What does this have to do with dignity?

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I took these pictures of clouds on Friday afternoon, in my neighborhood, while I was walking my dogs and talking with a friend on the phone. The dogs were patient and my friend had no idea that I had stopped walking and was standing on the sidewalk, taking pictures of clouds.

I look up and it just takes my breath away, what I see as symbol and story, certain light and form. It fills me with awe, to look up and see enough to believe that there is some powerful storyteller in the workings of wind.

I am not sure if it is that moment of belief – the effects of belief itself – or some function of whatever forces carve angles in the clouds. A few years ago, I would’ve frantically rushed home to post these images, as astounded as I was at the abundance of loaded composition and the implications, the suggestions that I gathered.

I haven’t really had the time to do anything frantically.

It is significant to me that I have thought about the pictures everyday, anticipating the good feeling of hitting publish and waiting to see what will happen. There is a part of me that is certain that I am quite onto something.

It just makes sense to me. Even looking at the images on a screen, I am nearly dumbfounded, clearly remembering the feeling of seeing such things writ so large, drawn so clearly, the eyes that wink and disappear, turning into eagles.

Where the hell else would we get the idea for an angel?

Why are some symbols more important than others, some forms more universal?

It’s in the composition.

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If you have questions about why there is a small, dark spot in many of these photos, it is because my camera sucks and has a spot in it. I usually crop it out, but I am going to start leaving it in. Maybe then someone will appreciate that I have been documenting cloud forms for over 4 years now and that I should have a better camera?

From an email:

I ended up writing a fair amount re: my experience as it might relate or give insight into the phenomena associated with madness and examples of ways that I figured out – for myself – to navigate. As a peer, I try to create space for people to explore their own stories, to talk about their lives and what means what to them, develop their own options for making sense of their own experience, figuring out how to structure a life/world-self view that works for them, supporting folks in self-identifying the skills and tools (including self-care, and life-skills, ways of thinking/feeling about things) that might work for them. This ended up being quite long, though feels relevant to me.

I also considered the non-verifiable marriage  …what it has to do with love?

I understand your concern about reinforcing delusions, and at the same time know that I can be helpful for people to just talk about what they feel is real and important to them. A lot of times, even patient and compassionate family and friends can get burnt out on trying to listen to things that don’t make sense to them or cause them to feel uneasy, even if they are trying to understand.

Feeling empowered to just talk about their lives and experiences, people can sometimes come to their own re-negotiation of their beliefs, and identify what is important to them in those beliefs/realities, find ways to bring whatever is most vital in the belief into their current circumstances, their walking talking world.

For example, I thought that I had been identified by an international consortium of telepaths and the ghosts of saints whose names were not known to “prove God” and “explain how God works” to global leaders and the general public, for the purpose of saving the world out of a profound sense of justice and dire retribution.

Through writing and contemplation, I figured out that it was possible to use art as a safe space to explore that, and that there were lots of different ways to go about trying to save the world and communicate love and compassion to people. What was vital was my desire to create/expose beauty, and also to feel like my existence mattered, that I was important somehow. I didn’t need to persuade international newspapers to run a story on the shapes of clouds to do that. I decided it was harmless to spend contemplative time (a form of prayer?) that asked whatever might be called God to send telepathic messages to the president that inspired pivotal moments of grace and clarity?

I didn’t have to panic over my sense of duty or go stand on a street corner with a sign. I didn’t really have to run away from my life to try to join an imagined Illuminati.

The trick was finding ways to have both lives, all these lives…as an artist and a mother and a person who wants to be able to work in the 3D world, and as a person who also finds a lot of value in the sense that I am connected to something out there, that I am important to something bigger than myself. There are lots of ways that connection can manifest, be.

