Notes on a Painful Lack of Subtlety


Hold out your hand, palm up. Now curl your fingers over to touch your palm. I’m not even asking you to make a fist.
     There came a morning when I could not stand upright. Seeing me bent, and the wretched look on my face, she became somehow offended: “What’s wrong?” she asked, with a tone of annoyance. I was stunned.
     “I’m in pain,” I said. “My back.”
     It is a familiar discussion. I should get a massage. With what money? I should see a chiropractor; my insurance will definitely pay for that. Really? Okay, where is my policy packet? Where did we put it? We don’t know? Because I can’t look online; there is a technical problem and Molina has already told me they cannot help. And this is already known, already said many times before. And it is a handy little circle for anyone not me: Did you know people’s eyesight stops degrading after they get glasses? One prescription is all anyone ever needs. No, really, it’s not like people suddenly forgot something. But, yes, when I say I need new glasses, I’m asked why. And then the same people who doubt my eyesight degrades, such that they are puzzled by the idea that I might, after seven or eight years, need new glasses, suddenly think my health insurance will pay one hundred percent of the cost for this something that I don’t need. What it comes down to is that I need the family Costco card, and maybe a ride, and the answer is that nobody wants to outright say no, but I really should have learned to stop asking by now.
     A chiropractor? I don’t know if my policy covers that; we already know I don’t know. Which is the point of pretending we don’t know I don’t know. Because what I’m asking for is not exotic, or deep tissue. It’s a little bit of human contact, something I have done for other people many times over the course of these same years, and the answer is simply that nobody wants to come right out and tell me so explicitly, “No, I want you to be in pain.”
     Let’s not start on relationships; long before we utterly fell apart, my last partner simply refused because it was too stressful to help. For a little while, my daughter would walk on my back for me, but then my mother decided to start telling her, “Don’t do that. You’re too big. You’re too heavy.”
     So it has been over years since an adult has tried to help me with back pain. Oh, wait, there was the gift certificate for a massage, and while a scandal would later bring down the parlor chain, what was actually discouraging was the stress of pissing off the people who ran the place by using a gift certificate already paid for when I was too poor to afford the regular service subscription they wanted to sell me. There really isn’t anything to wreck a massage quite like upsetting your masseur by being having to repeatedly explain you are poor. Nor is there anything quite like trying to explain to those close to you that this sort of thing is discouraging; I don’t know why, but people around me think it’s a thrilling thing to have to tell people you don’t have enough money to buy what they want to sell you.
     But it’s been fifteen years since even loved ones have been willing to help. It’s just a little bit of touch, a little bit of pressure, just the slightest bit of relief. But it’s been over fifteen years since an adult human being has been willing to do anything to help other than tell me how to spend money that I don’t have.
     Hold out your hand, palm up. Now curl your fingers over to touch your palm. I’m not even asking you to make a fist. I’m not asking you to drive deep into my flesh, nor even to touch the skin. What I am asking is that you please help me. And for whatever reason, the answer remains, no.
     So, unable to stand erect, confronted as if I am committing some offense for not looking bright and chipper enough for not having slept as a result of writhing agony, there was nothing left to say, except, “I’m in pain!” And I cracked, faltered, and begged: Hold out your hand, palm up. Curl your fingers. There’s this thing people do. I’ve seen them do it, before. And you put your hand on their back and move it around lightly. Really, I’ve done it for other people, before, too. My God, it’s just a little relief, please, I don’t understand why nobody will help. It’s been over ten years, and nobody will help. Please. I’m … in … pain.
     And for all the humiliation of that plaintive, desperate tone, the answer left no room for doubt: “Don’t be silly,” she said. “Of course they will help. You just need to ask.”
     And then she turned her back and walked away.
     And I honestly do not know what combination of words will work. I mean, if all I need do is ask, then what kind of idiot am I that in fifteen years I have been unable to get anyone, friend, family, intimate partner, to help me with this pain.
     Really. I just don’t understand.

Unsolicited Advice in re Depression


It is important to observe, when enduring depression, the overlap between those who want to help but say they simply do not understand, and those who will, when you’re telling someone precisely how it feels, pick up their phone in order to interrupt and show you the latest New Yorker cover.

It’s probably for the best that you did not only yesterday discuss with this person the concept of timing in relation to when they choose to laugh out loud.

Unless, of course, you did.

Good luck.

This Really Shouldn’t Need Explaining


Celty learns about EBE conspiracies; detail of frame from Durarara!! episode 6, "Active Interest".

There is a household discussion that has to do with why I never watch television in the living room. The problem with this discussion, of course, is that the answer to the question is essentially verboten: It is impossible to watch television in the living room.

There is, indeed, a television in the living room, and the problem is not so much the arrangement of the kitchen such that there is a lot of noise from the one into the other. Rather, it is that nobody is allowed to watch television in that room without having conversations about something else: How much cheese there is, or going to the grocery store tomorrow afternoon, or, hey, maybe we should buy a new television; I can’t remember the other six topics, but it really is like a television show or movie in and of itself.

If I managed to watch five minutes of the show, I couldn’t tell you what happened. In all the years I have known multiple people to behave this way, talking over a television program about something irrelevant and nonessential, then waiting quite literally a matter of seconds to do it again, it has never really made sense. Sometimes you can rewind and replay the same segment in front of them multiple times, and it starts to feel as if they actually resent that you are watching television, would very much like you to stop, consider themselves too polite to actually say so, and thus have no alternative save annoying you until you turn off the program and leave.

