Mad Longform


A Conversation                                         

“It’s funny, the ways this is experienced and how the mind tries to make sense of things, the meanings that are made. There should be a clear practice to help people who are sensitive to these sort of things to develop a meaning that works for them, so they don’t have to choose between ‘it means nothing’ or be left to scramble to thoughts of spies, so they can navigate their way through this.”

We paused, sharing some thought.

I chewed on a small bit of nutmeg caught in my mouth, and everything felt hot and a little uncertain. The conversation was too big to have in such a small metal chair there beside the street.

“They know,” I said.


“Yeah, scientists…they know. Anybody knows if they think about it for a minute…that we are, as animals, impacted by what’s happening in the geophysical and metaphysical world. It’s not like we’re made of plastic. They’re going to have to admit it. They have to.”

We didn’t have to say that this sort of knowledge changes everything.

The enormity of it is silencing, leaving just a whisper of the truth that we don’t really have a shared understanding of what it means to be human or how the world works in so many invisible ways.

Looking at the cars driving by, people looking forward, focused on the road. “I have no idea what other people feel. What are those people aware of?” I gestured at the cars, asking.


A Letter to Friend in Prison                     

I didn’t tell you that in the week before I came to visit you, I found myself in a sort of bubble…as if everything were suspended, in transition, a little at a distance, trembling at the edges…like one of those spots in the ocean that is cool and calm, feeling a little eerie with the waves crashing just yards away, and all this water from some deep, cold current holding a space that feels separate from the rest of the ocean. That’s how the week felt…or maybe like one of those moments where you find yourself standing on the corner of a busy street and then notice there’s no traffic, not a single care and no sirens in the distance, only this unexpected quiet.

That week was a weird bracketed space, {…}, dull caution and I went through the motions, showed up where I needed to show up, said what I needed to say, but with my heart just feeling like a stone, my mind surprisingly blank when I paused.

Probably stress that shut me down, the change of seasons that brought that strange sense of being suspended, an intermediated little expanse of days that seemed to hold no time, no past and no future, with all meaning and outcomes feeling quite dubious and the entire world appearing merely theoretical.

Used to be, I’d panic during times like those…scramble to make something happen, to find the meaning, to burst through the film. This go around, this passage through the crossroads…well, I was too tired and too busy to even think much about any of it, to be bothered by the feeling of the world-as-a-dream. I just kept it fuckin’ moving and tried to do whatever seemed to be the most conservatively correct thing to do in the moment, to not make any major decisions, to not retreat, to just slowly swim out of the current in a diagonal, to not get caught in the undertow that usually comes with such times…as if the air above me is moving so fast, and the ground below is trying to pull me under the leaves and between these two forces, I am caught.

It was interesting to me that I wasn’t extremely emotional at the thought of going to visit you. I would think that I would be, that the trip would hold some charged significance in my heart and mind. In ways, it did. I knew, for example, that if I didn’t go to visit you, that my life would not be the same.

Every little thing changes everything.

Because it had been a long, strange week, I had agreed to allow myself to stay home if that felt like the right thing to do, and had agreed – also – to go on the trip if that felt like the right thing to do, even if I was tired. The morning of my visit, I woke up early and found myself getting ready to leave, got out the door exactly when I needed to and just drove, looking at the way the land changed over the mountain and thinking about people I knew along that road.

I still just mostly felt numb.

I found the prison with no problem, took off my black sweater that I realized had a hole in it, put on the purple one. Noticed the dying flowers outside the Visitor’s Office and gave the woman my ID. She was young and pretty, had a good job and a uniform. To her, people coming to visit the prison was an everyday sort of thing.

It bored her. I could tell.

The sky was like aluminum the day I came to visit you and the prison waiting area – like the whole damn prison itself – was a stripped down and hard-edged, flat-glare and fluorescent version of the world, nothing natural about it save for the humans, jammed into their uniforms with their hairstyles perched on top of their human faces that were talking and laughing, eating lunch.

When the young man took off his belt to walk through the metal detector, you could see him at home, at the end of a day, with a television and a window and a girlfriend in bed, a little kid fussing up the block.

On the walls, as you might know, there are pictures of the early Central Prison days, with the black men leaning in doorways, seated at tables, in shirts and pants that are the color of all clothing in old photographs.

They looked tired, all of them.

I couldn’t count the number of little brass retirement plaques, Lieutenant 21 years, Sargeant 17 years, Warden 32 years. There were dozens of them, people who’d worked away their adult lives at Central, commemorated by shiny rectangles the size of a microscope slide, hanging on the wall by the arsenal and the gym, looking down at the folks sitting in chairs, waiting to go in to visit whomever they might be visiting on The Row.

I just looked around, tried to remember what I could and, I tell you, if I had the time, I could replay the whole 20 minutes that I sat and waited to come up to visit you. The whole time, I was aware of the fact that I mostly just felt tired, though probably not so tired as the two older folks who were waiting. Looked like they’d come in from the edge of town, some far flung county perhaps, wearing the same faded flannels, the same black tennis shoes, dirty blue jeans the both of them.

I wondered how long they’d been married and if their house was dark and too warm in the early Fall, if the old man pissed on the floor in the early morning when he was thinking about driving over to Raleigh to visit whomever on Death Row…a son? A brother? A cousin?

There’s no telling.

I could tell that the lady beside me was a church lady, visiting in service and I imagined that she’d write her penpal his letters from a tidy desk, or at the kitchen table and that she probably wrote once a week, packed up the letters in sharp-edged envelopes and addressed them with the same consistent hand every time, so that if the prisoner who receives them were to pull out the pile of letters, they’d all look the same, with only the stamps changing, all placed perfectly in the corner.

Some young men with khakis walked through the metal detector with the nonchalance of a frequent flyer going through airport security, not even pausing in their conversation as they took off their belts, took off their shoes, laid their phones on top of the x ray machine, walked through and picked them back up.

“They must be special,” I thought. They get to keep their phones. I had to leave my whole purse in the car, couldn’t even bring my water.

Those men had nice haircuts, gold bands on their fingers.

They were bringing books.

When they told us to go on ahead and get on the elevator, I suddenly got nervous. I was about to see you. I didn’t know what that would feel like.

I was half-hoping that upon seeing you, the full force of my newly cautious heart would burst through to my eyes and fill them with whatever tears I might need to cry. However, it had occurred to me that maybe I don’t need to cry, that maybe I’m all cried out and that the empty well itself had opened into this dead-calm sanity, with so little of the rough-tumble glitter, glint and shadow of the world wide open.

It’s possible, also, that I was protecting myself, crouching in the waters at the bottom of the well while war waged in the field above under sun too bright to stand and so much blood on the grass.

Interesting to find such sentences rising in my mind, such scenes. It’s a gift – not one that I possess, but one that I am given. Sometimes our own imaginations feel like ghosts.

Truth be told, I think it is all this work in the walking and talking world that has shushed up my heart. It’s all file and format, process and protocol, niceties in hallways and at the table, sitting up straight, listening, trying to hold the reality…which is that people, for the most part, have no idea that I see them as absurd children, figments in play, caught in a story…just like me.

I was glad to find I felt something when I sat with you in that little room, peeling away the paint on the ledge until my fingers felt a little raw, measuring the curl of your eyelashes and the wave in your hair and admiring that elements of you look so much like an ocean, a piece of wood.

