Don’t Worry, You Were Crazy Long Before This: The Perils of the Question

Once again I woke to the sound of that goddamn alarm clock blaring at 4:45 on yet another morning wondering, “What in the hell am I doing?” While rising at that hour of the morning may not have been entirely unusual—in a life that not so long ago was mine, but which now seemed somewhat nauseatingly foreign I had often awakened long before sensible people do, literally skipping from my bed to my computer, ready for action having become possessed by some idea or another. Writers, researchers, academics of all types are familiar with this compulsion. One learns rather quickly that, if one does not take advantage of the gifts bestowed by the Muse immediately—whatever the hour, damn the circumstances—she will all too often slip away having failed to leave more than a tantalizing trace regarding the contents of her inspiration. Many who occasionally imbibe to excess have had a similar experience: the taste of stale scotch the morning after a hard night of drinking. “What was her name, anyway? Surely, I behaved.” Inevitably, as the semester neared its end twice each year my working hours became ever more erratic. Indeed, more often than not, that essential breakthrough, the one argument that transformed a paper from an acceptable A into a veritable event of writing comes to me in the wee hours. There are very few feelings in the world more invigorating than that rush I get as I sit at my computer as the sun peaks over the masses of the unconscious as I elaborate the idea that has consumed me for weeks, or, even months, knowing that finally I have nailed it. I have not just written a paper; I have produced a piece of art.

Therefore, in a sense, there was nothing shockingly abnormal about my rising on the day in question at 4:45. Well, there was nothing all too strange about it except for the impetus and inspiration: both of which were diametrically opposed to which I had accustomed myself for years. Although by this point, to be sure, it was no more than a day like any other: up at 4:45; drive to work; watch in awe as Boone, Split Creek Farm’s resident Boarder Collie, herds 200 plus goats into the holding pen; getting in the first milkers; feed the pastures, dogs, rabbits, and the innumerable other chores that come along with working on a farm. I guess there was one difference.

Nationals were approaching. This is a huge event for any goat farm; in fact there is no happening of corresponding prestige in the goat world. The prestige that goes along with a First translates into cash from all around the globe, and any goat farm with 300 animals must have cash. Any event of such importance constitutes a little extra insanity between the barn, the office, and the packinghouse: dotting “i”s, crossing “t”s, grooming goats, and tasting cheese. After all, why go if you aren’t going to take home the gold? “Split Creek Farm Places First in National Dairy Association Cheese Tasting Event,” read the local paper’s headlines, but that was sometime later.

Speaking of time, who knows? It was dark. Evin was in the office, Jess in the kitchen making fudge. Initially, I was somewhere in between, though I ended up in the latter, and Evin must have come into the kitchen as well, for I am sure that both were there when it ripped through my gray matter. No mistaking this much. Suddenly, I had begun to shake as if I had just had a horrific car accident, and the sweat, it was liquid panic, like nothing I had ever experienced before. I rarely employ the verb “to know” in any but the loosest sense. Then, however, something was wrong, I KNEW it; and I said as much. Nonetheless, the concern that reflected back to me left me somewhat confused. I suppose this was the result of the thermo-nuclear event that had probably already occurred at this point: my brain in full revolt. Alas, the full effects had not nearly fully elaborated its shock waves within the confines of my skull.

I suppose that I was coming into the main house to give my final report on the goats and kids. Surely, that was the case for it was dark outside. I entered the side door, as we all do. The front door is triple protected: from Boone, the border collie who becomes psychotic during thunder storms; from the nosy tourists who think nothing of entering someone’s domicile simply because they paid $3.00 for a tour; and to ensure that no one carelessly leaves the door opened. This latter would allow the newest of the summer’s herd—the kids still being bottle fed—from escaping. Jessica, Evin’s stepdaughter: the cheese and fudge wiz was stirring Split Creek’s secret ingredient into a batch of fudge. Everything seemed to be going as things go. It was a relatively normal, if frenzied day on the farm.