In my experience, madness has a way of articulating the heart’s greatest desires and the mind’s most terrible fears, of laying open old wounds, projecting longings and possible futures…and all of this is jumbled in with the detritus and nostalgia and memory of our 3D lives and the vast world we live in. In the world I live in, it is not entirely implausible that someone might have a sort of “marriage” in some plane of the heart and mind. We (as Western humans) tend to think about things in very concrete ways. Our culture has done a poor job in supporting us in developing a keen sense of story and metaphor, ways to reconcile what the mind and heart might muster as what is real with what the world tells us is real, how real is established and conceived of.

Maybe there is someone out there? Maybe (_____) won’t meet her for years and years, maybe it’s someone (____) has known in dreams?

I don’t know. Aren’t there stories about weird stuff like that? It’s never supposed to happen in our little lives, but there are stories…mostly unbelievable, but still wonderful.

In concrete ways of thinking a wife is presumed to be an actual person, existing in contemporaneous and aligned time, with the attributes of a person who is living and breathing. As I said, who knows if there is not some person out there who (____’s) heart is somehow connected to in a way that (_____) holds onto. So, what does (____) then *do* with that belief? If a person has a belief they can’t get rid of, a persistent belief, they can figure out what to do with it, what it means to them, where it ought to sit in their life, what role it can play, knowing that it might change and that the belief may, at some point, become less important or even unbelievable.

I believed, for three solid years, still occasionally, that I was actively being haunted in a supportive manner by my dead great uncle whom I never met, because the belief felt good to me, it was a comfort to me, it interested me and caused me to feel I had an ally in the world. I developed a way of thinking about the relationship I had with the ghost of my dead-uncle in a way that I could hold the belief with some sort of peace, not having to react to it or get caught up in it, to let it just be a quiet part of my life, a ghost. My life didn’t have to be all about me and me dead great uncle. True, I felt like I was *supposed to* quit everything and write a book about him, but I made a deal in which the experienced ghost understood that I would just have to do my best to maybe get around to that one day, that it was complicated and I needed to hang out with my kids, go to my job, that it wasn’t the right time to quit everything and write a book with a ghost, but that if the ghost were patient, and if was patient – because I really wanted to write a book with that ghost, it felt like all I have ever wanted to do in the world, like what I was supposed to do – well, that maybe it would happen someday, or maybe in the next life, so to speak.

I do understand and appreciate that there is some cultural apprehension/unease around such concepts, such realities plain spoken as if they are real. People aren’t supposed to believe in things that are outside the range of the normative bizarre…even if they are harmless, even if they are helpful.

The culture of the United States tells people to use their imaginations and exposes us to all these fanciful animations of fantastic strange complicated terrifying inspiring stories of ghosts and teleportation, codes and magic, cartoon worlds and other realms, unlikely heroes…yet, is intolerant of “everyday people” believing things that might seem strange. 100_4728 100_4716 How can people see nothing?  100_4752

In some realm of my life in which hardly anyone knows or cares that I most happy when I am watching clouds and writing things that have nothing to do with times and places, writing in my own voice…I am writing essays to myself on my phone in an effort to figure out what I am doing and why.

Here’s one:

