Sunday, May 16, 2004

Transcendental Etude III

Variants of such moments had come upon her since childhood, moments when the world seemed strange and unfamiliar, a dizzying newborn sensation, an ictus of jamais vu. After awhile she'd come to live with the mild accesses of disorientation. She's come to call them "the strangeness," and found descriptions in psychiatric texts and existential novels that reassured her they were within the continuum of human experience and not some menacing visitation unique to her. Sometimes, still, looking in the bathroom mirror, she is overtaken by the paradoxically familiar strangeness. Who is that ? Who am I ? How peculiar it all is ! How peculiar that the most ordinary thing -- being itself -- should feel so strange !

Life, of course, quickly resumes its ordinary face. She disengages from the gaze in the mirror, washes her hands, and moves on to the next task, blaming her temporal lobe, Sartre, stress, diet, Republicans, whatever post hoc propter hoc excuse seems cogent at the moment.

Who would have thought the strangeness could grow even stranger ?

She was sitting at her desk between patients. It was the depths of Friday afternoon. The afternoon caffeine boost had yet to kick in. Suddenly everything seemed to shift. The focus blurred, the gain was turned down. The digital image fractured, the zoom changed.

Everything seemed equivalent, absolutely fungible. Cut from the same cloth, made of the same stuff: membrane and ion. A diabolical synesthesia. Text reduced to one gutteral syllable of want. It was almost, but not quite, a transparency. More like a threadbaring, a wearing thin at the elbow points of being. Desk, pen, chart; the footfall of the roofers overhead, the slatted sunlight throught the blind; cool breeze and tobacco smoke through the window; boredom, anxiety, irritation; headache, dirty coffee cup; each thought, sensation, perception all the same, undifferentiated brain stuff, from love to terror, from trash to art, from self to beloved.

She covered her face with her hands, covering the world's and her own nakedness in one oddly prayer-like gesture.

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