I was actually going to name this post “Random Task” and include a photo of said character from the first Austin Powers movie. Then I read this article and…well, yeah.
Pardon my French for a moment, but what the fuck is wrong with people? And this article is more than 2 years old, which makes me even angrier that I have quoted his character during that time, while completely oblivious to the fact that he was part of such a heinous crime.
Can’t blame the character or the movie…but still.
I’m rambling now. I feel rambly and random (thus why I thought invoking Random Task would be funny). Last week was a blur of travel and work that has left me feeling quite off-kilter and extremely tired. It didn’t help much that we lost an hour of sleep this weekend, thanks to Daylight Savings Time. The good thing? Evening walks are now coming back into play. I’ve missed walking. I’ve missed the rhythmic movement, the welcome ache, the inevitable numbness.
I miss a lot of things. I miss being able to come here on a regular basis. Work has been a hot mess lately, though…not in a bad way. Just in a busy way. Busy is good. But I miss the lair.
I miss being able to come up with poignant posts. I feel as though I’ve lost something, some intrinsic ability to write more than surface-level mediocrity. I don’t feel invested enough in anything to reach a more meaningful depth of analysis or intricacy.
Okay, that’s not completely true. I did write this a while ago, about the young man arrested for shooting Gabrielle Giffords:
Alleged Tucson gunman Jared Loughner has mental problems.
He was a source of perplexity, distress, or vexation. He was an intricate, unsettled question. He apparently required a solution.
The only problem I see is with the use of a poorly chosen, and consequently damaging, turn of phrase.
See, contrary to the belief of some who have spoken about the recent tragic events in Tucson, I believe very strongly in the power of words. After all, if we don’t invest in the strength and meaning of words, how else do we communicate our beliefs, desires, needs, aspirations? What happens when words lose all meaning?
Words have unlimited power. The power to heal. The power to wound. The power to label erroneously. Jared Loughner did not have mental problems. Jared Loughner was fracturing right before the eyes of friends and family from the unrelenting pressure of mental illness.
Illness. An unhealthy condition of body or mind. Synonyms include disorder, disease, malady, sickness. Trouble.
Jared Loughner was falling deeper into trouble of a plainly identifiable kind. If only more people were paying attention. If only those who were paying attention had done more to help him.
But his was a problem instead of an illness. He required a solution rather than treatment. The solution was to ignore him. Ostracize him to the fantasy world that was spiraling out before him in a discordant diaspora of disconnectedness, isolation, and obsession.
It’s so much easier when the signs of illness are physical, tangible, visible. High fever. Flushed skin. The diabetic sweetness of breath or the sickly stench of gangrenous flesh. Milky opaqueness of cataracts, paralysis. These things we believe because our senses never lie.
There is no tangible evidence of actual mental illness, nothing we can hold up to the light and nod in confirmation and say decisively, “Yes, look right here, his mind is broken. We’ve found the problem.”
The brain is a complexity that we will never understand. Whether you believe it is a gift from a higher power or an evolutionary marvel, there is no denying that we are not our hair or eyes or mouths or limbs. We are our brains. We reside in the tangle of synapses that fire away, generating our opinions, our personalities, our beliefs, our fears.
Damage all else, but I am still me. Damage my brain and who was I? And who will I become?
Something misfired in Loughner’s brain and he began to transform. Had his metamorphosis been more Kafka-esque, more might have been done to help him.
This is not the first time a mental illness has been allowed to spiral into a tragic and irreversible melee. And, sadly, I do not believe it will be the last. Why? Because we shun what we do not understand. And we do not like to take on problems that we cannot solve.
Instead, we vilify. We emblazon Loughner’s disturbing mug shot across front pages and television screens and comment about how “Hannibal Lecter takes a better mugshot.” We ascribe hatred and vitriol to our opinions of him.
And in our responses, we fail him. We fail those he killed. We fail those he injured.
In his speech at yesterday’s memorial gathering, President Obama said that these shootings had opened up a national conversation on “everything from the merits of gun safety laws to the adequacy of our mental health systems.”
Has it really? Perhaps. Or is it instead a conversation that flares and fades in the spark of a gunshot, swallowed by the ephemera once the eulogies for the latest round of victims have ended and the judgments have been cast?
Six people died and 13 people were injured. A congresswoman continues to struggle to come back from the precipice of a bullet through her brain. We cannot let this be yet another incident in a long trail of violence attributed to minds allowed to shatter without intercession.
We must do better for those who are mentally ill. Not problems. Ill. Jared Loughner gave all the indications that those around him needed, to know that something was going horribly wrong within his mind. Instead of trying to reach out to him, people instead withdrew from him. Feared him.
Playwright David Henry Hwang wrote in M. Butterfly, “Now I see — we are always most revolted by the things hidden within us.” We look into the eyes of madness and we see what could happen to us…and we loathe it. We loathe that our brains, these magnificent, complex machines, could betray us so easily, so inexplicably…so unstoppably. We cannot explain it. We cannot stop it. We cannot reverse it.
These are things we don’t wish to see. And so we look away. We ignore the obvious…and then we find ourselves right back where we have stood far too many times before.
I really hope that President Obama was serious about restarting the national conversation about mental health issues in this country. I hope that this is the lesson that will finally penetrate through the layers of hatred and divisiveness that have permeated American politics in recent years. That this will be the moment of clarity that we need to finally move forward in reaching out to each other with open hands rather than with fists clenched around pistols.
Why didn’t I post this when I wrote it? I’m not even sure anymore. Maybe because it felt too raw, too personal. Too empty. Too much. Too little. Never enough.
I’m not making much sense now, though. But I do miss coming here. I do have things to write, things to post. Not a lot of depth probably…but that’s okay, right? At least for right now.
I”ll be back like Arnie. I promise…