Thursday, February 28, 2013

Asylum Walk (55)

Three good things to (finally) hear from a psychiatrist:

“I’m not sure.”

“It’s up to you.”

“You know best.”

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Asylum Walk (54)

Build sanity—bring it home—as a bird builds a nest, or as ants carry food back to the colony. By innumerable trips, by countless dire mishaps and recoveries.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Asylum Walk (53)

Everyday rewiring.

Not to forget but to re-remember.

Take an invasive and unpleasant memory, one that you try to avoid because when it strikes it brings feelings of panic, depression, rage, terror. Sit or lie comfortably. Breathe deeply and slowly; become as relaxed as possible. Call the memory to mind. Do not try to change your attitude towards it. Do not try to do anything. Eat or drink something you enjoy.

Change the grounds of the encounter. The encounter will change. So, slowly, will the thing encountered.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Asylum Walk (52)

Just as a disciplined retreat under fire is considered the most difficult of military maneuvers, so the withdrawal of one’s energies from fields that have wasted them takes delicacy as well as determination, a willingness to incur losses alongside a resolve that these be kept to a minimum.

Remember the tact in tactic.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Asylum Walk (51)

A man knew that something in his house was making him sick. He called it by various names: pest, fungus, disease, parasite; most often, it. It afflicted him continually but unpredictably: flaring up then subsiding, flaring up then subsiding—the episodes (or attacks, as he also called them) variable in their duration and severity. From his first inklings of the intruder—a vague uneasy sense, beginning in childhood, that he was not alone in the house—he built up, over years and then decades, a personal store of information about his adversary and how he might live with it (since, from the start, eradication—eviction—seemed impossible). This knowledge was not systematic but more like the scattered gleanings of folk wisdom. He knew them as practical commands: Rooms to avoid. Rooms to avoid in certain seasons. Foods that were usually safe, foods that should be shunned. Safe—safer—places for sleeping. Survival wiles.

He aged, and in a curious way did not age, according to the Dorian Gray paradox of chronic illness. While he withered visibly under the assaults, parts of him remained undeveloped, embryonic (“childlike,” said more hopeful observers)—frozen in the stages prior to the siege.

He felt a shameful intimacy with the invader. With what—whom?—did he exchange more messages? Warnings, alarms, updates, pleas, fragments of intercepted code.... What—whom—did he know better?

Yet sometime around his fiftieth birthday he decided he didn’t know enough. Something—fatigue, desperation, some late rally of his fighting spirit—drove him to study the enemy more closely. His knowledge, he decided, was too general, or perhaps too personal. He resolved to make an objective inventory of his entire house. Find out exactly where it lived. All the places—he expected these to be numerous—where it thrived. “Taking its measure,” he told himself grimly. (Grimly and happily, as one undertakes a dirty job long postponed.)

What he found was this: it lived everywhere. There was no corner, no tiny spot, of his house that it had not colonized long ago. His previous notion of “hot zones, ” dangerous areas, had been a mirage. A delusion masquerading as realism: hot zones imply that there are cool zones, safe ones.

He aged ten years in six months. The frozen embryo and the withered survivor made one gaunt remnant.

“I’ve lost my innocence,” he told a worried friend.

“By uncovering...a mystery?”

“It was always uncovered. But now I am too.”

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Asylum Walk (50)

I love my little boy but I don’t enjoy his company. Sometimes I do. He’s like certain very moody friends: delightful in small doses. (Delightful is probably too strong.) What was I thinking? I ask my friends, or I would ask them if any of us could afford to voice what must be on all our minds, I can’t be the only one. How could I expect to find happiness spending virtually every minute (it would be better if he went out occasionally, but he can’t) with someone so selfishly narrow in his interests, so dogmatically boring in his monologues, so petty in his fleeting whims and so cruelly vindictive when these are frustrated even momentarily? It is sheer misery to be with him day after day. It is slow dripping hell. There, I’ve said it. He’ll change, he’ll improve, people tell me, books and TV shows tell me—but can I stand the 20, 30...50 years the promised transformation may take? What if it doesn’t happen at all? Change will come, yes—that law I accept—but why must it be for the better? The signs point elsewhere. His habits degrade while his will to indulge them strengthens. He is soft clay in the hands of advertisers and the interests they serve. They are not the devil, it is not that simple. But they can’t mold anyone I would wish to live with, or even near. Even to imagine my life with him this way feels already like a long sentence. It is like that moment when a fond glance that feeds a fantasy lingers a little too long, takes in too much, and sees the long decay that will consists of endless pitched assaults on each other’s nerves and spirits. Aside from hopeful visions, this is imagination’s other gift: to let the worst fan out in time. It is better by far that we never meet. We could not possibly be good for each other.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Asylum Walk (49)

