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For my grand daughter Portia: ‘Ward Seven’ May 12, 2012

Posted by janehaynes in : Atomies of love, Becoming..., Thinking skywards, Uncategorized, Writing a book , add a comment

I haven’t blogged for months, perhaps a year, I have had writers’s block and haven’t been able to write my book either, but now it seems to be thawing, along with the weather in St. Petersburg where I shall be on Monday. It’s been a hard day’s work trying to get a ‘business’ visa released from out of the Russian Embassy but at deadlines last night they issued it and I shall be spending next week working at the Eastern European Institute of Psychoanalytic Studies. While I am there I am going to try, if time allows, and time is always out of mind, a brief journal for Portia. I am not however taking my laptop, as I have a skilled way of losing it when I am travelling so the blog can wait for my return.

Portia decided she didn’t want to go to University and she is working night and day, day and night for a film company in Charlotte Street, where she has discovered what the meaning of the verb, ‘to work’ really is. She is often – unlike her brother who rises at noon and only begins seriously to focus at dusk –  up with the blackbird chorus and only home long after the sun has set. Last week she told me that when occasionally she has nothing to do at work she has been reading my blog, I didn’t know that she knew I had one,  and that with the exception of Proust which was not her  cup of tea, and I understand why, she has felt drawn in and engaged by my writing to all sorts of new thoughts…

I cannot imagine anybody giving me a better gift, and it has certainly helped the iceberg to thaw.

In the interim between leaving and returning I am posting for Portia an earlier experience of my work in St. Petersburg and like Portia the Russians all know how to work, when I was privileged to visit the most notorious and ‘luxurious’ psychiatric hospital in Russia, the Bekhterev Brain Institute.

Portia, I hope, on my return to be able to provide you with a more light hearted read… especially as the women of St. Petersburg would not be seen dead in a snow boot but promenade St. Isaacs Square in Christian Louboutin seven inch stilettos. Well, those of them that have money, the rest are vulnerable, if not to being run over by buses, to being dragged along beside them when their impatient drivers barely stop. And then there are the dancing, oops I mean the chained bears. I have to close my eyes but I can still hear the clunk of chain,  and the risky business of hitching random lifts to Nevsky Prospekt and the Institute in the scruffiest Skoda and Lada cars, which you just hail down,  but with warm hearted drivers, for  a handful of roubles.  And, I thought I might even try to find the time to look for a winter leather coat…

WARD SEVEN

I am returning to St.Petersburg to give a series of lectures at the Eastern European Institute for Psychoanalytic Studies. My host is Mikhail Reshetnikov, an ex-military general and physician who persuaded Yeltsin to return psychoanalytic psychotherapy to an official status in the national medical curriculum after its demise by the Communists in 1927. Reshetnikov now presides over a stylish eighteenth century building on Bolshoy Prospect that Yeltsin gifted to him, which hosts a refurbished training institute replete with the largest psychodynamic library in Russia, a Dream Museum, and an annual intake of over 100 postgraduate students. Psychoanalysis was forcibly liquidated in the 1920’s and officially no forms of psychotherapy existed in Russia until 1975: neurosis was classified as a typical feature of the decadent West. By December 2000 there was one medical psychotherapist per one million people.

During this visit I intend to venture out from the ‘good city’ and find out whether it is true that even in the big cities like St. Petersburg and Moscow, medical psychotherapy falls far behind the collective national predilection to consult witches and mages and whether the Russian youth have become vulnerable to cults. Genuine healers come assorted and state accredited, along with all sorts of quacks and criminal charlatans, who use varied miasmatic techniques to brainwash their audiences into spending thousands of hard earned roubles for the promise of a quick fix. The Russian mentality – borne out of eternal struggle for survival – has become nationally addicted to the consoling idea of ‘a quick fix’. It seems that a new age occultism is fast becoming the religion for many Russian people. There are about 25,000 psychiatrists and psychotherapists in Russia versus 300,000 legally certified magicians and healers! There are more than one hundred state licensed schools for magicians throughout Russia.

In addition to an expanding occult industry the country is spawning more and more pseudo religious sects that are becoming increasingly irresistible to a floundering population, which is not yet skilled in the architecture of psychological individuation. Between the Russian Revolution, with its suppression of individuality, and Glasnost the average Russian had scant opportunity to develop a sense of personal agency or autonomy: the Russian personality is still adolescent in its explorations of subjectivity and the sources of self. Jesus of Siberia is not a national joke but a 42 year old prophet called Vissarion – a former policeman from Minusinsk – who claims to have 80,000 devoted followers, many of whom have followed him to an ecological settlement on an icy Siberian mountainside.

There are at least 500 different sects in Russia with well over one million followers of which the majority are young people. What disturbs – in particular – is that some of these so called new religions are commercial organisations with a ruthless focus on power rather than religion and a totalitarian mission of transforming the Russian psyche according to their own rules of political conformity.

Traditionally, Russia has been a country in which cults, correctly referred to as new religious movements, have flourished. Amongst the intelligentsia, pre-revolutionary society spawned Masonic rites, table raising séances, court orgies, theosophy and the phenomenon of Rasputin, another Siberian peasant. Rasputin, like Freud, was fascinated by hysteria and the powers of hypnosis. Freud applied himself to a theory of sexuality whilst Rasputin became an expert in sexual hypnosis. That was at the core of his impact on high society women, including the Tsarina, who were culturally susceptible to the mysterious arts of hysteria. Rasputin, like that other Siberian trickster, Vissarion, thought of himself as Christ and made others believe it as well. Both had innate origins in a cult which beckoned the Russian sexual revolution, the khlysty, a romantic sect that combined assiduous piety with sexual promiscuity. In their youth the future leaders of the Soviet intelligentsia, such as Gorky, Vladimir Mayakovsky and Lunacharsky were as influenced by Dionysian energies and Nietzsche’s vision of Superman as they were subsequently to be by Marx. In rural Russia magic and religion have always co-existed. Siberia, along with its mystical birches, has incubated generations of Shamans. Under Soviet rule it was rumoured that the KGB, scouring Russia for psychics to assist in their extra sensory perception researches, searched the forests and mountains of Siberia for mystics and children who displayed precocious psychic sensitivities. They forcibly recruited them into research projects for ‘Higher Nervous Activity’ at flagship research institutions like the Pavlov Institute in Moscow.

