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As always, a big Thank You to Meredith for this Reading Response. If you are reading something interesting and would like to add it to our reading room, please contact ∃ at definefunctioning [at] gmail [dot] com. What follows is from our friend Meredith:

Anne Sexton: A Self-portrait in Letters edited by Linda Gray Sexton and Lois Ames provides an interesting portrait of Anne Sexton, poet. It proposes to help explain why she killed herself in October 1974, one month before her 46th birthday. To me, who deals with mental illness of a personal nature, it does. I saw it early. But I’m not sure it explains her death to those who have not experienced the tremendous weight of living on the planet as well as the euphoria of doing so without explanation for such experiences.

She wasn’t diagnosed bipolar until her third therapist later in her life. However, anyone familiar with being bipolar will easily glean that diagnosis from her letters. By 1955, the year her second daughter was born, she had been admitted to the hospital. She was in and out of hospitals for most of her years and tried suicide numerous times. After some of her hospital stays, she did not have custody of her children. In the late 1950s, she was put on Thorazine and continued with alcohol, but the Thorazine kept suicide attempts at bay for only a little while. Although some historical background is inserted between letters, most of this information was written by her to someone else; she held very little back.

What ultimately happens with a portrait of a person through their letters is that we don’t get the full story because we lack the instigating letters or replies from the people to whom she was writing. I did want those letters sometimes. What was it he/she said to warrant this response? Anne wrote constantly, and most of her letters were long confessions. Her poetry often had that same sense to them. I had the complete volume of her work next to me as I read her letters. She refers to the poems in her letters so it was helpful. Anne seemed undaunted by 1950s and 1960s propriety as she delved into very personal issues with not only fellow poets, but with students who wrote her as well as a monk.

She shared her mental instability with almost everyone to whom she wrote. She often mentioned her trials with depression or her visits to the hospital. She even told some people about her continuous attempts at suicide. She seemed to have no fear of being “out” even though her long demanding letters lost her some friends.

Many in our community often discuss the stigma we feel as people with mental illness. I was amazed at Anne’s candor from the 1950s until she died in 1974. As I read her letters, I could feel her agony at continuing to live. She often wrote my own feelings down, the struggle with feeling bad, constantly. While I don’t feel that way as often now, I remember, especially when I’m having a hard day, how it was. There were some letters that didn’t mention suicide or her feeling awful; however, they were primarily before she had children and before she entered a hospital, and they were not the majority. Reading A Self-portrait in Letters gave me a sense that it was perfectly normal to talk about being depressed and taking medication.

How did we miss that road to freedom? How did we get to where we are now? I don’t suppose it does any good to answer those questions as mostly we need to appeal to the likes of Anne Sexton and ask “how do we get out of here?”

Thanks so much to forum member Meredith for this Community Contribution Reading Response of Rebecca Shannonhouse’s (ed.) Out of Her Mind: Women Writing on Madness. As always, if you’re reading something you’d like to share with others, shoot ∃ an email at definefunctioning [at] gmail [dot] com. (I’ll add your reading to the Current Reading panel and post your Response when you’re finished.) What follows is Meredith’s response.

Shannonhouse Out of Her Mind: Women Writing on Madness by Rebecca Shannonhouse (Ed.) highlights many unpleasantries about being mentally ill, which can help validate persons struggling with such things and illustrates some of the ways in which the mental health industry has changed. Shannonhouse also chose more current stories depicting the ways in which that industry has not changed. The book confirmed my belief that we mentally ill must take a proactive approach to healing. While reading, I could empathize with all the women, and I recognized my good fortune to have had recent great support and success in living with bipolar. I have become passionate about my care, do research on my medications, stay in regular contact with my psychiatrist, and see my therapist often while working on changing my longstanding behaviors related to being bipolar. Shannonhouse’s book reminds me of the importance of fighting for ourselves and forcing the mental health community to not only see us as intelligent humans and partners in healing, but to alter the inconsistencies in their field.

Shannonhouse began her chronology with an excerpt from Margery Kempe’s The Book of Margery Kempe from 1436. Kempe’s recounting in the third person of a short but intense segment of her craziness is raw, including devils, flames, and being hauled about. Of course, in 1436, people considered crazy were banished to some of the most abhorrent places.

