Monday, April 18, 2011

The Crumb Effect

Last night I had a dream where I went off medication. In my dream, I did so to loose weight. This morning I contemplated going off medication for a different reason. I would like to switch my medication to the less effective anti-psychotic Risperdal, only a couple of milligrams, what I was on when I created some of my favorite, early drawings. I simply cannot draw today like I could when I was on Risperdal. I would like to be on Risperdal so that in this creative frame of mind, I could design the plan for my large scale Adoration of the Magi.

Yesterday I went to church and again had more visions of details of this painting. Not much, just some ways that clothing would be designed. You have three kings and a woman saint, all high royalty and all wearing clothing that is over the top,- fun, fun, fun.

I would go off Geodone and Seroquil, go on a minimal dose of Risperdal, do the drawing, and then go back on the Geodone and Seroquil.

I'm afraid that once I lesson my medication I won't want to increase it again, and do the execution of the painting while on Risperdal too.

Trouble with Risperdal is that eventually I was hospitalized while on it. I remember a lot of energy, a lot of boughts of paranoia, and then crushing suicidal feelings around Christmas time that drove me into the hospital. But I lived on that minuscule dose of Risperdal for over a year. And while on it, I had the energy to run.

Of course I've not discussed any of this yet with my husband, not my therapist, nor my medication provider.

It would certainly add one more twist to the video documentary of the making of Adoration of the Magi.

To put everything on the line, to live only for, the making of one painting.

My minister said that at a certain age, around the end of the teen years, the youngsters want their life to have meaning. They want so desperately for their life to have meaning, that they see things in terms of life and death. Existence is so pregnant, so ripe, so immediate for them, that they ask the same question to the minister in different ways; what is the meaning of my life? No other age cares so much. I suppose since they ask this question of my minister, they want to know God and how God fits into their life, - I think they ask because they are feeling especially close or alienated from God.

When I was on Risperdal, making my drawings, I felt so alive. For instance, I have never had so many memories of walking in the sunshine as when I was on that drug or on no drugs at all. Of course now I walk in the sunshine. But the memories don't form. Bliss isn't present. Or at least it is a milder form. I believe psychosis is partially a spiritual state. Maybe it is all spiritual. That's why it is in psychosis that the demons come to visit. And they give you a taste of hell and damnation and lies. Psychosis lies, demons lie. I don't have to take drugs to derange my mental state and experience a high of creativity, all I have to do is change the medication I'm on and use something that doesn't work so good. On Risperdal, I'm closer to schizophrenia in its natural form. I'm closer to me in my natural form.

The Crumb Effect is my theory of what happens to a schizophrenic when they realize the horror of their disabled state, especially, when they compare themselves to others who do not suffer from a mental illness. The Crumb Effect is crushing self hatred that leads to self annihilation, suicide.

Robert Crumb is a successful comic book illustrator. My favorite art critic, Robert Hughes, in a documentary about Crumb calls him the end of the 20th's Century answer to Hieronymus Bosch. Hughes says that the beginning of the 20th Century simply didn't have anyone like Crumb or Bosch. Sex, depravity, the id and the unconscious mind revealed, society dissected, all this is to be found in Robert Crumb's LSD inspired comics. Of course there was Salvador Dali in the beginning of the 20th Century, but Hughes doesn't mention him - even Dali the surrealist doesn't dig as deep as Crumb. Or so the documentary would have us believe.

In the first ten minutes of the documentary "Crumb" Robert Crumb mentions his older brother Charles. Charles is the reason Robert started doing comics in the first place. Charles was the one in the family of five children who was obsessed with reading and making comics, and he organized his siblings into a comic book making factory. Robert and Charles would have a drawing exercise where Charles would start the comic panel with one character, and Robert would have to finish it off with another character. Robert felt very much like he was always following in Charles footsteps.

Robert became a very famous comic book maker, and Charles? Charles became a schizophrenic. The documentary camera goes into the house where Robert grew up and we meet Charles who now lives alone with his mother, indeed, Charles never left home after high school.

It is an odd home that Charles lives in. The shades are drawn and towels stuff the borders of the windows. Much furniture in the home is covered with sheets and blankets. I noticed that Charles's bed is a naked mattress with a blanket and without sheets. Piled against one wall in his bedroom is a mountain of books that Charles reads and re-reads. The home is neat and without clutter, but on the floor, in hallways or the middle of the living room, are bowls with food and water for the cats.

I first saw the documentary when it was playing in theaters in 1994. I had never before seen a schizophrenic on film who was so honest, so forthright, and such a nice man - someone who could laugh at himself. I had seen propaganda put out by mental health agencies where recovered schizophrenics flouted their achievements, but never before had I seen a schizophrenic admit, like Charles, that they took a shower about once every six weeks, that they had lost teeth and preferred to go toothless and not put in the artificial plate, and that they didn't work, couldn't work, and didn't much leave the house. Charles achieved everyday pretty much nothing. I had never seen a schizophrenic be so candid for the cameras. Charles was smart, took his medication because he felt crazy without it, and yet didn't seem doped up. But he obviously lived the most marginal of existences.

Robert Crumb claimed that Charles had never had sex. Robert showed us the early comic books that he worked on with Charles and how Charles's mental deterioration could be seen in his artwork. Charles drawings become increasingly bizarre in high school. For instance, all his characters develop wrinkles or twists to their forms, the text begins to take over the cartoon captions leaving little room for drawing, and finally, in a mere mockery of the written word, there are pages and pages of scribble that from afar look like handwriting but up close were mere lines on the page.

