish. “Hold your gaze, hold your gaze, don’t look away,” my Astonishment demanded. Am I dreaming? The details of the room were glaringly visible, too extensive to be a dream. Dreams leave out all kinds of stuff — nothing was.  I did a quick peripheral scan of the room, still holding her in sight.  A deep blood-red mahogany Victorian dresser with socks and underwear hanging from an open drawer substantiated realty. Howard this is real — the unreal is real! No dream. She waved at me, her elbow held near her waist, her open hand floating back and forth with a slow gentle motion. Before I could respond — as if I was capable of responding — she disappeared. Was it a hello wave or a goodbye wave? Or both. One more hour of sleep before I had to rise to get the day going. As I went back to sleep my Astonishment warned: “When you wake you’ll think she was a dream. She is not a dream. When you wake you’ll think you were dreaming — you are not.  As time passes you’ll convince yourself that this awesome cosmic-lit galaxy of her was naught but a dream. Don’t give into your denial. Trust in the miraculous. Don’t succumb to the entropy of memory. Keep the miraculous.

That morning I chose not to say anything to Kay about the cosmic visitation. Kay went off to the creamery to ladle (with the help of two other cheese makers) 2 vats of fresh goat curd into plastic molds. I went into the office in the barn to call our specialty food shops in the city for their weekly orders.  Later that afternoon while at lunch in the kitchen I told her.

“Oh my God, she exclaimed, do you know what day it is? Do you? Do you? I had no idea. “No. I don’t know.“  “Robin! It’s Robin’s birthday!”

Was never good with numbers, dates, history, math. I spent my life neglecting Christmas, Hanukkah, birthdays, can’t recall my father’s birthday, my mother’s, my brother’s, my wife’s, and yes my daughter’s. I came to ignore celebrations, my parents making little of them and then there were the math traumas in grade school that turned me against numbers and dumb to their consequences. Wouldn’t you think that her suicide being 5 months fresh, after grieving daily for 5 months I’d be attuned to my daughter’s upcoming birthday? Robin committed suicide Jan 29 and 5 months later comes her birthday June 25 and I have no recall. Appears my conscious-self is unconscious — my unconscious-self conscious.

Was Robin’s celestial appearance a psychic moment, a phenomenon there at the foot of the bed or only a dream. Is her visitation any less miraculous if she was only a dream — albeit a spectacular dream — albeit a lucent dream, a dream acutely aware of its self. Is my dream-making apparatus capable of such an awesome cosmic production and if so why? Why bother? What’s the message here? What’s the point. Why carry on so after her passing?

Most likely my subconscious held her birth date while my conscious played dumb as usual. I Iet it slip by as I so often have, was about to do again.  Just as my subconscious through dream tried to alert me to the increasing danger my daughter was in, to my apathy and guilt, now, not tolerating further anomie, my subconscious makes the move, pulls out all the stops, bells and whistles, makes the decision for me, celebrates her birthday in spite of me, coming up with a magnificent cosmic-lit display to knock my socks off. Is that it?

Or is this it — as I am told to believe by the psychic voice warning me not to treat her cosmic appearance as a dream — Robin pierced the impenetrable.  She was there, ethereal, from the other side, at the foot of the bed on her 21st birthday giving a yank at the sheet, a yank at my sleep — a yank I keenly felt and woke to.

Might Robin’s paranormal cosmic-lit celestial self tap into my circuitry? Her spirit as numen haunts my hypothalamus mixing it up with cellular memory to speak to me through dream. “She’s okay now, there’s a place for her without enduring the fruitless palliatives of talk-psychiatrist, in-out patient therapy, in-out hospital, in-out group, this-med that-med and the pain-deadness of being alive.” Was it a hello wave or a good-bye wave or both?

“Hey wake up Dad, it’s my birthday. Get your ass out of bed and celebrate my birthday.”

Robin’s suicide

On January 29, 1988, Friday morning Kay and I take United Airline flight 429, leaving 10AM from LaGuardia, Air Port, NYC to O Hare airport Chicago.  We’re on our way to see Robin Blume, my 21-year-old daughter before she went off to Menninger Clinic in Houston Texas, to be treated for the eating disorder anorexia and/or bulimia.

