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…

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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…

Beginning Mirror Work

The following entry may contain triggering material.

To share anything—performed, expressed, or explained—no matter how artfully, takes something apart from the lived experience. That dissociation remains valuable.

Here comes a thought
that might alarm me
What someone said
and how it harmed me
Something I did
that failed to be charming

Things that I said are suddenly swarming…

and it was just a thought, just a thought, just a thought, just a thought, just a thought. It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay. We can watch (we can watch) we can watch (we can watch) them go by…from here, from here, from here.

Was this Erstvale, Surreal? Whatever. It had trees on turf. I’ll call it Erstvale. Beyond the corner of my eye, unhorsed ballerinas swathed in gauze and mist keened faintly for blood. The last time I saw them, they seemed to be kicking body parts around, and chasing where the others kicked. There may have been some splattering. Now, they seemed calmer.

(“Soon,” Giselle had crooned at me, “You’ll find out. Any way that takes you as far as that is not your way at all.”

I’d replied, “When that time comes, it would be because I’ll have the luxury of rejecting allies to getting anything done at all. Kill me before that happens.”

But Giselle would rather die than harm anyone, pure and perfect Cinnabon soul that she is—I loathe her.)

Queen Myrtha stood uncharacteristically still in the clearing, and spoke with uncharacteristic legibility. She and Giselle were never too far from one another, even when they seemed so. The Queen held up an unbroken, unstained hand-mirror and silently asked what I saw.

After a moment of looking, I sighed with disappointment. It was the same thing I saw when I started mirror work, tail end of last year. It hasn’t done much since. “I see a mirror.”

YOU CAN’T SEE A MIRROR!!!!!

That sounded more like Queen Myrtha. No quotemarks to contain her speech; it’s as though the fabric of the multiverse is screaming. It comes into mind bypassing the ears. You’d be surprised what you can get used to.

“But,” I said, and pointed, “There’s one. Right there. There it is. Mirror.” If I overthink, of course, a functioning mirror never can show itself: it shows everything else that’s not a mirror. Hypothetically, then, those with vision have never seen a mirror, but only seen reflections in the theoretical object we think up to explain those reflections. We can support this hypothesis by understanding the material, weight, size, shape, texture, taste and temperature of what we may then conclude to be an object—

DESIST LICKING THE MIRROR!!!!!

I couldn’t. The forest I thought was filled with mist was really more like filled with infinitesimally small snowdrop-beads, moving in wreathes. Some things in the Surreal world do function the same way as the Corporeal, maybe because I think they should…even though I don’t want my tongue to have frozen stuck to a warlord fairy queen’s mirror.

It wasn’t a good hypothesis, anyway. A mirror is a tool that we’ve made, so we know mirrors exist, what one is, how it does, why it works. I suspect that so is Myrtha, or else this would just be embarrassing. (And this has never happened to me in the corporeal world. It’s probably not what it’s really like. One day I should go somewhere cold and get my tongue frozen stuck on something. For science.)

~

Mirrorwork takes the approach that everybody is made up of three things:

1.) What you think of yourself.
2.) What others think of you.
3.) What you think others think of you.

No reason this list should exclude “what others think you think they think of you” or “what you think others think you think they think of you” or even “what they think you think they think you think they think of you”. What they each think of themself is their bailiwick.

She raised the hem of her dress slightly and looked down at her shoes.

They couldn’t be real glass, or else she’d be hobbling towards some emergency first aid by now. Nor were they transparent. The human foot is a useful organ but is not, except to some people with highly specialized interests, particularly attractive to look at.

The shoes were mirrors. Dozens of facets caught the light.

Two mirrors on her feet. Magrat vaguely recalled something about . . . about a witch never getting caught between two mirrors, wasn’t it? Something she’d been taught, back when she’d been an ordinary person. Something. . . like . . . a witch should never stand between two mirrors because, because, because the person that walked away might not be the same person. You were spread out among the images, your whole soul was pulled out thin, and somewhere in the distant images a dark part of you would get out and come looking for you, if you weren’t very careful.

—Witches Abroad

The moment Queen Myrtha frees me from the fairyland mirror that has connived my capture, I can move onto more Intermediate Mirrorwork.

Preferably with the Dierne, instead.

