Saturday, August 15, 2020
A Life of Illusion: Chapter 2: Welcome to Paradise
Dot sits at her desk in the Yellow Submarine, once again determined to write. She and Albert (who goes by Bert), her partner of 23 years, have just listened to an audiobook for about an hour and a half, while both drawing a still life of a lamp, a teacup, and a spoon. She was using fountain pen and ink, while Bert used a charcoal pencil. She had been diving down the fountain pen rabbit hole for a few years, but had not really gotten to use them for art as she had originally intended. Her journey into fountain pens came from wanting more line variability than is achieved with markers and ball point pens, and also wanting an easy way to travel with a waterproof ink.
Only, she found out right away that waterproof inks don’t really get along with fountain pens. Or at least not all of them do. She had the entirely wrong ink and pen combination on the first get go. The ink dried inside the pen, which was sad because it was a special pen to her. It was the most expensive pen she had purchased at that point, at about $36 US dollars, so she felt badly about wasting the money. It was shiny red and had concentric mandala-like spots all over it. The nib had a lovely etching on it, too. It was like what she would have designed in her head if she had been into fountain pens as a kid. The thing just made her want to write, or draw, or… something! So, when she ordered a sampling of waterproof inks from one of her favorite fountain pen merchants, she was eager to ink up Red Mandala Pen right away. Alas, the ink dried inside, and she found herself ordering a bottle of pen flush, because water wasn’t doing the trick, and she had learned the hard way never to use alcohol to clean a pen (unfortunately on her mother’s vintage stenography pen).
So, now she is using an inexpensive glass dip pen that she panic-ordered in her freak out about coronavirus. With it, she is experimenting with eight different waterproof inks from various manufacturers. She is waiting for her drawing to dry so she can apply watercolor over it. She feels badly about the dip pen purchase, because putting unnecessary pressure on the supply chain exposes more people than necessary to the virus. She had read that some “buy nothing” clubs were springing up around the town south of her, and she thought that amiable, but also that they had not considered that there were people supported by the purchasing of goods which society may otherwise let fall through the cracks. A lot of these people were tired of being controlled by the wealthy. Dot hadn’t had time to read the article she saw, but she hopes that the individuals involved consider, if it is economically feasible for them, to still support cottage industries. It felt like there were moral authorities everywhere, and Dot, in light of what she had learned about mental illness recently, wondered if maybe the entire moral authoritarian world regime needed to be overhauled. Moral authoritarianism, however, seemed critical to enable the meritocratic system which valued some people’s efforts more than others, and so it would be pretty difficult to take down as long as everyone was blindly taking part.
She had a lot of stress around moral authoritarianism. She knew a lot of people who felt shame about their own bodies, for example, and so were offended when seeing anyone else’s. There were people who felt shame about the state of their homes, and so criticized the way their neighbors kept their yards. There were people who were insecure about their intelligence, and so doubted everyone. It’s difficult to know what’s true when the world has become a battle for meaning.
She sneezes and worries she might be coming down with something. Although, she may have just sneezed because she inhaled a little bit of hot dog when she realized their diet had been reverted to 1980’s latchkey kid cuisine because of the global pandemic. She is not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing, yet, but if she was able to get it, then it counts as food. This is because the company that runs the shopping service for the grocery stores decided to limit people to one each of certain items. That is a nightmare for a person on a medically necessary diet who reacts to certain foods.
Dot is on such a special diet. She is on an anti-inflammatory, dopaminergic, anti-estrogenic diet, because that keeps her anxiety and pain in check. It should also keep cytokines down. It means that she avoids serotonergic foods and tries to increase her dopamine. She does this because serotonin increases estrogen, which, in excess, is associated with many health problems, including cancer, depression, pituitary dysfunction, polycystic ovary disease, gynecomastia and hair loss in men, and she thinks development of PTSD, due to data she collected during her graduate research. From what Dot has been able to glean from her neuroendocrinology studies, serotonin and dopamine exist on an axis, so when one is lowered, the other raises. There are many, many packaged foods which are just not okay. Even most things from the health food store. There are even natural whole foods which are not okay. From the outside, it looks like a really restricted diet, but it’s actually not. Okay, it’s not if you are a 1980’s latchkey kid who also likes liver. Lily, Dot’s teenage daughter, is not this person, and has made herself caesar salad with homemade dressing for the last few days.
Dot humored herself by panic-buying a flat of canned O-shaped pasta specifically for the apocalypse. This is especially funny because one of her and Bert’s favorite jokes is about a woman whose husband is lying on his deathbed. He actually gets out of bed and comes into the kitchen where he finds she has just pulled freshly-baked cookies out of the oven. Excited, he tries to grab one, and she smacks his hand.
“What was that for?” the husband asks, quizzically.
“You can’t eat those. They’re for your funeral!” the wife exclaims.
“Don’t get too excited,” Dot told Bert when she brought home the canned pasta, “This is for the apocalypse.” They both laughed.
