Mad Farmer Sascha #72

I Make My Dreams Real

    Strikes me like I’ve always found all the good stuff at the edges and in between spaces: the bleed in time between late night and early morning when the mind runs fast and free and isn’t afraid to make connections that might normally seem a little strange; the edge of urban neighborhoods where people from different parts of the world cross paths with each other; the edge between different ecologies like the land and the water, the forest and the grassland, the estuary and the ocean - places where different species learn how to live with each other and create whole new ways of interacting; spaces where strangers meet like bus stops and 24 hour diners and underground parties on the edge of town.
    The edge can be a dangerous place to be - there’s always the possibility of falling off. I know from my own experience that the part of my mind that is the most creative and fluid can definitely be the most volatile and scary. If I’m respectful and use that part of myself in moderation I can do amazing things. So much of my power is in my dreams, in letting go and not being controlled by the rigid society that raised me - in not being afraid to have grandiose visions and plans. But if I ignore the warnings and let myself fly too high, if I go to that place in my mind for too long -- it’s really hard to come back down. I’m caught on fire. I forget how to sleep. I forget how to take care of my body. The bridge between the conscious rational world which keeps me together and the unconscious irrational world which keeps things interesting opens up and I start losing sight of which is which. The edges all blur.
    I start dreaming while I’m awake.  

“Ever since they put you away --  you don’t seem quite the same.
They cut off all your lovely hair and gave you a brand new brain.
Sent to the university cause that was the next step up.
Studying sociology -- they gave you a plastic cup.
What happened to you with your brand new brain?
What will they do when they get you again?
Animal --they’re comin to get ya! Animal - cause you went insaaane!”
SUBHUMANS “Animal” 1979?

    I was 18 years old the first time they locked me up in a psych ward. The police found me walking on the subway tracks in New York City and I was convinced the world was about to end and I was being broadcast live on primetime TV on all the channels. After I’d been walking along the tracks through three stations, the cops wrestled me to the ground, arrested me, and brought me to an underground jail cell and then the emergency room of Bellevue psychiatric hospital where they strapped me to a bed. Once they managed to track down my terrified mother, she signed some papers, a nurse shot me up with some hardcore anti-psychotic drugs, and I woke up two weeks later in the ‘Quiet Room’ of a public mental hospital upstate. I spent the next two and a half months of my life there, another couple months in this strange private ‘behavior modification’ program/half way house that my mom put me in, and the next bunch of years of my life trying to figure out how to set my life up in such a way that that shit would never happen to me again.
    Before the big dramatic crash back in New York, that whole previous year I’d gone off to college and had been living on the other side of the country in Portland, Oregon. I’d lost contact with most of my old friends and had basically spent the school year studying in the library, immersed in academic books and ignoring the outside world. At some point in the Spring, around finals time, I’d gotten sick and gone to the school heath clinic. The short version of the story is that the nurse gave me a prescription for penicillin and I had an allergic reaction to it and almost died. To counteract the effects of the penicillin, the hospital gave me a hard core steroid called Prednizone which totally fucked up my sleeping schedule and, along with the bit of mescaline and lots of pot and coffee I’d been indulging in early that year, sent me off the deep end.
    It seemed innocent at first, if not a little strange. Somehow I managed to have this infinite amount of energy - I’d ride my bike really fast everywhere and do tons of sit-ups and push-ups after sleeping badly for two hours. Pretty quickly I slipped into a perpetually manic state, and by the Summertime had this idea to start a food co-op at our school which somehow mushroomed into this grandiose plot to destabilize the US economy by printing our own currency! That was just the tip of the iceberg though. I seemed to have a new idea every couple hours, all involving connecting different people and projects up with each other, and actually managed to convince a number people around me that my ideas were really good. We started stockpiling food, putting flyers around town, and building our little empire.
    Then it got even crazier. I started to think the radio was talking to me and I was seeing all these really intense meanings in the billboards downtown and on the highways that no one else was seeing. I was convinced there were subliminal messages everywhere trying to tell a small amount of people that the world was about to go through drastic changes and we needed to be ready for it. That year in school I’d been studying anthro-linguistics and I was totally fascinated by language and how the words we use shape our perception of reality. I started reading way too much meaning into everything. People would talk to me and I was convinced there was this whole other language underneath what we thought we were saying that everyone was using without even realizing it. It seemed like a big computer program someone had written or an ancient riddle or just some kind of cosmic joke. It always seemed like people were saying one thing to me but actually saying the complete opposite at the same time. It was very confusing.
    Whatever was going on, it was obvious I was the only one who could see it because no one knew what the hell I was talking about! I’d try to explain myself but no one seemed to understand me. At some point it got to where I couldn’t even finish a sentence without starting another one because everything was so fucking urgent. There was so much to say I couldn’t even get the words out without more new stuff that needed to be said appearing on my tongue.