She’s seen a psychiatrist for 3 years, tried various medications and spent time as an in-out patient at Chicago’s Michael Reese hospital; none of these palliatives gave her long-term relief. Her depression got worst as she got older. Bob, her step father, Gail, her mother, Dr Kreche, her psychiatrist, Kay and myself were all looking to Menninger for an answer. During that time eating disorders first began to be sighted in the media. There was minimal psychiatric expertise available, no strong conviction on a treatment’s efficacy. Menninger was known to be at the forefront of psychiatric treatment. We all had hope. Robin by then had none.

As our plane taxied up to the gate we heard from the loud speaker. “Would Mr. and Mrs. Blume on your way out please see the stewardess at the front exit,” Puzzled we did. “Your brother Phillip is here to meet you. I’ll take you to him.”  We never made plans for Phil to meet us at the airport. I had no idea what was about to play out. I might have if I have had any inkling of what those serial-killer dreams where about.  The stewardess led us to a storage room filled with tall cardboard boxes where Phil waited. She left shutting the door behind her. “Robin committed suicide.” Not one beat. Not a beat between the word suicide and an explosion implosion of me-I-self attacking the stack of packing boxes, fist pounding on a box lid over and over again in sync with the screams of a hundred “Nos.”

For most of my adult-juvenile life I never considered suicide as an option for myself, my family or friends — life above all else. Robin’s last 2 years of High School was spent living with us, us being myself, Kay and her 2 children, Eric and Gwyneth in our home in Irvington, NY.  During her senior year Robin swallowed an entire bottle of aspirins. As I waited in the kitchen for Robin to come down stairs with Kay to leave for the emergency room I stood at the kitchen counter eating what was too be dinner. I’m chewing away and my daughter just swallowed a bottle of aspirins. What an oblivious dork. Feed the anxiety. Feed the denial.  “She was just trying to get our attention. Right?  She really wasn’t that serious. Right?” She wouldn’t have told us she swallowed an entire bottle of aspirins if she meant it. Right?

Four years later she meant it. She made dam sure she meant it.

Robin Blume, 21 years old, on Jan 31, 1988, at 1 o’clock in the morning got out of bed, walked downstairs to the back door, walked across the yard to the garage adjoining the alley, entered the garage and meticulously covered the garage windows with duct tape so no light could escape to the outside.  With the garage lights turned on she meticulously taped every single breathing opening to the outside. She taped along the interface where the bottom of the garage door sits on the cement floor. The back door to the entrance to the yard she taped as well. Sitting in the front seat of the car she placed along side her a favorite doll from her childhood, Lou Lou, a letter addressed to her family and a letter to Randy her brother. She had with her 2 cassettes, one Pink Floyd and one Roxy Music. No note for dad.

You’d think Robin’s psychiatrist, Dr. Kreche would have alerted Robin’s mother and stepfather to the tell-tail signs of a child prepping for suicide.  Gail, her mothers berates herself for not picking up on those signs which seemed so obvious in hindsight: Robin began giving away stuff, to her friends her jewelry and books, to Randy her stuffed animals.  The  week before she took her life she joined her family for dinner every night, not like her, she usually ate in her room behind closed door. She was attentive with everyone, even talkative, not her usual behavior. Gail and Bob thought that her appointment at Mayo Clinic might be responsible for her mood change.

I met with Dr. Kreche 3 months after Robin’s death, my question to him was after 3 years of treating Robin why hadn’t he had some indication that Robin was suicidal. I’m sure they had to discuss it. Ho w did it get by him? Why hadn’t he cued the family in on what indicators of suicidal behavior to be on the alert for? I don’t recall his answers. He was stunned by her suicide, never expected it.  A year later he left Chicago for California, the reason he uprooted his abode and practice rumor said was because of his failure to intervene.

Talk about failure to intervene. What about my colossal failure as a parent? How many nails did I drive into her coffin?  More than one given I was and wasn’t a father from the day she was born.  Can’t help thinking of Robin envisioning Kay and I on a jet on our way to Chicago while she prepared to kill her self with carbon monoxide poisoning. Would she have gone thru with it if we had not come. Did she do this to get my undivided attention?
Death was her note to me.