Dot hasn’t talked to the kids yet specifically about rationing food. She and Bert are trying to eat less, and check in with each other about what food they are going to utilize. They are using a lot of carbohydrates, and less protein and fat than they are accustomed to. So far, everyone seems to be in good spirits. They are resting more to decrease their caloric needs. Albert and Lily went on a walk and were surprised to see large groups of people in close contact with each other.
Apparently, none of these people cared about flattening the curve. Albert had told Dot about people who thought it would be better to get sick early on before the healthcare system got flooded, and Dot imagined a Gahan Wilson-like cartoon of a huge surge of lemmings all jumping off a cliff together, dragging the entire system down with them. It’s always interesting hearing about The Herd and their twisted logic. Anything to justify their fun at someone else’s expense. Of course, they don’t usually see it that way. They would couch it as them making some sort of necessary sacrifice. For them, it’s all fun and games until someone gets their eye poked out. Are we there yet?
The question Dot has for these people is - if you do cheat death, can you live with any unintended consequences of your mindless actions? Or are you of the opinion that the coronavirus is the One Great Darwinian Filter? What if it is just a butterfly crusher? What if it kills the one person who might save us? These are the things that Dot wonders about.
Dot is a genealogist, too, and has studied what happened to the various parts of her and Albert’s families during The Great Depression. There are some heartbreaking stories of families being split apart by lack of access to shelter and healthcare. It really is a braid, repeating over the epochs. Humans, just having to fight for basic human rights, while the wealth is hoarded by one percent. We have been struggling for something… what was it?
We have been struggling for freedom. But it turns out most people don’t even know what that is. They are cajoled into wasting their lives on the pursuit of an illusion. Precious years where they could have gotten to know themselves better and come to love and acceptance rather than chasing empty values. The pain in those years led to our current circumstances.
When will we feel good enough?
Dot’s music antenna picks up Pink Floyd Wish You Were Here. The Alien Dawg is clearly kicking in. She looks up the lyrics on Genius.
There has been a lot of debate about cannabis use during this time. Dot has found it helpful for her to be able to relax and handle what is coming with more grace than she might otherwise. Panic attacks can make her push others away and ruminate in sadness. She knows that use of cannabis in mental illness is controversial, and she saw a report that some people report feeling depressed and low energy, but somehow dependent. Also, when she discussed her use with her therapist, who was familiar with the use of adaptogens for healing trauma, her therapist had alerted her to something called “cannabis hyperemesis syndrome” where chronic use results in nausea and vomiting. Dot has struggled with these feelings at times and has figured out that it has more to do with how well she is caring for herself than her cannabis use. It took a while to figure that out, and she can see how some people might benefit from that knowledge. Cannabis can mask and derange some feedback mechanisms, making a person out of tune with both their environment and body. It can interfere with satiety signals and sleep-wake cycles, especially under hypometabolic conditions, which through these mechanisms can be precipitated. If the use is interfering with these things, then it is likely too much. However, outside factors such as VOCs, formaldehyde, poor quality food and vitamin deficiencies can exacerbate cannabis' strange interaction with hypometabolic states, creating psychosis. Dot doesn't deal with psychosis, but with her chronic pain, sometimes depression, low energy and nausea become an issue. Moral authorities would certainly like to police behavior of people like Dot more closely, because she hasn't technically earned her right to exist here through meaningful work in their estimation. Heaven forbid she get to take a darn break. When she was high, she didn't have to worry about that. She was able to get outside herself and avoid henpecking at others or feeling henpecked, and that had the effect of lessening the interpersonal conflict in her life.
There is a lot of music at the Sailor house. One Sailor is making music mixes, two of them are learning to play the guitar, Dot is a lousy harmonica player, and they all love to listen. Bert even dismantled his guitar and reworked the circuitry to improve the sound. It was totally heretical. And sexy. And Dot’s imagination is on overdrive. When she was younger, sometimes she would get a song in her head and realize that it had some message she needed to hear, and over the last year it has become really intense and is going on almost continuously. Sometimes it makes her feel crazy, but as long as she is good to herself, it’s usually a pretty positive thing. When it’s not, journaling can help, and that’s what she likes fountain pens for the most. Sometimes she gets messages from The Universe through the songs the other Sailors are playing, and since they all like music so much, it can feel a bit like a firehose of messages.
Dot thinks it is really important that we all take the time to write down how we are feeling right now. Staying in touch with our feelings is important so that we don’t inadvertently hurt the people we love through our overwhelm or anxiety. It means we might need to spend more time alone in our homes. If one lives in a small place with others, that might mean using earbuds or noise cancelling headphones and meditating. Dot loves to watch artists on YouTube, as well as animal videos. She enjoys inspiring videos about people living with disabilities. She especially likes the latter because they help her remember what’s important. These things are all calming.
Oxytocin is an important hormone that we get from loving interactions. So if you live with someone and can have some loving eye contact, you can easily boost your oxytocin. Hugs are also great for this. Masturbation and sex work, too. They can be a great mood lifters.
Can she tell heaven from hell?