Spring Awakening, musical adaptation by Duncan Sheik | ASL production by Michael Arden

The following entry may contain triggering material and spoilers for the musical Spring Awakening.

Disclaimer: I never got around to reading the original stageplay. And I only started re-listening to the music from here because I was looking for “There Once Was A Pirate” song from the off-Broadway version, replaced by “The Guilty Ones” in the official show version that became the fan name so I’m probably not going to find the pirate song again.

On Spotify, I could only find the Stage Stars version of Duncan Sheik’s Spring Awakening, and the vocals are exactly whelming. The overall score of the show itself isn’t what I’d call life-alteringly sublime, no, it’s fairly pop-y: I could skip right over “The Bitch of Living” or “My Junk” or “Mirror Blue Night” or “And Then There Were None” or…but the songs I do love, I love.

One minor complaint of mine is that, at the time of this writing, this particular Spotify album mistitled the song “The Guilty Ones” that should actually be “Blue Wind / Don’t Do Sadness” (And that awesomely rocking duet mistitled as “The Guilty Ones”). Here’s a clip of “Blue Wind” from the American Sign Language revival known among Guilty Ones—fans of this show still are calling themselves that, right?—as Deaf Awakening.

The full song, both full songs being sung together in counterpoint, is so cathartic for me in a way that’s difficult to explain without spoilers. So I’m going to write so many spoilers. First, the major opinion I want to put out there about the Sign Language revival version is that the movements make sense now. (The original stage musical version had settled into this choreography motif of everyone circling their nipples and rubbing their bellies through their clothes, which I suppose was supposed to be artsy, but I couldn’t understand any deeper meaning than Interpretive Dance Looks Artsy. But they kept doing it. I continued to not get it.) Also, American Sign Language looks admirably efficient and concise. The Tony Awards performance of Deaf Awakening had some singers and some signing, and I noticed the signers moving so slowly when the vocalized part had so many syllables there was no worry at all that the vocals would outpace the signing.

The entire show is about teenagers growing into sexual maturity in a 19th century German town: a cozy, intensely repressive, community. The main character, Wendla, has an unplanned pregnancy because her parents only reluctantly informed her that to make babies, you get married (and nothing about the details, so she had no clue that consenting to sex with a guy she didn’t marry would still pose a pregnancy risk.) Her parents then force Wendla to abort. It gets worse for Wendla from then on.

Hanschen is another character. As I recall, he and his partners survive being gay in a storytelling medium, and even serve as the comic relief in an otherwise painfully tragic morose morass of tragedy and pain. He has no story arc, no real subplot, no personal or interpersonal conflict because he’s simply better than everybody else: he knows it, the show knows it, and his partners quickly come to agree. He’s practically perfect, like a gay German dude version of Mary Poppins.

My favorites are still these next two, not necessarily together sexually or romantically—the ships-passing-in-the-night aspect of whatever their relationship would have been is heartbreaking, though—but just…Moritz Stiefel is a suicidal school flunkee. I was a suicidal school flunkee. I would play Moritz’s elegy song, “Left Behind” on loop back when it was young Jonathan Groff singing, and it was as though I could still breathe through the emotional knifeblock that my rib cage had become because someone (fictional, but whatever) knew what it was like to live on. That was Melchior, but narratively I feel as though he is half of Moritz, or this Melchior-Moritz Wonder Twins combination of…really, processing suicidal grief and depression. They’re both players in this story, and at the time this story had (I would put it this way now, not at that time) bespelled me.

Moritz is the shadow, the part that gets it. Moritz died—killed himself—so that I wouldn’t have to. He gets it, what it’s like to be driven to that point when you’re only a shadow cast by real living people who did things to “you”, “you” with Quote Marks of Emphasized Technicality because the concept of being a person isn’t there anymore. Moritz gets it when so many condescending and unhelpful outside perspectives to depression and suicide…did not.

Moritz pulled the trigger because, “I don’t do sadness.” And that’s one way to stop it, that sadness, if it’s sadness…but…more important than not making death an option is owning that option as a choice. For me at least, having mustered up—well, borrowed, from this song—even that speck of personal sovereignty? Suicidal ideations become less inevitable. He’s the Lord of Shalott.

