New Article in “The Badger”

“The End of E pluribus unum?

The De-evolution of “Out of Many, One” to ME First!”

My new article in The Badger examines the national and international movements away from seeing all people as interconnected (as One) to the separation of nationalism, racism, and xenophobia (fear of the “other”). The motto of the United States on the Great Seal is e pluribus unum, which means “out of many, one.” However, more and more, we are seeing an attitude of “ME first” which promotes bullying and selfishness above our motto of seeing unity within diversity.


Interview with J. G. Ballard, 1997


J G Ballard, (image from Alchetron)

In September of 1997, I had just started my first job out of psychiatric residency at Omaha VA and University of Nebraska. I was keen to continue my scholarly work on creativity, trauma, and healing that I had started with my studies of Jerzy Kosinski and Louis Ferdinand Céline – writers who had lived through war. I envisioned a book examining the lives and writing of a series of authors and I contacted J. G. Ballard for an interview via the post. Life happened and other things came up and I did not get much further on that book idea. (Some of my writing of this era can be found on my webpage in the Coniunctionis column I had written for the on-line journal Mental Contagion). Somewhere along the way, I lost the original handwritten letters of my correspondence with J. G. Ballard, but my sister, Karen, recently gave me back a stack of my writings that I had sent her over the years and these contained a photocopy of the transcribed manuscripts. (Thanks to Shelby Stuart for transcribing from hard copy).

I am belatedly publishing this interview with J. G. Ballard from 1997. My initial questions appear immediately below and following this Ballard’s reply.


Dear Mr. Ballard,

Thank you for your response to my letter concerning an interview on the topic of trauma, literature, and autobiography. I appreciate your suggestion of a postal interview.

In trying to draft a few preliminary questions, I have been struggling to avoid simplistic and potentially leading questions. Rather than an isolated question, I have embedded the question in a context including my own musings and various references. I hope this does not prove too distracting.

What has fascinated me in your writings is your past experience as a child of war and the reappearance of images like the empty swimming pool and the young, male protagonist enthusiastically exploring physical and psychological landscapes in transition. How do you see the relation of these childhood experiences to your later writing? I have also wondered the unanswerable question: would you have been a writer without those experiences during the Japanese occupation?

The later traumatic incident that stands out is the death of your wife as described in The Kindness of Women. I became interested in your works during my clinical years of medical school when I had just finished reading a number of William S. Burroughs’ novels. I was struck by the loss of your wives’ deaths preceding (if my memory serves me) both of your careers as writers. Burroughs commented,

“I am forced to the appalling conclusion that I would never have become a writer but for Joan’s death, and to a realization of the extent to which this event has motivated and formulated my writing. I live with the constant threat of possession, from Control. So the death of Joan brought me in contact with the invader, the Ugly Spirit and maneuvered me into a lifelong struggle, in which I have had no choice except to write my way out,” (Miles, William Burroughs: El Hombre Invisible, 1993, pg. 53).


Could you comment on the early loss of your wife and your career as a writer?

Could you comment on how close to objective reality your books Empire of the Sun and The Kindness of Women are? Stated another way, where do you consider these books on the spectrum of objective history-symbolic representation? Spence, a psychoanalyst, has used the distinction between ‘historical truth’ and ‘narrative truth.’ These two realms of truth describe external and internal realities which are equally valid, although not necessarily identical. I notice that both of my copies of these two books of yours are classified as ‘fiction.’ I spent quite a bit of time on this question in relation to my work on Kosinski. There are great discrepancies between Kosinki’s documented biography and his fictional portrayals of his life which he encouraged to be taken as autobiography. While expressing some form of symbolic truth in his ‘auto-fiction,’ as he called it, he both revealed, disguised, and concealed certain elements of his self.

