Me And My Shadow

Chris Truman found himself on the fifth floor of Catholic General Hospital. He had fallen ill at work, overwhelmed by the frenetic pace of his position as a shipping and receiving clerk. Doctors admitted him without a second thought.

The patients on his wing had no names. They went (for insurance purposes) by their DSM-IV codes alone. Many had a number of issues. The staff dispatched their fears with pills. Most were government approved.

One patient played the piano and sang in the recreation room every night. He was full of energy and carried a lively tune. Truman wrote a poem in awe of his stage presence. He preferred Robert over 296.40 and told the artist so.

Truman didn’t care for diagnoses. He had enough problems. What was he after all? He wasn’t clever enough to play the role of doctor. He felt unlike a normal patient. Truman, in a flash of insight, convinced himself that he was Catholic General. Concrete and studs, glass and bricks. The structure itself, housing many levels of pain. Just out the window, what a shadow he cast.

He was everywhere he went. The world he fit inside his head. Thoughts defying logic, refusing to be held. He was full of material, a mix of chemicals. So many words with nothing to say.

As he lay in bed Truman contemplated his current project. How to begin the next chapter on his fictional friend Chuck Snoad? He’d be discharged eventually. What did all this mean? How did Truman’s struggles with the Sadness and the Nerves speak to his character?

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The Education of Chris Truman

Below is an excerpt from a true story I’ve been working on lately. It is intended to entertain and educate its readers, some of whom may see themselves in my text. Enjoy!

A fruitful life required structure, routine, discipline–a steady diet of predictability, but Chris Truman, like a sick but stubborn child, refused to take his medicine. As a schoolboy, he took comfort in the scattering of materials–books, papers, folders, pencils, all the tools of learning–across his desk. Order left a foul taste in his mouth–he craved the Random, the Haphazard, the Mess. Clutter, lack of form–he could manage. Organization, submission to form–over these stifling forces Truman had little control.

But was this really the case? Did Chris Truman–that tireless Seeker of Truth–find pleasure in his failure to cope with the complexities of life? As he grew older, his obsessive-compulsive nature suggested not. The desire to control his tiny universe, by the age of twenty-nine, would overwhelm him, to point where holding a job rendered Truman a nervous wreck.

In truth, Chris Truman’s adult life reeked of over-control, over-thought, over-preparation. When driving, he desired to know, well in advance–for the sake of his sanity–if the lane he occupied was closed for construction further down the road. He feared having to change his position at the last second, as if all at once he’d forget how to operate his vehicle, and cause an accident!

But life, at any age, is full of accidents, mistakes, missteps. Still, that Truman was fallible–like every other human being in the world–frightened him. He demanded to be “perfect,” when “perfection” was throughout human history the only non-option. When each one in an endless succession of psychoanalysts explained that “many perfectionists succeed only in perfecting their Depression,” he heard but never listened.

Controlling the Uncontrollable–this was Chris Truman’s futile, self-made mission in life. Even as a schoolboy, he had created the disarray on his desk–he was in control of the chaos, admired it up close, like curious commuters crawling past a horrific highway crash–if only for a moment. In reality, he loathed–to his core–disorder of any sort, and thus produced many fruitless years trying to prevent imperfection, to squash his innate humanness, to deny himself true experience. Armed with this knowledge, one was expected to press on and make a living.

But deep thinkers abhor shallow answers. Neither a Big-Bang-believing scientist nor Genesis-professing priest, Chris Truman was simply a poet desperate for material. He laid Science next to Religion, and found faults in both. Each discipline failed to explain why he was mired in the stuff of life, and how he might survive his short time on earth.

Theories attempt to explain things but end up confusing real people staggering through real life. Abstract thought crumbles under the massive weight of concrete experience. Despite this conclusion, cold abstraction remained his most loyal friend, and friends would much rather play than work.

Thus far Truman’s philosophies had held him back from himself. Thought protected him from action. Staying in his head meant his sensitive ego was safe from the grim realities of life. Drowning in big ideas, one thought he knew something about living until he looked closer, and knew the thought wrong. Truman was a riddle he couldn’t solve–of this truth he was certain.

An interesting but tragic paradox had emerged–Truman, in becoming an adult, had strived so hard for Order that his entire life had spun out of control, to the point that he had reverted to childhood, and lacked tolerance for responsibility. The scared adult, shrinking from life, had fostered the rebirth of the needy child. He accumulated years but not maturity.

Any satisfaction derived from this realization was short-lived, however, for the poet still lacked a profession. When would Chris Truman, in dire need of income and stability, finally succumb to the system? When would he find–and keep–a job?