D.H. Laurence once used chickens to describe women. According to him, there were two kinds of women. A real woman: up-to-date or the modern type. The other: the old-fashioned modest woman, who, according to his principle: is as confident as a chicken. That is, without being aware of it.
I must admit I am a bit lost with this statement, but he also used other animals and birds in his references. Usually to describe human urges, especially male desires. He appeared to thrive in the animal mind. The more the forests of his youth gave way to industrial landscapes, the more easily animals seemed to creep into his work.
I honestly cannot explain why I should be thinking about this right now. It just came to mind, so I decided to write it down.
If I've learned anything from the time when a nano organism turned our world upside down and almost brought it to a standstill, it's a greater appreciation for life. Life in all its forms. And it also forced me to look at the bigger picture.
Once, long before the global epidemic, I half-heartedly planned to kill myself. I had chosen the location myself, to brighten up the act a bit with morbid drama.
I had chosen a bench in a sunken park. One of those wedged little-used parks, where people just come to let their dogs pee. I had only made a cursory attempt to work out the logistical details.
Usually, I just fantasized broadly, visualizing the dramatic (of course), rather than the step-by-step course of action.
I walked past that little park every day. I stood on the sidewalk for a moment and stared at it. I wanted to be anything but methodical about it.
I waited for a trigger that would make it inevitable to end my life: another humiliation, another painful failure; something that would make everything fall into place and negate the need for foresight. Or maybe I was just waiting for an irrefutable reason not to.
I had reached that dark inner place where a catastrophe seemed less bizarre than a reprieve.
Being awake was unbearable, and I couldn't sleep.
I've always relied on writing as a way out, (or at least some form of it). Since childhood, that had been my calling. My primary religion, my contingency plan or emergency exit, and my justification for occupying a space in the world. If I was desperate or simply unhappy, it took me somewhere else. It was my ticket out of the rut, and I was deeply grateful for it.
But it was gone. I had lost it. It was gone.
Each day felt like taking a slow-acting poison for which I could find no antidote. I was getting sicker by the day.
I did my best to appear flippant or downright mocking. More as a relief than amusement really, in the detection of vital signs. But most of the time I just sat staring into space or cried for hours.
I started to wonder if maybe I had become psychotic or dysthymic. I felt constantly hunted and haunted and woke up every morning with a sweltering uneasiness. Something was wrong! Something was terribly wrong! At least I could see that.
I knew what depression was. I had known that since I was thirteen. I started swimming in a lumbering but constant state of passive suicidal thoughts at an incredibly youthful age. I was disgusted with myself, was an overachiever, sometimes underweight and sometimes overweight. I had made a compromise with myself: I wouldn't kill myself, but if someone came at me with a gun, I wouldn't plead for my life.
I decided I wasn't crazy, and I didn't suffer from a chemical imbalance. That all I had was a bunch of unsolved problems. Something quite common. my whole consciousness, I reasoned, must have passed into a wilderness of reactive maladjustments. I concluded that my personality was a single conditioned reaction, and I reconciled with these bogus masochistic ideas. It even felt good.
I began to catalog my crimes: I pleaded guilty to countless acts of negligence. I sought comfort without giving comfort in return. I was a tenacious bitch. Probably born that way.
I denied everyone the pleasure of my company, and the world was a poorer place for that.
I tried even harder to understand it all, and began to develop further theories. I decided that any alliance formed in this tenuous vacuum would be exempt from the life cycle and radiate an almost terrifying glow. In other words, a vision of heaven, where people would walk about in beautiful surroundings, stunned looks branded on their faces radiating with gratitude and awe.
But I remained irrevocably cut off from all creative and interpersonal communication, and desperate. I kept looking for a revealing reason that would justify everything in this state. A panacea for the existential crisis it provoked.
I did not want the answer to be easy. I felt I had to earn it, and as a reward, I wanted to be enlightened by it. (And, of course, never having to feel that way again.)
I wanted to be able to write again and love it too. To have the feeling of loving people, or at least being able to do so, to be enraptured by what I saw, heard, touched, and tasted, and above all to be, thanks to my stamina, inwardly immune to (future) internal decompositions. In other words: a triumph!
The strangely contradictory nature of my ailments confused me. I was dull and leaden. Unresponsive to everything and everyone around me, and yet I became increasingly anxious and cried rivers. Surely that also meant that I was capable of being influenced by things.
I had to find out exactly what it was I was trying to learn.
I had grown accustomed to feeling tasteless and swallowing my betrayal of myself with a conciliatory smile and self-mockery. Having to lie about it was the price I had to pay for it to exist in the first place.
I convinced myself that my business was none of anyone's business and that I was basically doing nothing but protecting myself. In the end, it came down to intellect and emotional projection. It was a compromise that revolved around privacy so that I could reconcile the act with obligations and responsibilities. And this did not necessarily require disclosure. I congratulated myself for all my hard work and was sure that I had come to a completely clear understanding. Abstract, but I seemed to understand everything so well. I was inspired by the idea of authoring a book about it. Or an academic article with an irritating title.
Before long I felt compromised in my artistic expression and pathological at the same time. Since artistic expression was my only way to feel connected to the world, I got even more confused, so I decided to shut myself off again.
