Marilyn Monroe Recounts Her Harrowing Experience in a Psychiatric Ward (1961)


By the end of 1960, Marilyn Monroe was coming apart.

She spent much of that year shooting what would be her final completed movie – The Misfits (see a still from the trailer above). Arthur Miller penned the film, which is about a beautiful, fragile woman who falls in love with a much older man. The script was pretty clearly based on his own troubled marriage with Monroe. The production was by all accounts spectacularly punishing. Shot in the deserts of Nevada, the temperature on set would regularly climb north of 100 degrees. Director John Huston spent much of the shoot ragingly drunk. Star Clark Gable dropped dead from a heart attack less than a week after production wrapped. And Monroe watched as her husband, who was on set, fell in love with photographer Inge Morath. Never one blessed with confidence or a thick skin, Monroe retreated into a daze of prescription drugs. Monroe and Miller announced their divorce on November 11, 1960.

A few months later, the emotionally exhausted movie star was committed by her psychoanalyst Dr. Marianne Kris to the Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic in New York. Monroe thought she was going in for a rest cure. Instead, she was escorted to a padded cell. The four days she spent in the psych ward proved to be among the most distressing of her life.




In a riveting 6-page letter to her other shrink, Dr. Ralph Greenson, written soon after her release, she detailed her terrifying experience.

There was no empathy at Payne-Whitney -- it had a very bad effect -- they asked me after putting me in a "cell" (I mean cement blocks and all) for very disturbed depressed patients (except I felt I was in some kind of prison for a crime I hadn't committed. The inhumanity there I found archaic. They asked me why I wasn't happy there (everything was under lock and key; things like electric lights, dresser drawers, bathrooms, closets, bars concealed on the windows -- the doors have windows so patients can be visible all the time, also, the violence and markings still remain on the walls from former patients). I answered: "Well, I'd have to be nuts if I like it here.”

Monroe quickly became desperate.

I sat on the bed trying to figure if I was given this situation in an acting improvisation what would I do. So I figured, it's a squeaky wheel that gets the grease. I admit it was a loud squeak but I got the idea from a movie I made once called "Don't Bother to Knock". I picked up a light-weight chair and slammed it, and it was hard to do because I had never broken anything in my life -- against the glass intentionally. It took a lot of banging to get even a small piece of glass - so I went over with the glass concealed in my hand and sat quietly on the bed waiting for them to come in. They did, and I said to them "If you are going to treat me like a nut I'll act like a nut". I admit the next thing is corny but I really did it in the movie except it was with a razor blade. I indicated if they didn't let me out I would harm myself -- the furthest thing from my mind at that moment since you know Dr. Greenson I'm an actress and would never intentionally mark or mar myself. I'm just that vain.

During her four days there, she was subjected to forced baths and a complete loss of privacy and personal freedom. The more she sobbed and resisted, the more the doctors there thought she might actually be psychotic. Monroe’s second husband, Joe DiMaggio, rescued her by getting her released early, over the objections of the staff.

You can read the full letter (where she also talks about reading the letters of Sigmund Freud) over at Letters of Note. And while there, make sure you pick up a copy of the very elegant Letters of Note book.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in August 2015.

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The 430 Books in Marilyn Monroe’s Library: How Many Have You Read?

Marilyn Monroe Reads Joyce’s Ulysses at the Playground (1955)

Marilyn Monroe Reads Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (1952)

Marilyn Monroe Explains Relativity to Albert Einstein (in a Nicolas Roeg Movie)

Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

How to Focus: Five Talks Reveal the Secrets of Concentration

Disagree though we may about what's wrong with life in the 21st century, all of us — at least in the developed, high tech-saturated parts of the world — surely come together in lamenting our inability to focus. We keep hearing how distractions of all kinds, but especially those delivered by social media, fragment our attention into thousands of little pieces, preventing us from completing or even starting the kind of noble long-term endeavors undertaken by our ancestors. But even if that diagnosis is accurate, we might wonder, how does it all work? These five video talks offer not just insights into the nuts and bolts of attention, concentration, and focus, but suggestions about how we might tighten our own as well.

In "How to Get Your Brain to Focus," the TED Talk at the top of the post, Hyperfocus author Chris Bailey relates how his own life devolved into a morning-noon-night "series of screens," and what resulted when he did away with some of those screens and the distractions they unceasingly presented him — or rather, the overstimulation they inflicted on him: "We think that our brains are distracted," he says, "but they're overstimulated."