I wanted to feel the heat of your hand through that damn wired plexiglass, but something happens to human heat when it passes through plastic. It becomes dull, faint, an acidic sweat on my own palm, a fog on the surface.

I don’t know what I want, but I don’t want you to love me hard. I don’t want you to heal my wounds. Men always want to heal me. I find it offensive.

What was it that I learned about love?

I learned that true love is not about wanting another to be with you, but wanting them to be free, regardless of what that means for you, whether it is what you might want for yourself of that person, who you want that person to be.

That being said, I love you, you are my friend in my heart.

When I got on the elevator to leave the prison, because I got to go home at the end of the day, after I held up the hand sign that means “I love you,” I finally let a single sob-like sound break loose.

“I just saw the person who has been my penpal for three years. He is my friend.” I told this to the strangers in the elevator and they smiled at me, told me that it was wonderful, this visit I had made.

It was not sadness or grief that made me sob. It was amazement, and joy…because amazement brings me joy.

You amaze me in so many ways.


An Interview With a Researcher              

{This is my interview with phenomenological researcher Nev Jones, who blogs at Ruminations on Madness. This was sometime early in the year, several seasons ago. My thinking about some of this has changed, but not by much. Here, she is Q and I am A.}

Q:     Okay.  There we go.  The recorder is on.  Let me start by just asking you, in a really general way, if you feel like there’s anything strange or different about your thoughts.

A:    I would say yes, very much, but then I don’t know what other people—well, I objectively don’t know what other people are thinking—but no, yeah, I would say that, yeah, there’s some strange stuff.

Q:    Okay.  Can you just start talking about it a little bit, describing what that is like?

A:    I think I realized a few years ago that I process things a little bit differently.  I had always thought that everybody thought about things in this way or experienced thinking or gaining a sense of things in this way, or putting together information.  I think about things in a really big, interconnected, kind of jumble-y, charged, always moving way.  I think a lot in terms of magic and synchronicity, and place a lot of—I mean the things that mean a lot to sort of the general population, from what I can observe, a lot of it really does not mean anything to me.  Yet I find really powerful and relevant meaning in things that don’t have any apparent value or significance.  They are like great, sometimes ominous weights in my mind and in my thinking about them.

That’s just general differences in pattern, but I think as far as thought content is concerned as well.  I definitely walk around with a set of—a framework of beliefs that I think doesn’t necessarily align with the status quo thinking of what might be on people’s minds when they are driving to work in the morning, or whatnot.

Q:    Let me go back to your more observations regarding the structure of your thought experiences first.  You mentioned synchronicity and magic.  Can you expand on that a little bit more, like what you mean?

A:    Just noticing patterns in certain content, that things kind of show up in series of little incidences of—I’ll see this and then, oh, here it is again over here and here it is again over there.  Then having somebody mention something that perhaps was directly related to something that they were supposedly isolated from or whatnot.  Just really seeing all these correlations of just image or word or theme.  Yeah, it’s kinda everywhere.

Q:    Okay.  Cool.

A:    It’s really fun, actually.

Q:    Maybe that segs 0:03:54 into then the content issues that you were bringing up.  Would you say that there are certain themes in terms of the kinds of patterns that you notice?

A:    Yeah.  Absolutely.  I think the content of—my active madness is experienced as slipping into being fully oriented to a different world, a different role, etc., etc., framed around this big meta story that has a lot of stuff about spirituality and revolution and uprising, and sort of operatives and spies and hidden forces.  Everything kind of ties into that in my mind.  So, if I see a series or a collection of incidences of seemingly meaningless symbol or thing, like a cat, for example.  I’ll think, oh, well, this somehow indicates—this is just sort of like a little flag that says, “See, we are…”  It’s like here’s a little bit of reassurance.  Or something to that effect.  Everything kind of links back to that and reinforces that big sort of scheme, the big scheming world.  Yeah, it’s like right over here.

Q:    Are these thought patterns and stuff, is this pretty consistent across time?  Are there times that you feel like you’re more attuned to these things and then less, or is it constant?

A:    It has been—I would say that there is a very constant, I mean very, very constant—it’s always there.  It’s always there.  There are periods where I am more oriented towards that.  I have a few different lives that I kind of actively maintain.  There are times that I will find myself, for example, at work, and yet really, really just all of my—like what I’m actually engaged in is thinking about the songs that came on the radio that morning, or being really wrapped up in some feeling that I interpret as being somehow related to this big, meta-systemic, God electrical force.  Being really actively tuned in to all of that while I’m trying to function in another thing.  I think it definitely—my level of engagement with it might vary, but it’s always there.

Q:    Was this meta-thing, I think as you just said, was this a dominant theme in your consciousness, so to speak, since you were a kid, or was there some point when you had a kind of transformative moment?

A:    A moment.  Yeah, it was longer than a moment.  Yeah, and I can identify kind of the elements of some really long-standing orientations or interests that I have held since I was a little kid, of just kind of being very aware of—my father was a naturalist, so I’ve always had like a really big systemic awareness, I guess, of seeing kind of like the rise and the fall, and da, da, da.  But it was never—I never really got like academically preoccupied with it.  I remember I lived in a city that had a really thriving coffee house philosopher scene, with all these people thinking about these big questions of God and truth and da, da, da, da, da.  I was just like yeah, whatever, and so never really—I didn’t really think about any of it.

There was a period—I had had several periods during crises time where I definitely kind of shifted into a very isolated and difficult but yet sort of magical, for better or for worse, time.  When I was younger experienced it all in a pretty frightening and dangerous way.  Then I went through a very long stretch when everything kind of came together in my—like fell apart and came together in my mind.  Over the period of about a year or so, with a pretty long stretch of really being pretty checked out of consensus reality.

Q:    Just to go back a little bit, this initial period of experiencing things, as you said, like a frightening and dangerous way, can you say a little bit more about what it was that was frightening and dangerous?

A:    I think just the feelings, of really feeling as if I were being invaded or plagued or haunted or taken over by a really dark and malevolent and desolate and despairing force.

Q:    Would you describe that in affective terms, in terms of like we think of depression or forms of melancholia or would you describe that in terms of a more intellectual or existential way as—

A:    It was like physical.

Q:    Physical.  Okay.

A:    And it’s like emotional and I think psychological as well, but definitely like a—I’ve never really—yeah—my experience has always been a lot less, like sitting and thinking, “Oh, I’m—” and of course I do that, but there’s a definite like [krrr]—yeah.  It was not a metaphoric force.  It felt more like an actual force.

Q:    Did you feel more like physically or somatically possessed or invaded, or maybe physically controlled?

A:    I think that I associated, when I was younger, associated it a lot with a feeling of ghosts, but then also just very much felt—yeah, just all torn up.  It was definitely kind of an emotional intensity, I suppose.  Yeah.  That was the—

Q:    Did you have any—’cause what you’ve described sounds more like these kind of global feelings.  Did you have any specific interpretations at the time of what was going on?

A:    No.  I just knew that—it was just—yeah.  I guess kind of the desolation that anybody who is suicidal experiences in their own way, or feeling just a profound hopelessness, as if I were dying, like very much dying, and simultaneously willing myself to die.  Yeah, it definitely—yeah, caused like writhing and whatnot, ’cause it just hurt, really, really badly.  There are a lot of elements of that in the big transformative period, but they were countered with some really good feelings, some really, really good feelings.  My experience of all of it has really changed.  What was 12 years ago, 15 years ago, what I thought of as my challenges or my difficulties or whatever, it’s like a very different set of things than what I would think of as being now, just ’cause obviously people grow.  They change, their experiences change.

