The world as surreality


I marvel at the perfection of this photograph. Was its juxtaposition of seemingly unrelated images casual or planned, irrational or brilliant, and what was going on inside the head of the cat? I gave up marijuana because it had come to make my world so weird that I would get lost in my mind, yet I find myself seeking out marijuana-like experiences that cause me to get lost in my mind, experiences that are more intimidating than marijuana because they take me so far adrift that I can never quite return to where I started.

Few people would be strongly affected by this photograph. Cat-lovers would smile and find it relaxing, while cat-haters would become so fixated on the object of their hatred that they would be blind to everything else. I find it as deep, mysterious, and frightening as a glimpse into the far side of the universe. It leaves my stomach weightless, and it saddens me more than the photo of that naked Vietnamese girl, the execution of that Vietcong man, or the planes crashing into the twin towers. While they merely speak of the cruelty, shallowness, stupidity, terror, and misery of my species, this photograph juxtaposes mortality and infinitude, contentment and isolation, beauty and meaninglessness, perfection and casualness, mundanity and ethereality, superficiality and depth. It pronounces life as the purpose of life.

...I’ll let you in on a secret. I have often felt both inferior and superior to everyone around me, but with the passing years (but especially since I broke my back on November 30), I have come to compare myself to others less, my more recent feeling being that I have simply moved to a distant realm, and am therefore limited in my ability to relate to them, or them to me.

My goal with hallucinogenics was to feel as I do now, but having achieved that goal in the absence of drugs, I miss normalcy, and I worry that I might eventually travel so far that I'll be permanently alone in the universe. Indeed, I am already alone—just as we all are—but it’s one thing to be a certain way and pretend you're not, and another to be unable to forget that you're that way. I see others as through the wrong end of a telescope. Inside my head, worlds collide, and I am in wonder that no one hears them. I have no ground on which to stand and no voice to guide me. Maybe this is wisdom, or what some call God, or borderline insanity. I just know that it is interesting but not fun, and that it seems far from safe. Rather, it is reminiscent of the insights that one might expect just before death when the things that one spent a lifetime fretting over have ceased to matter. Ironically, I conduct myself much as before because I live a contradiction between what I know of the groundlessness of reality versus the only methods I know—or used to think I knew—to achieve security (possessions, orderliness, leisure, intimacy, projects, exercise, time outdoors), and I so crave security that I would do anything to possess it, even sacrificing my integrity if such a thing were possible. Unfortunately, perhaps, I possess an integrity beyond choice, an integrity for which I can no credit and that, like everything else about me, will soon be extinguished.

“…Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what’s really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now...” Philip Larkin

People generally think that being high means being happy, but being high simply means being altered, and this means that taking drugs often represents an attempt, not to get high, but to escape being high. Sedatives, for example. Narcotics, for example. Tranquilizers, for example. Alcohol, for example.

I saw my internist last week and, at my request, he prescribed Cymbalta. I’ve had it before, but I don’t think I was on it for long, and I’m not even sure I worked up to a full dose. Until a few months ago, when it went generic, Cymbalta was expensive. Even now, it will cost me $205 a month ($42 after my $360 yearly deductible), which isn’t a lot—as drugs go—but it is one more expense added to many such expenses (I just paid $1,400 for an adjustable bed), so I debated long and hard whether to ask for it. If it works, it will even me out while at the same time reducing my pain. Pain alone can made a person crazy, and I’m tired of being crazy. I want the insights that come with pain and the proximity of death, but I need respite from the weirdness, yet I worry that the drug will numb me because that’s what such drugs have done in the past. They build a floor that keeps me from the pit, but they also impose a ceiling that shuts out the stars. I regard Cymbalta as my last resort because no other drug has so great a potential to alter both pain and mood, and because I don’t know what else to do, having tried many things over many years.

I read a book about Sigmund Freud recently, and the author made what to me was the strangest comment. He said that Freud was so troubled that he reflected upon death everyday, to which I thought, Only everyday?