Those places did not change much from Kempe’s time to the 1800s when Dorothea Dix, a social reformer in Massachusetts, went from asylum to prison chronicling the state of the inhabitants to later discuss with the legislature. The despicable conditions of the institutions and other places they kept mentally ill people drove these women to rally for humanity. Though I have never experienced hospitalization, someone I know recently had an eye-opening experience after being checked in by her doctor. She was treated as if she was either five years old or an animal, and she had to fight to be released. And fight she did.

Meri Nana-Ama Danquah, in the excerpt from Willow Weep for Me (1998), very clearly described the painstaking life of a woman consumed with depression. She defined depression, she discussed it as we discuss it and other mental illnesses, and she tied it to social issues. The cyclical logic of being and staying depressed is something I have experienced for years, getting caught up in my own hopelessness and proliferating depression further. By enhancing my awareness of my thought processes and their effects (for better or worse) on my feelings, I have begun to mitigate the negativity as it arises. Early awareness is key.

Some of the more famous women included are Zelda Fitzgerald, who hardly wrote once deemed mentally ill, Sylvia Plath, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman who wrote “The Yellow Wallpaper” in 1892. Gilman’s vivid descriptions of her world around her, the one room in which she was confined due to a “nervous condition,” drew me into the wallpapered hell. I completely identified with her sense of being alone to fend for herself because no one would believe something was really wrong. I also entered her room as she described the living furniture and the woman behind the wallpaper. I could easily have been her. I had been in a similar relationship and for various reasons was, thankfully, able to get the help I needed to see straight, at least at times.

The stories collected remind me of The Snake Pit and others condemning the mentally ill to be at the mercy of others for always. I remember watching The Snake Pit and feeling the frustration of not being treated respectfully and the feeling of desperation at being at the mercy of others. It is certainly a way we can live, but I believe more and more of us are taking our illness into our own hands, doing the research, and questioning the practices of the mental health community. Most of Shannonhouse’s book reminds me why that is so important.

Feeling disconnected from my own mother and knowing I’ve stopped from killing myself because of my children and not wanting to cause them so much pain, Signe Hammer’s story along with Linda Sexton’s, drove home for me the pain, the identity issues, and the being wanted and being loved issues. They are powerful excerpts. All my wonderings about my children’s lives should I commit suicide were realized in those two stories alone. There is no doubt in my mind that I would leave them with much pain and lifelong scars. Even if I don’t keep from committing suicide for me, I keep from doing it for them, and sometimes that is enough.

There are stories about behaviors, those around medication, some with ECT, hospitals, and doctors, and stories with definitions coming from those who suffer. I found myself identifying with nearly every woman in the book on some level. There is an underlying strand of suffering and stigma in the stories of the past to which I certainly could relate with regard to the beginning of my healing journey. Being the daughter of a psychologist who offered no help in my teenage struggles, I internalized the stigma as many of these women did, and many more today do.

However, one of the identities I further developed in myself from reading Shannonhouse’s collection was that of advocate, at least for myself if not for others. The discussions I have with fellow mentally ill people do often center on the injustices of our general treatment by society and the mental health community. Some go on to speak on a more global level for which I am grateful. Making those connections with advocates keeps the torch afire for us to do our own work in managing our illnesses.

Upfront Disclaimer: I originally decided to read Daniel Carlat’s Unhinged: The Trouble with Psychiatry — A Doctor’s Revelation about a Profession in Crisis as the logical followup to Whitaker’s Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America. Thus, it’s almost impossible for me to think about this book without comparing it to the Whitaker (the Reading Responses for which are here, here, and here). All that being said, I’ll do my best.

Carlat’s Unhinged is an amazingly fast read, mostly because it’s written the way a person would speak. This works for the book, because at its core it’s a first-person account of realizing that what you do for a living may be just a little mediocre (and sometimes unethical) in the grand “Am I doing all I could be doing with my training and for my patients?” scheme of things. The major takeaway for me was less about having learned something new about the god-awful practices of the pharmaceutical industry and less about the solutions he’s offered in his concluding chapter. The takeaway point that made reading it worth it was NOT that “sadly, psychiatry itself has become unhinged, fractured by scandals, by debates, and by the skepticism of an increasingly informed public” (186). Instead, it was a very specific form of audacity within the psychiatric field.

Carlat is not audacious. (For that matter, neither is my psychiatrist who practices with talk therapy and meets with me for an hour.) But given the broad-brush description I’ve just finished reading, I’m wondering at what point a profession may put its ego aside and realize that what they know of the brain is minimal and what they know of the mind is less. And although Carlat doesn’t come out and point-blank say it for me, it’s always refreshing to hear the honest “I don’t know.” Through the years I’ve seen my fair share of doctors who seem incapable of admitting what they do not know. With every rule comes its exceptions, but right now I’m beginning to wonder To what extent are we (the patients) complicit in allowing a profession we rely on to work toward its own self-preservation even if or when that need for validation conflicts with our best treatment?

