There have only been two occasions in my life when I felt like I was on the brink of true insanity. I don't mean manic-depression/co-dependence/neurosis-du-jour but REAL madness- true dementia. Once was when the mother of my son and I split up: I felt the entire universe had become an infinitely thin tunnel of unrelenting anguish. It was no good. The other time was when I worked graveyard shift at a soft rock radio station that played piped-in music from Los Angeles. All I had to do there was make sure that the proper commercials were cued to play and that the satellite link stayed up. We had carts with each of the D.J.s saying 3 or 4 versions of "K-O-C-N, Monterey Salinas Santa Cruz" Yeah... "K.O.C.N.- we pronounce it 'Kay-Ocean' because 'Cockin' would be obscene."
Seems like an easy enough job, eh? On par with Photomat in regard to responsibility level and free time. I was working alone in the middle of the night. Just the sort of job I thought would be totally perfect for me... ahh, but this place had some insidiously pervasive forces working within it's walls...
Firstly, it was graveyard shift so I began seeing my friends less and less so that the usual checks and balances the presence of other psyches enact were less and less frequent- my personality began to grow unchecked.
Nothing bad in that, were that the only factor. Next, I was responsible for answering the phones and lying to people about the fact that we weren't actually playing music from Monterey. Now, it wasn't the lying that got to me --as odd and foul as it was-- but the people who called.
I mean think about it: it's 4:am and you are not only listening to Neil Diamond and Bruce Springsteen, but you want to call up and request a tune, or compliment our taste in music... think about the kind of person you'd be... I shudder...
I had a woman call me up one night and say that she had just seen her brother's gang shoot someone and then drive out to some undisclosed location and bury them. She thought that they were going to kill her too because she wasn't technically a member of the gang and thus a witness so, tonight, she decided to take a whole bunch of downers and just... go... to... sleep...
ALL she wanted from ME was to hear "Hold on to the night" of all things before she just... fell... asleep... MY HEART WAS POUNDING! I kept talking to her trying to keep her awake as she slurred more and more. I tried to get her to give me her address but she wouldn't, which I suppose is good practice in every OTHER situation!
I couldn't call her an ambulance so I tried to keep her talking- asking her random shit until finally I hear the phone thump against something and she won't respond. I slam the phone down like four times screaming "LIKE I FUCKING NEEDED THAT!"
So you can imagine the effect of having little to no social interaction aside from folk like that- I began to warp. Throw in a sound studio that was kept unlocked HOWEVER I was technically not supposed to use. I'm a musician that was simply impossible. It did mean that I couldn't bring any conspicuous instruments into the place. This made me turn mike springs into drum-sets, chair creeks into arpeggios, rigid plastic carpet covers into washboards and my mouth into any other sound I might need. I was in a highly charged creative state most of my waking hours.
My son's mother became pregnant during this time, which, of course, means a mind-bending stress. It was unplanned and she decided to keep him, thankfully, but it was something that took me all the way up to his birth to come to terms with. I inherited an old archive of porn mags from a co-worker and started doing collage with it. Creating things that should not be, doing things unspeakable.
It was bizarre: centipedes of breasts with legs at every segment wearing fishnets, women with hair of penis and hands of bodies. Made me look at people like re-arrangible pieces of meat for awhile... eheh... real dehumanizing. Lastly I never really got used to the hours so some days I'd sleep marathon and some days not a wink. Truly destabilising.
Okay, real quick, let's review the cocktail for madness I had going here: highly charged creative state, destabalized, ultra stressed about the future, my only support group: lonely psychotics, EASY LISTENING MUSIC PLAYING AT ALL TIMES, and becoming estranged with people as individuals and not just puzzle parts. Mmmm, serve that cocktail shaken.
The distortion came on pretty slow but was marked by occasional episodes such as this one time I get this blues song stuck in my head that I can't shake. Now, unlike the usual background annoyance that this typically generates I start to panic a little because the song actually is drowning out all other thoughts and I find myself flashing into the reality of it, the very physical reality. I mean I can feel cool wind over me as I am sending my daughter off to the city, can feel the stiff doily-like quality of the lace on her cuff and BOOM I am back in the radio station sweating and breathing heavy. I get up and pace, try talking to myself for distraction and BOOM I am pushing her on to the train as she is crying that she doesn't want to go, she want to stay with me BUT I KNOW that MY life will forever be in bars and ditches playing for change, she stands so much a better chance in the city than with me. I push her on again as the train moves and I feel the coolness of a tear strike my wrist. BOOM I am standing mid-pace, still talking to myself- I go directly to the bathroom and run cold water over my head and cut my chest with a bent paperclip. This seems to help. Like I said, I wasn't right in the head during this span.
There was this girl, Trisha, that used to call me. She was 15 and thought she was pregnant with her married, 31 year-old, Social Worker's child. It turned out to be untrue- he had taken her virginity and she just assumed she was with child. Her father beat her and her mother regularly and she claimed he was head of the Carmel masons, which would mean he would have the cops wrapped around his pinkie. She said that her mother was always talking about wanting to leave the family and move back to North Carolina where they came from. In other words this girl's life was fucked up.
I mean it.
It was hard to find even a shade of her that wasn't brutalized in some way. She once professed undying love to me because I understood her so well. That basically translated into this: "No one in my life treats me with any scrap of respect. YOU don't tell me what to do, YOU listen to me and suggest things and THAT is so ALIEN to ANYTHING in my ENTIRE LIFE that IT MUST BE love that I am feeling." As she told me why she would profess such a thing I began to slowly start crying at the sinking realization of how truly barren this girl's life was- it was terrible, a crippling empathy. She often tried to do things like instigate phone sex and the like- it's the age and the nature of her abuse- and once tried to actually come to the station when she had run away from home. I was away at a wedding that weekend and, considering how fucked up I was at the time, I am thankful that we never met. I can't honestly say what would have happened if we had.
My whole life began to compress on every level- like a tangible density and weight was slowly increasing from every angle at once. I started mumbling unconsciously and uncontrollably. The only thing that was keeping me together was the deranged screaming I'd do in their production room. See I was on real shaky ground. I started doing things like reading the newspaper columns downward through the middle, without including the left and right peripheral words, in search of sensical streams of meaning- IT WAS MADDENING!
I'd cut out the 'choice' sensical streams and tape/glue them in hidden places all over the station. Under desks. Inside of the casings of the telephones. On the tops of ceiling high ducts. Once I risked serious injury by climbing upside down on a girder in the ceiling to glue down a quote that read: "The lengths I am willing to go to for a joke are truly ridiculous" in a place that ONLY the destruction of the building would ever reveal. I turned neurotic in ways that were entertaining me, which is dangerous, because it meant that I was making little effort to stop them.
I slowly drifted from "the person that is me plus the tools to exist in society" into one that was only "me". Now, this was a valuable lesson: the truest expression of the person I am, is one that could not function in this society but is also one that would be so self contained that it would not NEED to. Mania will show you things you'd never expect, like: the depths to which you can sink, the malleable nature of your identity, how easy it is to slide downhill, and how weak you are to your environment.
Serve that cocktail shaken.