Category: News & Views

The Malkovich Transformations

Page one, chapter one, Mirrors of the Mind:

The protagonist in the 1999 fantasy film Being John Malkovich is Craig Schwartz, an out-of-work puppeteer. One day Craig discovers a hidden doorway behind some cabinets in an office building where he has landed a temporary job as a filing clerk. Intrigued, he crawls into what seems to be a damp tunnel. Suddenly the entry door slams shut behind him and Craig is hurtled through a space-time vortex that thrusts him into the mind of the film’s namesake, actor John Malkovich.

Later, back in the office, Craig tells the story of his amazing experience to his coworker, the opportunistic Maxine. She speculates that other people might be willing to pony up for a brief sojourn in a famous person’s head. They place a newspaper ad and soon people are lining up at the portal after work hours with cash in hand. Delivered through the tunnel, the mind travelers delight in experiencing the world through the eyes of a celebrity, even if he is engaged in such mundane activities as ordering towels over the phone, rehearsing lines for a play or flagging down a taxi.

These mind trips are short-lived. The eavesdroppers are again sent flying through the vortex only to come tumbling down into a ditch beside the New Jersey turnpike just outside the Holland Tunnel. Craig retrieves the dazed travelers and guides them back home. These mind ventures seem to have an effect like travel to a foreign country. The sojourners not only have a vicarious experience of another person’s life, they also gain new insights into the existence from which they were temporarily extracted.

Summing up the experience, Craig exclaims to Maxine: “I don’t think I can go on living my life as I have lived it.” For him, the journey “raises all sorts of philosophical questions about the nature of self, about the existence of the soul.”

What we might call the Malkovichian transformation is an exaggeration, or perhaps even a parody, of what can occur when we read a work of fiction, watch a play, study a painted or photographed portrait, or participate in other acts of the imagination. We are released from our current preoccupations and drawn into the life and times of other human beings. We may feel the guilt of Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov, the sorrow of Shakespeare’s Ophelia, the joy of the figures in Matisse’s painting, The Dance. Characters and scenes stay with us as if etched in memory and come back to us, unexpectedly, in times of struggle or triumph or boredom.

Though it is not quite like reading a novel or looking at a painting, delving into the autobiographical works of individuals who have made the life of the mind their central preoccupation – certain highly influential philosophers – can produce something along the lines of the Malkovichian transformation, triggering for us, as it did for Craig Schwartz, important questions about “the nature of the self, existence of the soul.”

How does an expert in ‘creative retirement’… retire?

When Jorvik Press author Ron Manheimer retired in 2009 as founding director of the North Carolina Center for Creative Retirement, he thought he knew how to leap into the next chapter of life. <a title=”How does an expert in ‘creative retirement’… retire?” Read more…

How does an expert in
‘creative retirement’… retire?

When Jorvik Press author Ron Manheimer retired in 2009 as founding director of the North Carolina Center for Creative Retirement, he thought he knew how to leap into the next chapter of life.

Heading up this lifelong learning, leadership and community service program at the University of North Carolina, Asheville, he had led countless weekend workshops for hundreds of people considering their next chapters.

He formulated his approach as Ten Keys to a Creative Retirement. One of the keys, “adaptive reuse,” advised pre-retirees to reflect on how they might extend their accumulated talents, knowledge and interests, and project them into new yet related activities. Ron borrows the term from the field of architecture where it refers to restoring an old building to house new functions, like turning an empty warehouse into an art museum or an outdated fire station into a restaurant.

As an example, Ron points to a former banker with a love of classical music who became the treasurer of the non-profit board of a civic orchestra.

But instead of following his own best repurposing advice, Ron headed elsewhere. “For a truly creative retirement, I decided I should try to come up with activities that would be unprecedented for me,” he says.

Not much of a gym guy, he found a personal trainer, developed an exercise program, lost 25 pounds and took up hiking. Apprehensive about death, he became a hospice home visitor. A longtime grant seeker, he joined the board of a foundation that funds other people’s projects.

“I loved these new ventures but then I started running out of inspiration,” he says. “I still had lots of time on my hands and, though I was beginning to feel anxious, I didn’t want to fill up my time just to keep busy.”

Ron went back to his keys to a creative retirement and took another look at adaptive reuse. “I thought, how can I extend the things I’ve done for many years and make them fresh again?”

An author of several books and a raft of scholarly and popular articles, he came across a deferred book project. “Clearing out some old computer files, I discovered the chapters I had put aside. Work and family demands had halted any progress on the book several years earlier.

