NEVER ASK WHYby Kitty Wielopolska
All books | Summary | Reviews | Data
The reviews below are dispayed by kind permission of the authors
Review by Jean Clark
Review appeared in STATNEWS, September 2002
From the moment you look at the cover of this book, which depicts Kitty, sitting in a wicker chair, reading at her villa in Italy, you are drawn into her world – and what a fascinating world it is (particularly her inner world). As she was a very private person, we are indebted to Joe Armstrong who, during the late 1970s, in Boston and Tuscany, held conversations with her about her life, and the influence Alexander’s work had on her. She experienced some dramatic highs and lows, and Joe is gradually able, through their friendship, to get her to express them.
If you are interested in the personal memories of a passionate, courageous, intelligent woman; or if you are interested in the psychiatry and one individual’s struggle with schizophrenia; or if you are involved in Alexander work as a pupil, student or teacher; or if you wish to fill in some gaps in the history of the Alexander work since the 1920s on both sides of the Atlantic – this is the book for you. If, like me, you are intrigued by all these aspects, these conversations are a feast.
Kitty’s husband, a Count of the Polish aristocracy, likened her to a grasshopper, as she often jumped backwards in telling a story, so there is no chronological neatness in this book. However, Kitty gradually emerges, and there are strange ironies and coincidences in her story. She was a nurse and midwife, who for a time became a mental patient in the very hospital, in New York, where she had worked; she was due to graduate as a teacher on F.M.’s first training course, but the day before, she was notified that her father had died and she immediately suffered a breakdown (consequently no teaching certificate); her doctor in the English mental hospital in 1935, a Dr Rickman (who had helped Freud out of Vienna) had much earlier written an article in the very same issue of the Atlantic Journal that had the article on F.M.’s work entitled The Philosopher’s Stone; following a chance meeting with Rivka Cohen, who suggested she have refresher work with Patrick MacDonald, she did a three-year training with him from 1969-1972 (and gained her teaching certificate); some of her subsequent pupils were prominent Philadelphia psychiatrists.
This book is devided into five chapters, the second being the longest, which deals with her episodes of schizophrenia. They included head banging, physically fighting people and hearing voices, and her treatments, over the years, ranged from strait jacket restraint, insulin shock and electric shock therapy, being left alone, and homeopathy (and thereby hangs another tale!). She had no Alexander lessons during ’bouts’, but was sustained by the thought that the Alexander work existed and it was truth. It helped her to hold on to reality, integrated her, helped her to handle terror and gave her something to live for. With great eloquence she says that her friends assumed she was ’a bird with a broken wing’. ”I was in no position ... I was not about to let them see that I could ’fly’ or had ’flown’, in spite of, or, indeed, because of my frequent breakdowns. If they couldn’t see it, well, I didn’t mind.”
One of these friends was Lulie Westfeldt. Kitty had been instrumental in introducing the Alexander work to her. Lulie had suffered polio when young, had had surgery on her ankle and was physically crippled. She became a trainee with Kitty on F.M.’s first training course and in 1964 wrote a book on her experiences(1). This was the first book on the Technique that I myself read, before I had any lessons, so I was intrigued by Kitty’s references to Lulie and what she had said about F.M. Sometimes, Lulie had been quite hard and unfair on F.M., in Kitty’s view. Kitty comes across as the wiser and more magnanimous of the two.
One might say, in these two books, the full psychophysical range of the work is described, Kitty’s being the more psycho, and Lulie’s the more physical, understanding. Kitty’s view of the Work (as she always preferred to call it) was that thinking of the meaning of the words of the directions puts us in danger of our interpretation dominating the body. Lengthening and widening the back was, for Kitty, the ’’back’s responsibility’’. Kitty, herself, beacame a trainer of Alexander teachers for the last ten years of her life.
She expresses great gratitude to F.M. for taking her on his training course in the first place, knowing she had had a breakdown. She regarded him as a genius in the realm of human behaviour. Her sentiments were these: ”There are not a great many ways now, if you haven’t money, to find adventure in life. But here you have it ight here in your own room, in yourselves! A tremendous life adventure.”
This book is an odyssey and an adventure too. Please read it.
1.) Westfeldt, L. (1998) F. Matthias Alexander: The Man and his Work, Mouritz.
Review By Jan Pullmann (in German)
Review appeared in
GLAT-Infobrief Nr. 21, März 2002 and in SVLAT-BLATT Nr. 47, Winter/Frühjahr 2002
Kitty Wielopolska, geb. Merrick, war eine hochqualifizierte
Krankenschwester in Boston. Sie wurde auf die Alexander-Technik aufmerksam duch die phänomenalen Veränderungen imGesundheitszustand einer ihrer Patientinnen, nachdem diese in London Unterricht bei Alexander hatte. Sie war so fasziniert dass sie alles daran setzte, Alexander und seine Methode so bald wie möglich selbst kennen zu lernen. Ab 1926 hatte sie jährlich 10 Stunden mit Alexander in London. Ihre Begeisterung war so groß, daß sie ihre Freundin Lulie Westfeldt überredete, auch Unterricht bei Alexander zu nehmen. Beide traten schließlich in den 30er Jahren der ersten Ausbildungsklasse von Alexander bei.
Kitty erlitt jedoch ein dreiviertel Jahr, bevor sie nach England
fahren und die Ausbildung bei Alexander beginnen wollte, einen Anfall von Schizophrenie. Ihre größte Sorge war, dass unter diesen Bedingungen Alexander sie nicht mehr akzeptieren würde. Doch er stand zu seinem Wort und sie konnte die Ausbildung bei ihm machen. Einen Tag, bevor sie ihr Lehrerdiplom bekommen sollte, erreichte sie ein Telegramm mit der Nachricht vom Tod ihres Vaters und sie erlitt einen weiteren Anfall.