In a country that no longer knows what – or who – to believe in, whose people are floundering in an ideological void, there is an innate predisposition towards any authority that holds out the combined promise of prosperity and emotional containment.

Of particular relevance to my specific interests in Russian mental health is Scientology’s vast propaganda machine, which is fuelled by their generic hatred of clinical psychiatry. Of particular concern to Russian politicians should be the fact that their leafleted attacks and pamphlets carry truth in their squall. Russian psychiatric services are now at an all time low due to negligible budgets and the fact that state national insurance does not have any cover for mental health. Outside the major cities most of the acute psychiatric hospitals have reluctantly degenerated into primitive vehicles of restraint My medical colleagues tell me that in the provinces psychiatric hospitals are often deleted from the state budgets altogether. Many hospitals cannot afford modern pharmaceuticals and the older technologies like insulin, and the primitive equipment that is still being used for ECT are more likely to kill patients than cure them.

Officially banned, L. Ron Hubbard’s Church of Scientology is still alive and kicking in Peter’s great but confused city: it is alleged that its steely long arms have embraced senior Russian officials in both capital cities. Vladimir Agishev, director of SPB’s largest mental hospital has described how Scientologists disseminate huge quantities of leaflets attacking psychiatry as evil and the patients as prisoners. This is nothing new in terms of scientology’s politics but the consequences of its propaganda will be different in Russia where the current state of mental hospitals makes Chekhov’s shocking account of psychiatric care in Ward Six almost seem homely by comparison.

Arriving at my hotel the manager comes to greet me: This is my third visit this year and my eighth to his hotel. Good and bad news awaits me. The good news is that my room has been upgraded and the bad is that in the last week about forty guests have been mugged with varying levels of physical brutality. The muggings have not taken place down a cul de sac but outside the hotel whose boundaries are marked by private security and a legion of minders, who seem to turn a blind eye to everything except their bosses’ BMWs. The manager confides that it is the gypsies and that he is beginning to despair about the fate of his beautiful city, that several tour operators are threatening not to send future guests. The Astoria is one of the most beautiful hotels that I am acquainted with. Built in 1911 it was where Hitler planned to sign and celebrate his Russian victory. It is also where the revolutionary poet Eisenen slit his wrists and scrawled his dying name in blood on a banqueting wall.

Tomorrow I have plans to visit the Bekhterev Brain Institute that was established under Vladimir Bekhterev – another army general – in 1907. It was the august Bekhterev who first identified Rasputin as an expert in sexual hypnosis but his promising diagnostic perspicacity came to an untimely death after he was invited to give Stalin a consultation in 1927 and diagnosed paranoia. Surviving for only one day after this event, the Kremlin physicians diagnosed food poisoning! The Bechterev Institute is still privileged to be the country’s flagship of neurobiology and psychiatric research. After the emotional warmth, intellectual energy and aesthetic refinements of Professor Reshetnikov’s Institute, I am taken by surprise to arrive at a building, which has become so environmentally hostile that it has driven many patients to suicide and where only its most indefatigable psychiatrists have escaped, burn out.

My host Rada, Medical Director of the Outpatient Department of New Technologies, and President of the Russian Federation of Medical Psychotherapy: a man in his mid forties, with a prophetic beard that rivals his founder’s, and burning eyes, is one such triumph. Rada’s eyes, and professional devotion to finding ‘new clinical technologies’ – Russian’s are still addicted to technology – seem to me to be one of the few beacons of light and hope in a therapeutic space that has become as desolate as Sodom and Gomorrah. I find it hard to conceal my incredulity as he explains that included amongst the inpatient community there are affluent people who pay large sums of money to be here.

We pause outside a locked ward where a stern notice dictates to all inmates precisely the rations that they are allowed to bring along: all forms of salt, homemade preserves and pickles are, to my mind, illogically forbidden. As we enter I have a sensation of déjà vu: The windows are disfigured on the side with iron bars. The floor is discoloured and full of splinters. The place smells of sour cabbage, unsnuffed wicks, bed bugs and ammonia, and this picture of smells at first gives you the impression of having entered a menagerie. The words are Chekov’s but I feel as though I have walked backwards through a looking glass.

Originally the ward must have been designed to facilitate sedation through its naive deception that patients were accommodated in a country dacha, or turn of the century Swiss sanatorium. Ravaged by time and the absence of any budget for restoration, it has shrivelled into a crumbling set that has become the stage for an unintentional theatre of cruelty. Mere shades of their former three-dimensionality,

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personalities now wander aimlessly between nothing and less than nothing and I feel that I have entered an abode of the living dead. Most of these shadow-selves lie on their overcrowded bunks in heavily sedated and catatonic rows.

The ward psychiatrist makes a brief appearance from his internally locked office and explains, not without pride, that a policy change has been instituted whereby they no longer have any wards, just informal dormitories, but these are dormitories from hell. I still haven’t seen a nurse anywhere and I experience a sadness that extends beyond words. Whilst he is talking to me I am aware that a woman is booting his door in suspended agony, imploring entrance to discuss the fate of her suicidal adolescent. Unlike my host this ward psychiatrist, who sports a deaf ear, speaks immaculate English but his eyes are like cold fish; their only commonality exists in the animation of their cigarettes. Russian men, and they don’t even need to be psychiatrists, never seem to tire of making jokes about their addiction to smoking and its associations with oral deprivation at the Soviet Breast.

As I am led to another dormitory the psychiatrist explains that ‘These people are acute suicides and require a 24 hour watch’. Nobody there to watch them, still not a single nurse to be seen, nobody therapeutic anywhere; and besides these patients are definitely too sedated to move. The only redeeming feature is that the electro- convulsive therapy treatment room looks reassuringly non operational. One principal clinical difference between this flagship institute and the provinces must be that it still has a budget for twenty-four hour sedations.

