Doco Recommendo: This Dust of Words

This is one of my all-time favourite documentaries. It’s about Elizabeth (Liz) Wiltsee, a brilliant young woman who excels in every school subject, has a 200 IQ and a special love for literature/writing. It’s the story of a bright light’s slide into paranoid schizophrenia, and a possible mystical experience when homeless towards the tragic end of her life.

The War of Art (poem)


Dear Reader,

Something you may be unaware of
is the way the various genres
within each of the arts closely resemble
religious movements, established or new.

You see, from the artist’s point of view,
if one is to devote so much of one’s time
to a particular set of principles or theories,
one simply cannot afford to be egalitarian,
unless, perhaps,
for the sake of political correctness.

The belief that “this approach is better
or more worthy than that approach,”
along with the passion to express it,
is all that will get the artist through
the many long vigils and collateral damage
it may do to them over the long term.

An artwork may be thought of
as a message which, decoded, will read

It is the artist’s belief that a work of art
ought to be constructed thus.

Whether or not the audience agrees,
the artist’s faith will continue to sustain itself
by means of the art-making ritual.

Just because it’s popular,
doesn’t mean it’s worthier.

The recognition of peers and critics,
while desirable, is not a prerequisite
for moral victory.

I draw your attention to this,
only so that you may become aware
that there is indeed
a constructive way to wage war,
an impersonal way to make love,
and a secular method through which
the finer feelings may continue
to be enlivened, or dare I say,


Documentary recommendation: This Dust of Words

Synopsis: Elizabeth Wiltsee taught herself to read at age four. By age ten, she had taught herself classical Greek. And not long after, Chinese. A voracious and creative intellectual with a 200 IQ, Elizabeth was an avid reader, a voluminous writer and a standout student at Stanford University. Decades later, she could be found sleeping outside the church doors in the small farming town of Watsonville, California, her beautiful mind ravaged by mental illness. Using Elizabeth’s own personal letters, excerpts from her poems and books, and stories from those who knew her best, this moving documentary tells the story of a troubled soul and of the community that, rather than shunning her, embraced her.

This Dust of Words, titled after Elizabeth Wiltsee’s Stanford senior honor’s thesis on Samuel Beckett, unfolds like a mystery with her former professor struggling to explain the unusual life and eventual disappearance of his prize student. As much as it laments Elizabeth’s unfortunate descent into madness, This Dust of Words celebrates the surprisingly benevolent nature of the town that sheltered her. Speaking with some of Watsonville’s openhearted residents and the parishioners of St Patrick’s Church, director Bill Rose composes both an elegy on a life lost and a celebration of the charitable nature of humanity

BELIEF (poem)

Because they despise
the material realm,
some adopt spirituality.

Because others despise
all forms of religion,
they proclaim themselves
to be atheists.

Better to genuflect
before peer reviewed data
than personified energy,
they would argue.

I had this dream once,
where I met a guy
who had been trained to fight
by the S.A.S.

I asked him to teach me how to fight.

He taught me that for a strike to be effective,
you have to channel the earth’s power,
and he went on to show me
how to have a low centre of gravity,
and to advance in the way of a fencer,
pretending my arm was a coiled cobra,
the two knuckles, fangs,
ready to deliver the lethal dose
between the eyes,
or to the throat,
or wherever.

He then told me to doubt this technique,
because he, and many others
knew how to counter it,
and also, that belief,
in, and of itself,
can be a dangerous thing,
because it makes you feel confident,
and that there’s a fine line
between confidence
and complacency,
and that,
at any given moment,

it’s a short space
from my head
to a hard place
and then dead.