Stars come down in you and love, you can’t give it away

The following entry may contain triggering material.

My corporeal roommate Cecil recently asked me how I’d planned to kill myself. I’d made numerous attempts, all emotionally serious of course, in the unutterably bleakest mindset—but, not serious in the sense that I’m alive today because I’d been transported unconscious to some hospital; that hadn’t happened. So, from the outside, I was just making up exaggerated stories so that my whinging would get more serious attention, and my melancholy laziness excused (though my birth family would have held that same attitude otherwise, I’m certain.) From the inside, I had tidied away every trace of my history, spent the wee hours of each morning in the bathtub with a kitchen knife to my neck and failing to lean into it enough to break skin; considered bleach, oven gas, what to overdose on, starvation; on the morning of my 18th birthday I’d tried to jump off the balcony of the 22nd floor—planned for it, left everything that had been mine in the stairwell garbage, so there was nothing for me to go back to—and was most abjectly terrified that I couldn’t follow through with it, though every fibre of my being remained in far too much pain, (intractable pain, every waking moment, seemingly only from living,) to endure any alternative.

Because of that, I can’t help but suspect that most apparent suicides are secretly accidents in at least the final conscious half-second.

I’ve finished reading Marie-Louise von Franz’s Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales, and it is dated. Jungians remain stodgy about gender binary, of course, but common terms in this text include “primitive”, “crippled”…and Franz openly admits to a childhood imaginary monster being human. Because Franz grew up in a neighborhood that very much lacked racial diversity, it seems.

Many other ideas contained in this text, I considered very intriguing and helpful. One of these being how the dead become evil.

…there is a certain amount of life energy in them which has not been exhausted but has been unnaturally blocked before the proper time. The clock’s spring has broken instead of running down, and that unexhausted life energy turns hostile (…) Therefore even people who during their lifetime were really good people and not possessed by evil, can, out of resentment at having been robbed of life, turn into such a thing if they are killed before their time.

That is why late antique invocations of [curse] magic always begin: “Oh, you gods of the Netherworld, Hades, Proserpina, and you the nameless enormous army of those who killed themselves, or who were murdered, or died before their time.” That is a classical late Greek invocation to be found in most of the magical papyri of antiquity.

I’d also told Cecil of my attempt to hang myself from the closet and a twisted-up bedsheet. There’d been a mirror on the inside of the door, and a wide enough gap around the door that the blue evening light could seep in, and I could watch me hang myself.

To Cecil, I’d joked that maybe a mirror does catch at some shade or fade of people, and maybe a future tenant would wake up in the wee hours of the morning, and move to the closet to get a cookie they’d left in the pocket of their trousers that they’d thrown in there, and when they’d open the door, I’d still be hanging there in the mirror, and they would see me hanging there…and reaching out and screaming, in uncanny harmonics, “My cookie!”

…Cecil didn’t think it was funny, either.

It wasn’t true, anyway; I hadn’t really wondered, until now, what sort of ghost I would have been.

To parse this phenomenon on a level of personality and egoism, the evil dead are jealous. To understand it on a level of egoless power dynamic, the evil dead are embodiments of an unlived life, the subtle psychic energy from that which was meant to be lived out and was not. They embody consequence, without interiority.

Almost a decade after the attempt in the closet, I feel fine. I feel happy! No invisible vice tightening around my skull. My ribs don’t feel like a knife rack. I’m not even wracked with anxieties as I was when I was a very small child up to my mid to late teens.

I did get around to proper Mirror Work, recently: looked into a compact that the Dierne Pallis held out to me and I found, at last—palpable venom and poisonous fumes, a ceaseless scream of raw pain in what sounded like my voice (but from the outside, so…not my voice like I know it), and an undertow of sorrow so forceful as to be inescapable.

To which I said, well, yes, obviously, I hope obviously—that’s me in that mirror, for sure. But there’s a bit more to me now.

I’ve lived out all that—or, a comparative lot of that…unlived (oppressed), unspoken (silenced) life.

No more hallucinated planets made of vacuum, or smoke serpents, or insect clockwork dragon…Okay, there’s a flint arrowhead welded to my fetch’s left hand that’s awfully opinionated for an imaginary inanimate object—but that’s just life.

My ghost would have had all the fury of all this unresolved.

I’m in love. This love is requited. I almost wasn’t alive for this. (She almost wasn’t, either, but declined to develop a concept of an afterlife as a consequence, so I wouldn’t presume to speak over that. She’s reading this right now. I love you, Bartie!) In Franz’s interpretation, my ghost would have carried this corrupted potential too: fears never soothed into strength and courage, a world of insecurities never steadied, joys never lived, discoveries never shared.

But when I used to hear such things from recoverees, about how great they’d noticed life could be with an attitude adjusted to “happier than suicidal” I could only take it as condescending glibness. The only response I could muster would be, “oh how nice for you.” Automated, not even lively enough to have a sarcastic grudge behind it.

