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.

Captain Foxglove Takes Umbrage

 Warning: The following entry may contain triggering material.

When Captain Foxglove acts out of character, I’m inclined to interpret this as reflecting a psychological node of sorts, that is breaking down due to some subconscious program of a sort gathering “error data” of a sort. So, Foxglove, usually encouraging, supportive, incisive with honesty at his worst becomes prone to verbally violent outbursts.

In this instance, however, it holds more significance to me to keep to running with the spiritualist program. I just really feel like I make more progress with believing in the experience than I do with meta-analysis.

So, Foxglove has three faces: the first I saw when I first met him, the second I saw on a quest where I caught sight of him lounging on a grassy cliff by the sea (and I sensed it was Foxglove even though he looked so different), and the third when I followed him down a flight of steel steps and he turned around when I asked to know more about him—and his face shattered, like the spaces between a perfect spiderweb only it was meant to shatter, because behind the human masque revealed pointed petals that blossomed into rows upon rows upon rows of pointed teeth.

That last bit could be another example of error data in my subconscious, though, crossing over my pirate fantasy with one of the Resident Evil genetically engineered monsters. But I told myself that I wouldn’t be going with that, at least in this entry.

Because, within the spiritualist paradigm, the thing that I figured out was that while they’re all Foxglove, he’s managed to get jealous of himself when one face gets more of my consideration than the other.

If only it could have been as simple as some evil mischief-maker stole the image of Foxglove that I knew, to impersonate him getting angry so that I would be upset or misled. Then I just have to call out the trickster and keep it real with Foxglove.

It might still turn out to be that way. The stuff of the otherworld and the otherworld itself can be so capricious.

The very night before this all happened, I did have a dream of my ex-mentor in psychism, let’s name him Mar, sat at this bar in a stable and radiated smugness about something terrible that he (Mar himself, not Foxglove) had done to me. While I was embodied in the dream, sitting somewhere across from Mar in this bar that was also a stable, I felt detached and unafraid.

Now I don’t know if my own response was because I’ve developed the strength to have my own standpoint from which I see that Mar is wrong about enough that nothing he does has the effect on me that he intends to have (because I can’t respect his point of view anymore) or if my own response was because I’ve shut down attachments and fears to the point that that I no longer panic when I ought to panic.

Part of me is convinced that this dream meant that Mar did something. This is preposterous to consider, of course, because there’s no empirical evidence for that sort of thing. Inner alchemy or practices with similar effect? Maybe. Dreamwalking and curses? I’m not so sure about those anymore.

So I bring it back to mind.

Perhaps there remains a node in my psyche that can manifest as Mar, and that’s who corrupted Captain Foxglove somehow, if that is even what the how is. That’s the way I’ll speak of it, if so, because it’s an important distinction for me to make right now between corporeal, certificate-of-life-birth possessing, social-security-number having, other-people-can-see-him-too Marr and surreal Mar.

But back to Foxglove.
 
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Vorpal Sword 0/3

 

Granny Weatherwax had never heard of psychiatry and would have had no truck with it even if she had. There are some arts too black even for a witch. She practiced headology—practiced, in fact, until she was very good at it. And though there may be some superficial similarities between a psychiatrist and a headologist, there is a huge practical difference. A psychiatrist, dealing with a man who fears he is being followed by a large and terrible monster, will endeavor to convince him that monsters don’t exist. Granny Weatherwax would simply give him a chair to stand on and a very heavy stick.

—Terry Pratchett, Maskerade

 

12 November 2011

For as long as I can remember, I have dreaded and feared this invisible shadow, this inaudible chord, these intangible bonds. Perhaps these were all just in my imagination, but this consideration did nothing to assuage the fear. When my imagination gave these form, however, then they felt like something that I could fend off with that same. Sometimes.

For one example, the dread of walking a hall at home after lights-out took on a more specific location, and the form of a hooded figure with a gaunt face. I could imagine a wall of electricity between this figure and myself, and this accompanied with the conviction that going near me was against some sort of playground rule. Whether that conviction created the wall, or the wall supported that conviction I don’t remember. Sometimes the figure would be caught in the electric net, and this would give me some time to run past it until it lost me. Other times, it would float right through or appear within the bounds, laughing, and I wouldn’t know why the wall wasn’t working this time. I certainly didn’t want anxiety, conflict, or even adventure. I tried to imagine it all away, but whatever logic, courage, or dismissive attitude I could muster would crumble into gut-wrenching horror. I didn’t want this, but I didn’t know how to exorcise it.

I grew out of it, but maybe it did have something to do with the depression I fell into much later. I worked on recovering many aspects that most people have naturally, and just didn’t have what I needed to grow into self-sufficiency. My only parent died. My only sibling continued the pattern, adding substance abuse to the mix, and systematically tripped me every step forward that I could take. I wrenched myself out of there, no plan, no skills, no real connections—to the house of a friend of the family’s. In this strange place, I had two spontaneous episodes of far-fetching. The corresponding overlay would be remarkably peaceful, even stagnant. Strange, then, that I would return to the Mainland and sense sharp threats growing towards me from the corners and edges of the room they lent. Maybe it was me.

