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MEDICAL REVIEW — Being Psycho in New Zealand: Part Deux

In morality, philosophy, psychology/psychiatry, sociology on August 22, 2012 at 10:20 pm

Intro: One of the great things about New Zealand for a creative writer is that anyone who is alternately chronically depressed and anxious about the state of the world, and having to live in it — as any artist worth his salt is — can collect a social welfare benefit. One of the crap things about New Zealand is that the British class system still shows through, health insurance can only be afforded by the wealthy and real Accident Compensation is most readily accessed by the lawyers of the wealthy. The rest of us so-called disabled or health-disadvantaged who don’t fit into society try to exist on tiny ‘benefits’. My particular disadvantage that makes me virtually unemployable is also my vocation: telling the absolute truth, unvarnished. Below there follows an article that was rejected by the director of my own ‘caregiver’ organization, Crossroads, an associate member in Auckland of the international Clubhouse movement. It was said to be ‘caustic’ — and this is a disqualifier for censorship? — but more to the point contains some home truths about Crossroads’ funder, the Auckland District Health Board. Intended for its bi-monthly Chatters magazine, it has been lightly edited for purposes of comprehension outside New Zealand.

 

 

MIND MAZE

It’s  a great idea that people who have had breakdowns be encouraged to work — if they are able. At something stimulating, not work a machine can do. A longtime friend of mine who qualified as a fine artist in the ultra-demanding degree course at Elam Art School, disowned for many years by his family, has worked forever at the so-called welfare organisation Wrap’n’Pak, $3/hour drudgery. This is a criminal waste, even diabolical punishment given his high ability, high standards of excellence he places on himself and concomitant low threshold of frustration.<p>    

Global capitalism deems 15% of people expendable from the workforce. A job could be a lifesaver if: 1) the pay is reasonable; 2) hours aren’t split so pay goes on travel expenses; 3) you don’t get fired for no particular reason a day short of your three-months probation (an employer-friendly law passed by the National Government last year). Problem is there are precious few jobs in New Zealand today where even one of these criteria holds true.<p> And applicants deemed subject to mental defect will find few employers rushing to shoulder-tap them for their lack of experience over recent years. The job market for us has become a constant grind of proving yourself again and again, like touting for a mega appearance fee in showbiz: “Yeah, but what have you done lately?” And we have virtually no prospect of gaining experience that means anything in the demanding job market.

Government says  it wants us to work but, coming from the moral high ground of conservatives maybe it just wants someone to hound. Some people’s lives aren’t worth living unless they have others around whom they can grind down through biased policies, then tell to pull their socks up and buy some shares in assets the public already owns by paying taxes.<p>

The Mainstream Employment program numbers just 200 lucky souls throughout the country and I now see why. I was approved for the program May 2011, did an employment course and was given a job agent to help with my c.v. (resumee) and find work for me. My agent is very conscientious — thanks Cherie of Elevator! She is a stick-to-it American go-getter from Gainesville, Florida settled here for the past two years after a period living in Ireland. Me? — I’m okay, actually thinking of trying another agency called Workshy, where, knowing the situation, they just put their feet up and collect a steady salary. It’s part of my makeup that when people tell me to “Hurry up and wait” — and nothing appears after a year or so — I tend to hibernate to keep from breaking out in stress-induced blistering face shingles. Yet, I know if a job does come in I’ll have to rev up and hit the ground running: one more stress. My g.p. insists I am not capable of open employment, and should only work up to 15 hours a week at a suitable job in a suitable environment. Of course, I do much more than that weekly, writing and editing various projects on the go.<p>

Three employers had my c.v. for five months before giving me thumbs down. A Head of Department at my old university (Auckland) finally said she didn’t have time to support me on the job. Support? — I’m a self-starter. What was looking the likeliest prospect — a job with the ADHB (Auckland District Health Board) — has been put on indefinite hold. The particular workplace, Starship Children’s Hospital, started just two other people with disabilities in jobs until the DHB sees how they  do. My suitability is judged on the work of others. This is wrong under UN Human Rights resolutions, plain commonsense and the Cub Scouts Code for all I know. Is this to save on diagnosing, assuming we all have the same shortcomings? One scrapheap fits all? If one of the two lucky ones given jobs goes berserk and starts shooting, are we in the queue automatically arrested, or just given the boot from any job prospects? I can’t help reflecting that this isn’t the future my mother planned for me when she carried me for nine months, raised me 18 years solo and made untold sacrifices. Just to be shot down on the whim of a bureaucrat?<p>

