September 02, 2009

Quietly Going Crazy

You ever get the feeling you’re going out of your mind? You ever get it at ten o’clock on a Wednesday morning while sitting alone in your quiet cubicle in a state office building working on yet another boring spreadsheet full of census data? Like you want to cry and jump up and dance and fuck something all at the same time? And everything seems so surreal and when you rub your closed eyes you feel dizzy and your glasses feel too heavy and the way they frame your vision, usually so totally unnoticed, is just driving you crazy? And you can’t believe you’re wearing what your wearing and it feels like a sham and the dour grey overcast outside is just so absolutely damned appropriate and every time you look around you feel like this ought not to be your life? Yeah, it’s like that. A Kerouac kind of mood, like what did I take and how am I going to pour this crazy energy out of me?

And nothing on the outside shows. A face devoid of emotion. A body just sitting loosely in the chair in the soothing beige cube like it always does, finger tapping along on the keys. Not an ounce of outward tension. Not a word said, not even a scream, not a hair out of place. And if someone popped their head in right now, I’d answer them with a smile and make small talk just like there was nothing beneath the surface at all.

Maybe there isn’t?

And if someone did catch on and ask me what’s what, I’d downplay. I’d dismiss. Sure I’m a little off, but it’s not big deal. My breakdowns aren’t like other people’s breakdowns. I don’t do crises. I don’t flip out. It’s a matter of degree and my boat is still smooth sailing and the storm is still over the horizon, always over the horizon. It’ll go away. I’ll be fine.

That’s such a shit word, isn’t it? Fine. It’s so overused so as to loose all meaning. We need a better word. One that says “no, I’m not okay, but I don’t think there’s anything to be done about it and you can’t help, so we should just all go about our business like nothing is happening and wait until something more conclusive comes to bear.” It’s like the wind through the trees. They say the flexible ones bend, they bend but don’t break, they survive. But everything bends before it breaks. No one can predict the wind.

So I let my fingers fly and talk myself down out of the trees, degree by degree. It’s all there in black on white on paper computer screen. It’s real. I can’t deny it’s real, but I can also see it is ephemeral, illusory, malleable, like the wind, virtual like the binary code behind the programs, all imaginary ones and zeros. I can go back to the dream, sink back in, loose myself in the spreadsheets and the soothing beige walls. Turn on my little space heater to chase away the chill, pull on my headphones to fill the frenzy with music, a recognizable beat, drowning out my pulse. I like it when I can’t find my pulse. It’s almost like I don’t exist.

Do I?

I wonder when I’ll be ready to pull myself out of this tailspin. I can’t sit here forever quietly going crazy. I’ll have to leave and go somewhere else, to quietly go crazy there. But even then, it’ll never show. Nope, it’ll never show. Never did before so why should it now? Except I have the words, don’t I? I have the real/imaginary word on the paper computer screen. I could erase them. Buh-bye. No one would ever know they had existed. Well, I would know, because I ain’t into that self-denial bullshit – much. But maybe I’m no one? Bet I could be if I tried. Nah. So what if I am (not)? Wouldn’t change anything. Irony, that. Being nonexistent doesn’t make Kerouac stop screaming.

It’s like the tree in the forest, they one these arrogant idiots ask if it makes a sound. ‘Course it does. You think the world revolves around you does it? If you’re not there to bear witness, you think the laws of physics don’t apply? Or are you the reincarnation of Descartes then? And the Wichowski brothers all rolled up into one? Oh, hell, where was I going with this?

I don’t suppose it matters. It’d be too much to hope for any kind of resolution. Maybe I should set sail, head for that storm and ride the big waves for a little while. Ya never know, it could be fun. And how would I ever know? I always kept it just where I want it, just over the horizon, never breaking over my little boat, still smooth sailing, always smooth sailing. But ya know, it’s there all the same. My little pond might have little ripples, but I’m trapped by the storm nevertheless, standing here by the rail watching it. Can’t tear my eyes away. Wouldn’t want to ‘cause it’s beautiful. It’s scary and it’s beautiful and it’s all up inside me.

But I can’t go sailing today. Nope, today I have to be Monica. I have to get dressed and brush my teeth and go to work with the spreadsheets and the soothing beige walls. I have to go to studio and go to class and be smart and charming and just the slightest bit abrasive, rubbing wrong, smoothing the rough edges from other people’s lives. That’s who I have to be today and tomorrow and the day after and every day for the foreseeable future. That’s who I’ve committed to be and I can’t let them down. I can’t just walk away because right now, at this moment, I want to unzip my skin, jump out the window and leave it behind.

I like the way my hand feels when I grip my fist, grinding the bones together, pushing the nails into the palm, feeling the skin slide over the muscle. Solid. Real. But strangely not mine. Oh, I’d never damage myself, but I love the sensual feel of pressure, pushing, gripping, almost hurting. Does that mean I’m real? Guess I’ll keep this skin. I’ll sit in this chair and contemplate all the logical reasons for the storm clouds brewing. Caffeine addiction. Hormones. Stress. Enlightenment.

Okay, well, not the last one, but hey, ya never know. Bet this is what the Buddha felt like under that tree being tormented by Mara. Bet this shit came up. Bet it passed away, too. And I bet he sat there for one hell of a lot longer with one hell of a lot more preparation and dedication than I’m going to be sitting here in this damned soothing beige cube. Ain’t no accident he woke up under a tree. How ironic would it be if Maitreya Buddha got enlightened sitting in an office cubicle in some accounting firm somewhere in middle America? Wearing a business suit and a bad haircut? Oh, I would just laugh my ass off. It’d be so fucking appropriate. Shake us all up, I can tell you. “What do you mean you didn’t spend years wandering in the wilderness seeking ultimate knowledge?”