But anyone who knows anything about raising animals knows that there are very few days that are not frenzied. Thus I sat my weary bones down on an old curve backed wooden chair—you know, the type, which, if one were to place the curved pieces in the middle together, they would form a heart—before the cupboard to chat for a while. Indeed, a beautiful thing about Split Creek Farm is that I loved the two women into whose presence I had just entered. I am happy to say that I felt the same for Pat, Evin’s partner, also. But she was yet to arrive, and Rachel, the accounts manager had left already. Thus, I sat surrounded by people whose company I treasured as much as I did any others in the world. Unfortunately, to cite the title of a Nine Inch Nails song, Love Is Not Enough: at least for what was coming for me.

Pure immediacy, there was no warning: just all wrong. Suddenly, I felt something that I can only describe as a pervasive sense of despair. It took me a while – time, who knows? – it took a while to realize that there was nothing wrong with Jess or Evin. It was only me, but not only was time out of joint, so was perception, my entire being was erupting with alien sensations. As I mentioned that I felt strange, I could tell from the gazes directed towards me that this was something more than simply strangeness, which is, after all, either one of my more endearing or annoying traits.

What was this babbling? Then I realize: Oh, it’s me that Evin is telling to sit down, and what is this about yogurt? I see, metaphorically speaking: the yogurt thing is not for me to do anything about. The boss is not ordering me to get yogurt. She wants me to have some. Yes, yogurt just what I need. First, however, it is imperative that I get off of these rubbery sticks, which I had used to remove myself from the chair. (If you feel dizzy in a chair, prudence dictates that you remain sitting, for standing will simply exacerbate the disequilibrium. Then again, it is fair to make a strong presumption that common sense had by this time donned the swift shoes of Hermes; his message is not, after all, always a kind one.) So, I sit, again facing Evin’s fantastically arrayed cabinets.

I’ve always liked Evin’s cabinets: glass fronts, framed in white, a menagerie of dishes, proper for all animals, no pretentious shit, no bon-bon spoons here. Just beautifully crafted cabinets neatly stacked with rescued dishes no color of the rainbow unrepresented. There was no pansy-ass bone china here; even I, the proverbial bull- in-the-china-shop, am not afraid to eat from these solidly constructed plates and bowls. It is possible, however, that the dishes, in their display of perfect utility, contributed to my crisis, for the cupboard suddenly became a Babel of its sundry serving apparatus’, they were throwing stars, blue stars to be exact, and green clovers, and yellow moons. Whoa, what the fuck? This cannot be right.

Evin is still saying yogurt, I try to concentrate my mind and decide whether there is an “a” somewhere in this word. Jess is saying something, “vanilla”. I think, calm down, Rusty. Don’t worry; you were crazy before this anyway. On the other hand, perhaps I should worry; this shit is not right, and this you KNOW. Dishes do not cast speeding flashes of light, speeding menacing flashes of light. I am being attacked, overwhelmed, in fact. Whatever is not too fast is too slow. Forget the yogurt; the majority of the cupboard’s contents are coming at me at warp speed, either that or they are, for the time being, suspended in mid-air, awaiting their turn at a death-dealing blow. I’m in Bosch’s painting, The Ship of Fools. You wonder what that one, the very one that so fascinates you is so terrified of; table settings, I tell you. Surely, this is not that thing: insanity. Could this state be perdurable, life could not happen this way. Even Dante’s God is not so cruel. Yet, I am clearly losing my mind. Dishes do not break the sound barrier. I have enjoyed life to the fullest. I have never been one to turn down a chance to explore different possibilities of consciousness. Then again, I have never had to defend myself against psychotic dishes either. Alternatively, could it be that I am the psychotic one? I was not in a position to rule out any possibility. Ergot poisoning, perhaps: can a witch have a penis?

