Thursday, April 23, 2009

Mental Illness and the Cuckoo's Nest

I went to see "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" last week at the Round House Theatre in Bethesda. This is the same theatre I saw "Eurydice" at, because of that, I had high hopes for "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." And I was not disappointed.

However, the timing on this play may not have been the greatest. Or it was excellent timing, depending on your viewpoint. Before seeing "Cukoo's Nest," I knew almost nothing about it. I'd never read Ken Kessey's novel or seen the movie, which is apparently very good.

So it wasn't until I literally was seated 10 minutes before curtain taht I realized "One Flew Over the Cukoo's Nest" takes place in a mental institution. And as fate has it, I had spent the majority of my morning trying to get a program participant in touch with mental health services. I honestly think that mental health is the hardest part of my job. I clearly have no background or training in dealing with or diagnosing it. However I am an intuitive person, and I have leaned some of the social cues that tell a person may not be mentally stable. Also, sometimes its very very clear. Such as any day when I get to work at 8:45 and a participant is standing on the porch talking to themselves, mental illness is a pretty easy guess.

So I sat there in the audience, by myself waiting for my friend, and thought, well shoooot. I stared at the set. It was simultaneously very simple and very detailed and very clearly a ward in a mental institution. And I wondered if I was going to be able to handle this, on this of all days. It was just a little close to home.

But my friend arrived with seconds to spare and the lights went out and I was thrust into the world of the play, like any good little theatre major. And it occurs to me that being in the middle of a theatrical experience is the ideal. "All the world's a stage..." and all that. Anything else is sort of just holding place. So as soon as the play started, I was fine.

This production was funny, heartfelt, and ultimately heartbreaking. Because of my lack of knowledge of the plot, I was surprised several times by some twists and turns of the plot. The whole production took place in a single location, in the ward of the institution. This is mostly a blessing I think. It means that a set designer can really go all out because nothing has to move or change. I think unit sets open up a lot of opportunities. And this set didn't break my rule about having a fancy set and not utilizing it. The set was used perfectly.

I think that I came into this play not expecting such a touching story. The characters are all well fleshed out, and there was not a weak actor in the bunch. Not one of the actors playing the patients was just going for laughs, which could have been a temptation for a lesser production. Instead, they had developed deep thoughtful characters whose character quirks felt like a part of their real life experiences and illness. Often characters in the background were in danger of stealing the show, but in a good, balanced way. The characters in this story are not black and white; there is no clear villain. Horrible things happen, but does anyone really mean to do them? The realism throughout was bleak and startling.

During and after watching this play I got a little worked up about the way we used to treat mental illness in this country and the way we do now. From what I understand about this which is not extensive, is that in the 1960's the Community Mental Heath Act was passed which resulted in deinstitutionalization, which was a factor in the biggest numbers of homelessness that our nation had ever seen. This is something we are still feeling the repercussions of now. Now in Washigton DC, there are a number of places that serve those with mental illness, but getting those who need these services connected is an unbelievable problem.

This leads me back to where I was the morning before I saw this play. I convinced the program participant I was working with to call the Access Help line and get an intake appointment. The soonest he could get in was two weeks. Now I haven't seen him in almost a week, and I don't think he's going to make his appointment tomorrow. But I'm not giving up. I won the initial round. I got him to make the call, to trust me, and to try getting connected. Maybe he'll come back next week or next month and try again. Maybe he'll remember us and his positive experience and come again in 5 months. Who knows? And at this point I did what I can so for him.

I'm glad that this play was performed. I don't always believe that theatre has to be timely or topical in order to be important. Often I get annoyed by this view of theatre. However, I do think that "One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest" had a lot to say that is applicable to what is happening in our country right now.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


So my long winter of grad school applications, interviews and anxiety is finally over. Its officially spring, and I know that I'm going to Oregon State University next fall for their College Student Services Administration program. I've been offered an assistantship in "teaching biology TA's how to teach." And I'm pretty excited about it. Or course, I lived the first 8 years of my life in Corvallis and I really do consider myself a native Oregonian rather than a Washintonian. So I'm happy to be moving back to the northwest. The Willamette Valley is beautiful and I'm even excited about the rain.

