therapy

Broke my best spatula today, just snapped into three pieces. Was attempting to get under a pancake in need of a flip, pressed down a bit too much, and it exploded. I shed a single tear and promptly buried it with ritualistic solemnity by throwing it from my seventh-floor balcony into the street below. No, no, I wouldn’t do that—it’s still on the floor. Well, one piece is anyway. The other, the flipping part, is still in the pan. And the third, what’s left of the handle, is in my left hand as I type this with my right. Like a scepter.

Apparently that’s what happens after five straight days of sobriety, probably my first consecutive five this year. You break shit. I recently acquired a yerba mate gourd-cup-thing, made of real gourd and not-real silver. Alpaca silver, it’s called, which, come to find out, is a copper alloy with nickel and zinc. Who knew. The best part about this is that prolonged contact of copper alloys with acidic food and beverages can leach the copper out and cause toxicity, which, in turn, can lead to cirrhosis. It’s a lovely little cup, beautifully made by an Argentine fellow named Guillermo who, if his email communications were any indicator, I think I’d like to have as a friend. Assuming I survive. And visit Buenos Aires. And remember to look for him. Strange that just two nights ago I had a dream about trying to swallow a penny. Copper-plated zinc, those are, unless it was one of those experimental aluminum ones from the mid-70s—my dream failed to clarify. Funny thing is, I actually did swallow a penny when I was a toddler. Shame on my parents for letting me play with money like that; now I eat credit cards instead of coins, like a grown-up. The penny is probably still in there. So either way it seems my liver is in trouble: firewater, mate, pennies.

I tell you all this for a reason, mostly, a very good and perhaps unexpected one: trauma. I was once told, some years ago now, by someone with acute psychoanalytic tendencies and the most beautiful hands I’ve ever seen, someone who came to know my mind’s workings quite well, albeit when those workings were overworking quite poorly, that, with all my fears and hang-ups and mild psychoses it was—is—as if I’d experienced some great trauma, perhaps in childhood, knowing, however, of course, in fact, quite surely, without a doubt, probably, that I hadn’t. Something about abandonment or loss or rejection—that kind of thing. Or some extraordinary, multi-storey guilt complex made of marble and steel and tissue paper, at once sturdy and flammable. The kind of guilt by which one might be plagued if, say, one had accidentally asphyxiated a friend’s elderly parents by leaving the gas stove on unlit. Turns out a year or two ago I had a dream about precisely that, quite a vivid one, which I’m turning into a short story, nearly done. Maybe there’s more to the guilt thing than I realize.

But in childhood? No. At least I don’t think so. Why does everyone always blame the children? I was a good kid, did a lot of kid things, un-traumatizing things, like ingesting small denominations of currency and neither accidentally nor deliberately killing anyone’s parents, far as I know. That was later. Or earlier. Which reminds: I don’t know who I was or what I did in my past lives or even if I believe in such things or believe I’d remember if I did believe in them because I barely remember last week. But I do know that in this life I carry some great weight and pain and sadness of indeterminate magnitude and undeterminable origins, ever growing and deepening and always hovering around me—it’s not in the pit of my stomach or back of my mind or sole of my shoe or corner of my closet. It’s more like fog-mist-smoke, encircling, part of the air I breathe. Or like an aura.

Which is probably what led my psychoanalytic, uh, friend with the beautiful hands to believe I should see a therapist. Not quite so much to heal as to discover. She thought my aura was not only troubling but sometimes also on the fritz, like an old tv, like the old tv my parents had when I was little and we didn’t have much money and you had to hit the side of it to get the picture to unscramble and I’d do that on Saturday mornings when I was trying to watch cartoons and my mom was trying to sleep.

So my uh friend thought therapist and I thought that was conveniently self-serving as she was working on becoming one, and seemed to like to practice on me, in a way, burgeoning clinical psychologist’s dream that I was and is do be. Others, however, I must say, others with less of a vested interest in therapy but just as much of an interest in (or concern for) me, have suggested the same since, so I can only throw her so far under the bus without also crawling down there myself. Then I’d be like that kid from my kid town who lived in my kid neighborhood and went to my kid school and rode my kid school bus and got on at the same stop as a close kid friend of mine and was killed one day at that stop when she(?) fell under the wheel somehow. It was all over the (local) news. For about a day. I wonder where that bus driver is now, speaking of trauma.

But why therapy? I didn’t know the kid, certainly didn’t push her(?), clearly didn’t kill her(?) parents. I only swallowed pennies and watched my own parents split up and broke a spatula. Should I see one because the weight and pain and sadness are too great, and too seemingly untraceable? Should I see one because it sometimes hurts to think of that kid and that bus driver and other times doesn’t? Should I see one because I’m occasionally (often) obsessed to the point of near negligence in regards to the common personal desires of satisfaction and security and yet at others I cannot seem to do without them? Because I am both completely prepared for and completely terrified of going it alone, wanting nothing more than closeness and distance? Because I despise the normal life, and its empty rhetoric and posturing and dinner plans and career plans and retirement plans and acquisitions and suppositions and requisitions, and yet I have not had the gall to break free nor the weakness to fully participate? Because I dream of becoming so wrapped in thoughts, voices, visions, stories, histories, fantasies, places that my mind goes stale on normal and lives only where the ordinary is nothing but strange, and making my living that way?