In diesem Buch erzählt Kitty Wielopolska ihre
außergewöhnliche Geschichte in Form eines Gesprächs mit Joe
Armstrong. Fast 10 Jahre dauerte es, bis sie endgültig geheilt
war. Danach durchlief sie ein zweites Mal die Ausbildung, diesmal bei Patrick MacDonald und erhielt 1972 ihr Lehrerdiplom. Im ersten Teil des Buchs erzählt sie ausführlich über die Ausbildungsklasse bei Alexander mit Schwerpunkt auf Lulie Westfeldts umstrittenem Buch ("F.M. Alexander, The Man and his Work"). Den Rest des Buchs widmet sie ihren bewegenden Erfahrungenund ihrer Auseinandersetzung mit Schizophrenie, ihrem Heilungsprozess und welche Rolle die Alexander-Technik dabei für sie spielte.
Die Einführung in die Alexander-Technik von Joe Armstrong, die der Geschichte von Kitty Wielopolska voran gestellt ist, ist eine der besten die ich bisher gelesen habe. Ein sowohl menschlich als auch fachlich interessantes und spannendes Buch.
Review by Mary McGovern (in Danish)
Review appeared in DFLAT Nyhedsbrev, Februar 2002
The Newsletter of the Danish Society of teachers of the Alexander Technique
I januar udkom på Forlaget Novis den engelsksprogede erindringsbog Never Ask Why - The Life-Adventure of Kitty Wielopolska fortalt i interviewform til amerikansk Alexanderlærer Joe Armstrong.
Kitty Wielopolska (1900-1988) var en polskgift amerikaner som led af skizofreni. Hun var blandt det allerførste hold Alexanderlærere til at blive uddannet hos F.M. Alexander (1931-34). I bogen kan den moderne læser få et indblik i forholdene på denne første uddannelse og samtidig mærke den pionerånd og beundring for Alexanders enestående opdagelser, der herskede den gang - især hans iagttagelse af sindets og kroppens udelelighed og dennes praktiske konsekvenser. Det sidste viste sig til at være af afgørende betydning i Wielopolskas kamp mod skizofreni - en kamp hun vandt til sidst. Hun blev netop helt rask. I bogens længste kapitel Schizonphrenia: Dark Night of the Soul beskriver hun sine talrige sammenbrud og indlæggelser, og hvordan teknikken var med til at hjælpe hende komme sig og bevare sin optimisme og håb om sin egne og andres fremtid. Hun elskede Alexanders arbejde, og den kærlighed præger hele bogen. "You must love the person
you're teaching, what you're teaching, and the art of teaching", siger hun.
Fra 1969-1972 tog hun Alexanderlærer-uddannelsen om igen - denne gang hos Patrick MacDonald. Siden da underviste hun i PhiLladelphia og selv uddannede lærere indtil sin død.
Bogen er en unik beretning om en modig kvinde og et bemærkelsesværdigt
Review by Nelly Ben-Or
Review appeared in THE ALEXANDER JOURNAL, Autumn 2003
I met Kitty Wielopolska in 1960, some six years after I had completed my training with Patrick Macdonald. She had come to Patrick’s class to retrain as an Alexander teacher. I did not then know about her background in the Alexander Technique nor about the harrowing experiences of the mental illness she recurrently suffered over many years. These I only learned about recently from reading Joe Armstrong’s book Never Ask Why.
When I first met her at Patrick Macdonald’s school I was intrigued by the impressive looking white haired American lady bearing the name Wieloplska, which I knw to be that of one of the highest Polish aristocracy. My Polish origin instinctively drew me towards someone with this uncommon name.
I soon discovered that Kitty, the widow of Count Wielopolski, was an unpretentious, warm lively person. As far as I could sense, only the name linked her to an aristocratic background. Kitty’s own past as a nurse came to the fore when she gave me some suggestions for dealing with a health difficulty. I was experiencing at the time. I remember her coming to visit us at our home and being very supportive and helprul in a simple, practical way. Drwing no doubt on her previous nursing experience, Kitty showed a natural warmth combined with a king but no-nonsense pwersonality. She never mentioned her own past difficulties. It is only now that I have learned about the painful strugles that were part of her life.
What I feel to be most impressive and poignant was her understanding of and attitude towards Alecander’s teaching, which she invariably called ´the work´. The Alexander Technique became her lifeline which brough liberation from the severe mental breakdowns that plagued her so often. She came to see it as the one thing she could complerely trust. Kitty soncsidered Alexander’s teaching to be ´good, honest,resl´.For her to give Alecander orders meant, as she expressed it, not talking to notheing. In the event her compjlete trust in this Work – which significantly whe did not just call a technique – proved to be the one lead towards her recovery from what had been diagnosed as schizophrenia in her past.
Alexander’s teaching literally brought her back into mental health and a fully conscious life, which is why Kitty felt the following quotation from Man’s Supreme Inheritance needed to be much emphasized in the Work:
´By and through consciousness and the application of a reasoned intelligence, man may rise above the powers of all disease and physical disabilities. This triumph is not to be won in sleepm in trance, in submissionm in paralysis, or in anaesthesia, but in a clear opened-eyed reasoning, deliberate consciousness and appreciation of the wonderful potentialities possessed by manking, the transcendent inheritance of a conscious mind.´
Never Ask Why is an account of the life of an unusual person, her experience of struggle with severe mental illness, her encounter of the Alexander Technique and the enriching, helaing benefits she derived from it. Thebook is constructed out of a series of interviews Joe Armstrong sensitively condicted with Kitty Wielopolska in the 1970’s. The preface to the book has a lucid introduction describing the Alexander Technique.
This book is a serious and valuable addition to the Alexander bibliography.