Sunday, October 3, 2010

Ask again tomorrow

Reading for Banned Books Week began with procrastination and diverted attention. It was yesterday when I started my first re-reading of Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

The year in which I read McMurphy's story is a date I no longer remember, unlike 1066 which our 10th grade history teacher told us was the most significant date of all we would learn from him. Whenever the Battle of Hastings is the answer on Jeopardy!, I'm your girl.

The date has slipped into the undulating present/past where my life is warehoused, and the time of reading is of no consequence. The movie was released in 1975. With my then-husband and four friends in our $250, 1963 Cadillac sedan deville, perfect in every respect unless you count things like gaskets and moving engine parts, we rolled from Oxnard to Westwood where the first-run features were shown. I digress.

My discomfort started with the first page. True, when we know how a story ends we are able to read the signs differently. I think, though, it was more Kesey's ability to show us the life-filled expanse that is McMurphy which set up the creeping dread, the foreshadowing of dubious battle between a system which we understand from the very start and the embodiment of all I believe spirit to be.

The unease, I realized, was also caused by my having, 20 years ago, been told that depression was part of why I wasn't recovering from pneumonia as I should, why chronic fatigue had joined the team, and that action was required. Roughly 12 years ago, it had to be admitted - the depression was life-long, it had always been there. If one had been dipped in a vat of indigo 65 years ago, left to cure but eventually scrubbed and soaked every day so the tint seemed to fade until it might be thought a trick of the light, that is where my depression resides. It is treated, it has diminished, I have risen, its stain lingers.

Too much identification, too much terror, reading of the day room population, the Acutes and the Chronics, the treatments gone wrong or considered successes. I don't know if I am willing to read the book again, to feel and know and fear the places that grace kept me out of.

That any of us do more than spend our days walking in circles seems miraculous. We are, over any span of time, in equal measure thinner than a moth's wings and undefeatable as a fire hydrant. One day we need, or at least long for, shelter behind an arm wielding a broadsword, then moments later become willing to fight, with words of tongue and pen, city hall, the Social Security administration or any part of the machine that gives us the stink eye. We are fragile and bold, sagging and strong, confused and determined. I'd love to see sportscasters diagram the plays from one day of ordinary human existence.

Things which once seemed certain to us have become, oh understatement, less so. Yet despair is not an option which holds the chance of a good outcome. I begin my days with the intention of optimism, I can only discuss politics for ever-shorter intervals and avoid most of the news, seeking weather forecasts - discouraging in their own right last week - then skating away.

The membrane is too vulnerable, it tears with so little force. My heart - the literal and the metaphor - carries scars as do yours. I'm not sure it could withstand McMurphy's journey without paying too high a price, even knowing what I know about the Chief. I feel like a fair-weather friend and want to apologize for not being there to see him through. Tomorrow the balance may seem less precarious. Tomorrow there may be fierce tears and kicking ass. Tomorrow my courage may make me invincible, but that's tomorrow, not today.


Erin in Morro Bay said...

"We are fragile and bold, sagging and strong, confused and determined."
Yes dear heart, we are. The dichotomy of our humanity, but where would we be without it? Some books are not meant to be re-read, but belong to the time when first they crossed our paths. This does them, nor us, any disservice, conversely it may keep their original impact and meaning stronger.

Elisabeth said...

I saw this film in my early twenties and it tore at my heart, too.

I'd like to think we have moved on from those days, but i fear not. we are still too fearful of our own and other's vulnerability.

Thanks for a beautiful and poignant post, Marylinn.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Erin - It is true, as you say, that all from the past may not need to be made part of the present. The islands of there and then remain in memory without requiring a return visit.

Elisabeth - Thank you. My imperfect memory of Steinbeck's GRAPES OF WRATH, and Tom Joad's words at the end..."wherever there's a big guy beating up on a little guy, I'll be there..."

There are things we know on such deep levels that we don't need reminders, not, at least, more often that life brings them to us.

Robert the Skeptic said...

I just referenced it on another blog but when I feel so impeded by life (this morning, for example) I recall a film I saw titled "Touching the Void".

It is a story of two Brit mountain climbers who meet with a horrible incident. The inevitable for one of them seems determined and without option. Yet they find that one always have the opportunity to continue making decisions; to keep moving forward, even in the appearance of utter futility.

