Neurological Disorders: Illustrated?

Tonight I attended a lecture at Salem’s membership library, the Salem Athenaeum. Dr. David E. Thaler, Neurologist-in-Chief; Chairman and Professor, Department of Neurology, Tufts University School of Medicine (phew!), shared with us his incredible initiative to create a more welcoming space for patients at the Neurology Center at Tufts University by adding creative pieces of art reflecting neurological disorders, but in a mainly unscientific way.

Here are some of my favorite pieces included in the exhibit (Descriptions are a good ol’ copy/paste from www.tuftsmedicalcenter.org/Neurology-Illustrated).

  • This Machine Kills Fascists“: Woody Guthrie used his music to champion the poor and downtrodden and bring attention to political causes and social injustices. Growing up during the Great Depression, Guthrie lived a wandering lifestyle, traveling and living all over the country, producing music that connected with the everyday man who was down on his luck. Guthrie helped to popularize folk music, bringing the genre commercial success. In the late 1940s, he began to show signs of Huntington’s Disease, a condition later understood to have been inherited from his mother.

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  • Alice in Wonderland“: John Tenniel brought Lewis Carroll’s books to life with his engaging, and often humorous, illustrations. A political cartoonist at Punch magazine, Tenniel’s sharp style was well-suited to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. His illustrations became famous around the world as the novel and its sequel proved to be great successes—as they still are today. Here, Alice finds herself in a room that is much too small, or she is simply much too big. Named for this moment in the story, “Alice in Wonderland Syndrome” is a condition where one’s sense of body image and perceived scale is altered. This is thought to be an unusual variant of a migranious aura; Lewis Carroll himself was known to suffer from migraines.

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  • The Creation of Adam“: “The Creation of Adam was painted on the Sistine Chapel ceiling for Pope Julius II by the Renaissance master Michelangelo. Instantly recognizable today, God’s outstretched arm reaches toward Adam, about to fill him with life. An extensive restoration effort in the 1980s led to a renewed interest by scholars in deciphering both the meaning of the ceiling as a whole and the individual significance of this moment. In 1990, Frank Meshberger, MD, proposed that Michelangelo (known to have had an interest in anatomy and to have performed human dissections) deliberately painted God’s cloak to resemble a human brain in profile. Dr. Meshberger argued that Michelangelo was intending to convey through this imagery that God was about to give Adam humankind’s most valuable trait: intelligence.
  • creation.gif

In honor of one of my beloveds I going to throw in a Lily Allen video song because it’s my 100th post and why the hell not: Dr. Thaler, presenter, asked us to consider whether Michelangelo did this because humankind was God’s best creation, or because God was humankind’s best creation. 

What are your thoughts about this? Email me – bookwitchsalem@gmail.com.

Anyway, I was awed by the thought that went into the selections of art and the consideration of various neurological diseases – from FDR to Lou Gehrig (a Boston legend), from cult classic fantasy writers to practically unknown artist from ancient Egypt, an amazing number of situations were covered. The art historian graduate student who did much of the research & writing wasn’t present so we couldn’t understand her decision making, but as I thought about the decisions some questions struck me.

Dr. Thaler made note of famous artist Vincent van Gogh’s life in stages that were normal or “maybe” epilepsy or bipolar disorder. This mention of “normal” as we discussed a series of remarkable people and their “unnormalness” (pardon my created word) as a way of demonstrating neurological disorders perked my senses. My empathetic heart said, “Wait, hold up. Who decided which tendency is NORMAL?”.

After his self-mutilation (the removal of his ear by his own person), van Gogh’s neighbors called him “fou roux” (the redheaded madman…) and testified that he was unsafe around the public. Van Gogh listened to their concerns and self-admitted himself to asylum (a building in which many of his famous works were created).

While at the asylum van Gogh was treated with foxglove  – a natural remedy used to treat heart problems (but not epilepsy or bipolar disorder, one or both of which he was being treated for…).  Consider this: an overdose of foxglove can cause individuals to see an abundance of the color of yellow – a favored color of van Gogh as an artist and many modern interpreters believe this might have led to his use of the color in his paintings.

Dr. Thaler made note of the phases between van Gogh’s “normal” days and his “not” normal days – he asked us to consider whether we would be able to appreciate this amazing art of he’d never been admitted to the asylum. I take issue with this – Who decided what was “normal” and what wasn’t? How was this determined? Is someone experiencing epilepsy or bipolar episodes “not normal?” If someone isn’t “normal” and suffers in their life with self-mutilation or depression should we ignore their plight and only appreciate what they’ve done for our own pleasure? 