It is no wonder that the ward psychiatrist has eyes as dead as fish, no wonder that in a society that pays its medical professors less than 200 dollars a month, he is in a crisis of existential despair. No wonder that no experiences of human suffering will ever surprise anyone who works, or tries to work here, again. No wonder at all that the Scientologists are onto a winning wicket with their anti-psychiatry pamphlets. Not at all surprising to any of my companions that I breathe a huge sigh of relief when that dreadful parody of a chalet door is unlocked again and I am reunited with Rada’s quizzical eyes and his offer of a constitutional lemon tea heavily laced with cognac. I am inspired that Russia still has philanthropically motivated doctors like Rada who, despite their profitable and thriving psycho-sexual private practices in the city’s’ centre, also continue to toil and trouble in this wasteland for a reformed vision of state mental health-care provision. As we prepare to depart Eliot’s words float into consciousness: ‘On Margate sands I can connect nothing with nothing’. This really is a world without connection.

On our way out of this baneful yet nationally prestigious institute – to which I have had privileged access – whose principal detail of aesthetic décor seems to be provided by a tracery of mice droppings, we stop at cluttered kiosk, such as you might find beside any metro station. This is the pharmacy and because medicines cost money it is attended to. It looks more like a wizard’s booth and prescriptions are clearly optional! When I ask whether the pharmacist has any Prozac for me Rada and Mikhail Reshetnikov laugh, light up, and shake their heads but they are the misinformed. Prozac she has indeed; just like vodka, cigarettes and software you can buy it cheap, even though it is a powerful mind altering drug which, when improperly imbibed, can transform depression into florid mania in a matter of hours.

The citizens of St. Petersburg make no secret of their distinction between the ‘good city’ and the ‘bad city’; tomorrow I am going to the Northern district of the ‘bad city’ to an old cinema to watch so called ‘folk healers’ perform. Remember, this is the country which, in the late ‘80s, an influential psychiatrist called Kashpirovsky transported himself into a populist hypnotist who managed to hold the nation in hypnotic thrall through the television screen.

I wake up to an autumn day that would make Wordsworth proud to be a Russian: the roads are silvered in a film of ice and my ears begin to freeze as soon as I enter St. Isaac’ Square to catch sight of a school crocodile wearing its homogeneity like an uniform. I realise that a sight of national physiognomy has become an anachronism in London where any large group of children come as assorted as Smarties. Almost all of my Russian friends found it hard to accept that my grandchildren are mixed race. Amongst the most liberal you often find that the African students – who were imported into Soviet universities – are still blamed for causing the Russian HIV epidemic, which will soon implode and explode the country’s inertia and denial into crisis. When I am in Russia my worst thought is that I will need to be hospitalised and require a blood transfusion.

Today, my translator and confidant, Lara is taking me across the city to visit a former Soviet cinema called Prometheus where we will witness the nationally esteemed folk healer Marina and her adept in crime hypnotise their audience into fiscal submission. More than a hundred, closer to two, old and not so old citizens are gathered in this derelict and unheated dump to be hypnotised into health. Soon the unbelievable will happen before my eyes as this patch-worked community offer up their hard won roubles in return for worthless talismans. I already have no doubt that this couple are neither mages nor folk healers but criminal charlatans who know how to work the collective mentality of a crowd of people whose lives have been scarred by famine, loss, sickness and multi-layered political betrayal. Most will have lost a son, or grandson – here or there – to one war, or another. But I am surprised by the absence of any attempt at presentation: they appear dressed by courtesy of a Russian equivalent of Primark. At the very least I had expected charisma with lashings of Russian soul and more smouldering eyes.

A rusty blaze of sound announces entry: there are no lighting effects, nothing to see except two drab individuals climbing onto the stage and receiving adulation and bouquets of flowers from arthritic men and women who struggle to be the first to offer their cellophaned tributes. Now I see a man and woman whose aura whiffs only of indifference and contempt. Without any attempt at folk habiliment – but lost in moth-eaten fur – the self-professed healer, Lady Marina begins to read her poetry. One ditty follows another until my embarrassed interpreter whispers ‘Frankly this is terrible poetry, let us leave’. I remind her that she didn’t bring me for the poetry but to witness a social phenomenon that happens all over Russia every day amongst a needy and neglected layer of the population which is still too confused to make a distinction between religion, cults, and collective hysteria. Marina’s companion, dressed in a polyester track suit, announces that he is the grandson of the great holy man Gramma Njura: not only can he cure his captive audience but he can also assist all the absent members of their families with his talismans. “Just like the great God Prometheus I can change your destiny.” This is something that no one in this audience, or maybe most of Russia, any longer believes that their politicians,

doctors, military forces, scientists, or national security can do. Njura’s words carry seduction because their promise is of effortless gratification – the nationally longed for quick fix: rewards will be instant; or almost instant and no one needs to do anything at all because Njura possesses the spiritual key to a bio-energy to make all things possible. Energy, one should know, is the second most popular national word after technology. His rhetoric is dissolute: ‘If you haven’t heard from your grandson since he entered the army and left for Chechnya you need only sprinkle a few drops of holy water on his pillow and he will return by the end of the month.’ Sometimes they do! Most commonly as numbers.

The lights go out with a fearful hissing and we are plunged into a darkness that smells like more sour cabbage as the corrosive sounds of attempted sea rhythms now herald the climax of performance. Our polyester trickster Njura behests us to gather a citizen in our arms; to rub away grief and renew bio-energy. Rub! Rub harder and harder! The dark auditorium is alive with the electrical energy of strangers rubbing up a tornado of hysteria, delusion and denial. The light returns and I am amazed to see that the audience has been transformed: a group of cold and hungry strangers are looking towards their seducers with expectant eyes of the newborn. Can it really be so easy to hoodwink and seduce? Are these brave and resilient people who have born so much suffering, so much hunger, really going to bite the bait of illusion before my eyes? Surely such easy believers would prefer a church; but then I realise that prayer demands effort, uncertainty and patience to wait for that eternal reward and that there are no overnight guarantees on offer. In this ghastly cinema the illusion is not on the screen but in front of my eyes. Two greedy queues are forming on the stage and former hobblers appear quick on the hoof. One group are waiting to be blessed with poetry and holy water and the other group, already baptised in collective deceit, are frantically buying the talismans from the holy descendent of Gramma Njura.

