Dear Andrew,

Uncategorized

A note to a friend

Photo by TexasExplorer98 via Foter.com under CC BY

Yes, there’s no way I was going to leave Twitter without being able to contact you — I’m glad you wrote =)

That’s great you’re working on a book! I just checked out storylabs.co — great name! I like .co. I registered clownfysh.co thinking waaay ahead to someday five years from now when I stop using Medium for blogging and the next version of clownfysh.com comes around as the .co.

I am ok. Doing better psychologically than I have been. In a lot of pain physically, though. I’ve been controlling what I watch..like you, probably, my imagination is on overdrive in line with being a writer and one video about underworld conspiracy or the end of the world can send my mind spinning. But I do watch some of that stuff, in a controlled way, because it inspires my writing sometimes.

Right now I’m on a break from writing. Haven’t written in about a month? And planning on taking the rest of September off. Then for the last three months of the year, I am slowly making notes on a couple books I want to do next, and I might do one, or maybe two, of them—one in October, take a break in November, write in December. Something like that.

I feel satisfied sometimes. I feel really dissatisfied sometimes. This year I stopped contacting my sisters and finally my dad basically because when I’m in relationship with them I feel bad! And I don’t want to feel bad! I’ll leave out the details but once I started going to therapy (and I had already cut contact with them before that) I started realizing, through this therapist’s point of view, how truly shitty those three people were treating me. Smh!! Stuff I hadn’t even thought of he was like, well she’s manipulating you into confronting her husband about stuff that she should be talking to him about..and I’m like..god damn you’re right. And my therapist “gave me permission” not to feel bad about not talking to them, given the circumstances. I mean, things I think are crazy — and that, say, a therapist or other psychiatric support person thinks are crazy — my family does not think are crazy!

And I don’t want to cut off my little sisters—that’s harsh! — but I want to grow to the next level of me and I think I’m ready to do that, and it’s near impossible with so many people in my family sabotaging me. They want to — excuse the judgment, but — live at the lower level! I want to go to therapy, tell my secrets, stop lying to myself, and grow! Fuck!!! So I’m struggling with growing on the one hand and leaving behind people I love on the other hand. My mother thinks I can maintain relationships with them and grow at the same time. Maybe that’s possible, but I’m not sure it’s possible for me.

Regina Spektor has that song on What We Saw from the Cheap Seats: “Small Town Moon.” And the lyric I love is, “How can I leave without hurting everyone that made me?”

That’s me right now.

<3 Matthew

“Let It Go”

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Metaphors for artists

Photo by Mr.Eneko via Foter.com under CC BY

This song was written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez in a single day. They specifically had in mind the voice of Idina Menzel (whose talent is shocking). The result is a song so good that everyone heard it so many times we started making fun of ourselves for playing it so much—it’s kind of like the Titanic of Disney ballads.

When I heard it in the theater, it hit me with such clear metaphors for my own art that I spent 20 minutes after the movie explaining my impressions to my mom, the only person in our party I thought might understand what I was trying to get across. When I was done, she said she saw some of what I was saying, but I knew by the look on her face that, as usual, I was still the queen of my own isolated kingdom which I permanently occupy.

What I’m saying is not that complex, but to get it, it helps to have gone through some of the artist’s journey. For the artists reading this, I will lay out my thoughts with no doubt they’ll resonate instantly and deeply with you.

Let’s follow the lyrics:

The snow glows white on the mountain tonight
Not a footprint to be seen.
A kingdom of isolation,
and it looks like I’m the Queen
The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside
Couldn’t keep it in;
Heaven knows I’ve tried

She is isolated because she accidentally let out her creative/destructive power. After being cooped up for years, the powers only got stronger—even when Elsa was young, her father remarked that they were getting stronger.

When provoked, she couldn’t keep it in—she’s basically like a bubble that will inevitably pop. She didn’t want to pop, but it’s her nature. A sorcerer does sorcery—it’s unavoidable.

This is like all of us, I think—we are each a package of potential that is unavoidable. We each have a nature, or a skill—just who we are—and that nature is like the shape of a particular tree..that’s the way we’re going to grow, and nothing can stop it, even if we were born under a sidewalk. We will grow through the concrete and become an oak, if we were born to be an oak. To try to stop it would be like trying to stop a flower from unfolding into its particular beautiful type. You just can’t.

Elsa was born with her powers (her father tells the king troll this). That was part of her seed. She was born a sorceress. She was always destined to grow up to be an adult one.

Elsa is still in turmoil about who she is. She has been denying her nature for so long that she has no way to be comfortable with it.

