President Obama, marking National Mental Health Awareness Month, has called for an end to the shame and stigma attached to mental illness. As activist Elyn Saks puts it, “there is a tremendous need to implode the myths of mental illness, to put a face on it, to show people that a diagnosis does not have to lead to a painful and oblique life.”
The twenty-first century has brought major progress in developing new medications, pinpointing genetic factors, and especially in early identification of young people at risk. The outlook for someone with mental illness is better than it has ever been.
And, just as important, there is a renaissance in the area of community care, thanks to many highly dedicated doctors, social workers, and therapists. This is not a new idea: Gould Farm in Massachusetts celebrates its centennial this summer (that is their kitchen pictured below), and in the village of Geel, in Belgium, townspeople have fostered the mentally ill, taking them into their families for over seven centuries.
Community care models like those pioneered by Fountain House in New York City or CooperRiis in Asheville, North Carolina (pictured at the top are Lisbeth Riis and Don Cooper, founders), are being replicated in many places. All aspire to treat every patient with human respect and dignity, giving them a role and a web of relationships, providing hope and healing as well as the latest medications and therapies.
Every one of us knows someone touched by mental illness–please consider volunteering your time or money to help. For more information on community care, please visit the American Residential Treatment Association website.
April 3 is our good friend Jane Goodall’s birthday—happy gold (79) birthday to you, Jane! If you are interested in hearing Jane Goodall speak, please visit her website. Also this month there are lots of opportunities coming up to hear Dr. Sacks speak:–Wednesday, April 3, at 6 pm EDT, you can tune into a live-streamed interview with Dr. Sacks about hallucinations and his life as a physician-writer. Dr. Danielle Ofri will interview Dr. Sacks for the NYU Humanistic Medicine colloquium at NYU School of Medicine, and you can watch it here.
–Attention, New Yorkers: our friends at the National Aphasia Association have made a limited number of free tickets available for our newsletter subscribers to their screening of a new film, “After / Words”. Dr. Sacks will be on hand to sign books and introduce this moving film on Wednesday, April 10, at 6 pm. Call (800) 922-4622 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve your ticket with the code Sacks10. The event will be held at the NYIT Auditorium, 1871 Broadway in New York City.
–New York Live Arts announces that they will live-stream a number of events in the upcoming Worlds of Oliver Sacks festival, starting with his conversation with Bill T. Jones on April 17. Other events in the festival will be live-streamed and/or available as audio podcasts—check the Live Ideas web page for updates.
–For those of you who like downloadable audiobooks, we are pleased to announce that Audible.com is offering unabridged recordings of A Leg to Stand On, An Anthropologist on Mars, Awakenings, Hallucinations, The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, The Mind’s Eye,Musicophilia, Oaxaca Journal, Seeing Voices, and Uncle Tungsten.
Dr. Sacks has just returned from a three-day visit to the University of Warwick, where he gave a lecture on the importance of the case history in medicine—and saw the Royal Shakespeare Company performing in nearby Stratford-upon-Avon.
Being surrounded by such eloquent actors and students, eager to communicate their thoughts and feelings, his own thoughts have returned to aphasia. You may have read “Recalled to Life,” his moving portrait of Pat H., in The Mind’s Eye. Or his chapter about music therapy for aphasia in Musicophilia.
What is aphasia?
Imagine knowing what you want to say, but your brain refuses to let you utter even the simplest word. Or imagine listening to your friends and family and having no idea what their words mean. Sometimes the ability to read or write is affected, too.
Most commonly, aphasia results from a stroke or a head injury, and it may last a few days or a lifetime. People with aphasia have difficulty with language, but they are not intellectually impaired. Yet they are too often neglected and isolated. Music can help people with aphasia to retrieve words, and so can other therapies.
On April 10, 2013, join Dr. Sacks in New York City as he introduces a new film about aphasia, “After / Words.” The film will be shown as part of the National Aphasia Association’s spring benefit. Here is a preview.
Today, New York Live Arts announces their first annual festival of arts and ideas in New York City, a series called Live Ideas. The inaugural festival, from April 17-21, 2013, is devoted to “The Worlds of Oliver Sacks.” The festival will include film, theatre, dance and musical performances, as well as a number of lively discussions on various Sacksian themes. It is curated by celebrated nonfiction writer Lawrence Weschler, in collaboration with the extraordinary Bill T. Jones, Executive Artistic Director of New York Live Arts.
Jones comments, “The first edition of Live Ideas affords us a rare opportunity to collaborate with the inimitable Dr. Sacks. Perhaps more than anyone in recent history, Dr. Sacks has contributed to our growing understanding of the role of creative expression within the mind-body connection.”
Dr. Sacks says he is honored to have his work celebrated in this way, and adds that the festival “brings together a number of my own passions—music, ferns, cephalopods among them—alongside many of the neurological conditions I have spent a lifetime studying: Parkinson’s disease, Tourette’s syndrome, stereo vision, etc. The connections of these conditions with the dramatic arts is a deep one.”