The poet Osip Mandelshtam said that it was only in Russia that politicians thought that poets were worth killing. Come to think of it, during almost a century of the political suppression of agency and self, it was left to the poets to burn that counter- revolutionary candle of conscience and subjectivity. Anna Akhmatova, in her poem Requiem, which was banned until after her death, wrote: ‘Beyond the circle of the moon, I cry/Into the blizzards of the permafrost: Goodbye. Goodbye./ In those years only the dead smiled,/Glad to be at rest:’.

Can it only be in Russia – amongst the best educated people of the world – where physical existence literally depends on the acquisition of primitive survival skills, they can delude themselves that doggerel and water contain magic and bio-energetic energies that will bring back their lost boys from Never Never Land? Roubles are falling everywhere, just like the first snowflakes of the season that await me, as emotionally drained, but not financially ruined, we fall out of this corrupt atmosphere that now resounds to an Onegin chorus! During our long, ice blown walk to Lara’s home to eat blini and newly pickled mushrooms we calculate that in the course of one hour Marina and Gramma Njura probably filled their coffers to the equivalent of 1,500 US dollars, not bad for an hourly wage.

It is early evening by the time we return to the Institute for Psychoanalytic Studies and the building has warmed up; the austerity of its marble entry hall is complimented by crystal lighting. Startling nude studies recline the stairs and beckon

towards the main teaching area as if to alert all those brave enough to enter that their task is to unmask psyche. The corridors are alive with the buzz of postgraduate students who have come on from their daytime employment. Fashionable looking individuals cluster out onto the pavement: despite the rigour of the freezing elements they all appear bright eyed and enthusiastic as they shed layers of outerwear and prepare to commit themselves to a seriously long evening of post- Freudian theory and applied psychoanalytic psychotherapy. Many of them are already employed as senior clinicians in mental health services, some are professors and others grown-children of the new affluent classes. Teaching is conducted in formal classrooms with blackboard and chalk.

It is only now – after the recorded events of the day – that I begin to realise how extraordinary the presence and philosophy of this thriving training institute EEPS is and how much its founder and rector, Mikhail Reshetnikov, has contributed to national psychological understanding in the last ten years. He is also a frequent traveller between Petersburg and the Kremlin where he is Consultant to the First Chamber of Russian Parliament. In November he was awarded the official title of Personality of the Year – along with the Nobel Prize winner and academician Jores Alpherov – for his services to the development of Russian psychoanalytic psychotherapy. As always in Russian politics you are either a national threat or absorbed into its mainstream: middle ground remains a neglected concept.

Later on, my lecture delivered, we warm up with vodka, obscured in a tsunami of exhaled cigar, beneath the inscrutable gaze of a lithograph of Freud’s Monday Club, while Mikhail Reshetnikov explains more to me. “I was never a conventional military man and my friends were surprised that I served for twenty-five years, but my primary contribution was to the psychology of trauma and terror. Then, I was invited by the Mayor of St. Petersburg, Anatoliy Sobchack, who was a very popular political leader, to work with him as the Chief of his Analytical Department which led on to my own idea to set up an independent institute. I was only interested if it was for the development of psychoanalytic studies. The idea just seemed to emerge out of a dream; it was 1991 and a period of intellectual intoxication: great ideas were in the air. However, when I said that I wanted to establish an institute of psychoanalysis, I was told that it was impossible. To begin with I had to compromise and it was established as the Institute of Medical and Psychological Problems and only later we changed its title to The Eastern European Institute for Psychoanalytic Studies. Fifteen years ago psychoanalysis was unknown to Russian medical psychotherapists and psychiatrists but now it would be impossible to have a psychotherapy conference without its presence as an academic discipline.”

Over dinner other colleagues explain to me that it is no longer the authorities that pose a threat to the expansion of psychoanalytic psychotherapy in Russia but the collective mentality, which has become addicted to the idea of ‘a quick fix’. Russians are weary of waiting and this contributes to a national predilection for magic and the seductive uniformity of cults where everyone knows what they must do next to maintain the promise of equilibrium. My colleagues express gratitude that I have strayed beyond the civilised confines of the Institute to see the nether belly of their city. They explain that they sometimes find it difficult to reconcile themselves to classical European techniques of psychoanalytic psychotherapy that were not sculpted out of a psychology of famine, and the other unique political pressures and crises of identity that a vast proportion of the Russian population – those who are

neither the poorest nor richest citizens – are heir to. Growing more confident, these accomplished Russian professionals are also becoming determined to combine their desires for international clinical fertilisation with a distinctly Russian passport that will also address itself to the cultural specificities of the superstitious Russian psyche. It is inspiring for me to observe – each time I return -more and more graduate psychotherapists have set up shop in svelte clinical consultation centres.

Psychotherapy – under Reshetnikov’s influence – has already become a profitable and desirable profession with accredited qualifications that reflect European standards. Its skilled practitioners are still busy competing with national predilictions for occult alternatives that state registered quacksalvers continue to peddle but in St. Petersburg it is turning into the preferred treatment for alienated and impoverished professionals and the ‘New Russians’ alike.

I do not want to leave this extraordinary environment and go home. The only compensation is that I will stop smelling like the Russian equivalent of Galloise and will have to give up the appealing habit of cleaning my teeth in vodka.