This is all part of the stigma, isn’t it, from the government down — no matter what they say. It’s a widespread government policy ghettoing people deemed mentally suspect for being different, unable to be boxed in as a specific economic cog in the scheme of things as they visualize it. You can’t claim ACC (Accident Compensation Commission) — Your destiny is a bennie. This is a discriminatory practice that seems to be just accepted, just because. That is, unless you can tell the doctors the precise single incident that caused your breakdown, or the proximate cause, maybe the remote causes going back to childhood, beyond to genetics, likely the largest component. We human sacrifices are left struggling on inadequate pay, facing condemning social stigma, unfit and undeserving of work  — a lifelong sentence for some. In the past year I have lost five friends — not just fellow ‘clients’ but people I socialized with in my own time — including two who chose not to live out their full sentence; one aged 34, the other 46; both so intelligent and functionally capable, with so much individual initiative that was left unrecognized or simply neglected.<p>

No lowlife bennie for a certain Ms in the news recently. Lent the ears of ministers and prime ministers for 10 years, she just wants more — compo, that is, on top of her “very large” insurance payout to sweeten the pot. Her ACC windfall needs to be much more to maintain her in the lifestyle to which she’s become accustomed. After all, it’s not like the rest of us had lifestyles to lose.<p>

Is this the luck of the draw? Hardly. Are some people more deserving? — Nope. So in the words of Hal David, “What’s it all about, Alfie?” I suspect just old-fashioned greed. Thems that haves, gets.    — Gaz De Forest

MOVIE LEGENDS — Hollywood Sisters: OLIVIA de HAVILLAND & JOAN FONTAINE

In celebrity, film on August 14, 2012 at 5:33 am

Both born of a British family in Tokyo, 1916 and 1917, just 15 months apart, uniquely Olivia and Joan grew fast but totally independently of each other into major stars during Hollywood’s ‘golden age’ of the studio system. Apart from obvious “superior breeding” that was fashionable on stage and screen up to World War II in the gentlewoman type they did have in common, they didn’t have much truck with each other and the fan magazines of the day hinted at an estrangement, even something of a feud, offscreen. Apparently, in real life, “feud” didn’t nearly cover it and from early childhood Olivia was unaccountably resentful and anything but nurturing towards her younger competitor. A cousin, the high achiever of the family, designed de Havilland aircraft.

Olivia_de_Havilland_in_The_Adventures_of_Robin_Hood_trailer_2From age 18, Olivia was seen as a promising starlet by home studio Warner Brothers, winning leads in her opening year, 1935, in both A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Errol Flynn’s first starrer, Captain Blood. While Flynn was an instant superstar, Olivia, just as impressive, was on a slower rise through Maid Marian, exquisitely beautiful in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) — see photo. In David Selznick’s mammoth production of Gone With the Wind the following year she took a step up entrusted with the difficult role of long-suffering Melanie Hamilton — hard not to make her an over-saintly martyr, which she accomplished. Nothing could save her from the overwhelming shadow of the media hooplah surrounding Vivien Leigh in the prime role of Scarlett O’Hara. Each received $25,000 for appearing — Vivien as a one-off newcomer’s fee from Selznick; Olivia for 20 weeks work from Warners, at her normal studio salary of $1,250 a week. Neither compared to Clark Gable’s (Rhett Butler) lump of $120,000 from home studio MGM, who distributed the picture as their price for lending Selznick the prime leading man of the day, who incidentally suited the role down to the ground. While Vivien went instantly on to $100,000 a picture for her next one, this distinctly secondary treatment still after four or five years with her studio meant Olivia would never quite measure up as the heiress apparent to Bette Davis’s status as Queen of WB.

