“Remember the wind. . . She knows the origin of this universe.” (Joy Harjo)

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“REMEMBER THE WIND.” Palestine. The Sea of Galilee. (Photo by Harold Knight, Nov. 9, 2015)

My first memory of thinking, “What if I don’t exist at all but am a figment of someone’s imagination,” was in second grade (Mrs. Hall’s class, Longfellow School, Scottsbluff, NE, 1952). I would hardly have had the vocabulary to think that sentence at that time. I was perhaps a tad precocious, but “figment” was not likely my word then. “Exist” and “imagination” were probably a little beyond me, too. I did not have the words, but I knew the concept without question

The first time I remember saying the exact words was when I was in high school. I was lying on a hill in Chadron State Park in Western Nebraska one summer night when I was participating in Far West Baptist Camp. My father established the camp when he was Minister of Christian Education of the Nebraska Baptist Convention. I was lying on the hillside with a friend, one of the first boys I was in love with. I didn’t have the vocabulary for that, either, although I had no doubt about the feeling.

The sky was absolutely clear, and there were no city lights to obscure the stars. The Milky Way on a summer’s night in Nebraska appears as a band of light virtually across the entire sky. City boys never see it. I was lying on the hillside being in love and wondering about infinity – surely there was an end to the universe I was seeing, but I knew from science classes that what I was looking into was apparently infinite. As I stared into space, the thought occurred to me that what I was seeing was simply a figment of my imagination. And then I told myself that the universe was not a figment of my imagination, but I was a figment of another person’s imagination and did not exist at all. ***

That seems an innocuous enough thought for a 16-year-old kid to have. We all think weird stuff at that age. But my thought was directly related to that day in second grade. I was experiencing derealization or depersonalization or both. Much later when I was about 37 years old, I was diagnosed with Temporal Lobe Epilepsy. Tegretol. My friend for the last 35 years. But for the 35 or so years before that, my friend was silence about my frequent experience of the world.

I don’t remember when I first read Joy Harjo’s poem, “Remember.” The lines “Remember you are this universe and this / universe is you” at moments come into my consciousness (or what I accept as consciousness), and I can’t remember where they are from. Thank goodness for Google.  Now I have them posted online forever, so I won’t lose them again.

How do I get from a childhood experience – it was a childhood-long experience that lasted well into my adulthood, yesterday while square dancing being the most recent manifestation – to the universe as myself and myself as the universe? You might think the derealization experience would mean the opposite. The universe as removed from myself and myself removed from the universe. But in those moments, the entire universe is in my mind. My mind is the universe and the universe is in my mind. None of the men I was square dancing with yesterday were in the room. More concerning was that my feet were not part of the world, only part of the universe.

I do not know if this experience is the result of Temporal Lobe Epilepsy or of childhood traumas. I do not need to enumerate here, but they are real.

Perhaps it is neither. Perhaps it is a fortunate gift of seeing the world as it actually is. Perhaps it is a philosophical experience and not a physiological reality at all.

How would a second-grade boy come by such a gift? How could he possibly understand that what we all, what we each in our own mind, consider to be “real” is so amorphous and incomprehensible that the only way to endure is to build structures, to adopt ways of acting and doing, to invent strategies of thinking that preclude facing the “nothingness” of our human enterprise, to use Sartre’s convenient word. Not because I understand the existentialist strategy, but because it fits what I am trying to say.

I love the term “gaslighting.” From Wikipedia [horrors!]: “Gaslighting is a form of manipulation through persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying in an attempt to destabilize and delegitimize . . . to sow seeds of doubt . . . hoping to make [someone] question their own memory, perception, and sanity.” On an afternoon like yesterday I have the sense that we have all been gaslighted to believe that our physical, mental, social, political, etc. structures have some kind of substance they do not have.

When I was in college (about 1965), I first talked to a doctor about my derealization experiences. His solution to the problem was simple. If I would stop being a homosexual, the problem would fix itself. You see, simply change my strategy of thinking to fit the norm, and I would be able to function clearly, (and I suppose he would have said) sanely, happily. At the very least without the persistent idea that I could, because I do not exist, walk through walls. Probably not a doctor in America, with the possible exception of Dr. Tom Price, would give me that advice today.

I wonder what my neurologist would say about all of this.

