YA or adult autobiography
I first learned about about Susanna Kaysen's Girl, Interrupted
as a school committee member a number of years ago. Some parents, I
think down the road in Orono, were very upset that high school
students were being introduced to this book and wanted it pulled or at
least not taught. I don't recall which. Even though Veazie has no
high school, I put reading it on my to do list.
Well you know what happens. Plans get interrupted by life.
Items slide down to do lists until by the time they slip off you don't
really notice. So recently when I discovered the paperback safely
tucked away in the library adult section I finally got around to
checking it out.
Kaysen was eighteen in 1967. She went to see a psychiatrist and
ended up being put in a taxi with the doctor instructing the driver to
drive her to MacLean hospital and not let her out til they get there.
He'd told her she needed a rest for a couple of weeks. She ended up
locked in and drugged for a year and a half.
Stephen King's dystopias don't get much more nightmarish than
That was the sixties...a time when people with or even without
psychological challenges were hospitalized and treated in sometimes
extreme ways. Homosexuality was still a DSM listed mental illness. A
husband could get a frontal lobotomy for a wife who wasn't into
housewifely subserviance and excessive pursuit of brighter than
white. I kid you not.
Kaysen relates her MacLean experiences with candor and
reflection. They seem for the most part like warehousing even she was
in a well reputed (and very expensive) institution. Being seem by
three doctors (ward doctor, resident, therapist), meals, and
medication seem to be the extent of the program. There wasn't even
education for these very young patients. When they were out of
control upset they were locked in tiny windowless rooms. What were
the people in charge thinking?
In my mind Girl, Interrupted is a book high school students
should be encouraged to read. Services have, in my mind, improved for
people with psychological challenges (although there is a lot of
stigma and lack of access for too many people). Society, however,
seems to have merely changed its objects of fear and loathing. We've
had witches, Communists, Japanese just to name a few. Now there are
the poor, particularly those who receive any kind of government
assistance, blacks (school to jail pipelines), and anyone remotely
immigrant or Islamic.
On a personal note, back in May my latest op ed piece came out in the
Bangor Daily News. It was a piece within a piece. Ostensibly it
covered how EITC can not adequately replace welfare. Wrapped around
that was the idea that with the American political system as it is it
would be very hard if not impossible for politicians to do the in
depth work that would result in real solutions to say poverty. My
piece was honored by a cartoon by George Danby. A little Bill Clinton
was running in a hamster wheel. I was thinking, "OMG! He totally got
it!" We are fortunate to have him in the BDN editorial gang.
A great big shout out goes out to George Danby and his son, Nicholas,
Bangor High School Class of 2016, who gave a really fine speech at his
graduation. And also my editor, Matthew Stone who I really enjoy
writing pieces for.
Sent from my iPod