An observation that has struck me is that many of your books seem quite hopeful in contrast to those of Konsinski and Céline’s which I have been studying. You generally do not portray the despair and disappointment in human nature that they do. Kosinski’s books are filled with existential aloneness, sadism, and brutality, ultimately, he committed suicide. His life and writing could be viewed as being tainted and continually influenced by the events of his childhood, a Nazi victory almost 50 years after the fact. In your books and stories you seem to draw on childhood experiences and images, yet there is more of a sense of hope. Other related questions I have relate to a clinical phenomenon observed in survivors of trauma which Freud called the “repetition compulsion.” His view was that traumatized individuals recreate traumatic interactions in their later relationships in an attempt to have a better outcome. I have not seen this to hold true in many of the individuals with whom I have worked, instead they just seem to add new trauma to old. However, in writing, it does seem possible that some form of reworking and mastering of past experiences could take place. Writing can also be a form of witnessing, which in many theories of recovery from trauma is a necessary step for the individual objectified and isolated by trauma to reconnect with the community. Could you comment on this possible relation between trauma, repetition, and writing as witnessing?

Do you have any thoughts or comments on these interactions in the lives and writings of any of the other authors I am in the process of examining: Céline, Kosinski, Burroughs, Beckett, Woolf?


I have been curious about your portrayals of sexuality in some of your earlier works, such as The Atrocity Exhibition and Crash. These books examine a mode of sexual interaction which is objectified rather than focusing on the subjective or shared emotional experience. These two works seem to explore the potentialities of interaction and to develop modes of relating based on architecture or mechanics (perversions of geometry). To what extent were these personal struggles for you in your life, compared to philosophical explorations? I guess this gets back to the question of historical and narrative truth.

Also of interest is your writing yourself into your own novel in your own automobile accident. (Did you know that Stephen Crane also wrote of fictional situations which he later experienced in his life, such as a boat accident?) Could you comment on this reversal of life imitating art, rather than art imitating life?

Back to the issue of sexuality. Much clinical work has focused on survivors of trauma who have been treated in an objectified manner and who then relate to others in an objectified way, again, a form of repetition or re-enactment of the past. Flipping through The Atrocity Exhibition, I find Dr. Nathan’s comment, “However, you must understand that for Traven science is the ultimate pornography, analytic activity whose aim is to isolate objects or events from their contexts in time and space,” (Re/Search publication, 1990, p. 36). Some of the more enlightened psychiatrists have realized this insight about objectivity and the scientific method, as Stoller has stated, the “false self of psychoanalysis is our jargonized theory,” (Stoller, Observing the Erotic Imagination, 1985, p. 175). The jargon thus become the fetish which is used to objectify the other. This reminds me, in what way did your medical studies influence your writing?


Could you comment on your commitment to Science Fiction? I just finished your book of essays, A User’s Guide to the Millennium, (which is a great title, by the way) and I was struck by the extent that you consider yourself a S-F writer. In the States, Burroughs, Vonnegut, and Ballard are found in the general fiction section. I think that here S-F tends to be looked down on by the “serious” writers. Although, amongst many of my friends, reading S-F was a kind of rite of passage which led up to the journey away from planet “home.”

One last question, what did you think of the film adaptation of Crash? The movie and the novel have been the topic of a number of conversations that I have had with friends.

Well, I guess I did end up asking a few questions. I would like to go through your books in an orderly fashion and perhaps formulate a few more questions if you are willing to tolerate them. I appreciate your willingness to review these pages.


David Kopacz

Omaha, NE

J. G. Ballard’s Reply





Dear Mr. Kopacz,

Happy to answer your questions, and I hope you can read my handwriting [transcribed from original] – I ought to say first that there seems to be an underlying assumption by both you and the received wisdom of the day that all disturbing or violent experience is inherently damaging – that is that experiences such as the death of a spouse or child, death of a parent, the stress of being uprooted from one’s home, the hunger and privations of war, will all leave indelible fracture lines that run through the wounded psyche like a crack through a glass pane, and that even the lightest tap is capable of inflicting irreparable damage – I very much doubt this, although I seem to be opposed to the entire apparatus of 20th century psychotherapy – the fact is that throughout most of their evolution, human beings have been exposed to constant threats and ordeals, both physical and mental, of every kind, and the majority of people recuperate and in due course make a full recovery – when Empire of the Sun was published many people remarked on the appalling hardships I described, as if they were wholly untypical of the lives led by most people of the time – but as I always retort, the experiences I described in Empire of the Sun are far closer to the way in which most people on this planet have always lived, even today – it is we in the suburbanized, welfare-state western democracies who lead untypical lives – if the death of a spouse, child, parent, if hunger, disease, and privation were unusual and deeply damaging, human beings would never have survived. In fact they have enormous powers of recuperation, and when a devastating blow like a child’s loss of a mother, an utterly irreparable disaster according to psychologists such as Bowlby, can be recovered from if the wider family supports and loves the child, and sometimes, I suspect, if it doesn’t – this is not to say that genuinely horrific experiences of a sustained kind – like Nazi death camps and so on – do not inflict lasting damage – of course they do, just as some people will never recover from the wounds of a serious car crash.


