Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Love in the jungle

I'll have mine medium-rare

                        "It's a cookbook!"

Mental illness: Let's NOT reduce the stigma!

Every day, and in every way, I am hearing a message. And it's not a bad message, in and of itself.

It's building, in fact, in intensity and clarity, and in some ways I like to hear it.

It's about mental illness, a state I've always thought is mis-named: yes, I guess it's "mental" (though not in the same class as the epithet, "You're totally mental"), but when you call it mental illness, it's forever and always associated with and even attached to a state of illness. You're either ill or you're well; they're mutually exclusive, aren't they?

We don't speak of diabetic illness. We don't speak of Parkinsonian illness. We don't speak of - you get the idea. Although these are chronic, ongoing disease conditions, we use different language to describe them that does not imply the person cannot be well.

Why should this matter? It's only a name, isn't - it doesn't change anything, does it?

I beg to differ. The name "mental illness" itself is problematic to me. It seems to nail people into their condition. Worse than that, nobody even notices. I have never in my life heard anyone mention it, because in the public consciousness, it does not exist. In fact, "mentally ill" is a compassionate term (so they say), if leaning towards pity and tinged with dread. But it is is definitely preferable to "psycho", "nut case", "whack job", "fucking lunatic", and the list goes on (and on, and on, as if it doesn't really matter what we call them). But it's still inadequate.

There's something else going on that people think is totally positive, even wonderful, showing that they're truly "tolerant" even of people who seem to dwell on the bottom rung of society. Everywhere I look, there are signs saying, "Let's reduce the stigma about mental illness."

Note they say "reduce", not banish. It's as if society realizes that getting rid of it is just beyond the realm of possibility. Let's not hope for miracles, let's settle for feeling a bit better about ourselves (hey, we're really helping the cause!) for not calling them awful names and excluding them from everything.

(Caption: To put yourself in another's shoes, you gotta first unlace your own.)

I hate "stigma". I hate it because it's an ugly word, and if you juxtapose it with any other word, it makes that word ugly too. "Let's reduce the hopelessness" might be more honest. "Let's reduce the ostracism, the hostility, the contempt." "Stigma" isn't used very much any more, in fact I can't think of any other group of people it is so consistently attached to. Even awful conditions (supposedly) like alcoholism and drug abuse aren't "stigmatized" any more. Being gay isn't either. Why? Compassion and understanding are beginning to dissolve the ugly term, detach it and throw it away.

"Let's reduce the stigma" doesn't help because it's miserable. It's the old "you don't look fat" thing (hey, who said I looked fat? Who brought the subject up?). Much could be gained by pulling the plug on this intractibly negative term. Reducing the stigma is spiritually stingy and only calls attention to the stigma.

So what's the opposite of "stigmatized"? Accepted, welcomed, fully employed, creative, productive, loved? Would it be such a stretch to focus our energies on these things, replacing the "poor soul" attitude that prevails?

But so far, the stifling box of stigma remains, perhaps somewhat better than hatred or fear, but not much. Twenty or thirty years ago, a term used to appear on TV, in newspapers, everywhere, and it made me furious: "cancer victim". Anyone who had cancer was a victim, not just people who had "lost the battle" (and for some reason, we always resort to military terms to describe the course of the illness). It was standard, neutral, just a way to describe things, but then something happened, the tide turned, and energy began to flow the other way.

From something that was inevitably bound to stigma in the past, cancer came out of the closet in a big way, leading to all sorts of positive change that is still being felt. But first we had to lose terms like "victim", because they were unconsciously influencing people's attitudes. We had to begin to substitute words like "survivor" and even "warrior".

One reinforced the other. The movement gave rise to much more positive, life-affirming, even accurate terminology. That's exactly what needs to happen here. We don't just need to "reduce the stigma": we need to CAN that term, spit on it, get rid of it once and for all, and begin to see our mental health warriors for who and what they really are. They lead the way in a daring revolution of attitudes and deeply-buried, primitive ideas, a shakeup and shakedown of prejudice that is shockingly late, and desperately needed.