~

There’s a modern tradition of mysticism, I guess it can be called one, known as soulbonding. Sometimes it’s the way creators describe how alive their characters have become, as they immerse themselves in a creative process. Other times, characters from existing works are treated like spell correspondents, or gods with responsibilities over a sphere of influence that can be appealed to.

In that community, I find people asking for recommendations for fictional characters they could “summon” as soulbonds, to ease the challenges of coexistence. Which characters can redirect or reframe personal feelings of jealousy? Which characters encourage discipline and motivation towards a given goal? Which characters help someone to make friends if they’re shy, or hold them accountable to honesty if they’re too anxious not to say what they think other people want to hear?

When one recommendation request came on to help cope with anxiety and depression, I almost suggested Moritz or Elaine Ascalot. I think it’s good that I didn’t. I only know what worked for me. If it’s possible that Moritz’s portrayal of suicide glamourizes and encourages the act when most people would rather that never happen…well, I’m fortunate that I reacted to Moritz’s songs the way I did. I’m fortunate to have encountered this work with this character at the time that I did at all, but as I can’t even know anybody else’s internal world (I only understand a stakely situation) I wouldn’t want to risk someone else taking it as less helpful or even opposite helpful than I did.

Blue_Wind_Deaf_Awakening

Back to “Blue Wind” singer Ilse Neumann, first name pronounced like “EL-sa”, and…she’s a goddess. Lauren Pritchard plays Bohemian Ilse as free-spirited but with some grounded serenity. Krysta Rodriguez plays Bohemian Ilse as a manic pixie dream. There’s a German cast whose Ilse has a singing voice like a clear stream of the purest nectar (I heard her “Blue Wind / Don’t Do Sadness” on YouTube playing opposite a Moritz who delivers the line meaning ‘you startled me’ like it’s a death threat, unfortunately, but he hit the high notes in his half just fine.) (Or, I don’t speak German, so maybe they changed the script.)

(Comparisons of “The Dark I Know Well” Ilses would be so much more…something…method acting analysis…but…intense, so no? I’ll just keep myself to all the possible dozen infinite Bohemian flower bouquet unbraided hair “Blue Wind” crooning Ilses.)

However Ilse’s played, I feel as though there’s this mantle of magnificence this character gives people to carry throughout the show. She completes another duet, “The Dark I Know Well” with Martha, revealing both to be victims of incestuous rape. We don’t see much of Martha after—she establishes that it’s a horrifically common problem in their tiny, tight-knit town. “The Dark I Know Well” is a disjointed sort of call-and-response double soliloquy. Ilse suffered as much as Martha, but some aspect is bigger than that, even when the whole song is about how “there’s a part I can’t tell about the dark I know well…” and they can’t let on to anyone but themselves and the watching audience, it isn’t “suffering as much” but “suffering with” even when it’s not possible for them in that town, to bring it out or up and share it.

Ilse bears witness to Martha’s violation as well as her own. She does the same with Moritz when she sings “Blue Wind”, and her body language during the staging of “Left Behind” (Moritz’s funeral scene) is a scathing condemnation of the irresponsible adults who drove Moritz to suicide. No flighty, promiscuous teenager repressing trauma should have the power to scathe without a word…but, Ilse. Ilse Neumann, is all.

And, despite Melchior being positioned as the hero and protagonist, as Moritz’s only friend, as Wendla’s lover…it’s not him but Ilse who leads the final chorus. “The Song of Purple Summer” describes the passage of time through pain, and it catches at the voices of everyone; it’s a song of acknowledging pain and grief, for everything passes, and hope for everything passes, and it’s vast and complex, as though one song from one specific character, because of her story, because of her nature…opened this giant gate to life and the world itself. No barely-present side character should have that much p—Ilse, damn it all, Ilse Neumann. Goddess of summer and life and the universe and everything.

The Secret Garden, musical adaptation by Marsha Norman & Lucy Simon

The following entry may contain triggering material, and spoilers for the Broadway musical version of The Secret Garden, extending spoilers to the book of the same name by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

I was so happy to find this musical on Spotify. It’s one of my very all-time favorites simply for the music, especially the Broadway recording that polished everything up. The songs don’t always lend themselves to egoistic solos, or toe-tappingly earwyrm-hummingly catchy show tunes. The book is hardly the quotable tragicomedies of Sondheim. What makes this my favorite show is the choral arrangements, counterpoint melodies in duets or quartets, and orchestration. I listen to the strings more than the voices. It’s almost ambient in how diffusively the music carries the story. The styles range from jigs to Gregorian chants to operatic arias, yet always remain distinctly story-telling songs.

