Jesus and the Aliens

June 13, 2009 | 2 Comments

Category: Auto-Biography

My wife’s ex-brother-in-law believes that he is an alien from outer space.  I am told that he likes to discuss this at family events, making small talk seem even tinier.  Confusing the metaphor with the thing represented is not uncommon in our culture.  Perhaps this is what makes the crazy people so irritable–that it’s so obvious that the “sane” are also closet nuts, taking seriously the oddest things.  Still, it feels to me like passing a wreck on the interstate when I pass time with someone deeply into psychosis, where the metaphor and thing represented have merged.

My mother used to live with a woman who believed that she was Jesus Christ.  Both were living in a mental hospital at the time.  My mother met many fascinating people in the mental hospital.  When she was being a mother–between hospital stays–I think she was bored and intimidated by the sane people.  I suspect she only truly became comfortable with me when as a teen I became intimate with altered states.  Perhaps my mom felt most understood by those whose identities were most in flux, who felt at least slightly paranoid and suspicious of society and culture.

After three years of college–having had enough of drugs and unable to decide between clinical psych and art–I took two years off to make up my mind.  I adored college.  To consider that it be over terrified me.  I found a garage apartment near the ocean rented to me by a man writing a screenplay for a movie he wanted to call Conan the Barbarian.  I worked as a waiter for an oceanfront resort.  During the daytime, I dreamt.  I was practicing lucid dreaming–being aware that I was dreaming while I was dreaming.  I lived to dream and the dreams were powerful and profound.  Eating little (I ate my first meal upon arriving at work in the late afternoon) and rarely seeing friends, I was living the life of the unguided closet mystic.  I was not flirting with being crazy, but I remember romanticizing mental illness.  I was occasionally having benign hallucinations while awake.  My nonlucid dreams became more vivid.  I awoke one night sleepwalking in an alley in my underwear, believing my apartment was an ice cream truck.

My mother came down to visit during this period.  In the room of the resort where we were staying, I angrily confronted her on how failed I felt her to be as my mother.  She broke down sobbing.  I felt frightened, angry and ashamed.  I hadn’t even got the chance to get real pissed.  All Mom wanted was my understanding and sympathy.  The resentment I nurtured and carried felt stale and impotent.  I felt like an alien.

I adore James Thurber.  He makes domestic bedlam seem intimate and quaint.  Mental illness is not coy or cute close up.  Yet my memories are sometimes draped with a certain warmth and trust that were not in evidence when the memories were made.  Terror still lives inside me in a dim 1950s dining room, but the room is also occupied by more mature versions of myself who are not frightened by the night.  These older selves hold the little ones’ hands.  They all wear the same red plaid shirt.  I saw them all one afternoon while dreaming.

The children of the man I know from outer space, I suspect, are feeling that cold, sick fear that grasps you when you are seeing a dear one float out into the abyss.  A child knows, with no doubt, that what is wrong is connected to the child.  There is Jesus in every kid–a compulsion to believe that a parent’s life would be healed but for a defect in the child’s soul.  This makes the child into God, because the child believes he or she has control.  Almost every little human chooses to feel personally responsible for the love they do not experience but intuit should be there.  To exercise control over the fear and grief where the love is not, they sacrifice elation for beration.  Blame becomes the frame of reference–blame of self or others.

It’s not crazy to believe that you are Jesus Christ.  It’s crazy to think you’re Special because you’re Jesus Christ.  The walking wounded are everywhere, staggering in that sleepy, secular haze of blame, irony and dissociation.  Waking up from the haze frequently happened to me when dreaming–dreaming that I was aware that I was dreaming–in dreams that had me feeling fully alive–dreams where I’d fly though space, breathe beneath the water, die and be born again.

Dreaming those dreams had been almost the only times in my life when I was not at least somewhat confused.  There was no question that my experience was not real.  I could feel unlimited consciousness creating what my senses perceived. I knew that reality was relative, and that it would not be there when I awoke–paradoxical because it seemed so much more real to my senses than “reality.”  The brother-in-law thinking that he is an alien and the woman confusing herself with Jesus had gone and got the two confused.  Instead of being aware that they were dreaming while asleep–they were unaware, while dreaming, while awake–confusing the map with the territory–mixing the metaphor with the thing represented.

They let go of conventional reality and juiced up the traditional relationship between metaphor and the thing represented.  They chose to forget what is story and what is not.  They, and we, can lose ourselves in the story.  We have the ability to forget it’s a story.  We can dream while awake, having forgotten that it’s a dream.

When we lose control, we can choose to let go.  We can let go of the moment-by-moment struggle that we sane folk engage in day by day.  We can stop living the metaphor.  Things can stop representing other things.  What is–just is.  Something that an alien–or Jesus–might understand.


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2 Comments so far

  1. Robert M. Katzman on June 13, 2009 11:37 am

    Andrew,
    Immensely rich in imagery and depth. About the best thing you’ve written that I’ve read.
    The one mid-essay line:

    “These older selves hold the lttle one’s hands”

    seems to me to be the powerful heart of the piece and much more than that. It is so loaded a mental picture that it IS a picture and you should draw it. You should resume drawing, period. You have so much to say, your not drawing in your distinctive style is like tying one of your creative hands behind your back.

    I don’t have to stress this. I choose to.

    A great, complex and fascinating essay, Andrew.

    Bob

  2. Don on June 14, 2009 3:51 pm

    Andrew,
    I happened on this piece by way of a google notice for neotony…very nicely written. It reminds me of an article I read many years ago in which a researcher was metaphorically comparing the idea that although stars shine both day and night, the sun outshines them many times over during daytime. He suggested that we never stop dreaming and that wakefulness outshines them. Any number of underlying glitches in proccessing could, in his view, lead to snippets of dream being overlaid on wakeful sensory input…thus creating the kinds of confusion typicl of some mental illness.
    Be well,
    Don

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