I Am Finally Not Ill, But I Still Have Things To Say About It
|Jeffrey C. Brister||Sep 22|
Again, I am writing beginning the process of writing this particular section a day after publication of the previous week’s newsletter. I have no idea what I’m going to talk about, only a burning need to actually get some words on the page because I’ve spent the majority of this month so far trapped in the hellish prison of illness that is not severe enough to completely debilitate me and therefore cocoon my mind in a fever-powered delirium, nor mild enough to just shrug off. No, this illness, this mystery flu, it sat right in the middle, right in that agonizing spot of allowing you to maintain awareness of your entire body and the world around you, but bombarding you with enough symptoms of sufficient severity to completely derail your ability to adequately function.
In other words: I was awake for at least eighteen hours a day with a fever and no appetite (among other wonderful things), and I was completely conscious of what was happening. As you might guess, it was terrible.
But I thought to myself, hey, I can mine this for content, so let’s be sick with a mind towards having something to write about when this whole thing clears out of my system.
There is a strange sensation that I found myself reckoning with constantly, over and over, repeatedly, ad infinitum—you get the idea. When I would be stuck on the couch, in my robe and a blanket, shivering, my head throbbing, and my stomach empty but not making its familiar sounds for sustenance, staring absently at the youtube video playing on my television screen: is this going to be the rest of my life?
And I don’t mean that in the sense that I thought I was going to die in the immediate future. Looking back, it appeared to be nothing more than a particularly bad flu, but I’ve been struck with that particular kind of existential malaise before, usually during a particularly bad mental health episode.
One way to describe it is this: it’s like a more conceptual object permanence. You know how babies are, when you take the object out of their line of sight, that object suddenly ceases to exist. When you get older you learn that things still exist even when you can’t see them. Now imagine that with a chronological or temporal element. For some reason, my brain has sort of cut off the past and the future, along with their very necessary context and resolution, and has now forced me into some sort of eternal present.
The horizon of existence suddenly becomes very narrow. I suddenly cannot remember a time when I was not sick, because it feels like things have always been this way. Depression had this particular flavor. My feet would trudge along the ground, going about my day, and all I could think about was the fact that I’ve always had the same problems, they’ve never changed, and that’s just how things were going to be. It becomes an elegant little feedback loop of agony, a circular poetical justification for my suffering. Mental health breakdowns were certainly heavier on this aspect, which makes sense—my body would be fine, and therefore could comprehend continuing to exist, just not as anything other than a depressive shamble. But I would still feel like I would be doomed to live without a future, in a sort of lonely, gothic sense, in the world but not of it, unable to do anything that would allow me to find joy. It was an elegant, tragic thing, a beautiful snow globe I could trap myself within, and continually justify my lack of perspective. Simply because I was depressed.
Physical infirmity, on the other hand, tends to be more blunt and to the point, owing to the fact that bodily illnesses tend to be more forward and much more outwardly messy. The mind is still functioning normally (hopefully, having had a fever this round I was acutely aware that a small rise in temperature would consign me to fever delirium), and is able to process things at a rate that approaches normal. There’s a world beyond me, full of stimuli that I can process and engage with, all I need to do is summon it up.
But my own body conspires to prevent me from doing anything beyond sitting still and blankly staring at screens of flashing lights, not even allowing me to summon the strength to idly tap buttons while I’m doing it. Your past and future are cut away simply because the effort to conjure them up is too great in your current condition. I can focus on what is happening second to second, moment to moment, constantly being reintroduced to the same stretch of time anew—it is not even being in the present, it is being stuck in a constantly shifting “now”, where sensations are repeated ad infinitum, with no memory of things beforehand, and no prospects after. The second I’m able to get a temporal grasp on my situation, a particularly severe chill will wash over my body, or my headache will launch an acute spike of pain into the bridge of my nose, and there I’ll be, miserable and hot and cold and shaking and gunked up, unable to perceive a passage of time longer than a few minutes.
Thankfully, when the veil begins to lift, both mentally and physically, the horizon of possibility stretches out once more, and time once again turns into more than a procession of isolated moments of misery.
So that is how I’ve spent the first half of this month, only now emerging into the world again, which, in its cruel smallness because of the pandemic, bears a distressing familiarity to the world I occupied while ill—but I now have the upside of being able to perceive it all, and at least make the attempt to stay afloat.
Finished The Tyrant Baru Cormorant. A very dense book, plots turning inside of plots, endlessly, machinations clicking and whirring away, connecting to anything and everything. I’ll need to reread the series again. Dickinson loves piling on plot which can get exhausting, but his pacing and dialog do an incredible amount of work to keep things readable, if not legible.
Read Avengers: No Road Home and No Surrender back-to-back. They’re not great literature, but they make up for their lack of sophistication with a lot of heart, beautiful art, great character work, and oh-so-much action.
JSA by Geoff Johns Book One: this book came along at a very key transition point for superhero comics (DC especially), a period that I don’t think gets written about enough: right at the end of the 90’s, at the beginning of the 2000’s, right before Ultimate Spider-Man started, during New X-Men, the tail end of Robinson’s Starman. It was part of the shift, led by folks like Johns at DC and Bendis and Brubaker at Marvel, when comics started turning into what we’re reading now. There’s certainly a tension here, one that I feel merits more discussion. That contrast between the grim and violent action that demanded death and a need to write superheroics in a classical high-action, operatic and goofy tone. It’s never more apparent than in this comic, which I absolutely had no idea existed until a few weeks ago. Need to read more.
Finished both seasons of The Twilight Zone. In lieu of a review, I’ll say this: Jordan Peele’s best episode is Get Out.
Winnebago Man: an odd little documentary about a living contradiction. A man who is eloquent, well-spoken, and ferociously intelligent (and just plain ferocious), but impotent, angry, and frustrated. I took exception to its framing of Aleksey Vayner, he of the “Impossible Is Nothing” video, as some sort of hapless victim of cyberbullying akin to Star Wars Kid, rather than as a compulsive liar who decided to go a little too big and paid the price. But a compelling doc about a weird time in the modern internet.
Started Hades. A charming roguelike action-RPG, full of wonderful art direction and voice acting. It feels good to play, even if it’s no Dead Cells, though honestly, what is?
No fiction this week, again. I’m rethinking the general thrust of the newsletter. Writing extemporaneously is actually a pretty enjoyable process, and the task of coming up with something new to say each week has been a really good way to keep my mind on the page. Between coming up with stuff to say here and writing reviews, I find that I have the most to say in those arenas, and will probably push writing fiction off to the side for the time being.