How to approach my videos of Appalachia in the year of the pandemic…

Listen to this text in Majo’s voice (10″):

Last April, at age 73, I fled my subsidized senior apartment building in Asheville, North Carolina to prevent being quarantined in that building.

I spent the next week living out of my car in Asheville. I posted information about the events of that week on Facebook. At the end of that week, a good friend of mine – concerned about me from what she was seeing about me on Facebook – texted me that she had a little walk-in basement apartment in her own home out in the mountains, and that I should come out there to get away from the mean streets of pandemic Asheville.

My little dog Panchita and I spent six weeks out at Petula’s house in the mountains. (I have given her the name “Petula” to protect her privacy.)

On day 2 out in the mountains, I realized why I had been so unhappy in Asheville. “I was meant to be living out in the mountains all along!”

The power of nature out in the Appalachian Mountains transformed me – and my little chihuahua – in the next few weeks.

When it was time to leave my friend’s home, Pancho and I pushed farther north – in search of a new home. We first went to Marshall, NC, a very sweet town nestled on the beautiful French Broad River – full of artists displaced by the steeply-rising studio rents in boom-town Asheville.

Pancho the wonder-Chihuahua

From there, we pushed further north to Burnsville and Bakersville – then over the sacred Roan Mountain to the sleepy little town of Roan Mountain, Tennessee.

Several people now have told me that when I finally settle somewhere out in the north country, I should consider the Toe River area and the Celo community. I’ve got a hunch that’s going to turn out to be accurate.

Four months before the Covid hit America, I had left my “retirement job” as a grocery store cashier to pursue my creative vision of an innovative consulting and coaching practice – that would be driven equally by my lifelong passions of storytelling and dance.

The pandemic made sure that there was no chance of getting this new business off the ground. My Social Security check never covers our expenses for the whole month – and often we have spent the second half of the month being quite poor.

I worked for years in a black VA hospital, raised a black son – and have been generally sculpted to have a special relationship with people of color. The “summer of racial reckoning” has figured heavily in my experience of the last eight months.

Driving a big, very old van which we park in random places has naturally drawn the attention of local police, in every town where we have spent much time. I have had almost entirely great experiences with police.

I never can know how much of that very positive experience with police has to do with me being white, but I have yet to encounter a country cop who I could spot as being more racist than the rest of us white people. I have had extraordinary conversations with several police officers about the dialectic between laws or rules and personal freedom.

And then there has been the constant specter of our 45th president, that has cast such a giant shadow on our country.

One of my central experiences has been to fall in love with the people of Appalachia – who are mostly not unusually racist, but suffer from lack of experience with diversity. Although they mostly support our current president, they are not stupid at all – but suffer from a radical lack of good information.

The serious lack of good broadband coverage in rural America is a very significant civil rights issue of our time. (I have spent extraordinary amounts of time hunting for a good Wi-Fi signal.)

Along the way, a generous $5000 grant from a good friend allowed me to move up from the little Suzuki mini SUV – which had been a torture chamber to attempt to sleep in, and after two months of very little sleep had left me toxically exhausted – to a very old Ford Econoline camper van.

I dubbed my cargo truck Narwal the Whale in honor of her 6000 pound weight – and “A turning radius like an ocean liner”.

Narwal has been a central figure in our journey. She has had a world of electrical problems and tends to run out of gas because of a broken gas gauge.

But she has a bed, she is virtually indestructible, she has gotten us down roads that she never should have – and even though she has sometimes gotten stuck, we have always gotten out before the end of the day.

Narwal the Whale – ’88 Ford Econoline camper van

At this point, we are taking shelter for the winter – out of our camper van – in a little apartment way up in the mountains north of Spruce Pine, North Carolina. But we are committed to our mobile lifestyle and will go back out on the open road in Narwal the Whale come spring. I love asking my little dog Pancho, at the beginning of each day, “Where shall we live tomorrow?”

I started our adventure as a writer. I guess I am still a writer, but I have also morphed into a videographer. Most of my writing these days consists of my spontaneous observations while I am videotaping the towns and countryside of the Appalachian mountains.

At this point, I have well upwards of 200 videos – which I cherish as documentation of our journey of personal transformation – and many of which I think may be helpful to other people.

I have learned a lot out in these mountains, especially about myself and my dog – but my background as a psychologist and a management consultant has caused me to muse about topics including “the demise of humanistic capitalism in America”, “the ongoing rape of Appalachia”, “the systematic oppression of homeless people”, “why alpha dogs make bad cops and women make good ones” and other topics.

My personal background includes a lifelong passion for and commitment to personal growth and healing – and 30 years of being misdiagnosed as having bipolar disorder, and being heavily drugged with psychotropic medications during that whole period.

