there are times and places…

So, the Asheville Radical Mental Health Collective got itself in the position to sit down and talk with some police officers (actually sheriff’s deputies, as this is a sheriff’s dept. training I think?) who are going through the Crisis Intervention Team training. A few ARMHC folks at a coffeeshop is part of the “community site visit” component of the training. We were asked to serve as an “alternative perspective on mental health.”

Kinda weird, but exciting and interesting, in my opinion. So, I have been trying to get together some ideas with folks about how the time might shape up, facilitation, etc.

I figured I’d post these notes here, too – because it’s kind of an interesting thing pertaining to mutual aid groups acting as agents of community education/advocacy.

I might print a picture of that kid Keith Vidal that got killed, and just have it there as a reminder of why it is important to use these opportunities well.

This is just a copy/paste of the message I sent out to our group here. I did add, ‘be compassionate’ to the guidelines for self-facilitation that I am thinking about for myself.

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Hi you all –

I am working on getting some info. sheets on Trauma-Informed Care together, as well as a print out on what is radical mental health, what is mutual aid, some info on things like mindful self/community care, etc.

Other thoughts? I’ll look through the content on Beyond Meds and try to get some narratives and quotes, but I’d really like help with that, in the form of two pages of voice on crisis, compassion in trauma, lived experiences of police intervention, that sort of thing. It’s a really important set of information to offer, stories and quotes.

Here’s some info:

Crisis Intervention Team training on March 18th from 1:00-3:30pm at the usual Coffeehouse.

Our role as a “community site visit” is to offer perspectives based in lived experience + alternative views on crisis and mental health.

The meeting time is still loosely structured as follows, with some flexibility to accommodate for conversational flow, questions, and discussions.

This conversation will require mindful self/group facilitation because the topic of police, crisis, and mental health is so huge and also conceivably intense. If you need support in that, please let folks know.

So, I propose that we aim to keep within the scope outlined below, bearing in mind that there are lots of things that could be discussed.

I and one other person will be at the Coffeehouse at 12:30, to arrange seating, acclimate and shuffle papers around. If anyone else would like to be there early, it’d be great to see you for a minute before the plainclothes officers arrive.

mad love.

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CIT/ARMHC
Tuesday, 03/18, 1:00-3:30pm

1:00 – 1:15 Settling in and small talk

1:15 – 1:30 Introductions, a little about the group, and safe space guidelines

1:30 – 1:45 Ask officers about what they might be interested in, any expectations from the site visit (e.g. conversation with us), also what has training has been like, has it brought anything up for them

1:45 – 2:15 Discussion of what beliefs, assumptions, and personal experiences inform perceptions of crisis and crisis response, what factors impact how we respond to crisis or stressful situations

2:15 – 2:30 break as needed

2:30 – 3:00 introduction to alternative views of crisis, the role of trauma (and fear) in crisis escalation, the safe assumption that anyone in crisis is a trauma-survivor, the role of power struggles/desperation in crisis, etc.

3:00 – 3:15 ask officers how they can be trauma-informed allies to people in crisis and their families

3:15 – 3:30 Closing discussion, questions, etc.

———-
These are some basic guidelines for self facilitation that I am considering keeping in mind for myself:

Be at ease with body-feelings, be aware of my state, occupy a non-reactive space with myself

Take breaths

Drink water

Pay attention to what my face might be doing as part of a visceral response to something someone might say

Have something to do with my hands

Be grateful for the opportunity to be present with interesting people in a coffeeshop, be compassionate.

Remind myself that this is life.

Look at people’s eyes, listen to what they are saying

Quiet my own mind

Do not interrupt people or talk over people, one speaker at a time.

Consider what is spoken

Do not use the group conversational space to espouse at length full understanding and analysis of a situation or phenomenon

Make an effort stay within the scope of conversation, e.g. address what can be addressed, the group space is not to be used as a spontaneous launching point for a proposal of how every single problem in the world can be solved. There are other times and places for that.

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Occurrence #2:

This is less about the retreat and more about some thoughts and feelings I have been having around it. There is no need to read or respond immediately. I just felt like I needed to give voice to this.

I’d like to be open about something:

I’m finding the thought that __________ will be retreating to a lovely beach house on a coastal island in South Carolina to be a little weird for me.

My reasons for this are both deeply personal and deeply political.