I think this preamble probably answers many of your questions, but I will deal with them one at a time –

Childhood experiences and my later writing, and would I have become a writer but for WWII?

I think those experiences were a remarkable education, introducing me to an immensely wider contact with the real world than I would have had if my father had been running a textile company in Manchester – I also saw adults under pressure – an education in itself – in fact I didn’t write Empire of the Sun until I was in my mid-50’s and I think that I had long since come to terms with my experience of the war and risen above it.


Would I have been a writer but for WWII?

               Probably, since I was a tremendous day-dreamer and fantasist from an early age (five or six) – however, I think the first-hand experience of the war made me very suspicious of the ‘solidarity’ of everyday life (house and home, the securities of bourgeois life, etc.) and pointed me toward the surrealists – I think I relished the surrealists’ dislocations of the war-time landscape as I experienced them, possibly because I realized that the abandoned hotels and drained swimming pools addressed a deeper truth about the nature of so-called civilized settled life – in part I probably turned to science fiction because it allowed me to inflict just those corrective dislocations on the suffocating docility of English life and all its gentrified ordinariness.


No, my wife’s death, in 1964, came ten years after I began writing, and by then I had published 2 novels, and 2/3 book of short stories.

Trauma, repetition and writing?

I’m not sure that I have ever suffered irreparable trauma – the experience of psychotherapists is not a reliable guide, since they are dealing with a small number of genuinely wounded patients, who perhaps lack the constitutional strengths that allow most people to recover.

Of course the death of my wife was a devastating blow, and to some extent I still mourn her over 30 years later – I think it’s “inexplicable” cruelty (in fact, sadly, mortality often unexpected, is the ocean we swim in) led me to embark on the Atrocity Exhibition, with its attempt to make sense of another inexplicable death, that of J.F.K. – “he wants to kill Kennedy again, but in a way that makes sense,” someone says of the Traven figure.

I’ve never claimed that Empire and Kindness of Women were straight or were largely autobiographical. They are my life as seen through the mirror of the fiction generated by my life – I hope that all my fiction is optimistic, since it is a fiction describing various journeys of psychological fulfillment – my characters, including Jim in Empire, devise strategies that allow them to remythologize themselves – though often their behavior seems superficially paradoxical and even self-defeating – (Kosinski, from what one of his then British publishers told me, was a deeply unhappy man, obsessed with pornography, of which he had a huge collection that he swapped with another wayward Pole, Polanski – but I suspect he would have been deeply unhappy even if WWII had never occurred – I doubt if his suicide was a victory for the Nazis, since he was never interned and the ordeals he witnessed were those of a child – the older concentration camp victims were the true sufferers.


Céline, if I remember, was wounded in the first World War, and this may have acted as a facilitator, revealing a thread of vicious misanthropy that found its most concentrated form in anti-Semitism – a brilliant writer, but deeply nasty man probably from childhood – Burroughs, whom I knew on and off for over 30 years, seemed to me to have entirely created his own world from his imagination, from his homosexuality and the worldview generated by heavy drug use – I never had the sense that any events of his childhood had profoundly influenced him – Woolf, I assume was flawed from the word go, a depressive who might have survived but for the war.

The sexuality portrayed in Atrocity Exhibition and Crash has very little to do with my own. I own no pornography, soon become bored with the films on the “adult” channels in European hotels, and have been lucky enough to have had long and emotionally close relationships with a remarkably few women. On the other hand, I am interested in the ‘idea’ of pornography and how our sexual imaginations are influenced and shaped by the alienating effects of late C20 life – as I keep saying, Crash is a love story, describing how a man and his wife rediscover their love for each other, a fierce love that may be its own [warning? I was unsure of the original handwritten word]. Atrocity is one sustained attempt to make sense of the dislocations of the world.

