American Breakdown

Our Ailing Country, My Body’s Revolt, and the 19th-Century Woman Who Brought Me Back to Life

About American Breakdown

All told, I was sick for a quarter of a century. Just launching into adulthood when the illness first struck, I was 21 years old and bedridden—an old lady in a young woman’s body. The fatigue felled me. I couldn’t hold a book. Talking on the phone wiped me out. Walking a block to the corner store wrecked me. I took baths rather than stand in the shower. I stopped brushing my teeth at night.

I felt utterly alone until the day I stumbled upon Jean Strouse’s 1980 biography of Alice James—the chronically ill sister of the writer Henry James and the psychologist William James—and felt I had met my kindred spirit. Why was I sick? Why was she? A doctor told me I was “just depressed,” and researchers called Alice’s illness “fashionable.” But was it really so simple? Were these illnesses simply the psychosomatic expressions of conflicted psyches? Or was there something more to the story?

5 Questions from Orion’s Scott Gast

  “I started out researching an article about mammograms, and in the process I uncovered all of this other mind-blowing information about Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the pink ribbon campaign. I even created a file called ‘Hypocrisy, Doublespeak, and Conflicts of Interest.’ Later, that file got subdivided into three separate files: ‘Monsanto,’ ‘American Cancer Society,’ and ‘Pinkwashing.’ Read more…

One Canary Sings – And Writes!

Funny how things happen sometimes. At Wildbranch, a 5-day writing workshop for environmental writers sponsored by Orion magazine, as I returned from a workshop about electronic media publication, I found a Facebook message from Amanda Sears, Associate Director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center. She had seen the photograph that I had “shared” from Orion‘s Facebook page… me wearing my…

Little Lead Hens

Soil isn’t generally the first thing people think about when they get chickens, but one day, as I was envisioning our future gardens, it dawned on me that now that we had finally convinced the bank to buy us a house, now that I could finally keep a backyard flock, there might be one more thing that could come between me and my dream of fresh organic eggs: Lead.