Proust, Middlemarch and Mash December 19, 2010

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I’ve now spent two days reclining rather than declining on my bed, watching the snow fall and reading or re-reading ‘Middlemarch’. And worrying.
I worry about the birds, and the fact that I’ve recently learnt that they require fresh water to keep their plumage warm in this big freeze. I worry about my ferruginous dog Lucy and that at nine she is growing old and is troubled by low frequency sounds that are undetectable to me, which means that now she not only has a fly phobia but a DVD watching phobia. Rather, she starts to tremble whenever we turn our plasma on. I worry that I don’t have enough time to write this blog. I worry that the book that I am trying to co-author is not yet a book although I know it could be one. One of the things that I have discovered in researching for this book, which is an autopsy on doctors, or on one exceptionally distinguished one: ‘First Do No Harm: inside of the doctor’s head’ is that doctors are just as frightened of illness as me, and that most of them try to avoid, at almost any price, going to their doctor and all requests for testing, scanning, blood-letting and scoping. I worried, until I started writing this blog that I would never write another word.
I have reluctantly got up for meals and felt obliged – now that my rigorous work time table has stopped until January – to stay on after eating and sort the kitchen out, which is no easy task as my husband, John consults a variety of cookery books before he agrees to mash the potatoes. Not because he doesn’t know how to mash them, but because he still wants to uncover the very best combination. This combining also requires that he use every cooking utensil that we possess. At the moment he seems to move between Nigella’s practical and democratic ‘Kitchen’, where all the dishes work and ‘The Complete Robuchon’. How complete do you have to be to mash potatoes, and how many pots are necessary, and how many Michelin stars do you have to win, I sigh as it takes me much, much longer to clean up the dishes than to eat my delicious meal and mash.
In fact we are soon off to Paris to avoid Christmas…

We were finally to have sampled the mythic Yannick’s table as hitherto our visits have always coincided with his absence, or the legendary restaurant being closed for tile restoration. I could just as easily sit and look at the fabulous tiled floor, or imagine Proust flirting with the waiters, ah, but that was just around the corner, as eat any meal, that is except breakfast when I still watch the waiters, but we have now cancelled our legendary booking because our grand children do not approve of lunch. In fact they are not out of bed, and would be most indignant at breakfasting before noon, even at ‘Angelina’s’ and there is no way we could justify the mythical price of even one a la carte Yannick asparagus in the evening. My comment is not fair to Dan, for if there is one thing likely to make him rise before noon, it is Paris. And, worrying about the result of his Trinity entrance and discussing which restaurant he wants

Grandad, the 80's

‘Grand Dad’ to book for dinner. While I’m happy to stay hotel-home, eat club sandwiches with Portia, and people watch. But she’ll no doubt want to go clubbing with her mum. In fact we’ve all agreed to go clubbing together.

In a way I rather wish I hadn’t started re-reading ‘Middlemarch’ before we are due to go because whenever I am properly committed to reading a novel, which isn’t that often, other than when I’m re-reading Proust’s ‘Recherche’, I become anti-social. I’m finding with ‘Middlemarch’, and I cannot remember when I last read it, that although I do not have any memory of the plot at all, my brain still seems to know what is going to come next, not in advance but only page-by-page. I have no idea what will happen to Causabon, but I rather think he will have to die, and with any luck he wont return from Rome. I don’t know who bores me most: Causabon or those relentless foreign policies of Monsieur Norpois. Only last week I should never have dreamt that Proust’s ‘Recherche’ would drop off my linguist-deaf tongue – or rather my pen in such a languid manner – as I should never dare pronounce it, but since my Proustian partner managed to inveigle me, except he doesn’t inveigle – and would I think detest the word – anybody into doing anything. But, it was through his magic that I ended up, far less reluctantly than I could, to begin with, have imagined, doing a gig on Proust at the Royal Society of Literature, and being privileged to hear Christopher Prendergast and Ian Patterson jousting over whether Proust and Art were, or were not life savers and could, or could not, redeem the Time. And, just for your benefit Christopher, oh heavens I can’t even initial your surname because they both start with ‘P’, so just for your benefit Prof, I don’t believe in Redemption either, well not through Proust, nor Love, not through anything except perhaps Individuation and the Self.

Hilary Mantel and Jane Haynes in conversation. August 29, 2009

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Hilary MantelCopyright John Haynes 2006: Hilary at home.

This is a conversation between Hilary Mantel and Jane Haynes on: Mind, Memory, Mood and Sleep. July 2009.

Please listen here:

My book August 12, 2009

Posted by janehaynes in : Writing a book , add a comment

Tomorrow I’m doing my first interview for my book on what it’s like to have ‘A nervous breakdown’. I’ve got so carried away with writing my blogs that I had almost forgotten that the reason for writing a blog began with my book proposal way back in ‘Birthpangs’. Well, the book proposal is now with the agent’s favourite editors; but it’s August and agent and editors are all on summer hols. If I don’t make a beginning with the interviews now I shan’t have these swathes of time once my ‘patients’ return from their summer haunts. Anyway, a part of me is tempted to self-publish as I did, at least to begin with, with my last book, and now I know almost everything there is to know about publishing a book and more and more people, since my first attempt, are  doing so, including the Under Cover Economist from the Financial Times, which must mean that he knows a penny or two. One thing that I found out was that even on my small print run of 2000 paperback books with decent paper and matt covers, one copy costs me less than it costs to buy an attractive birthday card, to produce.

I still find it strange that with my first book, Who Is It That Can Tell Me  Who I am? (and it’s Shakespeare’s grammar not mine, which people can’t resist correcting), that it was rejected by almost every publisher in London until much later it was shortlisted for a prize when  I was re- published by Constable Robinson, since when it’s been selling well.

Tomorrow, I’m going to interview one of the senior consultant psychiatrists at the Capio Hospital in Lisson Grove, London which is less media well known than the Priory but somewhere I should far rather be if I ever needed to be admitted. (They have the most amazing and wise psychiatric nurses there who are at the heart of its ‘therapy’.)Sadly, I don’t have the insurance cover to make my admission possible, but then not many people do, as not even private insurance, except at its highest and corporate levels, covers psychiatric in-care. However, it is not that uncommon, when somebody finds that they are in a state of acute and immobilizing emotional crisis, for them, or family members, or good friends to raise money on their mortgage to avoid an admission to an acute NHS ward. At least in London. 

There is nothing I dread more than having a ‘patient’ tell me that they are suicidal or fear they are breaking down, and for both of us to know that they have no ‘sanctuary’: be it medical or familial, to which they can retreat and hope and wait for the crisis to subside. It is inhuman that London has no such refuge. At one time the Maudsley Hospital’s psychiatric emergency department kept its humane doors open to anybody in the city but now bureaucracy demands that they only admit southern Londoners and everybody else is at worst risk in the NHS acute psychiatric admissions wards.  The performance artist Bobby Baker, whose recent exhibition of her illustrated account of her nine year breakdown was at the Wellcome Museum, records how it was only after she developed breast cancer, almost at the end of her depressive illness,  that she was treated as if she was entitled to concerned care. 

