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Saturday, April 27, 2013

The story from a woman in recovery from bipolar disorder

This article, written by Linda Logan, will be in tomorrow morning's Sunday Magazine section of the New York Times.  This is one of the best first-person narratives I have read about the long road of recovering from bipolar disorder.  The good news is that those suffering from this disease can re-assemble their lives.  The bad news is that the life assembled via recovery is not the same life that was taken by the disorder.  The desire to "get back to where I was before I got sick" is a huge source of grief and frustration to folks with mental illness.

And here is a quote from another mentally ill person struggling with recovery:

"If the truth be known, I fear that I may be abandoned by my family.  I offer my family the same opportunity to accept and love me as I am, rather than seeing me as a blasted hope, whose life has suffered a sad and irreversible loss.  But it is hard to know if that will happen."

It is hard for a person with a mental disorder to accept and recover from their situation.  And even if they succeed, they may lose their family and friends anyway.

By the way, all of this effort to recover must be strong enough to overcome the continuing widespread social stigma and revulsion that "mentally healthy" people direct at people with mental disorders. And let's not forget that only the very rich and the very poor have full access to mental heath care.  Perhaps that will change someday, but that day seems quite a ways off.  And Medicaid cuts brought about by state budget issues will make care less available to poor people.

On any given day, 240,000 people with mental illness are homeless and another 283,000 are in jail receiving little or no treatment for their disorder. In the U.S., Canada and Western Europe, mental illness accounts for 25% of all disability.  By comparison, heart disease and cancer account for 5% and 3% respectively.

This is an epidemic that people don't talk about or think about.  And when many people recognize mental illness in a person they see on the street, they avert their eyes or cross the street and avoid that individual.

This is a bias that is still perfectly acceptable in our culture.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Rickwood Field, Birmingham AL

I was in Birmingham on business a couple of weeks ago.  I stayed at an old hotel downtown, the Redmont, that still had lots of charm but needed some serious TLC.  The hotel opened in 1925, and the features of the building reflected that era - marble staircases, hardwood floors and tiny elevators that moved verrrry slowly. The price was right, and the attentive staff made up for the slight seediness of the decor.

I finished my business and was checking out; the weather in Chicago forced a delay in my flight home.  Since I had some time to kill, I asked the woman at the front desk, "What would you recommend for someone who has a couple of extra hours in Birmingham?" She smiled and said "Rickwood Field."

Rickwood Field is the oldest professional baseball stadium still operating in the world.  The field was conceptualized and built by Harvey "Rick" Woodward - the name is a combination of Mr. Woodward's nickname and the first syllable of his last name.  Rickwood Field opened in August of 1910, two years before Fenway in Boston and four years before Wrigley in Chicago.  Rickwood was the home of the Birmingham Barons, the AA-level minor league affiliate of the Chicago White Sox (they now play in Regions Field in downtown Birmingham, but do return for the Rickwood Classic, a single game in May that has become a must-see event for baseball history buffs). Rickwood was also the home of the Birmingham Black Barons, one of the top teams in the Negro Leagues.  The Black Barons produced Sachel Paige, Willie Mays and many other stars of the league. The story of the Negro Leagues is well-known; the barn-storming, hand-to-mouth lifestyle was forced upon them by Jim Crow and the deep racism of the United States in the late 19th through mid-20th Centuries. (I always liked Kansas City Monarch star and Cubs coach  Buck O'Neil's comments on these years, and on Ty Cobb, one of the worst racists in professional baseball in that era).  So many of the great names of baseball played at Rickwood - Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Cool Papa Bell, Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, Rollie Fingers and, yes, Ty Cobb.  Rickwood Field has been used as a backdrop for many baseball movies, including the current Jackie Robinson movie, "42."

I drove over to the ball park, and it was open for visitors - free of charge (a request for a $1 donation to offset the cost of printing brochures was the only mention of money that I saw).  I was the only visitor, and the only other person there was the groundskeeper.  He was cordial, but busy preparing the field for a high school game that night.  I was welcomed and told to look around to my heart's content.

A well-tended baseball field is a beautiful thing. A baseball diamond is an open geometric pattern; I always imagine the first and third baselines extending past the outfield wall into a theoretical infinite distance. Baseball is one of the least violent team sports (although it is a dangerous sport).  Physical contact is not the central part of the game; the game is about skill and focus.  I could sense that many intense baseball games had unfolded on that Alabama field.  Rickwood pulled at me the same way the Wrigley pulls at me.  The vintage painted ads on the walls of the ballpark (installed by Warner Brothers for the 1994 movie, "Cobb") add to the "time warp" feeling.  It was hushed and quiet, with only the sound of the groundskeepers broom in the batters box breaking the silence.

If you love baseball, or even just like it, Rickwood Field should be on your "must see" list.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Mr. G's Top 10 Musical Sounds

1.      Bonnie Raitt’s voice -Bonnie must be the perfect woman because she has the  perfect voice.  She finds all the depths of human experience and it pours out her mouth.   She respects and salutes her sources - the great blues poets of the 20th Century and the R&B pioneers.  And she seems to like harmonica players - they play on a lot of her records.

2.      Stevie Wonder’s chromatic harmonica  - They say that the harmonica is a perfect instrument for a blind person since you don't need to see anything to play it.  Everybody knows the sound of Stevie Wonder's harmonica. All it takes is just a few notes - his exuberance and technical mastery, the glissandi and melismatic approach to the instrument is unique.

3.      Tower of Power’s horn section - These guys are as tightest and funkiest horn section that has ever existed.  High-end trumpets, bari sax honking out the bottom, trombones and saxes filling out the middle - sounds like  single instrument.  Nothing is more hair-raising that the TOP horns in full cry.

4.      Gary Valente’s trombone - Raucous, braying, insistent and heart-breaking - Valente nails it every time.  His work with Carla Bley will live forever.

5.   The Count Basie band - This sounds weird, but the Basie band is tightly connected to the Tower of Power horn section.  Basie invented the concept of a group of talented instrumentalists playing as one.  Nothing swings harder than the Basie band.

6.      Anthony Palmer’s guitar - He may not be terribly famous, but Tony has fantastic technique and a unique voice on his instrument.  He has absorbed and re-assembled so many fantastic sounds.  And he is my neighbor and former band mate.  It was an honor to work with him.

7.      Miles Davis’ trumpet - Miles was the king of expressing the unexpressible in an economic, perfect series of musical phrases.  His trumpet sound was wistful and yearning.  Listen to the live version of "Stella By Starlight," and try not to weep.

8.      Jimmy Smith’s Hammond B-3 organ - THE GROOVE!!! The B-3 is the singing keyboard.  It is also an instrument for over-achievers, with bass pedals, multiple stops and techniques   Jimmy Smith created a marvelous sound, - soul jazz by an organ trio (B-3,drums and guitar).  

9.      Tito Puetes’ timbales - He generated excitement and joy for everyone when he started banging on those drums.  He was an unbelievably fine showman.  Pull up one of his videos on YouTube and see if you can sit still.

10.  Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s clarinet - R. Kirk played many instruments (often 2 or three at the same time).  His work ranged from interesting to "fall-down and worship him" material.  But I have to say that my favorite Rahsaan Roland Kirk sound is his clarinet.  Check out Blue Rol on the Verve album, "Now please don't you cry, beautiful Edith."  his circular breathing and intense tone on this jazzy blues tune is enough to cause your brain to explode

That's all, folks.