The Secret Garden, written by Frances Hodgson Burnett and published in 1911, begins with a young English girl living in India. Mary Lennox is rich and spoiled and her parents are always too busy partying with other rich English people to do any actual parenting, so they leave her to be raised by Indian servants, and they all die of plague. The End.

Oh, no, wait—Mary Lennox is the sole survivor of the plague. Now orphaned at ten years of age, the soldiers who discover her then whisk the child off to her nearest relation in Yorkshire, Not In India. Her hunchbacked uncle Archibald Craven is too busy grieving as a widow to be a parent, whether that’s to Mary or to…well, there are other children in the enormous manor and on the moors that really nobody wants to pay attention to, except to keep them apart. Mary Lennox—being far more temperamental and belligerent than a life of privilege can usually explain—is having none of it.

The musical takes some liberties with the story. The deceased Lily Craven’s soprano has far more presence onstage than in prose where her ghostly influence (of memory, of serendipitous coincidence) can afford to be more subtle. Doctor Neville Craven, Archibald’s undeformed brother, is the most passive antagonist I have ever read. In both versions, rumors about how mercenary Dr. Craven is do come up, and Neville doesn’t do anything or even scheme to do anything to pick up that plot point. He just does his job as the family doctor, as competently as an Edwardian-age physician can. This isn’t very competently at all because, in the world Burnett has constructed, people need magic, whether that’s the magic of a relationship with the land, or the magic of ghosts guiding us from the afterlife even through our grief, or the magic of friendships between upperclass children and the half-wild siblings of the sassy-but-not-too-sassy servants, or…the magic of an individual thinking so positive that they’re not disabled anymore…Anyway, versions that aren’t the book seem to really like putting Neville in a love triangle with Lily and Archibald so he’s misunderstood about being mercenary.

The music—

Hold on. One day maybe, I’ll write about Burnett’s magic as a proto-new-age sort of Law of Attraction or New Thought type belief system, or the Glamour dynamic of Mary Lennox’s and Sara Crewe’s relationship with Indian-ness and the exoticization of their ancestral home, or friendships across class/age/gender gaps (more like chasms) in The Secret Garden, but for now this video has this transcript and I recommend them for purposes of becoming wiser than fictional Edwardians when it comes to disability.

The-Secret-Garden_Marsha-Norman_Lucy-Simon

My fancasting would be Priti Ghandi as Lily Craven (warning: autoplay of music samples on every page). And, I don’t even know if Naveen Andrews sings, but he can rock a top hat so that’s my fancast/headcanon Neville.

Naveen Andrews

Naveen Andrews can rock a top hat!

“A Girl in the Valley” served as the background music while I was writing The Red Room and now that I hear it again, “It’s a Maze” must have been what inspired a red-brick labyrinthine Scape that I call the 2nd Chamber (and in Western Faery, the Sienna Sierra. Sierra Sienna? One of those.) I never blog about the 2nd Chamber because it’s usually just there to slow down Point A to Point B and a Guiser named Rose may or may not sometimes be there. Rose has been too obstinately enigmatic to blog about.

My favorite song remains “Winter’s On the Wing”, which I’m beginning to associate with a personification—I call guiser—of time—I call phase, and put in a subcategory under guiser. Dickon Sowerby whistles in spring time that I, having been a tropical creature all my life, haven’t the foggiest idea what the big deal around equinoxes is in almost all pagan or occult literature. Or even a foggy idea about fog. But here he is, and next up is my personification of the summer lady: Ilse Neumann from another Broadway musical, Spring Awakening.

The Proscenium

The proscenium is a category I gave to a Scape in the Surreal, also to the process of creating it. It’s one of the turnkey concept-methods between the receptive liminal activity—receptivity?—and active liminal…activity. The preceding sentence is why I don’t like dualism, by the way, it gets everywhere into everything when the concept I’m trying to get at is really just one (third?) thing with differing things in the thing.

