I know joy and terror so flipping well. They’re my baselines. My standard settings. The joy part is so good, and I walk through my days, silently or loudly marveling at things I feel I’m the only one worshipping: the wrinkles in my uncle’s t-shirt, a school hallway’s odor, the expression worn by a sleeping iguana, my big toe’s dark knuckle.
What a treat. The amazement that I find in these banalities verges towards mystical, I find myself wanting to find ways to stuff these phenomena into poems, and so thinking about them becomes their poetry. They get to live in my head as poems.
Thoughts are poems.
Very private poems.
Like I said, in addition to the extreme joy given to me by mundane things, I also feel terrorized at mundane moments.
The terror arrives prefaced by ifs.
A big terror I’ve carried with me since my teens is what if I become schizophrenic?
Schizophrenia runs in my family. It jogs through my family. It skips across us and tramples some of us.
My uncle’s schizophrenia allows him to say the most amazing things at times.
“Do you love me?” I asked him the other day.
“So far,” he answered.
Yesterday, I brought him a gift. He had specifically requested a “Chinese back scratcher” and I scrounged up what I believed to be an adequate specimen and brought it to his nursing home. I slid it out of my purse, and he held and beheld the bamboo wand with the mock hand at its tip, acquainting himself with it in a way that demonstrated the verb to marvel. He looked into the face painted on it’s wooden knob, an Asian woman with pursed lips.
My uncle wisecracked, “Opium den.”
He looked up at me. I was sitting in a wheelchair at his bedside. I was wearing a plain black dress with a large beige collar.
“Puritan,” he said, as if naming me, not describing me.
Since both of my grandmothers developed dementia, I have a new fear.
I fear my female mind completely fading. In this fear, it becomes the ultimate nothingness, a total lack, the absentia that I visualize when I visualize the abstraction of a vagina.
This makes me angry because all the feminists in my life advised me to work on my brain so that I’d have something other than my body to rely on. I’ve even heard Judge Judy rant, “Beauty fades! Dumb is forever!” at pretty litigants who wind up in her courtroom burdened by choices that were guided by something other than their brains.
Judge Judy is usually right, but on this, she’s wrong. Your dumb mind can become no mind at all.
All that work that we do to become interesting people who know things that we can talk to other people about could eventually become useless.
I think the cure to this new fear might be to honor the nothingness that I’m probably bound to become a few times a day, just so that I can get used to it.