Don’t let them in,
don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal, don’t feel,
don’t let them know
Well now they know

“Be the good girl you always have to be.” Um. Well, Elsa’s powers are obviously not something she considers consistent with being a “good girl.” Magic is taboo in her kingdom. For an artist, this is about making controversial art—art that pushes the boundaries of your culture. The “good girl” idea is so loaded, I can’t imagine how repressive it must be for actual girls. Even as someone who identifies as male, I feel repressed by this concept.

You can’t survive in normal society if you’re not “good.” If you don’t dress the right way to work—or to a date. If you don’t conform to corporate norms, try getting a job. Try getting a job while you have a blog. It’s impossible anymore. We live in such a heavily conformist society that the slightest bit of eccentricity is considered crazy. We somehow have forgotten how damn eccentric were just about all the people who created the art and engineering that our cultures are built upon.

And let me be frank: the smarter or more talented a person is, the more likely they are to be eccentric, because they a) focus on their work rather than impressing others, and b) have enough presence of mind to know that it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks of them—it’s completely irrelevant. Like us, Elsa has been trapped in a conformist society where in order to survive, politically, socially, she has to conceal who she is, not “let them know.”

“Well now they know.”—And Elsa has a big problem.

I wonder what Francis Bacon’s mother had to say about his painting. Maybe the same thing my well-meaning mother had to say about my early writing. She told me, while I was still in middle school, after she read my first short story—uneasily—“This is good..but don’t show it to anyone or else they might wonder what kind of parents we are.” She was doing her best.

But that’s the “now they know” part for an artist—if your art is countercultural at all. Now they know..you’re not one of them. Now they know..you have opposing or just different ideas. Now they know..you’re not a pack dog..you’re an individual. This is one of the greatest crimes in our society—and if you don’t recognize that as a true statement, then you’ve obviously never tried it.

Let it go, let it go
Can’t hold it back anymore

It could be interpreted as an orgasmic statement!

But just keeping to art, to self-actualization, to the growth from acorn to tree..the thing is..it’s a one-way process. You can’t go back. You can stop—you can stall yourself—or you can go forward. Sadly for all of us, most people choose to stall themselves. Self-actualization is scary shit. Most people, once they realizing they’re doing it, throw on the brakes hard core. My dad did this. He actually told us: I am aware I could develop myself as a writer, but it’s too much work and [essentially] it’s too risky. God damn right it’s risky. That’s the whole point. Live as a lion or live as a mouse (no offense, mice=).

Elsa’s power is too strong for her to hold back anymore. I don’t believe she has a choice. She has to let it go. And I think it is the minority of artists who find themselves in this position—who basically have no choice but to throw away their entire social reputation and political and corporate and financial future because they are driven by an irrational conviction to create their art. These are truly dangerous—and truly powerful—people.

Let it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door
I don’t care
what they’re going to say
Let the storm rage on.
The cold never bothered me anyway

Right. So Elsa (the artist) commits to making her art oblivious to the reactions of others. She slams the door on their reviews. She envelops herself in the ecosystem of her powers and what they produce (in her case, ice magic—“the cold”). Others may be unable to live in the (intellectual, creative, controversial) conditions she can live in..but to her they’re no bother because (in her case) ice is her nature—it literally flows from her fingers. What is a deadly (intellectual) storm to others is simply home to Elsa.

It’s funny how some distance
Makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me
Can’t get to me at all

The artist must isolate herself. Unfortunately this is a mandatory part of the artist’s journey. This doesn’t mean that you have to move to a different country and change your name. But the fears that once controlled Elsa were born of her relationship with her society—and specifically her family. Her power accidentally hurt her sister!—of course she’s afraid!

If you make controversial art, you will scare your society and especially your family. It’s just part of how this works. Making scary art (being a sorceress) is harder for your parents to deal with than you joining an opposing political party.

Family is the ultimate culture. Reject culture=reject family.

You have to get away from your family to make art that is true to you (if you’re a visionary artist). This may simply mean minimizing the importance of the opinions of people you know—that’s creating distance. In Elsa’s case it’s a literal journey up the mountain. Those work, too.

It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me,
I’m free!

“No right, no wrong, no rules for me.” These may be the most powerful words in this whole song. Elsa (the artist) is in a morality-free zone. This is fairly heavy stuff for a Disney movie. But all art—all revolution—is an almost-complete replacement of near-universal ideas by ideas that were once marginalized. We are in a constant process of this happening. It is not bad—it’s the nature of culture. But it does involve upheaval, and while some of us handle total societal upheaval like eating an ice cream cone, most people are highly resistant to it due to fear of loss of self.

