This weekend I attended a meeting sponsored by Deena Metzger in Topanga Canyon, California, called Medicine at a Crossroads. The meeting was smaller than the Integrative Mental Health Conference I attended last week by an order of magnitude, but was full of the same types of professionals and non-professionals psychiatrists, family doctors, nurses, psychologists, other kinds of psychotherapists, body workers, energy healers, and concerned artists, teachers, actors, environmental activitists, and more. As smaller as the meeting was, so was the scenery better. I'm sure I've seen those hills before in the opening of the TV series M*A*S*H. They were beautiful and green, since the rainy season has not completely ended in Southern California. The only eyesore in site was the house that Alberto Villoldo built across the canyon, which was too large and took off the entire top of a mountain that was still naked all around it. To each his own, I suppose.
Of also great charm was Froggy's Topanga Canyon Fish House, which I encountered while out for a run. I wondered to my partner if Froggy kept his place in a state of funky disrepair because it was good for business or because business wasn't good. We looked inside at the state of the interior and decided it was good for business. Each morning except for Easter Sunday we had breakfast at Pat Burke's Topanga Canyon Grill and admired the signed celebrity photos on the wall. Our favorite, of course, was Paul McCartney and the other members of Wings. Pat told us about a young woman who sat at the counter one morning and said to her friend, "Did you know that Paul McCartney was in another band before Wings?" Her friend hadn't heard that. We were also impressed with Matt Dillon's photo, as well as many other starlets that I pretended to know, but didn't.
We stayed in a wonderful cabin built around an old trailer in the funky style characterizing much of Topanga Canyon from the 70s, in sharp distinction to the modern McMansions built today with Corvettes in their driveways (we saw one of those nearby) and thoroughbred horses in the paddocks. Our host had three yurts, but the City made her tear down two of them since a neighbor from across the canyon had spied them with binoculars and decided that a cult was invading and needed to be stopped. One yurt remained to house our meeting. All the heat was wood, also charming.
In the midst of this funk and charm, we came together with the same purpose as we had one week earlier in the luxury and opulence of the Arizona Biltmore Hotel to proclaim that health care in this country (and especially mental health care) is not working and must be changed. Deena and I were in agreement that the movement must be grassroots, that people must take charge of their health care at every corner and intersection, literally, at every crossroads. A physician was present who was helping people to do that. Dr. Glenn Lopez is a marvellous UCLA physician who runs a mobile clinic in the poor sections of Los Angeles. He receives his funding from hospitals who want him to keep the uninsured and the illegal aliens out of their emergency rooms. He manages to accomplish that by providing anyone who wishes care with help from a mobile RV that's equiped as a medical office. All comers served, no questions asked. The service is win-win. The community benefits, the patients benefits, and the funders benefit, because they were losing enormous amounts of money providing routine services to the under- and uninsured, and, also, wasting money from people waiting until the problem was a crisis and then coming to the emergency room, rather than preventively managing the problem in the early phases. Glenn had started waiting room talking circles in which people could help each other manage their illness while waiting for their appointment. I was touched when he said that I had inspired him to do this with my stories of waiting room talking circles, which I have written about and found incredibly effective and helpful. Glenn was also starting community walking programs for diabetes prevention and management which reminded me of those we did in Pittsburgh in the 90s and those that a colleage is currently doing in Charleston, West Virginia, under the banner, West Virginia Walks.
Also present at the meeting was J'Shams Abdul-Mu'min and Maryanne Galindo, who are working in South Central Los Angeles with SANBI (Success: A New Beginning, Inc.), a youth leadership training project, in which young people are collecting 1,000 stories from elders on behalf of preserving history, culture. Their aim is also to heal individual and community wounds related to the violence happening in that community for years. I was especially impressed with J'Shams' understanding that genuine listening is what really matters and at his capacity to do so. From an entertainment perspective, his capacity to creatively use the word "muthah fuckah" was legion. One had to love him if only for that.
Deena and her husband, Michael Ortiz Hill, have been hosting Dare and various councils on their property on top of a mountain in Topanga for years. They brought the vision of healing circles at every crossroads, which I share. So what is this vision?