his own life (doc)

oliver sacks doc (2021)

Trailer for His Own Life – the fantastic documentary about the visionary neurologist and poetic soul @OliverSacks https://t.co/ewMTR4kWkK I had the improbable joy of seeing the film when it premiered in New York, and now it is premiering online – do give yourself the treat.
Original Tweet: https://twitter.com/brainpicker/status/1317797830287888385

I just watched the Oliver Sacks documentary and was profoundly moved to write. He was one gifted person, grounded in compassion. https://t.co/TTof2bCPVy
Original Tweet: https://twitter.com/AllegraJordan1/status/1320173926518083584

treat the person rather than the disease

where do you go when your mother calls you an abomination.. you go to san fran and stop writing home..

my brother became schizo.. i became terrified for him.. much of my life has been trying to imagine what it’s like being another human being..

people who are left out were storied back into the world

people think he’s saying.. look at the others.. he’s not saying that.. he’s saying .. look at us


notes/quotes from doc (2021) – 1:49 – via pbs: https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/stream-oliver-sacks-his-own-life-documentary/17521/

6 min – the question was always.. who am i.. his method was to look into other people

7 min – his primary question was how are you.. how do you be..?.. asking as hard as a person can.. who are you.. i need to know more.. and his attention would release people.. he could get secrets.. he could learn things.. he could take this thread and pull people out (of distress) and also pull others in.. people lonely/left-out.. are storied back into the world.. he could see inside.. t

the little prince – see with your heart

9 min – clearly he has been thru something.. don’t get like this w/o deep deep experience

most of his adult years so troubled he didn’t even try to explore them.. but now.. he wanted to go on record.. ‘what do i need to say.. before i’m done’.. found out about cancer.. and had a few months.. early 2015.. had just delivered manuscript of memoir 2 weeks before..

1966 – beth abraham hospital he’d stay at for 50 yrs.. seminal moment.. arriving at beth.. and seeing that some of these patients are not like the others.. sees life in them.. so quest for.. what was their life like for this..

15 min – on his talented/dr fam.. i was accident prone.. face blind.. awful migraines.. my mother had them too.. uneasy closeness w her.. sometimes too close.. she wanted me to be like her.. ie: having be dissect fetus at age 10

16 min – evacuation.. during war.. separations of fam.. 18 mos at hideous boarding school.. bullied/beaten.. brother became psychotic/schizo.. i became terrified of/for him.. of the nightmare that was becoming reality for him.. would it happen to me too?

18 min – effect on my parents was devastating.. shame et al.. compacting michael’s condition.. at this time i set up my own lab in the house.. to close my ears against michael’s madness.. had to keep a distance.. (felt tremendous empathy for michael – one of reasons why oliver did what he did professionally)

19 min – oliver said first friends at 10 were numbers.. then elements.. then plants.. then people.. humanity was very last thing.. that was a reaction of suffering..

20 min – o: i love the periodic table..

he had a relation w inanimate objects.. ie: carried periodic table in his pocket et al

21 min – o: going thru my 70s i felt as though i was going thru them (elements) all

22 min – o: i never had much intellectual self confidence

23 min – went to oxford.. then had convo w father.. about not having girlfriends.. asked him not to tell mom.. but he did.. she was furious ‘wish you had never been born’.. she was speaking out of anguish.. feeling she’s lost one son to schizo.. now loosing another to homosexuality.. she didn’t speak to me for days.. something had come between

25 min – now i wanted to understand how the human brain worked

o: i always felt insecure/shy.. i felt if i became physically strong.. it would help.. so weights et al.. but it didn’t work.. i became physically strong but still shy.. it was not easy/safe to be homo in london in 50s.. uncertainty about my future.. i was resentful.. i was angry w my mother/religion/london

27 min – left england ‘extended vaction’.. to california.. american success story.. not many people get that.. where do you go when your mother call you an abomination.. ? san fran.. and stop writing home..

29 min – o: got internship at mt zion.. split personality.. cycle/lifting/scuba wild and dr

30 min – he was seeking possibilities for expressions of who he was.. i think he was really looking for a partner

31 min – set ca weight lifting record.. then move to la..

32 min – o: on falling in love w straight men.. decided to live alone for rest of my life.. turned to drugs.. et al

34 min – brilliant generous loving empathic person who couldn’t find his way.. ie: disruptive in hospital.. eating patient’s leftovers et al

35 min – o: would bike 36 hrs to grand canyon to see sunrise.. felt i was inscribing a line on the earth

37 min – atul gawande: on o’s split/opp personalities.. connecting part.. he was deeply an outsider.. floating in/out of periphery just hanging on.. i have to think he was an outsider.. i have to think those who helped would be flabbergasted he became anything.. he as a f-up at the time

atul gawande

38 min – told to get out of the lab.. and see patients (a put down).. where he would do less harm.. called in sick a ton