So, here: Regardless of your chosen or recommended treatment methods, how many questions do you ask of your mental health professionals? How many questions do you ask of their responses? What kinds of answers to do you receive? To what extent are you satisfied with those answers? My thinking here is that when we are sick in some other way, we ask our doctors a lot of questions. We get second opinions. We talk about alternative treatments. We ask all kinds of questions regarding what to expect from our treatments. We know the histories of the medications available. We know the histories of our doctors (e.g., the number of patients they’ve seen with similar conditions). After a few months of running this forum, I’ve been surprised more than once at the responses I get when I say that we have the right to self-define all those terms used to define us. Further, I personally have a hard time swallowing the idea that a diagnostic rubric can categorize any human mind in any conclusive way. I am comfortable with my diagnosis now, because it’s been a decade and Time has shown me that it fits. But that rubric has failed me before. Different treatment methods have failed me before. And I largely blame myself for not being empowered to ask the questions I needed to ask. I didn’t advocate for myself. I didn’t interrogate when necessary. I trusted an authority that, at different times, either forgot to earn my trust or flat-out made up the reasons I should trust it. How many times in your path(s) of treatment have your practitioners reminded you that all the authority they have is that which you give them through your trust? This is the thought I kept having while reading this book: the audacity of believing a profession has some legitimate preexisting authority when it can honestly claim none.

And still, sometimes, the world is confused when I ask the questions I ask today…and I’m afraid they are confused because they think my brain can’t be trusted. Honestly, they wonder, how can her brain know better than mine? The answer: Because I am in here.

A mid-reading response to Robert Whitaker’s Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America is posted here. This is Part 2 of a two-part post-reading response to a book that has been stirring up quite a storm of conversation within mental health circles. This pair of responses is the result of a conversation between ∃ and Meredith, wherein we each summarized our take-away impressions from the book. The consensus (if you can form a consensus between two people) is that it is an often difficult, often startling, and often frustrating read. The research and reporting raise several interesting and compelling ideas while also raising several important questions that are left either unaddressed or unanswered. As a contribution to general knowledge reading on psychiatry in America, it is informative but should not be read in isolation. Part 1 of this response is here.

PART 2 — IMPLICATIONS: Whitaker’s Unintended Meanings

The intended take-away of Whitaker’s book is that the intertwined needs to legitimize a profession and generate a profit have manufactured a psychiatric epidemic in America. No doubt that both have contributed to the numbers. No doubt that both have exhibited and engaged in less than ethical practices. No doubt an inordinate and truthfully dangerous amount of power over the collective well being of Americans is being wielded by institutions and companies with ego and money on their minds. No doubt the assertion that anyone with a human mind might actually understand (and solve!) the intricacies of every human mind seems more than a little logically stupid. No doubt.

Still, those things lacking in this book leave a lot of its contents up for interpretation. The intended take-away is very easily imagined as not at all resembling the actual take-away. Here are some of our (I think reasonably) imagined responses to this book as it is written and as its argument is presented:

How any reasonably smart and critical thinker (i.e. a literate person who’s read other things and has experience in not being pandered or condescended to) might read this book: Please stop beating the extremely dead horse you’ve already kicked while down and shot forty times. I get it. Now put down the sledgehammer and please answer my other questions.

How a skeptic (or Scientologist since Whitaker discusses their role in this story more than the role of drug use) might read this book: Mental illness is fiction, a manufactured chronic condition. Those who suffer are victims of a system that is out to exploit rather than help, a monolithic system wherein every psychiatric practitioner is nothing but a greedy con artist and every pharmaceutical researcher is nothing but a witch doctor.

How a therapist might read this book: I am here. Talk therapies do not only exist in Europe. I am here. There is extensive research on the many types of work my field practices. I am here. You may be doing more damage than good by convincing the general public that my practices are absent in the US. You may be doing more damage than good by questioning the extent to which my patient’s experiences are “real.” You may be making my job more difficult than it already is.