Why do we need to do this so badly? We're caught and hung up on a negative, limiting word that is only keeping the culture in the dark. I once read something in a memoir that had a profound effect on me: "Mental illness is an exaggeration of the human condition." This isn't a separate species. Don't treat it as such. It's you, times ten. It's me, in a magnifying mirror. Such projections of humanity at its finest and most problematic might just teach us something truly valuable. Why don't we want to look?

POST-BLOG. I ran this one two years ago on Let's Talk Day. Because it got twelve views, I thought I would run it again. I am not sure why I continue with this, except that it seems to satisfy some need in me. But when I try to put the message "out there", I find there is no "out there". The internet is all about numbers, totals, likes, views, and popularity, a thing I cannot bear because I thought I left the high school mentality behind a long time ago. So I do this for the only reason that matters to me: because I want to.

Songs of the Pogo: ALL the words!

When we originally bought this album in 1951, it came with a very classy-looking Songs of the Pogo hardcover book with all the music (written and arranged by Norman Monath) and lyrics by Walt Kelly. I also remember some lavish illustrations from the Okefenokee Swamp. Alas, all of this has been lost, at least to me. A few relatively-pristine copies of the original record are still floating around, and someone transcribed a very clean-sounding one onto a CD which also contains some very weird Walt Kelly readings. (Probably available on YouTube.) But the words are now only available through somebody-or-other's auditory transcript, and as always it's laced with mondegreens (misheard lyrics, as in "Scuse me while I kiss this guy"). I have done my best to correct these, but again, I had to rely on my ear. Potlocky was the most fiendishly difficult to decipher, and after a couple dozen listenings I gave up on a few lines and gave it my best guess. Some of these seem to venture into the land of the surreal, or fall into the category of verbal jazz. I am very sad Gershwin didn't live to see and appreciate Songs of the Pogo - somehow I think it would have delighted him.

Go Go Pogo

As Maine go oh-so Pogo-go Key Largo,
Otsego to Frisco go-to Fargo,
Okeefenokee playin'
A-possum on a Pogo
Stick around and see the show
Go over land alive-a band o' jive will blow go-Pogo
I-go you-go who-go to-go Polly-voo go,
From Caravan Diego, a-Waco and Oswego,
Tweedle-de he-go she-go we-go me-go Pogo.

Atascadero wheeler barrow, some place in Mexico
Delaware Ohio and you don't need the text to go
Wheeling, West Virginia 
With ev'rything that's in ya.
Down the line you'll see the shine
From Oregon to Caroline

Eenie meenie minie Kokomo-go Pogo.
Tishimingo, sing those lingo, whistling go.
Shamokin to Hoboken Chenango to Chicango
It's golly, I go goo-goo goin' go-go Pogo.

(musical interlude)

Atascadero wheeler barrow, some place in Mexico
Delaware Ohio and you Don't need the text to go.
Wheeling, West Virginia With ev'rything that's in ya.
Down the line you'll see the shine
From Oregon to Caroline,
Yes, eenie meenie minie Kokomo go Pogo.
Tishimingo, sing those lingo, whistling go.
Shamokin to Hoboken, Chenango to Chicango
It's golly, I go goo-goo goin' go-go Pogo!

Editor's note. I wasn't going to comment on these. Really, I wasn't, because what can you say? It's the craziest explosion of verbal popcorn I've ever seen, with twists and turns and convolutions, puns on puns. But even that doesn't begin to describe it. This particular song, sung by Walt Kelly in a gravelly voice that reminds me of my Uncle Aubrey, needs to be heard to be believed.  Can you imagine, when I was three or four or five years old, trying to decipher what this meant, and how the grownups all seemed to know already? He uses a lot of place names in this one, but gives them a twist, like "caravan Diego" (San Diego?), "Tishimingo, sing those lingo, whistling go" -wait, wait, I know who this sounds like! Gerard Manley Hopkins, with his bizarrely twisted grammar and inverted sentence structure, strange vocabulary and useage, and punnish use or abuse of similes. I especially like "Wheeling, West Virginia with everything that's in ya".

