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Escape

by on December 8, 2022

Escape

by Marco M. Pardi

“We have art in order not to die of reality.” Friedrich Nietzsche

Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.” Ernest Hemingway

Religion is believing in other people’s experience… Spirituality is experiencing your own.” Anon.

All comments are welcome and will receive the fish eye, I mean, a reply. All previous posts are open for comment; no one will track you, hunt you down, fiddle with your meds, or otherwise bother you. And, you are welcome to forward disagreeable materials you find to anyone you choose.

No, this is not a narrative of a daring-do escape; it is an exploration of how we – and that includes you – cope. This is particularly relevant for residents of the Untied States, but it can reasonably be argued that when the Untied States catches a cold the rest of the world catches………something. But, hey, I said reasonably argued. When’s the last time you heard that phrase?

As a young boy I looked at quiet people and wondered what was going on in their minds. I didn’t want to “read” their minds, that was too factual. And probably not interesting. No, I wondered if they were in the moment, or somewhere else. Were they hearing music, replaying old arguments, regretting something past, wishing they were somewhere else or in some other time? I had no understanding of psychology, rather I was developing a sense of philosophy, particularly of mysticism. How people answer the question, WTF am I doing here, and if they ask it at all.

In primary school the nuns, especially Nun the Wiser, chastised us for “daydreaming” in class. I found this troubling inasmuch as these women had dedicated their lives to someone they had never met, or had even seen in a photograph. And, they spoke constantly of mortal life as short, Earth as only a place of hard learning and trial, and a non-corporeal life to come in a “far better place.” That better place stuff must have taken hold as so many people carelessly say that to surviving families at funerals; “He’s in a far better place now.” A few years ago I knew a suddenly widowed woman who required in-patient care after someone said that to her at her husband’s funeral; as if being away from his wife and his wonderful, loving, young daughters put him in a “better place”. That has got to be one of the most horrible things one can say at a funeral.

Still, many of us – probably most – have our Anywhere but here moments. And that poses the question: Where do people go when they are mentally not here? And, when they go, do they not take themselves with them? Through years of knowing people with various problems, including substance abuse, I learned that many of these people thought moving somewhere else would solve the problem. But then someone spoke up and asserted that you take yourself with you, and until you deal with yourself you will not escape the problem. Seems obvious.

It also seems we are surrounded by innumerable suggestions, advertisements, and, frankly, come-ons for us to “pay your money and take your choice”. Sometimes when I think of the myriad escapes on offer day and night I think back to the graduate course in Criminology I took. During the course I took the opportunity to interview a variety of prisoners, from those sentenced to a few days in jail to those who spent their lives in prison. The “lifers” told me the most dreaded punishment was solitary confinement. No input of any kind, not even sounds from the rest of the prison. Cold sandwiches pushed through a slot in the solid door without so much as a glimpse of a hand. All alone. Or were they. No, in fact they were locked in with themselves.

The lifers laughed as they told me of the young punks who wanted to experience solitary, see how it was, and maybe set some new record for endurance. Invariably they broke down crying and screaming to be let back into the general population, all much sooner than they thought. I guess being with yourself is, for some people, much scarier than I thought. At least for some people.

Writing this reminded me of a funny occurrence at Harvard. The main library had an air circulation system which randomly clattered and clunked, not loudly, just enough to be heard. When the new central air system came on line it was totally silent. Not a sound. Ever. Within days students complained that they could not concentrate on their studies. It seemed their minds were listening and waiting for those familiar sounds.

It was the realization of the terror of being with one’s self which turned me against capital punishment – in most cases. I say most cases because I want to reserve the right – within the law – to personally mete out such punishment where and how I see fit. But I learned many decades ago that when you kill someone you can’t hurt them anymore. As Socrates said in answer to why he chose suicide over exile, (I paraphrase) If there is nothing after death then there won’t be a me to experience it. But if there is a life after death I will go on living as before. So, under option One you can empty your magazine in someone’s face and it makes no difference, except to how they look. Under option Two, maybe they went to a “better place”. Solitary confinement seems much more promising if your intent is to punish.