Q:    Okay.  You had this long stretch of being checked out, as you said—and then what happened?

A:    As far as being checked out, I definitely—when I say that I mean that I assumed that consensus reality was in alignment with my non-consensus reality.  It was, for example, thinking that if I could just persuade my mom to say this one phrase, then something really important was going to happen with Glenn Beck 0:14:35, and she just needed to understand that.   I think that I definitely am pretty—I’m not engaged in consensus reality but I recognize the line between—I can move around in it.  I have my realities well-boundaried at this point.  I think what happened—I guess the story of my big coming undone and putting back together—yeah, it’s—like most people stories of going through a madness process, it’s epic.  As far as what happened next, it was an enormous amount of psycho-social, emotional, psychiatric trauma.  Then just slowly scraping my way back to the land of the living.  Coming off of medication over that year.  Now it’s kind of like, well, and here I am.

Q:    Can you say a little bit more than—I’m assuming that if we go back to the really dark, frightening period, then you did some how come into contact with mental health providers and the mental health system, and prescribed medications and all of that?  If you could maybe talk about that a little bit, particularly what affect it has on what you were experiencing, on how that helped shape your experiences?

A:    I was put under the psychiatric system when I was really young.  About 12.  I carry a so-called diagnosis of bipolar I, severe, with psychotic features.  Yes, I was involved in the psychiatric system.  I was on a number of medications for a number of years.  They had a lot to do with the depth of that despair and the depth of that hopelessness.  I have some theories of how medications work and their effect on the human life force.  I definitely, in retrospect, wonder how I would have experienced like this particular time or that particular time, had I not had this variable that was just really inappropriately tampering with my whole situation.

Q:    Was that something that you—did you resistant to biomedical explanations and medication-centered approaches from adolescence or whenever you first got kind of trapped in the system, or was that something that developed over time.

A:    I think because I didn’t like my first psychiatric providers.  I didn’t trust them.  I didn’t feel safe with them.  It compartmentalizes anything that has to do with these people is just shit.  But yet, I still had this range of experiences that was really very challenging, and definitely geared towards dangerous extreme states.  I didn’t really have the resources to manage, so sometimes I kind of vacillated in and out between—it was like when I was in crisis, it was like, well, okay, there’s something wrong with my brain and I’ll just take this stuff.  But it didn’t really—I don’t think I really grabbed a hold of the biomedical model very much.

Q:    Okay.  That’s just kind of a bit more about the actual provider/clinical/treatment history.  I guess what we’re getting at there how that played into things.  Maybe it would be helpful if you give a little bit more of just an overview picture of during these more acute periods, or these really dark periods.  Just kind of the range of what was going on with you, ’cause it sounds like it’s not just thought but also emotional affective stuff.  Anything else, any other kind of sensory or perceptual domain?

A:    Going back to my experience of kind of altered states or extreme states that were characterized by just that really bad—I mean there were also periods that were characterized by really good and expansive things.  I don’t wanna misrepresent and be like, well, those were the dark periods, ’cause I think there’s dark periods in all of it.  I think one thing—there’s always stuff going on, like a big move.  I started graduate school right out of undergraduate.  A couple of months in I was kind of spontaneously weeping.  I was not able to concentrate.  I didn’t care about anything.  Sort of like a textbook depression but with—I don’t think of it as being the same sort of so-called madness that I experience now.  Something changed in the way that I—the struggles I used to have as opposed to the stuff that I navigate now, something definitely changed.  Something broke loose or pushed through.  I just couldn’t hold it together.  Yeah, I kind of think about as almost like two separate things.  With a long, long history, you’ve got your early adolescent stuff, and then you’ve got your early ’20s stuff, and then you’ve got these blocks.  It’s all different, a weird thing.

Q:    Can you say a little bit more about what changed, though?

A:    Yeah.  Yeah.  I think going into that period when I didn’t use to have psychotic features tacked on to my diagnosis.  I didn’t used to have that.  I might have had I been more honest with my providers at various points, because they’re so quick to deem things psychosis at times.  I’ve always sort of had a sense of being connected, and kind of like walked around weird—I don’t wanna say weird—but with beliefs and reckonings for years of thinking, “Oh, I recognize that person,” or “I need to talk to that person,” or, “this person and I have some sort of thing.”  That was not really anything new but the degree to which it intensified and I began having experiences of—and I didn’t—

I’ve had several instances of distinct auditory hallucinations, but just several.  I’m not a consistent voice-hearer, but have had a few instances—some pretty intense times where that was an element of my experience.  What is I think more constant is more a sense of communication coming in, and engaging in dialog somewhere back here in my head with all sorts of—it’s kind of people, figures, forces.  I don’t experience that as with a distinct auditory quality but more of just like a presence in my mind.  That was not really an element of my experience in the way that it is now.  I think like had instances of connection or something comes to mind, but it’s a little more significant now.

Q:    Okay.  Okay.  Let’s stick with this experience of communication a little bit more.  How would you—if I asked you to distinguish it from, let’s say, the internal dialog that most people have?  They have kind of a sense of other voices, and they may take on persona, different persona, but they still think of them as just a part of themselves, typically.  How would you maybe distinguish it from that?

A:    Because it seems like the things that I think about or the conclusions that come to in response to or kind of in association with this sense of—or about things that I don’t know about so much, or that I don’t think about myself as knowing about.  Then also, there’s distinct kind of characters, various figures, various people.  There’s a distinct otherness to them.  It’s also—I feel it in a sort of like in a particular part of my whole—its own thing, kind of.

Q:    You mean that in the sense of being kind of spatialized 0:25:55, localized, you were saying kind of like the back of your head, almost?

A:    Yeah, kind of.  Yeah.  Sort of thing about that stuff.  But I—

Q:    Maybe not quite in a literal way, it sounds like.

A:    No.  I kind of actually think like there’s a particular place in my head—like actually on the back of my head where I sort of feel like a sensation or whatnot that I associate with this process of thought manifesting.  I think that—you brought up the just like the typical internal dialog of where bouncing things back and forth or calling and responding with ourselves.  Some of this is probably really related to just anybody’s kind of run of the mill spirituality feeling, like there is an internal voice that is of them, but also of the world or whatnot.  I don’t think that that’s necessarily because I’m experiencing it, and it’s—and I have this particular history or I put this particular meaning or spin on it.  It clinically would be construed as madness, but I don’t actually think that that’s particularly mad.  I think a lot of people experience that in their way.

Q:    It sounded like what you were describing was maybe more like you have thoughts that seem to have insights that maybe stem from something outside yourself or some kind of more expansive form of consciousness or something.  Am I right in thinking that it’s more than a matter of kind of receiving insights or messages than it is you interacting, like dialogically or sending them out?

A:    Yeah.  Yeah.  Absolutely.  Yeah.  No, I mean it’s definitely an exchange process.  I definitely engage in a lot of thought projection and consciously—and I wonder, is this just my form of prayer?  Is this just how I pray?  Definitely, yeah, I’m always kind of sendin’ stuff out.

Q:    Mm-hmm.  Do you have other types of experiences at all that involve a kind of sense of decreased agency over your own thoughts?  By which I mean less control over them or they seem foreign, or they seem almost like animistic, as in a thought that seems to have a life of its own that you’re not really in control of?