A User’s Guide – the pieces go back to the 1960’s, when I was still writing s-f, and when I certainly considered myself in part an s-f writer and still had hopes that the genre could escape its juvenile origins and amount to something. But todays -s-f, largely dominated by cinema, is wholly different, a form I suppose of commercial space fantasy – but I’m still interested in science and its handmaiden, technology, and how these play into the hands of our own latent psychopathology. Indeed the normalizing of the psychopathic is the main enterprise on which late C20 mankind has embarked – Crash, the film? A superb and brave adaptation by Cronenberg – I think it will prove to be a landmark film, the Psycho of the 90’s – in the future all films will try to be like Crash —–

Best Wishes,

J.G. Ballard

Conversations With Susan

I have been having email conversations with my friend from New Zealand, Susan Mac Gregor. We were in a writer’s group together when I was in Auckland. We periodically have been emailing, but recently we’ve been having more frequent conversations around the topic of what she calls “deathing life,” Susan was diagnosed with Stage 4 Glioblastoma Multiforme, a serious brain cancer, and she has been sharing her insights and experiences with me. Part of what initiated our increased emails is the fact that I have been preparing to give a series of lectures in Grand Junction, Colorado, on Health Care Decisions Day. These talks will be on end-of-life decision-making, holistic decision-making, and also staff wellness for hospice workers. I had asked Susan to give some feedback on a draft for my talk and this really sparked off our conversations. As I have been wanting to expand the focus of this blog, Being Fully Human, it seemed like a good idea to post these conversations as Susan shares her honest insight and experience about the process of “deathing life,” living life right up to the point of death.

Susan has written a fairly long biography, and we’ll publish that at some point, but for this post, I’ll excerpt it and then also start with a summary that she has written about her “deathing life” process. I asked Susan about an image to include in the blog post and she said,

“Having only now read your email the things that come to mind as a picture for the blog could be based on what has been shared…perhaps something with swirling patterns of coloured light, transposed with transparent images of symbols, angels or such.” So I will put a few of my paintings in the blog that fit that description.

Kopacz 02

My name is Susan Diane Mac Gregor. I was born in Whangarei, New Zealand, on 25th August 1958. I grew up in Northland enjoying its beautiful beaches, native forests, waterways, & small town lifestyle. When not reading much of my time was spent exploring nature, swimming, rescuing damaged birds or small animals & swimming. There were cats, pidgeons, chooks [chickens], sheep, dogs, canaries as pets, plus my blood brother & four fostered siblings to share time with. Despite some financial crises for my parents, it was an idyllic childhood. 

As a young adult I entered training in Psychiatric Nursing, having chosen to diverge from my training at the Auckland Institute of Technology, where I qualified as an Industrial Cook. This led into my Career in Mental Health, & interest in Psychological methodologies. Upon qualifying I further developed my interest in caring for the Elderly, plus Special Interest in working with people with Dementia. Post Graduate study included a Diploma in Gerontology. Next I began developing qualifications & skills in Psychological Therapies, successfully completing the first year of study in a Diploma of Psychotherapy with Auckland University of Technology.

In addition to Susan’s health profession credentials, she is also a poet and spiritual seeker and we will hear more about that in further posts.

For today, we’ll include the email that Susan sent me that gave me the idea of posting her insights to share with others. I think she gives such a great, heartfelt, and wise words and experience.

25/2/16 (Susan)

Dear David,

It was with interest that I read about the latest books you’ve been reading. I have read many of the books you have cited in references, etc., including The Tibetan Book of the Dead, however not the recent Sufi book you mentioned.

I can’t give advice for your talk at the Hospice, as everyone’s experience differs, however I can write about my experience.

Initially I experienced shock & grief at receiving such a finite diagnosis. I remember looking around the rooms in my house at the things I had built up & worked hard for, & thinking what did all of that mean, was what I had invested to get those things worth it?  The answer that came back in response to that question was a feeling of emptiness. Then my heart filled with sadness thinking about my 3x beautiful cats & Mahmoud being left behind & I was glad at least that Mahmoud’s life would be more comfortable, as a result of my previous efforts.