About those serial-killer dreams. Would it have made a difference if I understood their message early on, when Robin was 2 or 3 years old — when I really could have made a difference? Would she still be alive today? Would I have heeded the dream’s message or would I continue to stuff my face with food. (Silence) (Silence) (Silence) We know the answer to that, don’t we, Howard.

(An aside)

After many-many shots of vodka, after running barefooted down an empty suburban street at night trying to out pace my daughter’s suicide, after looking at my daughter lying in a casket, her skin so quietly pale against a yellow ochre wall while my mother-in-law, her face wretched with fury, agony, screams at me, “see, see, now are you happy, you did this, you, you’re responsible for this, you killed her, her father.” After Robin’s funeral service, after drained, squelched, exhausted, a hollow vessel, I’m in the back seat of my brother’s car on the way to the airport and to Interlaken New York. Mia, my brother’s 5 year old adopted Korean daughter, as soon as we were seated, reached for my hand taking a firm grip with her warm little fingers and did not let go for forty minutes, until we exited the car. No one told her to hold my hand. Mia looked straight ahead for the entire drive, concentrating with all of her childhood to console, she born with the impulse of a care giver.
Kay sat in the front seat, my brother drove. Phil had a CD of a comedian he recently saw on TV. He asked my permission to play it: “You’ll really appreciate this guy, your sense of humor.” First time I heard Jackie Mason. My brother was right, I appreciated. With Jackie Mason on one end and Mia on the other I laughed — one octave above the grief. Borsht Belt Jewish humor from an ex-rabbi, soothing, healing like chicken soup, have a bowl, it can’t hurt, won’t kill you. Most likely it was then the gargoyle burrowed into my dreams taking the grasp of a child’s hand along with.

What for Dreams?

“Consistent with evolution and evidence derived from neuroscience and reports of dreams, I suggest that dreams reflect an individuals strategy for survival,”

 A passage from Scientific America, author, Dr. Jonathan Winson, previously associate professor emeritus at The Rockefeller University. What am I doing hanging around with Dr. Jonathon Winson? I’m looking for a hint of the miraculous gleaned from authority, scrutiny and discipline held forth in field and laboratory, from neurons splayed out Rorschach like.

Paraphrasing Dr Winson:  150 million years ago a primitive mammal, a marsupial began to dream for the very first time much the way we do today. The marsupial dreamt to protect his ass. We dream to protect ours. Paraphrasing me: 150 million years of nucleotides playing musical chairs, fine tuning brain waves — beta, alpha, delta, theta — evolving into a breathing living generator of varying discrete degrees of frequency and amplitude. Impressive.

In 1979 Dr. Jonathon Winson became an associate professor at Rockefeller University where he began groundbreaking research on memory processing during waking and sleeping states. He nailed the actual site in our brain wherein our dreams reside. Professor Winson gave us the unprecedented, unfolding physiology and neurology of dreaming.

According to Winson’s research when an animal is involved in an activity that pertains to its survival such as a rat searching for food, the hippocampus, a part of its brain where memory is stored produces brain waves called theta rhythms. Theta rhythms code the day’s survival activity in the hippocampus, leaving coded neurons in distinct locations within the hippocampus where they’re available to be called upon again to replay the exact same survival activity.

Theta rhythms are found in one other mode —  REM sleep or by its other title “dreaming.”  Winson mapped the external stimuli of potential dream content — the survival activity — in the hippocampus of a rat, neuron by coded neuron. During REM sleep those same coded neurons from the exact same location in the hippocampus fired. They played out again reprocessing and enforcing crucial information most important for the rat’s survival, like the whereabouts of food or a safe haven from predators. Basic primitive stuff this survival; five prehensile digits, an erect spine, twenty-twenty vision and dreams all contribute to it. Rats dream, who would have thought? Rats survive, right?

 “Whisper dreams in my ear and I’ll follow you anywhere.   Dr. Montague Ullman

In my quest for an insight into the miraculous I can trust, we now turn to Dr. Montague Ullman, now deceased, his most recent job, Emeritus clinical professor of psychiatry at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Ullman is a synthesis of psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and parapsychologist, his curriculum vitae cuts a broad, consistent, deep swath through our dreams life.  Trained in neurology and psychiatry he graduated from New York University of Medicine: psychoanalytic training at the New York Medical College: psychosomatic research in dermatology.   At the Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. he helped develop one of the first fully operational community mental health centers in the United States.