How a seriously debilitated mentally ill patient on SSDI might read this book: My life is what it is because I’ve been victimized, exploited — a siphon for insurance money. What I know as my everyday life, that which is my existence, is the result of a monetized reduction in my humanity. [If this is not the most dangerously anomic potential reading of this book, I don’t know what it is.] My condition, whatever that may be, will probably not improve. What I know now will probably be, at best, what I know for what remains of my medically shortened life. [God this hurts to write, but it is the broad-brush picture he paints.]

How Rand Paul might read this book: Pharmaceutical companies are manufacturing debilitating conditions that are sucking this country dry through entitlements. The best answer is to cut the programs that support patients. They will no longer be able to afford the fake care ultimately hurting them. They will have to reenter the community and work force, which will be good for them. It’s a win-win. [Scary.]

How a high-functioning mental illness patient on meds (i.e. many of us) might read this book: What are “functional outcomes” and what does “functionally recovered” mean (171)? What does it mean to be “functionally impaired” (321)? My treatment more or less works for me. Why didn’t you interview me? Or anyone with my experiences? Yes, I suffer side effects. Yes, I am aware of the risks of long-term medication. Yes, I hate the financial mechanisms that dictate the treatment paradigm on which my care is predicated. Yes, I still work hard every day to maintain myself and my life. Yes, I choose medication because I’ve lived without it, because I’ve tried other treatments, because this plan helps me live the life I want to live or, at least, gets me closer to it. Why didn’t you interview me? Or anyone with my experiences? I am not alone. We are here.

A mid-reading response to Robert Whitaker’s Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America is posted here. This is Part 1 of a two-part post-reading response to a book that has been stirring up quite a storm of conversation within mental health circles. This pair of responses is the result of a conversation between ∃ and Meredith, wherein we each summarized our take-away impressions from the book. The consensus (if you can form a consensus between two people) is that it is an often difficult, often startling, and often frustrating read. The research and reporting raise several interesting and compelling ideas while also raising several important questions, left either unaddressed or unanswered. As a contribution to general knowledge reading on psychiatry in America, it is informative but should not be read in isolation. Part 2 of this response is here.

PART 1 — METHODS: Whitaker’s Non-Scholarship

An overall comment–disagreeing with large portions of Whitaker’s argument is not equivalent to endorsing all of modern psychiatric practice!

Yes, we over-prescribe, we have minimized the importance of side effects, we have been bought out by pharma–all this is now so widely known that even many of the former pharma KOLs are willing to admit it.

My main problem with his book is that I think he overstates his case and paints all psych meds with the same broad brush of toxicity.

Daniel J. Carlat, MD (25 January 2011)

At no point does Whitaker pretend that his book constitutes scholarly research. It should not be read as scholarly research. The fact that it is written for public consumption and not for the community of scholars on this topic, however, means that a certain amount of wanted rigor is lost. Three examples:

The Requirements of Secondary Research. The truth is that most of Anatomy of an Epidemic is a pretend literature review. I say “pretend” for two reasons: First, it’s a dig in response to the fact that, on page 284, Whitaker puts the word “real” in quotation marks when he writes that psychiatry was “telling the public that mental disorders were ‘real’ diseases.” Secondly, and far more importantly, reporting on previous studies in an actual lit review would require reporting on the significance of statistical results and reporting on those results in a consistent manner. Instead, while he does address the flaws in many studies’ research designs, he fails to report on some incredibly descriptive aspects of scientific research, whether qualitative or quantitative. He doesn’t explain to his reader why a 10% difference in outcomes in one study is important and in others it is not. He switches from talking about raw numbers of patients to percentages of patients in the middle of discussing a single study, again without explaining why. For many studies, I don’t know how large or small the sample size was. I don’t always know how the sample was chosen, why that method was used, or the inherent biases (because all sample selection includes bias) of the method. These things are important to understanding his points of discussion, because I’m not the kind of reader who will just take his word for it. Because it is not meant to be a scholarly literature review, I don’t expect scholarly discussion. That being said, I don’t think a summary table at the end of the volume with pertinent information (sample size, statistical outcomes including significance levels, and the like) would have been too much to ask. Personally, I consider this both sloppy and suspect.