I do not know if you all are aware of my history with the southeastern coast, the landscapes that lay against the Atlantic. I grew up down there, in the woods alongside a tributary of the river that separates the state of so-called Florida from the state of so-called Georgia.

My history and the history of my family and the people who lived on the land that I grew up on (with) has been shaped by the forces that place value on land and make the coasts places to be coveted and seized. The Eastern coast of the U.S. is full of colonialism.

I guess most places are. These mountains are. Every place has been taken.

I think that the idea for the Federal Reserve came out of a series of meetings on an island off the coast of Georgia, just north of the island where the very first psychiatric treatment facility I was ever put in was located.

The first house I ever lived in was on Cumberland Island, where my father was a ranger. We lived in Plum Orchard, a Carnegie mansion, because there was no ranger housing.

Later, we moved to a trailer on land that was named Shadowlawn by some people (I do not know who) a long time ago, land purchased by my great-grandmother for what would amount to pennies per acre today.

My great-grandfather had to leave the city near Atlanta, because of what they called a ‘nervous condition’ and so they found this place in the woods alongside water that led to the ocean, built a big white house, put in a pear orchard.

My father made our house with his hands and hardly any help, in part from wood that was salvaged from another house back in those woods that had been left by a family who lived there before us. The chimney from that predecessorial house is still there, standing under the oaks in a small thicket of redbud.

The living room my father built was a geodesic dome, made of plexiglass for the river to be seen. The house is built on stilts, so that the water could flow under it, were it to rise in the wake of a storm.

Everything that makes sense to me and drove me crazy came from that place.

When I was a kid, the town I lived in wasn’t even on the map. It was a blank space between Brunswick and Jacksonville. Nobody knew how to spell its name, whether it was Saint Mary’s or St. Marys.

The Navy came when I was 9, and built Kings Bay – which is one of the largest nuclear submarine facilities on the Eastern Coast. Some of the elder anti-war activists that I know here used to go down there and lay across the railroad tracks, trying to stop the trains from delivering whatever it was they were delivering to Lockheed or Trident or whomever.

At some point, people decided that the coast of Georgia was pretty – those flat and sweltering places full of snakes and swamps and deep shadow, the most beautiful beaches falling away in the tides, the dunes always moving, spitting up bones.

Places that were the beginnings of the land, soaked with so much blood and history, were marketed and sold by people from cities and local developers as Beachfront Luxury, Deep Water Access, and Marshviews. My father ended up being a part of all of that.

Do you know how many bodies have washed ashore those coasts, how many blasphemous journeys began and ended there, how much rotting smallpocked flesh fed those old oaks, the ancestors of all those millions of crabs crawling through the mud, slick with oil and creosote now, the marshes just stubs of dead stalk in some places, an entire world gone toxic and choked, stung by salt and sunburnt chemicals?

I don’t know if people know about that sort of thing.

When I go to the coast of the south east Atlantic, I experience a rage like distant thunder in relation to what has been made of so many places, with a sadness and love of places that were home as I remember them and as I imagine them as being before I was ever there.

The land I grew up on was full of old fences, barbed wire and posts sticking up from the ground in unlikely places – in the middle of the woods, fencing in nothing. On a few acres the pine trees grew in rows, where they had been planted over a pasture for lumber. We knew that there had been a pasture there, because there was watering trough in the rows of trees, sitting there still and white like a coffin.

My brother and I were scared of it, the look of it there in the trees, the ghosts of cows with their eyes rolling in the sun still seeming to hover around it.

In our garden, we’d find pieces of pottery, pieces of glass, some shattered ceramic, its glaze woven with eggshell cracks and holding the color of the grey sandy earth.

On the banks of the river, we’d find mounds of oyster shells crusted with sand and soil, the debris of fallen pine needles, the old roots of yaupon holly.

We knew that people had put them there, those shells, that people had lived on the land and had eaten oysters, before the cows, before the lumber, before us with our dome and our garden.

I don’t know what they called the land. I wish I did. It was probably a special name; it was a special place.

It still is, under all those houses, all that concrete, just beyond the wake of all those fucking boats.

So, getting back to why I am experiencing dissonance over ____________ having a retreat in a house on an island…I guess it’s just not so simple for me as going to a cool house on a pretty beach.

It’s close to home.

I know that people understand – in their own way – the role of place in our experiences, and the complexities of home. So, I appreciate that you received this.