Anyway, and Anyway, along with it are amongst, if not the two most pregnant words in English…Anyway, tomorrow I am doing my first interview and I cannot decide whether to structure it, or to go with the flow. By temperament I go with the flow, but then I worry that that may be an indication of lazyiness and I should challenge the flow with some structure. I’ve decided that I don’t want nameless contributions to the book, either from the professionals or the patients, there is still so much stigma loitering around mental illness that I think we should all put up our hands and be counted. After all, it’s almost impossible to explore one family generation anywhere without a case of suicide popping up out of the hawthorn, a bi-polar diagnosis, or a psychotic episode, if not a schizophrenia, or a breakdown. Do you know anybody who has not suffered from serious depression at one time or another? According to the latest statistics, but the facts haven’t changed for some years now, from the World Health Organization, depression is the leading cause of disability for those from the ages of 15 to 44 worldwide. 

Anyway, I have to decide what, if any questions, I am going to use in my interview tomorrow. If I can think of any I might post them, or if anybody reading this blog has any thoughts about definitions of a nervous breakdown then please forward your suggestions. 

A picture of our ‘sanctuary’, but in France there are others like it for ‘patients’ to retreat to and find themselves. More on that later, maybe.

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John Haynes, Cornillon, C2009

In fact, just in case I don’t get around to doing a full blog here are two pictures of The Chartreuse de Valbonne, situated in our local forest, which was the last leper colony in France but which is now used as a retreat for psychologically distressed or recovering people. The flowers are a field of cosmos which was planted by the residents as ‘therapy’. To everything there is a season and a time under the heaven.

 

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Copyright John Haynes 2008

BIRTH PANGS OF WRITING A BOOK June 15, 2009

Posted by janehaynes in : Uncategorized, Writing a book , 1 comment so far

My first blog entry is being written on a TGV from Avignon to St Pancras, which is bringing me back to London and to work. Except, it’s hard to call something you feel so passionate about ‘work’ but it is and of an intense kind, else I should be full of misgivings about returning to the city. Except, ever since the July 2005 terrorist attacks I’ve realized how much I love London, and how I dread more harm to her. I was in the centre of the city when it happened and heard the serial explosions. In fact I was so close to King’s Cross that I could not get home except by walking and for hours there was too much dread in the air to do that. Now there is a delay in getting my blog online because my web designer, Darius is Iranian and his impromptu website has become a principal organ for communicating samizdat information across terror stricken Iran and this blog is not high on his priorities. It happens that I have young patients who have recently come here from Iran to conduct research who reminded me – before the violence began – that behind many of the foreboding and closed forecourt doors, men and beautiful bare-shouldered women still dance, swirl, drink and abandon themselves to the elegance of their glorious and sensual Esfahan, which means ‘half the world’s ancestry.’

I’ve decided to accompany the travails of writing my new book with an attempt to blog its journey from conception to publication. Travelling towards Lille we are already delayed and will probably miss our Eurostar connection. (I like the name, Eurostar and begin to wonder what the person is like that created it.) French Rail’s efficiency is no longer what it used to be and it is becoming more like South Eastern Network, by the week, which must be a sure sign of France’s self predicted social decline. Her inhabitants now seem to do very little else than moan about their services, and are in crisis at the thought of any changes to their health provision.  On the way out our TGV was without any refreshments, due its manager said morosely, ‘To a lack of takers’. Everybody is moaning about EDF, so why have they now become my London electricity supplier, I wonder.

It’s a blazing day and Avignon’s TGV station was hot, 40 C and without air conditioning, or any distractions and our train so delayed that I thought I’d get a panic attack, or perhaps I mean that I thought I’d overheat, and there was nowhere to escape to.  Scary, when only yesterday morning we woke up in our hill village to what felt like a Siberian chill. Next time, I find myself muttering, it will have to be the car. I even begin to think of Victoria’s drafts and plurality of grubby alternative distractions with affection

Last time I went to our house in France – the autumn of 2008 – I decided to write a novel whose two central characters have haunted me since childhood. The blank page petrified but by the end of three weeks I had produced forty thousand words and was even beginning to fantasize that my oblique, and elliptical ‘symbolist’ prose might turn out to be a Booker. I’m rarely tempted to read the Booker winners; I’m not too keen on the requisite plot, or page turning pace that usually harnesses a winner, although this year I have the highest hopes that Hilary Mantel – who wrote the forward to my last book – Who is it that can tell me who I am? The journal of a psychotherapist, and who astonished me when she dedicated Beyond Black to me (perhaps because she couldn’t think of anybody who was more temperamentally suited to its blackness) – will be short-listed and win this year’s Booker for her astonishing Wolf Hall. There is nobody that I can think of who writes English prose with more refinement and sensibility than Hilary, or with more subtle wit. I would like to say ‘will’ but it won’t fit in as it does when thinking about Will’s sonnets, which have become a daily alternative food for me. Sedation, if you like from the presence of Time’s sickle hour, and fickle glass. I’m convinced that Shakespeare would have approved of Hilary’s fiendish will and werewolf imagination.

I write long letters to Hilary, although we don’t manage to meet that often; the reason that my letters are long is because I permit myself the luxury of not reading them through, but just writing out my mind, and that’s what I intend, unlike in my book, to do with this blog. I want to write spontaneously. I have to warn whoever reads it that I type like one of Hilary’s fiends. In fact, when I left school that’s all my mother thought I was good for, to become a secretary and I was force-fed to learn to type. I never became a secretary, well I did become a temporary medical secretary but that came to a terminal ending when I was dispatched to Bart’s Hospital’s Department of Morbid Anatomy; I had no idea what that meant until I found I was typing up post mortem reports in the morgue. I had nightmares for months and months about a little boy who was born it seemed, from his post mortem, without anything being in the right place. I’ve never forgotten the jigsaw of his perverse body.