Joy Harjo admonishes us to remember the sky, sun, moon, sundown, our birth, our mother, our father, the earth, plants, animals, wind, all people. The wind. The universe.

Remember the motion growing in you . . . the dance language is, that life is. Perhaps our structures, the language of the dance, is life. I remember, though I’m not certain I ever knew the things I remember.

“Remember,” by Joy Harjo, b. 1951

Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe.
Remember you are all people and all people
are you.
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember language comes from this.
Remember the dance language is, that life is
Remember.

–“Remember.” Copyright ©1983 by Joy Harjo from She Had Some Horses.

***  “It may happen when you first wake up, or while flying on an airplane or driving in your car. Suddenly, inexplicably, something changes. Common objects and familiar situations seem strange, foreign. Like you’ve just arrived on the planet, but don’t know from where. It may pass quickly, or it may linger. You close your eyes and turn inward, but the very thoughts running through your head seem different. The act of thinking itself, the stream of invisible words running through the hollow chamber of your mind, seems strange and unreal. It’s as if you have no self, no ego, no remnant of that inner strength which quietly and automatically enabled you to deal with the world around you, and the world inside you. It may settle over time, into a feeling of “nothingness”, as if you were without emotions, dead. Or the fear of it may blossom into a full-blown panic attack. But when it hits for the first time, you’re convinced that you’re going insane, and wait in a cold sweat to see when and if you finally do go over the edge.”

 

Fair Park, Oasis of Existentialism

Hunt Oil Tower, Walking home from El Fenix--my favorite Dallas building (photo by Jerome Sims)

Hunt Oil Tower, Walking home from El Fenix–my favorite Dallas building (photo by Jerome Sims)

Walking home from dinner last night (at the original El Fenix, downtown, across from the new Perot Science Museum), we saw a couple walking their dogs. Hers was missing its right hind leg—well, he didn’t have it, but he didn’t seem to be missing it—a cute Youtube animal. AJS told me about a dog he had seen with only his left front and right hind legs who was able to walk by propelling himself with his tail.

Now there’s pluck!

I was complaining (I hope mostly to myself) about bursitis in my left shoulder and the continuing whatever-it-is pain in my right hip. No bouncing around on two limbs for me! I need a tail.

Earlier in the day we took a walk through Buchanan’s Vintage Market at Grand Place in Fair Park. I, for one was twice surprised. Nothing in the place demanded that I take it home, and we didn’t see any other gay couples poking around.

(They must have been sidetracked by MARDI GRAS TEXAS STYLE 2013 at the Fair Park Automobile Building: “Noon to Midnight, 5 Stages, 28 Bands—Josh Abbott, Max Stalling, Randy Rogers & more!” I’ve never heard of any of those folks, as you can imagine. I discovered Erykah Badu only last week!)

One reason I wanted to go to the Vintage Market is I’ve been looking for a wing-backed chair for my living room. It has to complement the ottoman I finally found after years of looking, and it has to be tall enough to “hide” my cats’ kitty condo climbing box. I found a chair I thought might work. It was the right height, but when I asked AJS if he thought it would work, he pointed out what I had not noticed. The chair

A Corner to Hide

A Corner to Hide

was ugly.

Gay sensibility triumphed. Décor must be what décor must be. It cannot be left to chance.

Mere chance? Then it’s by chance this room is furnished as we see it. It’s an accident that the sofa on the right is a livid green, and that one the left’s wine-red. Mere chance? Well, just try to shift the sofas and you’ll see the difference quick enough (Jean Paul Sartre, No Exit.)

Let me disabuse you of thinking I’m some sort of literatus who would naturally think of Sartre in connection with finding an ugly chair. No, Grand Place at Fair Park itself reminded me of Sartre, and I became an instant existentialist.

But all our guests ask me the same questions. Silly questions. . .  Where’s the torture-chamber. . . They don’t bother their heads about the bathroom requisites, that I can assure you. But after a bit, when they’ve got their nerve back, they start in about their toothbrushes and what-not. Good heavens. . . What, I ask you, would be the point of brushing your teeth? (Sartre, No Exit).

And what does all this have to do with walking home from El Fenix? Or three-legged dogs? Or my bursitis? Nothing. It’s all just existential.

No Exit???

No Exit???