Robert Crumb is filmed while he does the duties that are the consequences of his fame. He has art shows, journalist interviews, and a photo session with scantily clad models, who all have their butts slapped, groped, and judged by Robert. Robert isn't sexually faithful to his wife and she isn't faithful to him. Robert claims that the only woman he loves is his eleven year old daughter Sophie. Even their relationship doesn't seem quite right, because when Robert kisses Sophie's cheek she wipes off the kiss with a look of disgust on her face.

Robert says that if he doesn't draw he gets suicidal, and then he thinks a moment, and admits that even while he draws he sometimes feels suicidal. Charles had tried to commit suicide when he was younger; he drank furniture polish.

The end of the film has some brief words of commentary, where are the characters now? Robert has exchanged a suitcase full of original sketches for a home in France and has moved there from California. And Charles? Charles one year after he was filmed committed suicide. When I learned this, I calculated that that was probably the time for the documentary to be assembled, edited, and released to the public. And I felt certain that if Charles had not been filmed he would still be alive. Robert gave away Charles's secrets, innocently, because Charles fascinated Robert. And Charles gave away his own secrets, the secret life of a person sick with schizophrenia, because while the camera was rolling, he was in a safe place, in his own home, with his brother, a person it was easy to be candid with. I don't think Charles realized that he was also being candid with the rest of America. And I think Charles saw the film, was horrified at being so outed, and killed himself. At one point Charles admits to Robert that he feels secretly in competition with Robert. Well, clearly Charles lost the competition. In suicide there is a strong feeling of self hatred. Did the documentary make Charles feel self loathing? I think so.

I'm giving my therapist a copy of "Crumb" tomorrow to watch. My therapist thinks that there is no way I can link, on what little I know about Charles's circumstance, the film to his death. But I do believe if that documentary hadn't been made Charles would still be alive.

Nobody talks in recovery or therapy about the shame felt by the schizophrenic. Almost I get the feeling that people with degrees in psychology think we are too sick to comprehend our plight. Is there for the very sick a dumbing down, or turning a blind eye to social cues and ways? I know I've read studies about the shame felt of the unemployed, in these bleak economic times, and how this leads to depression. Well, unemployment is but one facet of the syndrome of having a major mental disfigurement. Again and again in "Crumb" we look at Charles's deviation from the norm. If Charles watched the documentary, at that point we have the "Crumb Effect" - it is a schizophrenic seeing themselves compared to normal, it is a schizophrenic seeing themselves portrayed without anything hidden, without any place to hide.

I don't want to make a documentary on the creation of one big painting, The Adoration of the Magi, and then kill myself because I hate the truths that are revealed by the film.

There are many differences between me and Charles Crumb. The first is that I'm productive and do art every day. Charles had stopped making art. The second is that I'm in a marriage, and Charles was alone. And the third is that I've already gone public with a website and a blog. I'm used to confessing.

But I don't laugh at myself the way that Charles laughed at himself in the film.

And I think when Charles actually saw the film, he stopped laughing at himself. I think the film made him want to cry.

Charles couldn't handle the pressure of being exposed. Can I?


  1. Karen, I know it's tempting to mess with the medications, but I don't think it's wise. I think you're looking for a sort of quick fix and there isn't one. If you do change your medications, it's got to be gradually and under the supervision of your psychiatrist and therapist. It's a big deal to play around with body chemistry. Having said that, I do believe that our illness is more than just biochemical, that it is perhaps a spiritual imbalance of some sort. I'm just not sure.

    Psychosis, including suicidal feelings, is like an addiction. You need to work a program in order to stay psychologically sober. Focusing on the Crumb brothers is intellectually interesting, maybe even moving, but it is not helpful for someone like you who is an artist and has an illness and is very sensitive.

    I don't think I'm that unique for a person with schizophrenia. I've followed a certain basic program since my last breakdown 9 years ago and though I, too, have good and bad times, I still don't blame myself or others or the state of the world for my illness. You are a bright and talented individual first and foremost and no one can take that away from you, neither can your illness.

    What's not working for you is not anything outside of you, not the Crumb brother's story, not the way "society" views the mentally ill; it's you that's not working for you, it's the attitude that you defend. If you want good change in your life, in your work, then you need to gradually change the way you look at yourself and the change yourself first. I think you can do that.

    By the way, I'll be sending you a small care package tomorrow to try and cheer you up at bit,

    Love, Kate : )

  2. I was really affected by Charles' death too after watching Crumb. It really disturbed me.

  3. He killed himself before the film came out.

  4. I'm really late to this, but I think this is such a beautiful piece of writing. I hope you are well, wherever you're at in life.

  5. According the filmmaker, in this article, Charles Crumb never saw the movie...

    In addition, since the filmmaker really wanted Charles to be in the movie, and Robert didn't want the movie to be made, Robert reluctantly agreed to allow the making of the movie if Charles agreed to be in it. To his great surprise, Charles agreed to participate (thankfully for us) and Robert was stuck having to follow through on allowing the movie to be made.

  6. There is a cure for schizophrenia. You need a buffer at the heart. It's not strictly a mental illness AT ALL. It happens when boundaries within the psyche (object/subject) are broken. I'm not a psychologist. I'm a Buddhist.


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