Alzheimers, ALS, and Parkinson’s: I’ve Seen the Best Minds of My Parents’ Generation… Starving Hysterical Naked

I published a novel in 2017, which I had spent ten years writing. It began as just an exercise in creativity with no special agenda, but as I wrote Bits of String Too Small to Save, certain social issues became accidentally embedded in the plot.

It was really just a story about a ten-year-old girl named ElizabethAnn who dives from a doomed urban dystopia, No Oaks, through a portal into a wooded dystopia called Bumblegreen that isn’t much better off. Here, she must make a new home for herself and loved ones, but to do so she must save this world from itself by finding hidden magicians who are the only force that can counteract a certain technological force dooming the beautiful woodland to ruin.

In the process, ElizabethAnn meets thirteen-year-old Queen Dahlia, the monarch of this land, who is just as confused as anyone as to how to eradicate a deadly blight while the technological cure for the initial disease created even bigger, ever-escalating problems in health, economics, politics, and culture, soon to result in her own overthrow. Meanwhile, the girls are fun, the story is madcap and silly. It’s full of talking animals and tree-top adventures and magical dollhouses and gangs of evil butterflies and all sorts of enchanting phenomena that keep it light and fun and adventuresome. I even had the novel whimsically illustrated by the brilliant Philip Harris.

Looking deeper: an allegory about technology’s inherent lack of conscience

Setting aside young ElizabethAnn and Queen Dahlia’s playful coming-of-age stories, which drive the humor and charm of the story, you’ll find a deeper theme exploring the ways technology that helps us can eventually come to own us. Our use of various substances initially designed to help, such as agricultural chemicals, becomes a dependence as such technology gives us immediate gratification, a drug-like addiction. 

In Bits of String too Small to Save, an initial environmental problem needs a solution, and a wacky technology is invented to solve it. This seems to work so well that the old ways and wisdoms, the cooperative and balanced viewpoints of the past, are driven underground. But this technology has side effects. So, more technological innovations are invented to solve those problems. But this process continues until every cure causes yet another disease. In the humorous context of the story, mothers become allergic to their own babies, so technology is invented that can turn monkeys into surrogate parents for human babies. Meanwhile, forest animals that consume chemically enhanced monkey meat get a disease that turns them human for days at a time, bringing on the great trauma of having to reason, learn, and feel outside of the pleasures of pure animal instinct— driving mad both animals and humans alike.

Bumblegreen’s population comes to live in a limbo-land of fear and confusion, where the very fabric of society is torn as individuals and cultures blame one another for this once-pleasant land’s transformation into a morbid dystopia. The now human-like monkeys gain political power, preventing the scientist who created them from stopping the program that provides them with human children to raise. The only way to stop the power of the monkey tribunal now is for an outsider like ElizabethAnn to step in and find the magicians who hold the ancient ways. But she can only succeed with Queen Dahlia, the keeper of modernity, by her side, cooperating to bring Bumblegreen into a new future that blends the old ways with new, learning not to surrender the power of her rule to technology, for while this force has a lot of power, it will never have a conscience.

 Naturally, our heroines ElizabethAnn and Queen Dahlia save the day by unearthing the magicians who can bring back the old ways and tame the technological craze that now kills instead of saves. The story’s climax is rife with silly situations, absurd transformations, unlikely love affairs, and madcap races against time. But at the heart of this humorous, engaging, and touching tale is an allegory for the world we live in.

But as I wrote this book over the course of ten years, I had no idea what I was doing. I thought I was just having fun. But a series of recent events have made abundantly clear the real reason behind my need to write this wacky novel so many years ago.

How A Series of Freaky Events Made me see that Silly Novel in a New Light … in Thailand, of all Places

In 2012, my father died of a neurological disease called ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). In the same decade, my aunt was diagnosed with another neurological disease: Alzheimer’s. I recently made a close friend with a third neurological disease, Parkinson’s, completing my awareness of a disturbing trifecta of modern ailments with no known causes. However, these three diseases and their occurrences in my life still seemed unrelated, until this year.

