Tuesday, October 30, 2012

An Acceptable Form of Schizophrenia

“Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”~Gene Fowler

“If I don't write to empty my mind, I go mad.”
~Lord Byron

“Writing is the hardest way of earning a living, with the possible exception of wrestling alligators.”
~Olin Miller
 

Writing is an exceedingly temperamental hobby to pursue.

You, reader, as a literate human {I am making some assumptions here, you are human?} have some experience with the fickle muse that is writing. I'm sure that you've had a paper or two to write, or you just felt like expressing thoughts via pen and paper {or keyboard and screen}.

It's possible that you're one of the gifted few, who never realizes how dreadful writing can be.
[If so, why are you reading this? I can offer little.]  

Or maybe, you're like me. You've realized more fully the fickleness that is subjective art.

A lesson I've learned:
Good writing, like good music, cannot be forced.

I know this well from experience.

I took years of classical piano at a young age.
I am no master pianist, even after the hours I labored, and *cough* the practicing I tried to evade.

Elation fills me when I realize that there is NO MORE PRACTICING PIANO.
You'd think eventually, there would be some sort of after-school-special lesson, some comforting moral to impart concerning practicing the piano.
Nope.  Not for this girl.
No regrets. I got what I needed and split.

From an early age, I adored the guitar; it's what drove me to practice piano.

My parents wanted me to be musically literate in piano before I pursued other instruments. It was smart of them, but honestly, piano just isn't my thing. However, I can play Fur Elise, so I am content.

I have a few brief moments of wishing I could play like a great composer, but those moments are fleeting.

I am still sick of that black-and-white-keyed instrument, though I can say that I have experienced that entrancing elusive musical muse from time to time.
It has not come from playing the piano. The muse comes with guitar and song.

When it comes, it's a beautiful feeling. (I won't judge the actual quality of my musical skills, because, in all honesty, I don't like the sound of my own voice. But I like the evoked feelings)

Back to writing. In writing, there will be rare days when the words just flow effortlessly.

An idea bubbles up.
Hazy ideas become sharp in my mind. They refuse repression. If I write those relentless words down, they can happily escape into the written world and trouble my mind no more. 
It feels as if these ideas are aching to be written and I am merely typing as fast as my fingers will allow.
I love those moments.
During those times, paper-writing is a breeze, and I sometimes even write a blog post or other nonsense. (though it may well not be "posted")


But then there are the other days.

Those other days, when writing anything, even:

"Today was Monday. It rained. It is gray outside and I am cold. I want coffee."

feels like a huge chore, something I can hardly bring myself to. The words are bland, the sentence structure awkward.

In such cases, when I force myself to write, it's an utter mess.

I wish I knew the secret of triggering that effortless ability.

Perhaps the key is just more writing?
With instruments, the key is practice. But you also must love what you do. Something about writing, I love, so therefore I will practice.

Maybe I will begin blogging more often, to exercise the creative writing section of my brain
(because we all know college papers do NOT inspire creativity. They inspire regurgitation and saying what professors want to read. )

It is put well this way:

“Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.”
~E. L. Doctorow  
 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

running. late. [part 2]

[for part one, see here.]

..."You are here for the experiment?", he asked.
I began, "Yes, you see I'm sorry I'm a few minutes late, but --"
He cut me off, looking past me. "Follow that man", he instructed.
Not realizing there was another person in the room, I first followed his gaze...

The man before me was nothing like I was expecting.



Long Blood Oozes Down.

The man wheeled close. He sat in a motorized scooter, staring at me behind thick glasses.

Long Blood Oozes Down.
I looked at the man as he departed the dark corner and approached the lighted section of the room.
I smiled and said hello. He continued to stare coldly.
As I took in more details, I saw he had short dark hair, slightly pocked face, and was moderately overweight. He wore a purple sweater and tattered khaki's. On his feet were battered, once-white New Balance shoes. Under his sweater was a holey gray T-shirt.
Thinking back, I have no idea how I remember these details, but they stick out sharply in my memory.
Long Blood Oozes Down.
He spoke and his voice was distinctive.
It was of a higher pitch than I expected, nasal, and his words came out as if his tongue was too large for his mouth. His volume was outright jarring.
The words that came out were slurred, and though I knew the general meaning of most what he said, I had to think hard.
I was becoming lost in thought and he repeated his words. I was to follow him, and he wheeled out of the room, into an adjacent room.