You will hear in many of these videos how totally thrilled I am to be drug-free and fully alive. And I do have many things to say about “the problem of pain”.

I now believe that most of psychology and psychiatry can be boiled down to “What do we do with our human pain?” Philosophers have mused about this question through the ages – and the Buddha’s first principle is that “life is suffering”.

I have many pointed things to say about what I consider to be an out-of-control psychiatry industry.

Several of my posts deal with an event that occurred last June back in Asheville. I had been punched in the face and reported to the big, newly-“for-profit” hospital – asking to be treated for a possible concussion and/or broken nose. I also reported that “I think I’m kind of delirious.”

The ER intake team saw in my records my background of psych hospitalizations and locked me up on a psych unit. They never treated me for a concussion or a broken nose – both of which their own ER later confirmed that I had. My discharge summary from the hospital, after 48 hours, made no mention of any medical complaints.

In this post I offer two videos;

The first video suggests ideas about how to make fruitful use of my videos.

I shot the second video about 15 minutes after the first one. It deals with the topic of “good things and bad things”. It flows naturally out of that first video, because the first video ends with me discovering that I have left my car lights on and that my battery is dead.

One might think that having a broken-down car would be a bad thing, but maybe not….

How to watch these videos (13″):

Good things and bad things (10″):

Covid Day 15, Back in Spruce Pine

Sunday night I slept 15 hours. I got up for about an hour, then went back to bed and slept two more hours.

I woke in a panic about my dog. “My landlord hates my dog. Her big rough farm dog hates my dog. I’ve been trying to put in plans for someone to come up from Asheville to get Pancho if I die, but I’m not trusting those plans to be solid. I have to get out of here.”

I went from being so weak I could not walk to the bathroom and was peeing in a jar next to the bed – to spending the next eight hours moving out of my apartment and driving down to Spruce Pine, where my friend had reserved a motel room.

3 p.m. Dancing in the park

Is it not really Governor Cuomo’s fault? No – it’s ours.

I was a big fan of Gov. Cuomo early in the pandemic, but at the end of the day is he not an American oligarch? Does he not represent one of the great American patriarchal families?

Is that not maybe the root of the problem? These folks are used to having power. Propositioning a staff member feels to them like just one of the perks of their position.

If we, the American public, keep going to our comfort zones and electing people who are household names, we will keep getting leaders who casually abuse power and don’t really get it what it’s like for the little guy.

Covid Day 13, Sun., 2/28/21+

8:50 a.m.

“Life – you take it.”

11:30 a.m. – Top of the old road

11 a.m., half-mile down road

11:06 a.m. – by the stream

12:29 – at the foot of the mountain

11 p. m. – Still dancing

Today’s FB memory: on 2/27/13, I started a new job – back in my old field of “mental health”! Yay! (Read on…)

2/27/13 – my Facebook post (which Facebook very helpfully reminded me of today)

“I start a new job on Friday! Full-time at Family Preservation Services (a wonderful agency) in their adult day program (a wonderful program). I’m totally psyched! It’s been a good run at Greenlife, but after almost two years I’m very ready to bless it and let it go – and go back to my old field of counseling, where I can use more of my rifts.”

What a amazing memory, from my current perspective (2/27/21).

I left that job after just about two weeks, saying that I was too depressed to be able to do the complicated mental work.

Sure! The “complicated mental work” was to organize and document the psych evaluations of new patients.

As a clinical psychologist myself, I probably could have actually performed those psych evaluations better than the person who did them.

But my karma in this lifetime is to do battle with the entire process of judging and labeling people, especially by the psychiatric profession.

Hear the dialogue at NPR’s 1A program on January 10 (not even two months ago) about “mental health”, in which I twice – calling in to the show – try to shift the conversation away from giving labels to people.

At Family Preservation Services, I was not overwhelmed by writing up those diagnostic evaluations because it was too complicated for me. My brain was resisting that work because it was exactly what I am here to try to stop.

At that point, I was still in the throes of believing that I myself had a psychiatric disorder. I had recently gone through of solid week of training to be a “peer support specialist”. I was in that job because I was “someone with a psychiatric problem” trying to help “other people with psychiatric problems”.

I didn’t know then that I was actually there to let the animals out of the zoo cages. I was there to open the jails and say “Run free my friends!”

(Last summer, my very young friend Sam rode with me and Pancho in our van – Narwal the Whale – for 10 days. When she happened on us, she was homeless and in a world of trouble. She did better with us every day. “Sam, wherever you are, I still love you and promise to come looking for you.”)

