BY CARL A, HAMMERSCHLAG, M,D,, HARPER & ROW, 1988,
"These are the stories I have lived...Listen to the stories. They are not mine. I just heard them." A humble beginning from this psychiatrist to the Navajo--"A wand'ring minstrel I, a thing of shreds and tatters..."
Now, telling a story is no easy matter. When you leave the oral tradition and move into print, a good story tends to become a history, an account, a report, a lesson, a biography, a chronicle, a confession. A story speaks to the right brain, not to the left. A good story has no moral at the end.
Here are some good storytellers: Buddy Hackett, Studs Terkel, the Elohist
of Genesis, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Stanley Kubrick, Martin Buber, Art Spiegelman
(Maus), Myron Cohen. Hmmm...all Jews. Letís hear it for the goyim:
Idris Shah, Jean Shepherd,
William Blatty, Thomas Mann, Carlos Amantea, D.M. Thomas.
Here are some bad storytellers: Sergeant Joe Friday, the Yawhist of Genesis, Aesop, Julius Caesar, Carl Hammerschlag. Hammerschlag entered the Indian Health Service after his medical internship to avoid the draft. Overwhelmed and helpless, he returned East to study psychiatry. Losing the battle with the Freudian estadlishment at Yale, he returned to the Southwest to heal and be healed.
The stories of his patients are good ones. He accepts their anger, their pain, even their hopelessness without question. Wisely, he says, "Storytelling is important to my patients. It is what psychiatry is all about; you listen to people tell their stories, and you tell yours."
But the book is less about the healing of his patients. The stories are too often vehicles to tell of his own healing, or attempts at it, and then the stories turn into narratives, sermons, and lessons.
His conventional therapists are not the kind you would meet at a psychiatric convention. He calls a New York psychiatrist an insensitive incompetent fraud, and tells him that he could strangle him. The psychiatrist invites him to do so, handing him a towel. He strangles the psychiatrist to the point of cyanosis. Milton Erickson, a desert guru, throws a rock at his genitals. The rock turns out to be foam rubber. "Not everything you see is what you see it as," chortles the Viking joker. I am not making this up.)
And so, the Eastern Jewish psychiatrist turns to the Indian for healing. He drinks peyote in ceremonial worship, and has vomiting and visions. He spends the High Holidays not in a New York shvitz (steam bath), but in a Navajo sweat lodge, recalling his desert ancestry, presumably Sinai, not Arizona.
Our mobility and our options in life can be a curse. "You can be anything
you want, do anything, go anywhere," our parents tell us. Even the
Army promises, ďBe all that you can be.Ē But can an orchid from New York
find roots amidst the sujaro of the
Southwestern desert. Do orchids have roots at all?
Looming in the mists of Europe is the image of Dr. Hammerschlag's father, but whether he followed his father's path or did battle with him, we don't know. That would be a story. Instead, the author tells of his encounters with other mentors: Brave Buffalo, Herbert Talaheftewa, Santiago Rosetta.
Tell us your story, Carl. Youíll never make it as an Indian. Your Indian stories are bubbe meises (grandmotherís tales). When the Indians chant, "Oy, oy, oy," itís not Yiddish. We await your dance.