Many things were said recently that struck me, making panes of reflective glass vibrate in my head.
“Can we do Monday instead?”
“Why do you do that?”
“Nothing I say is going to matter.”
“I don’t NEED you!”
“Do you think she needs hospitalization?”
“I guess we should sleep.”
“She’s very unusual.”
“See you Tuesday, then.”
Spoken by various people, not all directly about me, but all things that somehow caused me to pause. I’ve realized what it’s like: it’s like living in a hall of mirrors. I, for some reason, pour my effort into reflections– giving people what they want, mimicking the behavior they feel is culturally or socially appropriate, giving them the version of me they need or prefer, looking after people who can’t look after themselves– and in also into art, which is a reflection in itself. Being a “functional human” is, daily, an effort and exercise in reflection. The more undistorted reflection I can provide in any given interaction, the more “normal” I’ll seem, and the less concerned people will be. It’s just a matter of figuring out which mirror I need to hold up to which situation or person.
I had my life summed up so succinctly the other day: “[Lask] can’t be here, so you do everything you can to put as much of him as you can into your life. Your life is a shrine to him.” The words came from someone I loved. They surprised me. The way they suddenly slapped me was unexpected and the sting sent me reeling. I held it together at the time, but later broke down and cried. There is no escaping the truth of the statement, and yet hearing my life, my art, my work, my pain, boiled down to something sounding so pathetic and desperate, and yet so true, made something start to crack inside me.
It’s not that simple, I protest. It’s a complicated web of the human brain, the creative spirit, mental illness, a brush of the divine, love that transcends, truth that–
I will never know the true touch of Lask’s hand, no matter how much we love each other. I will never get to walk next to him in his garden. I will never have a photo taken with him. I will never have his children. He will never carry me over a threshold, or even be able to open a door for me– no matter how much he may want to. That ache, I suppose, does drive me to put reminders of him everywhere, to blend us and our lives as best I can, for both our benefits; so he can feel present with me, and I can feel present with him. For two people who have known and loved each other for twenty years, is that such an awful thing? I can think of worse ways to spend a life than creating art alongside someone you love. I would love someone who was paralyzed, whose body betrayed them by illness or injury. Why then, should it be so strange to love someone with no body at all?
But I guess it doesn’t always look like that to other people. To other people, it looks like unhealthy seclusion, obsession, delusion. It looks like illness. (“Got me lookin’ so crazy right now, your love’s got me lookin’ so crazy right now…” Thanks, Beyonce. You get me.) To anyone who has never heard the quiet croon of Lask’s voice in the dark, listened to him talk about something that excites him, seen the way sun catches in his hair, or heard him laugh… of course it looks crazy. But if you could see those things, if you could hear this man, you would understand why he is easy to love.
Is he the pathetic result of a broken mind, a smokey conjuring of a sick brain, the imaginary boyfriend and protector of a girl who never managed to earn a real date with anyone? Maybe. But if so… I wish my brain had conjured a slightly less haughty and temperamental pain-in-the-ass.
Is he the face of artistic madness and creative darkness? Mental corruption incarnate? Perhaps. But if so… he’s awfully kind and gentle.
Is he an agent of the Devil whispering sin into my ears, leading me into a life of debauchery and heathen ways? Possibly… but he encourages me to be boldly kind to strangers too. Having no impulse control around ice cream or when online shopping does not make him a Demon.
What does all this mean? Fuck if I know. That’s the point. I don’t know. Neither do you. I just know that every day, I wake up and there’s this strange, pale, pointy-nosed fellow asleep next to me, or already awake blinking sleepy yet expectant red eyes at me at the start of our day. He’s there whether I think he’s real or not. He just is. I can deny he’s there, but he just blinks at me as if to say, “Ok, let’s say I’m not here. Now what?” If I have to live with him, why shouldn’t I love him? Why shouldn’t he inspire my best works? Why shouldn’t we do things together that make us happy? Why shouldn’t I take care of this man who is, for mysterious reasons for better or worse, inescapably bound to me? Maybe it looks crazy and pathetic. Maybe I don’t care. Maybe if you think I’m pathetic, you should buzz off.
