22 February 2012

Big Things

Something in me says yes when, for instance, a train shakes past at close range and high speed. Likewise in the presence of heavy machinery: earth-movers, steamrollers, cranes. One nice thing about the sterile neighborhood of my office building is that something new is always going up, staking out another piece of the artificial land. For a few days last week, every time I tried to ride to work the bascule bridge at Columbus was being raised or lowered -- perhaps some kind of spring maintenance. I couldn't cross and, already being later than I'd hoped, stood one day as the traffic light cycled dumbly and the horizon shifted in an unexpected direction. The monolith of road towered toward me and assumed its place in the skyline. I have seen this only a few times. I was wider awake, afterward.

One night last week too I found, riding up Damen, that construction blocked my way. (Every time I ignore the detour signs until it is too late; usually a bike can pass where a car cannot, but not always.) Made to walk anyhow, I poked around the site a while, patted the bulldozer's metal-plated feet. The best thing about this, though, was the pit: taking up half the road, square and perhaps twenty feet deep? This number is almost certainly a little too high, but as an emotional distance it is about right. The rain that was falling joined a thick stream of water at the bottom which I perceived as only an occasional minnow-flash of light and a burbling sound. It may have been just the accumulation of the evening's downpour, but it sounded live and as if it were going somewhere.

(At the park by the river by my childhood home, the informational plaque headed THE BUBBLING UNDERGROUND STREAM never failed to produce a vernal thrill in me -- still does, just knowing it is there.)

In the presence of great heights or depths or moving powers I feel thoroughly scrubbed, as if by strong wind or Beethoven. On workdays I've been walking to a new grocery store to get my lunch, and one day taking a different route came across a rather shocking, barely-protected drop -- just the absence of a building that would have had to travel several stories up to reach street level.

Now: a daily transcript of the chatter of my inner radio might seem at first to reveal a weird abundance of death-related programming. But that's a facile reading. For example, take this drop, this slice of space as perfect and luscious as a piece of cake in a display case. A surge of desire came up in me to toss myself lightly over the rail. This was in one sense a motion toward death, but only inasmuch as death is a motion toward freedom. (It isn't actually, of course, but the false equivalence tugs mutely at the soul, grounded in or bolstered by our loveliest hymns.) One wants to have the experience of falling through the air, or being gripped by the waves that claw their way across the Lake Shore Path, or being met full-force by a large truck -- to come right up against the palm of God. But it is impossible to desire, if not straight out impossible, to have had such an experience. Any thought of after is a total corruption of the thing. So the mind stops at the logic-blind impulse that says: there, in darkness, in absence, you could do anything. It will not be tutored by the lesson of Kant's dove no matter how often reason sends it flapping through the brain.

Friction, though: that's what we have to work with. That is where we spend our days -- at the level of force produced by texture, not by some clean thrust of will or gravity. The fine-grained surfaces of the possible are not the impediment to the real motion of our lives; rather, they give it almost its entire character. Most of its itchiness, most of its prickliness, most of its velvet. 

15 February 2012

Further Meditations on a Theme

(A note before I begin: look, I really am essentially okay, in case anyone's worried. I know I keep talking about this; it probably won't be forever. Minds interest me, and mine's the one closest at hand for study. That's most of what's going on here.)

1. Here's another thing mental illness has helped to do to me or for me: it's made me an essential skeptic. I've had to clear my inner closets of things like religion, political ardor, mysticism, and even to some extent self-confidence so that madness can't find them there and turn them toward ill use.

2. I know that setting all the clocks in my house a few minutes ahead would help me get places on time and thus improve my life in measurable ways. But this seems less valuable to me than actually knowing what time it is.

3. I'd forgotten about this other mode of depressive psychosis: decoupled from anxiety, there's a flattening of affect toward the excessive meanings that the world continues to produce regardless. Then this thing turns self-mocking and mean, but it has an okay sense of black humor. As the butt of an insult comic's jokes in the audience might still laugh.

4. Part of how it works is: there's a quasi-physical sense that my "I" is too small for my purposes. I feel it clamping down over me like a clamshell or the underside of a set of knuckles. (It's come to me in milder form on the edge of sleep for some weeks, too, as was often the case in childhood. It is of course ontologically intolerable that our selves should disappear for so long every night. The mystery is that we can think of anything but death.) With this constriction arrives the certainty that a thing so small could easily be guided by some other force that I almost have access to. (In some corner of this hall of mirrors flashes the fact that in one obvious sense this hidden force is the illness itself, not that there's much to be done with that notion. Look it in the eye and move on.) A feeling of insufficient personal reality descends, although it's not clear whether I'm more or less real than the things around me. The cogito gets you just a couple steps from nowhere; after that, you're on your own.

Sensory input doesn't arrive with its usual force. It's coming in from a long way off. I find myself gripping iron railings, running the back of my hand along brick walls, trying to tie tighter knots between me and the world.

5. Historically, voices haven't been the main hallucinations I've experienced, but I can so easily see how they're produced. In such a state, thoughts become words -- even become couplets of medium-poor poetry -- instantaneously, and don't seem to stem from my own powers. The world's speaking to me in sentences rather than in sense data. I don't have to go to the trouble of translating and assembling them myself. It's like the subconscious has just disappeared. Context, subtext: they're all just text scrolling across the wall at once.

6. Hate, like heat, collects in things. Every object wears its most ghoulish mask. There's a dead possum on the sidewalk. But actually a plastic bag. But, upon closer inspection, perhaps a bloated pigeon? (A plastic bag, of course.) Church architecture an assemblage of mausoleums. Everyone on the street is lurching in the throes of some contagious illness. But it affects me almost abstractly. My body goes through the motions of disgust: the shudder, the crossing of streets. Something else is in charge of that, though; I can hear it happening somewhere in the neighborhood, but not where I live. So the mind laughs flatly at itself, for allowing the body to be moved along such senseless routes.

Psychiatry calls this patient insight and it's indisputably better than the alternative. But it makes it hard to maintain much, ah, self-esteem.

7. In depression is the counterargument to one of the values I'd most like to transform into belief. Ipsa scientia non potestas est. Instead of acting on the cold knowledge, the iterative disillusionment, that it's constantly synthesizing, depressed consciousness loops and loops through a bureaucracy of inner courts. They are endlessly in session and endlessly handing down convictions.

I've sometimes harbored a little abstract envy toward other, more florid species of psychotics -- the ones with delusions of grandeur, the ones being called upon to save the world. You could maybe get a few things done in such a state.

8. It's good and terrible that mental illness is incommunicable. Cannot be communicated. Lately it seems more interesting to write anyway than not to.