I have matured into an Olympian typist, and I feel sorry for my friends because my words tumble onto the page at an alarming rate. When my then fifteen year old grandson, Dan, about whom you may be hearing a great deal more, depending on whether we are talking or not, told me two years ago that he wanted to become a writer, I sent him off with his grandfather – who was in the process of changing from being a theatre photographer who had spent his ‘developing’ life in a toxic darkroom, to digital production – on a week’s typing course in the Tottenham Court Road. Dan wasn’t pleased then, but he is now; in fact he’s the only person that I know who types faster than me and uses ten fingers.

I’ve gone off the point – or become ‘anacoluthon’ – to use an obscure Proustian term, which I adore and which I understand to mean: to write long and discursive sentences whereby the person reading them will be drawn away from their initial intent only to lose their way down all sorts of cul de sacs; some of which might be spurious. It can also be used as a form of sophistry.

The novel I began last autumn now seems a long time ago, although I did manage to write three thousand words every day, sitting at an open window and looking beyond the Southern Rhone vines into the horizon of the distant alps, with a patch-worked kaleidoscope of birdsong and butterfly wings between us. My glance was transported towards our hedge of oleanders and past a lost hoopoe parading its myth on the lawn. I am fascinated by oleanders, or the Rose of Provence: they are her endogenous fauna …Oh, but French Rail has just announced that envelopes will be given to allow its frustrated passengers future discounted travel, which must mean that we have already missed our Lille connection.

Writing my novel also exacerbated my predisposition to insomnia and no doubt there will be more on insomnia sometime later but I must return to the phenomenon of the oleander. They are beautiful but poisonous – even skin contact with their innocent blooms can cause an irritable lesion and not only to humans but to cats, dogs and insects too. In fact everything, except humans, avoid coming into contact with the blooms. Even the bees and butterflies give them a miss and pass straight across to the lavender. How do all these organisms, except for our human intelligences, work that one out?

And then there are the timeless distractions of  house martins and swifts but if I allow myself to get carried away on their mysteries I shall never get to either of my destinations. I’ve just remembered that when Dan was less than two we were sitting eating jelly tots under an ancient yew tree in Sussex when he mistakenly ate some of the softly inviting red berries. It was Easter Sunday and within less than an hour we were under the jurisdiction of Charing Cross Hospital’s dangerous poison centre: Dan was commanded to swallow charcoal and being stomach washed. Dan’s father, Jay, was furious. He came from Nigeria and couldn’t understand, or believe, how such an innocuous yet violent berry could exist without a national ‘alert’ and railed that in Nigeria everybody was educated to know when something was poisonous. I did, as it happens, know that yews were poisonous but not that they could so easily be confused for red jelly tots, nor turn toddlers into more post mortems.

On this current trip I have, for the first time in years, slept deeply. There does not seem to be an explanation. Except, sleeping deeply, for an insomniac carries risks: the peril of waking up. Normally, I don’t have to make that Stygian journey because I’m never properly asleep but only in a sleep like trance. To be asleep means that one has to wake up and if you are subject to black dreams and forgotten fears then, very likely, the mood, if not the memory of those dreams accompanies your waking. That’s one reason why I sometimes think that I prefer to suffer from insomnia rather than to experience a deep REM sleep; I don’t have the stress of waking up. My husband was thoughtful to remind me that Proust suffered too. Proust describes waking into strange territory: those shadows and unfamiliar crevices of light that provoke the testing of all one’s wits, and senses. Are they still reliable I ask myself. Last night we were staying in my almost favourite European hotel, L’Hotel Europe in Avignon with its ancient two hundred and sixty year old plane tree conjuring the tutelary spirits of Napoleon, Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Picasso who all once sat beneath its healing shades, and where our bedroom seemed, to my nocturnal waking, to have another life, if not a will, of its own:

‘A sleeping man holds in a circle around him the sequence of the hours, the order of the years and worlds. He consults them instinctively as he wakes and reads in them in a second the point of the earth he occupies, the time that has elapsed up to his waking; but their ranks can be mixed up, broken. If towards morning after a bout of insomnia, sleep overcomes him as he is reading, in a position too different from the one in which he usually sleeps, his raised arm alone is enough to stop the sun and make it retreat, and from the first minute of his waking he will no longer know what time it is he will think he has only just gone to bed…I passed over centuries of civilization in one second, and the image confusedly glimpsed of oil lamps, then of wing shirt collars, gradually recomposed my self’s original features.’

(From the inspiring Penguin translation where each volume has a different translator: The Way By Swann’s, Lydia Davis, 2002)

Last autumn I returned to London with a throbbing and entrenched insomnia and 40,000 words of my novel written, to begin with, in the second person voice of a female character who was not me but somebody I have always wanted to morph into. When I showed it to my agent she was less convinced of its commercial appeal, except I showed it to her far, far too soon, in the way that all wannabe novelists want a quick fix of validation to feed their narcissism. I didn’t get one. I knew things weren’t great when her first murmurings of approval were not followed by anything more for weeks and weeks, and when her Word came it was one that I didn’t want to hear, and it did not mirror her initial murmur. Her agency, rather like a haughty professor, has a reputation for gesturing to their expectant clients their waste paper bin. I’ll have to ask her if I’m allowed to name her, as I don’t want to be served for libel on my first attempt to blog.

Another knowledgeable friend who I’ll call C for now had already warned me not to show it to anybody prematurely and that if I was in any doubt to consign it to my bottom drawer and let it mature which is what I then did. Except, the damage was already done, and I haven’t set eyes on the text again. When I’m in London and working full time there isn’t much time left for writing fiction which is a different process to writing non fiction, particularly if you are, like me a psychotherapist and your daily bread is listening to other people’s narratives, or like Wendy, helping them to learn how to construct them, so that lost ‘children’ can go home. Some other time, perhaps, I’ll elaborate on why I find the two genres so different with non-fiction fitting into your life and fiction taking command of it.

Actually, his name is Christopher Potter and if you want to know about him you can refer to his own blog: christopherpotter.co.uk where you can read about his earth-moving book, published in March, called You Are Here: a portable history of the universe. You can also read in his recent article in the Mail on Sunday about the nervous breakdown he had which precipitated his move from being one of London’s most successful publishers, (including Hilary’s) to becoming a cogent narrator of stories about the sensibility as well as the pluralistic scientific theories and poetry of our universe.  It’s incestuous because I met Christopher at the launch lunch for Beyond Black in a restaurant called Passionne in Charlotte Street, which has since been credit-crunched and if my new book, not the incubating novel, gets a contract, rather than another dustbin gesture, I am going to dedicate it to him and to Hilary.