Joan_Fontaine_in_Born_To_Be_Bad_trailer_2Joan wasn’t really as beautiful but was slender, blonde and held herself with ultimate poise, like a mannequin — something of a forerunner to the ladylike appeal of Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn but more demure and completely lacking their coy coquetry. Joan’s wry smile did show a sly sense of humor though, giving portrayals somewhat more subtle than her elder sister without showing an “acting” performance that Olivia would develop mostly after leaving Warners. And whereas Olivia played fresh and bright on screen, sometimes passionate, Joan looked world weary, even cynical as she matured. In the meantime Joan had made a slight impression at her home studio of RKO as Douglas Fairbanks Jr’s leading lady in Gunga Din (1939), a somewhat better one in MGM’s The Women later that year and then (dropped by RKO) went straight into major stardom in the title role of Rebecca (1940) squired by Laurence Olivier, and Suspicion (1941), wife and potential murder victim of Cary Grant, of questionable background and character here. She had signed with driven independent producer Selznick, he fresh from the stupendous achievement of Gone With the Wind and both her triumphs were under the most prestigious director of the time, Alfred Hitchcock. Unlike big sister Olivia she was the center of attraction in her movies at 22, and having won the Oscar as Best Actress for the second one — the only one ever for a female under Hitchcock’s direction — she was already overshadowing her. Posterity would not record it thus.

This Above All was a little dreary though highly admired as an RAF love story with Ty Power. In a remake of The Constant Nymph (1943) she took acting honors from the likes of Charles Boyer, Dame May Whitty, Peter Lorre — and shot under Olivia’s nose at the Warners lot. Jane Eyre (1944) with Orson Welles, who did not direct, was a good atmospheric piece and she was moving in the role, compassionate to Rochester’s tortured soul. After that, though she continued as center of attention in comedies and period adventures alike, there was usually something light and fluffy about them, ultimately dismissable though shot attractively with Joan looking glamorous. This applied even to a Billy Wilder ‘classic’, The Emperor Waltz (1948), sumptuous in technicolor and opposite Bing Crosby, and a deadly dull period thriller, Ivy, playing a poisoning murderer, and still unfailingly glamorous. Letter from an Unknown Woman that year was a four-star exception directed by legendary French auteur Max Ophuls and written by Howard Koch, admired even by usually vitriolic critic Pauline Kael.

She was still just 30, but apparently tiring of the Hollywood whirl, her career took a backseat to extracurricular activities: flying, ballooning, golfing, interior decorating — in all of which she proved champion prowess. In 1951, September Affair with Joseph Cotten was a passable “women’s picture” and the last time she was a centrepiece, soon outshone by Elizabeth Taylor, 19, in Ivanhoe. Olivia was in the movie biz for the long haul. By the time she had emerged from the damsel under Errol Flynn’s protective cloak — lastly as Mrs Custer in 1942 — Ann Sheridan had taken over as Warners’ young up-and-comer as the “Oomph Girl”. Soon after, Joan Crawford, a decade or so older, was imported as WB’s grand dame. After a series of weaker ones at WB Olivia, like her career model Bette Davis, went on suspension against Jack Warner to win better roles. As a result, Devotion, made in 1943 about the Brontes and co-starring Ida Lupino and Paul Henreid, wasn’t released until ’46, when she was well clear of the studio.<p>

Out on her own, freelancing, she emulated her sister in winning an Oscar: wartime tearjerker To Each His Own made with flair at Paramount by stylish Mitchell Leisen. She made a decision that must have been a personal breakthrough, to take on unflattering but impressive roles that minimized her beauty to say the least. In The Dark Mirror at Universal she played good and bad twins, one a murderess; at Fox, The Snake Pit as a victim in a mental hospital; and again at Paramount, The Heiress as the homely dupe of young Monty Clift playing a ruthless social climber; she was 34, he was 29. For the last two she won the New York Film Critics award for best actress of 1948 and ’49. She was off the screen for three years, at 35 again daringly playing the older woman coming back opposite Richard Burton, 10 years younger. Though always more popular in stars’ polls, now Olivia had caught up with her sister in theatrical status, effectively surpassed her in outlasting her, and finally relaxed. In real life, she switched husbands and went with the new one to Paris, satiating her acting bug with just occasional roles. In the mid 1960s she emulated Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in turning to grand guignol just short of real horror, Lady in a Cage and Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte, replacing the ill Crawford to play opposite Davis in the latter.