This hasn't been an easy decision at all. I would have really loved to go to Seattle University next year. But I think in this case, everything ended up working out for the best. Most of all I've learned a lot in my grad school application process.
Here are some of the things I've learned:

1. I am a much better traveler now. Before I moved to DC I could count the number of times I'd been on an airplane practically on one hand. I don't sleep well on public transportation and I had a good degree of anxiety about flying. I think this is partially because almost every time I'd been on a plane it was by myself, and associated with a MAJOR life change of some kind. I've discovered the secret to becoming a better flier: the drowsy kind of dramomine and frequency of travel. I'm practically an old pro now.

2. Interviewing well is, like anything else, a skill that can be learned. I had interviewed only a few times before this spring. In fact during my interview to the CSSA program at Oregon State University, I was so nervous and preformed so poorly because of nerves that I was convinced I would not be accepted to the program. I've since decided that being comfortable with an interview is a combination of being prepared, and just being familiar with the structure of interviews. It shouldn't be too surprising that the assistantship I was offered was the very last of my interviews. I learned a lot about marketing myself in the process.

3. There really is a fundamental difference between the east and west coast. While this seems to be both a no brainier and not important, I've felt this a lot this year. While people are people everywhere, attitudes and standards and values are very different in the pacific northwest and in our nations capital.

4. My life view is an odd mix of living in the moment and loving the past. When I visited OSU I said, "This is it, this is where I'm going." When I visited Seattle U I said, "This is it, this is where I'm going." So I've come to think that I am very much present where I am and influenced by that. Yet this year I can't help but feel nostalgic for where I was one year ago(finishing my thesis) or two years ago (in LONDON).

5. There more I explored student affairs as a path, the more sure I am that I made the right decision.

I will end here and spare you from having to read a top 25 things I've learned. But know that I am feeling good about this and happy about my decision.

To end this post I have to say that when I moved away form Corvallis at the tender age of 8, I was very sad about it. I thought for a long time that I would move back to Corvallis and do my undergrad at OSU. Well, when college application time rolled around senior year of high school, that dream was forgotten and I didn't even apply. And now here I am.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Cherry blossoms and partying for spring

I'm actually being misleading by titling this post cherry blossoms. I have not been down to the tidal basin to see the cherry blossoms yet. I know this is a big deal. However, I have seen the blossoms in all there glory elsewhere in the city. And I did go to the cherry blossom parade on Saturday.

Recently, I've decided I need more friends. While I love my housemates dearly, they are not always around. And it would be nice to have some people I feel comfortable calling to hang out with.

So when I got invitations to watch the cherry blossom parade and to go to a party I jumped at the chances. And coincidently this led me to stand in front of my house on Saturday waiting for the bus at both 8 am and 8 pm.

In the morning I took the metro downtown. It was completely packed. It was almost as bad as riding the metro on inauguration weekend. I met my friend by the American History Museum. He and his housemates had gotten there only a few minutes earlier than I had, but they had staked out a space on the curb. So we got to sit for 2 and a half hours, instead of standing, which was great. It was a clear morning with a blue sky, and not too cold, but it was very windy. This both chilled us, and made some of the poor parade walkers banners very hard to hold up.

This was really my first parade experience outside of the parade in Walla Walla's fair. I will say it was very different than that. There were many marching bands. One of them was from a city in Washington state I'm pretty sure is fictional as I've never heard of it. My friend told me that it was not really my place to call another city imiganiary, as he is pretty sure Walla Walla doesn't exist.

Other cool things in the parade were some very old cars, and even Alex Trebek as the grand marshal. All that means is that he sat on top of an old convertible and waived! Some of my highlights were a unicycle preforming group (which is my new life ambition, rehearsals start on monday), a military marching band and drill team, and some girls in amazing Scarlet O'Hara dresses.