“Unresting death, a whole day nearer now…” Larkin

“I fear no foe with thee at hand to bless. Ills have no weight and tears no bitterness. Where death thy sting; where grave thy victory?” Henry Francis Lyte

“No trick dispels. Religion used to try…” Larkin

“Boris: “Nothingness. Non-existence. Black emptiness.’
“Sonia: ‘What did you say?’
“Boris: ‘I was just planning my future.’” Woody Allen

To be preoccupied with death is very different from being preoccupied with work, bills, and family, because the others admit of resolution. Death is resolution, but it is resolution by annihilation, and annihilation itself can never be resolved. I don't, therefore, see death as resolution but as of the end of any possibility of resolution.

My diminishing number of posts is not due to unwillingness to share but to an absence of words and confidence. If the gulf between myself and others is such that I can’t make myself understood about things that I once felt sure I could express, how can I make myself understood about things that I’m sure I can’t express, and in which, to put it bluntly, I don’t think there’s much interest anyway. 

I saw all I could stand of House on Haunted Hill last night, shocked that such a boring and silly movie could have had such an overwhelming and lasting impact on me in 1958 (unless I was an entirely different person then, and I don’t think I was). I interpreted my opposing perceptions to suggest that an equal amount of change might still be possible for me in a mere 75 minutes. Then I remembered that 75 minutes is an enormous amount of time, it having only taken a second for me to fall out of that tree on November 30, and even that was a veritable eternity given that more change can come into a person's life in a millisecond than in the rest of life combined.

“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.” Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

This is the kind of statement that leaves atheists cold, but due to my need for security (taking such a view would permit me to overlay my humanity with a superior persona that would allow me to transcend a portion of the pain), and my desire to be fair to people whose beliefs differ from my own, I tried to discover how Chardin defined spiritual being so that I could make sense of his statement, but so far as I know, he never defined it. I angrily wondered if he had knowingly devoted his life to promulgating an undefined concept, and this left me to suspect that his statement was nothing more than rhetorical pablum, by which I mean an utterance that could only be considered deep and comforting by the shallow; sort of a counterexample of the profundity with which House on Haunted Hill impressed me when I was nine.

As I continued to ponder what he might have meant, it came to me in the wee hours that spirit is consciousness in the absence of matter. This is surely obvious, but since I had never put it into words, I was pleased with my 3:00 a.m. perceptiveness until it struck me that such a definition is no better than defining a unicorn as a flying horse with a horn on its head. To envision what something is, doesn’t suggest that it is, although, to be strictly honest, many things—everything, really—exists without me having a clue as to what it is, how it came to be, or even how it can be; I only know how things appear to me, and I am losing even that. To live with awe and wonder is entertaining, but to live with nothing but awe and wonder has removed the earth from beneath my feet and left me nauseous and floating.

“And then all of a sudden, there it was, clear as day: existence had suddenly unveiled itself. It had lost the harmless look of an abstract category: it was the very paste of things..., this [chestnut] root was kneaded into existence. Or rather the root, the park gates, the bench, the sparse grass, all that had vanished: the diversity of things, their individuality, were only an appearance, a veneer. This veneer had melted, leaving soft, monstrous masses, all in disorder—naked, in a frightful, obscene nakedness… All these objects . . . how can I explain? They inconvenienced me; I would have liked them to exist less strongly, more dryly, in a more abstract way, with more reserve.” Sartre

Thus did Sartre define what it means to me to be really high. It is not a good place to get stuck, but I am stuck, and the proximity of death makes it impossible for me to come down.

“…existence hides itself. It is there, around us, in us, it is us, you can’t say two words without mentioning it, but you can never touch it.” Sartre

This illustration of Shiva describes my visceral sense much of the time. I debated sharing it because I recognize it for what it is, a visual trick, a manipulation (as its title, Shiva Optical Illusion, suggests), and therefore a dishonesty and a seemingly adolescent dishonesty at that. Yet, I include it because, like the first photograph, it conveys with imagery what I can't say with words, and because I suspect that all art--and literature--represents an effort at manipulation. Indeed, most of what we do amounts to the manipulation of ourselves, of others, or of both, and those who least succeed at this are likewise the least happy, the least successful, and the least long-lived. Too much honesty (more than is practical) is an evolutionary dead-end . 