As far as I know both still survive approaching a century, and the sibling enmity still glows white hot.

MEDICAL REVIEW: KNOWING CALVIN

In morality, psychology/psychiatry, sociology on August 14, 2012 at 12:53 am

There follows an article I wrote last spring (October 2011) on the sudden death of my friend Calvin Enting, aged 82, who lived in a second-floor unit in Kingsway just up from the St Luke’s mall, Auckland. Not only the timing of Calvin’s death, but the manner of it, was shocking — simply keeling over at the dining table after a few mouthfuls of food at Crossroads Clubhouse, Grey Lynn, having been invited back for his favorite Thursday roast one lunchtime. The seeming laxness and slow-motion movement of the ambulance attendants absolutely baffled and concerned me — making me realize how helpless we are at the mercy of the qualities of the individual ‘professionals’ who tend to us.

KNOWING CALVIN

     I got to know Calvin well only after he was ejected from Crossroads Clubhouse (for falling outside the Auckland District Health Board target age group). You had to admire how he stood up for himself, rallying lawyers, MPs and Age Concern to his cause of clinging on to his rights. Who, as a still fit and aware man, wants to be discarded and consigned to the company of sedentary and mentally failing people?

He was normally garrulous but on down days was querelous. So I had a pretty good idea what I was getting into when he started inviting me round with Paul G, Chris R and Alan M to watch the rugby with him on Friday or Saturday nights. I’m not a great fan and I told him I would only come if Auckland was playing. So Auckland vs Bay of Plenty and some others turned out to be convivial occasions over pizza, potato chips, soft drink and his cups of tea. When he went off on me one day I wasn’t around to hear it. He’d phoned the Clubhouse five times on Monday morning complaining that I’d stolen his pizza on the Saturday night — which was literally true. I’d stolen it back, lifting it on the way out the door because he hadn’t used it in the two weeks since I’d brought it. Only he thought I’d snuck back into his place and raided his freezer — Nope, not that desperate for pizza. We were soon friends again.

One day I took a book off his shelf that featured every rugby name internationally up to 1976, which suited me down to the ground as that’s about the time I began to lose interest in our national sport: the year the All Blacks collaborating with Apartheid by touring South Africa. Every name I mentioned he knew something extra about them — where they worked (it was the good old days before professionalism), family circumstances. He was proud his dad had been chairman of the South Canterbury Rugby Union. Calvin’s living room was festooned with memorabilia from his Boys Brigade days in Timaru to his service medals. He showed me his discharge papers from the Air Force once, and knew I was interested in 20th Century music so offered me loan of a book on jazz greats of the 1930s and ’40s.

There are two that will stay my most vivid memories of Calvin. One was when he phoned on what turned out to be the last Saturday of his life asking me to take him to Psych Survivors. I warned him it was down steep stone steps at Pt Chev Beach — but age didn’t stand in his way. Yet by this stage, feeling more and more isolated in the community, he was grateful even to get out of the house. I know he appreciated Piri Ratana especially, who would go around some weekends to cook him a really good meal. I think Piri must have shelled out for these meals, as Calvin looked after his money.

The second memory is of Calvin approaching me at the Clubhouse dining table his last day — he attended religiously for the Thursday roast lunch under special invites back to the premises. This was less than an hour before he collapsed. Out of the blue, he announced to me that if he “made it through to December” he would receive a “$2,000 bonus”. I had no idea what this referred to but as he walked away I shouted — there was no question in my mind — “You’ll make it! We’re all cheering for you!” Very strange how things turn out.

Last and foremost, thanks Alan McMaster, Clubhouse’s own St John’s Ambulance veteran — who could show the young incumbents a thing or two about urgent response. No spring chicken but always highly motivated and a ball of fire on cue, Alan sprang into action for Calvin — relaying his vital signs through Stephen to 111 over the phone: “Tell them he’s Status 2, and I want them here, like, yesterday!”

