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Excerpted from The Blue Goat, A Novel from Life - Routine decisions are not simply binary notions of "do'' or "not do.'' No, no. That would be too easy. Even if one were to make the decision to wash one's hands, then one must decide which sink, how warm the water, how much soap, which hand first, how vigorously, fingernail brush or no fingernail brush, which towel to dry with, which hand to dry first -- and all these -- and many, many more -- decisions must be made before taking the first step of turning on the water. Hence, the poor thing stands before the sink, tears streaming from his eyes, unable to explain that the burden is much more than can be borne: washing hands is too, too much!
Some look at the issue scientifically and medically. The myth of Freud's great genius is trotted out. The treatment specialists bicker about counseling and drugs. They hover about and try to penetrate to the poor suffering bastard in their interminable "evaluation sessions,'' being "there'' with him when he needs them. They convince themselves that they are helping. And they bring the suffering and the afflicted together into wards for their self-protection -- because, ultimately, misery loves company.
Others point to the literary models, from Biblical texts to classical exposition, from medieval and Renaissance literature, the Baroque era and neo-classicism, the romantics and the existentialists and the realists. They can paint the contrasts between the Platonic/Neo-Platonic and Aristotelian models, the pivotal position of medieval Jewish and Arab scholarship, the dividing lines between modern science and the early-modern pseudo-sciences. They trot out the self-help literature of the day. They try so hard to help the poor suffering bastard understand what is wrong with him, as though the words and ideas and concepts can help: misery loves company. In the end, the real surprise is how little any of it helps: misery does not love company.
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Event # 205: SPEAKING IN TONGUES
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Misery does not love company.Misery loves solitude, the ever sinking and rapidly failing and downward spiraling of the mind to the point where the outside cannot penetrate. At first, the melancholic begins to turn off at will: although sitting and appearing to be engaged in conversation, the "turn off'' had already happened and the trees are falling in the forest with no one to hear them. The "turn off'' develops to the point where it is involuntary. Finally, that face of the loved one, with its moving lips, its concerned look, its tearful eyes, has no effect any longer: the speech is inaudible, the sight is incomprehensible, the communication is non-existent.
Misery loves the solitude that telegraphs itself to the ether all around, preventing interruption or interception or interposition by any other person, whether that be a loved one or an enemy. Communication with the outside has been broken, but not inside: there may be voices, but not necessarily; there are memories, usually warped and twisted beyond recognition, constantly evolving or changing, usually for the worse and sometimes for the better. The distinctions between friend and enemy become dissolved, even dissipated, in the cold, dry atmosphere of melancholia: the differences between friend and enemy do not make a difference, because the differences are so trivial -- in this mindset, in this condition.
Misery loves that kind of solitude where the effects of the black slime can work to its bitter end, where self-destruction seems not only inevitable, but becomes desired for its own sake. This special black-dry humor has a corrosive, polluting quality: the drip, drip, drip that scours the patina and bares the essence, then eats into the very core, then finally penetrates and leaves a web-like shell of death, like the brown, dry skeleton of the lovely leaf after the gypsy moth has had its fill.
Misery loves solitude, but such solitude is not allowed. The afflicted are gathered together, put into little cells, and "treated'' in wards.
The TreatmentsThe classic, psych-ward treatment looks seriously at the melancholic's woes and sets about to thoroughly undo each part of them. -Morning group: you want to be alone, to ponder, to deal with time and eternity as you are able. But we want you all to get together and tell your life's stories, the more secret and disgusting the tale the better, from long ago and from last week, from yesterday and today; then we can cry together; and tomorrow we will discuss the loss of a loved one and the grieving process.
-Rehabilitative activity: you are unable to carry out all the complex tasks involved with brushing your teeth; or you stand in the shower unable to wash yourself; selecting meals from a menu or eating from a cafeteria is a torment. But we want you to lace these pieces of leather together into a change purse, then cut out pictures from these magazines to make a collage about how you feel today, then carve that block of Ivory soap with a popsicle stick, making whatever it is that might have significant meaning to you.
-Exercise: you want to sit alone; if activity is required, paging a picture magazine will do; better yet, you just sit alone and block out all the noises and smells. But we want you to come together, this little herd; stretch high like this: doesn't that feel good? [No, it doesn't.] Now, down and swing your arms like this -- wider and higher, like this: doesn't that feel just excellent? [No, it doesn't!] Put your left leg ahead and lean down into it, stretching, like this: feel the pull, feel the muscles pull tight? [No, I don't feel anything!] Now, run in place like this: knees high, not too fast, just steady, count your breath like this -- puff, puff, puff -- exhale, inhale, exhale, inhale: now, doesn't that feel wonderfully refreshing? [No, it feels like punishment.] Under other circumstances, attention would have been diverted: -the group leader with her cute intellectual-looking glasses, a stopwatch (?) shoestringed around her neck, her clipboard with a cartoon taped to the back and her neatly trimmed fingernails tapping on it as she waited out each response.
-the rehabilitation therapist who bent down and put her head next to yours; when you began she gave you a peck (not a kiss, but a peck) on the cheek, cheerleading the people to do, to do anything, to do anything at all whether they wanted to or not.
-the exercise therapist with her firm bosom, muscular thighs, flat stomach, arrow-straight spine, her skin-tight outfit tracing all the lines of her lovely body.
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