So…maybe I can’t claim that we need ghost lore and fairytales about the dead, to express something much bigger than a mind can carry—let alone generate.

At this point I’d shoehorn other tidbits about ghosts that I’d picked up before reading Shadow and Evil in Fairytales. The Tiv people don’t appear to have ghost lore, as Laura Bohannan discovered in the attempt to retell Hamlet to her host family in “Shakespeare in the Bush”. Stephen Greenblatt’s “A Touch of the Real” was more about the culture, and especially the literature (nonfiction and fiction), surrounding ghost encounters in medieval Europe. That’s where I read it outright stated that ghost lore and Christian lore fuses divisively (against all my own intuitions of conceptual geometry): Catholic dogma allowed for the belief that spirits of the deceased wandered the earth and interacted with the living; Protestant dogma held that such apparitions could only be evil spirits in the guise of deceased loved ones. As tensions rose between Catholicism and Protestantism, someone could fall under the suspicion of being Catholic just by making a casual mention about ghosts as though they weren’t evil spirits, and that accusation would also come with not a small amount of political baggage.

…It used to be good enough for me that my family calculated every moment of my life as monetary debt—can’t kill yourself yet because you haven’t turned your education into a career, can’t cut your losses because therapy and psychiatry is expensive and we’re coughing up more than you deserve already okay?!

It was a revelation when I entered a discussion about negative reactions to suicide, and I voiced the standpoint I’d come to in the paragraph immediately above. A respondent turned it around with this idea: If I killed myself, even the threat of it in a mention of planning to suicide…it would cause the people with that attitude to question whether the calculated value of their own lives truly held a meaningful measure. To remove compassion from the approach to suicide (or confuse compassion with condescension) was a way to resist bearing witness to their own weakness. (Protective projection, maybe, on the part of us discussing this. I still doubt that threat of existential angst would endanger anyone who wasn’t, say, predisposed genetically to depression. Projection it may be, but it still saved me from internalizing an idea that wouldn’t ultimately have been helpful. I had made a foothold of it because it was unfeeling, at a time that my feelings threatened to fatally overwhelm me.)

Ghost lore could still factor as a thrill. Some Jungians I’d eavesdropped on lately mentioned an adolescent tendency towards fun fictional violence—as adolescence is a frequent breaking point of societal accommodations, leading to Shadow-possessed rebellion, or a fascination with unsavory ideas that an adolescent had not been allowed to explore—death, for one example, externalized as a ghost in a fictional way that could be mastered.

More mature attraction to ghost lore might have more to do with a grieving process. This isn’t to say the “adolescent” (not necessarily the category, but I haven’t figured out yet what would be) use of ghost lore is the wrong way to hold it, only that the same cultural phenomenon can have different significance depending on the developmental phase in an individual person’s life…or, indeed, depending on the culture.

With Franz’s interpretation…It’s weighing on me, the way it hadn’t before, the cosmically colossal loss that a suicide—even of a nobody like me, then and now, no cyclopes-badgering in between—truly is…when the (Jungian) Soul has an instinct for so much more to be lived out or lived down than the ego can own, especially in a mind of such singularity as a suicidal person’s. Stories provide—or, maybe at least to narrative psychologists, stories have provided—an intermediary for this sobering revelation (in my opinion, anyway—immensely sobering.)

For that, I can almost forgive the negligence of Franz’s Shadow & Evil in withholding judgment on this circumstance described: that it’s traditionally (not only commonly, but ingrained in lore as a trope) oppressed and abused people who suicide, having a communal Shadow laid on them in life, having to go through more of the same after death.

(…) there are many types of ghosts, but the worst are those of people who hang themselves. Generally these are the ghosts of women of poor peasant families who, if ill-treated by their mothers-in-law, or if hungry, or over-worked, get discontented. If they quarrel with their sisters-in-law, or are scolded by their husbands, if they don’t see any way out of their trouble, often in despair they will put an end to their lives. They take poison, or jump into a well, but most hang themselves, and such people make those awful ghosts. Our grandfathers say that the ghost of a woman who has committed suicide always tries to seduce other women, for only thus can it go to the Beyond and be reborn (…) and return to life. Until they have found a substitute they have to wander

This post from last year on Gods & Radicals, “Thinking About the Dead” has a more advanced commentary on this, that I like.

Entheogen: Happy Pills 2/2

The following entry may contain triggering material.

Previously on the Codex of Poesy :

After a week, if I didn’t have too bad a reaction to the meds, I could up the dosage to a whole pill. It would take about three months for the brain cells to unshrivel from the damage of depression, and then I’ll have the energy and clarity to do what I used to be able to do. I shouldn’t expect effects right away. Three months.

The sort of proto-wishcraft I practiced at that time focused on empirical evidence of psychism, with the idea that the mind was the key. To clear the mind of the usual chatter would invite intuitions, so fellow practitioners claimed. Intuitions could tell us the number or suit of a playing card before we could see, or the thoughts and emotional states of the people around us. Willpower directed forcefully through a clear mind could move physical objects.