So what if I do that and lose the ability to speak commonly, to interact on that humdrum, ho-hum, dishwater-dull plane? Good. I hate common speech, hate its subjects and patterns, and hate more than anything when my writing begins to take them on. Like this, here, what I’m typing away at now, it sounds common, feels dull and flat and purposeless and I want to throw it off the balcony into the street. And watch it disintegrate, dust off my hands, look out at the western skyline, take a deep, satisfied breath, and then rush down in a panic to retrieve the pieces of my shattered typing-computing machine and spend the next few days trying, scrambling to put it all back together with tape and super glue and false hope mixed with a misplaced sense of self-importance. Might be better to throw myself off the ledge and see how these cardboard wings I’ve been working on hold up.

Contradictions abound, yes, of course, and I’m frankly not interested in professional assistance with ironing them out, or even with understanding them. Nor am I interested in “feeling better.” Am I unfairly oversimplifying the purposes and practices of therapy? Absolutely, but I’m defensive of my madnesses and troubled aura, because what do I have without them? And so fixing, healing, they have all the trappings of desensitization, like giving up, giving in, giving over, and I can’t shake the sensitization no matter what I try, no matter how much copper I imbibe or how many cooking utensils I destroy, that happiness and contentment breed (in me) a certain complacency and stagnation and before I know it I’ll be happily and complacently dead. Maybe I was Willy Loman in a past life. Maybe I look at what happened with my grandfather and I want to fight the dull, routinized normalcy for his sake and mine, carrying that weight and letting the bullshit leave its marks and scars and traumas, because they’re testaments, nice and visible, reminders that I am here and it is wrong, so much of it is wrong and so much of it can be made real.

Because they are not mine, happiness and contentment, never have been. I’m terrible with them. After an initial phase of excitement and relief, we end up bickering and fighting and goading each other with insufferable acts of unphilosophical and decontextualized passive-aggression like American politicians on the campaign trail. Or children on the playground. No, happiness and contentment are other people’s things, like fishing boats and vacation packages, like professional development goals and Sunday tv shows, and I’ve tried them on just like I’ve tried on other elements of the normal life—normal things and normal jobs and normal people—always winding up feeling like a strange, prehistoric fish in a stagnant pond and all I want to do is grow legs and climb out and go play with the squirrels and foxes and shit.

I started to go crazy a few years ago because of something just like this, this kind of feeling, hitting me truly and fully for the first time, I think, and I responded by messily creating a crisis to fit the one beginning to boil inside. And people got hurt and I felt terrible. Well, it hit me as I’ve been writing this that it’s actually not over, and that I should see this self-deliquescence through because I never seem to finish much of anything and crazy seems like a pretty big goddamn thing to finish. On my own. I’ve spent more than enough time looking for external justification, looking for someone to join me and hinting, concocting, contriving, formulating, indirectly and subconsciously begging for permission to go be a fish-squirrel-fox. Talk is cheap, and negotiating for permission is even cheaper, and writing all that permission-seeking talk out is barely any better, especially when everything ends up being just a draft, held back by time, job, self, people, ponds, and sludge. It’s easy to blame fear, but these are fear’s first causes, because losing them, letting them go, means letting go of an entire way of being, a predominant way, the received and unthinkingly half-understood way. And no matter how abhorrent that way is, no matter how alien to me it has always seemed, it’s still a way, has been a way, a big part of my way, whether I wanted it or liked it or not.

But that’s it, or this is. Too much talk, too much explanation, too much soft and safe, too much creeping up to the edge and peering in and describing it, too much drafting, too much self. It’s time. Time to finish what I started and go fucking crazy, batshit, apeshit, horseshit Thom Yorke climbing up the walls crazy and see what I can write from there, see what it means to come magnificently unhinged, go delirious with thought, fatigue, and substances, whatever it takes to get there, ruthless, negligent, absorbed, and brutal.

Find a way, and see what comes of it and what becomes of me, bottle of whiskey in one hand and butcher knife in the other with a pile of pills on the table. Or mate gourd and broken spatula handle and some pancakes. Whatever works. I will go sit in a dark room, wrapped in blankets, and work by candlelight. Or I will sit by a lake or a river or a sea and work in the sun or under the stars or in the rain, all the while edging toward the dangerous and mad, writing myself out of existence, so I can then write myself back, anew, free from this ridiculous, overwrought problem of personhood and just be “charming, unfortunate, unbearable [me].”[1] 

Forgive this garrulous ramble, but I had a very stubborn mind to make up. And it is made. I’ve talked myself into it. I’m through writing about myself this way, I’m sick of these little performances of minor triumph over the personal and day-to-day, only to repeat the cycle again and again, like standing on the outskirts of a village I want to raid and pillage and overthrow but only running in every so often to steal a chicken or a spoon, then running back out to hide in the woods. Fuck it. This is enough. I want to lose, and to embrace that loss, not lament it, until there’s nothing left. To stop trying to balance between something particular and discernible and something outlandish; to destroy the part of me that tries to be.

Write destructively. It is the only way to create. A safe creation is not a creation at all, but a copy. Grandpa, I know you killed yourself with discontent and a certain kind of defeated complacency; I will let my discontent kill my normal, safe, comfort-seeking self with creation, and be something we can both be proud of. Maybe I’ll talk to a therapist once that’s done. Maybe. Just for fun.

 

[1] That was Heather Havrilesky, by the way, in a review of Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir, in Bookforum, Sep/Oct/Nov 2015, p5. 

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