Saturday, October 25, 2008


Pingting points out that there are some dead links in my posts, in particular the link the link to the African Children's Book Project. That project is something I think very important so I want to make fix it. Actually this link is to a new site which provides more information and a link to the Ethiopia Reads Web site. The efforts to publish more in everyday languages is vitally important.

Yesterday I spent the day gardening with a good friend. She's got her doctorate in psychology. I also hung out with one of her brothers who is a psychiatrist. So my thoughts went all mental.

Something about the old Yankee magazines I've recently dug out is how the Great Depression of the 1930's is never very far out of mind. One story Miss Susan's Bell revolves around a home invasion and burglary of an of a blind elderly school teacher. It's a clever story where Miss Bell outsmarts the burglar, a former student of hers. Here's how the story relates that detail:
Years ago there had been dire poverty in the village--and she had some little money. She gave of her savings then and over the years as she gave of her time, without stint, and a few respected her secret--her minister, the mayor, the town nurse. Yet, because she neither banked nor spent on herself, small town logic knew the cash had to be somewhere.
The Depression was a very pivotal event for my parents, perhaps even more so than WWII, at least the Depression lasted longer and during their school years. About the war, my mother always would recall how her graduating class provided the first officers to be sent to the war and the casualties were very high. So her generation as youths went from depression to terror and sadness.

Clinical depression is clearly different from economic depression, but I think the link is more than just metaphorical.

Right now the "experts" are telling us this current economic crisis is the worst since the Great Depression. On the news last week I saw a report about a businessman whose business was to clear out reposed houses in California so the banks could sell them. It was eerie to see how people left, furnishings, children's toys, even food in the refrigerator. The economic logic of the business meant it all went to a landfill which seemed unreasonable to me. But the big thing I took away from the report was how the people were depressed. There were probably better ways they could have left these houses, but in their mental state it was too hard to think of how, or to muster the energy to do so. Even people ostensibly secure for the moment are on pins and needles because we've got a feeling that a financial house of cards is falling and nobody's prepared.

John Robb offered terse advice yesterday:
A word to the wise: Hoard/hide cash (not in a safety deposit box since those are vulnerable). Cut consumption to the bone. Get ready.
Yikes! Robb's Global Guerrillas is good to read for one take on how to react to this situation from a policy perspective. There's no shortage of opinion on that front but there's still a hurdle among regular folks like me that's something like not wanting to talk about economic depression for fear that will bring it on. It is quite unsettling to hear really smart and knowledgeable people preface their remarks on the economy with: "I hope I'm wrong." The optimistic talk about a major slump and I'll try to be optimistic. It probably would be better if I tried being realistic!

I'm being so glum I have to laugh at myself! Ah, the connection with the visit with my friends. They both interact with people with psychological problems, and depression is not the only way people suffer. But in any case, through different approaches, my friend a therapist, her brother a psychiatrist, they both try to lead people along a path towards healing. So the question in mind was whether what they know about psychology provides clues as to how to proceed out of an economic depression? I'm not so sure about the answer, I'm not even sure whether it's a sensible question to begin with. Nevertheless after the gardening work was done, I enjoyed talking with my friend with that question in mind.

I noticed a book Women Who Run With the Wolves in my friend's bathroom. I was curious to leaf through it to see what stories the author, Clarissa Pinkola Estes had used in her book. After that I questioned my friend about whether she uses stories in her therapeutic work. She says she doesn't, but I think she does. Needless to say, she's the expert and better believed than me. In any case we got to talking about stories and she brought out some fairy cards and we did short readings for each other and talked about those stories. I was quite taken with Niniane, who goes by various names but is the well-known Lady of the Lake.

The African Children's Book Project's first book, Fire on the Mountain was an Ethiopian story told for an American audience and then translated into Amharic. After that book was published they went around to Ethiopian villages wanting to hear stories told around fires. They heard one ancient story of "biblical proportions" unique to the area. That book will be called The Lady and The Lake. There's no direct connection between the Ethiopian story and the Lady of the Lake of Arthurian Legend.

My opinion is that stories help people to respond rather than to simply react. It matters that we tell stories. Part of the charm of the old Yankee magazines is that many of the stories in them recall hardships. Another of the fairy cards we drew, I can't remember her name, centered around the observation that sorrows are like carving a chalice or bowl to hold the joys of life. Whether it's economic depression or clinical depression, a shift in perspectives can assist us towards proceeding in a constructive way. Stories provide an imaginative place for us to engage with alternatives. Perhaps stories are a way for us to begin seeing our way out of our depressions.

Picture credit: Painting by Vincent Van Gogh, On the Threshold of Eternity. Source.

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