A:    Yeah.  I still have experiences with the so-called dark forces, where periodically—getting less and less frequent, but still, maybe once a month or so in kind of—once, twice a month—for various durations but definitely I kind of figured out how to get myself out of this state.  I have experiences where it really does—again, like with the malevolent force, the feeling of a malevolent force getting into me, and that force is being orchestrated by people that want to undermine me, want to keep me from doing what I need to do, want to destroy me.  Sometimes my experience of that feeling, that just really, really horrible feeling, comes about with just really kind of forceful thoughts –  specific, kind of out of nowhere, well, so-and-son is thinking this about me or saying this about me.  Just kind of like flying and just—yeah, just really hurtful and discouraging sort of little bits of messaging.

Q:    Okay.  Just to make sure that I’m understanding this.  What I’m kind of imagining is like, for instance, you might just be sitting alone in your room.  There’s not actually anybody immediately there saying negative things to you.

A:    There’s [cross talk 0:31:30]

Q:    It’s just almost more visceral sense of their thoughts coming at you.

A:    Yeah.  I think a pretty total—it feels like a total takeover.  It’s like I—my conscious—I, I can’t speak.  I have intensely difficult physical sensations.  I feel like flinch-y.  It’s like thoughts and then it’s—uuhh.  Yeah.  It’s very—even talking about it it’s like uuhh.  Yeah, and so they just kinda go, it kinda [inaudible 0:32:31] and I started to think about them in terms—and it’s actually helpful for me to think about them in terms of so-called dark forces or malevolent intent.  I don’t put—I remind myself that the odds are very good that people aren’t actually saying this or thinking this, so kind of bring in, like pull in the rational mind.  It’s helpful for me to think about it as being an external force, because then I can just try to block it, or like send it away or kind of breathe through it or just say like this is fuckery 0:33:22.  This is just fuckery.  That kind of helps me to shift out of it.  Yeah, it—

Q:    So then when you have—in these sporadic times what you would actually call more like voice-like or hallucinatory, what’s the difference?  What changes?

A:    As far as how I’m differentiating between kind of like the bloom of thought and communication as opposed to auditory hallucination?

Q:    Exactly, yeah.

A:    The sense of hearing the actual sound externally as opposed to kind of hearing it inside my head.  It’s like to feel the sound coming from outside into my ears, as a voice in the other room, or as something that’s happening right outside.  As opposed to just kind of quiet or—’cause not necessarily—yeah, I’m not quite sure how to articulate how precisely I experience that bloom of thought.  It’s kind of like if you’re thinking back, if you’ve seen a movie and you’re thinking back and remembering the dialog in a movie, remember the voice of the character but you’re not actually hearing it, that you’re remembering it.  It kind of has that mediated quality to it.  Where what experienced as auditory hallucinations were very distinctly sounds coming in, but they had a different quality.  I was in a pretty—during those times was in pretty extreme states of being.

Q:    Like you were describing before with this evil, malevolent force, is that, though, the same in terms of when it becomes or when you’re experiencing voices, is it the same sort of negative, malevolent intent, or something else?

A:    No, no.  My experience of voice hearing, there was kind of some random, just kind of random or just like fits of garbled sound and various—kind of like a muted rise and fall of just snippets.  Then an experience where I was hearing what—and it was really very frightening, but it was more of—it wasn’t a personal attack.  As opposed to feeling like the so-called dark forces.  That feels like a very personal attack, whereas my experience of auditory stimuli was just like there’s this stuff out here and I was just hearing it.  Although at one point, was hearing my name called, but it wasn’t mean.  It wasn’t malevolent.  It’s like while it was personal it wasn’t attacking.  So that—yeah, big difference.

Q:    Right.  Okay.  Okay.  In terms of the—so then here wasn’t very strong affective valence then, to the actual voices.  They were more like sounds and they weren’t negative or positive, per se.

A:    No.  They were more neutral.  They were more neutral.

Q:    Just going back a little bit more to the evil, malevolent force, can you think of any kind of analogous experiences that were positive, like where you maybe felt like you were being overtaken by positive forces?

A:    Oh, totally.  Yeah.  Yeah.  Definitely.  Yeah.  That’s like another huge counterbalance to the malevolent thing.  A big, big part of sort of like that whole transformative period was feeling very, very deeply and personally connected and kind of intertwined with some really awesome, powerful forces and really good people.  Yeah.  Definitely—yeah, that’s a huge—which is why the malevolent forces wanna take me down.  That’s a big counterpoint.

Q:    If you were thinking about the phenomenological experience of the malevolent force, and then these positive forces, other than like, let’s say, the affective valence, one being really negative and malevolent  and the other being really positive, what else is different about those two experiences?

A:    I think just the general state of consciousness.  When I’m engaged with what I feel as being benevolent forces, I’m thinking pretty clearly.  I feel good.  I’m alert.  I’m able to communicate.  I might get a little bit, like nuaaah, but I’m not—whereas the malevolent force is like I have a lead blanket on me, and am not able to speak as clearly.  I can’t engage.  It’s very much just kind of a [phaaa].  Yeah.  There’s that difference as well.

Q:    In terms of the temporal course of that, have you noticed any particular patterns like that you first feel the force and that’s what causes you to shut down, or you shut down and then you start perceiving or thinking about these malevolent forces, and likewise with the positive?  Is there a particular order, I guess, of experiences?

A:    Yeah.  Usually with the malevolent forces, it will kind of feel just like an undertow for a period of time.  But then sometimes it comes really quickly and it feels like everything’s just kind of like static and wet and toxic.  But then other times I’ll be more tired or I’ll have just kind of like a phantom anxiety kind of pinging at me.  Yeah.  [Audio cuts out 0:41:38] that, but then as far as with the positive, I think again, it’s sort of—there’s some variance in I guess like onset and experience, but generally it’s either kind of like a slow and then resoundant 0:41:54 upswing, and then—or it’s—I mean it can happen as quickly as like hearing a particular song or if I meet or run into a particular person that has some particular quality that I somehow think is connected to the bit multiverse and it’s scheme.  Then I’ll shift into that orientation, I guess.

Q:    Mm-hmm.  Mm-hmm.  How about physical sensations, because before when you were talking you kind of described in the negative, dark, malevolent states, really kind of unbearable physical sensations.  Are there kind of analogous positive sensations?

A:    Mm-hmm.  Yeah.  Yeah.  There definitely are.  There is a particular set of physical sensations.  One is the activated hand.  Feeling like my hands get very—just kind of feel like they have lightning bolts in them.  Then just like a really distinct sort of warmth, kind of like I’m being hugged somehow.  Yeah.  It’s just a real—and kind of a generalized—I don’t wanna say—it’s not necessarily sexual but kind of like a generalized arousal and just more hedonic and—yeah.  It’s kind of just like the complete opposite of the malevolent forces.

Q:    Mm-hmm.  Mm-hmm.  These are—it sounds like they’re—you kind of transition over different states over time.  Is it now, now that you have what you call the psychotic features, post-psychotic features?  Has that kind of has been a consistent experience, or do you find that with each new iteration of the same experience that things change?

A:    I think it’s definitely, definitely evolving and changing as I am still very much recovering from a lot of the events and the outcomes of that last period of crisis.  Then as I learn new skills of emotion regulation and self-soothing, as I learn better self-care routines and whatnot, whereas the so-called malevolent experiences could before kind of segue into periods of kind of daze of being—but I resolve them a lot more quickly now.  It definitely changes and evolves some.  It’s not a static set of features.  I think that the only—the most consistent think is the—some core elements of my world view or paradigm that don’t change.  Just like a few certain things that are definitely, that have been pretty consistent for a good long while.

