One of the most obvious and most difficult to remember truths about living in human society is that every other person in the world has an intelligence and interior thought space as elaborate as your own. Every time you feel no one can be as daydreamy, as crazy, as complicated as you, you’re wrong. They are.
Or they aren’t and you’re the only creature in the world with the capacity for real doubt, real guilt, real examination of everything you do, good or bad. An extension of Solipsism, the belief that only your own mind is sure to exist. One soul among robots. The only visitor at Disneyland.
Which is worse? Being no more or less important or interesting than anyone else, with enormous capacity for helping each other (yet you don’t, not like you could) and equally enormous capacity for destroying each other which you likely do on a regular basis without realizing? Or, alternatively, being utterly alone in this place with no chance whatsoever of empathy or connecting with another living being because they’re all automatons and you’re the only one with a true mind?
I have no idea.
“She drives mortals to madness with her airy phantoms
As she appears in weird shapes and forms
Now plain to the eye, now shadowy, now shining in the darkness–”
In an Orphic hymn Melinoe was the daughter of Persephone and Zeus, another product of Zeus’s habit of raping people while disguised. Melinoe was born near an underworld river and is the bringer of nightmares and madness. She is sometimes described as the goddess of ghosts.
In university I began experiencing night terrors. These are not nightmares. They happen at a different stage of sleep and the result is profoundly different. We’ve all woken from nightmares, frightened and miserable. Waking from a night terror is like being struck by lightning. You are thrust violently awake, your heart rate charging to 170bpm. You try to stand up, scream, and lash out against the terror. I’ve broken bedside lamps and woken whole households.
Sleep is common and necessary yet a slippery thing to control. I was at a loss how to fix myself and stop these terrors. I certainly didn’t want to be drugged. Then someone decided a ghost had latched on to me and I needed to shake it. They suggested placing a dish of muratic acid in my bedroom because the ghost wouldn’t like it and would leave me alone. I’m a skeptic. This was ridiculous. But what could it hurt to try?
It worked. Or, my night terrors became much less frequent for some other reason when I did this. Now they’re very rare, though sometimes they creep back for a night or two. Sometimes it feels like I go elsewhere when I’m asleep, some blackened underworld, and on waking I’m crawling and clutching my way out of it, desperate to escape and forget. I learned about Melinoe recently, and though I’m still a skeptic I had a moment of understanding more aligned with those dark dreams than anything in this bright and logical world.
In January 1914 the Political Equality League held a satirical mock parliament in Manitoba. Prime Minister Nellie McClung heard gentlemen’s pleas to be allowed to vote, complimented them on their appearance, and told them they were made for something higher. She said politics would unsettle them and lead to more divorce. Two years later Manitoba became the first Canadian province to give women the right to vote.
McClung went on to be one of the famous five women who brought the “Persons Case” to the Supreme Court and then to the Judicial Committee to finally rule that women were indeed people (legally “qualified people” able to sit on the Canadian Senate.)
In living memory are these heroes who stood up and spoke out so I am a legally-recognized person with the right to vote. So I vote, even if sometimes it feels like participating in a play where grinning improv actors will say anything to make you applaud before they fall asleep backstage.
In 2009-2010 I participated in The 100 Days Project, taking and posting one photograph every day for 100 days. The photos didn’t necessarily represent each day or relate to each other, but the collection (you can see most of them here) now serves as a time capsule of that ~3 months of my life.
Last week I started The 100 Days Project v2.0. This time instead of a huge group of people it’s just one other and me, and we’re using each other’s photographs as inspiration for our own. We have few rules except a photo every day, and so far it’s been an excellent way to direct my creativity rather than restrict it.
I won’t be posting daily photos for the project on this blog. If you’d like to see them as they’re published you can find them in my 100 Days v2.0 flickr album or among the rest of the chatter on twitter.
Last night I considered a post about regret, but this morning the moments and scenarios that taunted me had been blunted and softened by sleep. Thank goodness. Late-night memories of what we can never change are the most potent torments a brain delivers to itself.