Though the album is called Songs of the Pogo, this is the only song that mentions Pogo at all, and it's nothing to do with the comic strip. It's just a form of verbal scat-singing that riffs on the sound of Pogo:  I-go-you-go-who-go-to-go-polly-voo-go. I wonder now if some of Pogo's fans were a little disappointed in this, expecting Albert the Alligator caterwauling with his ukelele.

Whence that Wince?

I was stirrin' up a stirrup cup
In a stolen sterling stein,
When I chanced upon a ladle
Who was once my Valentine.

"Oh whence that wince, my wench?" quoth I.
She blushed and said, "Oh sir,
Old daddy isn't stirrin'
Since my momma's been in stir."

This one is a masterpiece of alliteration. I had no idea then what a stirrup cup is - it took until about last Friday to find out. 

Stirrup cup: a cup of wine or other alcoholic drink offered to a person on horseback who is about to depart on a journey. 

OK, so I DIDN'T know what it meant. I thought it was just "a drink" or mulled wine or something, and let the "stirrup" part go as an obscurity. "In stir" is another archaic expression, something to do with being in jail, but I don't think the average person would know that. Nice how it fits together with "stirrup cup" - didn't even notice that until just this second.

Northern Lights

Oh, roar a roar for Nora,
Nora Alice in the night,
For she has seen Aurora
Borealis burning bright.

A furore for our Nora!
And applaud Aurora seen!
Where, throughout the Summer, has
Our Borealis been?

This is one of Kelly's more haiku-like poem/songs. Pongs? Soems? It looks simple, but just try doing it. I had a cousin Nora once, Irish, and this song reminds me of her. And that's all I can say. It's beautiful, it is. Take care of the sounds, as Lewis Carroll once said, and the sense will take care of itself. Also, I like the way Nora Alice and Borealis sort of reflect each other.


Oh, once the opposition was completely opposed
To all the supposition that was generally supposed
But now the superstitions that were thought to be imposed
Are seen by composition to be slightly decomposed

Kelly wordplay, not as great as some, but they can't all be Go Go Pogo, can they? There is a nice echo between the "ition" words and the "osed" words in each line. Come to that, I couldn't do it, at all.

A Song Not for Now

A song not for now you need not put stay
A tune for the was can be sung for today
The notes for the does-not will sound as the does
Today you can sing for the will-be that was.

This one is REALLY simple, but Norman Monath's tune is innocent and sweet. The arrangements in this album generally are a tad lavish, and some of them are even precious. But those were the times. There IS an innocence about Pogo the character that keeps the strip from becoming too cynical or smart-alecky. As time wore on, Kelly became more angrily political, and I think that took something away from it.

Twirl, Twirl

Twirl! Twirl! Twinkle between!

The tweezers are twist in the twittering twain.
Twirl! Twirl! Entwiningly twirl
‘Twixt twice twenty twigs passing platitudes plain.

Plunder the plover and rover rides round.

Ring all the rungs on the brassily bound,
Billy, Swirl! Swirl! Swingingly swirl!
Sweep along, swoop along, sweetly your swain.

Again, the alliteration is glitteration, but when we get to "platitudes plain", I think of it as a place, a plane, or perhaps an airborne vehicle. These things fall on the ear more than they live on the page. Anyway, I don't think a standard-issue mind could think of the line "plunder the plover and rover rides round". It might be Rover, for all I know. There IS a dog in Pogo, isn't there? (I can't get it out of my head now. Platitude's Plane.)


Oh, the parsnips were snipping the snappers,
While the parsley was parcelling the peas,
And parsing a sentence from handle to hand
Was a hornet who hummed with the bees.

The turnips were passing the time of the day
In the night of the moon on the porch,
When the shape from the shadows so shortfully shrift
That the scallions were screeching the scorch!

I don't know, I don't find this one very friendly, but I don't think anyone else on the planet could have written it. The Monath tune is kind of jaggedy somehow, and I find it uncomfortable. There are moments in Kelly where I feel kind of frightened, like I'm wandering around in a mindscape that is a tad too bizarre. 