Q:    Mm-hmm.  Following up on that, I was wondering if you could talk about any role that agency might play in that?  Kind of what I mean is, for instance, maybe if you want the more positive experience, if there’s things that you actively do in order to induce that state, for example?

A:    Yeah.  I think I—I mean that’s why I stopped thinking about psychosis as psychosis and kind of started thinking about it more in terms of reckoning, of the way that like a ship will navigate things.  So took a decidedly more self-determinative stance.  I do things like meditation with specific intentions, and various—a lot of like emotion regulation stuff, really, of recognizing that—it seems like if I’m angry or kind of triggered into particular emotional states, then that seems to pave the way for that experience of the total takeover.  Then, of course, I kind of like hang it in my mind, like, oh, like I brought this on myself.  I’m being being angry or something like that, which isn’t really helpful.

I think—yeah, there are definitely things that I do where I actively try to—if not just kind of keep myself in the functional middle, with a slight kind of orientation towards, like there’s something big and wonderful and magical and mysterious in the world, and I’m a part of it.  But, I really don’t need to think about emailing the Pope today.  I should go to work.  I gonna pick the kids up from school.  I think definitely there’s a lot of self-determination in—

Q:    How about if we bring it down to more of a micro level, just in terms of the content and the feel of the experiences themselves, or the extreme states, do you feel like you’re—like one of conceptualizing it as a counterexample would be that you’re being totally, passively subject to, like this is going on and you can kinda try to resist it, but in terms of what’s happening is just kinda being forced on you.  An alternative would be that maybe there are small things that you’re doing consciously to shape your experience.

A:    Yeah.  Yeah.  I think that there are small things and I think there are big things, as well, that I do to shape and then also to kind of create meaning of the experience.  Yeah, and that’s a conscious process.  That’s one of the things that I learned  through the sort of work that I do as a peer—just doing things like shifting world view or the creation of alternative meaning.  Things like exercising gratitude or shifting negative thoughts to positive thoughts.  All of that has helped to make it a much more—yeah, I’m pretty comfortable with my mode of experiencing the world.  It’s gotten to the point where it’s like, okay, this helps all that, so all that to make sense.  This feels true to me.  I’m okay with that.  So I think that—yeah—and then also kind of not—

I kind of kicked the bio-psychiatric model out of my head.  I mean I’m still in the process of getting it completely out.  I have the internal psychiatrist, it’s like, “That’s talking crazy, Faith.”  So, yeah, it’s like, “Shut up.”  I think that once I got rid of that paradigm where it’s like my experiences were just like wrong or the result of bungle or flaw or screw-up, and actually allowed myself to give personally relevant, somewhat adventuresome but relatively responsible meaning, conscientious meaning to them.

Yeah, I feel like I have a wholeness to myself and my experiences and my thoughts and whatnot that is, ironically, a lot more coherent than when it was like this is not okay.  This is shameful.  This is weird.  It’s no longer scary now, that I’ve just let myself be like, okay, this obviously—this is part of mind, this is part of my heart, this is part of the world.  I spend some time there, so how can I make this work, ’cause it’s not going away.  Yeah, it doesn’t go away.

Q:    To what extent do you think—it’s clearly made it kind of easier to function and easier to feel like a whole person.  Would you also say that your own personal processes of making meaning out of your experiences, that that’s also kind of changed their structure, or actually restructured them?

A:    Yeah.  I think that restructuring is a pretty good word for—and a lot of it was kind of a conscientious process.  What happened was I found myself sitting there feeling like, holy shit, like what am I—kind of like had to go through all those paces of like, okay, is this God, am I a prophet, like all of that.  It’s kind of in that process I kind of took apart a lot of meaning, and then had to figure out meaning that made sense to me, and that wasn’t just like alarming or ostracizing or alienating or putting something on me that I didn’t want or that I didn’t understand.  It was like I had this big flood of input, I guess.

Figuring out how to make sense of that in a way that actually made sense—I’m a fairly logic-driven person, so I wasn’t really okay with the thought of like this is just some phantom stuff my imbalanced brain is spewing out.  That didn’t make—because it felt very—it was real.  It was real.  I think most people who—the things we experience we experience them as being real, so finding a way to make sense of that—yeah, there was a lot of restructuring. I build a whole new paradigm for myself, fit my life into.

Q:    Cool.  Okay.  Okay.  Thinking about some of the other interview questions, in terms of things that we haven’t hit on.  What about language, specifically.

A:    That would—I’m sorry to interrupt.

Q:    Oh, yeah.  No, no, no, no, you absolutely should go ahead, but I know you’ve—I mean you’ve already talked about the thought experiences in terms of communication and the auditory voices, but other aspects of language that might be changed.

A:    Yeah.  That’s funny.  That’s actually a good example of this.  It’s like, oh, I was just reading that question about language, and so of course this is the one that she asks about.  Yeah, I think about—I don’t know.  When I see even the word language or processing, I know, for example, that I have some auditory processing stuff, ’cause one of the reasons I don’t like to talk on the phone because I can’t understand what people are saying.  I know a lot—

Q:    It’s easier if you’re seeing their lips move?

A:    Hmm?

Q:    You mean it’s easier if you’re seeing their lips move?

A:    Yeah, or it may just be the quality of cellular communication.  I’m not sure.  I know like if I’m in an area where there’s a lot of sound and a lot of voices, I can’t hear any distinct voice.  Someone can be sitting beside me and trying to speak with me, and I’m not able to grab onto their voice.  As far as like processing words, again, it’s—I can read—yeah.  It’s like finding secret messages in the Sunday paper circular, or reading an article that’s supposedly about like water ordinances, but actually is some indication of some other thing.  That’s definitely a pretty persistent component of my interaction with words and with meaning.  I kind of read everything as potential code.

Some things—and I think that has something to with there’s certain rhythm and certain intonation that seem to have—I think earlier I was mentioning kind of like recognizing people or finding relevant or really heavy meaning in things.  Sometimes in communication there’s a—and I don’t really know what it is, but, yeah, like sometimes definitely it’s sort of like a whoomp, whoomp.  That’s not happening, but I feel a physical sensation.  I am deeply in tune with whatever it is the person is saying, and they could be talking about the bus schedules in Los Angeles, or any little thing, but I’m kind of hearing it as, or listening to it as if it’s giving me information about the bigger scheme.

Q:    It sounds like you were kind of starting to describe maybe even what might be like certain kinds of tonal patterns or rhythmic patterns in people’s speech that you start to be able to identify a consistency to.  When it comes to printed language, then, are there visual patterns that you notice?

A:    I don’t know.  I think there’s maybe like—I would call them more lyrical patterns.  Again, like there’s some cadence that, or some relationship in, or some little idiosyncrasy in syntax that kind of catches me and makes something seem more relevant than it would objectively seem to be.  I wouldn’t say—but then again, it’s like if I look at a piece of paper, certain words kind of leap out, certain directions—and sometimes I look at words and it’s like they don’t mean anything.  That just depends on how my brain’s working.  Sometimes things mean everything, sometimes things mean nothing.

Q:    Okay.  Is there anything else besides this kind of identification of patterns and maybe messages that seems different about language?