Calvin could’ve had no better surroundings to go out on, knowing he was among friends with a caring professional at his side. He was a great character of the kind you don’t see among recent generations, with a great many touches of colorful eccentricity, and I can’t help but feel the world is less interesting without him.     — Gaz

MEDICAL REVIEW: One more death in the mental health system

In psychology/psychiatry, religion on August 14, 2012 at 12:18 am

There follows a club magazine article I wrote on Kelmen Bartocci, who succumbed suddenly to pneumonia — as so many of us do — during the Southern winter (August) of 2011 in Auckland, New Zealand.

KELMEN in GOD’S PRESENCE:  LIVING the DREAM

     The actual experience of mental illness is seldom discussed in so-called ‘consumer’ circles. Like mentioning suicide, it’s publicly discouraged in favour of ‘being positive’: See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil — and it might go away. The great thing about Kelmen on earth was he was almost always affable — agreeable. But he did have his moments, with those who didn’t live up to his gentlemanly standards. With his strong Irish accent and quizzical, crooked smile that spoke of another world, he was unfailingly leprecaunish. To his closest friends, members of the Te Atatu Catholic congregation at the funeral, he was a “broken” or “weak” man whom they loved all the more, as this brought him closer to God. He was tormented by his standing in the sight of God — always questioning his worth, but especially as he came closer to his time as if he had a fore-inkling of what was in store for him.

Kelmen was of a generation of immigrants to New Zealand in 1959, as a seven-year-old from Dublin. He wasn’t always a devout Christian. Before the traumatic breakup of his marriage and the malicious aftermath contributing to his breakdown, he was a devotee of Indian wisdom. Local identity Herrwig, an old friend of Kelmen’s and who regularly spoke to his mother, alive until three years ago, told me he rarely made an important move without his guru. It was a lifestyle that worked for Kelmen then, at least materially, plying a trade as a fruit-and-vege marketer near Pak’n’Save, Mt Albert, to be very well off.

Kelmen showed extremely high functioning in activities he liked — chess, mathematics, languages, astronomy, and lately tennis! — but the emotional reverses of life got to him in a cruel way. Sensibly, like many of us who like to see the best in people, for self-preservation he avoided harmful situations but showed a happy exterior to the world. If the serotonin is running right, all of us have fond illusions about ourselves — if we want to keep our self-esteem up. If you’re in the mental health system these illusions are called delusions, something pathological. Kelmen’s delusion, constantly underestimating himself, was that of a formidably intelligent but humble man let down by life. His  immersion in religion was obvious, with blessings and praises flowing freely. Alternating feelings of elation and encroaching fear were almost palpable as he sat hands clenched together waiting for lunch or an imminent house meeting at Crossroads Clubhouse, Grey Lynn, Auckland. He talked about people he met in terms of seeing God in them or not, and how close they were to Him. So when I heard of Kelmen’s sudden death at just 59 and six weeks — a thunderbolt out of a clear blue sky — mixed with the sadness was the thought that it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. He is now exactly where he wants to be.   — Gaz

Being Psycho in New Zealand: Part Deux

In morality, philosophy, psychology/psychiatry, sociology on August 13, 2012 at 11:36 pm

Intro: One of the great things about New Zealand for a creative writer is that anyone who is alternately chronically depressed and anxious about the state of the world, and having to live in it — as any artist worth his salt is — can collect a social welfare benefit. One of the crap things about New Zealand is that the British class system still shows through, health insurance can only be afforded by the wealthy and real Accident Compensation can only be accessed by the lawyers of the wealthy. The rest of us so-called disabled who don’t fit into society try to exist on tiny ‘benefits’. My particular disadvantage that makes me virtually unemployable is also my vocation: telling the absolute truth, unvarnished. Below there follows an article that was rejected by the director of my own ‘caregiver’ organization, Crossroads, an associate member in Auckland of the international Clubhouse movement. Intended for its bi-monthly Chatters magazine, it has been lightly edited for purposes of comprehension outside New Zealand.