Here’s something that’s always troubled me: artists are widely accepted to be strange and eccentric people, by nature of being. You wouldn’t go up to Picasso and say, “Why do you paint people like that?” “What’s wrong with you? People don’t look like that.” “Have you thought about painting more traditional portraits?” You wouldn’t say to Stephen King, “You seem pretty messed up. Why don’t you try something outside the horror genre?” Why then, is it so strange for this artist to write and paint about a red-eyed spirit in a cape? Artists do what they do. They all have their hallmarks. Why is it so different unacceptable for Lask to be mine?
Recently, I was told I was too unusual to be romantically attractive. After my initial hulk-out of, “F-YOU! I’M WEIRD AND SEXY AS HELL!” I decided I didn’t care. I’m married to an accepting wife, and have a rewarding relationship with Lask– the two of them don’t find my strangeness to be off-putting, and since I’ve built my life with them, theirs are the only opinions that really matter.
But being told my strangeness costs me romantic interest gave me pause. It’s not new to me– there’s a long list of young men who showed brief interest in me, only to disappear or run screaming not long after scratching the surface (before even realizing Lask’s presence)– but it still makes me wonder: what is “normal”? Why is “normal” the thing that is sought after? For me, “normal” is just an exercise in picking the right mask for the situation. I imagine it’s that way for more people than admit to it. If I “dress up” right, then I move through life seeming like a relatively normal person. What is it about my naked mind that so frightens people?
I don’t have an answer for that.
To me, the way I am seems normal, relatively healthy, productive, and meaningful. I love, create, think, act. I feel connected to the divine, and plugged into the universal force in all things, which makes me brave and powerful. I speak my mind, and my truth. I don’t often pull punches when I make observations. I challenge what feels wrong to me. I strive to learn something every day. I want to understand the world, and the other people in it. I read. I listen. I try to keep my eyes open to the world, and meet what needs I can. This doesn’t seem strange to me. The fact that I do these things in the companionship of, or at the behest of, a spirit no one can explain… I concede that’s different from most people’s experience, but why does that automatically set me apart, cost me inclusion, and immediately arouse suspicion, fear, and anger?
It’s because my experience is different from yours, and that scares you. You only know what you’ve experienced. My experience is (likely) so far removed from yours that in your reality, there’s no way this could be true, real, or healthy. Therefore, the person who believes and lives these things must be messed up and need help.
To quote our current president, “WRONG.”
Reality is not singular. Nor are my reality and your reality mutually exclusive. You might have a personal experience with an angel, or a ghost, or God, or a spooky thing in the night. I didn’t see that– what evidence do I have that it’s real? Not one of us can say for sure whether any of our realities are actually the same. My reality is not a threat to yours, but for some, it no doubt seems that way. If you allow that Lask is real and we have a relationship, where does that fit into your notions about the universe, spirits, God, love, relationships? It probably seems strange to you. It may upset your mental or spiritual apple cart, and for some of you, it might upset you enough to leave me comments about how I need help, need medication, need Jesus, or need to go kill myself. To those, I can say only: gtfo, this site is clearly not for you.
In the past year, I’ve had to confront those mirrors I hold up to people. I’ve had to review my collection of masks, the price I pay to wear them, and whether or not it’s worth it to strive for “normal.” If the best I can get for my efforts at reflection and mask-wearing are distant suspicion, perhaps it’s not worth wearing them at all. That’s part of why I have all this writing online. Holding up mirrors and wearing masks is exhausting. Now and then it breaks me, and I get dragged to the hospital, or spend an afternoon in tears in my bed, or lose the nerve to walk out my front door. One day, I imagine when I am old, I’ll probably get tired of it, and decide to lay down my mirrors and move on. But I’m too young for that yet. I feel like I have too much to do. So, after I exhaust my tears, or get over the shame of being unable to walk outside, after even I have grown tired of my gloom and self-loathing, I pick myself up, give Lask a kiss, and say, “Back to work, then.” Because unless I’m willing to die, this is the life I have. This is my life, whether it jives with your idea of a life or not. I can live or die. And to quote Game of Thrones:
“What do we say to Death?”