As with the photo at top, I am sad to say that I can't credit the creator of "Shiva Optical Illusion." I only know that he calls himself Vishnu108, that he's a Hare Krishna, and that his work can be found at deviantART.com.

24 comments:

Charles Gramlich said...

It's primarily in dreams that I've experienced the hallucinogenic world, the surreal world, perhaps the real world.

Charles Gramlich said...

It's primarily in dreams that I've experienced the hallucinogenic world, the surreal world, perhaps the real world.

Snowbrush said...

I've head that people who take a lot of hallucinogenics tend to repeat themselves. Have you found that to be true, Charles?

kylie said...

i dont have chronic pain or take any kind of drugs at all but i still feel disconnected. i soothe myself with the (delusion?) that i dont connect with people because i operate on a whole different plane.

Elephant's Child said...

Oh Snow. There is a lot to consider in this post - as there often is in your work.
That first photo is one that I find comforting - I like the juxtaposition of the very disparate concepts within it - life is confusing. I cannot find a meaning - it just is. Which is fine by me.
And I am sorry that it is causing you yet more torment.
I am going away to think about this post some more - and may well be back.

The Blog Fodder said...

Your description of that beautiful photo was perfect.

PhilipH said...

I was speaking with my sis-in-law last night. She asked about my brother David who is dying in a painful way and she asked about my 7 years of heart trouble. She went on about 'life after death' and other fanciful stuff (she was an evangelical missionary in Kobe, Japan until she retired about 20 years ago). She is so confident about the 'after life' and she never ends a chat without a "Bless you..."
I never contradict her. No point.
To me, death used to be something I feared. I couldn't see how there could be oblivion, nothingness.
Now I am totally unafraid and almost welcoming the end, even more so for my brother David.
Apart from procreation there is absolutely no point to life. None whatsoever.
By the way: Philip Larkin, what a great poet. He used to live not far from where I now live, in Hull, and he now gets more credit dead than when alive. A bit like Vincent van Gogh et al.

Stephen Hayes said...

There's no such thing as the "real" world." Everything is concocted by our imaginations. We are each and every one of us the center and creator of our own universe, our own existence. Plato was wrong; there are no absolutes.

lotta joy said...

It's been said that a coward dies many deaths, a brave man only one. Well, no coward could have survived the life I survived, but I've lived a life built around dying. My constant thought is my constant companion and as others laugh and live, I contemplate death.

My mind has been called "morbid" and it is. Sorry. I'd not have chosen this way of thinking. It seems to have chosen me.

My husband says "I'd hate to see inside your mind. HOW can you live like you do?" Not happily, that's a given.

He will die once and be done with it. I have lived a wasted life dreading death, and NOT because I'm an athiest, for I feared death while being a believer no differently than I do now.

When I cautiously ask if a person ever thinks about dying, they are as shocked at my question as I am by their answer, which is usually full of exuberance over the excitement they will continue to experience until they experience it no more.

I see EVERY moment as a possible fatality.

Either way, it's "poof" and you're gone as if you never existed. I DON'T want to die screaming. I fear the final "ARGGHHHH", and then, nothing. But a life lived in fear was not my choice, and a more miserable life I cannot imagine.

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

Snow, there is much to ponder here and my head is so foggy from codeine and allergy meds and my own grief at the moment, I fear I won't make any sense.

I so get your need to be present and fear of pain (craziness from pain). I guess all any of us can do is simply the best we can with what we have, no matter what we make of life.

"I have often felt both inferior and superior to everyone around me" I suffer from this as well and I wonder what it says about me. I know many that compare and feel superior but very few that admit to the other side of that coin.

I wish you peace and some pain free sleep!

Paula Kaye said...

The first three paragraphs of this post speak to me....I hope you find some type of peace soon!

Strayer said...

I try not to think about death much and hope when it comes, it comes quickly, zap, boom, gone, not lingering, to require dread, contemplation, regret, guilt, anything like that.

I see us as animals, like giant worms from mouth to butt end, that over time, formed a body about the worm tube, and and brain to better interface with the rest of existence, so as to better find food. A giant squiggling snake worm, with a brain and now feet and mobile.

