I’m eager to make dinner’s frozen Macaroni and Cheese. I hope it will be like the succulent Mac and Cheese I used to devour at Fred 62. In Los Angeles. Long ago. With real Cheddar. Swiss. Provolone. Crusted with breadcrumbs and parsley. Melting savory in big spoonfuls.
“Not so fast, there, cowgirl. You’re in the Wild West now,” says a Gold Rush prospector in my mind. This Lean Cuisine leaves a Velveeta tang in my teeth. For hours after it is forgotten. I heat the solid orange oblong in the microwave. Follow box instructions.
“Take instruction,” as cyborg Barbie learned in AA. Toe the line. As if my life depends on it, because for when mentally ill, it feels like that. I have few rights. Not a credible witness. That Last Will and Testament I labored over has no legal standing. The state, “of sound mind,” is as unreachable as Alaska. I was branded “Totally and Permanently Disabled.” Something is rotten in the state of Nevada. I wince. Still anticipating blows that have stopped.
“I walk the line,” Johnny Cash sings. A precarious tightrope. I live amongst the abled on SSDI. Have monthly psychiatrist visits via phone. No intervention. Or conservatorship. Or inpatient stay needed here. I’m not suicidal. Or homicidal. Or gravely disabled. Causes for involuntary commitment. Don’t get it twisted. I can’t resist a “What if?” I know what rights I don’t have. Feels like everything could disappear if a real person with credibility was alarmed. Angry. Annoyed. Doxxes me. Makes a call. Paramedics could beat down my door. Strap me into a gurney. Drag me away. At any time. To be strip searched. Institutionalized. Shot in the ass with Haldol. Detained indefinitely.
I’m stuck. On AA’s first step. Without a drink in almost five years. Going in and out of accepting this terrifying powerlessness. Can’t do any more of those dreadful meetings. Daunting tasks. Sometimes I’m desperately scared of everything. So I perform okayness. Defensively. Put away laundry. Sweep up. Check the mail. Virtue signal.
“One jumpy bitch,” Lee calls her haunted sister in law in My Roanoke Nightmare. Watching all of American Horror Story worked as PTSD exposure therapy. I can’t afford to do supervised exposure therapy. I made do to amazing results. I take deep breaths. Writing essays sharp enough to lacerate is what I’m for. Guess what, normal people: The invisibly disabled live all around you. Have symptoms routinely. Treat them with a quiver full of coping mechanisms. No need for sirens. The mentally ill are usually benign. If our presence makes you nervous? Or uncomfortable? If wheelchairs and missing limbs make you uneasy? Disability still holds stigma. Stigmata.
Maybe one day I can stop apologizing. For being born. Using the Internet. Being still alive writing. All problematic. To someone out there. Who will tell me about it. So I give up. Accept what comments come. Everyone loves to play armchair psychiatrist. Offering a solution. Long walk? Exorcism? Yoga? I do enough yoga. Relief is sweet. Fleeting. I’m a realist. There is only survival. Endurance. What fresh hell is it this week? Always something.
“The only way out is through.” Says Cordelia Goode in AHS: Coven. PTSD is a bitch. But it’s my bitch. And I am strong. Not fragile. The gift of my illness is: symptoms shift after peaking. Anxiety passes. If I called 911 every time someone or something made me nervous? Or uncomfortable? Men pursuing. Reno-ites overly familiar ways. Drunks, as I’m sober. Suspected subtweets. Unnecessary trolls. I self-abuse just fine. If I kept calling the Reno 911! No phone in the psych ward. Clears up the line for the real emergencies. I’ll be fine in a moment. Don’t want any trouble.
My kindly neighbors will notice when I’m finally dead. Mail and packages will stack high. Trash cease to be taken out forevermore. I won’t die for many years. A wellness check will only be needed to find my corpse. Before the cat eats my entire face. One cheek, she has dibs on.
Gentle reader, please don’t try to fix me. I’ll toe the line. Deal? Then you can read my art therapy. I get to live. In fear. Until it drifts away. Fear when I venture outside. Fear when I publish. Speak too nakedly of my illness. I beat down this fear in every piece of sashimi raw schadenfreude I give away. Writing needs stakes. I’ve got your stakes nailing me to the martyr’s cross.
Samsung Smart TV’s can record what’s in front of them. In Trump’s Soviet puppet America, your TV watches you. Wish they told me that at Best Buy. Too late. Watchers of that too Smart for it’s own good TV would be bored. Who would want to watch me watch Netflix? Stare at my phone or laptop like it has all the answers? Type? Sleep? Sunbathe? Eat quarts of Breyers ice cream? Straight out of the carton in soft, melting mouthfuls. Punctuated with snaps of milk chocolate. Heath crunch.
