|For the Philadelphia Forum|
I tried to write on a zippy topic this week, but as usual my brain intervened. My brain always screws up my plans. I hate it.
Surely, we should try to remain on affectionate terms with our brains. We have to live with them. But some brains render this impossible. My brain, for example, is intractable, reproachful and vindictive. My brain has a mind of its own. Most people manage to procure work from their brains sometimes, but I never do. My brain is impervious to any assault upon its deep and undisturbed self-reference. My brain sits, absorbed, humming the "Hollywood Squares" theme music to itself. No idea achieves a velocity sufficient to escape its gravity.
Does anyone else have this problem?
Since my brain refused to write something zippy, I decided to write a perky reflection on the joys of mental illness. But what to do about a title?
My Life in Chagrin?
Forty Three Uses for a Depressive? (Idea 15: Keep Your Cheeses Warm.)
Dan Rottenberg had no trouble moving his brain in this direction (see his Notebook, page 3). But my brain refused to budge. Absolutely refused. I don't mean it wouldn't help me. I mean it remained frozen as an icy lock.
So finally I abandoned any attempt to deal rationally with my brain and determined instead to attack it, to excoriate it publicly and gloat over its humiliation. Yes. I would jig and amble and fleer at my brain and call it names. That would suit it, bwaa ha haaa. That would show it. Who's calling the tune now, brain, eh?
So far my brain wont take up the cudgels. Playing dumb, no doubt. Plus it has no idea where to purchase cudgels in Center City. (If only my brain could drive, surely it could find some cudgels at Franklin Mills.) Cowardly brain. I taunt it and thumb my nose. If it angers, maybe it will wake.
As I see it, the problem with my brain is: It houses too many Presbyterians. I don't know how they got there. I've always had them. These are not the new-agey, do-your-own-thing sort of Presbyterians. These are the descendants of Puritans and Calvinists and other hilarious people--inheritors of that wonderful severity that so enlivened the sect when witch-hanging was the chief entertainment.
I can feel them in there, acting austere. I can see them scowl. They scowl at everything. They scorn and scoff. They come from Scotland, homeland of sk sounds.
Believe me, having Presbyterians in your head is no picnic. Long Presbyterianism of the mind has rendered me incapable of sustained effort. Enough of their dourness remains, but so little of their zeal that I now disapprove most things I do and barely tolerate the rest.
They exhort me to aim impossibly high. Then they fault me for missing. Even when I hit, they complain that I cheated. Or didnt aim high enough. Then they glower at me beneath the rims of their ridiculous hats.
(By contrast, Dan Rottenbergs forebears were an easier act to follow. We Hungarians are a proud people, Dan says his grandfather once told him, although Ive never figured out just what it is we have to be proud of.)
There is no human enterprise in which I might not, given sufficient chance, make a great show. Likewise there is no human enterprise in which I might not, given slightly more than sufficient chance, lose interest. There is no enterprise which I couldn't perform more satisfactorily and famously than the one Im pursuing now. Likewise, there is no plan which can possibly appear more attractive, more useful, more godly, to me than any other.
Sometimes my mind doesnt work at all, and its because all those Presbyterians are holding tedious parley in my head. The world comes apart and still they smirk at each other. When they look out their committee rooms, they see one thing separating from another, and yet another thing separating from that.
Still they stay in committee.
They see parts of their village declare independence, and then each house declare independence, and then each member of each family, and finally, each impulse. All the while they guard their propriety. My mind is a Puritan experiment that never ended, but throve onward in that dim forest with no new ships at the coast.
Some day Ill gain revenge. Some day the sun will shine again and gladness will be allowed. Some day the Presbyterians will be cowed to silence by the singing of happy throngs.
Meanwhile, Ill keep them all at saber point. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, especially with Presbyterians in the picture. And never put Presbyterians in charge of your diet if you hope to survive.