Sometimes I feel like I don’t exist, like I do not have a body, and all I can feel is dearth, like something astral has buckled and collapsed.
When I say I feel like I don’t exist, I’m not being metaphorical; I’m hardly even being a poet. When I say I feel like I don’t exist, I mean that sometimes, the thing that must be my mind-heart-complex sits back-to-back with the thing that must be my body-complex and one looks over its shoulder at the other and they ask each other simultaneously:
and the other looks away from itself.
And they say to separate gaps, surrounded with curtains, just like echoes of each other: I wonder if I exist, or whether or not I have a structure. And they say: I am poking from the other side of a folded molecule, trying to find myself. The curtain is made of air’s absence.
Sometimes I do not feel like I exist, by which I mean there is a void in place of me, and some seeing eye makes a statement posed as a question: this cannot possibly be the case?
To speak of what it feels like to not exist is a difficult task because the basement’s basement has no language. People do not use language in the basement’s basement. In the shadow’s shadow there is neither darkness nor light, there is a no-thing which lacks access to representation. The experience of inhabiting negative space cannot be explained. The nature of language, during depersonalization, is that language is just a finger, alone, pointing.
How to imagine, for a reader’s sake, inverse contours? What is the nature of the erased symbol? How is it to be said? I want to say, for the sake of explaining, “Sometimes, I look and look, but there seems to be nothing available to touch that attaches me to reality.” Is that accurate?
In the layer of the air that moves between the air and the void, matter is quiet, uncanny. The alien and the home have become one. The outside part of this layer of air, the one that touches the regular layer of air, is too stale and empty—is it even air?—for anything to move through it, for life to remain entirely glued to itself. The inner part of this layer of the air, the one that touches the void, well—
There are borders. There is what happens on either side of semi-existence. How else to describe the feeling of non-existence, except to point at where the borders probably are?
I mean the following literally: Sometimes I cannot figure out if something is really happening. This has to do with subject-object relations. This has to do with me—an alleged object—and a second thing—another alleged object—and the third space between these two hitherto unproven things. The third space of relationship where the subject is born.
Maybe this has to do with punctuation. With bodies placed within narratives to point, to delineate, to speak things like “over there” and “this here” and “I am an I who connects to a that.” Sometimes, I lose my ability to reach across that space or to feel another reach across it to me, to complete the act of touching or being touched, phrase to phrase, sentence to sentence, in a container of shared language.
Sometimes I do not feel like I exist but I do not mean this in the way that I imagine people mean it when they discuss the experience of psychosis. Or maybe it’s true—maybe in these moments I am mad, looking at what appears to be a you from underneath an invisible cliff—asking the dashes and commas to surround me like hands in hands in still more hands.
Of course, I do not always feel like I don’t exist. Depersonalization happens in fits and starts, just for a moment or hour sometimes, after stress, sensory overwhelm, or tiredness. Other times, it has happened for what seem like quite extended periods—a week, some months, or a whole year in which I am very confused and going to great lengths to find my own shape, and often—perhaps this should go without saying—I do not realize I am doing so until I have found myself again.
During these times, I experiment. I push, seemingly anywhere, until I reach a boundary, a line. If I reach the other side of the invisible thing I’m within, I gain information. A piece of whatever is outside of me becomes visible.
In this situation a person must find ways to test reality, whether through artistic or spiritual practice, or through novelty and travel, or through drugs and self-destruction. But the self-destruction, in these cases, might more accurately be called self-testing. When you don’t know whether or not you exist, it does not feel violent or dangerous to take physical risks; rather, it feels curious or even gentle like: One, two, three: who is there? What is on? Can we know one another now? Or now?
I tested reality through starving, for example. By trying to disappear my body precisely to find an edge or corner of it. Disappearing into negative space means that at one time I must have inhabited positive space. Do you see this trick, the riddle of anorexia?
If one stops existing, that means one has existed. The smaller one gets, the bigger one had to have been. The problem of whether or not I exist thus, initially, appears solved through starvation.
Or maybe anorexia is a maneuver performed to show the world its own negative space—to force a witness to some kind of mess.
Becoming and disappearance are an alchemical dance made of gasses and time. This is what you realize when you cannot figure out whether or not your own body is real.
But I had to finally ask of starvation: What if I actually touch this edge? What if the edge ceases to be a number or a code and is just simple death? I must have gathered some actual information about edges and my own existence, something about the border between actual life and actual death, which is not the same thing as the border between feeling like one exists and like one doesn’t.
So I backed away from anorexia. Now I see it only as a basement which serves to create still deeper basements. It’s no longer an intriguing riddle, just a fairly linear trap.
To test the negative space that it sometimes seems like I am, I must become a spirited master of discovery. Now I self-test through other means: meditation, song, movement, staring at the grass and water until I suddenly pop up, attending to exploration of positive space as much as I have attended to negative.
I want to say, “Somebody erased me.” “Somebody tried to stop me from being born.” “Somebody tried to make a container out of me, tried to empty me so they could fill me with something else, take over my existence with theirs.” “There was a dictator.” “There were many of them, lightly crawling.”
I stare at this page, wanting to say how this happened, why it is that sometimes I don’t know whether or not I exist while other people seem never to experience this predicament. Someday, I will perhaps emerge from this basement’s basement with a word, a pencil, a painting. I’ll tell, then, of those who came to my own borders and shook them out like dirty sheets. The wars and defeats that happened atop my wall. I’ll discuss how depersonalization is an occupation having to do with me-elements being filled up with, overthrown by, non-me elements. But I can’t
There’s just a space for now
Sometimes I feel I am poking through the air from the other side of the curtain, from the other side of the floor. You might hear me thumping lightly, as in ghostliness. I am poking through the air creating ripples. Do you see them? Perhaps an outline there? Perhaps a creature there? I am trying to find the shape of my own body, to hold a seed until it births itself.
Do you see the lumps, the corners the air makes, the streaks of weather here and there? I am inside them, birthing, carving out shadows to see if I fit in them, and if I do, to see if they become protuberances, seeds, dust, animals, paragraphs, a body that is a country with a flag, and so forth.
To carve a body from negative space and poke oneself stubbornly into existence is a difficult task. Can you imagine? To invent something only from the materials and fumes of shadow, like a witch. There is a simple will in all things to be a shape. I am trying to realize the material of myself, trying to consolidate myself and emerge, from blank space, as properly cut. To become a backwards horizon.
The ripples from the other side of the air arise sometimes. Look for an event trying to get through, negotiating boundaries by bumping up against other events—solid, lucky things which have already found a way to exist, or which never knew that it was possible not to.
Look for me pushing up against the air from the inside of the air. Look for that shape. There will probably be a new border, some kind of proper realization. From smoke will come a fantastic remnant; from embers I will present a wrist or so. If you are looking at the air, then look for the ripples and the inverted dots and brief, knee-shaped spires. Look for the clear, gelatinous molds pushing outwards against suspended pollen. Those are my palms and knuckles, making space. I hope someday to greet you fully at this frame.