And so another era of radio silence. This particular site may have lost whatever blood was going to it, but I still feel the need for some kind of outlet. Something broader, something I can throw out there, regardless of anyone everything actually seeing it.
Today, I need it’s help to figure some things out.
I resigned from my job in July. There were many reasons and I share some of those with others. Ultimately I’ve come to realise that I’ve never taken any risks, and I feel like I’m stagnating. I have a little money, so I’ve decide to take some time and figure out what I’m actually doing.
I’ve pursued two main approaches. My original focus has been on a teaching English diploma; with an eye towards finding work while travelling abroad. A very logical and ambitious goal for me. Early on I maintained a huge amount of enthusiasm for this project, and I’ve been taking it very seriously. However, over time the process has become more and more of a drudge.
The qualification is earned through completion of two online courses and 20 hours of practical classroom experience. I managed to negotiate six months to complete everything – I’ve passed the practical component and completed 60% of Course A. The online parts involve units followed by ‘Progress Checks’ followed by a handful of ‘Checkpoints’ (essentially exams/coursework for the relevant units). I’ve halted at Checkpoint 2. Yes, they are challenging and require you to knuckle down a little more, but everything you need to pass them is in the unit materials. I just cannot motivate myself to push on.
You can plow through the units themselves very quickly, but I’ve increasingly found the process more and more unsatisfying. Yes all this work could lead to something amazing, but one problem I’ve always had is pursuing things that could take me away from where I am rather than work on who I am. Even on the other side of the world, I’d still be carrying me, and this realisation is unsettling.
I’m in my third decade (or Ryan 4.0 as I pretentiously consider it) and I’m yet to figure out what I want. All I know is I struggle with ties – good or bad, everything is shackles. Right now I want to play by my own rules, I want to focus on what I want and only satisfy obligations to myself. I’ve done a great deal of work the last few years: learned a lot, tested myself, achieved many things I would never previously believed possible. But I can no longer ignore that the enduring thread has been, for longer than I care to dwell on, that I am miserable and feel empty inside.
At the risk of turning this into a therapy session, I’ve been through some pretty fucked up shit. There are many many people who have it way worse, but for my part I don’t feel it’s unreasonable to note that I’ve had more than my fair share. For so long now I feel like I’ve been bleeding out; head up, marching on but increasingly limp.
The second approach has involved film. For the longest time after university, I did nothing related to film-making. Eventually I began writing CD/gig/book/film reviews for a sadly defunct magazine called Nocturnal. Recently, thanks to contacts made during that period, I’ve become typing for a website called Filmwerk. Unpaid work but well worth it. I get to see movies for free, at home and at screenings, many in advance of their theatre releases. I’m making contacts and it’s exciting to see where this could lead.
Alongside this, I’m involved with a film podcast, the first episode of which will be released soon. I also want to make my own videos/podcasts/features, for which I’ve created my own site (Violet Cause). This all ties into the conundrum of my life right now – I previously had a stable job, a career, one which I was pretty good at. I was making a living but increasingly felt like I was imploding. I could pursue a career taking me abroad but to do a job I’m not especially energised by. Then I could pursue things which tap into what I love but offer little or no security.
This isn’t an uncommon puzzle, but I have to be conscious of the fact that I tend to detonate when things feel far beyond my control. Basically I need to find reasons to keep this thing going on my own terms, because I want to keep going.
Previously I described the elliptical influence critical psychiatrist Thomas Szasz has had on my life. He was not, however, the only figure of note and notoriety I discovered during that long hot summer of hospitalisation. There was one man who stood cloven hooves and horns above the rest: Anton Szandor LaVey.
Admit it. This is your OTP.
Context is everything. I was introduced to LaVey by S. She was from a wealthy, albeit insanely demanding and judgemental family. Her parents were a paradigm of unreasonable upper-middle class values, which irradiated well into the marrow of their young. S herself was one of the most beautiful people I’d ever seen in real life. The kind of woman often referred to as a ‘sex kitten’; with milky white skin, long dark hair and eyes which were darker still. That she was equally beautiful on the inside was practically miraculous.
She had nurtured a deep-seeded and accomplished talent for cocaine. The 12 steps didn’t seem to bother her that much, and her recovery took off with little drama. In fact things only slid whenever her parents came to visit. Its remarkable how much love and support can appear (to the casual observer) like two pricks berating their daughter for not being as innocent as her 14 year old sister. The irony being that S got on well with her sibling, who was herself in the nascent stages of this curious and apparently palatable form of domestic abuse.
I still have a letter S wrote me when she left. A sweet natured goodbye offering thanks for my friendship and inspiring words for the future. I’m not much for sentiment but I’ve kept it because it still means a lot, though I’ve come to appreciate LaVey’s The Satanic Bible far more.