Damn, I feel so much better now.


I tried several times while writing the above to go back to the spreadsheet I was working in. I tried to let myself get lost in the research, but after a time I just gave up and wrote. I wanted to get it out. And yes, a part of me wanted to document it, like that time I wrote about being so sick. Such a mind is rare for me, and the writer in me wanted to take advantage of it for future reference. Research, as it were.

I knew it was self-indulgent, and I tried to let it go. I mean, I shouldn’t be prolonging my own suffering for the sake of my ‘art’ (I’ve always looked skeptically on those who do) and I was doing a disservice to my boss who I should have been working for at the time. But the gridded numbers just couldn’t hold me, so I wrote. Eventually the humor helped, so I let the thought of business suit Maitreya Buddha unspool while I went back to my boxes within my box.

After I left work, I continued to feel twitchy and off. My mind was a racquetball and every time it struck the wall felt like it cracked a little bit. I went up to the college. I smiled and waved at people. I tipped my hat and exchanged “Hello, how are you?” half a dozen times. After my sixth “I’m good,” I wandered into the bathroom and looked in the mirror. I waited until the door closed to whisper “That’s a damned lie,” to my reflection. I felt like I was having a manic episode like I’ve read about, but how could that be? I still felt in control, at least of my outside self. Completely and utterly in control, at least for now. For how long, I wondered?

I knew I needed to get out of this headspace, before I said or did something unwise, so I did it the only way I knew how, by focusing on others. It didn’t work at first. I ate lunch at the bar in a crowded noisy restaurant, surrounded by talking people and too loud music, but it just grated and I couldn’t finish my sandwich. I walked into class determined to practice active listening for a change, no matter who the speaker was. Luckily, she was good and the subject was interesting. Class ran long and then we all headed down to a meet and greet for the new department head.

I felt like myself again, not completely, but better. I focused on the dean giving his welcome. I focused on getting to know the landscape architecture students who are now one department with the planning students. I focused on our new department head, Kim, with her awesome short grey hair and little round glasses. After most people had trickled out, I stayed and chatted with Trent, then a little group of us talked with the dean when he came over. Then Kim suggested we all go over and see our new planning studio.

The planning students have never had a studio before, although we’ve been begging for one for years. Kim just earned our instant love. Erin liked the space so much, with its windows and brand new drafting tables, she kept covering her gaping smile with her hands. I thought she was going to jump up and down. Even the guys were thrilled. I chatted with Andrea at the bike racks before we went our separate ways. So normal, seemingly so normal. Everything seems to be going so well for her and I’m glad.

I still feel a little off. A little antsy and odd. I’m home and listening to the Macross Plus soundtrack by Yoko Kanno, which is more brilliant than I have words for, especially the classical pieces. I should eat something, but I think I’ll just fix myself a whiskey, read a little more, then head for an early bed. As with so many other problems in my life, maybe I can dream my way out of it. I always think it’s odd how my sleeping mind often seems to work better than my waking mind. I find so many fabulous design solutions when I’m dreaming. I’ve learned to trust it. Maybe I can find some psychological solutions as well. And if I don’t, well, I suppose that’s okay, too.

Crazy ain’t so bad.


john said...

Akk! Cubicle! ....I will create a diversion, and you run for it!

Anonymous said...

Or could it be you are realizing that all things are impermanent?...even you
Maybe you had a glimpse of dukkha? Maybe the person who picked the coffee beans was having a really bad day and passed some negative energy into the beans which eventually made thier way to you and you inadvertently picked up some of that negative energy in an attempt to satisfy that caffeine addiction. Or maybe you just had a bad day.


Monica said...


Actually, I think it's a thesis side effect. I've always thought I got the impermanence thing and I'm well acquainted with dukkha, but maybe I haven't 'got' it quite well enough yet. And I don't buy that coffee beans can be a negative energy conduit. That's kinda like blaming the bogey man. No, I think it's mostly stress, because I'm feeling very similar right now and guess what, I just met with my thesis mentors (which I did last Tuesday as well). But this time I can't take a whole 24 hours to get over it. I have work to do. *sigh*


Anonymous said...

I did one of those once so I kinda feel your pain. Keep pushing through and watch "Office Space" sometime.
Yea I dont much buy the coffee bean energy conduit either but I still drink tea instead. Good luck and happy sitting.


Marguerite Manteau-Rao said...

Monica, so glad I discovered you blog. You write so well about inner states that are so uniquely yours, and at the same time also belong to each one of us humans, including this commenter! :) Moods have this way of owning us and sweeping us into misery, quick. That's why I am so thankful to have discovered the Buddha wisdom. The crap is still there, but it becomes so much more bearable . . . joyful almost. Your sister in Dharma land, Marguerite.

Monica said...

Thanks Marguerite!

Jeff said...

I sympathize. I'm a Buddhist in Kentucky, which may be even more difficult. sigh

Juny said...

There's the secular and the temporal, and there's the sacred. The sacred is as much a state of being in action as the secular and temporal. To the extent that you can in those elective moments of action you MUST act to be the sublime cosmic connector of the aesthetic metaphysics that defy the temporal existence you grovel at for the crumbs of material bread that leave you empty and even hungrier for more and better,