Animal that I am, however, my mind had at least retained its primitive functions. I had no choice; it was imperative to defend myself against those abnormally aggressive dishes. I recall no cognitive orders being issued. Rather, it was more like going into a skid in a speeding car. You turn into it. It’s just what you do. Except that in the car, there is no fear until after the event. Thus, this example is not strictly analogous to my jumping up from the chair in front of the cabinets with “yogurt” ringing in my ears that night. There was no lag time for the fear to arrive I was consumed by it: a classic example of fight or flight, better yet, the exception that proves the rule, fight and fly. Yes, you can do both simultaneously.

After all, there were foreign objects whirling towards my head. What could they intend but dark-eyed death? But, almost as certainly as I ducked, I parried. I regained my posture—to be sure, this term is to be understood in the most attenuated sense, as when a toddler falls and regains her stance— as I prepared to begin my counter-offensive. What else does one do in a fight? I have been told that my fists were anything but still once I was up; praise Zeus that I did not chose to swing the chair. I was in a fight; I was fighting for my sanity, which at the time my mind was mandating that I defend physically. After all, what is sanity but life itself, at least to one whose history of sanity has been known to be relatively stable?

Thus, while my paramount concern was sanity, there was no thought involved. Essentially, my quadriceps flexed instinctually, propelling me vertically from the chair as I threw my hands up to protect my head and face. It only takes a brain-stem to avoid pain. Unfortunately, it is all that is required for irremediable fear, as well. I jumped up and spun to my left, away from the cabinets containing the offending vessels. I recall throwing my arms up at the same moment, to protect myself. It is all quite logical from the point of view of one who perceives his existence to be at stake, that I would then act out a scenario much like that elaborated above. Apparently, this all happened with extreme rapidity: electrical impulses racing through my body as if induced by thunderbolts cast from all-powerful Zeus, with no consideration of consequence. Frankly, if the gods simply wish to be entertained, I would have much preferred that they had simply turned me into a tree or perhaps into a goat, relative of my mythological soul mate, Pan.

As Evin, Jess, and I discussed the events of this night when no cows were black—just an assumption on my part, but why would cows have confined themselves to the Hegelian obvious any more than the dishes did to the laws of ceramic reason—I heard a story the plot line of which would be obvious to anyone who knows us all; Jessica and Evin were as terrified as I was. I am no small man: 6’2”, 205, rock solid. I toss fifty-pound bags of feed for a living: about 3,000 pounds before 8:00 am. While neither Jess nor Evin are fifty-pound bags of sweet-feed, there can be no question as to who deals the damage in this contest. Tough as they are—and let me tell you, these are some tough women—neither approaches me in either height or weight. Moreover, how does one defend oneself against something so unpredictable, what amounts to a force of nature existing for the sole purpose of unleashing destructive power? This not by virtue of any malicious intent, mind you. Katrina was oblivious to the 9th ward, she just was. Notwithstanding my general comportment as a big bear with malice towards none. It’s not all that difficult to imagine what they must have been thinking: “This is a damn big guy, and he is agitated. Hell, why be euphemistic? He is psychotic; Achilles could have been in no more of a rage as he drug Hector behind his chariot hoping to defile his body, thereby denying him the peace rightfully deserved by the dead. No doubt, he has lost touch with reality. He is fighting something or ready to fight it. Oh shit, here he comes; he is going to fight me.”

It is fortunate that Fortuna did not entirely abandon me, and that I lost my balance. There can be no doubt that this was a good thing. I was not swinging to practice. I was in a death match, and the person to die, the first person I saw, would have been Evin—did I even perceive Evin as a “person”? To this day I shudder to imagine the damage that would have resulted, if I had landed a square punch, or made a straightforward attack on either of my present friends. The most likely chain of events is that I applied my vice grip onto Evin’s forearms —I have very strong and rather large hands: ring size, 16—and slammed her to the floor with me, because my balance was no more secure than my sanity. This unintended violence was evidenced for quite some time afterward by the imprints of my hands that were tattooed on her forearms. They had reached around her entire arm. In fact, she later suggested that perhaps I could supplement the guard dogs for the goats, I could simply choke any predator that endangered the flock and with very little effort. She joked that she could even reduce my pay, given the ease of my new task.