I am not suggesting that the plans for the retreat change in the slightest. It’s already all planned and I am looking forward to it. It’s just a little tough for me to wrap my head around the reasons I feel nervous about being on the coast with people who don’t know me very well or who may not appreciate the reasons that such places bring up a lot for me.

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Occurrence #3:

It was right after I sent the message to the woman in Chapel Hill, saying, “There’s been a change in the schedule at work,” that I got the idea, that the phrase came to me.

I had been thinking for a minute how I could probably get some good handouts, some nice statistics, an introduction or two, during which I imagined myself smiling a benificient smile with the wear of having woken up at 3:30 in the morning pushing at the edges of my eyes, perhaps an agitation around my vowels in explaining who I am, why I am interested in the ways that the faith community can be allies to people who are struggling with experiences that are commonly diagnosed as psychiatric conditions.

I wanted to go. I didn’t want to go. There would be new streets there. Here, there are streets I never go on.

I made a decision, sent a message, and walked into the kitchen, put some water on to boil so that I could scrub down the porch where the puppies, the baby dogs, have lately piddled in the very early morning.

“I need to get rid of the old wood,” I thought. The day before, I had found another board riddled through with the chewing of termites.

“The whole house could fall down. I need to get rid of the old wood.”

Then I thought, I need to deconstruct the Hand of God. It could fall down. It is home to a possum that is bigger than my biggest dog. Last night I’d heard it squeaking a forgotten ball out in the yard, as if it were trying to eat it, the sound squealing up the dark front steps like a frantic baby phantom.

Deconstruct the Hand of God.

The thought hit me in the way that thoughts sometimes do, with a force of all-eclipsing clarity and expansive, near-perfect extrapolation. I remembered standing in the yard in the Spring of 2009, stretching past Summer into the Fall of 2010, the following Winter when I sprayed those boards blue and screwed them in as waves, began waiting for them to curl long after I had realized that I was building a temple, building a house.

I stood over the stove and thought that such things ought to be taken care of, and was relieved to find no guilt.

After all, a person only does what they are able and ability is as fragile as anything else.

If just one piece is missing, things do not function or hold up as they otherwise might.

I will take down the house that I built over that old grave, the resting place of an unfortunate puppy that we knew briefly, years ago, before she forced her way out of the fence and went unstoppably careening out into the street, dashing away from our panicked, pleading voices.

The photographs will be as loving as they were in construction, and I will use the wood that has curled, the wood that has weathered. Everything else has gone to root and crumble, old red paint peeling.

Just yesterday, it was noted that I had nailed an old board from the top of an old table onto the door. The board is thickly covered in a yellowing urethane, and is stained by paint. It is part of the table that my father built for my brother and I when we were kids. I don’t know where the rest of the table is. Probably gone to dust by now.

As I grabbed my camera, determined to hold onto the idea, to begin documentation, I thought about how much I wanted to go to churches, just to sit and listen to people sing.

I had built myself a steeple and it had served me well, but I let it fall into disrepair and neglect while I was trying to figure out how to navigate the severe and persistent belief that something like God, some working in the world, intended me to do something, to use all my stories for something, to use my ability to see shapes and landscapes with only just a hint toward some beauty in the world.

I am finally getting over the feeling that I am fated, and then – just like that – it is back with the A-ha grin, because maybe it is this that I am supposed to do, maybe this is the way?

As I was taking pictures, not yet ready to begin taking anything apart, I found such a sweetness around the split and worn edges of old boards, such an innocence in the dried cords of last year’s kudzu. It is so terrible and beautiful that nothing lasts, that nothing stays the same, that wood becomes earth, eaten by insects and dampened by rain.

I would like to Deconstruct the Hand of God (untitled), to take apart these structures and clean up the ground.

I want to go to churches and I want to talk about psychosis and madness and the sense of being a part of some working that is bigger and older than any self one might imagine, the sense of being watched, of being fated. I want to talk about how I navigate these states of belief and have conversations about the cultural factors that may impact how individuals experience the sense that they have been chosen, that they have been forsaken.

I want to go to churches and talk about these things and I want to document it.

Why is it that every good idea involves so many little parts, so many small steps?

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…you wouldn’t think, seeing them walk down the road, that they’d make a collage like this.

They just walked in and started taking all these collages out of their backpack.