Dr. Montague Ullman has been called the dream merchant. I’d call him the Jonny Apple Seed of dreams. His interest in dreams began with his residency in psychiatry, continued on thru 15 years of clinical practice and more than 20 years of innovative work with experiential dream sharing groups.

Ullman took the exclusivity out of dream work, devoting much of his career to extending dream work beyond the consulting room, out into the community where he schooled small groups in how to help each other understand their dreams and ultimately get on with one’s life with minimal damage to self and others, possibly have a satisfying, expressive, creative, passionate, kind-hearted life; yes, all that from dream work. Ullman saw dreams as a natural healing system much like our immune system. The immune system takes on physical healing; dreaming is there for our emotional healing, that being the repair of our relationships to other people and our selves. One of the reasons Ullman believes dreams can heal is that they are honest, at times painfully so.

Dreams, no bullshit.

Dr. Jonathon Winson in search of dreams embedded in coded neurons, Dr. Montague Ullmam in search of dream metaphors among us dreamers. Both speak of dreams as a survival mechanism.

Our mammalian ancestors dreamt in image only without embellishment of metaphor. An accurate rendering of their daily activity is a prerequisite if they expect to survive. We’ve inherited that same prerequisite, recording our events as if seen thru the lens of a camera — an honest witness subject to no manipulation, alteration or bias, telling it like it is, a resolute, accurate rendering of our emotional state in metaphor.

We don’t spend our days preoccupied looking for food or afraid of becoming food. Our days are spent in interpersonal relationships with people. That’s where our survival mechanism kicks-in and our dreams are spun from says Dr. Montague Ullman, where our emotions are in play, in our zeitgeist with lover, friend, family, parent, child. With my daughter Robin.

 “The essence of being human is being connected with other humans and the schisms we have setup have kept us from realizing that vision when awake, a vision that has never been lost while we are asleep.  Dreams never give up on us. They are with us every night urging us to face issues that restrict and discourage us, that limit our inventiveness. They remind us of the responsibility we all have to free up our emotional life. They are in their way, our personal spokesmen for a saner living.”   Dr. Montague Ullman

I can’t remember taking her around in a big warm hug to comfort her. I can’t recall Robin sitting on my lap.  As a grandparent via my wife’s grandchild Justin I’ve been given grandpa status, given a second chance to comfort, to appreciate, given the opportunity to be there for a child from day-one. I taught him to toss and catch a frisbee when he was 5. Today at ten years Justin and I play a mean game of frisbee.  Can’t recall a time I ever did the likes with my daughter. Remorse for what never was, for what’s not recalled. I’ll check with Robin’s mother to see what she remembers, afraid of what she will say.

Robin dressed in a white and pink dress with a waisted ribbon wearing white shoes all of 6 years old stands outside holding an umbrella.  In a drizzle she waits for me. I never show.

That’s what Gail, my ex-wife tells me.  I never showed.

 “I can’t believe I just didn’t show up without calling?”

Gail’s not sure. Maybe I did call. But I cancelled often. “Robin was always so disappointed.”

“Did I ever give her a hug, hold her, comfort her,” I ask.

“No. She didn’t either,” she said. “We were both too self absorbed. You were her favorite, though. Her father. She put you up on a pedicel.”

This is all too painful to hear. I want to vomit, cut off an arm, a leg, tear Robin loose from the void. Gail’s memory must be faulty, colored by guilt. My memory full of holes. (Silence) (Silence) (Silence) You frigging selfish blind stupid frightened helpless lame SOB.

Several months after Robin’s suicide Gail invited Kay and I back to Chicago to go through Robin’s things, letters, photos, artwork, souvenirs, school yearbooks. “To take back with you,” she said, “I thought you’d like to have them around for keepsakes.” The word “keepsakes “sucks, suggests something of sentimental value, mementoes, items collected on a vacation at Disneyland. Instead I’ll go with affirmations, affirmations of a daughter’s short life painfully lived and a father’s neglect.