Long Blood Oozes Down.
The adjacent room was small, just large enough to accommodate two computer desks. An older man sat at one of the desks. He stood. He looked the picture of a professor, salt and pepper hair, glasses, mild-mannered. He introduced himself, Dr. ____. The professor told me that he would merely be observing the experiment, so I should just act as if he was not there.

After the professor introduced himself, I realized that the wheelchaired man never told me his name.

Long Blood Oozes Down.
The wheelchaired man spoke again. I still could not fully understand the meaning of his words, though I believe they were English.
He was telling me to sit at the empty computer desk.
Eager to be finished with the experiment, I sat.
Long Blood Oozes Down.

"NOW, YOU WILL NOTICE THE SIGN." It was going to take me a while to get used to that voice. Why didn't the professor say something to this guy? Like the fact that he was practically yelling indoors? I looked for a sign. He noticed I was scanning and pointed, "THERE, ON THE WALL." I saw a paper had been taped to the wall with an odd phrase.  "READ THE PHRASE ALOUD AND WORK ON THE COMPUTER."
I read the words on the sign aloud and clicked to start the computer program. The hum of the machines in the room were soothing.
Long Blood Oozes Down.
The computer instructions told me to memorize a string of letters and numbers silently. I clicked to continue.
"NO."
Jolted, I looked over at the wheelchaired man.
"NO. REPEAT THE PHRASE REPEATEDLY. THEN DO THE PROBLEMS. WHILE YOU REPEAT. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?" He spoke condescendingly as if I should have known.
"Oh. Okay, sorry. I didn't realize..."
"NO. NO OTHER WORDS. SAY NOTHING BUT THE PHRASE."
Long Blood Oozes Down.
This was beginning to strike me as weird. I glanced at the professor in the corner. He was taking notes and looking down. I could just leave. But this experiment was required for me to pass psychology. If I could get it over with, I wouldn't have to worry about participating in any other studies. If this was a taste of the experiments... who knows what the others would be like??
I stared at the screen.
Long Blood Oozes Down.

I took a breath.
I repeated the phrase.
I memorized letters.
I solved basic math problems.
I worked puzzles.
All the while repeating the phrase. The wheelchaired man just sat and stared at me. He was uncomfortably close, but I did my best to ignore it.
The phrase became a long string of nonsense sounds to me.
An hour passed.
I was almost lulled into a daze saying this phrase that had initially disturbed me, but was now simply a chant of nonsensical noises I was making with my vocal chords.
"NO, NO."
The man's loud nasal tones pulled me out of my chanting.
I looked over at him.
"NO. YOU MUST SAY THE WORDS CLEARLY."
While I am typing this in clear English, I had no idea what he was trying to say at first.
Long Blood Oozes Down.
"Could you elaborate, please?"
 He gave me an example of what he meant. He said the phrase, though I couldn't tell it was English. I repeated it to him verbatim, exactly how he said it.
"NO, THAT ISN'T IT"
I said the phrase using good enucication.
"YES. THAT IS BETTER", a nod.
I repeated the phrase.
After another half hour had passed.
Long Blood Oozes Down.
He handed me a piece of paper.
"READ THE SCREEN."
The screen told me I would answer trivia questions, but also I needed to remind my experimenter to call someone in 20 minutes, and to ask for a red pen on question 60. If I had any further questions, I was to ask my experimenter.
I had a question.
"WHAT?", he asked as if I shouldn't have questions.
"Can I write on this paper you gave me? Is that allowed?"
He nodded.
"Great!" I made a note of the instructions I was given on the front sheet.
He looked at me with a shocked expression.
"NO. NO. NO! YOU CAN NOT DO THAT."
"Why not? You said I could write on this paper, right?"
I could tell he was not happy.
"UMM." He paused, unsure how to continue. "You weren't supposed to do that." he said it quietly, as if I was in trouble.
"What do you want me to do? Do you have another paper?"
He pondered this, then shrugged it off.
"PROCEED WITH THE TESTING. AND SAY THE PHRASE."
I took a breath and started clicking. "REPEATEDLY," he added, as if I had forgotten his first outburst.