Like any parade, people lined up to watch on either side of the street. About 50 yards from us, there was a cross walk that people were allowed to cross the street through. However, people did not want to cross at the cross walk, but instead tried to cross in the middle of the road, which was pretty inconsiderate and a little rude. So the poor police men who were crowd control, would chase the illegal street crosses down. About half way through the parade, they started catching people and sending them back to the side of the street they started on. While the police men couldn't have enjoyed this, the crowd around us would cheer when someone was caught and sent back. It was a good secondary source of entertainment.

After the parade we went to Five Guys, which is a DC burger institution. I'd never been before, and loooove hamburgers. It was pretty good, I will be back.
I went home, too a lovely long nap and then went to my coworkers party. She is also in a volunteer corps, and lives in a beautiful house with a total of 7 women. I bet my housemate Noah is thanking his stars he only lives with 4 women. It was a nice party, but I couldn't stay long as I wanted to make sure I caught the last bus home from Dupont.

All together I had a very lovely spring Saturday, and did feel like I made some connections on the making new friends front.

Friday, April 3, 2009

A Rambling Update!

So I've been MIA for the month of March. I've been having a crazy time (both good and bad).

So here are some thoughts, facts and musings. First of all I've been applying to grad school for Student Affairs for the last few months. Since before Christmas, this has been one of my top priorities. However, I need to step back and say that one of my problems with this blog is finding the balance of putting your ambitions and dreams on the interwebs for anyone to read. This might actually be a delusion on my part, and maybe everyone who actually reads this does already know the excruciating details of my life and grad school search. I'm not sure. But I was keeping this process quiet until I was pretty sure about a positive outcome.

Anyway I've been accepted into two grad programs in the northwest and am trying to figure out the finical situation. I'll have some kind of decision in the next few weeks. I have in fact flown back and forth across the country twice during last month. The end of February I trekked to Corvallis Oregon to interview at Oregon State University. It was nice to see the city of my birth as an adult. The formerly white house I grew up in has now been painted lavender. Walking by it was surreal. But dAd, don't you worry, the picket fence you build MoM with the heart shaped cutouts is still in tact. And still white. So that's good at least.

Also I've learned that I find it easy to write when I'm excited, and difficult when I'm upset. So yeah, there have been some things going on that are less than stellar. I think I'll be able to write about some of them in the near future, including the effects of a very big staff change up at my work.

I few weeks after I visited Corvallis I flew to Seattle to hang out in Tacoma at UPS and interview at Seattle University. This was a rousing success and a great little vacation. This is the first time I've seen my college friends (or my alma mater) since July. So it was great to reconnect with people. Its good to see that the 4 years I spend making relationships were put to good use as I have many wonderful friends in the Seattle/Tacoma area.

For me, it was good to come back to the place that was home for so long. I found that it's good to really know that my life isn't going on there, just with out me. Things change, people grow and move on. But it was great to see all the people I love and miss and remind myself why I love them.

It was also nice to go back and see a little bit of my legacy. The months before I graduated and left the theatre department I thought a little about other grads and the stories/impact they've left behind. Part of the beauty of being in the theatre department is learning with and from those who've come before you. I would not have been able to tell you my freshman year that my legacy would be Dr. Wallace in "Beyond Therapy," yelling naughty words on stage and talking to a stuffed animal. Or that people are still saying I was the best part of my thesis (umm, if anyone else involved with Beyond Therapy reads this, I love you).

Now I'm back in good old Washington, DC. Its now officially spring, and suddenly warm. Its Cherry Blossom time. Westmoreland is celebrating 60 years on the Circle. Its also time for the volunteer to host next years prospective Westmoreland Volunteers.

I think I have most of the things that are bothering me mostly under control. Those of you I've been leaning on more than usual recently, thank you. Life comes in cycles, I think, and things are beginning to look up.