I highly recommend this film. A friend suggested it to me and I didn't want to watch it. "Nobody dies" he told me but would say no more. I thank him for his insistence that I watch that film as it is now among my top 10 favorites.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Robert - Thank you for the recommendation, as it is not a title I know. The semi-spoiler "nobody dies" helps. I very much believe that, whether we are conscious of it or not, we can never have too much encouragement, inspiration or support. And those qualities often appear from unexpected sources. I appreciate your note.

Sherry O'Keefe said...

This is brilliant:

I'd love to see sportscasters diagram the plays from one day of ordinary human existence.

Artist and Geek said...

I'm sorry you had to go through that. I too saw the movie and was horrified at the torturous methods medicine can come up with, before the concept of neuroplasticity: the mind can heal.

We "treat" before we understand.

Instead of potential masochism ;), I highly recommend Dan Gilbert's "Stumbling on Happiness". An academic's interesting and humorous take on human imagination or lack thereof. The title is a little misleading, as it is not a self help book.

RachelVB said...

I think we become thinner as we shed skins and then we build back upon them and shed again and then grow thinner. It is circles in a way, but circles that are always moving forward and around and backwards and sideways. We think upon past events because they still resonate with us, because they show us where we have changed and grown.
How lovely it is sometimes to know we have always survived and grown.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Sherry - Thank you. They would be lost and fumbling, like playing football in a sleet storm. All the people we are, the opposing directions our minds take, not signs of abnormal mental health but of residing in human form, here and now. Sometimes I think I need to stop myself and check my own ID. :-D

Artist and Geek - Anything, but thankfully not self-help, called "Stumbling on Happiness" is a welcome recommendation, noted in my computer-side journal. This is just not the time for me to be comfortable with even fictional brutality. I think an appropriate response when one comes upon such authentic, organic light as McMurphy embodies is to rejoice, not envy or resent or need to extinguish it. We can be such barbarians. Even in fiction.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Rachel - It is truly a gift to know we've survived (first!) and grown. The longer I am here, the more unlikely it seems to me that many among us have actually experienced a linear life. Because it has been clear to me for so long that my path was switchbacks and roundabouts, I wondered if I was doing it wrong. The more I know of others' journeys, the more it seems we continue to meet ourselves like exchangeable partners in a square dance. A very long square dance.

RachelVB said...

I think that is something you learn - that life is NOT linear! What an odd concept that NO ONE tells you about growing up.
I hope it's a loooooong square dance. I still have lots to do. =)

Kerry O'Gorman said...

I like your metaphor of the diagrams of a day in the life...much like the cartoons of the little boy who is mapped whilst going on a simple errand and all of the obstacles he encounters. The movie of the book One Flew... is one of my husbands and mines favorites but now going through and knowing those who have gone through troubles, I can see it being difficult to revisit. Too close to home. p.s thanks for the kind words on my French beach post and I'm glad I could take you somewhere beautiful...

Artist and Geek said...

Marylinn and Rachel,

Maybe there is only one path, but time and space which are not linear.



RachelVB said...

Artist and Geek,
maybe, indeed?!
But time feels so linear to me. I can look forward, back, present on what appears in my mind a line.
Space - well space is certainly not linear! Space is a bunch of atoms buzzing around, on, in, through. It reminds me of a post I had a while ago - that we are all individual planets in space. Our own internal environments, atmospheres. We're all trying not to collide with each other, but inevitably do.
Maybe others see time differently? In which case I would love to have my notion of time blown out of the water! =)

Vespersparrow said...

Marylinn, what a wonderfully moving and devastating post. You're very brave to even face McMurtry's story. I'll never forget your indigo metaphor. I was dyed with that same shade and the fade of it has been so slow, I despaired sometimes that it would ever wane, dissolve or disappear (which was too much to hope for). But life is switchbacks and roundabouts, things soften, the heart heals and the scars do begin to dim. Thank you for this wise post.

Artist and Geek said...


I like the thought of being my own little planet, nurturing a whole ecosystem of microscopia, in the literal and figurative sense.

Major Geek Alert (and possibly being too literal):

Time seems linear because our limited human minds perceive it to be. It is proven that heavy gravitational objects, including black holes, can bend space and time.

