Category: News & Views

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…

Posted in Mirrors of the Mind, News & Views

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it refers to restoring an old building to house new functions, like turning an empty warehouse into an art museum or an outdated fire station into a restaurant.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.

Posted in Mirrors of the Mind, News & Views

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.

Posted in Dear Luise, News & Views, Our Books

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…

Posted in News & Views, Sacred Mushroom/Holy Grail

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…

Posted in News & Views, When a Psychopath Falls in Love

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…

Posted in News & Views, When a Psychopath Falls in Love

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…


Posted in News & Views, When a Psychopath Falls in Love

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…

Posted in News & Views, When a Psychopath Falls in Love

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…

Posted in News & Views, When a Psychopath Falls in Love

Comitatus review

“… As an artifact of modern medievalism, Sacred Mushroom/Holy Grail may actually tell us a great deal about how that legend has been modified and imported into modern cultural imagination.”

Comitatus: A Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies
University of California at Los Angeles

Terry Atkinson, Sacred Mushroom/Holy Grail (Portland: Jorvik Press 2013) 167 pp.

I note at the start that Terry Atkinson’s book is not necessarily intended for a scholarly audience; Atkinson himself admits in his introduction that Sacred Mushroom/Holy Grail may be “one of those “crackpot’ books” that follows in a similar vein as Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh’s 1989 Holy Blood, Holy Grail, which concluded that the real Holy Grail or Sangreal was actually a bloodline, the “sang real,” of Christ’s familial descent. Despite the clear reference to his predecessors in his title, Atkinson distances himself from Baigent and Leigh by noting the hoax upon which their theory was based as well as making a concerted effort to ground his inquiry in literary evidence. His euhemerization of the Holy Grail ultimately attempts to extract it from its more familiar literary and religious trappings and instead to identify the amanita muscaria mushroom and its hallucinogenic effects as the Grail’s real origin.

Atkinson’s background is in entertainment journalism and his treatment of the literary evidence is basic. As such, it is perhaps more productive to treat his inquiry as a medievalism reflecting the popular conception of literary scholarship as a kind of chivalric quest in search of sacred icons. Toward the end of his introduction, Atkinson asks his readers “like a knight entering the deep, dark, but promising forests of the Grail stories – to sally forth a while before coming to any conclusions” (4). This approach punctuates the whole of Atkinson’s book as he traces a speculative history of the Grail from Chrétien backward. Perhaps this kind of literary questing represents an attempt at identification with a Grail knight like Perceval. Rather than as a revealing piece of scholarship, as an artifact of modern medievalism, Sacred Mushroom/Holy Grail may actually tell us a great deal about how that legend has been modified and imported into modern cultural imagination.

Atkinson’s quest begins in Chrétien de Troyes’ twelfth-century romance Le Conte du Graal, often hailed as the first Arthurian iteration of the Grail Questand a narrative that offers Sacred Mushroom/Holy Grail an embarkation pointfor what becomes a reverse chronology of Grail lore. Atkinson also considersthe role of other prominent contributions to the Arthurian Grail canon, includingcontinuations of Chrétien’s quest, Robert de Boron’s Joseph d’Arimathe,and the Old French Vulgate Cycle, as well as older non-Arthurian Celtic andpagan sources. However, Atkinson looks primarily to Chrétien for the basicstructure of the Grail Quest and is particularly concerned with the Grail’s connectionto food or to a consumptive moment that leads to a loss of narrativetime. He finds this loss indicative of a mystical experience that is specificallyconnected to ancient shamanistic practices and the consumption of a hallucinogenicmushroom. Much like Baigent and Leigh, Atkinson treats his sources asintentionally hiding the truth about shamanistic practice, although he does nothave as clear a sense of the cultic purpose for these secrets having been hiddenin literary allusion. From this point on Atkinson, Alice-like, plumbs the vastdepths of a rabbit hole that opens upon the consumption of a certain magicalmushroom.

The fungus in question is known as the amanita muscaria and is perhaps the most recognizable mushroom in fantasy narratives with its white-flecked red cap. Atkinson delves into early cultural traditions of shamanism and ritualistic consumption of hallucinogens and finds this “sacred mushroom” to be hidden at the heart of a number of ancient pagan spiritual rites. Influenced primarily (and almost solely) by Jessie L. Weston’s seminal From Ritual to Romance (1957) Atkinson creates a causal theory that accounts for the obfuscation and transformation of the ancient image of the mushroom into the eucharistic cup that we know now through the lens of medieval romance.

