A Wain Cat

Artist Louis Wain is well-known, in part, for painting a series of cat images, as he gradually lost his sanity. I would like to spend a few moments looking at two of them.

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The first and earlier image still bears a good resemblance to what we think of as a cat. It has a cartoon-ish quality, though, and it is unusual to see what appear to be emanations from the animal– these lines of energetic colors.

To me, the energy lines are partly aesthetic, but mainly I would suggest that they connote an unusual idea or set of ideas about the cat. There is a wild, frightening quality about the cat (according to Wain), and he is trying to capture this.

The colors, too– they are quite unique. An unusual combination of tones. I could only describe their effect as creating uneasiness. These are not the gently, harmonic color tones of a Monet, that is for certain.

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The second image shows a movement into the more abstract, and even psychedelic. More than anything I can think of, it resembles a 1970’s album cover.

The image barely connotes a cat. It has devolved into a series of patterns, and these display a stomach-churning symmetry. The cat is no longer a familiar pet– it is an amalgamation of barely organic forces. It is more as though we are seeing the family cat without its skin– forced to look at its organs.

Perhaps it is clearest to say that the second cat has become abstracted to a degree that is unnatural.

That may be the point to be observed– that schizophrenia may not involve a lack of abstraction, but rather the existence of a particular kind of unwholesome, redundant, disquieting abstraction.

I can’t help but to think of the harsh, high-pitched fractal ambient pieces I composed when I first became schizophrenic– and the effect they had on my family, when they heard them.

I can’t offer a remedy for this kind of abstraction. Maybe if Wain had spent more time petting the cat than depicting it, he might have reached a more comfortable state of mind.

A New Language

Do you ever notice that thoughts tend to take their course in the same way? Maybe when you talk about certain subjects, you get stuck in a familiar pattern, a familiar rut?

I have a crazy, schizophrenic idea.

I find that there are a lot of important discussions going on today. For example, many people are concerned with political or social issues, such as racial or gender equality, the wage gap, and similar concerns.

The problem I face is that, as soon as I think about issues like these, I find myself thrown in one direction or another– in fact, I generally end up cursing to myself, or feeling upset.

The words we use concerning certain issues can be quite loaded. For example, I bet you can think of occasions when terms like, for example, “shine” or “yellow”– which should be, in essence, harmless, might not be appreciated.

I feel that a lot of the trouble comes from how we put things, and that one word or term seems to suggest another. People can be very attenuated about words that are used– sometimes so much so that meanings beneath are lost.

We need some Stanford linguistics grad student to come up with some new ways of putting things, that are neutral and have no connotations, so we can talk about charged issues again without offending one another.

A Different Perspective From Matthew Freeman

I am very appreciative of poet Matthew Freeman’s generous offerings to this blog. They are really gifts, as he informed me that, technically, when they are published here, they are– well– published. How lucky we are to have these works at this blog to read and consider.

I challenged Matt to write from the perspective of a sane person, and/or to describe a state of sanity. We hear so much about how mental illness might be perceived from the view(s) of the sane. How do mentally healthy people appear to the schizophrenic poet? Let’s find out.

Christmas Dream

For a long time now
I’ve been thinking
about how I used to come
home from New York

in the dead of winter
to the warm old house
in Dogtown with my
pocketful of bar napkins

with rhymes and how my mom
would be making potato soup
and Chief was asleep on
the porch and the living room

was so dark and safe lit only
with the Christmas lights
and how I felt
such boozy love there

and what changed
and what had to change
for me to see
clear through disaster

and how I could have
been a completely sane poet
at Christmas with not one
line coming against my will

and how closed I would
have been with my bruises
and lungs and cheap stale beer
to that sinister, sinister dream.

Sane Vignette

Before I knew
it a bunch of birds
broke through my window
and I awoke
and got ready for school

and on the way in my bright Mustang
I passed a guy
who was talking to himself in rags
and I laughed and
spilled coffee on my shirt
and turned up the radio
and checked myself in the mirror
and I liked what I saw

and then for many years my eyes
took on the color of dead still water
with a plugged-in alarm clock in it
and I couldn’t move I had to force
myself to move and I found myself
walking a brick ledge and a bell went
off in dispossession and they said take
this little pill and on the third day Diana
showed up and everything was totally clear
and I’m like now I know Beethoven and
the difference between depression
and persecution anxiety and sometimes
I have walked the streets disheveled and at
any other time in history I’d be dead and when
last I put my head on Diana’s door I said
I’m destroyed but in a good way with double vision.