There is one thing that remains clear, crystal clear, about this span of time, which is otherwise entirely lost to me. The one animal that was absolutely indispensible to that farm was the boarder collie, Boone. Boarder collie’s are amazing animals; they are significantly more intelligent that many of the people with whom I have reluctant contact. No one doubts that Boone is Evin’s dog; as is the case with most dogs, he is extremely protective of his owner. And, Boone was going berserk. I could hear him, and he was clearly very close to my head.

What’s more, he was not employing his normal bark. Something like, “Come on you stubborn goats; I want my post-milking treat.” He was barking with a clear intent. My level of terror increased exponentially with each bark. Nevertheless, it was when the canine signifiers behind his otherwise nonsensical signifieds came to have a clear sense to me that the term terror became insignificant. “What a nice neck you have, Rusty. I can smell the blood speeding through your jugular vein, Bark, Bark, Bark. But, I can take care of your misery: current and future. Indeed, I will entirely put you out of your misery.” Then, Evin commanded, “Boone…,” followed by the very calmly spoken, “Rusty, it’s okay.” Finally, “Jess, take Boone to the other room.” Perhaps the most disturbing thing, however, was the absolutely pellucid realization that in the midst of this total mental meltdown, I thought with a clarity that was about as bone shattering as was my madness, “I am about to be eaten alive.” How odd that this one incident was, and remains, so vividly and accurately impressed upon my exploding gray matter?

I recall being in the hospital hours after the event and pondering the implications of Descartes’ famous, “I think therefore, I am.” to what I had just experienced. Taken literally, I could only conclude that I ceased to exist, in a metaphysical sense, for that six or seven minutes, which transpired as I lay seizing on the floor, trying to bite my tongue in half and snap Evin’s forearms like twigs. There were apparently eight to ten minutes following during which time I just lay on the floor staring incomprehensibly around me. I attempted to get up several times. Initially, Evin touched me as she implored me to remain prone. My reaction to her touch, as if I were once again being assaulted but could only flail like an animal in its death throes, convinced her that her voice was the proper tool to employ. Indeed, it took me days to react in any semblance of a normal fashion to the touch of anyone whomsoever. At any rate, as I lay exhausted on the farmhouse’s floor something in me understood that I could not get up with even the greatest of efforts. My world had collapsed. It had imploded like a dying star, would anything ever again work, as it should have, as it always had?

Upon regaining consciousness, I was faced with a barrage of questions to which I had no answers; woe is me. I am the person who has worked his ass off to have the answers, or at least the question to end the questioning. After all, what is the purpose of 5 years of graduate study in philosophy, if not to be able to answer even the most complicated questions—making no claims, of course, to the Truth of my answers? I am a very well trained sophist. Yet, suddenly, my mind had nothing to offer but pain, fear, and confusion. Indeed, I felt as if I was being interrogated, and all I wanted to do was to locate my mind, my “true self”, so that I could stop these impertinent interrogatories. No potential criminal offender could have been more terrified, for I had no alibi. I could not account for myself; yet, I had the strong impression that I was staring questions of the utmost existential import right in the face and blinking. Indeed, I can imagine that criminal suspects have nightmares akin to what I was living at that time, especially those who are perfectly innocent. What made the situation even more frustrating was that I knew all of the answers, if only I could understand the questions and put the two together. Rusty, whose elaboration of frustratingly long chains of self-reflexive irony were too much for all but the most intrepid of his fellow linguistic tricksters, yet who always somehow ended up right back at the beginning to tie off the bow, was suddenly mute. I had lost the capacity to follow even the most straightforward of lines of thought, however; two and two no longer equaled four to my distorted mind. The sum may as well have equaled five hundred and fifty four, for all I could account at the time.