The Requirements of Qualitative Interviews. Certainly, the narratives that come out of Whitaker’s collection of first-person accounts are startling, compelling, and sometimes horrific. The personal stories he reports from his interviews are a valuable component of the book. That being said, again, I am not sure how he found or selected his interviewees, but I am sure exactly why theirs are the stories told. If I remember correctly, nowhere does he address the fact that the stories are not generalizable, but are instead deeply personal glimpses. Nor does he address that he has no way of knowing whether they are typical. Further, I can’t know whether other forms of treatment were a part of these stories because he either didn’t ask or isn’t telling me. Important questions about dosage and talk therapies are omitted. In my experience, many mental illness patients employ a strategic multipronged approach to their treatment. What we know from most interviews is that these people were put on medication. We don’t know how much, if they were taking any illegal drugs or alcohol while taking meds, if the meds were switched by different doctors, if they maintained good relationships with their primary care givers, or even if they saw psychiatrists or general practitioners. We don’t know if additional treatment options were included. Personally, I consider this both sloppy and suspect.

The Acknowledgement of Further or Additional Research. This is not a comprehensive look at treatment of mental illness. This may be one history of psychiatry. (Important side note: There is no such thing as THE history of anything.) While every research question has a defined scope — questions outside of which cannot feasibly be answered — it is incredibly important that the unaddressed pertinent issues be acknowledged. It is important for a reader to understand what is not being addressed in order to accurately judge the conclusions drawn. There are several lingering questions in addition to those things described above, but one in particular I’d like to highlight: cultural and societal effects on increased numbers of first episodes. I understand that diagnostic criteria have been expanded to cast a wider net and create a larger market. I also understand that a single paragraph (on page 187) with a single unexplained citation (of Putnam’s amazing Bowling Alone) is insufficient to describe the serious mental health effects of increased alienation, social disassociation, a disappearing middle class, geographically fragmenting families and fractured support systems, increased violence…honestly I can sit here and list things all day. In the middle of that paragraph, he devotes a total of one sentence to the undeniable effect of increased drug use in this country. One sentence: seventeen words in a book over 300 pages long. While he uses a sledgehammer to get his point across regarding what might happen after a first episode, he gives one short paragraph to a very real contribution to the increasing number of first episodes. Personally, I consider this both sloppy and suspect.

I am the first to give credit where credit is due. This book is not supposed to be scholarly, but it wants for a greater level of responsibility in its reporting. As I wrote earlier, it is extremely compelling. Its argument is truly hammered home. The book is certainly a contribution to popular writing on the topic, but (again) it is not comprehensive and should not be read as such. Because it does not acknowledge fully what is not addressed, the work sadly has unintended consequences and interpretations, addressed in Part 2.

I’m moving sluggishly slow through the current reading. After weeks of trying to fit it into my schedule, I have a third of the book to show for my effort. Still, it’s given me a great deal to think about, and all of the resulting questions are new topics of discussion between me and my psychiatrist.

Earlier, I said that I wouldn’t be writing on this book until I finished it. After the last post, I changed my mind.

The primary research question of Robert Whitaker’s Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America (which is a combination of a review of existing literature and interviews) is

“If we have treatments that effectively address these disorders, why has mental illness become an ever-greater health problem in the United States?” (12).

The findings presented center (at least thus far) around what psychopharmaceuticals actually do to the brain in the short and long term. That is not what I’m going to talk about here.

Question: How many people who read and participate in this forum believe that a chemical imbalance is to blame for their mental illness? There is no doubt in my mind that there is a biological cause to mental illness, but it seems not to be a chemical imbalance. At least, not as far as science has been able to show to date. I believed the chemical imbalance theory until I read the following and talked to my doctor:

“From a scientific point of view, it is apparent today that the chemical imbalance hypothesis was always wobbly in kind, and many of the scientists who watched its rise and fall have looked back on it with a bit of embarrassment” (75).

Rise and Fall? When did this hypothesis “fall”? Whitaker continues

“Yet a societal belief in chemical imbalances has remained (for reasons that will be explored later), and it has led those who have investigated and written about this history to emphasize, time and again, the same bottom-line conclusion. ‘The evidence does not support any of the biochemical theories of mental illness,’ concluded Elliot Valenstein, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Michigan, in his 1998 book Blaming the Brain” (75).

1998? It’s 2011, and “chemical imbalance” is still touted as the cause of mental illness. Valenstein is not the only one quoted in that paragraph. Among others, U.S. surgeon general David Satcher has said the same thing.

Ever wonder why it takes rounds of trial-and-error to find a meds regimen that works for you? It seems to be because those meds affect your brain chemistry, and your brain chemistry is not the cause of mental illness. (In fact, there is also an undeniable amount of evidence supporting the claim that the CHEMICALS of a MI brain are pretty much just as balanced as those in a ‘normal’ brain.) At best, when they work, meds affect our symptoms right now. They do nothing to reverse or curb or change or alleviate the cause. Now, don’t get me wrong: my symptoms need to be addressed, even when we don’t know the cause, to help me live my life the way I want to. But don’t lie to me about it.

