Many thanks to Hasty Words for publishing this.


I would like to thank my Relationships Are Hard guest today Robert Wertzler.


Three Connections


Robert Wertzler

This is a story of three people with three relationships.  I was one of them.  I will call the other two Mary and Jane.  Those were not their names.  They were clients of the county mental health clinic where I worked, so, even though it was more than twenty years ago, I cannot use their real names.  Of the three relationships, two are easy to define.  I was Mary’s case manager.  Mary and Jane were friends and roommates.  The third, as you will see was not so easy to put in a standard category.

Both Mary and Jane were diagnosed with Schizophrenia.  Their apparent symptoms were mainly in the
“negative symptoms” category, meaning confusion, difficulty with social interactions, flattened affect and emotional expression, delayed responses, and anxiety.  I don’t recall now whether…

View original post 1,581 more words

On Listening to Schizophrenia


I have written elsewhere on the subject of listening to those afflicted with mental illness, especially to those diagnosed with schizophrenia and schizo-affective disorder without the assumption that they do not or cannot make sense.  In his own account of his psychosis, treatment, and recovery, John Perceval, an English gentleman who became psychotic in 1830 puts the case more clearly than I can:


That need to be understood, or at least for someone to be willing to listen and to try to understand is universal.  Someone in the throes of psychosis, or depression, or anxiety, or flashback of PTSD, or mania is no different.  Another thing which Mr. Perceval makes clear in his account in his very detailed telling of his hallucinations and delusions, and how he was dealt with by others, is that he remembered all of it.  I think that too often when someone is seen as not making sense, it is assumed they will not remember when they are in some less disturbed frame of mind.  He shows us that it ain’t necessarily so.
He has little good to say about the “lunatic doctors” who tried to treat him.  From his pen that term seems to carry more than one meaning.

I have found among the various blogs and posts only a few writers from the lands of schizophrenia and schizo-affective.  From knowing those I worked with who had these labels, I can see how that would be very difficult for many.  But, I hope that more of those who can, even with help, even poorly will try.  We, who have been fortunate enough not to have experienced such states of mind can only do no more than guess (often badly) what it is if the stories are not told.  If a first draft comes out like what is popularly called a “psychotogram,” that’s ok.  You can edit and rework it if need be.  If it comes as poetry, or with drawings (like a graphic novel, perhaps), or a vlog, that’s great.  There are eyes ready to read and ears ready to hear.

And to those who know such folk as family, friends, peers, and care givers, listen.  If you don’t understand, still do not dismiss.  However strange the story, see the person before the “disease.”  They really are there.

Since first writing this I’ve realized that the end of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is also significant in this context:


So, he who has heard the Mariner’s tale is also changed.  We are not told what he has learned or what he makes of it, but changed he is.  We are told only that he is wiser.  In the end, this is why such tales as Percival’s need to be told and heard, that both the teller and the hearer may find wisdom and, in the Mariner’s words, “loveth well.”




It has been said the man is the story making animal.  We are really quite compulsive about it.  From gossip and tweets to tomes of history and scripture to novels to sweet nothings in the night, we make stories.  We fill libraries and cable channels and theaters and bar stools with them.  We have painted them on the walls of caves and tombs and every other possible surface, carved them in stone, inscribed them on clay tablets, sculpted them in clay and stone and bronze, and told them in dance and mime and music.  When we wake from sleep, somehow we know that today is a continuation of the story of yesterday, that the “I” of the morning is the same “I” that went to sleep.  I have seen too that peculiar form of devastation we call dementia in which a person looses their stories until the time line of their life is only the last few minutes.  There is a thing that humans do which, when I think on it, looks to be made of stories.  We call it mental illness.

What are the voices and visions of schizophrenia doing but telling stories?  Is not much of OCD built on stories of what could or will happen if a certain act is not done just so or avoided at all cost?  And the dark whisperings of grief, guilt, unworthiness, and disaster of depression, are these not stories?  So are the fantasies of invincibility and ecstasy in mania.  The implacable worries of anxiety are woven of stories.  Even when they torment us or lead us into folly, we cannot resist the story making instinct.  Of course, over the centuries we have made many different stories of how those conditions happen.

At an even more basic, deeper level we are another story.  From the first strands of DNA that intertwined into the double helix and leaned to separate and copy themselves, and then how to combine with others into new pattens, we each and every other living thing on Earth are the latest telling of a story.  That tale of leaning, adapting, survival, and of ancestors beyond counting has been told in every one of us, our shape and structure down to our most basic chemical details.  Now, we learn that even our personal stories of pain, joy, trauma, success, stress, and excitement is noted in our epigenetic inheritance and passed on.