I could never manage any particularly consistent outside effect. Sometimes, I’d dabble in guided imagery, which would never yield any insightful result. Those quests would usually go in some nightmarish, unhelpful direction. As for within: I could clear my mind, though. I could notice and simply be with the pain, and my mind would go silent, no images would come to mind…and, it was something like peace.

This did not improve my attention span, when depression began to dull the world. This did not hold my thought process high as the structures crumbled into ruin. This did not improve my memory, in those exercises to clear the mind, I may only be now but everything else carried over pains and troubles of the past.

Myself out of meditation knew that my health was failing and I was losing my mind and I’d never meet my goals, the way everything was going. So, I started on what they gave me.

The next time I tried to sit still and clear my mind, the usual chatter would not stop.

That one thing I could do from years of regular practice, now rendered impossible by a pill the size of a rice grain.

It wasn’t so devastating. Once I decided to act to change everything, my mind, my life, my family’s habit of alternating abuse and comfortable silence, I can hardly complain about the changes.

So, I allowed my mind to create images around the chatter. My mind chatter was like that of a crowded, noisy room…like a restaurant, I thought. I saw the milky sunlight through the windows, the swatches of color of so many people’s clothes, heard the chatter and the clatter of metal utensils against porcelain. I could shift my attention to the tablecloth, and the backrest of the chair, and the noise wouldn’t go away.

I didn’t quest in a way that occupied my Surreal Fetch, back then, I would always be watching my Surreal Fetch from somewhere outside myself—another reason these quests annoyed me. This time I was embodied, I knew, seated and smoothing over cloth.

Then I saw myself approach my table, and draw a chair to sit across from me, and sit and watch me. Ey was ready to listen, and to talk.

Much as I loved biology class and the neuroscience unit, and the security it lent me in that I was doing a factually correct and right thing, it’s not what prepared me for the shift in value priority: Forget empirical evidence of telekinesis. This was our life on the line, so now this was the Work we’d do.

~

The skin over my sternum felt as though someone had rubbed mentholated ointment over it, though I was certain this wasn’t the case. When I’d looked up models of the Fetch in other traditions (Otherreal, or Sidereal) I wondered if this were some vortex of compassion activating. Incidentally, I was beginning to care again, about wilting plants and injured animals and what people anticipated or loathed.

Eating used to be like arm-wrestling with myself, the defending champion you damn well know how your mother resents your eating your life away since you were born and now she knows that job security is a lie she hates still having to feed you because she’ll never have a good life like she did as a rich kid, the challenger of but I’m going to faint and they’ll notice and fuss and blame me (which might not be unwarranted, but certainly doesn’t inspire more positive changes) and I’m shitting bloodclots from the ulcers.

If I could muster up the temerity to request therapy and psychiatric medication, I could eat. The oils around meats tasted awful to me, but fine to everyone else who knew it to be my favorite. Eggs and dairy products took on a cloying texture that I couldn’t bear. Fish was barely tolerable. My psychiatrist told me that she’d never heard of a side-effect like that.

I went vegan, and carried it on for far longer than the aversion and tastebud weirdness alone would have kept me away from real proteins. I considered the lifestyle change a result of some spiritually superior calling, which I’ve got to admit was a huge mistake.

~

I chose life. My birth family really hammered in how badly I should regret it. It surprised me that I could enjoy something at all, so maybe when I would have taken a silent satisfaction in an outfit I liked, I’d smiled. “What happened to my kid?” My mother snarked, “You’re smiling and eating and interested in fashion.”

“It’s a lot sooner than the doc said the meds would work,” my sibling said pointedly. “You’re just looking for attention.” Drama-mongering faker isn’t really sick. After our mother died, she tsked at my continuing to purchase antidepressants, saying, “I’ve spoken to friends of mine who went through depression. You only need to take meds for one year, then you’re fine, and you’ve had your year.” She’d never studied psychiatry. I’d doubted that she’d even taken a proper survey of depressed friends, plural, it was probably just the one whose personal experience she’d consider the most convenient to impose. “I respect what you’ve gone through,” she lied, “But you were a bitch. You’re not allowed to get depressed or eating disordered again. I know I’m not allowed to say this, but your not-eating thing was a choice.”

~

I’d described to my therapist long ago what the mind fog felt like, like white mold growing on the inside of my skull so I could only find the fuzzy outlines of my thoughts. She suggested, knowing what an iron-cast meditative practice I had, visualizing a way to make that mold go away. I’d made a metaphor out of my experience, couldn’t I make an experience out of that same metaphor? No. No, I could not. It was neurological, biochemical, not a matter for the quests. I’ve read that some people find half an hour of meditation effective in doing away with what they describe as brain fog, and I envy them.