The Keen and the Quing

The Keen and the Quing were quirling at quoits,
In the meadow behind the mere.
Tho’ mainly the meadow was middled with mow,
And heretical hitherto here.

The Prince and the Princess were plaiting the plates
And prating quite primly the peer.
And that’s why the Duchess stuck ducks on the Duke
For no one was over to seer.

Now violin only with pizzicato:
Plinky, plinky, pa-lunkity plank, plank, plank
Pa-lunky, pa-lunky, plink plink plink plink plink
Arco, zoom-zoomety-zoom!
Ska-weakity, squeaky squeak-squeaky ska-weak
Con sordino squeaky ska-weak
Now sensa sordino, squeak squeak squeak sque-eeak
Now pizzicato,  plunk plunk plunk
Plunk, plunk!

This one is a favorite, perhaps my all-time favorite, not just because of the gorgeous Spoonerisms but because of the delicate violin passage at the end, with instructions from the baritone. All the instructions are technically correct, by the way - I checked with my violin teacher, who was quite impressed. We all know what pizzicato is. Arco means long, smooth bows. Con sordino means playing with a mute, sensa sordino is playing without a mute. The "squeakity squeak" is most familiar from my own musical instruction.

Man's Best Friend

What gentler heart, what nobler eye
Doth warm the winter day,
Than the true, blue orb and the oaken core
Of beloved old dog Tray?

I never knew why a dog would be called Tray. Again, the reference is obscure, an old Stephen Foster song that I had to look up: 

Old dog Tray’s ever faithful, 
Grief cannot drive him away, 
He’s gentle, he is kind; 
I’ll never, never find 
A better friend than old dog Tray. 

Tray is one of those Southern names, like Trey, sometimes used as a baby name. Has some card-playing meaning, and something to do with fives. It reminds me of other Southern names with II or III after them. Treat Williams comes to mind. Erica Jong had a wild Southern character named Dart, and another one called Trick that was probably a play on Treat. And then there's Ring. As in Lardner. Note that all of these names represent things: a tray, a treat, a dart, a trick, a ring. 

Don't Sugar Me

Oh, I may be your cup of tea,
But, baby, don’t you 'Sugar’ me!
Don’t stir me, boy, nor try to spoon,
Don’t sugar me, 'cause us is throon!

I won’t sip a lip with you, less
You want a granulated lump or two,
Just roll them eyes right out that door,
Them saucer eyes ain’t square no more.

All them things, them diamond rings,
Them stuff you promised me,
Were figments, Newton, sure as shootin’,
Shootin’ sure as A, B, see

The teapot pouts that the kettle’s blue,
It don’t work out that spar is true,
Just boil away, boy, don’t sit and brew,
Don’t sugar me, cause us is through!

This is a torch song with a twist. It has probably the greatest concentration of puns and double meanings of any of them, along with great lines like "don't 'Sugar' me, 'cause us is throon!" "Them stuff" always impressed me, along with "figments, Newton". One thing Kelly does, especially in this one, is use common phrases in strange ways: "a granulated lump or two", "roll them eyes right out that door", "boil away, boy, don't sit and brew". "Don't sugar me" is an interesting choice, because it can mean dumping sugar on/in someone or something, or being over-familiar with endearments. But he says it better.

Whither the Starling

Whither the starling and whither the crow?
And whither the weather when wither the snow?
The weaver’s wet daughter has damped the clothes
With wavelets of water left over from snowthes.
Left over from snowthes,
Left over from snowthes,
Right over and under 
And yonder she goes.

"Wavelets of water left over from snowthes." I feel like that right now. We had a record snowfall over Christmas, it's all melting now, and we're having to deal with those wavelets of water. Left over from snowthes. And there is just something wonderfully wacky about "the weaver's wet daughter".

Willow the Wasp

There were some wasps in our town
Who, with their wonderous wives,
They suckled at the bramble bush
In search of lovely lives.