“If You Wanna Be a Poet”

Once I was dead drunk
and sane and not at all crazy
and I cried
when I was lonely and
my mom comforted me and I met
a girl from Singapore
and we held hands at the movie
and drank some forties

and sane is not jumping
over the nurses’ desk
and throwing a computer
because no one believes
you’re married to Nicole Kidman
or crawling
all over the floor in the day room
thinking you’re pregnant
and you realize
you’re either a ghost or God
and when you get out
you sleep for twenty hours a day
and you make a chapbook of poems
and you give
it to your community support worker
when he comes over to do your meds
because you accidentally
took a month’s worth of meds in two weeks
and he keeps
putting the pill bottles on top of your book
until they are conflated in your mind
and this is the beginning of sanity.

A Crazy Idea About The Sun

Since I am schizophrenic, I have lots of weird ideas. Here is one that occurred to me while cleaning house, that gave me hope:

The answer to a lot of our problems, and to general scarcity, might well involve harvesting the heat and power of the sun. Our sun provides large amounts of various forms of energy continuously.

Essentially, if we convert the thermal power of the sun to potential energy, which is so very simple to do, we have created a limitless flow of relatively free power.

We can do this.

What are the obstacles? Mainly, changing the energy grid over is problematic.

Perhaps if we started on a state level, offering incentives state by state to institute at least, say, 95% solar energy within a certain time frame. That might create a sense of friendly competition.

How do we finance this changeover? It’s pretty huge. Why not create a new form of currency? It could be like a bond, in which the actual value of the currency could exist in future energy yields. Something like a Watt-buck.

It people can create currencies like bit-coin, they can create currencies that invest in and (very quickly) profit from renewable energy.

How to convince the skeptics? Show them the projections, give them something to invest in.

Changing to solar power could make a huge positive impact on this planet, and that is something we sorely need. 

A Big Sleep

Having schizophrenia was, for a time, a bit like being asleep while being awake.

I felt that there were essential parts of myself that remained dormant. I had a lot of untapped potential. Some people may not have believed this, that I was full of latent capabilities– to believe that might have been to force or coerce me to use them. Others believed this all along, and, unfortunately, I was unprepared for some time to take stock in what they suggested.

There is a lot of precedence for the idea of being asleep while remaining alive. “Rip Van Winkle” was said to have taken a 100 year nap– coming into awareness a full century later, in a new time and under new circumstances.

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Tolkien’s “King Theoden”, one of the human rulers of mythic Middle Earth, lay prone under a dark spell of sleep for a long period of time, until fate and necessity made it necessary for him to awaken.

Cinderella, too, to mention a female character, fell into a drowsy paralysis, having been duped into consuming a poison. Only the embrace of the right man could pull her from her sleep. (Traditional, for sure– but similar in essence to the other examples).

These, obviously, are fictional cases, and are not literally true. They may be, then, all the more appropriate, concerning what I am suggesting is part of the schizophrenic experience– a state of mind (or states of mind) where feelings are muted or submerged, where the affect is flattened. The libido is muted, or ignored. The mind falls asleep, lacking thought or consideration (perhaps to be visited on sporadic occasion with racing or paranoid thoughts).

Life can be hard, and it often requires a good deal of effort and concentration to make it work. A person can’t win a battle or meet their significant other while half-asleep.

The tragedy of schizophrenia, then, contains it’s hope, as well- the patient has passed from consciousness, from a healthy awareness, into a sort of sleep– but– may it be that they might awaken, at some point, and return, at least to some degree, to health?

Like A Strange Beacon

I have been involved with creating art in various forms for about 2 decades.

For the most part, I write music. I also paint, create prints, write poetry, essays, record field recordings, and other things.

In the past few months something interesting was revealed to me.

My main music act, “Mystified”, was a long-term project. It lasted about 17 years. Throughout this time period, I created dark, abstract soundscapes. My main genre was drone music, though I also made ambient, dark ambient, experimental electronica, industrial, and other varieties.

During that whole time, I never mentioned (at least, in any direct fashion), that I have schizophrenia. I did notice that many independent and/or underground projects made references to mental health issues– and I may have, too, in some oblique fashion now and then– but, I just assumed this was considered the norm for people who were into dark or counter-cultural musics.

When I admitted publicly to my condition, a few months ago, a good number of my fellow artists and friends admitted that they, too, had either schizophrenia or something similar. Many of these people were my most loyal followers. They were the ones that were most supportive, especially on social media.

It’s a mystery, but somehow, a good number of the schizophrenic artists ended up in the same social circle. The internet was our firepit, and our illness seemed to be like a strange beacon that summoned us all to one place.

I wonder why that is? Maybe this blog is partly about me trying to figure that out.