     One of the things that made the situation so complicated and inevitably so tragic was that no one really knew me well enough to know that I’d totally lost my shit and was about to crash really hard. In 1992 Portland was not the cool anarcho-mecca it is today. The folks around me were just like: “Oh, that’s Sascha - the guy doing the food co-op thing. He’s just a little crazy.” No one seemed to be able to see the signs that I was having a psychotic breakdown and if they did, they were too scared to get anywhere near me for fear I was going to bite them or something.
    Thankfully I took what I thought was going to be a quick trip to Berkeley and my old friends realized immediately that something was definitely wrong. I couldn’t even speak in complete sentences and most of what was coming out of my mouth were old lyrics to punk rock songs, decade old obscure cereal commercial jingles, Situationist slogans from France in the 60’s, weird shit like that. The thing was, I thought I was making total sense and I was convinced that as soon as the world ended and the New Order began they would all understand what I was talking about. It felt like there was electricity coursing through my body all the time. I think that was about the point that I stopped sleeping all together and started thinking there were microscopic transmitters under my skin which were making me itch and recording everything I was saying for the CIA. I started being really careful about what came out of my mouth because I knew so many people were listening and the fate of the world rested on my every word. No pressure, of course.
    The quick version: my freaked out friends called my mom, she bought me a plane ticket over the phone, and they somehow managed to get me to the airport and on a plane back East. When I arrived at the airport my mom was there to pick me up and bring me back to her apartment. I remember her telling me that in the morning she was going to take me to see ‘a man that could help me.’ I didn’t like the sound of that much and it was obvious that they’d brainwashed her memory clean so that she wouldn’t remember what an important role she was playing in the grand scheme.  She fell asleep around the time the sun was rising and I snuck out.
    I spent a whole day wandering around the city talking to ghosts. I was totally convinced the world was about to end, it just seemed so obvious, the signs were everywhere. Everything I did, every interaction I had with a stranger, every street sign number that I happened to glance up at, even things as mundane as eating a slice of pizza or picking up a newspaper -- had these mythical proportions. It was like it wasn’t even happening to me and I was just watching it all on a big screen from far away. Or it was like it was all predestined and no matter what I did I was doing everything perfectly, I couldn’t fuck up. I was the star of my own show, it was just a big illusion, like a dream where everyone was just a reflection of me and really we were all one - all headed to the same place. It seemed pretty obvious that it was my destiny to cause as much chaos as I could and go out in some loud and dramatic way so that somehow we could all get to the next level. Or something like that.
    When I hopped the turnstile at the 23rd Street Path Station and jumped down onto the underground tracks I was filled with a deep feeling of inner peace. This part of my journey was over, finally. No more itching skin, no more freaked out mothers, at last I could sleep as long as I wanted, I could be reunited with all my friends and dead relatives and stars I’d grown up watching on TV. Everyone was just waiting for me, cheering me on from the sidelines of my imagination. Every time I looked in the mirror they were all there staring back at me. Everyone. So I was ready for whatever was going to happen next. Or so I thought.
    After I’d been in the psych ward for awhile they diagnosed me with something called bipolar disorder and, along with a whole pile of other pills they were shoving down my throat, gave me a mood stabilizing drug called Depacote. They told my mom to read a book called A Brilliant Madness written by some movie star woman named Patty Duke. They told her to get used to the idea that her son had a serious mental disorder he was going to be grappling with for the rest of his life.
    I’m not really sure why, but that bipolar diagnosis didn’t last very long. By the time I got out of the halfway house five months later, the doctors were blaming the whole incident on bad drug interactions: the high levels of Prednizone they gave me at the hospital, the hallucinogens and the THC and caffeine. It had just been too much for my fragile system. It was going to take a while to recover, but I’d be able to lead a normal, healthy life like the rest of the population. That was good news for sure.
     So not too long after I got out of the halfway house things started to slowly fall back into place. I got off all the psych drugs, I moved back in with my mom, I got a job at a bookstore, I went to community college and took some anthropology classes. Really I was so depressed though. Life seemed pretty grim. It was like all the meaning and passion had been sucked out of it and I was walking around in a dark gray bubble. And I was so confused. I don’t remember that whole part of things too well, but I know I was really quiet for a really long time, I hardly talked at all. There was nothing much to say.

    For years afterwards that whole period of my life was something that I somehow just shelved away into a far corner of my brain cause I never knew quite what to make of it. It didn’t all somehow fit together. It just became another one of my crazy stories that I’d share with new friends sometimes if they were getting to know me. “Yeah, ha ha, I’m kinda crazy, for real, man. Check out what happened to me when I was a teenager!” But lingering in the back of my mind was always this fear that somehow I was going to end up getting locked up again.