“But I felt the spark of intellectual excitement still alive in those pages. It was about how philosophers portray their own life experiences and realize their most noteworthy ideas.

“I loved tracing how thinkers who have had such an important impact on world history described their own life-changing experiences. What if I could put myself into the mind of a Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a Simone de Beauvoir, or someone I admired as both philosopher and social activist, Mahatma Gandhi? Where could that take me and take my readers? Maybe I could hitch my midlife transition to their self-transformation.”

Find out for yourself how the project turned out. Buy Mirrors of the Mind here, or order it from your favorite bookstore.

Ron Manheimer lives in Asheville, NC and is available to talk about his new book and the creative retirement process that led him to write it.

Dear Luise

Dear Luise

An unintended event. This was the bland phrase used to describe Luise’s sudden death in the psychiatric ward at Amager Hospital in Copenhagen, Denmark. She was 32. Dear Luise is a mother’s deeply personal account of her struggle to ensure her daughter’s survival through 20 years of treatment in the Danish mental health system. It is an alarming – and thoroughly documented – exposé of the abject failure of the medication-based treatment regimen routinely imposed on vulnerable psychiatric patients. This book is also a poignant tale of love and hope, brimming with tender memories of the creativity, originality and wry humor of a very capable, intelligent young woman.

Behind Luise’s ultimate fate we see the smug certainty of mental health professionals, both doctors and caregivers, and the concomitant dehumanization of their patients through indifference, harassment, coercion and the use of force. In this tragic case, the mother’s investigation also reveals a shocking trail of incompetence and dishonesty – repeated misdiagnosis, professional collusion, “missing” official records, falsified hospital charts, victim-blaming, and a complete lack of accountability.

Her mother’s ill-fated trust in Denmark’s healthcare system led an 11-year-old girl with misunderstood adjustment problems into a doctor-mandated drug hell. First she was wrongly diagnosed and dosed with powerful anti-epilepsy medicine. Then the severe side-effects were treated with antipsychotics that caused even more serious adverse reactions, both mental and physical. Complaints from mother and daughter ran into a stone wall, and all meaningful dialogue was cut short. The system had only one response – increase the medication.

Luise’s tragedy is far from unique in Denmark – or indeed any other “advanced” industrialized country. Towards the end of her life she knew what was happening to her. Luise told her mother: On my gravestone I want it to say that it was the medicine that killed me.

Taking the Piss: Did Shamans Really Drink Reindeer Urine?

The Daily Grail
Posted by Greg at 01:46, 11 Sep 2012

Anyone who has studied shamanism in any detail will have heard statements to the effect that shamans imbibed the potent Fly Agaric mushroom (Amanita muscaria) in a rather odd, idiosyncratic manner Read More…

Ohio Reading Road Trip

[at age 17, Herb Gold] traveled to New York and went to a party given by an editor and attended only by other poets. That night, he met poet and author Anaïs Nin, who softly asked him to come with her to her houseboat in Hoboken. He agreed and followed her out of the party. “I was ready for whatever came next,” he remembers. Read More…

Herbert Gold: How I failed to meet Hemingway

ESSAY
Herbert Gold, Special to The Chronicle Published 4:00 am, Sunday, January 2, 2011

In Havana, 1959, I was camped out at the Ambos Mundos Hotel, trying to write a film script based on my novel “The Man Who Was Not With It.” I had driven my beat-up, badly used Ford (transportation for the poverty-stricken recently divorced) to Key West and then flown to Cuba by Q Airlines (slogan: “Ten Minutes, Ten Dollars”). Read More…

Herb Gold interview: ‘elder statesman of the Beat Generation’

Julian Guthrie Published 2:54 pm, Friday, April 18, 2014
San Francisco writer and author Herb Gold, deemed an “elder statesman of the Beat Generation,” turned 90 on March 9 and celebrated with his kids and grandkids. Read More…


Nothing Ever Finished

By Joseph Berger
Published: August 29, 2008
Toward the end of this reflection on his own aging and what he calls “the encroaching inevitable,” Herbert Gold, a novelist who has turned out a book every few years for more than half a century, says that writers never stop writing, are “always on the lookout for the next book.” Read More…

Vladimir Nabokov: The Art of Fiction No. 40

Paris Review No. 41, Summer-Fall 1967
Interview by Herbert Gold

Vladimir Nabokov lives with his wife Véra in the Montreux Palace Hotel in Montreux, Switzerland, a resort city on Lake Geneva which was a favorite of Russian aristocrats of the last century. Read more…