Rest assured though that planets in stable solar systems do not collide with each other. The beautiful balance of an "old" and established solar system. Meteors and Asteroids, however are a different matter. Something large enough could send a planet out of its course, theoretically.

The last time that happened in our solar system, and that's all I can selfishly worry about at this point, earth gave birth to the moon and thus the tides. Destruction leading to creation.

Marylinn, Rachel, my apologies, but I could not help myself...

Marylinn Kelly said...

Rachel - I believe it is a very long square dance - many cups of punch, for it is that sort of dance - and there are intervals for a change of costume. That way we are not so quickly identifiable when we meet the assorted versions of ourselves. Recognition takes a moment or two.

Kerry - How good to see you here, thanks for stopping by. I can picture the boy's day, arrows, dotted lines, circuitous routes, just like life...changes of mind, shifting perspectives, dawning awareness. How busy we are though we are still. As with CUCKOO'S NEST, I had no idea I was coming back to it as someone other than who I'd been and it took me very much by surprise.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Artist and Geek - I think we discover that our path, the path, is not linear as we had imagined when we allow ourselves to fall, one after another, into each next indicated thing. Having a giant "P" Plan has never worked for me...I believe I had them at one time and gave it up as a bad idea since it was never the way circumstances turned out. But I agree - I trust and hope - that time and space are not linear, otherwise my experiences of them as fluid, shifting and entirely non-linear calls all perception into question.

Rachel - We are taught history via timelines; we can look back upon our lives and see from here to there but I have come to sense - it may just be my interpretation, though I think it actually has some science to back it up - that the past and present - and future? - exist simultaneously, that we inhabit both with knowledge of both, the the past - as an experience - remains (I should write this stuff earlier in the mind gets way to swirly/squirrely as the hour grows later). I may try again with this tomorrow. Please excuse my lack of clarity. :-D

Marylinn Kelly said...

Melissa - Thank you so much, I'm glad you found your way to this post and our indigo baptism. At times I cannot tell the difference between an aspect of depression and the fact that life is a sobering experience and a sober, perhaps solemn response may be appropriate in the moment. But there is something about depression, about the dye, that teaches with its coloring, which the eventual softening enhances. We are left with information that is not available to those who haven't been there. Scars signify many things, but courage is the first word that comes to mind. xo

Marylinn Kelly said...

Artist and Geek - As I responded to Rachel, I will revisit these thoughts in the morning; my reservoir of mental agility has run dry. Be back then. xo

RachelVB said...

No, I think I understand - the past and future exist because we call upon them to exist. We are the ones going back and forward. In a sense we are the vessels (not the best word). It can be a physical presence, emotional and certainly all mental. And I don't mean mental in a crazy sort of state, but a state where the mind is calling upon past and futures in the present to keep them alive.
The past in sorts are the bits that structure our bones, blood, skin. I ate this yesterday it is still in me; I felt this a week ago and tucked it away - it will shape me now and in future days. Obviously it's more than just eating - but you could substitute any life event in its place.
Artist - I am very pleased with our moon. Sometimes the most beautiful things arise out of destruction, yes. I'm glad, however, that our solar system appears to be stable. I like chocolate too much to let it go. =)
Sorry for the length! Got a little carried away.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Rachel and Artist&Geek - I may have lost the thread altogether here, though I don't believe that's the case. Amid whatever is real - the folding of time, planets doing whatever they do - is also the realm of symbol and metaphor, or so I see it. If I have misread any of this, please excuse me, but I think that your dialogue with each other is sufficient without anything additional from me, except to say yes, I see, understand and accept what you both have said. I am glad for the moon as well, for the tides and the magical, mystical properties we either assign to the moon or which are authentically hers. I believe we are each a planet or celestial body of some description, identifying and claiming our place in the cosmos, yet realizing the symbiosis of it all...we do rely on each other. No apologies is important that we each bring what we have to this party. If there is more to explore, I hope you feel comfortable to do so here. xoxo

Artist and Geek said...

Marylin-thank you for indulging me, but I'm good. For now...

There is always more to explore.

Rachel-I too get carried away, especially when trying to find my place, meaning and sense in this universe.

RachelVB said...

better to be carried away =)
I'm good too.
for now... =)

Marylinn Kelly said...

Rachel and Artist&Geek - We are all good...for now. Bless us every one. xoxo