Reducing his own level of stimulation further still, he deliberately engaged in such low-stimulation (more commonly known as "boring") practices as reading iTunes' entire terms-and-conditions document (and not in graphic-novel form), waiting on hold with Air Canada's baggage department, counting the zeroes in pi, and finally just watching a clock.

Bailey found that, absent the frequent dopamine hits provided by his screens, his attention span grew and more ideas, plans, and thoughts about the future came to him. "We think that we need to fit more in," he says, but in reality "we're doing too much, so much that our mind never wanders." When we have nothing in particular to focus on, our mind finds its way into new territories: hence, he says, the fact that we so often get our best ideas in the shower. He references data indicating that these mental wanderings take us back into the past 12 percent of the time and remain in the present 28 percent of the time, but most often fast-forward into the future, a habit also explored by neuroscientist Amishi Jha in the TED Talk just above, "How to Tame Your Wandering Mind."

"Our mind is an exquisite time-traveling master," says Jha, "and we land in this mental time-travel mode of the past or the future very frequently. "And when this happens, when we mind-wander without an awareness that we're doing it, there are consequences. We make errors. We miss critical information, sometimes. And we have difficulty making decisions." In Jha's view, a wandering mind can be dangerous: she labels its "internal distraction" as one of the three factors, alongside external stress and distraction in the environment, that "diminishes attention's power." Her laboratory research has brought her to endorse the solution of "mindfulness practice," which "has to do with paying attention to our present-moment experience with awareness. And without any kind of emotional reactivity of what's happening," keeping our finger on the "play" button "to experience the moment-to-moment unfolding of our lives."

As a mindfulness practice, meditation does the trick for many, although precision shooting champion Christina Bengtsson recommends staring at leaves. "I focused on a beautiful autumn leaf playing in the wind," she says of her decisive shot in her TED Talk above. "Suddenly I am completely calm, and the world champion title was mine." That leaf, she says, "relieved me of distracting thoughts and made me focus," and the experience led her to come up with a broader theory. "We need to learn to notice disturbing thoughts and to distinguish them from not-disturbing thoughts," she says, a not-disturbing thought being one that "knocks out all the disturbing and worrying thoughts." In this framework, the thought of a leaf can drain the distracting power from all those nagging what-ifs about our goals and the future ahead.

"Focus is not about becoming something new or something better, but simply about functioning exactly as well as we already are," says Bengtsson, "and understanding that this is enough for both general happiness and great achievements." Among her other, non-leaf-related recommendations is to create a "not-to-do list," a form suited to a world "no longer about prioritizing, but about prioritizing away." The not-to-do list also gets a strong endorsement in "How to Focus Intensely," the Freedom in Thought animated video just above. After opening with an elaborate analogy about robots, boxes, and factory fires, it goes on to break down the key tradeoff of attention: on one side directed focus, "providing undivided attention while ignoring environmental stimuli," and on the other generalized focus, which does the opposite.

We human beings often don't make that tradeoff adeptly, and the reasons cited here include stress, engagement in tasks we dislike because they aren't inherently pleasurable (even when they promise pleasures later on, since the arrival of those pleasures can be uncertain), and the habit of short-term pleasure-seeking. Along with meditation and the not-to-do list come other featured strategies like actively placing boundaries on your media consumption, structuring your day with "blocks" of work separated by short breaks, and drawing up a priority list, all while adhering to the general ratio of spending 80 percent of your time on "activities that produce long-term pleasure" and 20 percent on "activities that produce short-term pleasure."

The Freedom in Thought video also recommends something called "deep work," a set of techniques defined by computer scientist Cal Newport in his book of the same name. But to do deep work as Newport himself does it requires that you take a step that may sound radical at first: quit social media. That imperative provides the title of Newport's TED Talk above, which explains the whys and hows of doing just that. He also deals with the common objections to the notion of quitting social media, framing social media itself as just another slot machine-like form of entertainment — with all the attendant psychological harms — that, because of its sheer commonness and easiness, can hardly be as vital to success in the 21st-century economy as it's so often claimed to be.

Newport explains that "what the market dismisses, for the most part, are activities that are easy to replicate and produce a small amount of value," i.e. what most of us spend our days doing on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. "It's instead going to reward the deep, concentrated work required to build real skills and apply those skills to produce things, like a craftsman, that are rare and are valuable." If you treat your attention with respect, he says, "when it comes time to work, you can actually do one thing after another, and do it with intensity, and intensity can be traded for time." When you train your mind away from distraction, in other words, you actually end up with more time to work with — an asset that even Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, both of whom famously credit their own success to focus, can't buy for themselves.