She recommended it because of the surprisingly empowering message it relays. One sunny afternoon I signed myself out of the ward and marched to the nearest bookstore. It was there, it was cheap and I brought it back with me. At the time I found it fascinating more than practical. A curiosity of the Age of Aquarius, promising a spiritual and cultural revolution which remains a work in progress. Even today I’ve little interest in the ritual practice of LaVeyan Satanism; but the philosophy and tenets of it tend toward both common sense and self-empowerment.
‘Why not really be honest and if you are going to create a god in your image, why not create that god as yourself.’ LaVey believed that no day was more sacred than the date of one’s birth. Everything about his “faith” is seemingly geared towards the promotion of the rights and sanctity of the individual.
Its understandable why S would’ve been drawn to this, and why she would have recommended it to others. As egomaniacal as it reads, the notion of deifying yourself does appeal to me. Not that I see myself as some omnipotent entity, rather I believe that we all the singularity at the core of our own inexhaustive thought-universe.
Affirming your place at the centre gives you a stable zero-point. A noticeable characteristic of my thought-universe is the revolution of my moods, which modern psychiatry labels bipolar disorder. By acknowledging that I do not consider it a disorder or “illness”, I’m gradually, increasingly able to make peace with the experience. I’ve reclaimed it, seized it from conventional wisdom, brought it into my own thought-universe and am now looking into how I can live with it, and possibly craft it into something more.
Peter H. Gilmore, Magus and Church of Satan High Priest:
Satanism begins with atheism. We begin with the universe and say, “It’s indifferent. There’s no God, there’s no Devil. No one cares!” So you then have to make a decision that places yourself at the center of your own subjective universe, because of course we can’t have any kind of objective contact with everything that exists. That’s rather arrogant and delusional, people who try to put things that way.
A secular “religion” with ritualistic practices was somewhat baffling when I first read the …Bible. Some of the apparent inconsistencies jarred with me – if god does not exist, and there is no validity in theism of any kind, why base your whole movement on the symbols, scriptures and themes of those you oppose? In an interview with Wikinews back in 2007, Gilmore drew a distinction between LaVeyan Satanists and Christian or theistic Satanists (“devil worshippers”), and offered something of a resolution to this conflict:
Satan is a model or a mode of behavior. Satan in Hebrew means “adversary” or “opposer”; one who questions. Since we generally are skeptical atheists, we question all spirituality. We believe that carnality is all that exists and the spiritual dimensions are fictional. So we stand against eastern and western religions that promote fictions, according to our perspectives. So we are adversaries. Satan to us is an exemplar. When we look at how he is portrayed by Mark Twain in Letters from the Earth, or Byron, or Milton’s Paradise Lost, he ends up being an inspirational symbol to us. We say we would like to be more like that. We will not bow our heads; we will be independent. We will constantly question.
S was not a Satanist I far as I knew, though subscription isn’t the point. In that clinic questions were all we had. Staring into the mirror, under the microscope of the harshest critic you can ever have. For her it was about her addiction – where it sprung from, where it’d taken her, how she could atone for the things she’d done and how she could build a new life for herself. She opposed the subtle tyranny of her parents; people shielded by a fiction of their own morality and respectability.
Essentially we’re discussing pragmatic belief systems. Chaos magick is perhaps an open source variant, though I still find even self generated ritualism beyond me. Not that I consider myself an especially rational animal; rather I’m loathe to assemble materials and invoke. Part laziness, part gluttonous immersion in my own imagination. I don’t feel the need for candles or sigils. For now, at least, I’m the altar, the offering and the paradigm shift.
LaVey did a pretty decent job on this apparent contradiction too, defining magic as:
…The change situations or events in accordance with one’s will, which would, using normally accepted methods, be unchangeable. This admittedly leaves a large area for personal interpretation. It will be said, by some, that these instructions and procedures are nothing more than applied psychology, or scientific fact, called by “magical” terminology – until they arrive at a passage in the text that is “based on no known scientific finding.”
Even in grey areas, LaVeyan Satanism holds true to its insistence on ceaseless challenge and inquiry; and the primacy of the self. ‘Magic is never totally scientifically explainable, but science has always been, at one time or another, considered magic’ LaVey tells us. Compare that to what one consultant told the New Yorker about the DSM-III back in 1980: ‘There was very little systematic research, and much of the research that existed was really a hodgepodge—scattered, inconsistent, ambiguous.’ Is modern psychiatry just a megalithic form of Chaos Magick; appropriating the symbols and paraphernalia of science much as LaVey wielded chalice and phallus beneath the Knights Templar Symbol of Baphomet?
Now I find myself on a critical path. Querying the way I have lived my life since that long, dark summer. I cannot identify what I’m thinking, feeling and living with as the disease-entity Dr Sri insists it is. This alien, antithetical presence with no redeeming features. As a part of my thought-universe, I consider what he would have me call a ‘disorder’ an adaptation – a mutagenic response to the nightmare I was living through. I couldn’t reconcile my internal and external worlds, and my mind responded by inducing a greater capacity for separating my elements of self. In his superb Strictly Bipolar, Darian Leader writes:
Manic-depression is the effort to separate, to maintain an elementary differentiation in the place of a more confusing and more painful set of contradictions. And this is perhaps the real sense of bipolar: not the alteration of moods that much contemporary psychiatry is so eager to pathologize…
in this time of my life, I feel ready to take responsibility. This is the time my Will needs to come to the fore. I’ll pick and choose and experiment – a little psychiatry here, a dash of mindfulness and Chaos there…. I’ll look for new avenues and opportunities, and understand that whatever this is, it is mine.