You think a lot about purpose about who we are or should be or could be. About our inevitable ends. It's really tragic from one viewpoint that great minds die just the same as those underutilized. It is also tragic that a thinking human will spend more time in fear of death, than others who can believe in fairy tales and fantasies about death and afterlife. I used to fear death. I used to be unable to stare into the stars at night. I have had cats who feared death. They were not the cowards, they were the contemplative smarter cats. They know its coming. There's no big meaning to life, other than what we make of it. Blank slate sort of thing. Paint it yours. Most peoples in this world barely survive, scrap for every tiny comfort, live in hunger and insecurity of every kind.

I watched a movie once about a guy, in China, as WWII breaks out, his friend beheaded by Japanese. He flees, ends up at an orphanage, takes on the cause of reviving it, saving the orphans from the war, and when the time came, the danger drew near of the war, relocating all those orphans, in an epic trek by foot through the mountains. As they near their destination, he is poked by wagon part. He becomes ill, and dies of tetanus. He dies happy, loved, cherished, in history also. He painted his short life a bright color.

The photo was massive and beautiful. Your description of its meaning was huge, also.

Furry Bottoms said...

Wow. I was about to say maybe you've achieved a state of yen on a certain level, but then again I thought... no way. Not with pain. Not with all those drugs.

This post leaves a lot to consider.

The photograph made me smile, the cat made me smile. The perfection made me sigh in contentment, that is true. Until I saw the man in the far background, then I felt intruded upon. It's shows me the universal truth... whether you be an atheist or not. You are NEVER alone. Ever.

I myself am not afraid of death. I don't want to die in agony, but how can I be selfish.

You, my man. I think you put a lot of thought into a lot of thinking.

Joe Pereira said...

That top photo is a masterpiece. Nature as a canvas painted with the imposing touch of humanity. Like your writing. Keep posting Snow, even when you're short of material you still say more than most :)

Helen said...

I look at the photo and wonder where the owner of that straw hat is hiding .. have she and the gentleman had a quarrel? Will she return? Has she taken on the contented cat's persona? Does the man care? No, I'm not high ... Your posts always take me to another realm, out of my comfort zone AND I love that about you! Sweet dreams tonight, Snowy.

Snowbrush said...

"i still feel disconnected. i soothe myself with the (delusion?) that i dont connect with people because i operate on a whole different plane."

The question that comes to my mind is whether people like you when you're trying to get along with them. I believe that most people like me better than I like them, so I'm less concerned on that score than I was for much of my life when I wanted friends so badly but could never feel that (a) I had enough of them, or that (b) the ones that I did have cared for me as much as I cared for them. Neediness sucks, and age (at least it's partly age) has brought me two blessings in relation to neediness. One is that I'm not a slave to the beauty of women, and the second is that my biggest problem with people isn't needing them desperately, but finding enough good in them to want to be around them. On the one hand, I feel the need to have people in my life in order to feel connected, supported, and well-balanced, but on the other, the rewards of being among people are usually so scant that it's hard to force myself, especially with people who I don't already know.

"I look at the photo and wonder where the owner of that straw hat is hiding..."

I assume that it belonged to the photographer. I just don't know why it was there. If she was an amateur, she might have simply put it there so it wouldn't be in her way, but if she was a artist, she might have put it there for effect. I interpret this photo as an example of surrealism, and I doubt that anything in it that could be controlled wasn't controlled. I think the photographer did her photo as I do my writing. However bad it turns out, it's not for a lack of trying to make it good.

Snowbrush said...

"I am sorry that it is causing you yet more torment."

I wouldn't have you feel this way. Even in my darkest moments, I still entertain some faith that I am on the path that I should be.

"I was about to say maybe you've achieved a state of yen on a certain level, but then again I thought... no way. Not with pain. Not with all those drugs."

As Japanese Zen master Oda Sesso wrote, “There is little to choose between a man lying in the ditch heavily drunk on rice liquor, and a man heavily drunk on his own ‘enlightenment’!”

possum said...

So often your posts leave me speechless. Perhaps that is for the best since I don't know what to say. I just wait for the next chapter.

possum said...

I left your blog and found this in the next one I opened... and thought of you.