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Alan Watts Presents a 15-Minute Guided Meditation: A Time-Tested Way to Stop Thinking About Thinking

Listen to Wake Up to Your Life: Discovering the Buddhist Path of Attention by Ken McLeod

How to Take Advantage of Boredom, the Secret Ingredient of Creativity

Lynda Barry on How the Smartphone Is Endangering Three Ingredients of Creativity: Loneliness, Uncertainty & Boredom

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Sir Ian McKellen Reads Kurt Vonnegut’s Letter to High School Students: Make Art and “Make Your Soul Grow”

Author Kurt Vonnegut was possessed of a droll, unsentimental public speaking style. A son of Indianapolis, he never lost his Hoosier accent, despite lengthy stints in Cape Cod and New York City.

Actor Ian McKellen, on the other hand, exudes warmth. He’s a charmer who tells a story with a twinkle in his eye, altering his voice and facial expressions to heighten the effect. (Check out his Maggie Smith.) Vocal training has only enhanced his beautiful instrument. (He can make a tire repair manual sound like Shakespeare.)




These two lions may have come at their respective crafts from different angles, but Sir Ian did Vonnegut proud, above, as part of Letters Live, an ongoing celebration of the enduring power of literary correspondence.

The letter in question was penned the year before Vonnegut’s death, in reply to five students at a Jesuit high school in New York City, regretfully declining their invitation to visit.

Instead, he gave them two assignments.

One was fairly universal, the sort of thing one might encounter in a commencement address: make art and in so doing, learn about life, and yourself.

The other was more concrete:

Write a 6 line rhyming poem

Don’t show it or recite it to anyone.

Tear it up into little pieces

Discard the pieces in widely separated trash receptacles

Why?

A chance for Xavier High School’s all male student body to air romantic feelings without fear of  discovery or rejection?

Mayhaps, but the true purpose of the second assignment is encapsulated in the first—to “experience becoming” through a creative act.

This notion clearly strikes a chord with Sir Ian, 17 years younger than Vonnegut but by the time of the  2016 performance, closing in on the iguana-like age Vonnegut had been when he wrote the letter.

Should we attribute the quiver on the closing line to acting or genuine emotion on Sir Ian’s part?

Either way, it’s a lovely rendition.

November 5, 2006

Dear Xavier High School, and Ms. Lockwood, and Messrs Perin, McFeely, Batten, Maurer and Congiusta:

I thank you for your friendly letters. You sure know how to cheer up a really old geezer (84) in his sunset years. I don't make public appearances any more because I now resemble nothing so much as an iguana. 

What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what's inside you, to make your soul grow.

Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a funny or nice picture of Ms. Lockwood, and give it to her. Dance home after school, and sing in the shower and on and on. Make a face in your mashed potatoes. Pretend you're Count Dracula.

Here's an assignment for tonight, and I hope Ms. Lockwood will flunk you if you don't do it: Write a six line poem, about anything, but rhymed. No fair tennis without a net. Make it as good as you possibly can. But don't tell anybody what you're doing. Don't show it or recite it to anybody, not even your girlfriend or parents or whatever, or Ms. Lockwood. OK?

Tear it up into teeny-weeny pieces, and discard them into widely separated trash recepticals. You will find that you have already been gloriously rewarded for your poem. You have experienced becoming, learned a lot more about what's inside you, and you have made your soul grow.

God bless you all!

Kurt Vonnegut

(Ian McKellen’s other Letters Live performance is a fictional coming out letter from Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City, from a gay character to his Anita Bryant-supporting parents.)

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, September 9 for another season of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Watch an Animated Documentary About the Pioneering Journalist & Feminist Icon Nellie Bly

While no longer a household name, the trailblazing journalist Nellie Bly (1864-1922) is definitely an enduring American icon.

Her likeness has graced a postage stamp and a finger puppet.

Her life has been the subject of numerous books and a made-for-TV movie.

Some hundred years after its completion, her record-breaking, 72-day round-the-world trip inspired an episode of The American Experience, a puzzle-cum-boardgame, and a rollicking song by history fans the Deedle Deedle Dees.




And now? Meet Nellie Bly, cartoon action hero. (Heroine? Hard to say which honorific the opinionated and forward-thinking Bly, born in 1864, would prefer...)

Filmmaker Penny Lane's "Nellie Bly Makes the News," above, is not the first to recognize this sort of potential in the pioneering journalist, whose 151st birthday was celebrated with an animated Google Doodle and accompanying song by Karen O, but Lane (no relation to Lois, the fictional reporter modeled on you-know-who) wisely lets Bly speak for herself.