The questions came from Evin, my boss and one of my best friends: “What’s my name?” I thought, “What kind of stupid fucking question is that?” I had the realization—upon understanding how germane the question was, in fact—that something was radically wrong. I could not answer her question, and said as much. It was as if I had entirely forgotten how to process even the most basic information. The one thing that I did know was that something had to be irremediably askew for me to be unable to provide this information. The expression on Evin’s face reflected the incredulity descending, as if by the MB, over my entire being. I don’t think that she could believe any more than I that I did not know her name. In fact, I had the subtle feeling that I was somehow betraying her by not being able to say it. I did not know it the first time; I did not know the tenth time. I kept saying, “I don’t know,” and then, “I know it, just give me a minute.” I finally remembered Evin’s name as the ambulance bounced down the driveway of the farm. Given the location of Split Creek, it had to be at least 45 minutes or more before the ambulance arrived and they strapped me into its cargo, which I definitively did not like. I was so desperate to let her know that I knew her that I said to the EMT, “I know Evin’s name now. Will you call and tell her?” At which time, of course, I realized that I had absolutely no clue what the number to my workplace was. Hell, Evin had to call someone else to track down my Mom’s number in Canada, so that she could report on my condition to her.

I spent hours in the hospital undergoing test upon test. All I wanted were two things: i) something to keep me from jumping off of the gurney every time I caught something out of the corner of my eye or whenever Evin rubbed my arm to try to sooth me; ii) a pain killer to dull the terrible pain in my head, not to mention my mouth. The tissue destruction within my mouth—my tongue, cheeks and lips—suggested an attack by multiple assailants. Some mean characters had their shots at me in my younger days. My ribs and kidneys have been punished until I urinated blood; as for my mouth, I have had a tooth or two knocked loose. (For the cat who caught me in the mouth on the side of the Virginia House in the “Wood”, you coulda been a contender.) Nonetheless, I felt nothing like the pain of the night of the seizure. I had bitten my tongue, lips, and the walls of my cheeks so badly that I did not eat solid food for nearly a week.

I can think of no other way to say it, my brain, at once my best friend and my greatest tormentor, this mass inside my head, which simply uses my body to propel it from place to place, had turned viciously against me. Like a carefully rigged building, I collapsed from the inside, the implosion having begun in my brain. I could not/cannot help but wonder where my mind was during all this time? Wherever it went, and besides the visceral fear that I could have badly injured one of my closest friends, my mind was my predominant concern for a couple of weeks, at the least. I was not sure that it was coming back, ever. This scared the shit out of me.

To aver that I rely upon my brain is something of an understatement; it constitutes the vortex of my being. I was working on a goat farm in large part, because of a series of events that led me to take a leave of absence from my Ph. D. program in philosophy. My wife and I had divorced only twenty-one months after the birth of our son. Three days following his birth I was told that I had a brain tumor, my second in 15 years. What’s more, this one was much more serious. It was a pineal tumor, which meant that some human, all too human doctor would have to separate the two hemispheres of my brain in order to remove it. This is a condition so rare—approximately one in forty million—that only two doctors in the U.S. are qualified to perform such a surgery, and they do one, maybe two, a year. Thankfully, this turned out to be a false alarm.

Unfortunately, I did not find this out until I had arrived at Columbia University Medical School. My surgery was already scheduled. I must say, to that point in my life it was the most terrifying experience in my life; I was too sure, in my infinite wisdom of 20 years, of my immortality to be nearly so scared when I actually had the first tumor removed. Trying to protect my wife from my terror did nothing whatsoever to strengthen our faltering relationship. What’s more, I had the ordeal of my oral exams for my Ph. D. in philosophy approaching. I was exhausted in every way possible to the human species: mental, physical, emotional. Sorrow had robbed me of a large part of the passion for what I was doing. But for all that, one thing remained certain: I was and remain a philosopher.