To create—to really create—it is necessary to be in a belief state exactly as described by the Lopez’s in this highly anti-cultural, radical, extremely bold lyric. It’s nestled into a seemingly sweet Disney song, but “No right, no wrong, no rules for me” is serious sorcery. And it’s the kind of sorcery you must embrace to be an artist.

Let it go, let it go
I am one with the wind and sky
Let it go, let it go
You’ll never see me cry
Here I stand
And here I’ll stay
Let the storm rage on

My power flurries through the air into the ground
My soul is spiraling in frozen fractals all around
And one thought crystallizes like an icy blast
I’m never going back, the past is in the past

Remember how I said that self-actualization was a one-way process? Here, Elsa declares that she’s never going back. I’m not sure if she is aware that going back is not even possible at this point.

Let it go, let it go
And I’ll rise like the break of dawn
Let it go, let it go
That perfect girl is gone
Here I stand
In the light of day
Let the storm rage on

Based on what I said before, you’re probably not surprised that I find this metaphor, “That perfect girl is gone,” incredibly powerful. These lyricists have chosen such a well-placed metaphor (especially for a Disney movie) about one of the most iron-clad cultural expectations in existence: the perfect girl. To declare her gone creates a thousand implications for inhabitants of this society, one of the most important being the claiming of power by this little sorceress, this little artist..who is no longer little, perfect, or merely a girl—that most-controlled entity in our world—but a phoenix reveling in her own icy storm—or in our artist case, her countercultural or controversial art. Instead of society owning her, she owns herself—and that is the ultimate taboo.

The cold never bothered me anyway!

This final statement, for the artist, the sorceress, is her embracing her new life—which for the moment is on an icy mountain. But it’s ok, because she’s an ice magician.

In the same way, you, artist, have built yourself a kingdom—perhaps of isolation, but—out of the very intellectual ingredients you use in your art. You are not in uncomfortable territory. You only have the ability to do sorcery that was in your nature from your very seed..so whatever magical place you have built for yourself..is necessarily a place where you are right at home.

“A kingdom of isolation, and it looks like I’m the queen.”

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— “Let It Go,” Frozen

Photo by Lux-et-la-Liberte via Foter.com under CC BY-NC-SA

I’ve been isolating myself for a long time. Even back in the 11th grade, when my favorite lunch table clique became too cliquey, I moved to an empty table. I left my favorite people in the world and sat at an empty table. All you really have to do to isolate yourself is make up your own set of values and act according to them — you will quickly be alone.

I don’t isolate myself from everyone, which I think is interesting. I have a few friends I’ve known for 18 years or so who I’ve never fought with, never had a clash, whom I’ve never wanted to push away forever.

My dad and I have pushed each other away, I think. But in a way I must take greater responsibility because I am a lot more complex a person than he is. Early in my life he made it clear I wasn’t living up to his expectations. But it was even earlier in our lives that I had decided he wasn’t living up to mine. And instead of accepting him as who he is, I have shunned him — and I think appropriately so. He refuses to be honest with me, so even if I accept him for who he is, there won’t be what I call a real relationship there. To me the option seems to be farce..or nothing. And I choose nothing.

Now I find myself doing the same with my sisters, so the looking glass isn’t on my father’s shortcomings, it’s on me and mine.

I’m not going to blame my actions on my mental illness — I wouldn’t know how if I tried. I really don’t understand my mental sickness well enough to know how it’s affecting my behavior with my sisters now and others throughout my life history.

And I can’t single myself out as the only problem point, because as I currently don’t talk to either of my sisters, they currently don’t talk to each other. So it is a rough time, but it would be inaccurate to say that all the roughness stems from me.

Still, it’s my end of the problem that I want to solve, my actions that I want to change, my life that’s what I want to do better so I can love these sisters who currently seem so alien to me that cutting bait and motoring the ship onward seems the best choice.

I know my problem is about acceptance and expectations. About releasing my hold on what I think reality should or could be and accepting what reality is.

I’m really bad at this.

I mean I’ve had counsellors telling me this for about 10 years, and I still can’t get it right. When I do, things go beautifully. But it’s a sad world for me, because I have a very busy imagination and it has really quite a dense portfolio of ideas about what could be, what could have been.

And they’re all wrong.

Nothing could have been except exactly what is.

My father couldn’t have been any different. My sisters can’t be any different.

But I’m not even sure acceptance can help me here, because I’m so profoundly unhappy with how my father treats me, how one and now the other of my sisters treats me, that I’m not sure I want to be in relationship with them.