Not only that, she brings her into the studio for a 21st-century interview, in which an eye-rolling Bly describes the resistance she encountered from the male elite, who felt it was not just unseemly but impossible that a young woman should pursue the sort of journalistic career she envisioned for herself.

She also touches on some of her most famous journalistic stunts, such as the undercover stints in a New York City “insane asylum”and box-making factory that led to exposés and eventually, social reform.

Biographer Brooke Kroeger and brief glimpses of archival materials touch on some of the other highlights in Bly’s audacious, self-directed career.

The cartoon Bly’s hairdo and attire are period appropriate, but her vocal inflections, courtesy of broadcast reporter and voiceover artist Sammi Jo Francis, are closer in spirit to that of Broad City’s Ilana Glazer.

(Interesting to note, given Bly’s complaints about how prominently the one dress she took on her round the world trip featured in outside stories about that adventure, that dress is a preoccupation of The Appreciation of Booted Newswomen blog. Respectful as that site is, the focus there is definitely not on journalistic achievement.)

via Aeon

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, September 9 for another season of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Principles for Success by Entrepreneur & Investor Ray Dalio: A 30-Minute Animated Primer

Investor and hedge fund manager Ray Dalio has a net worth of $18.4 billion. That alone would persuade a great many of us to listen to any and all advice he has to offer, but unlike many multi-billionaires, he's also put no small amount of thought into just what advice to give and how to give it. One reason is that the pieces of advice he doles out publicly began as pieces of advice for himself, discovered through trial and error and refined into a set of principles. These he lays out in his book Principles: Life and Work, the content of which he has also distilled into the animated video above, "Principles for Success by Ray Dalio."

Dalio breaks down his own journey to success as the continued repetition of a five-step process:

  1. Know your goals and run after them
  2. Encounter the problems that stand in the way of getting to your goals
  3. Diagnose these problems to get at their root causes
  4. Design a plan to eliminate the problems
  5. Execute those designs

This framework already sets Dalio apart from other successful advice-givers, some of whom offer nothing more than broad platitudes about believing in yourself and never giving up hope, and others of whom fall back on cynical cracks about doing unto others before they do unto you. Dalio, for his part, endorses a mindset he calls "hyperrealism," the adoption of which demands putting the truth before all else. And the hyperrealist first examines the truth about himself, assessing as objectively as possible his weaknesses as well as his strengths and regularly drawing upon the perspectives of those who disagree with him.




Underlying Dalio's ideas about hyperrealism and success is a mechanistic conception of humanity, the economy, the world, indeed all reality: "Everything is a machine," as he starkly puts it. By this, he doesn't mean we should think of ourselves as pre-programmed robots, but that we can approach all of our choices as puzzles to be figured out. "Most everything happens over and over again in slightly different ways," he says, but most of us, with our viewpoints biased toward recent history and our "ego and blind spot barriers" that keep us from seeing the full picture, mistakenly regard the situations in which we find ourselves as unique, thus making them into more difficult problems than they are.

Of course, even if we embrace hyperrealism and develop ever more reliable strategies to surmount the obstacles that crop up along our chosen paths, we'll fail as often as we succeed. Dalio tells of his own grand humbling in the early 1980s when he bet everything on a depression that never came, and explains how the fallout taught him that "truth is the essential foundation for producing good outcomes." Even if we have no interest in doing what it takes to make $18.4 billion, we might still bear in mind the two principle-driven equations that Dalio provides — "Dreams + reality + determination = a successful life" and "Pain + reflection = progress" — along with his conviction that success requires not just knowing the truth of world, but the truth of ourselves as well.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Deliberate Practice: A Mindful & Methodical Way to Master Any Skill

Each and every day we eat, we sleep, we read, we brush our teeth. So why haven't we all become world-class masters of eating, sleeping, reading, and teeth-brushing? Most of us, if we're honest with ourselves, plateaued on those particular skills decades ago, despite never having missed our daily practice sessions. This should tell us something important about the difference between practicing an action and simply doing it a lot, a distinction at the heart of the concept of "deliberate practice." As the Sprouts video above explains it, deliberate practice "is a mindful and highly structured form of learning by doing," a "process of continued experimentation to first achieve mastery and eventually full automaticity of a specific skill."

Psychologist Anders Ericsson, the single figure most closely associated with deliberate practice, draws a distinction with what he calls naive practice: "Naive practice is people who just play games," and in so doing "just accumulate more experience." But in deliberate practice, "you actually pinpoint something you want to change. And once you have that specific goal of changing it, you will now engage in a practice activity that has a purpose of changing that."