We go to stories for so many reasons.  In what those of the theater call The Scottish Play we find a cautionary tale of ambition.  In Othello, among others, the price of listening to the counsel of jealousy.  We go to hear of tragedies that make any of ours seem bearable, for romance, for adventure, for laughter.  We go across seas with Odysseus sharing his hope of returning home to the land and woman he loves.  In The Mahabharata, the great Vedic epic, on the eve of battle the hero Arjuna is assailed by doubts and the god Krishna sits him down to explain the nature of life, Karma, and reality while the world holds its breath, and gives us the teaching recorded as the Gita.  We go to stories for inspiration and wisdom too.  We have made stories of creation, seeking explanation of how the world came out of nothingness or primal chaos, how life and consciousness arose, that greatest of all mysteries.  We go to our books to borrow, like Mr. Poe, surcease of sorrow.  We go too to learn what love is in all its variety.

Our stories matter.  We live in them and through them.  They shape how we see the world and our place in it.  The story is told of the wise man who sat by a road.  Travelers would stop and ask him what the people were like in the city ahead.  He would ask what the people were like in the city they had come from.  They would say whatever they said about that, and he would answer that they would find the same sort ahead.  Our stories matter, those we choose, and those that choose us.  Each one we invent or encounter becomes part of us and we of it.  The ones we create together are our relationships, our cultures, our histories.  They always matter.  We live them.  They live in us.  Feed the best of them.



This is a six sentence story.  Now, If I can just find the link again…  Well, here it is:

“Young man”, said the professor, “you are not meeting the standards of this institution.  What have you to say for yourself?”

“Oh, sir, but I have met the standards,” the student replied.

Explain yourself!” The professor demanded.

“I have met the standard students here. They are all pompous, self-satisfied, ignorantly opinionated stuffed shirts, like yourself, sir,” answered the student.


Thoughts on Autopoiesis

[Note:  I wrote this piece, if I recall rightly, as a post to a Usenet newsgroup somewhen around 1990. I’ve transcribed it here from a scanned pdf file without changes.  For those not familiar with the term, “autopoiesis,” it refers to the self-organizing, self-creating nature of living systems including learning, biological evolution, and cognitive development, and the recursive, self-referential nature of such processes.  The term was coined by Humberto Maturana (“Biology of Cognition”) and Francisco Valera in the early 1970s.

blue line

CAUTION:  This is a “free-write”  – I’m pretty likely to say some things that others have said before and may get to some unsupportable conclusions.

Trying to talk about autopoietic process in ordinary English is like Euclid trying to describe a Mandelbrot Set with his geometry. Common usage is riddled with inappropriate metaphors – “power”, “force”, “stress”, “impact”, “energy”, etc. – which only serve to obscure cybernetic reality in living systems.

“Logic is a poor model of cause and effect.” [Gregory Bateson, Mind and Nature]

Revolution will not suffice.  Gorbachev is to Yeltsin as Kerensky was to Lenin (or Trotsky?) – Czar > Party Chairman > President, Boyer > Commissar > Manager, Serf > Worker > Employee – – What has remained constant through the changes?

Louis > Robespierre > Bonaparte

We in USA still often like to imagine that a Presidential Candidate can promise with the same confidence of enacting his will as a king.

The shift to autopoietic thinking/perceiving is difficult.  Old habits persist and re-emerge.  The shaman does not lecture.  He tells stories and dances.  The Ancient Mariner “blessed them unaware” and the Albatross fell from around his neck.  We ride the ox in search of the ox.  Where has the Worship of the Word by the Peoples of the Book brought us?  To the Babble of ‘isms?  In India, Ganesha, the elephant headed god, is the scribe of the gods, and a poet, not the iterator of Ultimate Truth, but a recorder of tales, a keeper of stories.  (“the elephant never forgets.”)  A different relationship is being held constant and sacred.

“Divergent processes are unpredictable.” [Gregory Bateson, Mind and Nature]

To paraphrase Heinlein,  “Put too many rats in a cage and they go crazy.  Humans are the only species that does this to themselves on purpose.”  Six billion and counting … I wounder.

Splitting hares is a messy occupation.  A bad pun, but it just popped out, why?  There’s something about learning to perceive autopoietically that connects with getting language to run in circles instead of its accustomed straight lines … pun, paradox, metaphor, humor.  I’ve long suspected that if I ever learned to read Chinese I’d find quite a few of these in Lao Tsu and the Zen stories, the level of such that is all but impossible to translate.

Do I know where this is going?  No.  The free-write process is itself autopoietic.  When its really cooking the connections create themselves … self-referential self-reference … Speak to find out what you will say.