Gail handed me a paperback book with worn cover. “This is really for you. There’s Robin’s underlining you should read.”

The book, “The Wounded Women “ “Healing the Father-Daughter relationship,” author Linda Schierse Leonard, Ph.D. a psychologist and a philosopher who trained as a Jungian analyst at the C.G. Jung Institute in Zurich and has been in practice for nearly thirty years. The underlines were made with yellow marker and red ballpoint. Robin’s selections were troubling to read, more than troubling, painful, too close a  fit.  “The daughters of these eternal boys grow up without an adequate model of self-discipline, limit and authority, quite often suffering from feelings of insecurity, stability, lack of self-confidence” … “Don Juan men who run from women to women…. the lack of commitment she experienced with father … it is also possible for both father and mother to be eternal youths and then there is little stability, structure or authority provided by both parent …”

1. Adolph Hitler

2. President W. Bush

3. Bennie Maddow

4. Kenneth Lay

5. and Howard, the lesser of 5 evils.

Dr. Ullman breaks evil down into 2 categories each with 2 sub categories.

MACRO-EVIL:
THE WHOLESALE DESTRUCTION OF HUMAN BEINGS

1. Perpetuated for the glorification of the leader and/or state such as genocide: Holocaust. Rawanda. Darfur.

2. Perpetuated for the higher good: he considered Hiroshima and Nagasaki as such. Lets toss in the invasion of Irag. I’d put that one at the head of the list.

MICRO-EVIL:
THE REDUCTION OF HUMAN BEINGS TO THE ROLE OF OBJECTS TO EXPLOIT

1. Death and destruction is not the goal since the object has value. Large scale but impersonal:  Enron, where thousands of people lost their life savings yet were left exhaling and inhaling except for those driven to suicide.

2. Dr. Ullman prefers not to call this one blatant evil: abuse is more like it.  “It refers to the common garden variety of things we do to each other and to our children that are hurtful to others as well as to ourselves.”

I got away with ‘murder’ and my dreams called me on it.

“The truth-finding capacity of dreams arises out of an incorruptible core of being that registers deviations from the truth. Regardless of what games we play with the truth, that core comes to life in our dreams throughout our life.”  Dr. Ullman

Hitler got away with mass bloody hideous slaughter — what about his dreams?

What truths came from Hitler’s incorruptible core of being as he “played with the truth.”? From Enron’s Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling dreams as they played with the truth.  What truths from the muckymucks at Arthur Anderson, Bear Steams, Lehman Brothers, Citigroup, Morgan Standley, Goldman Sachs.  And what about Bernie Madoff dreams as he played with the truth and million upon millions of dollars of trusting investors. And there is our 43rd president, W. Bush, what about his dreams when he and his White House played with the truth. Does anyone of them have an incorruptible core to begin with? Or are they rancid through and through? Do sociopaths dream? Do psychopaths dream? Does the dreams of sentient evil condone evil?   If there is zilch altruism, zilch empathy the incorruptible core of being is a no-go, yes? no? anyone?

Psychic phenomena via parent-child constellation

I find it curious that a scientist or physician would ever consider the existence of psychic phenomena, that she or he would explore it without fear of tainting reputation, of being called a quack.

Dr. Ullman had no fear. Beginning as a teenager and throughout his career he experienced, observed and pursued the paranormal, from the telekinesis to the telepathic, possibly beyond. Besides developing one of the first fully operational community mental health centers at the Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn he also pioneered a sleep and dream laboratory where he investigated the occurrence of dream telepathy.  The results are covered in his book “Dream Telepathy: Experiments in Nocturnal Extrasensory Perception (Studies in Consciousness) ”

As Dr. Ullman worked with dreams and the dreamer his belief in aspects of the paranormal accrued. He believed the dream was an appropriate medium for psychic phenomena. His studies and experience led him to believe that psychic phenomena most likely occur in dreams when:  “earlier unmet needs are experienced in dependency terms, as the parent-child constellation, or as problematic peer relations, most commonly in the form of male-female tensions.” 