Occurrence #4:

It was no big deal, your mother contacting me. It did bring up questions of autonomy and supervision. The same week, a person here reported that their aunt, who has a diagnosis of schizophrenia, “walked off” and the person said, “Of course, if you have a diagnosis of schizophrenia, you can’t just walk off.”

I guess the police brought her home. I told your mother not to call the police and that psychiatric hospitalization would probably not be helpful. She said she agreed.

I’d like to hear about your travels up the coast.

Lately, I’ve had small segments of poem drifting into mind, usually in response to something like gas plants being seized on sand bars off the coast of Crimea and the general rot of all things.

My fear of cancer has returned. Did I ever tell you how I used to lay in bed as a child and think about all the different ways people could end up the hospital? Operations, surgeries, cancer. Those were the words I used, not differentiating between operation andI surgery, thinking about them as if they were distinctly different procedures. I’d lay in the dark and feel the words, “She’s had to go into the hospital for an operation.”

“She has cancer.”

“She’ll need to have surgery.”

Then I’d apply those scenarios, which I had learned from listening to people speak about my great-grandmother and from the conversations at the Beauty Parlor, where we went every Tuesday, to deliver my grandmother to her weekly appointment.

Sometimes, we’d have to wait, half her head would still be wound in curlers, her face in the mirror ghastly and old without its full halo of thin white waves.

She did not wear her hair in curls, she wore her hair in waves.

There ought to be a semi-colon there, as there is meaning between the statements.

She was a racist old woman, my great-grandmother.

I loved her.

I am still trying to reconcile those two truths.

It is possible that after all the operations and the surgeries, the loss of her breast, the loss of her stomach, that after all that cancer, she really did love the women who worked for her, and saw them as the same as her in heart.

They had brothers that they loved, too. They had fathers and great-grandchildren.

They had dead daughters.

I learned that my great-grandmother died by a phone call from a woman named Strawberry. I drove too fast on the dirt road, kissed her dead face and couldn’t cry at all.

My parents told me she was “a product of her times.”. That was the best thing they could have told me.

I grew up with an anachronism, in a childhood full of people who had died a long time ago.

In any event, my fear of cancer has returned. I’d like to get back to believing that some light could invade my cells, make them shining and smooth again, suffusing them with life and vitality.

Why is that hard to believe?

In any event, I’ve not been keen on visitors or friendships in any formal or casual sense lately. I mostly do not want to talk with people – the want of wanting to talk with people, of craving interaction with them, has been dampened. It’s possible that this is the result of having to spend an inordinate amount of my life talking with people and interacting with them. There are some people I want to talk to…this person at work, the one who speaks so beautifully about seeing genesis in trees. I’d like to talk with that person. They may be dead. Nobody knows.

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I just had to go inside, to talk with the children about corn snacks in the morning, and I said that I was writing, and that I was enjoying it, that I was thinking some about the fear of death I had as a child, how I experienced it, and that I was writing some about my great-grandmother, who they know as we knew her, Rach, and who they sometimes mention when talking about their family, who did what or had this feature, this attribute or that.

The boy, sitting in front of the fire like an old man, asked, “Do you still have a fear of death?”

I respondedly truthfully, the fire burning the back of my legs, “Yeah, most people do…I don’t really have it bad, but sometimes I do.”

“I don’t want to die,” the boy said.

The girl piped up, got into the conversation, saying, “I’m immortal!”

I’m glad we can talk about such things.

I told the boy not to worry, that humans have been worrying about death for hundreds of years.

“It’s an unfortunate part of our consciousness.”

I told him that other animals probably don’t conceptualize death in the same way that people do. “We know that we die, we have whole sets of meaning attached to death, we don’t just instinctively protect life, we mourn loss…so do whales, and dogs. We try to avoid harm, like all animals, and even plants in the resistance of seeds, but humans also avoid death.”

“We have a lot sentimentality and nostalgia associated with people we care about. We want them to live and we want to live for them.”

I think that it was probably better when people were more helpless, more fragile, when death was an accepted part of life.

Is there a history of the modernization of our resistance to death and dying, the psychosocial industrial factors that have created a culture absolutely obsessed with death avoidance and preservation of life? I think someone wrote that book.

It’s complicated, I guess…but, mostly a matter of another sell and shift of human consciousness?

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Note: all content in this post was originally in some email or another, to a group, to myself, to a friend…