Conscious Purpose is something else again, and problematic, linear, end-point oriented, when there can be no end point.  Maybe that’s the attraction in apocalyptic prophecy, the illusion that the universe has some purpose beyond its own unfolding, and an end point where the final score will be known, a morality play instead of the jazz of becoming becoming.  Godot never arrives.

“The Greatest Good For The Greatest Number.”  The greatest cry of the greatest scoundrels and the greatest criminals of good intent.  I’ve been following [That was, back in the ancient days of the Usenet.] a topic called Sociopathy.  In history, on review, I think the sociopaths have done less harm than have the Sincere Saviors of Mankind.  The evil minded are generally content with stealing what wealth they can and enjoying the suffering of their immediate kin and neighbors.  Wickedness done in the name of Good and Right knows no bounds and spares none.

“Take care to do good in minute particulars.”  [Paul Watslawick, Ultrra-Solutions, Chapter 10]  This admonition is of some importance when we think on reforming the paradigms of discourse.  – Full Circle to revolutions and their failures.

So, how might the autopoietic paradigm unfold in our time?

Go Meta, go meta, go meta … find the level where the relation you would preserve already operates, then intervene at the next level down?  The tree of illusions is vast.  You can prune the branches for ever and it will only grow more lush.  Cut at the root and it all withers.

The Zen student chants daily a vow to save all sentient beings.  Then he sits down to meditate.

Paradox:  How to set about to do what cannot be done by setting out to do it?  The answer of hermits and monastics has for ages been, “I will bring about the unfolding realization of Being by devoting myself to the unfolding realization of that part of it that is ‘me’.”

Might I save the rain forests by going out and looking at my garden in the moonlight?  Preposterous!  Still, it’s worth a try.

Butterfly wings and hurricanes?!?!

Good Night




In comments on her FB post about good growing from a bad year, my friend Hasty said I have to write for her.  The challenge made, it is answered with something from long ago.  “Waiting” is from an old journal.  From the names mentioned, it must have been the Winter of 1980-81, a time of change having happened, happening, and more to come.  One relationship greatly changed by divorce and another newly discovered with its path unknown.  A business unlikely to survive a disastrous season of recession, but I not ready to surrender to that.  Little did I know when writing how much change, relocation, and realignment the next few years would bring, but the winds of change were blowing and blowing hard.  As I often have at such times, I’d been reading Lao Tsu and his words strongly influenced the piece.

There is the theme of waiting:

whocan wait

There is the action of water:


And, there is the Valley Spirit, Yin, the receptive principle.

It could so easily have been a Winter of Discontent.  I suppose I wrote this – what? A poem?  A meditation?  I don’t know.  Does it matter? – to find a way for it to be something more than that.  It was and is whatever then and whatever now.

blue line


Waiting —– Letting openness be

All this thinking
All this reading
All this doing
All this planning
All this fantasizing
All this whatever…..

Just toys for mind and ego to keep it occupied while ………

Waiting happens.

Waiting for Joan
Waiting for Elizabeth
Waiting for a teacher
Waiting for “enlightenment”

Just things for ego to say
He is waiting for
While in truth………

Waiting is.

So, here is a practice

In all the doings
In all the traveling
In all the working
In all the serving
In all the studying…………

To remember that……….

I am waiting.

For what is waiting, simply waiting, but openness?

As the womb waits for impregnation
As the Earth waits for seed and rain
As emptiness waits for filling up.

This is the female part, Yin, the valley spirit.

Be aware of this
Let it permeate
All the doing.

Wu Wei!

Ignorance is

Wisdom is

So, this process……..

Opening the solid


Open space

Somewhere in deep, solid stone,
Water finds its Way.
With a timeless patience
The fluid and formless
Creates space.
The receptive hollowness of Cave.

Slowly, gently    Life
As lichens, grasses, shrubs, and trees
Crumbles mountains into soil.

And ignorance becomes
the food and foundation
Of wisdom.

And so, I see my path,
Not as the headlong rush of power,
Without the shattering force.


My path is of this kind…….
With changes
Almost imperceptible
But persistent
And continuous.

Resistance is there.

But that rock is of the Earth.
It waits
The trickling of water
The probing of roots.
It supports
It nourishes
And there is no conflict.

blue line

Reflecting on this I find myself thinking how little I trust “breakthroughs,” having seen people have the same ones over and over again without really changing.  I think many occasions that people describe as breakthroughs really are times of discovering how far we have traveled when we had not noticed we were moving and growing.

The words of a song by
Jefferson Airplane come to me:


 And this, from The Moody Blues:


I thinks that’s enough for now.  May you all become more and better than you have yet imagined.