I have said many times that I am lucky to have my doctor. She doesn’t lie to me. I asked her these questions, and she told me that “chemical imbalance” is code and, in and of itself, is a meaningless and empty phrase.

I’m becoming skeptical. I’m becoming worried. I’m becoming angry with the pharmaceutical industry whose products I rely on daily. As I progress through Whitaker’s book, I’m reading about the research surrounding the long-term prognosis for patients whose brain chemistry is being irreversibly altered by these drugs.

I will continue to take my meds, but I want some truth. I feel lied to. I am not a child, and I don’t need the dumbed-down version. Don’t tell me my brain is broken until you actually know that it is. Until then, I will tell you when it feels not-quite-up-to-par. Don’t tell me we know the biological root cause when we clearly don’t. Don’t tell me all this because you think it will make me compliant or you think a little white lie will make me feel better about myself. Don’t tell me my medication is “fixing” anything. My antipsychotics are anti-“psychotic behavior.” They are not anti-psychosis. There is a difference.

It’s taken me a while to decide how to respond, what to say and what to leave out, how to summarize, and what to quote. After days of thinking, all I’ve come up with is this: It is what it is. Not the book — the book is actually a lot more than what it is — but life, the hand we’ve been dealt, eating poisonous mushrooms, and things of that sort. They are what they are. That’s the big (and so-worth-reading) take away. Examples, chosen almost at random from my obsessive high-lighting:

“A human without a disease is like a ship without a rudder” (46).

“Maybe I just had to learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, with being scared out of my mind, and to let it go past like it wasn’t about me” (91).

“I could pass off the things that happened to me when I was crazy as just a bunch of craziness, but the problem is, when I’m trying my best to tell the truth to myself, I’m not sure I didn’t bargain God down from nuclear cataclysm to a relatively mild earthquake and stop my father from killing himself. I’m glad I got to meet and talk to Dostoyevsky, van Gogh, Beethoven, Freud, and Abraham Lincoln and continue to count them as good friends” (124).

“…at a conference on ADHD, a colleague said that Huck Finn had ADHD and would be treated today and have a better life. I said that the best that treatment could achieve would be to make him into a second-rate Becky Thatcher, and we should worry, at least a little, about that” (149).

Rather than making this an entire response about it being whatever it is, let’s talk about baseball.

Baseball and softball are recurring themes and metaphors in Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness Only More So. Deprived of little league as a child due to undiscovered myopia, Vonnegut plays some serious softball as an adult. Like, annual 27-inning games serious. Through years of playing, he feels himself age. Through the nature of the game, he can see what happens when individual performance and team synergy converge or when they don’t. In the context of a softball game, the woman who will be his wife lays down the law for what seem to be her incredibly endearing relationship boundaries. He recounts a dream wherein he was nude with a baseball glove in junior high surrounded by clothed kids without gloves.

Personal bias: I love baseball. Love it. And here’s where I knew that he loves it for the reasons I love it:

“They hit better, ran faster, and made fewer errors, but baseball is a funny game and we had our wonderful moments and days that were all the more tasty because they expected to win and got so pissed when they didn’t (48).”

He writes of the “baseball gods,” because for all the stats and training and batting practice and scouting and right-hander/left-hander matchups and strategic pinch hitters, you just don’t know what’s going to happen. And whatever the baseball gods decide will be. Like lots of other things in life, baseball is what it is.  There’s only so much you can plan for the random crap that will happen in any hyper-organized system. Make all the rules you want, but eventually something you didn’t expect will happen. “Baseball was something to count on in this crazy world” (97), because you can always count on that random, surprising, beautiful, frustrating, unforeseeable, unplanned, and sometimes fantastic crap. If you’re anything like me (and I’m guessing we all have this in common), your life has those moments you just could not have seen coming, those moments that you could not have made more ridiculous or amazing had you made them up, those perfect baseball moments — always ridiculous and always amazing depending only on which team you’re on.

I could write hundreds of things right now that include phrases like “home run,” “strike out,” “fearless diving catch,” “underdog,” “upset,” and the like. The absolute worst thing I could say right now is that “sometimes life throws you a curveball.” Screw that. I’m just trying not to hit into a double play.