Tag Archives: mental illness

Musings on “Mockingbird”

We see what we look for, hear what we listen for. It’s one of many messages conveyed by Harper Lee in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” published the year I was born and dubbed one of the great American novels. Harper’s writing is highly praised, as is her treatment of racial injustice in the American South. Central to the book, adapted for both screen and stage, is the trial of a black man accused of rape who’s defended in court by a white lawyer.

My only experience on the receiving end of racism was during ninth grade, when I lived in Hawaii and was one of just a few “haoles” at my school. I remember noticing that teachers never called on us, even when our hands were raised and we’d come to class eager to participate. Others have experienced far greater injustices caused by bigotry based on skin color.

But our family has lived for years with another type of discrimination, made more painful by the fact that few people even acknowledge its existence. We have a family member with mental illness, but there’s little public outrage when people ridicule such things. For all our progress as a society in championing the rights of LGBT individuals and raising awareness about families affected by autism, we’ve yet to truly see the 1 in 5 people in our midst who live with depression or other mental health conditions.

So I see in “To Kill a Mockingbird” both the tale of a black man falsely accused, and the tale of another man judged too quickly — the character called “Boo” who lives holed up in his house isolated from neighbors who ridicule him for being what they consider crazy. While I acknowlege the power of Lee’s book to heighten our awareness of racial injustice even as it occurs today, I see in her work something more.

The danger in drawing assumptions about anyone. Those with mental illness. Women. Children. White men. Lawyers. Those who commit crimes. Even novelists like Lee who choose to live a quiet existence outside of the public eye. I was reminded of all this today while watching a local theater company production of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which affirmed what many have surmised. That the story is just as relevant now as it was when Harper wrote it. See it. Hear it. And act on it.

– Lynn

Note: Click here to read the “1 in 5″ report from SAMHSA

Coming up: Remembering Anne Frank,  Veterans who write

Seasons of change

Home Free, Cheyne - Sanctuary Art Center

With just a week before next Sunday’s CBS broadcast of the 2011 Tony Awards®, I’ve got a serious case of Tony fever. How kind of the Metropolitan Men’s Chorus to open Friday night’s benefit performance of “At the End of the Day…” with the song “Seasons of Love” from the Tony Award®-winning musical “Rent.” Also “Not While I’m Around” from “Sweeney Todd,” another Tony Award® winner, and two other selections.

I loved the fact that chorus members donned street clothes instead of traditional choir garb. Think red check flannel and Hawaiian print shirts. Khakis and flip-flops. And that they sang surrounded by set pieces resembling old aluminum siding spray painted with brightly-colored graffiti.

Open Heart, 2004, Gary - Sanctuary Art Center

“At the End of the Day…” — presented by QSpeak Theatre (of Phoenix Theatre) in collaboration with Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development in Phoenix — is “a play based on true stories and experiences of LGBTQ and homeless youth living in the Phoenix Valley.”

The play was “written in collaboration with program participants of START and GreenHouse Project programs at Tumbelweed Center for Youth Development, and youth participants at 1n10 and Y.E.P.” The one night benefit performance was directed by A. Beck, who describes it as the outgrowth of work with more than fifty youth during the course of nearly a year.

My daughter Lizabeth participated in several QSpeak projects (including “At the End of the Day…”) while attending high school at Arizona School for the Arts. Tomorrow afternoon, June 5, we’ll be seeing “Like Everyone Else” — developed by Xanthia Walker’s “Theatre for Social Change” class at ASA in partnership with Phoenix Theatre and the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center.” Both works feature snippets of stories meant to convey youth experiences in their own voices.

The 12-member cast did an exceptional job conveying the hopes and fears of LGBTQ youth struggling with homelessness and all that can entail — poverty, hunger, unwanted sexual encounters and more. Plus the issues that plague all teens and young adults, from self-identity to choice of values.