It never has and never will matter what my avocation is. I am a philosopher and writer, an inveterate paradox machine. My worldly possessions are few—about thirty boxes of books that I could stuff into my car as I left my place of study—but, just as I had to have those books, I must have my mind. My mind educated at significant expense, both financial and personal. As I said, my body is just a vehicle to serve for the deliverance of this gray mass, the mandate of thoughts transmitting themselves only metaphysically. Therefore, the foci of my existence, having slowed down enough to ponder what must have presented as an infinite number of unsavory outcomes, followed by the very specific possibility of having a border collie consume me, went on a mad intoxicated tear like a devotee of Dionysus. Following which, cruelty of cruelties, it went on a vacation, from which it may never have returned as far as I knew.

In fact, it was quite some time before I could reliably recall numbers that I have known for years, my entire life in certain cases. What’s more, I developed a case of what is called nominal aphasia, meaning that I could not identify the names of everyday objects, nouns: dog, phone, keys, child. Again, these are average everyday things with which I have been familiar for over 35 years. It is incredibly frustrating to be in the middle of a conversation and suddenly not be able to recall a noun as simple as “keys”. I spent weeks getting stuck in the middle of conversations and flapping my hands, smacking my forehead, trying to get the other person to figure out what I am trying to say from the context of the conversation, and often, finally saying, “I have no clue what the thing that I am talking about is called. This is a condition that still affects me to a certain extent. Of course, any time I have a seizure—there have been 8 to 10 since that first one—the problem is exacerbated. I must admit that not knowing whether or not the next seizure may or may not have some permanent, ontologico-intellectual transformative effect is one of the terrors of my existence.

Let’s be clear about this, I don’t fear the answers, be what they may regarding this condition, loosely called epilepsy. Indeed, answers, any answers, would constitute a substantial relief. What is terrifying, in the most existentially profound sense of this term, is the unconditional lack of any of the quotidian certainties by which we negotiate our lives. Following a seizure, I feel as if I have been thrown into an ontological limbo, a place populated by question marks, as if the universe had appropriated the uniform of the Riddler. I am confronted by a black background filled with green question marks whenever I close my eyes.

It strikes me now that this is the menace of which I have been aware since the time of my first articulations, since I said my first word, “book”. I never feared the monster under the bed. The perpetual fuel of my anxiety, from the slightest sense that something is awry to the full-blown knowledge that, to return to a familiar metaphor, I will not come out of the skid, is this space of unimaginably oppressive uncertainty, which periodically overtakes me. The fraction of a second between realization and impact does not share the quality of being haunted by fear of the impact itself. I don’t cry out because of the knowledge that I will crash into the tree. No, the defining characteristic of fear is the inability to answer. Fear is the interminable question. Terror is exemplified graphically by this seemingly innocuous mark, this “?”. Doctor, is there any hope, a treatment if not a cure, a regimen of palliative care? Can you remove this mark that dominates my existence? Have you considered a lobotomy? I will donate my prefrontal cortex to science: right now!

There is not a single problem in the world that could not be remedied in the following simple manner: eliminate the question. We live under a totalitarian regime of the interrogatory. One can even see the peril represented by the question; it is represented graphically in its very structure. To swallow a period? Easy, like aspirin. An exclamation point? Somewhat more intimidating, until you think of a tablet of acetaminophen, hell combine it with the aspirin and there you go. But a question mark? Questions cannot be assimilated so easily, even if you can get it started down the proper canal it is sure to snag its insidious hook onto something, the tiny hairs lining the stomach, if you are lucky. There are, after all, worse places for it to stick.

We may even be so bold as to assert that the question is the God of all fundamentalisms, of all “isms” whatsoever, not to mention the “ologies” and “ics”, which have haunted our world. Indeed, perhaps it is this, which has so hollowed out the soul of the fragmented, postmodern individual.
In the beginning there was the question, the formulation of which demanded the elaboration of the logos, always-already having failed in its mission to annihilate the next question, of which it is, paradoxically, both the foundation and lack thereof. Thus, language is the necessity of the sickle suspended over an otherwise innocuous period, the mark of impurity, which is moreover the guarantor or its own perpetuation. Our noble species fell irrevocably upon this slippery slope the moment that the anticipation of terror became more real than the actual physical, objective proximity of its constitutive aspect. The rabbit “fears” because of direct sensory input combined with certain instinctual or evolutionary aspects. It is the movement from physiological responsiveness to the mental anticipation of nothing more than the possibility of the necessity of such a response in the absence of an objective threat, characteristic of the naked ape, which marks the double event of God’s birth and His death. God was born by the first “why?” and was subsequently murdered by the first insufficient articulation of the “because”.