I ran away from home to home and to almost homelessness. I had a roof, at least, and walls, but could only afford to eat so little that my fingernails began to splinter as they grew from the quick. The brain fog came back. I could have a whole meal for slightly cheaper than a single antidepressant pill, and ought to have the meal instead, if the brain fog was from malnourishment rather than depression. It was that sort of way of working within financial limitations. The fog felt familiar as depression, so I took the meds on an empty stomach. I needed a clear mind to work.

Besides, a fusion deity of Hela and the Morrigan was wandering around my room, and I was beginning to get the sense of what She really meant. I named her Lady Hawthorne.

Nausea had always been a side effect, but this time it was surprisingly incapacitating. It’s amazing how nauseous a body can get without vomiting even stomach acid, and by “amazing” I mean “torture” and I can’t brag about it as a feat, really, it’s more like a betrayal: How could my corporeal fetch do this to me. Why would my corporeal fetch do this to us. I wanted to die. Once it passed, I decided against taking the other half of the pill when I was supposed to, and I still wanted to die, but at least I wasn’t nauseated.

Before it passed, I sat on the floor and leaned into the corner, trying to breathe as slowly as I could without fainting, because inside movements made the nausea wane, which meant it would wax full right in a trice. I was trying to keep the nausea steady until it flowed away, like trying to find a part of a river that flowed without ripples.

I’d been reading about the Ophelia, a modern god of rivers (of course: the greatest civilizations in human history formed around a river or two), time, death, and depression. Depression had taken on a broader definition to me: the cold and hollow exhaustion of anxiety, the eroding attention and memory, the restless slumbering.

The suicidal ideations, that’s what Lady Hawthorne attended to. The Morrigan aspect of this fusion god represented the battle, the aspect of Hela (from Proto-Germanic *haljo “the underworld” … Literally “concealed place” compare Old Norse hellir “cave, cavern”, from Proto-Indo-European *kel- “to cover, conceal”) represents the hidden nature of this particular kind of battle.

When I thought about the Ophelia as a god of depression, this included the recovery, no matter how nauseating. Time and death, too, it occurred to me had life as an integral part, at least the way my nascent headcanon of the Ophelia claimed. Should I die of natural disaster, injury, illness, or age, I expect to glimpse the Ophelia in that last moment. If I kill myself, I’m the Helrrigan’s.

And if I starve to death in self-imposed poverty rather than eating disorder comorbid with obsessive compulsion (or depending on who you ask, choice)…? Eh, how many angels can fit on the head of a pin.

They were both in my room then, new gods perhaps summoned by new rituals and new ways to travel so far beyond your ken into the realm of horribly wrong. We three got through it all right. We’re still getting through it all right. All three of us, around this.

Entheogen: Happy Pills 1/2

The following entry may contain triggering material.

The psychiatrist showed me a pill the size of a single rice grain.

“Eating one of those a day is going to make me not want to kill myself? That one whole thing?”

She looked surprised. No, of course not! You should cut it in half.

If I squinted, I could see the groove where it was meant to be halved. “A chisel would be too large for this. I’d need the flat screwdriver from my spectacle repair kit, and somebody to hold the magnifying glass.”

After a week, if I didn’t have too bad a reaction to the meds, I could up the dosage to a whole pill. It would take about three months for the brain cells to unshrivel from the damage of depression, and then I’ll have the energy and clarity to do what I used to be able to do. I shouldn’t expect effects right away. Three months.

(Ten hours after that first dose, taking hold of a glass of water became as difficult as horseback archery because my whole body kept shaking and twitching. That’s a side-effect. I consider it more like an effect, actually.)

My sleep pattern and appetite should get fixed up eventually, too. Oh, speaking of what I shouldn’t eat: no liquor, no caffeine, no chocolate.

“No chocolate! How can life be worth living?” I didn’t really say that, because I hadn’t gotten even my morbid sense of humor back. I did eat chocolate and the teeny tiny happy pill, though.

~

The psychiatrist also hastened to clarify that this was a misnomer. Antidepressants don’t make people feel happy for no reason, like some chemical puppetmaster. Medications targeted thought processing issues, memory problems, stress metabolism, fatigue, oversleeping. Dissipating suicidal ideations coincided consistently enough, but this would never lead to a drug high.

Perhaps I was merely happy to feel normal, two months into the regular dosages. No, I’d made an online acquaintance to whom I could not commit to a friendship, unfortunately, though the way her liminal experiences carried her through a bad situation made our shared conversations something I ought to have clung to; she told me that her mother died and her father physically abused her, and on the other side of the Internet where she couldn’t see, I erupted into giggles. It wasn’t even absurd or unbelievable, maybe I would have begun to laugh at that time without anybody talking to me. Had this been an offline friend, this would come off horrifyingly callous, and I was genuinely and completely horrified at myself for laughing. I couldn’t stop, not even when I desperately made the effort to recognize that someone else’s situation was horrifying and painful to them. It was like the tremors and twitches, in that respect, but I can’t say it was purely mechanical—like, I began to hyperventilate as though I were laughing. Instead, bubbles of sheer delight filled my chest. It was an intrusive mood: I was not delighted.