This is the only relevance to the story: While I lay waiting for sleep, I would imagine standing ready with a sword. I’d leap up, land, slash across—and whatever I was fighting, it or they would shrink back. I made a story, just for myself, about what I imagined, and by that I don’t mean that I wrote a story (except for this text, which is actually telling this story) but that I conceptualized a story that I would live. It was about the name of the swords: the katana, Mercy; and the wakizashi, Justice. My sense of these respective names, I decided, were what had given these weapons form. I had defined the concept, lower-case, justice and mercy, in a way I hadn’t been able to before.

11 June 2012

I dreamed that a man made out of water, that I’d met before, also in a dream, and named Eddy– he laid four swords before me. I certainly recognized the swords.

Eddy asked me if I could tell the difference between the two black-handled wakizashi, Justice and Spite. It was like the ritual for locating the Dalai Lama, where a bunch of toys and other items would be laid before an infant, and if he selected the items that used to belong to the previous Dalai Lama, then he must be a reincarnation because he was drawn to what was familiar.

I couldn’t do it with my own weapons, in this life. It might have ended there, with me just having to admit that I simply do not know something as basic as Right from Wrong, but when I felt the compulsion to tidy up, I picked up Justice and Spite and held them together. They melded into a single weapon, which gave me an epiphany.

“I forged these as part of a psychic sort of symbolic fighting style that I envisioned,” I explained to Eddy. “It came from the conviction that mercy and justice are one and the same thing, if given that the entire conflict is fully understood. Mercy without justice is not true mercy, because coddling will enfeeble the receiver of such a virtue when real virtue will not do such harm; likewise, merciless justice is unjust because it only perpetuates violence and corruption of power. A full, true kind of Understanding shows a middle way, a course of action that incorporates both, so that both can truly be their respective virtues. I thought that they lacked one another, and that separation and subtraction was the illusion.

“I thought that I could keep them as separate parts, than when brought together dispel illusion and create a whole. Some illusions are necessary, if a subject’s capacity to understand is rudimentary–” I went ahem and pointed at myself, “– so there were times to implement Mercy alone, or Justice alone, for a needed and/or satisfactory outcome. Now I see that, that these virtues are not merely incomplete when they are separated– they are infected.

“Mercy without consideration of consequences, is Ignorance, necessarily it is willful ignorance. Justice alone is necessarily spiteful– consider the phrase ‘brutal honesty,’ honesty does not necessitate brutality, it necessitates truth, so if somebody is brutally honest, then the aim is not to be honest but to be brutal.”

To sum it all up, “I will never perfect the fighting style that I envisioned– not with these weapons. Phooey.”

Eddy nodded, unimpressed, and I sensed that whatever test or trial that I’d been dropped into unprepared– was over, for now. I also got the impression that there is no right or wrong answer in something like this, but there was just my answer. Still, I couldn’t help feeling disappointed, as if there should have been some great double gates that opened up somewhere to symbolize my graduating to a higher spiritual level.

Well, I did keep the swords, because samurai swords are just wicked cool. Perhaps there would have been pomp and circumstance if I’d given them up for a slingshot named Insight, or a rocket launcher named Awesome or something.

Case Studies in Taking Umbrage

 

Iron is an unclean and imperfect body, engendered of Argent-vive [quicksilver] impure, too much fixed, earthy, burning, white and red not clear, and of the like Sulphur: It wants fusion, purity, and weight: It has too much fixed unclean Sulphur, and burning earthiness.

Roger Bacon, “The Mirror of Alchemy” (translated in 1597)

I’ll do my best to resist surrendering the following experiences either to politics or pathology. Both have provided valuable perspectives and served as the cornerstones and keystones of my recovery.

The immediate experience of the downward spiral, however, was psychic. It still doesn’t quite feel right to say “this was how I collected base matter for alchemical processing” because I can’t even see how this leaden thing had any potential to transmute into gold.

Modern fantasy has created characters around what must be a common human phenomenon: Dementors in J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World, Spectres in Philip Pullman’s Ci’gazze, and the Dromes of Terry Pratchett’s Fairyland. Thieves of happy memories, instincts, and clarity.

It would be so easy to blame those. I could chalk them up to echoes of some entity on a spectrum between inspiration and personal gnosis, and deliberate a similar personification of my own, name them Wallows or Wraths or Wraiths and claim to be haunted.

These are more on the notional, billowy, character (object? item?) end of the personification spectrum though.

The following are personal experiences with a particular sort of billow. The emotions and forms are different each time, so the notion would be something more subtle. I do also associate these billows with emotion, or state of mind, and with the situations in which they manifest. Perhaps these were metaphysical experiences to signify some prodromal depression… or some other neuro-divergence with a hallucinatory aspect that indicated a co-morbidity with actual depression.

I don’t know. Regardless, I feel moved to organization, so I file these under “taking Umbrage” as the main symbol was indeed some sort of darkness, like an umbra.

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