Justin Wi.

This time, when I arrived at Carlisle House, I found Mark instantly, and after a few pregnant moments of me wracking my brain for his name, we started talking a little about how our respective weeks went. After a smoke break he came back in and we went back into the Recovery room and played pool (they moved the table). We played a quick game, and he won so I subbed out and a man named Van played against Mark next. When Mark won again he went out for another smoke break, so I decided to walk around. I met a woman named Martha and we talked about how cold it had gotten overnight. Then I went over to the Christmas tree they were setting up and talked a little with another woman, Kathy, who had made the angel on the top of the tree. I helped Peanut, one of the more prominent members at the House, put up a garland, and then I helped her open up a tub of popcorn. After that I sat down at the arts and crafts table with Kathy and started painting a sun catcher shaped like a moon with stars around it. I found out after talking with her for a good fifteen minutes or so that she had just had her gallbladder removed, and was still healing from the surgery, which was on November 3rd. Martha sat down with us and started telling us about her childhood, and how she had gotten sent to an institution for not doing as she was told, acting out in school and at home, and not taking her pills. She said that she didn’t like her pills so they sent her away, but that it was her fault nonetheless. Peanut joined us for a while, chatting about nieces and nephews and children and the like. Then they went outside for a cigarette, and a woman named Peggy sat down next to me. She told me that I looked like some of her family members. She then told me about her trip to Broadway with her mother, and then by that time Kathy and Martha were back. At this point a girl, who looked to be about my age and did not provide me with her name upon sitting down with us at the table, started talking. She had a lovely, bubbly personality, and talked about her family members at great length, and her days in high school, and her personal and familial medical history as spurred on by talk of Martha’s childhood and Kathy’s surgery. In this conversation, the topic of normalcy was brought up, at which point numerous people all throughout the House spun into joyous reverie about the subjectiveness, uselessness, and practical imperfection of application of the idea of normalcy. It eventually was worked into a unanimous fervor or rejection for the idea, and climaxed with resounding cries of “Yeah! What is normal anyway!” Upon the completion of my sun chime, and other small talk about memory and where we all hailed from, my partners informed me it was time to go, so I said my good-byes and went home.

Like last time, I enjoyed myself while I was at the House. The people there are real; the subtext is non-existent. The atmosphere this time was much more relaxed and jovial than last time, I would assume because there wasn’t any meeting and they were starting to catch some of the Holiday Spirit after putting up their Christmas tree and doing some decorating. For a reason I have yet to discern, perhaps it was just the atmosphere, I was getting the slightest case of euphoria while I was doing the arts and crafts, laughing and getting slightly dizzy and joking around with the people there. The entire mood was just overwhelmingly uplifting. One of the most joyous moments, and by far one of the most memorable, was when the entire House burst out into choruses of “Yeah, what is normal!” It was as if they were challenging society, taunting everyone they’d ever met, to dare them to say something negative. It was impossible to not be in a good mood. Overall, this visit was much better than the first. There were more people there this time, and for some reason everybody seemed more social, so the conversation was plentiful and pleasant. I was feeling definitively more positive and energized when I left in comparison to when I arrived.

At the point in my visit when the “What is normal!” cries broke out I was too overcome initially by the joy and simultaneous beauty of the moment to analyze it, but when I reflected upon it later I was reminded of “Extraordinary Bodies” when Garland Thomson asserts, “Moreover, such culturally generated and perpetuated standards as “beauty,” “independence,” “fitness,” “competence,” and “normalcy” exclude and disable many human bodies while validating and affirming others” (Garland Thomson 7). I began to think heavily on the matter, and the true gravity of the statement set in. By my view of what I would like normal to actually be, these people fit. They were kind, pleasant, happy, real. There wasn’t any of the usual sneaking social deviousness that many of the people I have encountered throughout my life had. They were purely, simply, pleasant and happy that we were sitting where we were, doing what we were, having a conversation together. The common socially understood idea of “normal” does not apply to this group of people, however I would rather have them be considered the archetype for normalcy based on their actions than a majority of people I have met who fit the current definition.

Objective Description:
Jen Zoon and I went to the Carlisle House today (Tuesday November 29, 2005) for our first visit to the House since our orientation there. When we got inside we told Stephanie that we were there, and then we started to mingle. All the members I saw there today were people who I had not met before, so I introduced myself to a dozen or so people and then went into the television room to watch some TV with the members. I started talking to a member named Mark, and after a smoke break, he came into the game room with me and taught me how to play pool. Since I had never played pool before I just let him take the reigns and tell me how to play. He taught me how to set up the billiard balls in the triangle, how the game works in that one must get a high or low ball in a pocket and then stick to that variety of ball, that as long as you continue to get your balls in the pockets without scratching the cue you get to continue shooting, and that the objective is to get all your balls in and then the eight ball, but not the eight ball before all of your other balls are off the table or you lose. We played three games of pool, two of which he won and one that I won (only because he accidentally put the eight ball in before he cleared all his balls). Then it was time for the community forum meeting, which was a meeting where the staff and the members sit down together and talk out any grievances anyone has. Stephanie did a large amount of talking, since she seemed to have the most grievances of anyone there. They were apparently having problems with people cleaning up after themselves in the bathroom and kitchen, and they needed more help with chores from the members. The forum meeting lasted for roughly forty-five minutes to an hour, mostly having discussion about the responsibilities that the members have and who wants to do what on what day and things people needed to start doing so everyone could enjoy the House, and then they concluded with announcements about their upcoming Christmas events. After that I asked Mark if he wanted to play another game of pool, but he said he did not want to right now, so I thanked him for teaching me to play, told Stephanie that I was leaving, had a conversation with her about the community forum, and then Jen and I were on our way.

