Travel Log: Astonished in the Morning and the Whole Rest of the Day


Take a journey through the arts, and see the connections to psychiatry.




About a week ago, I wrote a preview column about Lawrence University’s Door Kinetic Arts Festival, which we attended last week at their architectural treasure, Bjorklunden—a facility close to Lake Michigan in beautiful Door County, Wisconsin. As if that was not enough responsibility for the leader of the festival, Eric Simonson, a creative multi-arts star himself, ran double duty. Running concurrently to our seminar was the opening in Milwaukee of his true crime rock musical, “Run, Bambi, Run.” If the Milwaukee and Chicago newspaper reviews and I are right, it will be a hit and potentially Broadway bound.

The festival itself was separate but also connected to our seminar classes each weekday morning, supplemented by workshops in the afternoon and performances in the evening. Being a psychiatrist, I was also pleased to see the potential connection of the arts presentations with psychiatry.

The feature artist of the festival was national treasure Ricky Ian Gordon, who has had his songs performed all over the world by so many stars of musical theatre, opera, and more. In the sense of collaboration, his songs for opening night were sung by the rising multi-arts self-starter Black American rising star, Morgan Middleton. Ricky, in his first major outing since the pandemic, played the piano beautifully. When he later talked to our small group of seminar participants, he previewed his upcoming memoir by openly telling us of his life, including how important psychotherapy was to open his creative faucet. Seeing him and Morgan together reminded me of the best educational collaborations I had as a faculty with such promising students and young faculty.

That night and the next featured new short films. Probably because I am viewed as a gadfly, the one called “Doll Factory” was my personal favorite because a factory doll rebelled against its controlling and threatening machine claws.

Wednesday evening was comedy and improv night, once again supplemented with craft cocktails. The ability to respond so quickly and effectively to the theme of a skit reminds me of the crucial timing for the right interpretation at the right time with a patient.

Thursday night started with a contemporary circus piece by “Company To X,” where clothes seemed to come alive and act like characters. The humor was there, but extra meaning, just like the best therapeutic laughter often leads to a meaningful insight. I associated to the current dress controversy in the Senate.

Ricky returned as the second act and gave a brief song recital and closed with a most moving poem, “Yahrzeit,” about his late mother, and by memory association, I to my own late mother. Once again, he connected to psychiatry, starting with a shoutout to our discussion about the importance of therapy and self-help groups for his recovery.

Friday evening consisted of 2 acts. We only saw previews because we had to leave early. "The Flying Foot Forum has found multiple ways to use percussive dancing over 30 years, a recognition of the variations of a technique, whether that be dancing or psychotherapy. Then the group Beyond This Point integrated innovative dance with the electronics of artist David Bird. I knew it was successful because my wife loved it and usually does not like electronic music.

All in all, all these cutting-edge presentations in the arts made me both excited and a bit jealous in terms of psychiatry. Our experiments in innovative treatments seem less common than in the arts, though perhaps much of ours occurs confidentially in treatment settings. Perhaps our most visible one is the second coming of the psychedelics, close to receiving US Food and Drug Administration approval for treatment of challenging conditions. We, too, could use an infusion of arts into psychiatry to make up for the loss of art, music, and dramatic therapy due to for-profit economic controls of mental health care. The arts can take us into inner and outer worlds where we have never been before, as the Star Trek phrase goes.

In-between discussions and performances, we had a chance to go out into the therapeutic nature of Door County. Both the best of human nature and environmental nature left us astonished.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry, and is now in retirement and refirement as a private pro bono community psychiatrist. A prolific writer and speaker, he has done a weekday column titled “Psychiatric Views on the Daily News” and a weekly video, “Psychiatry & Society,” since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. He was chosen to receive the 2024 Abraham Halpern Humanitarian Award from the American Association for Social Psychiatry. Previously, he received the Administrative Award in 2016 from the American Psychiatric Association, the one-time designation of being a Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Speaker of the Assembly of the APA in 2002, and the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in 1991. He is an advocate and activist for mental health issues related to climate instability, physician burnout, and xenophobia. He is now editing the final book in a 4-volume series on religions and psychiatry for Springer: Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Christianity, and now The Eastern Religions, and Spirituality. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times.

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