I have Schizoaffective Disorder. Common delusion is: constant surveillance. I’ve been there. By now I know the truth. The other side of the surveillance camera. Or webcam. Or screen. All unknowable. Isn’t constant surveillance just modernity? Ask Alexa. Or Echo. Transmitting everything I say to parts unknown? You have got to be kidding if you think I’d be down for that. I live with enough potential surveillance. No need to ratchet up the paranoia bouts, Amazon. No breakdowns allowed. I’ll order my protein bars the old-fashioned way. Typed like it’s 2012.
Stockholm Syndrome over surveillance? Patty Hearst cooperated. So “they,” whomever “they” are this week, would be kind. I won’t be robbing any banks. Both Stockholm Syndrome and psychiatry are coping methods for different captivities. Trapped at war with my mind. My first psychiatrist said there was no cure. Only lifelong medication management. The symptoms would never be totally gone. No hope but resolute acceptance. So I listened to that episodic voice in my head. It gentled. Just wanted someone to listen. Became the only friend who didn’t, couldn’t abandon me. I Dream of Jeannie captive in my cranium. Either the voice in my head went Stockholm on me. Or me on it. Flawed mental gymnastics, meet brokenness in art therapy mosaic of shards.
The joke all sane people get is: Americans have personal FBI agents monitoring them through their webcams. Believers use masking tape defensively. I write plays where my FBI Agent has cameos. The CIA Paranormal unit bustles in bearing 7-11 Big Gulps of steaming hot coffee. Paranoia into comedy in three act tragedies. Is it funny? Or just sad? I don’t know if the CIA even deals with the Paranormal. Would bother with little ole me out of all the more hard core Witches in America.
I can’t imagine anyone would want to read. Watch. Act in. Or perform. Such claustrophobic plays. Set only inside my House of the Rising Sun. Peopled by only one live person. That voice in my head. Fictional characters. Ghosts. My love for the dead is strong. When the voice in my head speaks as if a ghost? On it’s distinct, clearly discernible from reality frequency? I don’t questions. Just listen. My favorite symptom.
Writing these plays is as addictive as popping Pringles. Of course I’m going to eat the whole Ranch tube. Snapping on my tongue. Crunching one after another. Down to salty crumbs. With the ghost of Willy Shakes on one shoulder. Antonin Artaud at the other. I take Shakespeare’s strategy that volume of plays may yield Macbeth eventually to make up for Richard III. Writing is scattershot. Amid the Bukowski beer shits, a diamond. Shakespeare’s complete works are published in hefty volumes. His productions got staged within his lifetime with bear-baiting. Performed centuries after his death. I’m certain mine will not be. No velvet curtained theaters for these psychodramas. I am a forgotten footnote. Irrelevant. An exercise in futility.
All the writing and social media I do now functions to appease the surveillance state in our comfortable detente. Make watching me easy. Why further questions when anyone knows everything? In transparency, I find peace within paranoia. For when I submit to cruel reality? Acceptance comes dawdling right along. “They” already know everything. It’s fine. Is this surveillance focus unhealthy? The healthy live in an oblivious bubble of illusory security.
I wasn’t “Born That Way,” as Lady Gaga sings. I must be more careful then normal people. I don’t currently believe I’m being watched. Only read. Don’t count on that either. I am aware that some, not all, of the tech I rely upon and enjoy has surveillance capacity. Streets and businesses may have surveillance cameras. Perhaps the delusion du jour is privacy. Cautious optimism. I don’t think my microwave can watch me, as KellyAnne Conway suggests.
To quote President Trump, “FAKE NEWS!” Unlike the TV, laptop and phone, the microwave doesn’t have that that capacity. As far as I know. Plus it lives in a cabinet. So the tape is: dark hours, frozen dinners. Still, that processed Mac and Cheese flavor lingers. Dinner fail.
In 2010, I photographed every surveillance camera I saw. For one summer’s month in Echo Park. Put those creepy photos on a Tumblr called “Surveillance : LA.” It’s still up. Scrolling is unsettling. If you stare into the void? It glares back. I did that to recover, perhaps forever, from surveillance delusions. To figure out what a spy cam really looked like. So I could know if and when I was being watched. Schizophrenic reality check. Or performance art therapy.
Best lesson CalArts taught me: If an object or activity is designated art? Bi-bitty-bobbity-boo, it’s legit! With a sprinkle of faerie godmother dazzle. An art show presented by BFA Robin Newmyn was found objects, spray painted gold and ejaculated on. I loved it. If that’s art? So’s art therapy. This accursed disease has got to be good for something besides ruining my life. I fancy Twitter performance art at times. Disability porn Freak Show at “The Theater of Cruelty.” Seats full of weirdos, activists and Russian porn bots.