Maybe a mural by 1000 artists could give some sense of it. A few brushstrokes from recent reading:

Not many people are capable of noticing that ripple of thought that runs incessantly across the mind—even in themselves. So reading somebody else’s thoughts is like trying to make out something written on muddy water by a pitchfork in the hands of a madman.
—Victor Pelevin

Globally, more people take their own lives in an average year—roughly a million—than the total murdered and killed in war.
—Shaoni Bhattacharya

To think that we could have had an ordinary family life with its bickering, broken hearts and divorce suits! ...What wouldn’t we have given for such ordinary heartbreak.
—Nadezhda Mandelstam

All a little window tells us is that here too there is a place where light can enter but wind and rain are kept out.
—Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

My father’s relationship to his possessions, his house, his car, his bank account, was always distant and ambiguous, to say the least. It was as if my father were always unburdening himself, willingly or reluctantly, always getting rid of things, but with such bad luck (or so slowly) that he could never achieve the nakedness he longed for. And that, as you might imagine, ending up driving him crazy.
—Roberto BolaƱo

The fly that does not want to be swatted is safest if it sits on the fly-swat.
—Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

Health is contagious.
—Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Asylum Walk (48)

“He got what he deserved.”

A man can use a time machine to make a one-way, irreversible trip into the past. Eschewing the chance to witness glories or meet greatness, he resolves to insert himself where he may have maximum impact: murdering Adolf Hitler in the cradle. He does so. The baby killer is arrested, nearly lynched, tried, convicted, and executed.

Did Baby Adolf get what he deserved?

Did his killer?

Embroideries: The time assassin’s lawyer urges a plea of insanity. His client readily agrees. The court hears the evidence—which is merely the truth: an assassin from the future, forestalling genocide and world war—and rules against it. The prosecutor is persuasive, citing the accused’s calm and deliberate approach to the cradle, his cunning preparations and disarming charm. Moreover, there is his prior admission to a lover he had taken in the village of all the particulars of his plan. Her distraught testimony seals his fate.

His sober and pensive demeanour in the box is taken as further evidence of his sanity. Wrongly. He is genuinely, profoundly puzzled. As he raised the knife above the gurgling, blue-eyed baby he realized that history was only a pretext, he had always wanted to kill someone. It was why he had built the time machine. The target—himself—was too elusive to be trapped except by extreme stealth.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Asylum Walk (47)


Last things first.
The sky is always brightest just before the dawn.
The clothes have no Emperor.
The road to good intentions is paved with hell.
An ounce of cure is worth a pound of prevention.
When I became a child, I put away manly things.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Asylum Walk (46)

N, my second principal: “If you improved one aspect of your teaching each year, you would become a great teacher.” For teaching, substitute mental health; for each year, each week (day?—it’s a big job).

Gradualism. (And providing you don’t let the already attained elements slip.)

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Asylum Walk (45)

We have a limited number of ways to show distress compared to the massive number of things that can cause it.

The number of possible states that could be betokened by a tear in the eye. Silence. Inattention.

An actor taught the repertoire of tragic theatre but restricted in his expression of it to a frown, a pause, and a gape.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Asylum Walk (44)

Stay off Quantitative Street. Visit Q Street when you must—to pay a bribe, pay a fine: pay the Rent—but avoid at all costs taking up residence there. Resist all pressure—especially from yourself—to turn numen into number.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Asylum Walk (43)

“You’re strange,” said the faces in the playground. All the playgrounds: university pubs, department meetings, wedding receptions, retirement parties. And your good-humoured “Not really” or, more often, a smile and glance aside, was not just a denial of a charge, which you knew in any case was true, at least in this particular court of opinion. More than that, you felt shame, even despair, that the charge was not more true.

Do you have what it takes to be strange? The pioneer nerve?

Not just to break established laws, which requires the not inconsiderable courage of the criminal—but to find and live by your own laws, which requires the power and spirit of the outlaw.

Can you tack into the strangeness that is sanity?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Asylum Walk (42)

Winter Weather Tip from a radio science spot: To avoid having your glasses fog up, walk into the building backwards.

A pretty apt summary of my aim with this Asylum Walk.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Asylum Walk (41)

The Continuity Clause (Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of Self):

“I” shall still be considered “I” in spite of lapses or contradictions in the behaviour of myself or the partial or complete disappearance of myself for whatever duration and for whatever reason.

So help me...anyone.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Asylum Walk (40)

Cellular symbiosis: Lynn Margulis’s contention that eukaryotic cells (proto-proto-Us) developed from a merger between our ancestral host cells and bacteria about two billion years ago. It gets better. The mitochondria that do the work in almost all the cells of our bodies are thought to have descended from close relatives of the bacteria that cause typhus.

Newly arrived and badly underfunded Hopeful Cell meets Old Money Bacterium on a street corner during the Primeval Recession:

“Buddy, can you spare a gene?”