39 min – o: 65 told myself i would be dead in a yr if i didn’t get help.. 66 .. started to see an analyst.. 6 mos later i started seeing patients.. i was fascinated/moved by hearing people’s stories of migraines.. i started reading about the subject.. and found myself driven to the older literature

41 min – o: last high.. rather than surrendering to ecstasy.. i read a 500 page book w ecstasy.. i resolved to write a comparable book.. a migraine of my own.. incorporating many ie’s from my own patients.. i never took amphetamine again.. life/work became much more interesting.. remarkable turning pt in my life

42 min – 66 – beth abraham in bronx.. 48 of 500 patients suffering from sleeping sickness that swept us in 20s?.. some had been like this for 30-40 yrs.. nurses believed that inside had personalities et al..

44 min – what fascinated me.. was a syndrome that was diff in every patients.. could show how nervous system was org’d..

46 min – spectacular results from l-dopa.. awakening stories.. burst into explosive life.. then side effects from l-dopa.. i knew what i’d been seeing would never be seen again.. so huge documentation/filming

50 min – o: times that were bad.. wondered what i had gotten these people into.. ie: rose said none of her people were alive/here anymore.. and she didn’t like out world.. so back into comatose.. for another 10 yrs?.. was it defense.. reaction.. i don’t know.. and infinitely complex situation

the breakthru w awakening.. is that there are no breakthrus.. dealing w condition of life.. the breakfthru is that you come to live w/in your means.. living w what can’t be changed.. the whole pt of his practice was to spend hours together to try to expose.. toward being subjects of own lives.. his story telling is giving people a sense of narrative.. that narrative itself is therapy

53 min – 1972 – (situation) hard in my memory.. had to articulate it somehow.. return to london to go home and write..

54 min – my mother was fascinated w my stories and urged me to write them.. she would listen w both emotion and sharp critical judgment honed by her own sense of what was clinically real.. that summer we wrote awakenings together.. a special time consecrated to creation.. returned to ny in sept.. brother david phoned me to say mother died.. most devastating loss of my life.. deepest/realist relation of my life.. made me feel i must complete awakenings as a last tribute to her.. i wrote w a feeling/voice i had never known before

57 min – awakenings came out in 73.. dr’s very suspicious that this was embellishing.. that this was somebody who wanted to make a splash.. neurologists didn’t know what to make of him.. they didn’t embrace him.. book dismissed ..

58 min – o: birthday fling on 40th bday.. then no sex for 35 yrs..

59 min – it would have been suicide to talk about that.. he would have been let go et al

nov 1975 tape: i dreamed of utopia et al.. i did all but kill myself..

1:00 – 1973 ward 23.. kids.. philosophy there was that behavior could be changed by reward/punishment.. esp punishment.. gave me the shudders.. at staff mtg.. i said it was cruel and may appeal to sadistic thinking of staff.. days later.. director of hospital said rumors going around that you are abusing patients.. don’t come back.. went to norway .. summer 74.. where i had a series of near death accidents.. w bull.. et al.. that story.. 8 long hours.. suddenly heard voice.. rescued.. flown to england & operated on .. following surgery.. couldn’t move/feel damaged leg .. it felt alien.. i was confounded.. my publisher said.. you have to write about it.. this leg book took 10 yrs of my life..

1:05 – kept writing millions of words – block – but they were the wrong words.. he was worried he’d be rejected again.. period of major disappointment .. rejected everywhere

1:06 – o: during all this time i continued to work on leg standing.. much of it while swimming.. would rush out of lake and write notes.. so editor said never had handwritten and soaked.. so to kate in ca.. and what came back was (great).. 11 yrs later.. came out..

1:08 – kate: i came along 10 yrs after his mother died.. i became the person who was supporting/critical/open-minded.. continuation of convos w mother.. very intensive.. way to work back and forth..

1:09 – over the years.. she became his everything.. did everything for him.. the whole structure he has around him is because of kate

kate: oliver struck me as rather uncouth in many ways.. he was a handful

1:11 – he was a man of the extremes .. most childlike man i had met.. even to the last days

1:12 – kate: felt a need to physically act out what he was feeling to others.. in a very sympathetic way he found a way to id w all kinds of people.. he would imagine himself into them.. he had some unconscious way of sensing this.. that’s how he was able to revive the tradition of the case history.. instead of sci/stats.. oliver made the case for qualitative.. imaginative.. sympathetic

1:13 – as a result .. knew patients so well.. had to chronicle them.. case histories

1:14 – o: 1983 – colleague asked me to join him in seminar on visual agnosia.. unable to recognized things/others.. that evening i wrote up case history i shared.. i titled it .. the man who mistook his wife for a hat

kate: this was a popular success..

bill: made his career explode

1:16 – o: what amazed me.. the letters that flooded in

spoke to people in way they could understand..

o: at some level i think we are all patients..

temple grandin

temple grandin

1:18 – on color blindness and sign language and autism and parkinsons.. et al

1:19 – temple: he was interested in getting inside the minds.. oliver really got into my emotions..

oliver wanted to get in the skin of people w syndromes

he brought temple into life.. he undermined stereotypes..