Within 2wks I was trundled off for brain surgery, after which my life completely changed. The surgery caused damage within my brain, leaving me with left sided paresthesia.

Mahmoud was devastated. His welfare was always on my mind, as was mine on his. I had a large amount of time left lying in my hospital bed with nothing to do but think.

Years prior I had experienced a “healing” at a Buddhist retreat, in which my “difficult to control” hypertension completely dissappeared, leaving my GP astounded. During that retreat I learnt that even illness has a beneficial purpose, i.e. to teach us something, to deepen us in some way spiritually, to raise our awareness or break through unhelpful patterning.  Thus I started to look for the lessons in this experience.

For me cancer has done all of the above plus brought me to an awareness of how much love surrounds me. It has deepened my relationship with Mahmoud, with God, & given me fresh hope for humanity. I have been shown so much love & kindness, even from complete strangers.  Often those with little in the way of possessions have given me the most. I have been able to see the busy, tense person who “didn’t have time “ that I used to be, reflected in people around me, & their counter balancers in the people who will let me que jump, or help me out in getting something in a supermarket, etc., because they see I’m disabled.

As a consequence of my health & disability mine & Mahmoud’s lifestyle has dramatically changed. We have needed to offload a lot of possessions & have moved to a two bedroom rental unit. The money from my salary no longer flows in & the goal of being mortgage free in 3yrs has disintegrated. However I have found that I am surrounded with so much love & kindnesss that my soul & heart are completely full.

From this point of realisation forward I have been able to take inventory of my life, looking at past regrets & losses, & freeing myself of built up emotions through self forgiveness & forgiveness of others. This has been aided by gratitude & compassion, both of which have deepened within me exponentially.  I have become free again, letting go of pursuing goals, things, dreams…. most of which are erroneous now. Being present in each moment, with each breath, is how my days unfold. The natural world around me is exquisitely defined, colours, shapes, contrasts, each being impressed into my being through every sensory system I possess.

I still give … a smile, a kind word, my knowledge or time. My “deathing” life continues to have purpose & meaning, people ask me “what is this like”, “how do you stay so optimistic”, “are you afraid”, etc, etc. I do experience moments of fear, but at the end of the day my answer to all of these questions is, “this is life, I am blessed to have lived it, I believe in an after life, & it is my faith in God & Jesus Christ that sustains me when all else fails.

May your love-light continue to shine.

Love & Blessings, Susan xx

Kopacz 03


Re-humanizing Medicine is available for pre-order on Amazon!

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It is very strange to see something I have been working on for so long posted on Amazon. You can even look inside the book. The publication date is still set for November 28, 2014, but you can now pre-order the book.

It is difficult to say when this journey began, particularly as I distill my professional life’s work in the book. I think it was probably around 2006 where the book started to take shape as Creating A Holistic Medical Practice. I had written a draft of a book I was calling Being Your Self, but it was kind of diffuse and unfocused, gradually I realized I wanted to write about my views on holistic medicine and my work in creating a holistic medical practice. My earliest memory of working on this book was when I was at the American Holistic Medicine Association conference in 2006 in St. Paul, Minnesota. I remember sitting at a café and distilling some of my thoughts about how the structure of a holistic practice differed from a conventional practice. I had started my private practice in 2005, so I had been spending a lot of time thinking about and creating systems that supported genuine human connection in a psychiatric setting. I had set out some time in my private practice for writing, but clinical and then teaching demands intervened and the book languished. I wrote material for the classes I taught, Finding Your Self and Being Fully Human.