The library I call my “third chamber” originated as a visualization exercise called the Memory Palace, or the method of loci. As I recall, it’s ancient Roman, but I can’t recall when it became a thing and who authored what specific information about it. As I understand, concepts should become easier to remember if symbolized by an object that occupies spacetime, in the imaginary sense. While I could imagine this place that I’ve never been to, I couldn’t attach specific ideas. I ought to have been able to attach a grocery list to the banister, for instance. Instead, while I could see the banister clearly, I couldn’t help but think there was—because my mind’s eye could see, because my fetch-heart knew—this hoary old man with an eyepatch named Odin (the man’s name, not the eyepatch’s) rattling his cane impatiently against the bars and referring to me as ‘sonny’.

So, that’s one possible example of how something mundanely imaginary can overlap with spiritual significance. I could understand, at least I anxiously anticipate, the embarrassment of interacting with a symbol of my oedipal issues as though they were a cosmic power personified. I could also understand the frustration of hearing something, “Oh, you’re Jung’s Wise Old Man archetype!” over and over again by mortals who want to claim so much is just in their heads that it almost becomes a humblebrag—having so much more in yer noggin’ than most other people, eh?

However an individual decides—or feels is the best way—to interpret it, though, is probably the right way. Even if that inclination towards the psychic-like-psyche or psychic-like-psi-phenomena changes during the process, as the individual gains experience.

I liked that it was a round room. Sometimes, it would develop corners. Rather than wonder what the change in architecture symbolized, what self-work I ought to do so that my imaginary room would be round again the next time I glimpse it…I would make an effortful visualization of the room being round again. That would work well enough. It wasn’t so effortful to get it there in the first place, though, so I wouldn’t say that the mental effort alone makes it -real in the Surreal.

My Proscenium appears to operate on the wishcraft of a fiction. Once, two regular residents of that room vanished with all the furnishings. I re-established the third chamber as it used to be, but I still believe that happened. Am I deluding myself that the third chamber is still fully furnished? It feels awkward, but it doesn’t feel wrong.

I have never attempted to domesticate the landscape of Erstvale like this. I control my fetch when I quest. I wield Eidems like Heartwrench and the something Of Doom (with the pointy bit). We all have stories, and inaudible names I know, and some kind of vibrance. That’s what I experience, and whether I decide it’s in my head or some otherworldly journey, it helps to keep that possible.

~

It would feel wrong for me to summon those two residents back to the third chamber. I thought I could deliberately visualize a ghost-guardian person in Erstvale, the same way I rounded the walls of the third chamber…and, she simply wouldn’t take. I decided not to make the effort anymore, and a year or so later had an unsettling dream about her being melted (something alive or at least moving within the slurry of what used to be form.)

I write stories. I shape my mind for them: plot, aesthetic, voice and style. I let images form in my mind, emotional beats, manifesting potentials like a lucid dream (or, when writer’s block comes around, like a nonlucid dream or dreamless sleep. Is it a mineral deficiency, or do the muses leave me? Whatever.) It’s so common to speculate on the psychology of creators—while that is not the only literary analysis approach that exists, I took for granted that that would keep them safely contained.

But then Captain Marigold fired the cannons through the walls of our realities, so if I thought I made her up (which I shouldn’t have been able to—poor ghost-guardian of Erstvale,) she’s fairly self-made now.

That’s part of the Proscenium process, too: metaphorical thespians, characters, scripts and improvisation, rehearsal and orchestra, backdrops and backstage, costumes and makeup and lighting and masks. None of it strictly real; some level of it always true. Detached, we know it for what it is. Immersed, we know it for what it is.

The Lady of Shalott, Again

The following entry may contain triggering material.

Talk about problematic favorites. Emilie Autumn is a violinist whose works I personally enjoy, whether that’s the songs (something surreal happened with Shalott) or the aesthetic. Raw anguish and wrath isn’t a catharsis for everyone, of course, and I’m referring to the Opheliac album, not Emilie’s twee pop-experimental Stateside Celtic Enchant album (that I must admit to also liking), nor the Broadway rock musical style Fight Like A Girl album. Opheliac-era Plague Rats appear to mostly dislike Fight Like A Girl because Emilie’s sound mellowed out so much. Because Broadway rock musical. (I must admit to also also liking.)

That is Emilie being mellow.