1:20 – oliver said turrets wasn’t a deficiency it was an excess.. so i don’t see myself as less than normal but more than normal.. i felt good.. like it was wonderful to have turrets.. oliver invited people to look at themselves.. he was saying.. look at us.. as the whole human race.. he wasn’t searching fora panacea.. like a country dr making house stops to whole planet..

1:23 – humanizing each one of his patients.. not the loss.. but the richness of seeing world in diff ways.. t

established himself first in lit world.. but he wanted to be seen as scientist..

1:24 – o: i do go my own way.. i’m not easily categorized.. this gives rise to bewilderment..t at same time i’m haunted by others accusing me of betraying them.. ie: used me for literary career

brown belonging law et al

1:25 – o: i would say.. i don’t have any theories i just describe.. i’m a field worker.. i show things

1:26 – kate: 1990 – awakenings film.. comes out in 90.. and prof world now embraces him.. offering honorary degrees .. invitations.. et al.. because of this movie.. which i thought was ironic.. maybe he was ahead of his time

1:27 – temple: some people think you have to have a hypothesis and controlled experiment to have science.. but.. w/o observation couldn’t’ even make up hypothesis.. what oliver did.. astronomy of the mind..

1:28 – o: much of my life was to understand relation between brain/mind.. consciousness..

consciousness.. what does it feel like to be me/you.. oliver always expressed a sense of wonderment.. he never lost that sense of wonder

1:29 – o: somehow wonder got pushed out of science.. how could science explain memory/adaptation/improv/creativity/consciousness.. individuality/disorder..

1:30 – on realizing consciousness was center of everything

1:31 – kate: the new neuroscience excited oliver hugely.. he was trying to meld the clinical presentations w what this neuroscientists were studying.. he began to realize his role would be to have convos w scientists.. to connect their science w his case studying

1:32 – o: they wanted stories.. ie: how vision might be damaged by brain function

1:33 – o: ie: sometimes in migraine.. you would see still shots.. (see world as discrete frames) – found that continuous movement was an illusion.. that the stills were welded together via brain.. i called it cinematic vision.. quick was very interested in this..

1:34 – migraines don’t allow for that.. so see stills.. so illusion of motion is revealed.. people now ask.. what are mechs in our brain to lead us to believe in flow of time

o: found self thinking of time and perception/consciousness/memory/music/movement..

1:35 – kate: soon after that publishes.. musicophilia.. the minds eye.. hallucinations.. all deeply informed by neuroscience.. so now a man of 21st cent.. this was very deeply satisfying to oliver.. to pull all this together..


1:36 – oliver is most important person for me in shaping what a dr should be

70% of applicants to become neurologists mention oliver

1:38 – o: i have difficulty saying what constitutes home for me.. i often feel my home is a mental home.. in thinking/science/writing.. esp in writing i feel exempted from all my idios

1:39 – on the move book comes out

much of his life was a groping for respect.. and then billy came along

billy talking on the relationship.. unexpected for both..

o: a great an unexpected gift in my old age..

billy: oliver on why he liked ferns .. they are survival.. and that was his theme..

on love solving such a deep problem that he had.. that you can love/connect/complete the struggle you’ve made.. last 4 yrs were like an enormous sigh.. he’d found balance..

1:42 – billy: night after he got his diagnosis.. wrote notes.. then w/in days.. the draft for my own life

1:43 – 2015 – oliver telling others about diagnosis and making most of time he has left.. o: so.. that’s it.. don’t know what next months will bring.. i hope i can work/play/love and be myself to the end.. i haven’t yet given way fully to emotion.. i see tears around me but i’ve yet to shed them myself..

1:45 – that info was accurate.. only 6 months..

o: (last days) – i’m writing about creativity..

it was a totally unmorbid.. non stressful last visit with him

1:46 – i left a dying man in a very palliative mood.. i was uplifted by him.. strangely enough

palliative care

when i heard he died.. i felt gladness not sadness.. he had given a master class in how to die.. t

1:47 – o: there is nobody like us when we die.. there is nobody like anybody ever.. it is the fate to be a unique individual .. own life/death.. predominately i had a feeling of gratitude.. above all .. i’d been a sentient/thinking being on this planet.. enormous privilege/adventure..

gabor on addiction/trauma/needs – a & a..

let’s org around that.. so that the country dr can get to the entire world .. today..

ie: imagine if we

died aug 30th 2015

after a long swim we sat on beach and oliver said he saw himself like a comet observing things as he went speeding by.. and not bound to a home..

home and oikos (the economy our souls crave).. ‘i should say: the house shelters day-dreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace.’ – gaston bachelard, the poetics of space