By the time this trip came around I had every intention of resurrecting my novel, but when the time came I couldn’t, or wouldn’t open the Word file. Even the thought precipitated panic: I had an advance nausea that I should find its incubation had produced the textual equivalent of a hibernated tortoise transformed into squamous liquid. I couldn’t go there, not yet. Not at all, I soon discovered and that is how the book that I am about to embark on writing happened.  And why the novel is still dishabille in my bottom drawer.

I’m not going to say what my new book is about, well not until I have a firm contract to write it, but I am going to blog about the process of writing it, and I am prepared to let on that it’s a book in the genre of serious but popular psychology. And, that since arriving home, I’ve had a preliminary ‘thumbs up’ from my agent. And, that reading Christopher’s account of his nervous breakdown and addiction to brown paper bags precipitated my ideas for another book. I even noticed that French greengrocers still use brown paper bags and I have stocked up on some, just in case.

Now I winge when I think of the state of my first proposal that I sent to Christopher for his informal comments. I thought it was great then, but now its original content seems more like one of those dreams when you wake up and find that you are naked. My thoughts were still inchoate and yet I deceived myself to think they were clever and entire. I was wrapped up in the idea of making a mark. I think a ‘good’ editor must be rather like a ‘good’ therapist they find ways to help you to bring out what was already there.

My next blog will be about the terrors of starting from scratch, the terror of beginnings, of not knowing if anything will happen, except another miscarriage of intelligence, for ‘In each human heart terror survives/The raven it has gorged:’ (Shelley)


MORE PANGS

I have spent most of my weekend reworking my proposal along my agent’s recommended lines. For me it is the equivalent of a recreational activity, I relax when I am writing, just as long as something is happening to the blank page. Before the agent gave me a three-line whip in a concentrate of feedback – imagine if she had read it through before I had re-seamed its fibers through another experienced eye – she seemed enthusiastic, unlike with my novel. I even found her commitment to use her red editing mark reassuring.

I find the process of most beginnings frightening and with writing it always feels as though one is turning one’s viscera into canvas.  As a therapist one of the most familiar tunes that I listen to, is how scared people are, and it makes no difference how successful they are, in fact it often makes it worse, of being unmasked, or of being found out to be the ‘scam’ they secretly fear/feel themselves to be.  Writing a proposal, to begin with, evoked identical feelings in me. My first two attempts were all about trying to convince myself, and anybody else who was unfortunate enough to read it, which was only my unofficial editor, that I knew my subject and that I was full of interesting things to say. With any book one writes, its not until one has written it that one begins to know the subject and by then it’s too late. At the same time that’s what’s most stimulating about writing non-fiction you are pupil and master at the same time, but you’ve got to be able to convince any prospective publisher that you are master at the moment when you probably know least of all about anything except the intuitions that reside inside your head and which foolishly you don’t always trust.

I thought that I could throw out my proposal with far more grace and ease than the terror involved in returning to my novel. I thought that I could do it single-handed. Well, it has taken me at least sixty eight hours solid writing, and that does not account for the research time, nor the nocturnal involuntary thought processes that have gone into writing and rewriting my proposal. Its seven thousand words have cost me more energy than writing an equivalent length lecture, which I shall anyway never be doing again as I have learnt that a spontaneous delivery of almost anything will always leave a longer lasting imprint on an audience.

When you are writing fiction it’s possible to let your thoughts get lost in space; to roam other horizons as there is the thought that wherever your involuntary thoughts settle their object might later become incorporated into the fiction. (l now love – or rather value – because it can often inflict pain, anything that I experience inside me as involuntary, but that’s a topic for another blog.) Last autumn my writing focus kept being distracted, in involuntary ways, by the swifts who were preparing for their migration and my ignorance of their Eluysian mysteries. I love the idea of migration; it makes me think of adolescent love when one still longed to migrate into the biology of another body. Nowadays, it might be the transmigration of souls that I think more about.

Mindless, among unborn thought, my concentration moved across the vines until I saw an arced infantry of swifts soaring in more measure than I can recall when they eclipsed my daylight. Not one battalion, not two, but possibly seven, and each one as impossible to estimate as a hedgerow of hawthorn.  Another infantry of monochrome bird preceded the cavalry. Thousands of thoughts were also assembling and soaring beyond their horizon; somersaulting into one collective of white flashed black word energy.  And then they were gone towards a Prussian blue Mediterranean. And I had written another five hundred words.

Back to the proposal, which was, to begin with, only a scam of lists and ideas that I had assembled off the Internet; I was still too afraid to rely on my own intuitions, which I could only tolerate if they were buttressed with external affirmations. I almost wore out Wikipedia with a bulimic search for a patchwork authority. But I was ignorant and arrogant and by the time I came to its conclusion I was so impressed with my ‘Emperor’s Clothes’ and worn out of content that I thought I might just throw in an Gerald Manley Hopkins entire sonnet to conclude with the sensations of what it feels like to have a nervous breakdown.  Now, I will limit myself to his most sensory lines of an eclipsing and falling sickness of terror.

O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall

Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap/

May who ne’er hung there.

My editorial confidant irritably wrote back from his summer-seashore unimpressed, to say that he didn’t think that ‘just a sonnet’ as my conclusion would do at all.

Now, after hours more work I’ve followed my agent’s phallic pen and I have sent my revised version back to her. Most exciting was that her responses provoked new thoughts in me. Any further ideas now will be consigned to my exciting Notes file. I, like the weekend, am spent. One thing’s become clear to me – that only when I can inhabit the structure that I have written as something legitimately conceived of inside me – am I ready to write. Imagine, if I hadn’t had somebody to confide my stammering steps towards my authority to; somebody I trusted enough to allow them to break through my narcissism and to tell me that I could do better, much better, but that ‘the better’ was worth working towards, and not on any account to serve it up to the agent this time until I was certain that I couldn’t go any further on my own. And now I cannot.