Sunday, December 27, 2009

Talking the Walk (13)

It’s true. It’s true.

Soon after my first admission to hospital, I entered a state of complete catatonia, either as a result of psychosis or the powerful tranquilizers I was put on, or most likely a combination of both. But before that, I have fragmented but clear memories of an exchange that kept recurring during my first intake interviews. It involved the doctors telling me, with regard to the wound I had given myself–what I called my “self-Caesarean”–and my beliefs about it, that it was a delusion, a hallucination, part of the psychosis. And I kept saying, with the monosyllabic stubbornness of a trapped person, “’s true.” I think I kept repeating this until it was just a whisper, and then it became an internal voice: It’s true. It’s true. You see, I had been guided by a vision that a rebirth was coming. That the person I had been was dying, and had to die, so that a new person might be born. “You’re sick,” they kept saying. “No, it’s true,” I kept saying. We were speaking from different vantage points–they from sickness, symptoms, and treatment; and I from existence, metaphor and what I saw as salvation–so we couldn’t understand one another. What I might say to them now, if I could travel back in time, is, “I’m sick...and it’s true.” What I’d done was violent and horrible and terribly distorted–with more violence and distortion to come–but it was also true. Twistedly true. Or, if you prefer, truly twisted. And true in the most literal way. A straight-A high school student, a good and likeable boy whose future seemed promising–now lay bandaged and mute, drugged and shocked, on a psychiatric ward, with, after a while, very little hope held out, even by the doctors, for his recovery. Clearly, someone had died. And then, two years later, working as a part-time dishwasher and living in a rented room, tramping about the city all day and night scribbling poems on scraps of paper, restaurant napkins and placemats, even the margins of dollar bills...hand-stitching little books, making collages out of curb-found objects...and feeling exultant, jubilant that at last I’d found the life in art I was meant for. Just as clearly, someone had been born.


It is terrible, of course, to be un-made as a person. And exhilarating. And terrible to be exhilarated by your own un-making. As I thought about this the other day, what flew into my mind, like a flaming arrow, was the famous war cry attributed to Crazy Horse: “It is a good day to die.” Which means, as I understand it, that it is also a good day to live. (Especially if you couple it with the first sentence Crazy Horse is supposed to have said: “It is a good day to fight. It is a good day to die.”) If it is a good day to die, it is a good day to live. And...if it is not a good day to die, then probably it has not been a very good day to live. This, by the way, is not related by any neat corollary to suicide, which stalks through my book like a shadowy hunter. I won’t generalize about suicide, which I think is talked about too glibly, when in fact it must be as various and complex as the people and moods that turn to it. I only want to say that I have known the impulse to exit life not as a good day to die, but rather as a day so bad to live that dying seemed the only way to end it. That is very different.

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