I felt rightly indignant once more and wanted to tell everyone and everything to go to the devil. I wanted to burn everything to the ground.
So I went back to writing nothing and drowned myself in airless fatalism. But this time I got angry. Terribly angry!
I gave myself a new title: worthless animal and freak. I alluded to a complete conversion and wanted to know what comfort felt like. And then I would feel like someone abiding for a front-row seat at the unraveling of my own spectacle: Voyeuristic with pained compassion. No, I could not allow that. I was way too intact to make myself look ridiculous.
I was afraid that I would never experience love or be able to appreciate beauty again: an overwhelming sense of pre-emptive mourning for a lost instinct. Evidence for a helplessly porous curational sensibility I had lost. If I could not absorb things and see their greater and more noble value, how could I be able to make sense of anything? How could I understand the world if everything flowed past me as if it belonged to someone else? I had no feelings left and slid through a morass of stimuli with no goal or means.
I had to toughen up a bit, I told myself. I still had my mind. It may not have been in the best shape, and I still wasn't able to get a sensible word down on paper, but I was still able to think. I began to wonder if I wasn't putting myself in this terrible situation in order to somehow spark a creative resurgence.
I was devising a purity test to avoid a free fall and be returned to the radiant foundation of my being. So, for the umpteenth time, I stopped my attempts at writing. And I stopped talking.
Writing had always been something I did under the cover of the night. I felt like the writing made me angry. And the closer I came to professionalizing my compulsion, the more I distanced myself from the whimsical muse, and slowly but surely I began to pretend that the whole process was devoid of mystique.
I wanted to adopt an attitude that would counter implicit self-betrayal. I rejected the idea that art was a fleeting rogue, and as a result, everything I wrote was motivated by anger. Pure rage.
It was not just anger. I wanted dignity. Anger had dignity. At least the crystallized kind of fury.
I was under the illusion that I could secure a payout without giving away a hint of who I was. I wanted to be the ideal artist, one who was divorced from the messy dynamics of feelings, yet could produce miraculously, impressionistic transcriptions of emotions. For me, and with me, art was under control, and it certainly wouldn't expose me as a fool.
I drove myself crazy again and began to suspect that my desire to write was nothing more than a fetishistic examination of my dysfunction and would eventually fall apart because it was corrupt and rotten from the inside out. Voracious cannibalism kept repeating itself with the desire to legitimize the belching that came out of me. Complacent, self-absorbed: that was the mind that imbued and shaped me. Expanded and blown away. I couldn't shake how shameful this excessive selfishness was.
Maybe I should take a closer look at this stinking undiluted vision, or maybe I'd rather spend my time looking at something worth portraying.
I wanted to scream something melodramatic. Something perverse. I wanted recognition for my worthlessness and acceptance of my helplessness.
What had to happen for my mind to make a crucial shift? When would it stop being scary? Where was the point where I no longer desired to fix anything? Where was the fateful consolation of something I had to accept?
I wanted a blessing. I wanted to be approved, but my problem was that I couldn't escape myself.
I started writing letters that I never sent. I was convinced that my problem was situational and that if I left, I would find peace. And would be able to write. Was this a writer's instinct to control the story?
I did go away, to here, there, everywhere, and nowhere. I started writing and a chewing panic set in. It felt like I was sticking my fingers in the socket every time I picked up the pen. It sounds melodramatic, but I felt like what I wrote was going to kill me, or maybe drive me to suicide or some other form of self-destruction. I became afraid of the concentrated violence I might inflict on myself. I became afraid of dying.
It was winter and everything was lushly deserted. Green but creepy. I remember the peeling bark of wet, raw and cold, soaked dripping, and lurid.
Finally, something pulled me up. I was convinced that my body was burning itself from the inside out. I was shaking all the time. I felt cornered but began to forget my existential misery, failures, and hatred of everything and everyone.
Suicide would be an erasure. I had been blocked for so long that I no longer believed I was able to experience human emotions. I believed I had become a stone. But I had no fight left in me. I needed an antidote to all the shadowy signs that haunted me like raging ghosts.
I had to laugh a little more. I stopped crying and began to feel like a jellyfish, mercifully floating about, stripped of all venom. My personality seemed to be replaced and absorbed criticism without thorns.
It took a while for the shattered parts of my mind to come back together. I had thrown myself out of the window with the unequivocal certainty that this destruction was the ultimate expression of my ugliness and bitterness. But in hindsight also strength. After all, there had never been anything that contradicted me.
Writing is like praying or meditating: grace and truth must be disciplined. The point is not to get something or to repent, it is simply a distillation of oneself. It shows you what it created and how faithful you have been to its design.
I had to stop waiting until I had suffered enough. I was my opponent. There was never anything in me that wouldn't let me write. Just something that was put down by the world. dumped, as it were, just like toxic waste. Something that got fat from all my siphoning wasted time and my search for its meaning. Once you let go of the mystery, it leaves you alone.
In the end, I reclaimed everything. With an urgent kind of hope, to be able to be calm again and not afraid. To be able to enjoy again and have the guts and ability to be ugly, and bitter. But above all: strong!