Seemingly by happenstance, I was drawn to Studio 88, in Thailand, to write something about pollution —but what? I still had no awareness that the tragic health losses my family and friends have been experiencing  for decades were all tied to pollution.  Yet here, in Thailand, in my extensive research, I discovered that science has finally detected a possible cause for not one or two but all three of these neurological diseases. You may know that it has long been publicly thought these diseases were genetically based, but scientists say genetics is actually only a small factor in the cause. Now, a new correlation has been found between surges in these diseases in areas where a trio of agricultural chemicals are being used, namely:

  • Glyphosate (aka Round Up)
  • Paraquat (banned in the EU)
  • 2,4-D (part of the old Agent Orange cocktail)

These chemicals are manufactured by powerful international corporations whose profits are tied to the economic welfare of even more powerful countries. So, when, in 2019, Thailand attempted to ban these chemicals in favor of public health, the US government intervened with economic pressure and forced an end to the proposed ban.

The Real Hue and Cry of a Bloodletting Mob

With growing awareness, many of Thailand’s farmers have seen the devastation these powerful chemicals have caused in their communities and families, and regardless of the government’s official stance on the matter, they have expressed a wish to begin farming without these chemicals. Nobody is forcing them to use the deadly trifecta, but it’s difficult to learn a new way of farming when the loss of a season’s profit could spell ruin for a struggling farmer.

In Thailand, the farmers most in thrall to the deadly combination of Glyphosate, Paraquat, and 2,4-D are rubber farmers. Massive applications of these three chemicals enable tender young rubber trees to thrive without the competition of weeds, and the instant gratification provided by this assistance has become an addiction for farmers seeking quick, profitable results. But there are other ways to nurture rubber trees into existence, so to stop using these three terrible chemicals, rubber plantation owners need only learn these alternatives, quickly and efficiently. But how?

Help is on the Way from Rainforest Alliance

In Thailand, an organization called Rainforest Alliance has stepped up to help. They teach willing farmers how to switch to less harmful methods of farming. No government ban is necessary and powerful chemical corporations have no say in this personal choice. This is people helping people subvert the chemical industry and take matters into their own hands. With this attitude, Thailand’s people will be able to do what the government could not and institute their own ban against these terrible chemicals causing some of the worst neurological diseases the world has ever known.

It is my hope that, all around the world, farmers who want to quit their chemical dependencies will find allies like this and take matters into their own hands. And, just like in the novel Bits of String Too Small to Save, people will realize that while technology can be helpful, it has no innate conscience. It is up to us, the people, to keep its power in check.

Helping one another, farmers all over the world can kick those chemical companies out of their countries and, eventually, off this precious planet for good. In danger of writing with an overly-full-circle-ish flair, I’ll go ahead and quote the title of Bits of String’s fourth section: we’ll do it with the Hue and Cry of a Bloodletting Mob.

My mission should you choose to follow it

I’m ready to take the initial novel idea that was just a playful, creative romp and transform it to begin a new phase as a nonfiction writer in my own right, exploring a very real extension of this fictional story—the link between ALS, Alzheimers, and Parkinson’s diseases with the noxious agricultural chemicals Glyphosate, Paraquat, and 2,4-D.

I intend to publish an article about Thailand’s rubber farmers and how hard they’re working to transform their farming methods in order to save their communities from disease. From here, I hope to find other communities around the world that are determined—despite discouragement from government and corporate entities—to fight the chemical poison destroying the bodies and minds of so many of our loved ones … and perhaps, one day, even ourselves.

Will you join me in following the repair-minded farmers of this world who want to stop the scourge of neurological disease that has ruined so many of the great minds of my parents’ generation and, as we speak, mine, too.

Finally, I’m moved to quote Alan Ginsberg, who saw the scourge of his own generation:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked … burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of the night.

Alan Ginsberg

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