Fellow depression recoverers would say things like, “that’s the depression making you think/feel that way, not you,” and I would never understand that dissociation. Happiness wasn’t me, especially not this kind, this was the pills. The psychiatrist told me it was a misnomer, and I don’t want to say she was mistaken. I’d heard the opposite too often, too, a derisive, “go take your happy pills,” or “take your chill pills” whenever I came off glum or angry. Even if it weren’t the case that psycho-social stressors (from, say…people who take the same lousy health-bigot attitude as that…) played a significant role in triggering my depressive episodes…it didn’t work that way. It wasn’t a way to get high.

Some new magazine research or another would inform this friend or that how antidepressants caused depression. I’m inclined to blame the stigma associated with medication, becoming itself a psycho-social stressor. I’d also differentiate between stages of depression. I’d go quiet and shrink into the conviction of my own worthlessness if someone so much as informed me that my shoelace was untied, and that anxiety would carry over into every little thing I did. Learning not to care about every little thing could be healthy, or could be a sign of further depression, because then I stopped washing up or eating—but that’s probably more like ennui. Then there’s suffering so much physical and emotional pain that I’d chase death just to make it all stop, every waking moment like I was being stabbed in the head with all the tears I forced myself to hold in because crying wasn’t helping anymore (but not crying wasn’t helping, either, it was just bothering people less,) and the heartburn and stomach ulcers.

Starting on the antidepressants got me back to anxious about my shoelaces. I’d almost preferred the bleakness, only because serenity and joy and adventure didn’t feature as options. Maybe depression is a way for the psyche to modulate the focus and sensitivity that leads to distress, dulls the senses, gives a bit of mindspace to find one’s center again…but, then nothing can modulate the modulation. Not philosophy, not theology, not activity—I’d gone for all that—and certainly none of the advice from people who condescended to care but really refused to get a clue (not that I explained or described it well, then or even now—but I can’t believe it was all my projected frustration.)

And I won’t say the medications were the one true solution, either. I believe that medication eventually did away with the feeling that I was holding a solid iron bowling ball in my skull (though I still wake up to spikes—I may want to learn to cry properly again), and more eventually did away with the sort of misty mold that grew on the inside of my skull so I could only make out the fuzzy outline of my own thoughts. That’s a huge improvement over my quality of life, and I have not entirely been the one to foot the whole cost of that improvement. It was expensive, and hardly worth it to my birth family, who believed I should be somebody else entirely (someone on whom a pressure-cooker of abusive dynamics has no effect; let me reincarnate a few million more times and then maybe I shall spring from the womb so unshakably enlightened.)

One bit of good fortune that I’ll admit to gratitude: I have not required an adjustment in the dosage and kind. I haven’t exactly suffered from an adjustment in the dosage and kind, or days when we couldn’t find a pharmacy that stocked them, or days when we could but my mother muttered about the expense so I would lower the dose. I ate them with chocolate sometimes although the psychiatrist with the million-dollar education in this field told me not to, and the effects wouldn’t be better or worse than times I didn’t eat chocolate with the antidepressants—but that doesn’t make my decision an inherently good decision. When these pills took me from bleak to anxious (and queasy, and so twitchy that I couldn’t hold a glass of water), I made the decision to keep taking them anyway, and the result was good enough for me—but anyone else for whom the drugs leave psychologically raw and undefended, in a different life situation than mine, with vastly different predispositions and body chemistry, well, it stands to reason that my decision to keep taking what was prescribed can’t apply across the board as a good one. When I caught myself laughing at a very real abuse testimony from a dear acquaintance, I lowered the dosage without consulting my psychiatrist—and the intrusive high moods stopped. I will neither recommend this course of action nor heed accusations of my excusing psychopathy with medication: a drug happy-high wasn’t worth eclipsing empathy, no matter how generally miserable I’d become—rather, the matter was that I was exactly as miserable as I’d become, so maybe someone more depressed or differently-depressed would have made a different decision.

Only I can draw a line like that for me: sometimes I’ll get so excited about something that I overstep my bounds and come off like my happiness is so much more important than the comfort of people around me (and I’m sorry); sometimes I’ll flip the bird at what’s clearly a dishonest attempt at emotional blackmail (and I’ll often still be sorry, and have to keep telling myself I’m in the right.) One time I decided that sharing someone else’s pain and misery completely was worth the risk of inexpertly adjusting a rice-grain-sized drug that effectively shakes the nervous system to the mindcore. I’m as likely to help myself to imaginary bone-shaped biscuits either way.

The Human Experience is chemical, and theological, and genetic, and philosophical, and physical, and personal, and social, and circumstantial, and relative, and overlapping-confounding, and clearly distinguishable and objectively conforming to a specific value judgment.

While people who have have suffered less competent psychiatrists than I have would, perhaps, develop a completely valid aversion to the whole thing entirely (and I don’t exactly love my psychiatrist, could be another reason I would do everything to avoid checking in on an adjustment)—I do consider a theological exclusion of psychiatric medication…umm, wrong.