I finally got to listen through The Opheliac Companion album, which were tracks of Emilie and producer InkyDust talking about the process behind each song. I’ve heard a lot of complaints about these two joking about potato famine, fewer complaints about Emilie’s description of “I Know Where You Sleep” percussion as ‘tribal’ and that the concert staging for this song involves the chorus girls stamping about in a circle while wearing feather hats.

The commentary track for the six-minute song “Gothic Lolita” is ninety minutes of talking about anything but “Gothic Lolita”—the song’s about child molestation, which InkyDust mentions Emilie having a difficult time talking about ‘because of personal stuff.’ I believe the implication.

On a far more personal level, one major theme of Opheliac was reclaiming narratives lent to the mentally ill or disordered, hence the Victorian insane asylum aesthetic. Emilie Autumn is an expert on this, having grown up struggling with a mental illness, and even having been institutionalized later in life…and, I have my own perspective on this issue because of my mental illness, and…I am kind of horrified by the message of this album.

The term Opheliac imitates the term for those with mental conditions (compare “insomniac” or “hypochondriac”) while borrowing the name of a Shakespearean character famous for going an unspecified sort of crazy and then drowning herself to death—Ophelia. Early modern painters in the Western world prolifically portrayed the Shakespearean Ophelia’s drowning, and how: Emilie Autumn describes the collective works on this subject as ‘a wet T-shirt contest’ and focuses on the intersection of misogyny and mental-disableism. The lyrics of “Opheliac” describe this condition more from the inside:

I’m your Opheliac, I’ve been so disillusioned;
I knew you’d take me back, but still I feigned confusion…

You know the games I play
and the words I say
when I want my own way;
You know the lies I tell
when you’ve gone through hell
and I say I can’t stay

You know how hard it can be
to keep believing in me
when everything and everyone becomes my enemy
and when there’s nothing more you can do,
I’m gonna blame it on you—
It’s not the way I want to be
I only hope that in the end you will see
it’s the Opheliac in me

That…doesn’t sound like a good person. As Emilie says later on in the album, “I am on to myself.” That goes for patterns in the creative process, as well as traits of the Opheliac.

That’s never enough.

I’ve had hypersomnia, fatigue, and executive dysfunction dismissed as ‘laziness’ so often that I can’t believe in laziness anymore. Whenever I can wash a dish (or haul the garbage out, or spend an hour handwashing laundry,) it’s not a chore, it’s a miracle, and I always appreciate having enough life to do it. Whenever someone else says they’d do something but they’re lazy (rather than tired or somethng about time), my first thought is that they’re secretly depressed instead, weighed down wherever they would move in the world, thoughts of ‘should do’ devoured before they can form. That’s horrible. (But if that were the case, wouldn’t more people be more understanding?)

I had—still have—difficulty with the concept of doing something you don’t want or don’t feel like doing. If I do anything, it’s usually because I had the ability to. That said, my mother was a great fan of shaking and slapping depression out of my body, but it was mostly the bodily hauling to the location of the thing needed done and more shouting about how useless I was that got the thing done. I could barely register language enough to sustain any of it as personal wound by that point, but I can’t call it a cure. It got me to thing done, which I keep being told is all that really matters.

The brain, in all its sparking wires and chemical balances and nodes of language and motor skill and emotion and processing sensory perceptions and maths and memories…is an organ, and it can stop operating properly, and that’s what happened to me, and I fell ill. Or I was (am) neglectful, and lazy, and selfish for attempting suicide, and selfish for living on choosing to act worthless and hopeless and lazy instead of solving it so simply (by suicide?), and mental illness is an excuse for my bad behavior. I’ve been told the latter enough times that it’s become what I’ve got to deal with, that impenetrable fortress of narrative, even though it’s so far from what it’s like on the inside that I can’t even manage a double-think.

Yet I’ve begun to get the sense that it might still be easier to accept depression as a mental illness rather than a moral failing, compared to De Clerambault’s, Munchausen’s by Proxy, compulsive lying, violent mania, substance addiction… As horrifyingly abusive as Munchausen by Proxy literally is, if I build my own narrative fortress against any of those, go, “I’m just not well; you’re evil and toxic and irresponsible and manipulative and conditioned with circumstances to…” would that be true, though? What could it even do? If I get get away from it, I wouldn’t need to say that; if I’m stuck with it, saying that won’t help and never has. At best, I am ‘on to’ myself. That’s just not good enough. I’m still not a good person. That’s why I’m horrified: “Opheliac” implies that that’s okay, that’s good, that’s the way it’s got to be. (“God Help Me” especially with the companion album commentary, has a different approach to it: Places, everyone! This is a test / Throw your stones, do your damage, your worst and your best / All the world is a judge, but that doesn’t compare / to what I do to myself when you’re not there.)