Tickets go on sale today for New York Live Arts Members and Associate Artists, and the general public may begin making reservations for free events and purchasing tickets on February 8, 2013. Tickets or a festival pass may be purchased online, by phone at 212-924-0077 or in person at the box office.
We hope you can join us!
|Happy anniversary to our great friends at the New York Review of Books, who are celebrating 50 years of publishing wide-ranging, thought-provoking essays and criticism, ranging from art and politics to science and philosophy (and pretty much everything in between). It’s difficult to imagine a literary world without the NYRB. Over the years, Dr. Sacks has published a number of articles there: from “The Lost Mariner” to “The Poet of Chemistry” to “The Revolution of the Deaf,” the NYRB has published many of his essays that would later expand into entire books. The NYRB issue on newsstands beginning February 7, 2013 will include a new article by Dr. Sacks on “The Fallibility of Memory”–we are honored that he will be a part of this special golden anniversary.
Dr. Sacks has just returned from Iceland, where he spent New Year’s Eve in Reykjavik with friends, and also visited the unique Herring Era Museum in Siglufjordur, the northernmost town in Iceland. Herring heaven!
PS: Hooray! A new book by Neil Shubin (Your Inner Fish) has just been published: The Universe Within. This book is, quite literally, cosmic: a profound story told with Shubin’s usual clarity and passion.
Thanks to you, Hallucinations is a New York Times bestseller!
Coming up this week:
Dr. Sacks discusses his take on Eben Alexander’s book Proof of Heaven, online at The Atlantic now.
On Dr. Sacks’s YouTube channel, you can hear him talk about out-of-body experiences in a new video.
And on Sunday, December 16, Dr. Sacks writes about large-type books in the New York Times Book Review.
For the holidays, we’d just like to quote a writer friend who says, “Give books!” Any format will do—large type, e-book, Braille book, audiobook, even an old-fashioned paper book. If you’re looking for ideas, here are a couple of books Dr. Sacks particularly enjoyed this year:
God’s Hotel: A Doctor, a Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine by Victoria Sweet.
A Rum Affair: A True Story of Botanical Fraud by Karl Sabbagh.
Curious Behavior: Yawning, Laughing, Hiccuping, and Beyond by Robert Provine.
Happy holidays from all of us!
Oliver Sacks, Kate Edgar, and Hailey Wojcik
(Thanks to our good friend Marsha for the cool octopod ornament. Our office tree is a fern, of course, Phlebodium aureum, a lovely specimen from the Morris Arboretum. Note its traditional medicinal uses in this Wikipedia entry. Hmm. We’ll be looking into that.)
What an exciting week! Hallucinations is now on sale (as a book, e-book, and audiobook) in the US, UK, Australia, and New Zealand.
Over the next few weeks, you will likely hear Dr. Sacks talk about the book on your local radio station, on shows like “Fresh Air,” “To the Best of Our Knowledge,” “Science Friday,” and many others. Podcasts of these and other interviews abound on npr.com, and if you Google “oliver sacks hallucinations podcast” you will find more. And we love today’s review in the Guardian, by Will Self.
The New York Times featured this op-ed by Dr. Sacks a couple of days ago, on the stigma of hallucinations.
On Barnes&Noble.com, you can see what Dr. Sacks himself is reading these days, as well as what inspires him most. And if you are in New York City, you can attend his reading and booksigning at Barnes & Noble’s Union Square store the evening of November 28.
Tomorrow night, Friday, November 9, 2012, at 8 pm EST, catch the live webcast of his talk, with John Hockenberry, followed by live Q&A, at Cooper Union’s Great Hall.
PS: Thanks so much for the many expressions of concern we received in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Thankfully, we were not flooded in our part of NYC and only had to cope with no electricity for a week. But many other New Yorkers and East Coasters were not so lucky. Please consider helping them out; there any many organizations working on hurricane relief which will send your donations to people in need.
We here in the Sacks office are eagerly awaiting publication of Dr. Sacks’s new book,Hallucinations. The very first copy reached his hands today!
In the US and Canada, as well as UK, Australia and New Zealand, Hallucinations will be available on November 6. You can preorder it now at your favorite bookseller. *
Hallucinations are often considered to portend madness or something dire happening to the brain—even though the vast majority of hallucinations have much more benign origins. In this book, Dr. Sacks investigates a whole range of uncanny events including hallucinations of sights and scents and sounds (or just feeling “a presence”), seeing one’s own double, even out-of-body experiences and phantom limbs. Here’s a short video of Dr. Sacks on phantom limbs.
Oh, yes, and if we might ask you for a big favor: please tell your friends, lots and lots of them, about the new book! If you like it (we’re sure you will), it would make a pretty swell holiday gift for just about anyone who reads. (It’s also available in e-book and audiobook format.) We’ll be in your debt, as always.
*Attention, Dutch readers! Thanks to a remarkably efficient translator and publisher, the Dutch edition, Hallucinaties, is already in bookstores in the Netherlands (one of our favorite countries, and not only because of the great herring there).