“While the man of reason and wisdom perceives only fragmentary and all the more unnerving images of it, the Fool bears it intact as an unbroken sphere: that crystal ball which for all others is empty is in his eyes filled with the density of an invisible knowledge.”
– Foucault, “Madness and Civilization” 1961
Sunset storm, taken by the author
It was early evening one day in the spring of ’03. The ridge lines of the mountains had just begun to drag their shadows across the valley; the coming night appeared in pockets offset by the bright trees above, shimmering with minuscule hints of pale green among their boughs. At that time of day even dead leaves had shadows, and all shadows were changing. I was looking for work, following up ads in the local paper, and this was my last run of the day. It was a halfway house for the mentally disabled, and they needed help with flexible hours. I hopped off the bus and landed in its shadow briefly. My hat still recalled the warmth of the sun; my eyes, no longer squinting, took in the little building. It couldn’t have housed more than a dozen or so people; some hybrid structure between institution and dorm.
I went in and inquired about the position to a lady who sat me down with an application. I was able to work nights, which was a big plus in her eyes, and weekends, which she also liked. She mentioned a drug test apologetically, because it seemed at least at that time it was rare to find anyone in the area who wouldn’t test positive at least for weed. The drug test wasn’t a problem for me either, and as I passed through these bureaucratic hurdles the lady seemed to ease deeper into her chair. I knew how hard it was not only to find good help, but to find decent management who weren’t constantly poisoned by drugs or drama or both; someone focused and not distracted. It was a job unlike anything I’d ever done before, but I’d flown off in wild directions previously and felt I could adapt to whatever this unknown job needed. The pay was sparse for the first six months but in a college town I understood that.
The little room was clunky with cork-boards of instructions and announcements and checklists, a humble little file and a kitchen table that served as our meeting-desk. She asked me what special skills I may bring to the job, and I recounted the calming, diffusing effect I’d had in stressful kitchens with half-mad chefs. It was true, and she granted that she understood. All of my previous experience had been in cooking or carpentry, maybe landscaping; but I had references who would vouch for me.
Then a man blustered in and I heard his soft, broken speech patterns inject themselves into the room. He was dressed plainly but very clean, and under his tousled hair were ice-blue eyes with rings in the irises. His body seemed a little urgent, a little agitated, because of this stranger in the room. There was a gentle frustration about him, as if he knew he wasn’t making total sense to her or me but knew also what total sense was; a man from a very distant kingdom whose language and mores we didn’t, couldn’t comprehend. The lady muttered something that carried an air of comparative tranquility to the man and then introduced me.
He didn’t tell me his name or look me in the eye for very long at all, but pointed past me to the window. He spoke of a storm coming; that was all I could make out of his speech. I had no idea what his condition was, but he seemed to not be at war with it or ashamed by it. Whatever the fellow had, he’d had it for a while and had reached some sort of subtle truce with it. He didn’t smile, and his eyes blazed with portent. But there was something incomparably gentle about his countenance. I felt he was as gentle as a shy child and I took to him immediately, showing no fear, discomfort or disgust. I thought for a second about the times in my life before that were on similar edges to distant, inaccessible lands: bad hallucinogenic journeys into my psyche, heartache so severe as to cut all ties with humanity I possibly could, or just the sheer awkwardness of trying to make a place for myself in this world. How, at times, I’d sincerely wished I’d crossed this man’s Rubicon and relinquished my role in society to rest in arms most people could never fathom. The worlds beyond this one and beyond those, all here at once, all tempered by perception, whose floodgates held back an oceanic, trembling awe. With one misstep I could set foot in lands no one else could ever reach, and I knew it. I held back most days by sheer will; some days by chance.
He was shown out of the room by the lady as I replied to him yes, a storm may come. He was surprised and relieved I understood him, I could see it in his eyes. The way he befriended storms reminded me of the legendary reclusive outsider artist Darger, who wrote a huge biography about his best friend, a tornado. The forces of nature, true, short-circuit any notion I may hold of being sane or insane. No grid or graph could encompass them fully, just as having one or both feet in madness can’t be completely described, the way to and back just can’t be mapped. If any attempt can be made, it could be through allegory. The next time you see a storm, try to make it stop. Try to scold it. Try to use any sort of woowoo you can think of to force it to do anything. Or just step back with respect, and love it. Point to it and see that its unknown heart is your own; love it as you would a lifelong companion, one that is not willing to be by your side constantly but whose memory and eventual return are part of the fabric of your deepest psyche.
I left on good terms and was hired, but declined the job; I’d already been hired as a baker for a cafe. But to this day whenever I’m faced with that foreign inaccessible land, when I turn and look towards it, one foot already through- I feel that it is closer to my heart than any shadow; that throughout my life it has been my truest companion. Not by will, but by nature it reigns.