Choose, 2006, Ashley - Sanctuary Art Center

The work sheds light on complexities of societal supports for people experiencing homelessness. Bed shortages. Inadequate training for professionals. Budget cuts. And the tendency of too many to say they want to help the homeless without taking a single step to actually do so.

One message in particular stood out. These youth and young adults don’t want to be stereotyped or stigmatized. They’re people. Period. Yet portions of the dialogue revealed stereotypes some homeless youth hold against peers with mental health disorders, described in the work as “crazy,” “mental” or “psycho.”

Some aspects of life on the streets, including encounters with law enforcement, were deliberately excluded from the piece. The depiction of a youth who feels forced into prostitution by the need to pay rent was done with real artistry, but the sheer number of encounters “shadowed” through a piece of hanging cloth made this scene feel almost gratuitious to some in the audience.

At times, comments by cast and creative team during the post-show talk back were needed to elucidate points conveyed somewhat vaguely during the show. The fact that churches and temples, even those offering free food and clothing, feel unsafe to youth who grew up feeling judged by religious family and friends. And the aversion to accepting help that comes with strings attached. Think sermon first, meal later.

Coffee Shop, 2004, Scott - Sanctuary Art Center

If you missed the performance of “At the End of the Day…” but want to learn more about helping LGBTQ and/or homeless youth, click here to visit the Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development in Phoenix. And stay tuned for future “theater for social change” fare from Phoenix Theatre and its many community partners.

– Lynn

Note: Additional information on programs and policies related to homelessness is available from the Arizona Coalition to End Homelessness.

Coming up: Valley stages featuring Tony Award®-winning works

All artwork from the Sanctuary Art Center in Seattle at www.sanctuaryartcenter.org

From JFK to Father’s Day

This poster resembles a T-shirt my daughter Jennifer loves to wear

For most, the name Kennedy conjures thoughts of politics. My own daughter Jennifer, a 20-year-old antroplogy student at ASU who aspires to work for the United Nations, loves wearing a T-shirt that bears the likeness of a 1960 poster supporting JFK’s presidential campaign.

John F. Kennedy was born in Massachusetts on May 29, 1917. Had he not been assassinated in November 1963, today would be JFK’s 94th birthday. And while opinions of his politics may vary, it’s hard to find fault in his avid support for the arts.

After Kennedy’s death, a work in progress originally dubbed the National Culture Center became the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. It’s located near the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. and there are three ways folks in Arizona can enjoy its offerings.

Those visiting D.C. can attend diverse music, dance and theater performance at the Kennedy Center — assuming tickets are available when you’re ready to buy them. The rest of us can watch for touring productions of Kennedy Center programs like the Theater for Young Audiences performance of “Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical” presented last year at Higley Center for the Performing Arts, Or go online for daily webcasts from the Center’s Millennium Stage.

The Kennedy Center offers free daily performances (at 6pm EST) on its Millennium Stage. Saturday night I watched streaming video of the Beach Fossils. Sunday night will feature a D.C. trio called “Medications,” described as “an 18-year collaboration between multi-instrumentalists Devin Ocampo and Chad Molter with drummer Mark Cisneros” that “combines a love of ’60s and ’70s pop, as well as the visceral pulse of ’70s punk.”

There’s plenty of live performance art right here in Arizona, but Kennedy Center Millennium Stage offerings are perfect for evenings you’re content to stay home but still want to get your daily dose of arts and culture. While you’re online, consider exploring the Kennedy Center website to learn about its many collaborations with Arizona artists.

Ballet Arizona performed at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts as part of the Center’s “Ballet Across America II” program in June 2010. And Childsplay, a Tempe-based theater company presenting works for youth and families, has participated four times in the Center’s “New Visions/New Voices” playwriting development program — with “The Yellow Boat,” “Even Steven Goes to War,” “Salt & Pepper,” and “Telemera: Stories My Mother Told Me.”

But the Kennedy family legacy goes beyond the realms of politics and art.