~

The alias I gave my abuser and elder blood sibling here is Miasma. My corporeal roommate Cecilia suspects that Miasma might have narcissistic personality disorder. I’d read this had been excluded from the fifth Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, so it might not be possible for anyone to have it anymore. If Miasma hadn’t been diagnosed or otherwise glommed ‘on to‘ herself, then this could still explain a lot. But we’re blood siblings. If it’s genetic, neurological…and she has it, I could very well have it.

One time I screamed at Miasma. She’d torn my scalp open two years before then, shrugged off my telling her the next morning that I had been hurt and what she did was not okay, ran off crying to another friend when I insisted that she at least recognize this and not do it again, came back crowing about how this other friend forgave her for what she’d done to me so I should drop it already, and (when I moved out) sobbed that she couldn’t change and this wouldn’t be the last ‘misunderstanding’ from an imperfect human rather than the non-abuser I expected. So I shouldn’t move out, she’d argued, because I never warned her that I would leave over this, she had no concept that I could, I should have warned her, or else I would be leaving without even trying to work things out. It had been an accident.

With so much resistance to that mere acknowledgment, she might as well have done it on purpose. She was used to sending me out to walk to the grocery store in the rain for a packet of iced tea, then rant for hours and pick up the rant again for days about how I’d returned with the wrong flavor and then had the gall to come down with the flu, as though it wasn’t hard enough for her to taste peach in iced tea instead of berries. She was used to agreeing to drop me off at a corner before continuing the cab ride to where she was supposed to be, then ordering the driver to rush right past it because she was late, but right after getting out she still found the time to shout at me for a quarter of an hour because I’d sulked about having to walk. Every day was something like this. Every hour.

I hadn’t screamed at those specific instances. I’d sulked quietly, starved in silence, kept a stern indoor voice with “I feel X when you do Y because Z” structured sentences, all to no effect but for that I eventually began to develop brain fog and ulcers and (eventually) see smoggy smoke-snakes or reptile angels with orange anime hair that nobody else could see.

She silenced me, and for that I’ll spend the rest of my life screaming, and turning everything upside down that isn’t the ground, and setting everything flammable aflame. But that one time, I just screamed. Our extended family had tried to reconcile us. I screamed and it scraped my tarry heart red again. Miasma sent word to our mutual friends (well, I didn’t have any friends that weren’t her friends first, she made sure of that) that I had a manic episode in my lifelong struggle with bipolar disorder. Which I’d never been diagnosed with, and pretty sure I don’t have. Cecilia and Anjie seemed to have had enough of Miasma being so dishonest with them, at that (they were both very much in our lives when I started therapy, and knew that this armchair layperson diagnosis hadn’t come up.) She would rather they consider me crazy than angry—when it suited her. She’d never attribute an empowered individual choice to me whenever that’s what I was actually doing, I had to be crazy or immature and acting out, but she’d evoke free will bootstraps when I knew my limits and had the temerity to ask for help with them. She couched justification for all this in religious terms, and I still have to keep reminding myself that it depends on how the individual uses the symbols and vocabulary and concepts of their faith, not that Miasma’s religion inherently condoned abuse. Most days, I still can’t believe the reminder.

Armchair layperson psychiatry was a bad that we both did. I don’t think Miasma’s narcissistic, either, it may have been something else…but something.

One day, two years after that, I was on lunch break at my job and eating what I now mythologize as the Hotdog of Enlightenment. At the time, it was an ordinary convenience store hotdog. I hadn’t even been thinking about Miasma, but the thought bubbled up that she could no more control her violence, dishonesty, or possessiveness over food than I had any real control over my eating disorder. She would insist that my problems were my choices, but all the manipulation she did to cover up and keep the image of someone mature, responsible, and sane—were all probably because she couldn’t admit to herself that she was spiraling out of control of herself. There was a serenity in that, recognition of the once too-intense suffering now a fact of life that we all try to figure out, but we forget in our limitations and selfishness. That lunch break, I rediscovered a new level of compassion.