Um, no. 

During the Q&A I asked:

“You mentioned ‘normal’ when talking about van Gogh. You then reviewed a series of remarkable people. As you pulled pieces together for this exhibit, was the team purposeful about representation from various ‘normals’ – for example regarding skin color and sexual orientation.” 

The response was basically, “Oh, no. We didn’t do that.”

From what I understand, because he is a neurologist he only thinks about brains and spines – never skin color or orientation.

And all I could think is “I don’t see color” and how detrimental this statement can be. 

I know so many wonderful people who use this phrase and don’t understand how it erases the horrific histories of indigenous and African people in America. Their hearts are in the right place – they want to be kind and thoughtful, but they sometimes misjudge and unintentionally ignore important feelings of others around them.

A “Neurologist-in-Chief; Chairman and Professor” at a world renown school of neurology didn’t consider representation during a very time consuming and expensive art project undertaken at his school of residence. This is certainly no “knock” on his education – in any way whatsoever. But it’s a knock on our society for not making representation a more important part of every conversation we have.

We can’t be “color blind” and assume cis/white/male is “default”. People of Color need representation. Women need representation. Non-binary people need representation.

We need to do better.

 

Five Witchy Ways to Give Thanks

November is my favorite month. I love the fall rains. The chill in the air that means it’s hoodie & scarf season. Wearing my doc martins and making sure everyone knows they’re vegan because that is the kind of person I am. The chaos of Halloween in Salem has come to an end, we’re getting closer to longer days with more sunshine. And – of course – Thanksgiving.

Many modern pagan witches celebrate a day of thanks around the autumnal equinox – thanking the gods and goddesses for the harvest during Mabon. I happen to celebrate both Mabon & Secular Thanksgiving. The first Thanksgiving in 1637 was started right here in Massachusetts to celebrate the return of colonial hunters, but what we don’t often talk about is the fact that during that hunting trip, the colonists murdered 700 Pequot people.  It wasn’t until the beginning of the 20th century that the Pilgrims and the Thanksgiving holiday were used to teach children about “American freedom and how to be good citizens”.

Personally, I want to reclaim the day: I want to celebrate what we have in this moment (a safe, warm home, a wonderful family, food that is safe to eat) but at the same time right our ancestors wrongs by recognizing our American history for what it was (colonizers stealing the homes of and murdering the people living on this land). It may seem impossible to have these two thoughts at the same time, but this Pisces fish can assure you the duality is possible.

Here are five witchy ways to celebrate Thanksgiving in a modern way that helps us celebrate the love and warmth of the day while also calling attention to our colonial history:

5. Step Outside Your Coven

It’s not always easy, but listening is an essential part of any conversation. Family gatherings can sometimes lead to tricky conversations. Politics, family drama, annoying relatives – I’ve heard so many horror stories. Make time to listen. Don’t sit there thinking about your retort about why they are wrong… Welcome the conversation. Grow your understanding. Learn.

4. Make Like a Hedge Witch & Leave 

My favorite part of my witchy life is honoring nature. From tending to my rose bush and lavender plants to getting lost in the woods –  I love getting my hands dirty and letting my mind go while I’m surrounded by trees, flowers, and plants. Get outside and notice nature around you. Do you live in New England? Look for the handful of leaves that are holding on to their trees. Notice what is still green. Is it raining? Thank the universe for blessing the earth with rain to grow future harvests. Be grateful.

3. Adopt (David) Bowie the Turkey

I’ve been (mostly) vegetarian since I was 12. Consuming a mostly plant based diet is a magical way for me to honor nature and our planet. Food should be a passion. You should love what you eat and it should make your body feel positive and happy.

Whether or not a vegetarian diet is for you, one way you can create more balance in the universe is by shopping locally. Is there a farm close to home where you can purchase your green beans for casserole? Can you meet the cows whose milk created the cheese for your scalloped potatoes?

Don’t live near a farm? Combat the abuses of factor farming by adopting a turkey from Farm Sanctuary. They even have a little guy named Bowie and I want him to come live with me. Think Poe’d like a feathered brother?