Last summer, the first night that my friend Sam rode in the van with us, we “somehow ended up“ parked in that parking lot – where I worked for Family Preservation Services and where I also, during another period, attended depression and bipolar support meetings in a Family Preservation Services conference room.

Sam had told me very clearly earlier that night last summer that “I do not dance”.

So when she and I ended up – at three in the morning – dancing in the moonlight in that parking lot, it was one of the great karmic triumphs of my life.

Struggling with the Covid?

To listen to me reading the text from this post click on this link:

Folks –

I have been struggling with some health issue – that I think is probably the Covid virus – for about 12 days now.

On Day 5, last Friday, I was so sick – and kind of delirious – that I started to put my affairs in order, making plans for my dog, etc.

Then, on Saturday and Sunday, I made a miraculous recovery and thought I was in the clear. Each day after that, I improved a little bit – but stayed clearly sick. Yesterday I got concerned that I wasn’t seeing very clearly.

This morning, I seemed OK for about an hour – then got smacked down with a wave of weakness and dizziness that put me back in bed, coming in and out of consciousness.

After a couple of hours, I got up – and got progressively (a little) better over the course of the day. Then tonight my lungs took a big hit – first time I have had any symptoms there.

That does have me pretty worried. The people who are closest to me know that I am at a very peaceful place in my life – really complete, especially grateful for the 20 months since I had a life-changing spiritual experience on June 26, 2019.

My blog offers a video journal of the last year and a half of my life. The very first post in the blog summarizes that story. (Click the link at the very top of the post to hear me read the post to you – that’s more fun.)

In case I do actually slide off the board, please remember:

1) From my “waking up” experience on June 26, 2019, I have had one hell of a ride. By far the most exciting time ever. Happy almost all the time – even in the most difficult of circumstances.

2) my blog is both my journal and my legacy.

There are probably 200 more videos in my phone. I talked with a friend about maybe somebody fishing them out. But the most crucial ones are already up there.

3) I am right now at the most peaceful place with Terry that I have been for a long time. He loves the roles of husband and father – and is doing a heroic job of taking care of his family during the pandemic. I am very proud of him.

4) If I go now, I leave with at least a couple of agendas incomplete:

I wanted to sue Mission Hospital and the American psychiatric Association. My blog post about mental health may still be useful somehow somewhere.

I wanted to get laid one last time.

But my message again and again from life – and from my friend Sam, who rode in the van for 10 days and who I loved as much almost as my son (4 or more videos about her, maybe only one posted – in the post about rehab programs):

The last instruction I gave her as she went into the convenience store to buy us a pack of cigarettes was “Only non-additive cigarettes. Fork over the seven dollars for American Spirits if you have to.”

When she returned with some red package that I did not recognize, I said in playful disgust,

“Oh God – menthol too. I forgot that you’re a menthol smoker.”

She gave me the sassiest, cutest little look and said just as playfully,

“You can’t always get what you want.”

I laughed really, really hard. She nailed that line better than the Rolling Stones.


Majo John

P.S. feel free to email me this weekend.

I may even bounce back and be here next week. This would not be the first time that the rumors in my head of my impending death were greatly exaggerated.

Framing Brittney Spears – and other talented girl “commodities”

Two weeks ago, I knew like nuthin’ about online abuse of girl celebrities. Now, thanks to NPR’s shows 1A and On the Media, I’m ready to do battle for these girls.

I first heard of the phenomenon of these girl celebrities being treated like property on NPR’s On the Media:

Then, yesterday, NPR’s 1A show dove deep into the same topic.

In this segment, I was especially impressed with Rebecca Black. This young woman had a big hit in 2011 with her song Friday.

Despite that song’s fun lyrics and infectious beat – and Rebecca’s tender years (13!) – she was subjected to tremendous online abuse by both professional music critics and hordes of would-be critics wielding the power of the social media Comment.

Well, Rebecca – with lots of support from her family – survived all that, learned from it and is back in black.

Her remix of that original song is a thumb-in-your-eye triumph, with sassy touches she could not have pulled off at age 13, like the line “It’s the fucking weekend, people!”

The song itself is wonderful: buoyant, celebratory and so-danceable – perfect Friday music.

But the music video is the real master class on busting ass. Cartoon visuals make it absolutely clear that Rebecca Black is back – large and in charge. It’s a blast!

When I tweeted about all this yesterday, I looked up Rebecca’s Twitter handle: @MsRebeccaBlack. A vulnerable 13-year-old girl no longer!

Based on all these stories of young women fighting back against a corporate (and sometimes patriarchal family) establishment intent on using their talent (and often their sexuality) for others’ profit, I started creating a “Girl power!” playlist. I found some of these songs – and some of them were recommendations from Pandora.