To be concluded…

p4Zxw8-I2

The following entry may contain triggering material.

Biology class helped a lot, to prepare me for what was going to happen. At first I was so disappointed when our teacher cancelled the ecosystems unit that had been on the syllabus “because they’re only any fun if you can go on exciting field trips.” She’d gone on to assure us that the nervous system was in fact very interesting, although all I could think of was a rumpled lump of chewing gum topping the purple roots of some tree.

We studied human sensory organs. Iris, retina, optic nerves, shortsightedness, astigmatism, colorblindness, vitreous humor, aqueous humor, and what part of the brain processes sight, then we had a whole class dedicated to trying out different optical illusions; in the same detail, hearing, smell, taste, how complex the skin really is as an organ, how we sense location and balance and time…

(If I overthink the liminal quests too much, wonder why anthropomorphism, how gravity or thermodynamics carry to the otherworld, what is language even what is meaning…it’s a bit because I know that our corporeal experience is such a faulty process. Most of what we physically experience can not be physically true outside of our mind. Find enough people who can’t be arsed to consider that every moment, though, and we’ve got something like a life.)

We got to study the brain: neurons, neurotransmitter molecules, dendrites, electro-chemical signals, and all the structures that have been mapped. Prefrontal cortex for logic. Amygdala for emotions. Hippocampus for memory. Hemispheres. Music does this to the brain. Language does that. Potassium. Magnesium. Iodine. The effect of splitting the corpus callosum with what looked like an ice pick, because this science teacher wanted us to really think about the relationship between science and humanity: stem cell research, eugenics and genetic engineering, evolution, thalidomide, and how wrong it is to treat crazy people like they’re not people and take an icepick to their brain even if dressed in all the authority of a scientific medical doctor. Oh, we can be kind, if we so insist, but science means (or ought to mean) no excuses ever.

~

I’d had a horror of what fellow Catholic schoolkids call demonic possession. To explain what that is gets pretty deep into mythology that I don’t recognize anymore, but back then it was an almost constant source of anxiety. When I learned how delicately structured the brain was, and how those conveyed corporeal human life experience, I’d begun to consider my body like an elaborate lock. It stood to reason that whatever tried to come in that wasn’t myself would contend with everything stored in my body: my motor skills (or lack thereof), my myopia, that I was a super-taster, my preference for schmaltzy show tunes and the accompanying Pavlovian reaction honed over a lifetime, my predisposition to distress and melancholy…and considering the extremes of that last one, better you than me, demon.

Learning biology helped me claim my body, for better or worse. I’ve been trying to hammer out an entry or two about the facet that’s better, but everything I’ve got drafted about the concept of the Corporeal Fetch has been how I personally hate it for every conceivable reason. This fetch is mine, though, possibly even me and mine.

~

Eventually, I’d figured that my brain was malfunctioning. Whoever said that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem had me at “permanent solution” to pain so intense that no one should have to survive or even encounter it. A few failed attempts at that solution and I thought, fine, try another difficult way. Asking for help at all was really, really, really difficult, more like a meep though I made sure my mother understood it—and she’d sent me to piano classes instead, which were the same price and looked more productive and she’d read somewhere that music cured depression and…she was the mom. The brain fog by then was so bad that I couldn’t read the alphabet, let alone musical notation, but I went because she told me and because nobody noticed my moods had gone from volatile to bleak to catatonic and I didn’t dare ask again for another year. This was after I’d dropped out of mainstream schooling, and she’d enrolled me in a homeschooling course with the expectation that she could leave me alone with the exercise books and I could just blaze on through them. I was so tired and mysteriously pained all the time that I couldn’t even get up to eat, and dropped to 70 pounds at a height of five foot nothing.

I’ve offered that, and my difficulty reading, and scieNCE~! as reasons why my mother ought to have followed through the second time I asked. That wasn’t why she did (ought or ought not), though, and I’m not sure anymore that those are the ought-to anyway. (Depression is bad, I don’t really have more persuasive words; so unless someone’s been there, this doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in any shared understanding or belief. Even then, I’ve gotten handwaved by people who testified to have attempted suicide once or twice a week when they were my age, and that the trick was just not to dwell on the past so much—which I’ve found to be unhelpful and even damaging to put out, duty to speak your truth or not.)

At the therapist’s office, I’d emptied my head out onto a box and a half of facial tissues and filled out a survey, a series of statements I’d rank from one to five. Have I had thoughts of suicide so-and-so number of times per week? Have my sleeping patterns changed drastically? Has my sex drive increased or decreased drastically? Did I often feel “blue”?

I remember anxiously asking my therapist how I was supposed to check that I was a Level 5 Blueman. Knowing people out there who had spent their childhood in sexual slavery, or on the front lines of battle, ought to keep me aware of my place on the bell curve—shouldn’t it? In any case, my therapist graded me with red stars and a referral to a psychiatrist.

