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on the island of misfit toys
I don’t like the clean-shaven boy with the necktie and the good job. I like desperate men, men with broken teeth and broken minds and broken ways. They interest me. They are full of surprises and explosions. Charles Bukowski
When I was in high school, we each had a locker at the back of the classroom, in which to store our coats and bags and books. On the inside door of each locker, we'd hang photos of our celebrity hearthrobs. My classmates chose the teen stars of our generation: Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Tom Cruise. My own locker photo was of Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver: Travis Bickle with an unhinged glint in his eyes.
I guess I've always been drawn to the crazy folk. My closest friendships and relationships have all got this dimension to them: we're the fragile and fucked-up ones, only just coping with this necktied world in which we live. We stick together in solidarity. We hold each other through the daily grind. We reside on the island of misfit toys.
I've been musing much lately on the meaning of solidarity, as it has been introduced as the theme for the upcoming ISPS-US annual conference. Their promotional literature elaborates:
No one is a stranger to loneliness. Each of us has moments when we feel profoundly alone, profoundly other, even if those moments are fleeting. Many people experiencing psychosis and extreme states, however, find that those fleeting moments have become a constant, a profound isolation made even more radical in the face of mental health systems and/or personal relationships that coerce, oppress, or deny one’s humanity. With such isolation, often the first step forward is a step outward, towards others, whether towards a person who can truly listen, or towards a sheltering and supportive community.
Indeed, community matters: if we are to develop true healing spaces, bridges must be built between all of us to create a solidarity firmly rooted in the recognition of our shared humanity. Such solidarity does not come naturally in our society, where individualism and independence are prioritized over collectivism, family, and community. We must therefore foster and create systems of care in which human rights and full personhood are held central, replacing approaches that “other” and reduce experiences to labels of deficit and disease.
So how does one begin to build a mad community? Step by step, person by person, conversation by conversation, connection by connection. Some of my class colleagues chomp at the bit, thinking big and seeking dramatic outcomes: overturn the system! But big changes don't happen like that. They start small, and gain momentum, until eventually they reach tipping point. Social change is a complex process that cannot be planned or controlled. One must simply abide by one's truth, and plant seeds along one's way, and finally: hold faith and trust in the process.
The latest seed I shall plant is to submit a workshop proposal to this conference. I don't expect it to be accepted. I've had too many knock-backs lately to feel confident about applications for anything. But that won't stop me from trying. What else can one do but keep trying? Solidarity is a verb.