    Not long after I moved back in with my mom I started playing bass in this punk band, went on tour, dropped out of school for good, and started traveling like I’d always wanted to do. You have to understand what a big deal it was though - it wasn’t an easy decision. When I was in high school, most of my friends had dropped out years before and run away from all over the country and had come to New York City to live in the squatter community on the Lower East Side. My friends were full of stories of riding freight trains all the way to the West Coast and having big adventures - living free and loving hard outside the system and by their own rules. They were my people for sure, the whole anarcho-traveler squatter punk crew, but really I still always felt like the outsider. I was the kid who lived with his mom uptown and would go home at the end of the night so he could wake up for school the next morning. But I never fit in with the kids at school either. I always had this feeling like I was always caught between two worlds.
    I didn’t want to go to college, really it was the last thing I wanted to do. I just wanted to ride freight trains and travel and live free like the rest of my friends. But my family had a different idea. Both my mom and my dad came from working-class families in the South Bronx and Elmhurst, Queens respectively, and they were both the first people in their families to go to city university and ‘make it’ to the middle-class Upper West Side of Manhattan where I grew up. My pop had a fatal disease called cystic fibrosis which took his life just as I became a teenager, but I had early memories of my dad always promising that he’d stay alive to see me go off to college. He wanted me to go to Harvard. Wanted life to be better for me and wanted me to have the connections to be able to change the world to make it the way I wanted it to be. That’s what he always said. No pressure, of course.
    So flash forward to my senior year of high school: Things weren’t really happening like I’d planned, lots of shit went down that I wasn’t expecting. After one of the big riots on the LES, the cops put a big fence around Tompkins Square Park, the center of our whole community, and tore the radical subculture into pieces. All these dumbass friends of mine that I cared about a lot started shooting heroin. I got nervous - the big open road of freedom and adventure suddenly didn’t seem so welcoming. After a couple years of fucking off in school and hanging out on the street, I started studying my ass off and got good grades on my SATs. I got accepted to this relatively prestigious and ridiculously expensive college in Portland and decided to use the money my dad left me for school to pay for it. My Summer fantasies of riding freight trains out West after high school graduation somehow transformed into a bike messenger job in the city. And there went my dreams.

    I remember the first time I heard a recording of The Avengers - they were this punk rock group from San Francisco in 1977 and the lead singer was this teenage girl named Penelope Houston who had the most amazing fucking voice. They only ever put out one record before they broke up. When I first started hitchhiking around the country by myself I ended up walking into a cafe in Albuquerque, New Mexico one day and convinced the manager to take me home and let me stay at her house for a week. She was an old punk rocker, about my age now really, had been on the original Gilman St. collective in Berkeley, and had left the big city for a quiet life on the edge of the desert.  She had a great record collection, a beautiful old bass guitar, and a really sexy motorcycle. She let me wash dishes at her place for some extra cash and would take me out in the highway on her motorcycle going 110 miles per hour in the middle of the big open sky. She pulled out the Avengers record for me one morning and said I had to listen to it. They had this one song where the chorus went: “I believe in me - I make my dreams real!”And I loved it. I totally loved it. It became my internal theme song that followed me everywhere. I was tired of people telling me what I could and couldn’t do. I was going to live my life loud and proud. I was going to make my dreams real.
    For the first time everything in my life seemed to really be falling into place. Around that time I went to the desert out in Northern Arizona and I remember feeling free like I had never felt in my life ñ-like the world was full of infinite possibilities and vast as the open sky before me. I was always a pretty social person and I realized once I started traveling that I already had all these friends all over the country who had passed through New York at one time or another. I ran into familiar faces wherever I went. I also met new people wherever I went who taught me lessons and gave me little pieces of their souls.
    Around that time me and my friend Straight Arrow organized this whole crackpot scheme called the Nomadic Festival where we toured around the whole country with a big posse of our friends performing on the street and inspiring people to drop out of their straight lives and join our circus. The whole thing was ridiculously grandiose, especially considering we were broke and we were just a bunch of punk kids, but somehow we all pulled it off. I just remember telling my mom about it and she got this really concerned look on her face and wanted to know if there was anyone else working on it or was the whole idea only in my head. I remember it vividly: I was so mad at her. I could see in her eyes that she was just thinking about that Summer in Portland when I was trying to organize the food co-op. She just thought I was crazy.
    And of course I was. Kind of. Somehow I spent the next five years riding freight trains and hitchhiking all over the country half a dozen times, living in Central America and Chiapas, Mexico with revolutionary campesinos, blocking logging trucks at Earth First! Road blockades and falling in love with the forest of the Northwest, working on organic farms in the middle of the woods in British Columbia and learning how to grow my own food, making zines full of my friends dreams and stories and keeping the company of and falling in love with the freakiest and most amazing people anywhere. I wouldn’t trade any of those times for the world.
    But eventually all my old ghosts came back to haunt me and I ended up right back in the psych ward where I tried so hard not to end up. So where is it, exactly, that we cross that line from living our dreams to slipping over to the dark side?  I’m still trying to figure it out. And you’re reading about it I guess.
    So I started writing this not knowing what would come out and I’m quickly realizing that it’s way more that what’s going to fit in a zine column. I think what this means is that I need to sit down and try to write more often. But I’ll stop there for now. 