Subjective Description:
Mark and Jon, one of Mark’s friends who is also a member of Carlisle House, were just real, normal people. While I was learning to play pool there was no subtext of any kind, it was just learning to play pool without any “phony” business going on behind the scenes, which was quite refreshing. I would have expected the members to attempt to keep more of a distance from me, and there were some who did not especially want to engage, however Mark was totally willing to just shoot some pool and talk a little. It just felt like I was hanging out with someone having a little conversation and playing a game, no politics, no hostility, no social dominance. While we were watching television it was the same. It was just a group of people watching Star Trek and making small talk. During the community meeting was when things got antsy. I’m sure that some of the members felt like they were being talked down to, and in a few cases I would not disagree. Stephanie said that once in a while she has to have a talk with them in that tone, and I cannot tell her she is wrong since this was only my first real visit there and she is the expert, but some of the members began to walk around while she was talking, or roll their eyes when she said something about not letting members come as much if they refused to be involved. Mostly, though, they stayed silent, looked at the floor and waited for the meeting to be over. Two members offered their feelings on certain subjects, one of whom was adamant about others pitching in to help, but for the most part the mood stagnated and then dropped as a result of the nearly maternal “lecture.” Overall the visit was fun, and I learned a new skill, and I am looking forward to my next visit. Hopefully there will not be any more uneasy meetings.

While I was at Carlisle House I was reminded of Motherless Brooklyn. The people at Carlisle House are there because it has been determined that they have some kind of mental, emotional or learning disability that keeps them from working, and the goal is to rehabilitate the members so they can work. Everyone there is at a different level of recovery, but there were numerous members there who, if I had met them on the street or at the grocery store, I would have had no idea that they had any disability at all. They seemed to be totally normal, totally functional members of society. The only possible implications that Mark gave of having any disability was that he repeated one or two of the rules to me and he fanned himself a lot, but it was relatively hot in there anyway. Just like Lionel, who was a very smart man that was constantly aware of his surroundings and marginalized for his Tourette’s, many of the people there were engaged, talkative, sensible people who knew what they were talking about and were either very far along with their recovery, or their label was simply superficial. Mark knew what he was doing with that pool stick, and could play a mean game. He even got two balls in at once shooting from behind his back. He played me under the table, and I got the feeling that he had probably done it to others before. The people there were people just like everyone else, and although some of them may have larger obstacles to overcome than others, it was obvious to me that many of them were just as “with it” as I was, and just like Lionel, they were functional people who thought for themselves with obstacles much smaller than others made them out to be.

Before I went to Carlisle House, I had very little idea of who may be there. I understood that it would be people who had mental handicaps, mental illnesses, or learning disabilities, but I was not exactly sure what that meant. Having already dealt with people who have bipolar disorder, clinical depression and anxiety disorders I knew what to expect in some ways from anyone who may have those illnesses, but I was also relatively sure that there would not be too many people who were there because they had such severe anxiety disorders that they could not work. Thus, my preconceptions of those who would be there were limited. I really did not know what to expect for the most part. I expected that the people who had mental illnesses there would be deemed “functional” by modern psychological medicine since they are at Carlisle House and not in a residential institution, and I expected that most people would probably be civil with the possibility of a few exceptions, but beyond that I did not know what to anticipate.
Upon our arrival to Carlisle House we were greeted by Stephanie and Jack. Stephanie told us Jack was a member and employee, and that he would be taking us on the tour of the building. The first room we saw was the plant room, where they have all the plants that they take care of. They had many spider plants that they were preparing to take to a nursing home in town, as well as cacti, some succulents, and some African violets. Then he showed us the recovery room, where we would be meeting with Stephanie after the tour. Then he showed us the room where the free phone line is for anyone who would like to call in case they were feeling poorly, or needed someone to talk to about something, or even just needed to talk. Then he showed us the kitchen, which they use to serve lunch three to four times per week. Then we went out into the main area, where we met many of the members who come to the House. He showed us their game room where they have darts and billiards. We then got to see their computers, and then he showed us the TV room, which had a TV and some couches. He showed us their back porch, and then the tour was over so we went back to the Recovery Room. Stephanie told us about what the House was initially created for, and what the members do as employees there. After our orientation was finished we said our good-byes and left.
The people there were pretty much as I expected. For not having many preconceptions about what the people there would be like, they were relatively as I expected them to be. They were friendly, civil people who were slightly shy and overall very welcoming to us. Some people did not introduce themselves, but nobody was outwardly upset by our presence there.
I anticipate that I am going to learn a great deal from going to the Carlisle House. Since I do not have much experience with anyone who has a severe mental, emotional or learning disability, I anticipate that this will be a great learning experience where I am exposed to a part of society that I would not be exposed to otherwise.