Patrick J. Kennedy, son of JFK’s brother Edward M. Kennedy and former member of the U.S. House of Representatives, is coupling his personal experience with bipolar disorder and addiction with his expertise in public policy to further the work of the newly-established “One Mind for Research” campaign — which aims to unify the science, technology, research and knowledge needed to battle brain disorders.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver, JFK’s sister, founded the Special Olympics in 1968. The organization — which describes itself as “the world’s largest movement dedicated to promoting respect, acceptance, inclusion, and human dignity for people with intellectual disabilities” — serves more than 3.5 million people through a variety of programs. From June 25 to July 4, 7,500 athletes from 185 countries will participate in the Special Olympics “World Summer Games” in Athens — which includes 22 Olympic-type sports.

Today the only surviving child of John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Caroline Kennedy, continues making her own contributions to arts and culture. She serves as honorary chairman of the American Ballet Theatre governing board and has authored several books including “A Family of Poems: My Favorite Poetry for Children” and the recently released “She Walks in Beauty: A Woman’s Journey Through Poems.”

I imagine what it must have been like to grow up surrounded by the countless words of others attempting to decipher or describe your father’s legacy. If you’d like to try writing about your own father, consider attending a “Father’s Day Writing Workshop” Fri, June 9, from 6-8pm at MADE Art Boutique on Roosevelt Row in downtown Phoenix. Here’s a little blurb about the event from the “Mothers Who Write” website:

A good dad is hard to find. If you’ve got one, let him know how you feel by writing something for him this Father’s Day. And if you don’t, write about him anyway — it just might be cathartic. Bring 17 copies of your two-page (typed, double spaced) piece to MADE and fine-tune it with MWW instructors Amy Silverman (Phoenix New Times) and Deborah Sussman (ASU Art Museum). Spaces are limited; registration is required. To register, call 602.256.MADE.

We all spend far too much time delving into the private lives of other families, famous and otherwise. And while I find the topic of JFK fascinating, I can assure you that my own father is every bit as interesting and complex — albeit in a wholly different sort of a way. Maybe he’s the one I should be writing about…

– Lynn

Note: Click here to learn about Special Olymics Arizona

Coming up: Local twists on the Tony Awards®, Last chance! Art camps, Do the math: Arizona arts & culture by the numbers

Follow the film

Intrigued by Google art commemorating the April 16, 1889 birthday of Charlie Chaplin, I decided to learn a bit more about the man I know only as a comedic talent from black and white film days. I was still in my teens when Chaplin died on Christmas Day of 1977, and I’ve seen very little of his work.

One of the first articles I found had a scholarly bent, exploring in greater detail than most the mental illness that plagued Chaplin’s mother for most of her life — and the likely impact of her illness, supposedly related somehow to the ravages of syphillis, on his life and career.

I was particularly struck by references to the “Cane Hill Lunatic Asylum” and the “Lambert Hospital Register of Lunatics.” No one wishes to be on such “lists” or to see their mother battle the dual inhumanity of illness and inhumane treatment.

Chaplin’s father died when Chaplin was just 1o years old. By 14, Chaplin had his first legit acting gig — and he went on to earn awards and accolades for his film work.

Chaplin worked as a performer and film producer, but also wrote several books and scripts. Chaplin, who played violin and cello, was a composer as well.

You can learn more about Charlie Chaplin, his family and his career by visiting www.charliechaplin.com.

But if contemporary cinema is more your style, you’ll also want to check out www.thefilmbarphx.com – the website for a 21 + film and wine/beer venue located in “Roosevelt Row.”

I first learned of the Film Bar from Denise Kronsteiner with Scottsdale Community College, my contact for all things wonderful at SCC — including “The Many Faces of Hate” film series they present with the Anti-Defamation League.

Kronsteiner alerted me to a screening for the film “Afghanistan: Between Light and Darkness,” directed by Penelope Price, founding director of the film school at SCC – which led me to an organization called PARSA and their program titled “Children of Afghanistan.”