As a post on deliberate practice at Farnam Street puts it, "great performers deconstruct elements of what they do into chunks they can practice. They get better at that aspect and move on to the next," often under the guidance of a teacher who can more clearly see their strengths and weaknesses in action.

"Most of the time we’re practicing we’re really doing activities in our comfort zone," says the Farnam Street post. "This doesn’t help us improve because we can already do these activities easily" — just as easily, perhaps, as we eat, sleep, read, and brush our teeth. But we also fail to improve when we operate at the other end of the spectrum, in the "panic zone" that "leaves us paralyzed as the activities are too difficult and we don’t know where to start. The only way to make progress is to operate in the learning zone, which are those activities that are just out of reach." As in every other area of life, what challenges us too much frustrates us and what challenges us too little bores us; only at just the right balance do we benefit.

But striking that balance presents challenges of its own, challenges that have ensured a readership for writings on the subject of how best to engage in deliberate practice by Ericsson as well as many others (such as writer-entrepreneur James Clear, whose beginner's guide to deliberate practice you can read online here). The video above on Ericsson's book Peak: How to Master Almost Anything explains his view of the goal of deliberate practice as to develop the kind of library of "mental representations" that masters of every discipline — golfers, doctors, guitarists, comedians, novelists — use to approach every situation that might arise. Developing those mental representations requires specific goals, intense periods of practice, immediate feedback during that practice, and above all, frequent discomfort. Everyone enjoys mastery once they attain it, but if you find yourself having too much fun on the way, consider the possibility that you're not practicing deliberately enough.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Winston Churchill Gets a Doctor’s Note to Drink “Unlimited” Alcohol in Prohibition America (1932)

churchill alcohol letter

In December 1931, having just embarked on a 40-stop lecture tour of the United States, Winston Churchill was running late to dine with financier Bernard Baruch on New York City’s Upper East Side. He hadn’t bothered to bring Baruch’s address, operating under the incorrect assumption that his friend was so distinguished a personage, any random cab-driving commoner would automatically recognize his building.

Such were the days before cell phones and Google Maps....




Eventually, Churchill bagged the cab, and shot out across 5th Avenue mid-block, thinking he would fare better on foot.

Instead, he was very nearly “squashed like a gooseberry” when he was struck by a car traveling about 35 miles an hour.

Churchill, who wasted no time peddling his memories of the accident and subsequent hospitalization to The Daily Mail, explained his miscalculation thusly:

In England we frequently cross roads along which fast traffic is moving in both directions. I did not think the task I set myself now either difficult or rash. But at this moment habit played me a deadly trick. I no sooner got out of the cab somewhere about the middle of the road and told the driver to wait than I instinctively turned my eyes to the left. About 200 yards away were the yellow headlights of an approaching car. I thought I had just time to cross the road before it arrived; and I started to do so in the prepossession—wholly unwarranted— that my only dangers were from the left.

Yeah, well, that’s why we paint the word “LOOK” in the crosswalk, pal, equipping the Os with left-leaning pupils for good measure.

Another cab ferried the wounded Churchill to Lenox Hill Hospital, where he identified himself as “Winston Churchill, a British Statesman” and was treated for a deep gash to the head, a fractured nose, fractured ribs, and severe shock.

“I do not wish to be hurt any more. Give me chloroform or something,” he directed, while waiting for the anesthetist.

After two weeks in the hospital, where he managed to develop pleurisy in addition to his injuries, Churchill and his family repaired to the Bahamas for some R&R.

It didn’t take long to feel the financial pinch of all those cancelled lecture dates, however. Six weeks after the accident, he resumed an abbreviated but still grueling 14-stop version of the tour, despite his fears that he would prove unfit.

Otto Pickhardt, Lenox Hill’s admitting physician came to the rescue by issuing Churchill the Get Out of Prohibition Free Pass, above. To wit:

…the post-accident convalescence of the Hon. Winston S. Churchill necessitates the use of alcoholic spirits especially at meal times. The quantity is naturally indefinite but the minimum requirements would be 250 cubic centimeters.

Perhaps this is what the eminent British Statesman meant by chloroform "or something"? No doubt he was relieved about those indefinite quantities. Cheers.

Read Churchill’s “My New York Misadventure” in its entirety here. You can also learn more by perusing this section of Martin Gilbert's biography, Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in May, 2016.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. She lives in New York City, some 30 blocks to the north of the scene of Churchill’s accident. Follow her @AyunHalliday

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