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Asylum Walk (39)

The blind spot. An absence of information is not the same as information about an absence. (A presence of information is not the same as information about a presence.)

1. I know.
2. I don’t know.
3. I know I know.
4. I don’t know I know.
5. I know I don’t know.
6. I don’t know I don’t know.

What sorts of conversations occur between 2 and 5, 3 and 6, etc.?

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Asylum Walk (38)

“Brain Blues in C”

Have pity on the brain
Have mercy on the brain
Its village is the universe
An’ it’s doin the best it can

Friday, February 8, 2013

Asylum Walk (37)

The Internet/brain analogy is overworked. Consider its usefulness and limitations:

The Internet is analagous to the developing human brain in terms of its constantly proliferating pathways and their generated variations in content/patterns/associations.

It is not analagous in that it is not constrained by the need to produce coherent overall behaviour that allows it to survive.

Imagine an Internet that at every moment had choices available to it that could irreparably harm or even end it? A World Wide Web that could forego feeding itself? Stick its finger into a light socket? Step in front of a car? Hang itself?

Leave its present life and become a waiter in Milwaukee?

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Asylum Walk (36)

I can’t get to Well. Can’t live there. I don’t have the necessary papers, contacts, funds...resources...whatever it takes.

So visit. Go as a tourist. Same as anyplace. Short excursions, trips, maybe the occasional overnight. Eventually you may decide to look for long-term accommodations.

How did you get to where you’re living now?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Asylum Walk (35)

Ventriloquism. The usefulness of “throwing the voice” as a fictional strategy, i.e. inventing a character in a situation to voice your own outlook. Both to give a break from the yammering “I” and to lend a vitality, a projected out-thereness to an opinion that might otherwise be unheard because of its too-cosy familiarity.

The same can serve as a tactic against depression and bad mental habits. Another form that “as if” can take. Before you’re ready to own the new outlook, “throw” it to the dummy, let him say it. The dummy is already a part of you, an extension of your current repertoire. Get him talking, saying things before you’re ready to. He will surprise you, challenge you. Work on making his voice believable, fully separable from your own. Eventually you’ll own it. You’ll catch up to him.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Asylum Walk (34)

30 billion neurons...a million billion connections...more than the number of elementary particles in the known universe.

An unavoidable consequence of such hyperastronomical connectivity and associativity will be maladaptive patterns of thought and behaviour. Yes, some wires will get crossed—sparks, shorts, blackouts, even electrocutions—but you can’t cross-connect so abundantly without some misfires. The wonder is that these remain so staggeringly few in number compared to the number of routinely successful and productive linkages.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Asylum Walk (33)

In evolutionary terms our brains are brand new; in addition, their structures have been modified by the accelerants of culture and challenged by conditions that the first users of our brain, those in whom and for whom it evolved, did not face, e.g. a highway at rush hour.

The brain is doing its best in conditions it was not specifically designed for.

Many of its features have little or nothing to do with what we want or need it to do now.

Sometimes you find yourself behind the wheel of a Porsche when you need a dump truck. Riding a subway car when you would rather be walking. Waiting for a bus when you need a fast limo. Trying to locate the calculating function on a mainframe when an abacus would serve. Waiting for a word processor with graphical interface to power up, with no stick and patch of dirt to hand.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Asylum Walk (32)

He or she has a strong arm, weak arm, no arm.

Her shoulder was injured, but she strengthened it by exercises.

He takes medicine for his heart.

I have a liver condition; my liver is failing.

My eyes are very weak; with corrective lenses I have normal vision, but without them I can barely see.

Normally the skin becomes drier, less elastic, with age.

Now, for arm/shoulder/heart/liver/eyes/skin, substitute self.

(Can the self, unlike the body, become stronger with age? More robust, more resilient. Or is it locked with the same inevitability into the seasons of organic growth: spring, summer, fall, winter?)

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Asylum Walk (31)

(n.) anosognosia: the inability to acknowledge or recognize a deficit

A neurological term used, for example, in cases after stroke where a person exhibits paralysis but does not consciously realize this, may in fact strenuously deny it, confabulating to explain discrepancies. Consider:

The kinds of anosognosia indicative of insanity.

The kinds of anosognosia indicative of sanity.

Maladaptive and adaptive obliviousness.

Given that maintenance of a coherent world-view (including a self-view) depends to a high degree on screening out most features of that world (and self?)—how much screening out is necessary? If we must select a tiny fraction of the available data to make meaning—how much larger a fraction can we allow before meaning disintegrates under the load?

Friday, February 1, 2013

Asylum Walk (30)

The juvenile sea squirt searches for rock or coral to cling to as its home for life. When it finds it, it eats its (now unnecessary) brain.