My mother resisted and tried to appeal to my spiritual side. Wasn’t Free Will a good concept? I should give it a go even though it was Christian (and because it was Christian—it’d sure helped her through trauma, though apparently not enough to, umm, not perpetrate it.) Or what about meditation! (I’d been doing nothing but over that year as a drop-out shut-in. No, I have not achieved telekinesis.) And if my fasting came out of a determination to be more than my body then couldn’t I understand that I was more than my body? (It was an eating disorder, that I could die from.) Anything but the pills. Anything but.

It was just so unfashionable. There was no way that a chalky little tablet could really have such a dramatic effect on The Human Experience (at least, The Human Experience bits that have got any chance of being understood or accepted.)

~

The psychiatrist had to get out a plaster model of a neuron and what looked like tiny clear rubber balls without jacks. Depression wasn’t only emotional, of course, it had to do with stress metabolism at a chemical level, and sleep habits, and energy levels—which made it a medical issue. (I’d been saying the same thing, but not with plaster models and pamphlets and the right kind of coat.) She also explained about the genetics, this psychiatrist, and she casually asked my mother whether she’d ever attempted suicide. Once in university, my mother had replied, with some tablet overdose; they’d had to pump her stomach.

You see? The psychiatrist said with a smirk. Genetics!

I’d like to believe that I still had it in me to be dismayed and appalled at them both. My mother knew what it was like to be driven to suicide, and she’d still do the same to her children.

To be continued…

Discernment, Defense, and Dickweed Indigenous Fae

The following entry may contain triggering material.

After an entry about santol fruit, I wanted to write up a local myth about the taro plant. Taro is best-known as a root crop that may or may not be purple, although I know a recipe that stews the very green leaves into mulch. (Dioscoria alata is definitely purple and a root crop, but called something else.) My research, which in this case means Wikipedia, suggests that taro is one of the earliest cultivated plants, its origins being Malaysian although cultivation has spread as far as the New World since then, whether by trade routes in Oceania long Before the Common Era, or because colonial masters said so.

It could be interesting to consider, because the story I know has an Engkanto in it, and I’m not entirely certain that’s an indigenous folkloric being. Neither do I know how strong the connection ought to be between the story about the plant and the corporeal plant itself. If this is a Philippine myth about a Malaysian plant, and Malaysia is like right there, why is this story so Spanish?

In the version of the story that I picked up by osmosis, the taro plant is known as gabi because of a girl named Gabriella whose nickname was Gabi. The stress is on the wrong syllable to suggest any association with the evening (gabi) which has more Austronesian vowels than Indo-European etymology anyway. An Engkanto tried to flirt and seduce Gabi into the otherworld to be his wife, and she said something like, “no thanks”. So, the Engkanto cursed her into a plant. Her toes became underground tubers so that she could never move from where she’d been cursed, and also they’re maybe sometimes purple? The plant’s leaves would be heart-shaped so that the whole world would know what her heart was like. The rain would fall upon the leaves and roll off, like his rain of love and attention upon this shrewish soul-eating harpy who couldn’t appreciate it. When her heart softens to him, Gabi can become human again. Obviously, it hasn’t happened yet. But how can this curse not have already been broken? Hasn’t this otherworldly suitor been so charming???

Seriously though, there is no story I know about Engkantos that tells of them being anything other than total dickweeds.

Gabi_Plant_th

I think this is a gabi plant but they’re not usually so large.

Continue reading

Sandoricum Season

The following entry may contain triggering material.

Excerpt
An excerpt from Natural History Drawings, The Complete William Farquhar Collection: Malay Peninsula (1803-1818)

Sentul / Sentul / Sandoricum koetjape

Native to Cambodia, Laos and Malaysia, the sentul is widely distributed as a backyard plant in tropical Asia. it is a semi-deciduous tree reaching up to 45 m. The fruits are large round berries that become bright yellow when ripe. These are eaten fresh or made into chutney or jam. The plant is also used in traditional medicine. Sentul, also known as kecapi, is an endangered species in Singapore.

Unlike with the durian, I don’t know a myth about this fruit off the top of my head. I do have a story, or more of an anecdote. A memory of the santol tree in my grade school campus serves as the marker for a scape I named Erstvale:

PIC_1638

The tree didn’t corporeally have a door at the root, the rest of this Scape is not from my grade school, and I have no idea where the pine trees on the left side came from. There should be a bamboo grove there instead.

Some of the older kids taught me to throw a basketball at the boughs to knock the fruits down. I’d been so taken up by the sheer novelty of eating fruit from a tree (instead of from a grocery) that I would never notice that it wasn’t entirely ripe. Most would be so tart that my gums went numb after the third or fourth santol, but I’d kept eating anyway. The end.

Pictures of fruit under the read more tag, because it’s currently santol season. The fruit segments are like chewing a damp, maybe half-felted cotton ball soaked in fruit juice. When they’re really ripe, the sugar seeps into the skin, so even that can be spooned out and eaten. Being slightly more tart than the fruit segments, it goes well with chili salt or soy sauce.