I moved to New Zealand as part of the culmination of a long-term dream and compulsion. I became busy there at my first job, realized I was partly living my dream, but that I needed dedicated time for my book, so when I took my second job there, at Buchanan Rehabilitation Centre, I went down to 4 days a week, so that I had Tuesdays set aside for what was most important to me. It was then that things really started happening! The book really started to take shape. I started looking into agents and publishers, eventually landed a contract with Ayni Books through John Hunt Publishing. In the process of getting book endorsements, Vincent Di Stefano mentioned the phrase “re-humanizing medicine” and that really clicked. That is where my passion was, not just in a book on creating a practice, but on challenging the dehumanization in contemporary medicine and setting out a program of re-humanization. Phrases like “counter-curriculum” and “compassion revolution” came together and the book took on its current shape, after an extensive re-write. Also, I figured out how to bring myself into the book, or the book out of me. Instead of giving facts and information, I felt the book was a part of me and I of it. At this stage, the writing of the book served an integrative process for myself, bringing together the first research project I worked on with Deb Klamen (who wrote the foreword to the book) as well as the many side projects I worked on along the way.

Eight years later, the book is now going public and I am shifting into a new phase with it. It is very exciting and I hope that the book resonates with an unmet need for physicians and clinicians and helps re-chart an inner direction that leads to outer transformation and reform. What will happen next?

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click here to go to Amazon to pre-order the book

Text from Back Cover of Book:

What starts as personal dissatisfaction in the workplace can become personal transformation that changes clinical practice and ultimately changes the culture of medicine.

Physicians and professionals train extensively to relieve suffering. Yet the systems they train and practice in create suffering for both themselves and their clients through the neglect of basic human needs. True healthcare reform requires addressing dehumanization in medicine by caring for the whole person of the professional and the patient.

Re-humanizing Medicine provides a holistic framework to support human connection and the expression of full human being of doctors, professionals and patients. A clinician needs to be a whole person to treat a whole person, thus the work of transformation begins with clinicians. As professionals work to transform themselves, this will in turn transform their clinical practices and healthcare institutions

“Modern medicine is engaged in a struggle to find its heart, soul, and spirit. This task must begin with physicians themselves. Dr. David Kopacz’s Re-Humanizing Medicine is an excellent guide in how this urgent undertaking can unfold.”

Larry Dossey, M.D., author of One Mind, Reinventing Medicine and Healing Words; executive editor of Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing.

“Dr. David Kopacz bears exquisite witness to medical dehumanization and puts his heart and soul into a thoughtful, reflective, yet practical guide for countering its contemporary ills. This book can change lives, careers, and systems.”

Stevan M. Weine, M.D., author of When History is a Nightmare and Testimony after Trauma; director, International Center on Responses to Catastrophes, University of Illinois at Chicago.












Project from writing group: influential author

I have worked with some other people to start a monthly writing group and this was one of our exercises, to write about an author whose writing you find influential. I’ll include my piece on this below:

Rebecca Solnit is an American author that I only discovered upon moving to New Zealand. The first book of hers that I read was A Field Guide to Getting Lost, it seemed appropriate for me, as I was feeling adrift in my life, having just moved around the world and I was trying to get my bearings. This book examines many different kinds of getting lost, from getting lost in the woods, lost in sex, drugs, and rock and roll, lost in mental illness, losing one’s cultural heritage, getting lost in art, and losing one’s thread in life. Solnit explores these themes in a loose, and rambling manner, sometimes seeming to get lost herself, so that the reader asks, “where is all this leading, if anywhere?”
                She quotes the pre-Socratic philosopher, Meno, “How will you go about finding that thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you?” She goes on to say that this seems to her the “basic tactical question in life.” “The things we want are transformative, and we don’t know or only think we know what is on the other side of that transformation. Love, wisdom, grace, inspiration – how do you go about finding these things that are in some ways about extending the boundaries of the self into unknown territory, about becoming someone else (4-5)?” Through studying the various different ways of getting lost, Solnit is secretly exploring the different ways of growing, changing, and transforming one’s self through the engagement in the painful and darker things in life. She often quotes Henry David Thoreau (another reason I like her books), for instance, “Not till we are lost, in other words, not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations,” (15).
                This permission to be lost in order to find oneself, came at a great time for me, as I struggled with my own issues of identity, place, and belonging.  I have long felt an outsider, and yet there are other times that I am very much an insider in certain situations. I have worked to make sense of my life by following a thread that leads sometimes internally, sometimes externally, sometimes through the “inside” of a system, organization, or profession, and sometimes on the “outside.” It was comforting to me to feel that there is a point in getting lost, and that point is growth and transformation.
                Another thing that I like about Solnit’s writing is that she is an idealist, a social activist, a realist, and a naturalist. She has a poetic sense and uses her own subjective experiences along with pursuing and developing ideas that don’t just sit on the shelf, but that engage with the world to create something positive. The next book of hers that I read was Hope In The Dark:  Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities. In this book, she outlines a definition of hope, how to keep hope alive, and how to stay positively engaged in life, even when it so often seems like all hope is lost. 
What I like about Solnit’s writing is her embrace of idealism and realism, that when held together comprise paradox. Hope comes from despair, human connection asserts itself in the face of repression and disconnection, and one finds oneself through losing oneself. Other paradoxes that Solnit describes are that the word emergency contains within it the word emerge (12); and that darkness can represent both the creative darkness of the womb and or the terminal darkness of the grave (6). These paradoxes allow for both reality and idealism. Paradox allows for one to act in the world without having to be perfect, it allows for complexity, such as success and defeat both being present in the same action. Solnit argues that the very reasons for despair can also be the justification for engaging in the world.  She defines the word, activist “to mean a particular kind of engagement – and a specific politic:  one that seeks to democratize the world, to share power, to protect difference and complexity, human and otherwise,” (18). 
                Solnit argues 3 points in favour of hope: 1) when looked at historically, many positive changes have occurred already in terms of human rights; 2) change “takes place in more protracted, circuitous, surprising ways than is often acknowledged;” and 3) despair is often a result of misunderstanding change, thinking that only success validates hope, and thinking that activism is the exception rather than the rule of continual engagement in life (pgs. 151-152). 
                I came across Rebecca Solnit’s writing at a very good time for me. Personally, my decisions to move from the US to New Zealand were due to both a pulltowards New Zealand and a push away from the economic and political problems in the US. Moving to another country brought up issues of identity and belonging for me, as well as the familiar question of to what extent am I an insider and to what extent am I an outsider. In addition to the Solnit’s positive messages about the benefits of getting lost and the necessity and reality of hope, she is American in the best sense of the word.  She frequently draws on the best American principles, such as Thoreau’s civil disobedience, love of nature, and opposition to slavery. She also draws on the struggles and victories of many Americans who are unknown to the larger world and history. 
                Solnit also draws on voices of freedom from around the world, such as an unknown person who goes by the name Subcommandante Marcos, a leader of the Zapatista movement in Mexico. Marcos has issued a series of proclamations. An excerpt from the Fourth Declaration of the Lacondon Jungle reads, “A new lie is being sold to us as history. The lie of the defeat of hope, the lie of the defeat of dignity, the lie of the defeat of humanity…In place of humanity, they offer us the stock market index. In place of dignity, they offer us the globalization of misery.  In place of hope, they offer us emptiness. In place of life, they offer us an International of Terror. Against the International of Terror…we must raise an International of Hope. Unity beyond borders, languages, colors, cultures, sexes, strategies and thoughts, of all those who prefer a living humanity. The International of Hope. Not the bureaucracy of hope, not an image inverse to, and thus similar to, what is annihilating us. Not power with a new sign or new clothes. A flower, yes, that flower of hope,” (39-40). To me, Solnit’s writing stands for these universal human rights:  the International of Hope and the flower of hope; the engagement with a “living humanity;” and also the best of American ideals and pragmatism.  Last of all, Solnit argues that the act of writing, itself is an act of hope. She states that writing “is a model for how indirect effect can be, how delayed, how invisible; no one is more hopeful than a writer, no  one is a bigger gambler,” (65).

Fitting In and Not Fitting In (revisited)

I just spent about an hour revising a paper that I presented at a conference a number of years ago, Learning to Save the Self (which can be now found at my Website under unpublished papers). I recently came across this paper and it really seems to summarize a lot of the issues that I have been working on in my job, teaching, and professional career over the years. Basically, how to remain fully human while going through educational programs or working in jobs that encourage dehumanization. I quite like the paper and it seems like a really nice summary of some of these ideas. It was also a lot easier for me to write than all the work I have been doing on the book, Creating A Holistic Medical Practice, which seems to be requiring endless revisions and is still has sections that I feel I have just not gotten to the essence of what I am trying to say.