From an academic standpoint there are a number of problems with Atkinson’s book. These issues include the unanswered question of why this secret has been hidden; some rather reaching assertions about the continuance of this tradition of secrecy, even into modern texts like Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow; an unfamiliarity with the techniques of French romancers which causes him to misread Chrétien’s interlaced narrative as “a wild and wooly tale”; his reliance upon dated scholarship like that of Weston; and finally and most concerning, the almost complete omission of the scholarship of Norris J. Lacy, one of the most prominent Grail scholars of recent decades. Interestingly enough, it is Lacy – in “Introduction: Arthur and/or the Grail” The Grail, the Quest, and the World of Arthur (Cambridge 2008) 11 – who offers one of the most profound insights into exactly what Atkinson’s project may represent when he notes of the mythic significance of the Holy Grail that it, “can be anything or nothing, a holy object or a hoax; the quest can be a sacred enterprise that gives meaning to life or it can be a pointless exercise or an absurd waste of time and humanity.” The end goal of the Grail Quest, Lacy explains, is not to find a useful object or even experience intellectual epiphany but rather to partake in a “beatific vision” (6). While the narrative climax of Atkinson’s research may point toward a culminating experience more similar to a psychedelic drug-trip than to a spiritual revelation, if we consider the overall structure of Sacred Mushroom/Holy Grail in light of Le Conte du Graal, we may note some striking similarities between Atkinson’s researcher persona and Chrétien’s Grail knight.

Le Conte du Graal begins when the novice Perceval, raised in a secluded forest and entirely ignorant of chivalric culture, encounters a knight and is inspired to become a part of the Arthurian world. He immediately leaves his home to seek out the court of King Arthur to whom he eventually pledges his service. In true chivalric fashion, he soon departs Arthur’s court, still somewhat ignorant, to experience a quest. Along the way he encounters the aged knight Gornemant of Gohort who trains him in the art of knighthood and sends him back out into the questing world far more prepared. Eventually, Perceval arrives at the Grail castle and encounters the maimed Fisher King. It is here that Perceval first encounters the Grail and, because of a lesson from Gornemant, “whether for good or ill, he did not ask them any question” (Chrétien de Troyes. The Story of the Grail. The Complete Romances of Chrétien de Troyes, trans. David Staines [Bloomington/Indianapolis 1990] 379). This reluctance proves a huge mistake and an indicator that Perceval’s quest has only begun. Chrétien’s tale progresses from this point through a number of adventures and even incorporates Gawain but was not actually completed by the poet, though other poets have added to and even completed the Grail Quest since Chrétien. I only summarize Chrétien’s quest because this very narrative sequence of departure, initiation, revelation, refining, and ultimately achievement undergird the structure of Sacred Mushroom/Holy Grail. Perhaps as a function of Baigent and Leigh’s book or even the cultural impact of Indiana Jones, in the popular imagination literary research seem to be conceived as a sort of treasure hunt or quest. Atkinson begins with the call to quest, is initiated through the Grail romances and the scholarship of Jesse Weston, is given a vision of the grail by entering into deeper pagan mythologies and herb-lore, and ultimately concludes his quest with the revelation of chemically induced ecstasy. The reader may have to do some extra work to see this conclusion for what it is, but it seems an appropriate incorporation of the conceptual Grail Quest into a modern culture that might understand a drug induced vision in much the same way that a medieval reader might consider the beatific vision. In a landscape lacking in chivalric heroes, perhaps the stoic work of the curious researcher follows in the footsteps of Perceval on the quest for the Holy Grail. Atkinson’s researcher persona shares a great deal in common with Chrétien’s Perceval and while his literary approach has left some unanswered (or unasked) questions about the applicability of his theory to further research, perhaps we might read this as an indicator that his medievalistic quest, like Chrétien’s, remains unfinished but in a way that is both celebratory of the Grail tradition and faithful to its quest.

SCHUYLER E ASTIN UC Riverside

Posted in News & Views, Sacred Mushroom/Holy Grail