And that is what it is, but in the end, yes, that is why I watch television downstairs. The answer, when I actually encounter the question of why I don’t watch television in the living room is to look at the only person in the house who asks me that and say―

“Because you won’t let me. Because if you are home and awake, and I am watching television in this room, you absolutely must speak to me now about whatever you can think of in the moment, even if it’s a matter weeks away having precisely nothing to do with me. Because I have just rewound the same fifteen seconds of this show, several times, in order to hear what they’re saying, and every time I restart the video you start talking again. Because when I tried turning up the volume just to see what happened, you actually talked louder in order to be heard. Because I can take a hint, a’ight?”

―and you just don’t go talking to people like that.

Go Fuck Yourself


I tried to keep a thought in my head long enough to launch a text editor in order to write it down and then post it on a blog. The fact that I was unable to remember what I was on about seems somehow significant.

Indeed, the fact that I was unable to properly select this blog from the menu ought to mean something.

I keep trying to tell people, but they say I’m being silly.

But That’s My Brain You’re Talking About


There is no specific answer . . . .

Conversations go wherever they will, but it also feels really, really stupid to actually stand there and say the words, “And if it kills me?” Honestly, I just don’t understand why the discussion really would need to go that far.

It may well have taken two and a half years to recover from the last time. And that’s presuming such repair and recovery is actually finished, which is itself a problematic definition.

Still, though, why not? I mean, I get it. Here, instead of just blindly telling you to try buying this and if that doesn’t work maybe in a year we’ll try buying something else, now we have a test to tell you what to buy, and if it doesn’t work, it only takes a couple years to recover, at least, but, hey, why do that, because you can just take the new, improved, updated test again and try buying something else, and at some point, being wrong can kill people.

But never ask the question, because we already know the answer:Say what?

“And if it kills me?”
Don’t be silly.

This is not some simple thing, like switching mouthwash. That we might achieve a need to ask the question explicitly would seem significant.

Decades of Drudgery


#resist

Detail of 'Lucifer', by Franz von Stuck, 1890.

The lede tells me that one of America’s most widely read right-wing journalists said something nasty about someone who went and said something spectacular in his own right, but I find myself wondering how anyone, even conservatives, still pay attention to the journalist who is essentially criticizing his commercial competition.

The most part of accepting that professional wrestling is not real combat comes down to just that, accepting the obvious. The hardest part about supermarket tabloid gossip was always the idea that anyone might believe it. Twenty-some years have Republicans denigrated themselves for a horde of alleged journalists whose apparent basis for competition has something to do with finding ways to pitch more extreme alternatives to a worryingly hungry audience.

What portion of what is happening, and how we got here, has to do with words like, “unwell”?

And to what degree does is it relevant, or is any notion of apropos merely a matter of aesthetic priorities, that over two decades after the widely-read conservative firebomb journalist accidentally helped a cartoonist win a Pulitzer …―

An established muckraker questions the psychiatric health of a competitor and market heir, and something goes here about the Pulitzer joke and nearly bringing down a presidency, and here we are all these years later and still drowning in rape culture because … I mean, say what we will about Republicans and conservatives and all that, but the rest of the nation has been finding ways to enable them. And yeah, yeah, yeah, I didn’t vote for them, either, but it is also true that we’re Americans, and we just don’t go lining them up in front of the ditch, so we should probably consider that somewhere in between we still simply haven’t done enough to forestall such spectacles as two excremental puckers fighting for headlines because that is the priority.

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Image note: Detail of Lucifer, by Franz von Stuck, 1890.

Priorities and Practicality


Detail of 'Relativity' by M.C. Escher, 1953.

Paula M. Fitzgibbons explains:

It’s possible my daughter’s condition is unavoidable—that she was born with a fear of death imprinted on her genes. There is plenty of precedent in my family, with an unbroken line of anxiety-ridden women stretching back to my great-great grandmother, who made a harrowing journey from Ireland to the United States. Researchers do believe there’s a genetic component to anxiety, but for a time, I believed my daughter was additionally cursed by epigenetics, or the idea that our experiences can write themselves into our children’s DNA. I’ve since abandoned the idea—the science of epigenetics is still sketchy, and I don’t have the time or mental energy to devote to an unproven concept when our problem is more immediate. My daughter’s anxiety is interrupting her daily life and nightly sleep.”

It seems almost petty to point out, but given the stakes I think it very important to acknowledge we witness, in this passage, the temptation of pseudoscience, and the practical gravity drawing one away from such shiny and dangerous notions. While the epigenetics of fear are, indeed, mind-boggling, the point is that virtually nothing about the concept is sound, yet. Or, as Lisa Simpson once said, “You don’t control the birds. You will, someday, but not now.” That mice verge on the Lamarckian when conditioned in a context of mortal fear and the torture to inspire it is a far cry from what’s going on with human beings; and while it’s true I haven’t followed this question so closely over the last few years, it’s also one of those subjects we would have heard something about if someone achieved any sort of definitive answer about anything. There are myriad reasons to be tempted by epigenetics in these aspects, but behavioral epigenetics does not at this time a sound science make.

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Fitzgibbons, Paula M. “Watching My Daughter Develop the Same Anxiety I Struggle With”. The Cut. 12 September 2017.