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Can I tell you something privately? I’m at the end of my rope, and the rope can’t hold the weight of me.
Sociobiologist Desmond Morris tells us that a man, when he is under extreme emotional stress, will sometimes drive nails into his scalp. One of evolution’s subtle coping strategies. I’m not about to do that, but I have decided to check back into therapy on 5th St.
My therapist, a small woman with black hair, calls me “cham cham” and gives me hugs. She phones me when I’m out of contact, tells me to come back when I want. I’m going back because I’m headed towards a total evapo-meltdown, where suddenly I wake up and I’ve been in prison for two years, and I can’t remember anything except that I’ve become the cellblock blowjob queen and I’m never, ever going to get parole.
The warning sign is my reaction to new faces, my horror at the handshaking and chitchat. Everyone I meet looks the same, like pills in a bottle. When I make eye contact it’s like watching two tiny TVs.
Part of it is that I don’t speak the same language. For many of the people I speak with, money is a medium for communication and expression. While the rest of us lick at trickles of cash condensing on the walls, these people have whole Turkish baths spilling over with liquid currency. Exchanging that currency for services, or storing it in stocks, diverting the flow and irrigating some new field of endeavor, is their most thrilling entertainment; their portfolio of equities and investments has the same expressive power as tubes of paint to an artist. I cannot understand.
Finance, advertising, literature, art, even friendships and love, what do they mean? I keep extrapolating back to a sort of Godless sphere, a sense that this was an accident of lightning and protein. At least today. I know it will pass, this ontological crisis, and I’m sure it’s typical among young men with my same mental bent and tensions.
Today my friend Pepe said the same thing, without the metaphors. He told me: “I woke up this morning, and I didn’t even get out of bed. I just felt awful. I jerked off for the usual 20 minutes, but I couldn’t even maintain a real fantasy.”
“So what did you do?” I asked.
“I just gave up after 20 minutes, and started to think of the illegal stuff.”
“Like little girls and rubber hoses?”
“Yeah, and that was enough, and I achieved some resolution, but I just felt foul. I lay there filthy for another half-hour, and went to work an hour late. I’m just an awful person.”
We were chatting over Tumblr. The rest of the day I sat in focus groups, watching from behind a mirrored glass as a focus-group coordinator quizzed first a group of girls, then a group of boys, uncovering their Internet habits. I took 18 single-spaced pages of notes:
“17-year old half Asian kid. Divorced parents. Loves Internet. No red meat.”
“Single child, has a 35-year old mother. Catholic.”
“Practicing Muslim, likes the Internet for researching history.”
New faces, but they couldn’t see mine. I ate from the bowl of candy and crackers, and drank the not-so-cold soda the peon gave me, until I was a jittering mass of nerves.
$3000 a day for the room, the robot video camera, the mirrored glass, the chairs, the little bowls of crackers, the air conditioner. In the second hour we began to trash the participants, yelling at them from behind the glass. “What you think is idiotic! Foolishness! Naves!” We yelled out as we wrote their words down, knowing that the consumer is right, that their reality is the one we must conform to.
Which is at least some sort of reality. I can’t make my own, or can’t face the one I have, can’t bear my own face in the mirror. If you know me, if you walk with me, you’ll see me squint at odd times. You may not know why, you might think it’s a twitch. It’s just that I’m trying to avoid reflections. When I get into the elevator at work, I turn my head to avoid the mirror in the corner. I look away from things shiny and gleaming. Before I open a glass door I close my eyes and then reach for the handles, so I don’t catch that glimpse of myself. I know I have to start looking sometime in the future, but I’d prefer to put it off; I don’t want to see those two blank TV’s where my eyes were. There are too many new faces looking in, and I’d rather be behind the mirror, rather than in front of it.