Pray, you don’t accuse me of having contradicted myself. For did I not just claim that the question was merely secondary. I will not directly repudiate this argument. For the question, as I claimed above, is the derivative of our fundamental lack, the failure of certainty, our inability to secure a firm place for meaning: any existential anchor whatsoever. The question is the by-product of the human being’s never ending search for transcendental value, a value secured above the vicissitudes of our all too clearly fragile and entirely contingent existence.

How in the hell did we get here, you may be asking, inherently dangerous as such an endeavor has been shown to be. Fair enough. The easy answer is a combination of philosophical inclination combined with stream of consciousness and my desire to share a story the contents of which continue to perplex me infinitely. But, I think my point is stronger. On a personal level, I am certain of it, for the events that I have unfolded for you, for myself, amount ultimately to a metaphor for a more significant existential dilemma, and ultimately a source of true child-like wonder.

Our most basic necessity as human animals is to possess a core of certainty around which we can structure our lives, even if in our most honest moments we recognize this core as little more than a necessary fiction. The repository of this core is not the brain itself, but our unique Janus-faced inheritance, the mind. To have this restless place of respite from uncertainty disturbed in a radical way is profoundly unsettling. It would be nice to believe that such disturbances occur only in extreme instances, such as that I have elaborated. Alas, such is not the case. We encounter such disruptions on a daily basis. What is truly amazing is that we can muster the energy to uphold the elaborate defenses that we must unceasingly deploy in order to prevent such occurrences from becoming life-negating. Thus, in the midst of the freefall there is hope.

The hours that Evin and I spent in the hospital on the night of my seizure now seem like seconds. I recall the next couple of weeks, however, as an eternity, marked as they were by the persistent question, “Will I be me again?” There was a total disconnection between my thoughts; perhaps you think they remain so. The feeling of searching for answers to the myriad questions I faced thereafter was like that of digging my own grave. As I have recounted, I could not recall telephone numbers that I had known for years. I would read something and immediately forget what I had read, that is, when I could muster the will to read at all. I encountered the infinitely disconcerting failure to recall common nouns, descriptive words to indicate objects that I encountered on a daily basis. My memory of those weeks is dominated by the question as to whether I would ever again have a fully functioning brain.

Fortunately, given time, my function has returned to a more or less “normal” state following this and each subsequent seizure. My memory returns, even if there are certain moments when it seems strained. There is not the constant interruption by questions as to the status of my mental life when I attempt to read and write. On a day to day level, I function as if my core certainties have never been interrupted, and are, in fact, certainties rather than constructions for negotiating the world as if I were normal: rather, as if the world did not normally require such intellectual shields. The terror has abated, recurring only at odd moments: perhaps the universe’s way of recalling to me that I am far from God. I had hope reinstalled when my mind rebooted, leading me to conclude that the mind is a terrible thing to malfunction. What’s more, that the question is both the most luxurious and perilous of our rare human abilities.

Don’t Worry, You Were Crazy Long Before This: The Perils of the Question

Rusty Gentry

Joined November 2007

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Artist's Description

This piece is a description of my first epileptic explosion, the fear and uncertainty surrounding it, and its profoundly disturbing aftermath. It elaborates my sense of metaphysical annihilation and the ensuing ontological uncertainty. This uncertainty was the result of major changes in my intellectual and perceptive apparatus in the days and weeks following this implosion of my brain and leads to certain philosophical observations as to the precarious status of a human being unable to find an anchor for the necessary fictions, which sustain our lives in a world of pure contingency.

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