I like the idea of talking with people about dignity and mental health, particularly as the these concepts relate to force and coercion in psychiatric treatment. So, in between other organizing efforts and work/home responsibilities, I hatched a plan with Laurie Coker of NC-CANSO and a few other local and regional advocates to hold “Dialogues on Dignity” during the month of May.
It’s been a slap-dash organizing effort. Like so many grassroots endeavors, the impetus to bring people together has been challenged by the barriers inherent in the actions of bringing people together.
While I am increasingly resentful of my computer and the amount of time I spend looking at emails and trying to respond appropriately, I find that the idea of talking with people about their real lives and their real experiences is still a powerful motivator to me. In the ways that I have thought about social change and why social change happens, how it happens, I’ve kept coming back to this idea that when people are given the opportunity to speak about who they are and how they experience and think about the world, that something core in our humanity rises up.
There are lots of different ways to create such opportunities, between individuals and within groups, in schools and in the streets. I’d prefer sitting in a park or gallery, pointing out shapes in clouds and having phenomenal small talk. In the meantime, I am talking about mental health. I think I am tired of mental health.
However, “mental health” offers a fertile ground for the consideration of what our human experience entails and how we describe it and express it, and why…
A longing for dialogical culture – a culture in which people’s individual and group experiences are valued and respected as part of the collective human story, and in which people’s individual stories are appreciated for what they are and what they may tell us about all the different ways of being human – runs through many of our tendencies in social and cultural leanings.
Most people seem want to be a part of something, we want to be who we are, we want to share who we are and to be appreciated. These appear to me to be basic elements of human experience, basic points of relation. Even if we don’t want to be a part of something, and I have certainly experienced long periods of time during which I had no interest in participating in human society, or if we don’t have much of an innate, conscious desire to share who are, if we are quiet and isolate by nature, we still experience the subjective quality of our life in relation to these defining points of how we exist within the human community, the role and significance of other people in our lives.
What does this have to do with dignity?
It is well-established that the discrimination and oppression brought about by what is referred to as “mental health stigma” is isolating and harmful to people. Treating people who are diagnosed as having a “mental illness” as being less than capable or desirable creates a culture of sanism. “Capable” and “desirable” are subjective and often what is seen as a valued trait or attribute is caught up in the ways of being human that are deemed functional by a capitalist culture and economy. People who are seen as indignified often do not have the influential social capital that people who convey dignity seem to have. The perceived indignified are, therefore, shut out in many ways. The state of being ostracized may be indignifying in itself, disavowing a person from membership or affiliation within a group, within a human community.
I speak from my own experience on this matter.
 Dignity is defined as being a state in which one is worthy of respect or honor. It is a state which only exists in the relationship between people, one of those conceptual conditions that establishes who we are in the eyes of other people and, thus, in our own eyes.
While considering materials for this event, I read a lot of quotes about dignity.
Why does dignity have so much to do with having one’s pants on?
Yesterday, at the Asheville Radical Mental Health Collective meeting, we talked some about dignity. It means a lot of different things to people, we all had different associations attached to it. I found myself wondering what dignity, as a concept and a state, has to do with white heteropatriarchy* and Western supremacy, how much of our thinking and experience of dignity is tied up in social class and notions of gentility, adultism, sanism.
‎Regardless of the different ways that we thought about dignity, we all agreed that force and coercion in mental health care, which often involved having one’s pants pulled down, wounds dignity and that a wounded dignity impacts mental and emotional health in profound ways.
“I felt like a child, like I wasn’t even being treated as a human.”
I do not know why feeling like someone is making a child out of us is such an insult to our dignity. Perhaps the way children are treated is often insulting of their dignity, too? 
There is this notion that one cannot have one’s dignity taken from them without allowing it to be taken, which has something to do with being stoic in the face of adversity, of “taking it like a man,” and not “crying like a girl,” ” stop being a baby,” “freaking out,” “flying off the handle,” or “being crazy”…what is that even about?
I have this narrative: “Dignity is about being strong and not letting people push you around. It’s about demanding respect.”
What does “being strong” have to do with white heteropatriarchy? How does stoicism deny us the expression of our truth in the demand that we maintain composure?
‎It’s complicated, this dignity thing. That’s why we should talk about it. It’s one of those topics that allows for us to get right to what we think about being human and what experiences inform us in who we are and what our value is.
In yesterday’s discussion, someone asked:
“Isn’t there dignity in crying?”
We all agreed that there is. 

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Phone pictures of recent drawings. That little bottlebrush kept me from losing my mind on Saturday. The little boat theme reworked was for a potential flyer.

*excuse the use of the term “white heteropatriarchy” – there isn’t really another good term for what I am talking about here.

I think that the most indignifying aspect of it all was being subjected to such a stupid concept as dignity.