A:    Because I have this set of beliefs and experiences that tells me that language is—are you referring to like spoken and written human language?

Q:    Yeah.  Just some examples of maybe what other people’s experience would include—for instance, like a written words becoming more animistic, like almost seeming like they have their own locus of consciousness, or other examples might be a kind of a fragmentation of language, so that when you’re reading a paragraph it’s hard to keep all the words together, like they seem so separate and distinct that making them cohere into a normal message is more difficult—those would be examples.

A:    Yeah.  That sort of stuff definitely happens.  Yeah.  I’ve been consciously, kind of actively trying to exercise my brain, because in—certainly this time two years ago, but this time last year still was not able to organize thoughts, was not able to absorb information from—I mean I’d always been a reader, and then it got to where I was—and just couldn’t engage with the text.  It just sort of [pfft, pfft].  Yeah, and I just kinda kept bouncing off of it.  Yeah, I mean struggles and meaning—just holding on to meaning or organizing meaning.  For example, I can read a paragraph about one thing, and the only thing that it means to me would be—like the relevance that would pull out would be from like one little segment or whatnot.  I definitely—there’s some fragmentation in my way of engaging with written words, and I think also with conversation and speaking with people.  Either kind of hyper-engaged and really in a reverberatively 1:04:21 engaged, or just really struggling to hold on to it and not just—yeah.  I think just kind of like that variance in levels of engagement is pretty—that’s kinda just part of my situation.

Q:    People with manic types of experiences often describe like racing thoughts, like just words going through their head really, really fast.  Do you ever get that?

A:    Yeah.  Yeah.  I definitely still have—I have upswings, I have downswings.  No, I don’t so much get that so much anymore.  I’ve had that.  Then again, I think there’s always a lot going on.  [Laughs].  There’s always something churning, thinking about a few different things at a time.  I might have that all the time.  I don’t know.  There are definitely periods where thoughts are more active and there’s like an urgency to particular ones that—yeah, yeah.  Now that—yeah, thinking—yeah.  There are periods where there’s, yeah a definite persistence.  If particular thoughts or ideas that—yeah, it’s like urgency.  So, with that.

Q:    Mm-hmm.  Okay.  Okay.  I’m back to looking through the questions.  What about taste and smell, which I know many people don’t actually experience any changes of taste and smell, but if you happen to—

A:    Yeah.  I have—I taste metallic sometimes, or taste mold.  It’s like some sort of flat, unpleasant taste.  Sometimes I smell things that other people don’t smell.  I think that might just be that’s just sensory variation, and my thinking of just, well, maybe my taste receptors are more sensitive to that particular alloy that’s in the city water, or whatever it is.  Maybe my olfactory receptors are just particularly keen today for some reason, so I’m getting some remnant of some smell that happened in here yesterday.  I don’t know.

Q:    Mm-hmm.  How about just more generally, ’cause it sounds like what you might be describing as a potential heightening of the senses.

A:    Yeah.

Q:    When that happens, is that across per sensory modalities?

A:    Yeah.  I think I’m pretty—I am pretty sensitive for the most part.  Thinking about—yeah, it’s not usually—I’m thinking about the times or the periods where it’s like, “[Pfft], what is that?” or, “What is that?”  Those kind of happen in more general—kind of like a generalized middle of the ground state, as opposed to—but definitely know when I’m kind of all lit up with just feeling very good and feeling kind of electric, the whole package is—smells are smellier, sounds are sharper, tastes are more—yeah.

Q:    Okay.  What about music?  What happens to music?

A:    What happens to music?

Q:    Mm-hmm.

A:    Or what happens with music?

Q:    Yeah.  Either one.

A:    I definitely get a very, very strong—I react very strongly with music.  When you say music, it’s like there’s sort of music in the purest sense of compositions of sound forms, and then there’s music that has cultural meaning and whatnot, like pop songs on the radio with lyrical content and whatnot.  I think that there are particular notes that I respond to a lot, like E-minor is one.  I can get very—if there’s a particular—like I’ll be walking through a space, like any sort of public space—and there’ve been a lot of times where it’s like, “What is that?” and kind of faintly hearing some song playing somewhere.  When particular types of music are on I’m not able to really disengage with them.

Yeah, it’s just kind of a, I think an attunement thing.  I enjoy music.  Certain music makes me feel really good.  I can get good kind of physical sensations, kind of like a prickly feeling up my arms, I can kind of feel things, kind of [chshhh], in response to certain chord formations or shifts in music.  I think I just experience things in a pretty intense way.

Q:    That kind of brings up an interesting point in what one might call self-world relationships.  I wonder if you would—would you say, for instance, that maybe your self-world relationship is somehow more attenuated?

A:    I don’t know what anybody else’s self-world relationship feels like.

Q:    Right, right.  Uh huh.

A:    I think I definitely—I feel pretty deeply attuned.  I think some of that is—a lot of it I think is just natural attunement.  I think I have always been attuned but I didn’t have the context to realize I was attuned.  I haven’t really conscious—I mean know people try to attune, and practice mindfulness and rich experiences in the present moment, and all of that.  People work really hard to try to get that richness of experience, whereas I’m—like wish sometimes that—yeah, could just like shut it down for a minute, and not be always just aware of what’s happening.  But then again, there are periods of time, kind of going back to that being shut down when the kind of malevolent force is happening.  I’m still aware but it definitely—again, like that damp blanket is kind of put on everything, which doesn’t feel good.

Q:    We’ve talked a lot about non-directly interpersonal types of situations, but like what about when you’re directly interacting in person with somebody?  Is there anything in any of these domains that kind of seems changed or different or unusual there?

A:    I think having that feeling of like, “Oh, you and I are interacting on a telepathic level, even though you’re just the kid at the convenience store.”  There’s like that element that isn’t always—that’s not always part of the mutually acknowledged dynamics so—a lot of times interacting with people I guess in a way that they’re not interacting with me in that way, but—and I think—actually I spend a lot of my time with people who have experienced some form of madness.  At this point I have a—yeah, I definitely—I can go out, I’m socially versatile.  I can go out.  It’s like, “Hi, how are you doing?” be very appropriate.  I work in a professional setting.  In that setting it’s like I’m the weird one or whatnot.

As far as interpersonal things, I think, yeah, so thinking that people are communicating with me on some subliminal or telepathic way, or that they’re offering some signal or some code.  Sometimes interacting with people, thinking like, “Okay, this is some sort of test or assessment to see what I’m gonna do in this situation.”  Whereas it might just be like a regular thing, but in my mind it becomes like something that’s being surveilled and kept track of.  This kind of just opens the door to sort—I mean I guess like what clinically would be described as paranoia types of , of seeing people and thinking like, “Oh, that’s that,” when I kind of—like my objective brain kind of is just like, “Okay, Faith, like that’s a nice little—that’s a nice story.  That’s fine.  You can just put that brick over here in this world view, in this whole little scene over there.”  [Audio cuts out 1:16:13] the grocery store without turning it into a super-ominous spy story of some sort.

Q:    Okay.  Okay.  I’m trying to regroup a little bit.

A:    I’m looking at the questions.

Q:    Mm-hmm.  Yeah, because if there’s anything you feel like I’ve missed, let me know.  I guess what I would ask next, because you kind of started talking about it now, even though it’s not written out here, is just a lot of what you’ve described seems like to maybe involve a kind of double bookkeeping or double awareness, in the sense that you kind of simultaneously have a sense of what other people think, and are experiencing what you’re experiencing, and the two are not cancelling each other out, or one isn’t cancelling the other out.