Some years ago I wrote a piece on Korsakov’s Psychosis, commonly known as Korsakov’s Syndrome or “wet brain”. You can find it in the archives if interested. When I hear apprentice intellectuals intone that we should “live in the now” I think back to those in-patients I had seen with Korsakov’s and how they lived in the now. The eternal now. Through alcoholism or TBI – Traumatic Brain Injury they were completely unable to form and experience memories, short or long term. Each moment was a moment of awakening from a dreamless sleep. Oh, they were not plagued by troublesome memories, but nor did they have any idea of who they were. Information given to them now was gone a moment later. Unlike prisoners in sound proofed solitary, they could not guess the passage of time by the appearance of food trays in their door slots. Thinking of this made me wary of the joyous pronouncements of “eternity”. Since by definition eternity is timeless – in every dimension and direction – is this “better place” a state of Korsakov’s Psychosis? How could someone have a sense of eternity if there is no way to measure time? No way to say, Geez, this forever thing is great! And, come on, affective states become normal. Therefore “great” loses it potency. It’s SSDD, same shit different day, without the ability to measure day.

Many traditions around the world, including early Christianity, believe in reincarnation. I’m okay with it for other people, but not for me. No way I’m ever doing this gig again. But wait, might this be an escape from the mindless tedium of eternity?

Okay, if you have read this far I’m guessing you have some sense of time having passed. Speaking of which, how did we come up with this concept of time wasted? Are we on the clock? Big Ben in the Sky? Thanks for spending part of your life with me. I’ll be going now.

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12 Comments
  1. Julie permalink

    Hi Marco, I enjoyed this reflection and your creativity. So true we are always with ourselves no matter where we are. Really appreciated your comment about the nuns, such irony…
    I feel to be the happiest we have to actively engage in life,  I have also felt the greatest punishment for humans is to be locked up for life, rather than  capital punishment, solitary confinement being the height of punishment. I really appreciate you sharing your child wonder moments because I was the same. I remember clearly, as a child, in the back of my mind assessing adults, and sorting them out in my child brain, something I’ve actually never discussed. I love that you have the ability to bring out thoughts and feelings (good ones) that would have never surfaced 🙏

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  2. Hi, Julie. Thank you for the comments. I follow your adventures on Facebook, though I very rarely post comments on that site. Some of us, including you and me, never lose that wonder about the world around us. Of course, not everyone wants to share that wonder with us.

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  3. Tilly permalink

    A very interesting post Marco! I also, both as a child and as an adult, have wondered where other people to when they are ” a million miles away” or ” daydreaming” or whatever we choose to call it. This is a fascinating idea to me. Where do people go when they go within themselves? My favorite places to journey both as a child and now are the worlds I’ve come to know within my favorite books. Ever been to Narnia? To Hogwarts? And the list goes on. The travel options are endless!
    Thanks for creating another post to help us exercise our brains!

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    • Thank you, Tilly. I’ve not been to Narnia, but did read the entire Tolkien series, which prepared me for meeting and living with Galadriel some years later. I do have rather strict principles when reading fiction; I insist the author must be someone who knows exactly what he is talking about. I have put a book down when I encounter a subject matter mistake, even a slight one. However, I agree with your excitement that the options are endless.

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  4. Ray Rivers permalink

    Nice….

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  5. Dana permalink

    Marco, you have me wondering where I “go” when I’m not “here.” Part of what I do at my current job is quite mundane, and I often find my myself zoning out while I work in complete silence until interrupted by someone else. Truthfully, I have little idea or recollection what my thoughts are during those hours every week. It’s not a bad place to be, since I’m often surrounded by noise and human activity. I just let my mind wander without going anywhere in particular.