A psychic event tends to take place in a “parent-child constellation.”  Robin my daughter and I, implies Dr. Ullman, are a likely coupling for igniting a psychic event. And there is a satisfying synchronicity in his descriptive use of  “parent-child constellation.”  and in Robin’s appearance at the foot of my bed on her birthday as a constellation of sort, as a stellar experience.  Are these grounds for the miraculous? Did Robin reach out to me one last time from some ethereal place be it in a dream or through the ether? If you give Dr. Ullman’s prerequisites for a psychic event any credence I’d say yes, a possible yes, at least it’s a foothold, a nod for further meditation. I hear a scoffer. Is that I, I hear?

What’s difficult to reconcile: in death all connections are pulled, no more brain waves, not even static. We among the living to conger up a psychic event have ciphers, prayers, Gods, Wee-Gee boards, séances, dreams, superstition, insanity. What do the dead have, a bus transfer?

When Dr. Ullman was sixteen he along with a group of teenage friends of like mind held a séance once a week for a year and a half, rarely missed a sitting. The results: levitating table among other psychic phenomena, the most intriguing, contacting a discarnate spirit, Dr Bindelof, a physician who had been dead for 12 years. The group of teenagers and Bindelof communicated through a series of written messages when pencil and paper were placed on the lower shelf of a night table. The messages were replies to questions the boys asked of Dr. Bindelof. A hoax?

A year and a half is a long time to carry on a hoax. Six decades later the group met to validate the experience and relate how it effected or transformed their life.  Documenting the year and a half of séances including their meeting 3 to 6 decades later Dr. Ullman put together compelling evidence to substantiate the experience — yours to interrogate: “The Bindelof Story, part one, two, three and four.” Their experiences classified as psi events (a term for parapsychology or psychic phenomena) is also known by its recent epithet EUE, Exceptional Human Experiences. I’ll go with that, Exceptional Human Experiences, give or take a grain of salt.

Dr. Ullman, as far as I know never considered the haunting of a dream, the possibility of the deceased visiting a dream. It’s unlikely he would rule it out since he has embraced a full range of human subjectivity. Still that would be a tough one to run studies on as Dr. Ullman did with dream telepathy, precognition and clairvoyance. How could he distinguish between a metaphorical episode from a dreamer’s memory bank from a visitation from an external ethereal source? They’d read like one in the same. Possibly are.

Possibly the overwhelming grief that I went thru when Robin committed suicide could have stirred up a nest of brain wave activity leaving me open for an EUE event. Given such stimulation I might have created my own private mini-séance during REM sleep wherein the father-daughter constellation materializes in a dream and Robin makes her appearance from the void or thereabouts. Now that speculation resonates.

“Enough already,” said the Gargoyle.

Psychic phenomena via parent-child synchronicity

I am running flying zipping about stooped over with my arms stretched out like wings making buzzing sounds as I go. I’m a bee flitting from one flower to another, the flowers being an assortment of people, about 16 total, squatted on a carpeted floor.  I buzzed every one of them.

It was a Sunday afternoon, downtown Chicago, year 1973, at Oasis, an organization that grew out of the human potential movement.  I’m at a group session, can’t recall what the group leaders specialty is but I recall he is of celebrity status within the movement and better yet from Manhattan. The assignment that provoked my flight of the bumblebee was to quietly sit, imagine something and let it unfold. I chose an open prairie trail along side a railroad track where wild flowers grew in abundance, where bees went about their business pollinating them.  When I told the group leader my fantasy he had me play the part of the bee, other members of the group were flowers. After the explosive burst off bee energy I sat quietly on the rug taking deep breaths as the group leader revealed to me the message taken from my bee and flower metaphor

After the group I walked back to my film company, several blocks away from Oasis, to studio, offices and a space l call bedroom. Once there I began to go thru Saturday’s unopened mail. There was an envelope from my daughter Robin, then 8 years old. Inside was a folded sheet of drawing paper I opened. She had drawn 2 flowers, one on the left side of the paper, another on the right. On each flower Robin drew a face with a teardrop, one from each eye. In the middle between the flowers she wrote: “Today I am glad to wish you a happy fathers day. To my dad. I would like you to see more of me.  But you’re as busy as a bee.  Happy father’s day. To you lots of good luck. And happiness too. Love Robin.”

Right under my nose, the miraculous, Robin, my daughter

Any thoughts?