A:    Yeah.  No, they’re happily coexisting for the most part.  Yeah.  I think actually it was through the rumination site that I first came across the concept of double bookkeeping.  It was like, “That’s how I’m doing it!  That’s how I’m keeping all this together.  That’s how I’m pulling this off.”  And being really intentional in trying to structure a life that is accommodating of this persistent world view.  I guess like my loyalty to it—it’s sort of like the big, overarching thing, and my delusions is that if I turn from this, then I’m gonna die, basically, and that bad things are going to happen, and that I’m going to—yeah, just that I have no choice but to try to figure this out.  It’s been kind of an act of necessity for me, ’cause I got kind of in a little bit of a double bind.  It’s like I can’t—you can’t live with it, you can’t live without it—sort of thing, so I’ve kind of had to restructure my life to accommodate this—the overarching story and whatnot.

Q:    Do you notice anything that’s—like if we think about doubling in the normal sense, like two realities or something, they would be basically analogous.  Are things that seem dis-analogous to you?  Like for instance maybe in the quote/unquote “real world,” or according to consensus reality, you might act on things more, act them out in public more, and in terms of these experiences that seem more subjective in the sense that you’re kind of aware that other people aren’t aware of them?

A:    Mm-hmm.

Q:    Like acting on them less—and that would be just one example, but maybe things where you notice some kind of difference.

A:    Yeah.  It’s really different.  I’m very—I try hard to maintain sort of a—like I’m always myself but here I’m comfortable doing this and here, whoa, I better really tone that down over here, and—but, yeah, there’s a whole different set of everything, really in all these different—yeah.  There are some things that are, like I said, I sort of bridge it with meeting it with sort of like symbolism and so that things presented over here correspond with things that are happening over here, and vice versa.  There’s go between.  It’s not like rigid compartmentalization.  Definitely there’s some reflexivity.  There’s some responsivity.  Things that re happening in consensus reality do kind of correspond or correlate or indicate some meaning about this other thing.  Audio quality?

Q:    Yeah, it was a little bit, like slightly a little bit broken up, but that’s okay.  No, this is the call actually in terms of the quality is really good compared to some experiences I’ve had with Skype.

A:    Is it?  Nice.

Q:    Okay.  Cool.  I’m thinking—we’ve already done about an hour and forty minutes.  At this point we could maybe—there’s a couple different ways we could go.  I could just ask you to look over the interview and think about if there’s something that you feel like you haven’t said that you wanna say or that we didn’t cover enough.  Another possibility would be—’cause I definitely—I was already interviewed, and I found this, that I needed like some times, and then later it occurred to me, oh, I should’ve said that or should’ve said this.

A:    Yeah, yeah.

Q:    So we could do a brief second interview or you could write things in, or you could wait until you get the transcript and then we could do follow-ups.  Those are just possibilities, but definitely I do wanna ask if there’s anything more you wanna say now.

A:    Yeah.  We didn’t talk much about triggers.  I think that there are definitely some triggers.  But again, a lot of them are subjective triggers.  I’ve noticed that I think storm systems affect me.  Certain spatial arrangements—actually, I can get very, very—and not just like it’s my feng shui’s uptight, but I do experience these really strong, visceral sort of—again, like that kind of total body thing, if things are placed in strange relation to one another.  That can be kind of like unpleasant, but also can be really pleasant.  I’ve experienced some heightened orientation to particular things based on favorable arrangements of stuff.  Kind of like finding myself sitting down and then it’s like, oh, da, da, da, da.  I that there’s a lot of—everything’s complicated.  There’s a lot of triggers for everything.  Sometimes I think about it in terms of cueing, that like I’m getting cued by particular things, like, “Hey, pay attention!”  That would be sort of like a triggering process of—yeah.  There’s lots of stuff.  Yeah, people are complicated.  Yeah.

Q:    What about larger life event kinds of triggers?  Maybe triggers isn’t even the best word, but ways in which your experiences might seem to be a reaction to or intertwined with life events.

A:    Yeah.  Trauma has been a precursor to every sort of pivotal point in my experiences of bringing about the pathway to crisis.  Kind of like loss stuff, grief.  Yeah, psychosocial trauma was a really big one.  I was actually conscientious of the role that that was playing, as my last big break was kinda building, I was writing, “The situation is  pushing me.  I am finding myself thinking more and more about this other thing because like this is unbearable.”  I was aware that—I guess of some of the psychological processes of madness.  [Cross talk 1:27:01]

Q:    Am I hearing this right, almost as a kind of escapism, of getting away from a terrible real life event by allowing yourself to be sucked in to more of an extreme state, or choosing to go there?

A:    Yeah, there are definitely elements of that.  It’s like I was kind of going there, and then I sort of just—yeah.  I remember thinking, it’s like this actually makes sense.  This is a reasonable response for somebody who’s trying to salvage some shred of meaningful self.  I really had a—yeah, I was in a very bad situation and had—yeah.  I very much feel in that transformative process, like my old self is gone.  I mean just gone.  Just so torn up as to be invalidated.  I mean I very much was like—yeah, madness was definitely an escape.

Q:    Mm-hmm.  Mm-hmm.  Cool.

A:    Yeah.

Q:    Okay.  Okay.  Anything else that you can think of now?  Likewise, it’s always when I’m done with an interview that I think about, “Oh, I should’ve asked that,” but—

A:    Yeah, I think—again, I’ll probably—I’m looking over the questions right now.  I think you touched on most of sort of the big stuff, and kind of my body of experience.  Again, it’s like, yeah, all of this is just kinda—it’s so epic in the experiencing that, yeah, there’s all these different layers and variables and nuances and—yeah.  Yeah, this has been interesting.  It’s the first time I’ve really clinically or talked to somebody not in a clinical way, but then not in an informal way, like sitting on my porch with a post-psychotic friend and talking about this or talking about that.  It’s been interesting.

Q:    Cool.  Okay, well then I will—I’ll still talk to you a little bit but I’ll turn off the recorder.

A:    Thanks, [inaudible 1:30:29]

[End of audio]


…and an email to myself, sent at 2:33 am on 10/26/2013…

Sometimes, a person doesn’t realize that they’ve got what they asked for until they are right in the middle of the wish they were granted.

This afternoon, I had to remind myself that I was going to a show this evening, a show I’d bought tickets for months and months ago, before the summer and everything that came with it. I knew that I didn’t want to miss another chance to hear those songs being sung. Still, I had to remind myself that I was going out tonight and I wouldn’t say that I felt particularly excited.

I didn’t even wash my hair.

It wasn’t until I was standing in line, waiting to go into the auditorium that I felt something like nervous, a feeling I haven’t felt in a long time, like butterflies – only they were in my chest, not my stomach. I stood in the line, wearing the hat I call my “Russian spy hat” – though it is actually a hat from Albania, of the sort that is worn by both regular people and possibly spies.  Í took a picture of a child’s drawing titled “Science,” because I appreciated the heart in the beaker.

I hadn’t quite grasped the fact that the band that had played so figuratively into my span of madness had come out of retirement and that I was going to their show.

I knew these things, but the magnitude escaped me. Everything has felt so theoretical lately, a little bit unreal.

If I had to pinpoint the moment, four years ago, that I began to hear the radio differently, it would be in the evening time, when my girl was struggling to fall asleep and the internet was softly streaming songs. I only caught a note of the song from across the room, a song I hadn’t heard in about 10 years and had never really thought much about.