I’ve learned some pretty fascinating things just following these films. Check out current and upcoming fare at the Film Bar — including “Idiots and Angels,” “Scheherazade, Tell Me a Story” and “Eat the Sun” — and you just might feel the same way.

– Lynn

Note: Click here for details about the April 27 film being presented in “The Many Faces of Hate” series from SCC and the ADL.

Coming up: Parents meet prose, If you build it…

Much more than normal

by guest blogger Gabrielle Abrams

ASU student Gabielle Abrams saw "Next to Normal" at the Balboa Theatre in San Diego on Jan 22, 2011

Next to Normal is a musical that jumps over the line that many musicals shy away from.

Many people will even shy away from the topics brought up in this heavy yet entertaining show.

Next to Normal deals with issues of depression, and those coping with family members who are being treated for mental illnesses.

The cast members in this show are intense, bringing an electrifying score to life. It’s a small cast of only six actors who carry along the entire show.

Each actor was amazing, hitting notes that so many can only dream of. They demanded the attention and it was difficult when all were on the scene at the same time to focus on only one of them.

Alice Ripley, who originated the role of Diana, is touring with the show and giving it her all. She is a fierce actress and hits the emotional scenes with such force and honesty.

Yet Ripley’s vocal performance is not what it used to be. The songs are draining on her voice and it seems much raspier and strained than on the original recordings. 

The set is unusual to most big Broadway musicals, being a more minimalist type set. The framework stays the same throughout the whole show and is formed to be a three story house as if you cut it in the middle.  

This allows the actors to move about in their own “rooms” and do something independent. This helped the scenes switch easily from one area to the other.

This is one musical that dares to go where none other has. The characters are well defined and are easily connected with. 

Next to Normal is heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. This is one musical that shouldn’t be missed.

Note: Gabrielle Abrams is a journalism student at Arizona State University.

Walking with Glenn Close

Sisters Glenn and Jessie Close

Most folks know a little something about actress Glenn Close—that she stars in the hit TV series “Damages” or that she played “Alex Forrest” opposite Michael Douglas in the movie “Fatal Attraction.”

But did you know that she’s also a three-time Tony Award winner, best known to Broadway buffs for her brilliant portrayal of “Norma Desmond” in the Andrew Lloyd Webber production of “Sunset Boulevard?”

Or that she recently partnered with several organizations to create a non-profit dedicated to combating stigma against those living with mental illness?

Bring Change 2 Mind” notes that “1 in 6 adults and almost 1 in 10 children suffer from a diagnosable mental illness” and that the stigma associated with mental illness “can be as great a challenge as the disease itself.”

Close describes her very personal connection to mental illness in a piece recently published by The Huffington Post. Take a moment to read it, because Close tells her story better than I might tell it for her.

Families living with mental illness have long sought someone with Close’s insight and influence to help champion the cause. But who, we all wondered, would step forward—knowing the impact it might have on personal and professional ties.

I learned about Bring Change to Mind from my 16-year-old daughter Lizabeth, who discovered it online.

She couldn’t wait to tell me about it, because we’ve often wondered why children and teens with mental illness—who face dangerous risks from substance abuse to suicide—receive so little attention and empathy.

We’ve faithfully supported the work of friends and fellow students who champion the cause of children living with autism, diabetes, cancer or another serious condition.

Yet we’re heartbroken that the chronic health conditions our family members face are still met with blame, laughter or indifference.

This weekend you have the opportunity to help us change that…

Bring Change to Mind has partnered with one of the country’s leading mental health organizations, the National Alliance for Mental Illness, to promote nationwide walks to raise awareness about the impact of mental illness on individuals, families and communities.

NAMI WALKS take place in three Arizona locations this year, including a 1pm walk Sunday (March 28) at Tempe Beach Park at Tempe Town Lake (registration begins at noon).

If you need a little inspiration to get out there and support the cause, check out this public service announcement featuring Glenn Close, who participated in last year’s walk near her home.

Loving and living with a family member battling bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or other form of mental illness forges the character and consciousness in unexpected ways.