And, when they saw the bush was dry,
Quick!, each and every one,
They wrapped it well in wire barb,
To shield it from the sun.

Outstanding line: "In search of lovely lives". I have long wanted to use this as the title for something. "Wire barb" used to bother me as a kid, I can't say why. In fact, I found the whole song disturbing, with its shivering minor-key strings. Of course, the term WASP had not been coined yet.

Truly True

Gamboling on the gumbo, with the gambits all in gear,
I daffed upon a dilly who would be my dolly dear,
Oh dilly, I would dally, if you’d be but truly true,
How silly, I must sally off to do my duly do.

Nice, but nothing special, except for the barbershop harmony.

Many Harry Returns

Once you were two,
Dear birthday friend,
In spite of purple weather.

But now you are three
And near the end
As we grewsome together.

How fourthful thou,
Forsooth for you,
For soon you will be more!

But – ‘fore
One can be three be two,
Before be five, be four!

Not sure if he wrote this for one of his children. Kelly did feature adorable baby animals in the strip, such as Pup Dog and the mysterious "woodchuck" Grundoon, anthropomorphized into completely human form.


Briskly breathing brackish brine,
Brazenly we bray,
Simmering songs of swimming swine,
Scattering Saturday,

Hearts are heavy, clubs are trump,
Diamonds are in rough
Spades are spotty, jokers jump,
Dummies are enough

Can we eggplant, can we corn,
Can we succotash?
String we strong beans for the morn
Masterful moustache.

Deathly dumplings made of mud,
Grace our festive board,
Free from auntie flees the flood
Tropical storm discord,

Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye, now,
Cup ye now an eye,
Weary deary keary cow,
Moo and kicks his pie,

The speaker spoke
the reeler wheels
A kingdom for a hum,
A rub a dub, a dub mobile
Oh rub a dub,
A dub.

This song should be illegal. "Masterful moustache" is probably the only line I can mentally process. I had to piece together various parts of this lyric which were badly mangled/mondegreened, but I am still not sure I got it quite right. This is another place where I get a little scared, for some reason. He makes language do stuff it just doesn't want to do.

The Hazy Yon

How pierceful grows the hazy yon!
How myrtle petaled thou!
For spring hath sprung the Cyclotron,
How high browse thou, brown cow?

Some group apparently recorded this fairly recently, and no one had any idea where it came from. It has a hazy harp accompaniment that slowly fades, along with the singer's voice, at the end. It may well be a play on the odd statement or question, "How now, brown cow?" - which I never understood, so. . . I'll look it up. . . 

"A nonsense phrase with no real meaning as such, although it also is sometimes used as a jovial greeting. This phrase used to be used in elocution teaching to demonstrate rounded vowel sounds. It isn't clear when it was coined or where. It was certainly known in the USA by 1942, although probably earlier. People used to pronounce this as 'high nigh brine kai'." That last bit is, of course, the Canadian pronunciation.

Lines Upon a Tranquil Brow

Have you ever while pond'ring the ways of the morn,
Thought to save just a bit, just a drop in the horn
To pour in the ev'ning or late afternoon,
Or during the night when we're shining the moon?

Have you ever cried out while counting the snow,
Or watching the tomtit warble hello...
"Break out the cigars, this life is for squirr'ls,
We're off to the drugstore to whistle at girls!"

Ah! "Drop in the horn" is another one, a very obscure, old, perhaps even Elizabethan term (Kelly having a mind for this historical Southern stuff). It means the last bit in a bottle of booze. Until I figured this out, which took only 56 years, I didn't know what "to pour in the evening" meant at all. I thought the guy was sort of pouring like vapour, like those monster creatures who waft under the crack of a door. I love that "when we're shining the moon" - sheer poetry - and the cry, "Break out the cigars! This life is for squirrels."  

BONUS. Here's a splendid Kelly site that you could easily get lost in. Great reproductions of his Sunday colour comics, along with much older stuff. Wonder where he got permission?

Snoopy and Woodstock: snowed out