A week after that, though, I had another nightmare about her and spent the wee hours of the morning seething about what she’d done to me, was still doing, and she had never had to suffer even a fraction of the consequences that I had suffered all my life growing up with her…There must have been cannabis or opiates in that hotdog; enlightenment was not it.

~

The Lady of Shalott is the alias I gave to the power that breaks those narrative fortresses. She dies in the process, over and again, both as I do a little bit and so that I don’t have to literally. She knows a world beyond her weaving and looking-glasses that’s clear, true, real, and better—one she’s cursed to never be a part of, but it’s worth reaching for just to move. She won’t say it’s going to be all right. Her message is more, “Do it anyway. You must choose this.”

She owns the paradoxical gate of The Only Choice.

She is a god to me. As stubborn as I used to be about never again believing in what someone else told me unless I experienced it myself, including gods, I’ve never met this being and I believe and devote myself to Her. Something about her feels more alive and personable than the run-of-the-mill way I like to take a story and crunch the meaning up in interpretation. She never responds, sends signs, or appears as a billowing presence or clear anthropomorphization in the Otherreal or Surreal. She is the most frustratingly conceptual and abstract being I have ever included in my life, and in a way had been the most profoundly helpful.

She might also be a spell. This was what Emilie and Inky had to say about “Shalott” which is a song about the Lady that first introduced me to her:

EMILIE: She was another perfect representation of the Opheliac, it’s…she had a choice between life and death, she chose to do something that would basically drive her over the edge, she chose it, knowing that—in her mind, she didn’t have a choice, and she ended up dying in the water.

INKY: So this is an Ophelial-related…

EMILIE: Exactly. Basically, like, the word ‘Opheliac’ is the medical term for the condition of being an Ophelia-like character. It is basically a self-destructive type, whether you do it yourself or whether you ‘allow’ things from the outside to do it. And, almost, the taking, as we talked about before, with, like, Opheliac—the song—taking responsibility for the fact that you play a part in this. You can blame everybody—and you’re right, and you should! And you should get revenge. But realize…that either you…had a, a mental thing that got to you, even if it’s not your fault, or, from the outside, if it’s external…you let someone kill you. So, you may have had no power at the time…

INKY: Right.

EMILIE: …But… (Pause.) You did. You just didn’t know it. So, the goal is to educate people, to say, so that they know it—just know it. And if you still make that choice, fine. But.

In the story, the Lady lives under a death curse if she witnesses a world not in her mirror or in her weaving. Who cast the curse, or why, doesn’t actually matter anymore by that point. I could blame Carabosse because I blame Carabosse for most curses. That the focus remains on someone ‘half sick of shadows’ is a wishcraftsy one to me: At that moment, I imagine the Lady has begun to hate being nothing but a cumulation of what someone elses have done to her. She’s spread as insubstantial and clingy as a shadow. The hate is power, though, because…if she thoroughly weren’t even a person anymore, who would be doing the hating? Even that would be an inevitable reaction, if we only focused on the mechanics of the thing, but the spell develops when she owns something more complex and mysterious than pure pain.

Emilie crafted this song with that specific purpose. I wouldn’t even feel moved to turn to how this—as Emilie puts it—archetype is Older Than Modern and Elsewhere In World (And Therefore Real-er), it would be cool if I had been taken by a categorical spell rather than a categorical goddess all this time, or even if there weren’t as clear a line between the two in this instance.

It doesn’t have to happen this way. I have a memory of going somewhere earthly every day, where everyone I’d met wordlessly reminded me that I was a person. They weren’t even trying. They didn’t ‘bully’ as the grown-ups called it, not because someone told them not to, but because they really wouldn’t. I hope I’d reflected back the same, but this casual nurturing of personal sovereignty wasn’t something I’d gotten at home, or from anywhere else throughout my childhood. The depression after that was worse in its many physical effects, but it could never manage to feel as utterly consuming as it had in its relatively milder forms when I was a child. That sort of personal sovereignty is valuable, and not as easily revoked as it sounds, but I know it can be forgotten. The Lady of Shalott came along to show another kind of personal sovereignty I could work with. If it doesn’t come from a good place, alas, earth often isn’t.