Flagrant Insanity

Jeremy’s Prophecy, a novel

What happens: This young dude in a mental institution issues oracular pronouncements. His friends are so impressed, they put up a website to spread the word. Okay, my first gripe is: I, too, have known crazy friends who said things. Things that actually were profound. Things that still resonate with significance, years later and in the cold light of day. Whereas Jeremy flunks the essential test of the holy madman: his sayings are without meaning or value.

(Incidentally, I think the author of this book takes payola for product endorsements. “Twenty one-inch Sony Trinitron television.” “Mitsubishi twenty-one inch color monitor.” It reminds me of a certain low-rent genre of adventure books where the weapons are described in lascivious and painstaking detail – stroke books for ordnance freaks and gadget geeks.)

Let’s be politically correct: let’s stipulate that clinical depression, bipolar disorder, and other such maladies are serious. Scrambled thinking and diseased emotion are found in every sort of family. The tragedy and pain are real.

Still, I think this book, like many others of its kind, glorifies emotional illness and perpetuates the myth that mental instability is the necessary condition of genius. (I wanted to say the sine qua non, but luckily just ran across a “how to write” article where it says not to show off.)

Victimhood has been fashionable for so long now. If your life doesn’t have any problems recognizable from the outside – amputation, paraplegia, or the death of your entire family in a flaming plane crash – you can still cultivate depression and get victim points for that. A harsh judgment, yes. But I, having been there and done that, am permitted to say it. If someone wallows in depression and regards it as some kind of sacred martyrdom, I get to call them on it, just like a drug counselor who’s an ex-junkie gets to confront a client about whatever number the client is trying to run on himself and the world.

I know about this particular adolescent and post-adolescent quirk because I did it, and so did a lot of my contemporaries. Of course now I’m getting a taste of how the adults in my environment felt, when I was in my 20s and moping around in a self-dramatizing funk. One of the psychologists I was referred to asked if I ate enough green vegetables. I went ballistic on him – “My freakin life is in the freakin toilet, and you’re talking about freakin VEGETABLES?” (He was right, of course.) On the other hand, I admit there’s such a thing as depression where even excellent nutrition can’t put a dent in it. And one of ugly things about depression is how it feeds on itself, because the worse shape you’re in, the harder it is to believe that any kind of relief is even possible. And you don’t care. And you don’t care that you don’t care.

Jeremy’sProphecy.com was a loaner so it isn’t in front of me any more. There may not be any blatant ageism in it, but somehow I came away with the impression that there is. Besides, I feel like saying this anyway. Ageism is as stupid as racism. One of the slogans of the 60s, “Don’t trust anyone over 30”, was a vile thing to say. Most old fogies still feel like they’re in their mid-twenties and experience at least a nanosecond of surprise every time they encounter a mirror. It’ll happen to you, too, if you’re a youngish person now. And kids, listen up: if the old fogies in your life don’t do wild stuff, maybe there’s a reason. Maybe because once was enough. Or fifty times was enough. Am I supposed to maintain an earlier level of sexual experimentation just so a 20-year-old will think I’m cool? But see, here’s the catch. The 20-year-old still won’t think I’m cool. Disgusting, more likely. That’s the fate of us old fogies. If we’re not getting laid, the kids think we’re prudes. If we are getting laid, the kids think we’re ridiculous.

Kids, when the old fogies look at you with that knowing, secret smile, don’t take it personally. It’s only because you remind them of what an ass they were at your age. That’s just about what the whole Wisdom of Age thing boils down to, as you’ll see when you get there – the realization of what an ass you used to be.

Kids get to have it both ways. They tell you how much it sucks being young. And then they tell you how out-of-it you are, for not being young, and for being glad about it. I always get a little perverse-humor charge out of Will Crist’s lyric: – “I’ll help you remember your youth.” Honey, thanks anyway, but I already remember it too well. It pretty much sucked.

Back to Jeremy’sProphecy.com. The narrator rags on his friend, who is willing to work on the weekend. Like it’s sacrosanct. He’s a hip young Gen-Y person, or Gen-Z, or whichever gen we’re up to now. (What happens next? Do we go back to the beginning of the alphabet and start over? Is Gen-A born yet?) And he subscribes to a code stricter than that of the Old Testament God, who after all only declared one day per week to be workless.

The narrator’s underlying assumption is: there’s something wrong with a person who will work on a weekend. I want to shake this kid and say, “You know what? It gets even weirder. Some people like to work for two weeks and then go sailing or skiing for two weeks – and they’re damn lucky to have that opportunity, even if it does mean working on a weekend. Some people like to work weekends or nights so they don’t have to drive in rush-hour traffic. Some people would rather work on a weekend than scrounge money from their relatives. Artists work any time they damn well feel like it. Who are you to come on all judgmental to your friend because he works on a Saturday?”

Another thing that sets my teeth on edge – again, because I was equally guilty of it at one time- is self-imposed ennui. This word seems a perfect fit even if it is foreign, because it conveys a certain kind of sophisticated, decadent boredom which is 25% pose, 25% laziness, and 50% willful ignorance.

Jeremy’s friends go out for a bite. The narrator intones, “We chose Denny’s because we always chose Denny’s.” There it is – the empty life of people who want to keep doing the same old thing, yet have it come out different. (Which is almost as stupid as doing the same old thing and expecting it to come out the same. Like when somebody moves your cheese.)

This attitude is widespread. In an article from an entertainment magazine, we’ve got film director Terry Zwigoff talking about how the radio plays the Backstreet Boys or ‘N Sync and your food choices are between a Big Mac or a Whopper. He says, “There’s not much choice any more. This country is just culturally bankrupt.”

Terry, I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, but you’re full of it. For starters, and you might want to take notes: Nobody has to listen to any radio station – ever. There are all kinds of personal music delivery systems. Anybody can listen to Chopin or Edith Piaf or John Cage or Aimee Mann, ad just about infinitum, any time of the day or night. You can listen to Chilean pipes or Romanian gypsy violin or Australian aboriginal didgeridoo or Gregorian chants. The music of all previous ages and every county on earth is available. If it’s mental stimulation you seek, there are a billion and some web pages out there, and they’re not all Pamela Anderson’s torso or even Jeremy’sProphecy.com. Next time you get hungry, forget about Big Macs, Whoppers, and even Denny’s. Stop in at the food co-op and pick up some grilled tofu.

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About Pat Hartman

Before publishing the two books "Call Someplace Paradise" and "Ghost Town: A Venice California Life", my main project was "Salon: A Journal of Aesthetics. " I wrote extensively for "Scene," a monthly arts and entertainment magazine with a circulation of 25,000. Also proofread, sold ads, put together the music calendar and, for a couple of years, served as editor. Presided over a couple issues of the local NORML newsletter, as well as being featured speaker at chapter meetings. Wrote a complete screenplay; collaborated on another one; worked on a couple of scripts (additional dialog and general brainstorming) with an indie film producer. Booked the talent for a large music festival. Wrote, designed, illustrated and produced various catalogs and brochures for small businesses. Spoke at a high school as a panelist on Women in the Professions; was a featured speaker at the 1991 Women in Libertarianism Conference; presented public programs on "Success in One Lesson" and "The Bloomsbury Group: What's It To Us?" Created the website VirtualVenice.info and wrote many politically-oriented pieces for Earthblog.net
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