You see it in the works of playwright Tennessee Williams, who grew up with a sister battling schizophrenia, and so many other artists forged in the fire of uncertainty these conditions bring.

I’m grateful to Glenn Close for the time, tenderness and tenacity she brings to raising awareness and reducing stigma on behalf of her sister and her nephew—and for inviting each of us to walk with her.

–Lynn

Note: Today I’m going to begin writing two daily blogs. The first, of course, is the arts blog I cherish writing for Raising Arizona Kids Magazine. The second is a blog that won’t be immediately published but will, instead, evolve into a book featuring essays about parenting and mental illness. I welcome your input and will keep you posted on my progress.

Coming up: A review of opening night for “The Glass Menagerie,” a profound play by Tennessee Williams being performed by Arizona Theatre Company at the Herberger Theater Center in Phoenix through April 11

Musings on art and mental illness

I remember a particularly moving art exhibit I saw many years ago at the Arizona Science Center in Phoenix. I was attending a reception celebrating the development of the Arizona Child Study Center at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, which works to “improve the quality of life for children, adolescents and families affected by mental, emotional, behavioral or developmental disorders.”

The exhibit featured artwork by youth who’ve experienced trauma. The works were gathered by the NYU Child Study Center, on which the Arizona Child Study Center is modeled, and are part of a collection gathered for a book titled “Childhood Revealed: Art Expressing Pain, Discovery and Hope.” I’m not sure where I first stumbled upon this book, but once I did, I was mesmerized. The young artists’ stories were compelling, their artwork complex and strangely stirring.

The book may have had special appeal because I was already familiar with one of its authors, Harold S. Koplewicz, M.D., who co-authored a book called “It’s Nobody’s Fault: New Hope and Help for Difficult Children and Their Parents.” (The co-author is Robin F. Goodman.) In an age when blame and shame too often haunt those living with mental illness, this work makes clear the biological basis of depression and other conditions that affect our youth.

With greater understanding comes greater acceptance.

Art Awakenings is a program that fosters and features the artwork of Arizona youth and adults living with various types of mental illness—from anxiety to schizophrenia. It was established in 2000 by the PSA (People Service Action) Behavioral Health Agency and has the following mission: “To promote empowerment and recovery through the power of creative expression with adults and youth who face behavioral health challenges.”

Art Awakenings works are displayed at various locations throughout the Valley—and well worth experiencing.

While advocates for youth with autism are making great strides, many families living with childhood mental illness feel their struggles too often go unnoticed or ignored. Autism advocates note that approximately 1 in 100 youth are affected, while mental health advocates note that about 1 in 5 children experience a mental illness.

I’m not sure why the one cause elicits more attention than the other. Both are way-beyond-worthy. If art can help us understand any of these conditions better, or open the hearts of relatives, neighbors, teacher, policy makers and others to those living with these challenges, I’m all for it.

Especially knowing the genuine risks facing youth with depression, including suicide, we can no longer be complacent about the 1 in 10 amongst us who live with symptoms serious enough to cause significant impairment in home, school and community settings.

Some find parallels between the minds of those living with mental illness and those gifted with exceptional creativity. The book “Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament” isn’t an easy read, but it’s a satisfying one. Author Kay Redfield Jamison, M.D., who disclosed her own battle with bipolar depression only many years after this scholarly work on the subject, looks at the possible connections between what was once termed manic depression and creativity in a variety of the arts. I leave it to you to consider whether and what the association.

Maybe your child is wrestling with emotions you find it hard to understand. Maybe your child is facing a possible mental health diagnosis. Maybe your child’s life has never been personally punctuated by mental illness. Maybe you’ve lived for years with the unique lessons, strengths and puzzlements that life with mental illness can bring.

Whatever your own story, I suspect you’ll find the artwork in “Childhood Revealed,” and in the Valley’s many Art Awakenings exhibits, evocative and provocative.

Go there.

–Lynn