Every time I go to CVS. Picking up meds I need to survive. I can’t help my eyes straying along the ceiling ’til I spot the inevitable black balls. Bingo. Looking is a habit I can’t break after “Surveillance : LA.” It’s bad form to stare directly into the surveillance camera. Never call the unknown’s bluff. I never know how much what’s on the other side could hurt me. The pharmacy camera records me picking up pills. I regulate my facial expressions and behavior to appear normal. Docile. Trying to make living amongst the rural abled work. I know my California outfits. Dark tan. Moon colored hair. Ethereal weight. Make me alien to this burg. Reno is still Mars. I’m frozen in time. Adjusting to different gravity. A Stranger in a Strange Land.
“Is there life on Mars?” sings from the TV that could watch back. I rewatch AHS: Freak Show. Pharmacy counter footage captures me purchasing three frozen dinners and my medication. I take what I am given without protest. Bow wow, good patient. You get a treat. Survival! Stay grateful. It all might work out.
I devour that frozen burrito bowl with enthusiasm. Shriveled corn. Lackluster beans. Unmelted cheese. Or was that tofu? I couldn’t tell. Los Angeles food trucks do it better. I am sad that a Clinton victory did not yield taco trucks on every corner as promised. Or was that a Republican threat? I was all for it. And hello? Abortion access? So I could not have to stitch my vagina shut? Figuratively. I don’t self-harm. Especially not the lady bits.
Imaginary potential tacos are the most irrelevant thing I’m still mourning about the 2016 election. I couldn’t read What Happened without crying all through the “Author’s Note.” Had to shelve it. “To read” later. If and when everything is okay. If I’m still around. Big if’s. At the moment train wreck shit show America is half-cocked. Loaded. Aimed at nuclear stardust. I’m still waiting the promised apocalypse. Nuclear? Asteroid? Antichrist end times with extra bonus plus rapture? What a relief.
Am I just waiting to die? In a yoga accident? From a risky Pinterest pose? I’m no spring chicken. Death is always a surprise. Perhaps I’ll get shot. Putting me out of my misery. Relieving the state and my family of the burden of my parasitical disabled life. Don’t they always pardon caretakers who kill their disabled charges? Never any charges filed for cops who shoot the mentally ill on 911 calls? I read the news. It is damning for those thus damned.
“Briarcliff is a receptacle for human waste. Each patient a perfect example of an evolutionary failure,” says Hans Grüper. Nazi doctor from Auschwitz under the alias “Dr. Arden.” In American Horror Story: Asylum, Arden says “There are some for who’s lives otherwise serve no purpose. Through our work together they would have contributed to the greater good…my aim was to give these wasted lives purpose, meaning…When they arrived here, these patients were less then men. Now…they’re more then human.” Nazi eugenics. Many in this society l try too hard to live in harbor similar thoughts. Deep down in their upstanding hearts.
I know everyone in Nevada is armed to the teeth. If gun ownership weren’t such a deal breaker? I might have made some friends. Trump’s America is teeming with Neo-Nazi militias. I can’t let anyone packing into my world. To see how much pain lives in my soul. I can’t trust anyone with a gun. Not to get too annoyed. Put me down. Murder? Mercy killing? If I ever need to be put out of my misery, I’ll do it myself. Save your ammo. Reading these assaultive scribblings is a choice. You don’t have to read. Just don’t shoot.
“I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die,” sings Johnny Cash.
“People won’t remember what you said. They will remember what you made them feel,” said an elder in an LGBT performance art workshop. Loosely quoting Maya Angelou. Probably. I took that to heart. When readers are brought to tears by my words. They feel my pain. Physical body hidden away in this House of the Rising Sun? I’ll live online as court jester. That’s about all I’m good for. Write until I can’t stay awake anymore. Perform until my voice is raw. That’s how this human garbage finds a purpose.
That processed cheese taste still fills my mouth. I take gulp after gulp of water and cold coffee to clear it out. It tastes stale. Like a day passed indoors. Blinds drawn. Why make this half-delusional, half-possible panopticon get real? Why become any more of a spectacle? I trust no one. Shut everyone out. Except the page. Dubious words I email to editors. Who publish them. Or don’t. Once you publish online? Anyone with WiFi can see it. What is and isn’t read is unknowable. That’s not paranoid. Just cold, hard facts.
Night falls. I see on my iPhone that a package arrived. Turn on the porch light. Check outside with all the fearfulness of a madwoman alone in the Wild West. Where every decent Nevadan has a pistol in their pocket. Ready to put any maniac down for the greater good.
“I don’t go outside at night. Nothing good happens at night,” my aunt Carol said once. It stuck with me. I retrieve the package. Lock up like Fort Knox. Open on the kitchen counter. Husk an errant garlic clove inside. Pop it into my mouth. Chew with painful frisson. That awful cheese taste from dinner is done. Replaced by lingering garlic. Seeping out my pores.
Eureka! The smallest victories are the sweetest. Sometimes they’re all I’ve got.