So, I thought, maybe I can just do a few revisions on this old presentation and get it out there in print somewhere. I remembered a link someone had sent me about an on-line medical humanities journal. I looked up the submission requirements and it says that articles should be less than 2000 words. My paper is about 5000 words. I just did a bunch of revisions and it is now 3771 words.

I don’t think I can cut out another 1771 words and keep the spirit of the original paper. Once again, something not fitting in. I just set it aside, for now, with ideas of going back to working on the book, or maybe doing another draconian round of revisions (which would realistically mean dropping out at least one whole section of the paper, which means dropping out a whole segment of concepts that were introduced), or, maybe, just writing a piece with the aim of trying to distill the essence of the paper into 2000 words. It is frustrating, particularly as one of the themes the paper deals with is in trying to preserve the complexity of human emotion, feeling, and relating in the face of forces which try to reduce human interaction to acronyms, protocols, and procedures.

This frustration of yet another thing not fitting in is not an isolated issue. I have four computers (my work computer, an older laptop I kept at home with all my private practice clinical information backed up on it, the desktop computer I bought for my office assistant, and my personal laptop that I use for writing that doesn’t have confidential information on it). We have four printers (my home printer, my office printer, Mary Pat’s old home printer, and a new printer that she bought that is compatible with New Zealand electricity of 220 volts (US is 110 v). (You can skip this next part if you already get the big picture). My personal laptop works on NZ current and communicates with my printer, but it doesn’t have any of my practice information. I have to get working on US and NZ taxes, so I needed to get my work desktop computer to run on NZ current. I looked into buying a converter that would work for it, but had a couple of recommendations that I just have the power supply switched out. I did that, there were various problems…eventually I had a new exterior case for the computer, it runs on 220 v, but not all of the USB ports work with it, also, it is not compatible with the printer because it is a newer printer and I can only find a Windows Vista installation disk and the computer is Windows XP. (Also, I can link to the internet with my laptop, but haven’t figured out how to do that with either of my desktops to download printer drivers). Incidentally, my printer (the one that does run on NZ current, the other – my office printer – does not) has decided it doesn’t want to print in black since it got off the boat in NZ. I can’t print my tax information or business information. My work laptop stopped backing up properly in July of 2009 and I was never able to get that sorted out through the support team. My newer desktop computer, which is Vista, doesn’t have all the practice information I need. Also, it has decided that it has an unauthorized version of windows. It seems to work fine, but I have to go through a whole series of pop-ups every time I turn it on. I think I have made the dilemma clear enough. Maybe you are thinking I shouldn’t have so many computers and printers. I agree. The fact is, I do, and to get the information, electricity, and printer to all be compatible doesn’t seem to be happening easily. Incidentally, another reason that I wanted to get my work desktop up and running is that it had all my old files from computer disks on it and was the only one that had a disk drive, and once it was up and running, I found the paper (discussed above) which is not fitting the word limit for submission.


Last night we had dinner with some friends of ours from England. Two of us had jobs in the fields we trained in, although we are pretty grumpy about many aspects of the job not fitting our more extensive training than what the job requires. One of us is trying to get jobs in two different professional careers – Mary Pat has her NZ teaching certification, but can’t get a job in that field, and is currently waiting on her psychology registration that she started as a back-up. Another one of the four of us is running into all sorts of trouble getting nursing registration, but has a part-time job as something like a mental health technician. More problems with not fitting in. Plus, three of us have had various health problems since arriving in New Zealand. My own have been a series of different hip and knee injuries/pain that seem to relate to some difficulties in being transplanted here and putting down roots.


In my job, I have been getting increasingly frustrated with a sub-cultural pressure to make things smaller and slower. I have tried to move ahead with several different programs, groups, or initiatives and yet I feel constantly restrained, contained, and thwarted in what I try to put into practice. I have seen this curious sign or poster a number of places since I have come to New Zealand that says “Keep Calm and Carry On,” which I think is a Winston Churchill quote. I recently saw in a magazine someone wearing a shirt that had the same logo of a crown and words, but this one said, “Get Excited and Make Things.” I feel like I can relate more to the second saying and it does seem more “American.” The tension between these two sayings seems to sum up my frustration.