2. Channel your Inner Kitchen Witch

Whether your Thanksgiving is vegan, vegetarian, gluten free, turkeyified, or whatever else you decide, common spices can add magic to any meal. By using spell magic (setting intentions) while you cook, you can bring magic into your table setting and abundance for your loved ones. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Basil: prosperity, peace, protection
  • Bay: wisdom, divination
  • Cinnamon: healing, protection, energy
  • Clove: protection, purification, healing
  • Marjoram: protection, happiness, love, and joy, particularly in family environments

1. Honor America’s History: Support Native People

Much of the history of the First People is seen through a white lens. Fight this:

  • find ways seek out Native authors, artists, and businesses.
  • avoid cultural appropriation.
  • teach the true history of the day to students in your life.
  • LISTEN to those around you; respect their stories, their understandings even if it is uncomfortable – encouraging an environment of the “other” only leads to more hatred and misunderstandings.
  • The International Indian Treaty Council is an organization of Indigenous Peoples from North, Central, South America, the Caribbean and the Pacific working for the Sovereignty and Self Determination of Indigenous Peoples and the recognition and protection of Indigenous Rights, Treaties, Traditional Cultures and Sacred Lands. Show them some love.

Trans Rights are Human Rights

American politics are in complete chaos – still. I’ve had to deactivate my facebook. I refuse to listen to the news. My sensitive soul can’t stand the policies being put in place that harm people I love. From the theft our our nation’s public lands by hungry investors, to using military force to block refugees from finding help in the “land of the free”, to women’s rights being put at risk every day, to men saying it’s a scary time to be alive because sexual predators are being named for who they truly are.

It’s a scary time.

A number of years ago a baby was born in our family. I am so grateful to have been among the first people in the world to welcome this baby. I was able to visit at the Birth Center and hold the baby (and proceed to almost drop the baby, which my husband teases me about still to this day.). The day this child was born is a day I will never forget. I remember how I wore my hair, the shirt I wore. I recall the scent of the cozy room. The mama’s tired, but so-full-of-love face. The sweet little baby’s eyes as they sleepily began to take in the world.

A few months ago this baby – now a teenager – shared with us that he is a trans man. We’d called this baby a “she” their whole life, not realizing. When we learned the news, we welcomed this person with warm arms. We hope to be sure to help him know he’s loved. To help him know know that being you is more important than trying to be someone you aren’t to make others comfortable.

Weeks after we learned this news, the current American administration announced it would CHANGE THE DEFINITION of gender.

“The Trump administration is looking into restricting the definition of gender to be based on a person’s genitalia at birth…

“Sex means a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth,” a memo stated. “The sex listed on a person’s birth certificate, as originally issued, shall constitute definitive proof of a person’s sex unless rebutted by reliable genetic evidence.”

~Peter Wade – Rolling Stone Magazine (

The American government wants to tell my loved one he can’t be who he knows he is. The American government says this child must accept a body that doesn’t feel like his own, must hide his true person from the world because it might make someone uncomfortable.

Screw that.

We can’t just sit back and do nothing, friends. We have to speak up for those we love. I know the government is corrupt. I know politicians can be assholes. I KNOW.

I know this, but we still need to vote. Here in Massachusetts we can vote Yes on 3:

“This law adds gender identity to the list of prohibited grounds for discrimination in places of public accommodation, resort, or amusement.”

That’s it. The law would make it so that our friends, neighbors, loved ones can’t be discriminated against. If you’re a republican and want the government to get out of your way, you should support this ballot. If you’re a libertarian and believe in free will, you should support this ballot. If you’re a democrat and believe in human rights, you should support this ballot. If you’re an independent/not a party/any other category I’ve missed – you should support this ballot.

So, even if you don’t want to vote for elected persons, go and vote for this ballot measure. Leave the rest blank, no one will know. I don’t care.

I know what some of you are thinking. You’re thinking you don’t “believe” in trans rights. You don’t think gay people should have rights. So this is for you: You most definitely know someone who is gay. Someone who is bi-sexual. Someone who is trans. They’re probably afraid to tell you because you’ve made your stance know. So, sit down and listen. 

Still think the government is such a mess you can’t support it? Think voting for this ballot isn’t enough?  I have great news for you: You can still help out.

I’ve been in touch with two local organizations supporting trans rights. You can support them financially. No cash to spare? Follow them on social media. Leave kind, loving comments. Spread the word about the incredible work they do to support our trans friends and neighbors.

ProjectOUT: Assistance, education, advocacy, & lifesaving gender-affirming services for the transgender and non-binary community. 

NAGLY: A space in Salem for LGBTQ youth on the North Shore of Massachusetts. 


Tomorrow is election day here in the States. Please vote.

Tag me @bookwitchsalem in your “I voted!” post on instagram, facebook, or twitter and be entered to win one of TWO prizes. You can choose from an animal (or human) Reiki session or a five card tarot reading. Winners randomly picked on Wednesday. #witchthevote #vote #yeson3 #transrightsarehumanrights