There are extraordinary benefits from becoming observers of our own thoughts rather than their victims. David Michie
the Dalai Lama's Cat

goatman said...


I like the Pierre Teilhard de Chardin quote; and your writing is descriptive and interesting.

Snowbrush said...

"I have had cats who feared death. They were not the cowards, they were the contemplative smarter cats."

Although I don't feel smarter in terms of IQ, I do recognize that I have greater depth and honesty than most people. On the one hand, it would be reasonable to point out that it's senseless to contemplate that which can't be avoided but probably won't happen today, i.e. death, but I would reply that the fact of death tells us of our place in the universe and our relationship to one another. I therefore consider it a greater mistake--if a mistake it is--to ignore death or to create fantasies that deny its reality. Of course, all that matters in evolutionary terms is survival, and does contemplating death promote survival? Surely not, but it's not clear to me that the goal of evolution is something that I as an individual should care about. After all, evolution cares not a fig for me--or for art, music, morality, sensitivity, intelligence, philosophy, or anything else BUT survival. It's as single-minded (to speak metaphorically) as a missile that's racing for a target without the least regard for what happens once it gets there.

"There are extraordinary benefits from becoming observers of our own thoughts rather than their victims."

Are you familiar with Eckhart Tolle? As I understand him, his teachings are founded upon non-identification with (what we call) ourselves and upon identification with what he claims is a higher awareness underying ourselves. I was in so much pain one night that I was unable to separate myself into these two parts. It was as if the pain had filled every space and taken away everything, and I've never since been as open to such a possibility, but it is an interesting exercise. I watched one of his Youtube videos in preparation for writing this response to your comment, and I was struck that he made fun of those who wanted to know the basis for his teachings rather than simply accepting them as higher wisdom and letting it go at that (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j42cTkiGdXY). I always hear alarm bells when I read such things because anyone can say them about any belief, and I therefore interpret them as an unwarranted attempt at dismissal and deflection.

"your writing is descriptive and interesting."

Thank you, Goatman. Since you are familiar with the de Chardin quote, maybe you can tell me what a "spiritual being" is.

Snowbrush said...

"I used to be unable to stare into the stars at night."

I thought this was an incredibly powerful statement, but I also wondered how you could NOT look. I thought of it in terms of being overtaken by a mountain lion that you had every confidence would soon kill you no matter what you did. Would you (I) therefore watch it, or turn away? Either route would be the product of a mind that was consumed by fear, but would they be equally inspired by fear?

"The photograph made me smile, the cat made me smile. The perfection made me sigh in contentment, that is true. Until I saw the man in the far background, then I felt intruded upon."

I felt that his being there was "right," just as the cats being there was right. They were each in their own world, yet those worlds intersected in a way that neither might have been aware of or understood if they were aware of it. The man's presence, for me, heightened the surreal aspect of the photo. What I mean is that there was no obvious reason for him to be there, yet his beingness there was perfect (perhaps because it was placid and remote while at the same time immediate and companionable). His momentary perfection was also beyond his ability to have earned by conscious work or thought. In other words, it just was. He didn't need to do anything but to simply be for that moment and in that place.

Snowbrush said...

"I guess all any of us can do is simply the best we can with what we have, no matter what we make of life."

But do we all do that? It's hard to look at how badly people behave and think they do, but to think that they don't means that there's no basis for forgiveness or compassion.

"I don't want to die in agony, but how can I be selfish."

I don't consider suicide necessarily selfish, but at any rate why focus on the fact that it often is selfish while ignoring the possibility that a person might be equally or more selfish for demanding that a loved one go on living no matter how painful or hopeless the situation?

"You, my man. I think you put a lot of thought into a lot of thinking."

Not to mention thinking about thinking about thinking about thinking about thinking. Ha.

"I myself am not afraid of death."

I suppose that, by the time it comes, it would be just as well to welcome it as long as one didn't have to welcome it for too long.

Robin said...

Not a philosophical comment from me...I love the painting..however one looks at it... I also love *The House on Haunted Hill*...

I do hope you never stop looking up at the Stars...

Love, always, and a kiss to Brewsky!

♥ Robin ♥