A few quick things:
    The amazing mail continues to come in. It’s totally unfair but sometimes it’s the most intense and best letters that take the longest for me to answer because I don’t feel like it’s right to write back unless I pour my soul into it. And I only have so much soul. So please understand if it’s taking me a little while to get back to you - I’ll get there eventually and I’m so thankful for all the amazing people who feel touched enough to track me down.
    So by the way: the DIY Skillshare Gathering is happening from September 26th through the 29th in Berkeley at the Crucible Metal Arts School. The Alternative Mental Health Workshop we’ve been planning is starting to get more interesting. Nisanga, who is an acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist (and the town doctor for, like, the entirety of our East Bay activist scene,) is going to co-facilitate the workshop with me and Elizabeth the badass punk rock social worker and we’re going to have a way more well rounded discussion about Eastern and Western conceptions of mental health and conventional and more radical forms of treatment. Like I said last time, we’ll be putting out some sort of zine before it all goes down
The website plan:
    So if you get on a search engine on the internet and type in ‘punk’ and ‘bipolar’ you end up reading about how Danielle Steel’s son was manic-depressive and was in some punk band and killed himself when he was 19. Clicking on the link that had me reading this little tidbit of information lead me to the  HYPERLINK website  which is all about bipolar disorder. It was set up by this businessman dude. Very different world view than us. But I still think it’s really cool and you should check it out.
    I’m still trying to figure out what a website would look like that we’d set up. Get in touch if you want to talk about it.
Last thing: I just want let all of you know out in Slug and Lettuce land how proud I am of my 14 year old cousin Sam who lives in Santa Cruz, California. In the Springtime his Jr. High School almost suspended him because they had ‘red, white, and blue day’ (where everyone was suppose to come to school wearing the national colors or whatever) and he came to school wearing an upside-down American flag with a big anarchy symbol on it! This is the crazy part though: they said they were going to suspend him because it was a neo-nazi symbol! We’re living in crazy convoluted times. Anyway, I just got back from Santa Cruz, hanging out with the family for the 4th of July, and me and Sam were on the beach setting off fire works with everyone else. At some point the cops showed up to kick everyone off  and people started clearing out, but my cousin was like: “Those fucking pigs! Lets throw rocks at them!” And I was like: “Come on Sam, lets go. That’s probably not such a good idea.” But inside I was beaming with pride. And tripping off of the fact that I’m almost twice his age and I’ve had so many more years of getting beaten down and locked up by the law I’ve learned how to choose my battles a little better. But to be 14 years old growing up in these fucked up war torn times. Fucking fearless. Cheers to the new generation of punk rockers and rabble rousers! And Happy Summer!

Write me:
Sascha Scatter  (good in 2011)

Or better yet, write my cousin and send him words and music.
Sam Rutel, 2685 Warren St., Santa Cruz, CA 95062.

    I just got a letter from one of my favorite people in the world who’s just as crazy as I am and chooses to deal with it by living out in the woods with a couple of his friends, collecting SSI, growing a big garden of vegetables every year, corresponding with political prisoners, and drinking like a fish. Our tactics are different for sure but even if we don’t always agree with each other there’s definitely a lot of mutual respect. Anyway, he just sent me a letter telling me he thinks it’s fucked up that I’m advocating the use of prescription pharmasudicals to deal with mental problems without counciling people to look into alternatives that aren’t as toxic and as tied into the system. He referred me to a book called Natural Healing For Schizophrenia by Eva Edelman. So I looked it up on the internet and got a phone number in Eugene, Oregon to contact the author. Then about midnight last night I had this very surreal experience of calling the number, assuming it would be some office and I’d leave a message, but then Eva Edelman herself picked up the phone and we ended up talking for an hour!  So she’s sending me the book (she’s also at work on another book about bipolar disorder) but I don’t have much to say about it until I really check it out. She says I have to study my inhibitory amino acids and that I might be able to get off lithium someday by regulating my system with large doses of magnesium, zinc, and vitamin C. I’m sticking with the straight drug paradigm for now cause it seems to be working really well for me, but I’m definitely pretty excited about the prospect of learning about alternative treatments.