Maybe the awful ways they’re treating me are because of the awful ways I’ve treated them. Maybe not. Maybe we’re just really different from each other — I think this is true. But what’s are they providing for me? My dad has never provided enough value for me to consider a relationship with him valuable to me. One of my sisters, yes, sometimes. One of them, I guess yes in a lesser way. They have both housed me when I was in crisis, so they obviously care for me, or love me, whatever that means. But they also yell at me and curse at me and ignore my communication even when I make them a nice card and email it. And I can’t take that. I can’t take the irrationality of the younger and the disregard of the older. I don’t see how I can be in their lives and still respect myself, respect my own needs about how I deserve to be treated as a person. They don’t operate on my level, in some ways — they don’t meet my expectations. So the question is: can I accept them?

And the hard answer, right now, is that I’m not sure that I can.

Or maybe—and this is even worse, but maybe—I don’t want to.

It’s crazy, because I know I could be the bigger person and accept the shortcomings and humanity of these two people who have loved me when they could, helped me when they could, and who are lovely people, amazing people—and they’re my sisters! Maybe my own mind doesn’t have enough resources to do it. I don’t want this to be the final chapter..2016 was the year we stopped talking and never started again. But why would I relate to people whose communication patterns are so coarse as to cut me when they use them? And then I get mad at myself: why can’t I just give them a break? They’re imperfect, so what, we all are and are they really hurting me? I mean I don’t like the anger and the cussing and the disregard, but I’m a very smart 38 year old who doesn’t have to let any of that get under my skin. I have all the people skills needed to handle my sisters, my brother in law, my dad. I just don’t want to use them because isn’t it someone else’s turn to be nice to me, to comfort me, to be the bigger person for my sake? Maybe not. Maybe my being the bigger person falls on me rightly simply because I can do it.

When you play that role, you most often play it alone. It’s like the sheep and the shepherd: there are many sheep but only one shepherd.

It’s probably too late for me to save my relationships with my sisters. I have no desire to save my relationship with my father because to me he is an empty person. The shame is mine for not being the bigger person with him all along, or else we might have a shell of a relationship. I’m sorry, Suzanne and Amy. I have not been strong enough to accept you. I guess our relationships are trashed at this point — they are for me. I wish you good lives with people you deserve, and who deserve you and your love. Sadly, I am not that person.

[This was never sent to those involved, only published here. I don’t really care if they read it or not.]

What is disorganized thinking?

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(Because I never knew what anxiety was before)

Or racing thoughts? What are those?

When I went to the Brattleboro Retreat after a suicide attempt in 2011, when I was 33 years old, one of the nurses gave me a book on anxiety.

I said, “I don’t have anxiety.”

She said, “Do you know what anxiety is?”

“I guess I don’t.”

“You need to read this book.”

Like they always say, a fish has no idea what water is—well, I had no idea what anxiety was. I had to read a workbook when I was 33 to tell me what water was, and have this workbook explain to me that I’d been swimming in it all my life. My favorite definition in the workbook was that fear was being in the African plain being worried about being eaten by a lion—anxiety was having the same fear while sitting in Central Park. Basically, it’s irrational worry: worrying about things there’s no rational reason to worry about.

The next mystery term that confounded me as a person with bipolar (now bipolar-type schizoaffective) was racing thoughts. I read the symptom lists for mania over and over and I could not figure out what any of these texts meant by that term. In the hospital, during checkins, when asked if I was having racing thoughts, I just said, “I don’t know what that means.” So they would explain it to me. And I still didn’t understand.

I don’t know when it was that I figured this out and I don’t remember exactly how, but I discovered sometime in my thirties that my thoughts are almost always racing. Unless I am severely depressed, my thoughts are racing. They were racing when I wrote computer code, they race when I write fiction, they race from right before I wake up in the morning—they’re basically always racing. That was another water I was always swimming in.

Now I’ve slowly come to realize there is another mystery term that I keep passing over when I hear it in bipolar bloggers’ speech and writing about the bipolar-schizoaffective-schizophrenia spectrum: disorganized thinking. I suspect this is something else that I don’t know about, not because it is foreign to me, but because it is integral to me. I don’t believe that my thinking is disorganized, just as I don’t believe that my thought is racing—doesn’t everyone else just have sluggish thought? I certainly believe so. And I suspect that disorganized thinking will turn out to be equally subjective, that it will simply mean a kind of thinking the majority has trouble understanding and it will possess merits of organization not exhibited by so-called “organized thinking.”

I don’t know, though.

This is my next frontier.

Figure out what disorganized thinking is, determine if I do it, determine how long I’ve been doing it, determine how big a problem it is for me.

I suspect I do it, and do it in spades, because, suspiciously, I can never quite see the meaning of the term—like the water that those fishes are swimming in.