This morning, enjoying my well-rested distance to the things I had or hadn’t done, I investigated the psychology of regret. An article in Psychology Today claims that regret is useful for young people as it allows for future correction. The less opportunity someone has to fix things the more likely that regret will transform into damaging negativity and stress. Yet cultures that already allow for less choice, due to arranged marriages or an otherwise more prescripted life structure, apparently have relatively less regret than those with more personal freedom of choice. Imagine that: freedom to regret.
Years ago I heard a Buddhist comparison of the peaceful self to a blue sky. The clouds might come and cover it up, but it doesn’t permanent marr the blue sky behind. This was a comfort to me when I was trying to be more mindful and generally failing. At least that failure wasn’t forever. The regrets I have are the opposite. They’re forever failures. But I’m still reassured by the idea of a blue sky unmarred by what went wrong. I know I didn’t mean to fail, and if nothing else is perfect my intentions surely were.
No need to mention how well paved the road to hell. That’s a different metaphor.
“It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness, that is life.”
In Star Trek: The Next Generation Jean-Luc Picard tried to explain this to Data, and it’s interesting in this scene that the stand in for ourselves is not Jean-Luc, the human, but Data, the android. We sympathize best not with the example of our species, but with the outsider looking in, trying to understand. No doubt we try to understand ourselves far more than we exist in a state of peace with whatever we are.
I reencountered this quote while searching for the philosophical or psychological term for the feeling that no matter what you do, you’re wrong. I found objectivity, which is the concept of something being true even outside subjective bias. And I found qualia, or quale, that are instances of subjective experience like a headache, the colour of the sky at day versus night, or the sound of a clap. (Not to confused with the sound of one hand clapping, a favourite Zen koan.)
None of this is quite what I mean, which is standard for human communication, as Data must learn. In fact there doesn’t seem to be a real term for what I mean, although as far as relationships are concerned there is an internet full of advice to decide if you’re in a bad romantic relationship depending on how often you feel wrong. I’m certain you could learn just as much about your relationship from how often you feel right, or at least more right than the other person, with the desire to point it out.
When my grandma remarried she moved into a big house on the side of a mountain. There was always rain and mist and too many people trying to get through the mountain road beside it. Someone else lived there before and they didn’t like what was new, and one morning the calligraphy initials on all my grandma’s good china changed letters, just like that. I took pictures, hardly believing even as I created proof. I kept thinking the new letters would vanish but my grandma just stared at me terrified as I used my camera. She let it remain in the display case the way it was as if it was still hers, as if she wasn’t allowed to care.
Years later I walked down the mountainside and got spooked by two big tents. They were black, appeared abandoned, and I didn’t know who put them there or why. I turned towards home and the rain became so hard it hurt like needles and then punches. I got to the front door and screamed for my parents, over and over, and finally the back of the car opened and they pulled me inside. When I regained sense I asked why they were out there, but by then we were rolling into the road. My mom turned the car around, back to the yard, and my dog was barking like he was insane. My parents jumped out to get him, and I jumped out too, thinking they were all insane but I could calm him down, it would be like it always was because I loved the dog and he loved me. Then he lunged at me with his eyes popping pink out of the sockets and I realized he was going to take my face off and like it.
I woke up with my mouth entirely dry, wondering who the little boy was who’d shared his story with me and wondering when he’d appear there in my bedroom, standing by my bed, maybe at the end from the darkest shadows. Maybe crawling up beside me, near my face from where I just couldn’t see. I realized even with so much of my life gone I’m still afraid of the dark and it doesn’t matter what my actual parents told me, I’m never going to grow out of that. People say “No, you’re afraid of what’s inside the dark” but I’m not convinced.
No point trying to sleep again, I got up and wrote this, a 4am nightmare, while looking over my shoulder now and then, waiting for the shape I can just see back through my dark bedroom door to resolve itself into something. Or to move closer without any resolution at all. And as my eyes get more and more adjusted to the light I can see less and less, but I know it’s all still there.
I kept a dream diary for a while because I learned the more you write about your dreams the better you remember them. I’m not tempted to keep one anymore. The line between imagination and memory is blurred enough as it is.