    There have been many occasions I’ve seriously considered leaving my current city because of troublesome memories. Those can be triggering; driving anywhere around the metro area can remind me of people and circumstances I no longer care to recall. Sometimes moving out of state seems like the perfect escape from unwanted or intrusive thoughts. But I don’t think that should ever be the sole reason for leaving. The memories are still in my mind. And certainly there are happier memories from the past three or more decades as well.

    For ten years before I left home, far too much of my childhood was spent in church. I was always bored and daydreamed a lot. If there were windows I would try to gaze out of those and enjoy the sky or perhaps a view of a tree. Daydreaming during sermons was highly discouraged in that particular cult, but it was my escape from boredom and also from the myriad of absurd lies spewed from the pulpit.

    This is one of those posts I’ll think about for some time. And as you know, reading anything you’ve written is one of my favorite escapes. Thanks for another wonderful post!

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    • Thank you so much, Dana. I can certainly understand mentally drifting while doing tedious, repetitive work. While I was still able to do things like paint my house I actually feared the onset of “stinkin’ thinkin'”. But daydreaming is a survival mechanism shared among many animals. Anyone who doubts that has never seen a dog dream or a cat react to a moving spot of light. This is a prime concern of mine when I fear one of my non-human companions is getting bored and suffering. How much worse it must be for non-humans in zoos and laboratory cages. I remember films of primates in boxes with electric grids in the floor. They would repeatedly suffer a shock just to cross the grid so they could peek out a small window in the box. Nothing to see, but they had to look.

      While I was in university, the chairwoman of the psychology department took me aside and, during a conversation with turned into a close relationship, said, “Your mind will be your greatest asset and your greatest enemy. Only you can decide which.”

      I guess, to a great extent we make the world we live in. On the other hand, because many of us don’t think deeply enough they fail to see such issues as “eternity” (where there is no way to measure time) as a descent into Korsakov’s Psychosis. Oh well, hold that thought.

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      • Dana permalink

        Marco, eternity seems unimaginable to me unless it’s entirely pleasant. Even that seems curious to me; how much “pleasant” can there be? And how will we rule “time” when we expire without Earth’s sun to manage the calendar? But I absolutely do not want to reincarnate, at least not here.

        I don’t like to assume what non-humans are feeling and thinking. However, I’ve found domesticated animals in my care tend to mischief in full view when apparently bored. That’s typically my cue they need social engagement, enrichment, or other intellectual stimulation. I know they mostly live in the moment, but sometimes the moment doesn’t seem to be what they need either.

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        • Thanks, Dana. As someone said, Eternity is a long time. As long as humans are on this Earth I would not reincarnate either.

          That’s a pretty insightful statement about non-humans, Even zoos are starting to realize the importance of “enrichment” toys and activities.

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  6. From Br. Mark: Eternity is not ‘time’. So we can’t understand what that will be like. I would suppose, that to exist in a place with just me, with my thoughts, which would be a repeat of my life over and over again, would be hell.

    In the Christian path, the greatest longing is to be in a relationship with the eternal. A loving exchange of total awareness and truth. Perhaps in order to attain that state we would have to go through a healing process, which is called purgatory. Also, this state as the relationship is connected to all others as well.

    Hell is eternal closure upon oneself, heaven, and eternal openness to infinite love, and further growth. For God, being infinite, we will never be able to dive to the bottom of that ocean.

    I do not know much, but we are made for love, and I believe nothing else. Also, I am comfortable with trusting, and letting what will happen……..praying for all that we will be one in this ‘relationship’.

    Peace and thanks again for a thought-provoking sharing my dear friend.

    Mark

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  7. Thank you, Mark. The issue of eternity & time is exactly what I was driving at; how can we say something is eternal – and not simply static – if we have no way to discern the passage of time?

    Over the decades I’ve sometimes taken a rather jaundiced view of people whose impairment prevents the recognition of time. “So long as they are in a happy state, why interfere?”

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