Archive for the ‘The Asylum’ Category

The Asylum

November 20, 2010

I started writing the following back in September, but wasn’t satisfied with it. I finished it just now because the new display of Winter Oreo cookies at Stop & Shop reminded me that I’m still in the asylum.

A small selection of the bakery goods at Stop & Shop

A small selection of the bakery goods at Stop & Shop


“When we remember that we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.”

–Mark Twain

Here’s a small portion of the bakery goods available at Stop & Shop. I look at this and I think “My god, we’re insane.” Any species that would make such a surfeit of something so bad for itself so readily available has lost its grip.

A few months ago I was comfortably ensconced within the asylum: I would have bought one of those ring cakes just because it looked so good. It still looks as good, but now I have the clarity and strength to walk away.

About five years ago I’d gotten into the best shape of my life and was feeling sure of myself; I would have told you that I was never going to get out of shape again — that I was out of the asylum for good. Since then I’ve gone through several cycles of falling from grace, clawing partway back up to where I was, and then falling again. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel that old self-certainty again. I don’t know if I should.

I’m still in the asylum, but at least I know it. These days I spend most of my time walking around the grounds, enjoying the fresh air. Occasionally I stumble and find myself back inside (as when I spent a few weeks in late October eating everything in sight) but I’ve gotten better at making my way to the exits.

I live in fear of losing myself among the inmates again someday — for a month, for a year, for the rest of my life. The feeling is like a heavy, oily cloud hanging at the edge of my consciousness. Whenever I catch a glimpse of it, my heart sinks.

I wrote the previous paragraph and then struggled to articulate how, along with the fear, I feel a surge of hopefulness. And now I see clearly that the hope is not separable from the fear. My feelings are like a piece of repouss√©: the fear hammers its shapes into the reverse side of the metal, and on the front side the contours of hope emerge. The fear defines the hope. Without seeing in my mind’s eye what I don’t want to be, I’m not fully understanding what I do want to be.

My fear of reentering the asylum may be the best tool I have for staying out.

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