Long Blood Oozes Down.
I proceeded with the test. The only alteration I had made to my test paper was to add a star to question 60, though he had acted like it was the end of the world. I remembered the 20-minute-phone-call. When I told him, he nodded.
Um.
I wanted to tell him to go make his phone call. I wasn't sure if it was a test to see how persistent I was. The computer told me the experimenter was supposed to actually make a phone call. My guy was just sitting there, motionless, staring at the side of my head, breathing heavily. If he made a phone call, maybe he'd stop staring at me.
Long Blood Oozes Down.
I have decided that I don't like being stared at like that: coldly, unblinkingly.
The phrase again became a singsong mantra, though I said the words clearly.

I finished the questions.
"Anything else?", I asked.
"No. BUT," he leaned in, "I TELL YOU THIS: YOU MUST NOT SPEAK OF THIS TO ANYONE. TELL NO ONE WHAT YOU SAW TODAY. PROMISE OK?"
 Long Blood Oozes Down. 
I just stared blankly and stood. Freedom at last?
Long Blood Oozes Down.
The professor stood and shook my hand saying, "Thank you so much for your time. Have a pleasant day."
I felt strange.
Long Blood Oozes Down.
Two hours had passed in total in that closet-type room.
Long Blood Oozes Down.
Two hours repeating a mindless creepy phrase.
Long Blood Oozes Down.
 Two hours of my sanity sucked away.
Long Blood Oozes Down.
The rest of my day felt surreal, and not entirely pleasant.
I followed up my experiment time by clearing my head on a run.

I am still unsure what they were really testing: my ability to handle myself in a surreal setting? My ability to memorize useless facts?

I'll probably never know.
Long Blood Oozes Down.


Thursday, October 04, 2012

running. late.

 This is a true story and one of the weirdest things to happen to me in the past few weeks. I present part 1 of it:


Long blood oozes down.

I was running late.
I parked in my designated spot, grabbed my bag, and dashed out of my car. It was a mile to my meeting point, thanks to my far-off parking spot, but I had on running gear, as I was planning on going to the gym after my appointment. The day was warm and the sun was shining; I was going to participate in a research psychology project as a test subject. My professor had told me it would be educational and informative. I would be seeing "real-life" psychology work.

A sense of giddy expectation filled me as I anticipated what the project would be like. The description I had been given while signing up was vague; something concerning memory retention and basic skills.

I jogged across campus to the building.

Long blood oozes down.
I arrived at the drab building, breathless. I walked in, trying to figure out what floor my experiment would be on. The design of the building screamed 1960's "modern" architecture, which is not a beautiful sight in any situation. 
I scanned the directory at the entrance: my experiment was on the 7th floor. Currently being on the 2nd floor, and being short on time, I decided to take the stairs. 12 flights up and even more out of breath.

Long blood oozes down.
If anything could give me the creeps, I would say the 7th floor would be on that list. The floor plan was identical to the 2nd floor, but instead of tidy hallways and classrooms, cardboard boxes were stacked along the hallway walls, old office furniture sat in a pile. Rooms branched off of the square hallway, doors shut, contents undisclosed.  I was becoming disturbed by the unprofessional surroundings.

The premises were silent, aside from the occasional murmur of human voice coming from behind those closed doors. I saw one man walking the hall. We made eye contact, and I smiled, but he looked away and exited the floor, not adding to my comfort level.
The hallway wrapped around the floorplan in a square, making it hard to become lost, a security for which I was becoming increasingly thankful. It was not the kind of place you would want to be lost in, this seemingly deserted place with its harsh florescent lighting and linoleum floor.
Walking the square, I finally found the room I was supposed to enter. A hand-made sign scrawled in a shaky hand was posted beside the door. It read, "Experiment #156" with a wobbly arrow drawn beneath it, designating my place of entry. I took a breath, reminded myself that I also had pepper-spray on my keychain, and walked in. This was, after all, a university-sanctioned experiment.

Long blood oozes down.
I walked into the room, still slightly breathless from my exertion. Upon entering the room, a man, typing at a desk, looked up at me. His hair was well-kept, he wore a goatee, khakis, and a mild-mannered expression. His smile reassured me, he looked the picture of a calm, rational psychoanalyst. I felt myself relax slightly and began to feel more at ease despite feeling like I was in a storage container.
"You are here for the experiment?", he asked.
I began, "Yes, you see I'm sorry I'm a few minutes late, but --"
He cut me off, looking past me. "Follow that man", he instructed.
Not realizing there was another person in the room, I first followed his gaze...

The man before me was nothing like I was expecting.
(part 2)

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