Continue reading

Notes on “Daughters of the Dreaming” by Diane Bell

Cecilia started her anthropology course earlier this month, gained access to the university library, and borrowed for me the 1993 edition of Daughters of the Dreaming. The book was authored by Diane Bell, a white Australian feminist anthropologist who lived with and studied the Warlpiri (mostly) and the Kaytej (to a lesser degree of exposure) in the late 1970s. One incredible criticism that I skimmed in the epilogue concerned Bell’s evident “bias” towards gendering, as she had been confined to studying the women (by the tribal council that allowed her to live with and study them), and therefore she was not documenting an accurate picture of the whole people…unlike male anthropologists who were barred from women’s spaces and took it along with the reader as a given that their notes would not be gendered?

But from what I’ve read of this (the first and only book I’ve read about Aboriginal culture) Warlpiri culture is so binary gendered that I can’t believe Bell could possibly have made up something she was looking for that wasn’t there, not when it comes to the presence of binary gendering at all. Bell does acknowledge that it’s impossible to retrieve for comparison Aborigines culture before colonialism, although she notes the elements of colonialism now: alcoholism, poverty, imperialistic education, exploitation and sexual abuse in both educational and professional spaces usually by white people to Aborigines, and even demonstrates how imposed welfare and food rationing shifts the power to patriarchal from the practice of hunting and gathering (both of which had been considered women’s work, and very important work because the women were gathering food and some still did at the time she studied these people.)

But the spheres of responsibility in the society the Bell studied had very clear lines between male and female, so clear that they had been very complicatedly organized in order to keep it clear that the masculine spheres of societal responsibilities and the feminine spheres of societal responsibilities would not overlap over generations. This was not merely a matter of patrilineal or matrilineal, but of patrimoiety and matrimoity, and of course many Warlpiri words for concepts of organization that require spidery charts and graphs for outsiders to understand.

Then again, Bell also wrote that colonialism had sparked skirmishes that often targeted warrior men as a matter of state policy. The only way that the culture could have survived as it did were that the majority-female survivors could pass on knowledge of the masculine responsibilities to their sons. This must have been what happened, and yet cross-gender knowledge and interactions continues to be more verboten than not. Early on in the book, Bell recounts the story of a Warlpiri woman that she drove back to camp, and took a wrong turn because wasn’t “enough room” in that part of the camp; physically, there was plenty of room, but customarily a woman wouldn’t dare go so close to her son-in-law and they would not even be allowed to speak to each other.

Bell wrote that the culture at the time she studied still did not have the concept of an “old hag” as white people do for women who have outlived their primary purpose of sexual object in society, but that the most wrinkled of Warlpiri women still consider themselves desirable because of the separate-but-equal genders of tribal culture. Bell wrote that Warlpiri women had a patronizing view of masculine violence as expressions of infantile insecurity, never as a real threat but an inconvenient fact of life that boys will be boys. Bell wrote of the culturally-accepted commonplace extramarital affairs of Warlpiri women. All this, it seemed to me Bell insisted rather than merely noted, while later also describing the Warlpiri women she sheltered in her house because they feared the violence of their drunken husbands returning home.

Bell can blame colonialism for alcohol and conditioning women to civilized passivity of character that traditional Aborigines life wouldn’t have had (I imagine that wouldn’t help the cause of coexisting with some of the deadliest flora and fauna on the planet) but such inconsistency does give me suspicions about how deep the roots of the empowered Warlpiri feminine really did go. What Bell portrayed as female empowerment that is old as dirt seems more likely to me to have been the desperately ironic sass-filled bubble of women’s spaces that sometimes form in a man’s world, or the rose-tinted goggles of a hopeful feminist of the 1970s who aimed to enter some exotic (endemic, really, but othered) world that hinted at some bygone world of matriarchy, if not egalitarianism.

*

Then again, I’m no peer to review this. I just wanted to look up the magic, even as I know that “magical tradition” is a modern and ethnocentric distinction. The importance of understanding the cultural context of what “magic” I’ve decided is magic and want to look up is something I do my best to keep in mind when researching seidhr or the process of laying a geis…and it’s something wholly in my face when I’m reading about Warlpiri Dreamtime or Dreaming. I don’t know how much is owed to Bell’s organization style, but far more obviously than any study I’ve read comes through this fact: the rituals of these people aren’t a product of culture, the Dreaming is not a philosophy or theory that is a product of culture. It is culture and more than culture. It is World As Is.

Much of it is also secret, not only from other tribes or those of the other gender in these couple of tribes…but through time, and even vocabulary. The Warlpiri and Kaytej had divulged some forbidden rituals and information to Bell, who has kept the particulars honorably secret, and the generalities that she had been allowed to publish gave me a lot to think about: the designated significance of symbols, the reunion of the spiritual with life and land, and especially the significance of performance storytelling.
Continue reading