Two Headed Boy.

I don’t talk about it much.

I’m not that sort of fan.

It’s just that I felt less alone with the ghost of my dead uncle because a songwriter lost his mind about Anne Frank, and she became a part of him when he read her story. Somehow, those songs helped me to make sense of what was happening. I wondered if maybe my dark-eyed uncle had found his way to Anne, had sat with her while she wrote…if maybe their ghosts, all ghosts, were conspiring as one now, here in this desperate new century.

It feels silly to even discuss the matter, even in an email to myself. I need to find the language that cuts the cliché away from this, speaks the truth of it. I think poetry and nonsense, wind and songs might be the only way.

At one point in the Fall of 2010, I sent an email to the film production company of the singer’s wife, with a message that included the words “We’re supposed to be helping, not hiding.”

This was one of several frantic and 1/2 mad emails, with reference to things such as numb thumbs, e Minor and my need for people to come to this town to support me in the aftermath of my proving God, which I was certain was going to cause an imminent ideological crisis in the minds of the masses and, somehow, make everything come to a grinding halt.

For some reason, I really felt like I needed someone’s help with all of that.

Later, I sent an earnest apology, but I don’t think I ever explained that it was the sense of a shared ghost and a shared understanding of an unspecific strangeness that is not spoken of that had compelled me to reach out.

At that point, I didn’t know of many other people who felt as if their lives were full of ghosts.

For a couple of years, I sent regular updates – one email every six months, because I felt that would make a better story than a random person sending some decidedly rude emails in the midst of a ghost-ridden madness and then never saying another word. Not knowing if the letters we ever read, I told the email address about changes within my life and times, how I had used Hidden Driver’s film on The Commons in my failed effort to catalyze the declaration of a commons here, as part of the Occupy movement. I told the email address about my intent to return to school and I sent them a message about neurodiversity and cross-disability activism.

I told the email address that I was tired.

I told them that I would be going to the show and not to worry, that I wasn’t an obsessive fan or anything, but that I just liked a good story.

I haven’t written the address in about six months.

I don’t know if I will.

Maybe I’ll mail them a letter?

Tonight, after the doors opened, I was able to walk to the front row and take seat #4, almost directly in front of the center of the stage. I still didn’t feel particularly excited.

Nothing was going to happen, I told myself.

It would just be a show and I would just be an audience member. I was happy to hear music, but I haven’t been feeling particularly mad lately and so my thinking brain held no strong sense of expectation.

I thought about the possibility that none of my messages were ever received, that they were lost in the locked ethers of the spam file, or deleted before they were even open.

I sometimes think that some working in the collective consciousness, the detailed gears of impulse, might signal people to pay attention to things they might not usually pay attention to, that sometimes people get the idea to…oh, do this or do that, prompted by something close to mystery, for the purpose of bringing into being something that would not exist otherwise – art, life, ideas…the world-changing outcomes of small unexpected moments.

As I waited, I became aware of a growing anticipation. “Something is going to happen,” my bones told me. “Something is happening.”

This sense was quickly countered by my thinking brain.

This is just a show, just a concert. I am just an audience member.

I looked up at the ceiling of the Thomas Wolfe auditorium and noticed how the paint was peeling in places. I thought the extravagant lights hung around the stage were funny and I wished I were in a smaller room. I sat in my seat and I waited, turning around occasionally to watch the seats behind me fill up with other people waiting.

I danced and laughed through Half Japanese.

I felt my face fall into concern when I saw that Daniel Johnston’s tardive dyskinesia had gotten so severe that he could hardly play guitar anymore.

“That is why…” I thought, considering the cruelty of central nervous system damage, shaking hands and fumbled frets.

For a moment, I held the thought that perhaps I was not there for some universal service of heartening reward to be bestowed upon me, but that maybe I was there to send electric comforts in dreamform to the man who held the clattering guitar…beam my eyes as strong as I could across the expanse of open floor over the orchestra pit, up onto the stage, open my hands.

I can do that sort of thing, you know.

Anybody can, but some have stronger hearts than others.

I didn’t know who was watching from the edge of the stage. He was just a figure in the shadows, a pair of pale clapping hands at the end of each short song.

I think that his ghosts are somehow connected to mine and that we are both – as so many people are storytellers.

The words he wrote down, those notes that were played and recorded, they were my friends when I had no friends.

I know I am not alone in this.

Before the band played, as the stage was arranged with saws and horns and stands and strings, people had jostled into the front row to try to get closer to the stage. Security came around and told them to leave, told them if they didn’t have a seat to stand in front of, they had to leave the row.

I held my space in front of seat #4 until two people worked their way into the space at the barricade, pushing me to stand in front of seat #3.

Security didn’t ask them to leave, as they had the others, and I told the young man, “Must have been meant to be…”

My place in front was now directly in front of the microphone stand that occupied stage left.

I can’t really say much about the show, because all that transpired is a secret that held my gaze, a voice that asked that the spotlights be turned off, that the crowd be lit.

It was all a secret that was lit in blue.

I do know that by the end of the evening, I understood that I was getting my wish and that I looked straight ahead and smiled, because the film producer played guitar to the song called Ghost.


One thought on “Mad Longform

  1. Oh, my…so, I decided to learn a little more about Eternal Children of the Blue Sky, which is the amazing work of photographer and human being Martina Radwan (whose name is not to be found on the site that features the work that she does?) and others in Mongolia to help orphans and streetkids to find homefulness and pull together for a future. The site shows pictures of a world that I have not seen, where there is snow and shacks and gold-gilt draping, with so few trees…and on the Charity page on the site, it mentions that Eternal Children of the Blue Sky is an FJC organization…just like The Icarus Project.

    I have an FJC check sitting on my green table right now and what a small, big world in which to do astounding and beautiful work.

    It seems ridiculous that I ever wanted to die.

    3 minutes later…and now, when I go to donate, I see that
    “In August 2010, Children Of Blue Sky was featured on Oprah’s Angel Network.”

    August 2010 was a big month.

    This August, Jacks and Icarus were featured in Oprah’s Magazine: and answering all those emails from people who came across the article in some waiting room and wrote in to ask about help for their daughter, their son, their niece, themselves while my friends were in the woods in California and New York was part of the first work I did for Icarus.

    Unless you are me, you’ve no idea how all these things align or how clearly they tell the future in theme. Now tell me that the world does not work, that it isn’t somehow scheming so many wonderful turns and I’ll laugh, laugh, laugh, laugh, laugh, laugh, laugh.

    When I found out that Jacks was going to be in Oprah, the first thing I thought of was how I had just seen Oprah’s picture on the wall of Lang’s Seafood by the river in my hometown, the last shrimping family, frying it all up across the street from the military museum in that tragic place I called home, home, home, home, home, home, home.

    One day, I’m going there.

    All of those theres.

    “In 2012 and 2013, Jeff Mangum donated a portion of his concert tour to Children of the Blue Sky.” <- that's some mighty fine helping, Mr. Mangum.

    God, I totally fucking love the world and that's not madness, that's seeing it all as it is.

    True, true, true, true, true, true, true.

    Also true is that I just looked for a second to see if I could find a miscellaneous single ticket to the February 1st show in Carrboro and some person is selling one for 893.00 on Ebay and that I find that gross, unless they’re gonna give all those surplus funds away.

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