During the 2005 Horizon documentary “The Hawking Paradox”, American theoretical physicist Kip Thorne described how Stephen Hawking was able to turn his ALS to his advantage. Considering the severity of his disability (and that he was only given two years to live), Professor Hawking is a paragon of triumph over adversity.
The rate of progression amongst patients varies, and tends to be slower in patients under the age of 40 (Hawking was 22 at diagnosis). It’s a depressing irony that one of history’s most dynamic, engaging and formidable minds is effectively under siege within his own body.
Thorne describes how:
He had to develop a whole new way, different from the rest of us, for working with the mathematics of Einstein’s relativity. He learned to do it entirely in his brain, without the benefit of writing things down.
Compared to these two, my mind is dwarfed by factors of infinity. Whilst not drawing any direct comparisons with me or anyone else I’ve ever known personally; the story of Hawking’s adaptation could be a millimetre perfect analogy for the idea of ‘dangerous gifts.‘
The question: “What are the potential gifts/benefits when you’re bipolar, depressed, schizophrenic, anorexic…?” I won’t presume to speak for anyone when I infer that such dispositions actually have any benefits, so the focus should be on exploring what benefits we could draw from them.
There are some behavioural traits that spring immediately to mind, at least in my experience. I tend to notice them at work: higher energy levels, decreased need for rest or to eat. Thinking about Hawking however, I’m prompted to focus upon the cognitive aspects; which by their nature will be nebulous and harder to describe.
One thing I’ve experienced is a higher “processing speed.” I love pseudo-technical labels for my disposition, and I find this one quite apt. Presenting in hypomanic states, it ramps up my ability to grasp a concept or problem and strategise to a resolution. These resolutions aren’t always the most obvious or even the most effective, but I worth a go more often than not . Combined with a hyper-focus on ‘thinking outside of the box‘, I’m usually able to synthesize a new way of solving or achieving something that others around me may have missed. I work in a bookstore, so an obvious example is reorganising a section in a way which defies the merchandising guidelines but makes the section friendlier to the customer. This is easily quantifiable, as the reality of modern bookselling involves a lot of time staring at financial reports.
Enhanced empathy isn’t an unreasonable. Even if its a passive ability, it has to be there: the experience of emotional pain, mania, psychosis, obsession…a vast litany of states which you’re more likely to recognise when another is subject to them.
Speaking of Hawking and Friends, a curious one I think about more and more is time. Though it doesn’t capture the whole experience; one facet is that I imagine very real conversations with people in the past, often reliving the event rather than simply remembering it. This may or may not involve changing responses, which hinge on how well it went the last time around. As I get older I “experience” conversations I’m “going” to have with important people. Specifically nieces and nephews who do not, and may never, exist.
I think about the things they may ask or want to discuss. I explain my opinions and offer advice, sometimes just chew the fat with them. Its usually nieces and nephews because my brother and his wife aren’t far off from procreating. And given that I’m not wild about passing on my genes, there may be some kind of displacement going on. The benefits here? I’m amassing a cache of pre-prepared ideas that may be of use to others in the future.
There’s likely many I’m missing, and I’m curious if anyone reading this would like to offer any of their own? I wonder if my offerings aren’t as uncommon as I imagine, even among “normal” people. It would be interesting if the time one and the wings aren’t quite so freaksome as I believe.
I have a long standing love of science and particularly astrophysics. Anyone who fails to see how awe and wonder can come from the world of science would do well to look into the work of Einstein and Feynman and Dirac and Sagan, and a constellation of other thinkers. I’ve encountered people who, while seeking alternatives to the language and practice of mental health, seem distrustful of scientific terms and concepts. While not pure science, modern psychiatry (even in its darker excesses) benefits from its approximation to scientific veracity, so this is understandable even if not directly applicable to me.
The trend is towards more spiritual formulations. Shamanism is common and, I feel, very very useful as both a paradigm and an approach to the business of living. Its an area I’d like to dive into, and in the spirit of Chaos Magick (a subject I want to discuss at another time, just like Satanism), shifting between mystical and some more pseudo-scientific paradigms appeal even more. Given that I’m a colossal geek with a love of Japanese RPGs, the term “Magitek” springs to mind; but these are stories for another entry.
Kip Thorne said this too:
He had to develop a whole new way, different from the rest of us, for working with the mathematics of Einstein’s relativity. He learned to do it entirely in his brain, without the benefit of writing things down. He developed a way of doing it that involved manipulating images of the shapes of objects, the shapes of curves, the shapes of surfaces not in the three dimensional space but in four dimensional space plus time.