MIND MAZE

It’s  a great idea that people who have had breakdowns be encouraged to work — if they are able. At something stimulating, not work a machine can do. A longtime friend of mine who qualified as a fine artist in the ultra-demanding degree course at Elam Art School, disowned for many years by his family, has worked forever at the so-called welfare organisation Wrap’n’Pak, $3/hour drudgery. This is a criminal waste, even diabolical punishment given his high ability, high standards of excellence he places on himself and concomitant low threshold of frustration.<p>     Global capitalism deems 15% of people expendable from the workforce. A job could be a lifesaver if: 1) the pay is reasonable; 2) hours aren’t split so pay goes on travel expenses; 3) you don’t get fired for no particular reason a day short of your three-months probation (a employer-friendly law passed by the National Government last year). Problem is there are precious few jobs in New Zealand today where even one of these criteria holds true.<p>

Government says  it wants us to work but, coming from the moral high ground of conservatives maybe it just wants someone to hound. Some people’s lives aren’t worth living unless they have others around whom they can grind down through biased policies, then tell to pull their socks up and buy some shares in assets the public already owns by paying taxes.<p>

The Mainstream Employment program numbers just 200 lucky souls throughout the country and I now see why. I was approved for the program May 2011, did an employment course and was given a job agent to help with my c.v. (resumee) and find work for me. My agent is very conscientious — thanks Cherie of Elevator! She is a stick-to-it American go-getter. Me?— I’m okay, actually thinking of trying another agency called Workshy, where, knowing the situation, they just put their feet up and collect a steady salary. It’s part of my makeup that when people tell me to “Hurry up and wait” — and nothing appears after a year or so — I tend to hibernate to keep from breaking out in stress-induced blistering face shingles. Yet, I know if a job does come in I’ll have to rev up and hit the ground running: one more stress. My g.p. insists I am not capable of open employment, and should only work up to 15 hours a week at a suitable job in a suitable environment. Of course, I do much more than that weekly, writing and editing various projects on the go.<p>

Three employers had my c.v. for five months before giving me thumbs down. A Head of Department at my old university (Auckland) finally said she didn’t have time to support me on the job. Support? — I’m a self-starter. What was looking the likeliest prospect — a job with the ADHB (Auckland District Health Board) — has been put on indefinite hold. The particular workplace, Starship Children’s Hospital, started just two other people with disabilities in jobs until the DHB sees how they  do. My suitability is judged on the work of others. This is wrong under UN Human Rights resolutions, plain commonsense and the Cub Scouts Code for all I know. Is this to save on diagnosing, assuming we all have the same shortcomings? One scrapheap fits all? If one of the two lucky ones given jobs goes berserk and starts shooting, are we in the queue automatically arrested, or just given the boot from any job prospects? I can’t help reflecting that this isn’t the future my mother planned for me when she carried me for nine months, raised me 18 years solo and made untold sacrifices. Just to be shot down on the whim of a bureaucrat?<p>

This is all part of the stigma, isn’t it, from the government down — no matter what they say. It’s a widespread government policy ghettoing people deemed mentally suspect for being different, unable to be boxed in as a specific economic cog in the scheme of things as they visualize it. You can’t claim ACC (Accident Compensation Commission) — Your destiny is a bennie. This is a discriminatory practice that seems to be just accepted, just because. That is, unless you can tell the doctors the precise single incident that caused your breakdown, or the proximate cause, maybe the remote causes going back to childhood, beyond to genetics, likely the largest component. We human sacrifices are left struggling on inadequate pay, facing condemning social stigma, unfit and undeserving of work  — a lifelong sentence for some. In the past year I have lost five friends — not just fellow ‘clients’ but people I socialized with in my own time — including two who chose not to live out their full sentence; one aged 34, the other 46; both so intelligent and functionally capable, with so much individual initiative that was left unrecognized or simply neglected.<p>

No lowlife bennie for a certain Ms in the news recently. Lent the ears of ministers and prime ministers for 10 years, she just wants more — compo, that is, on top of her “very large” insurance payout to sweeten the pot. Her ACC windfall needs to be much more to maintain her in the lifestyle to which she’s become accustomed. After all, it’s not like the rest of us had lifestyles to lose.<p>

Is this the luck of the draw? Hardly. Are some people more deserving? — Nope. So in the words of Hal David, “What’s it all about, Alfie?” I suspect just old-fashioned greed. Thems that haves, gets.    — Gaz De Forest

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