Thursday, August 3, 2023

Growing or getting?


Robert Ryman, Untitled, 1965.

Dear Sensates,

I seem to be becoming more sensitive; I mention it because it seems odd; people growing old and older around me keep telling me they don't care about this or that anymore, or have become inured to the horror of daily news, or that they know you 'can't do anything for anyone.'  Contrariwise, I seem to be metamorphosing into the hypersensitive opposite.  It started with movies, a long time ago:  I found that sitting in the dark with giant moving images was too manipulative; I felt scared, small, helpless, and I didn't like spending two hours pressed down by those feelings.  I avoided all the most horrible films, but still sometimes I found find myself noiselessy chanting 'it's okay, it's okay, it's just a movie' while putting the rest of my corpuscles into overdrive to shut out the barrage of noise and image.  I would call this a panic attack, if I didn't think that we have a tendency to insist that our emotional reactions should be contained and controlled.

Now it happens to me with television, and smaller screens, at home, in the safety and light of all that housing and soft furnishings connote.  

One time my Mother had on one of her endless "old movies" from The Old Movie Channel; it was about the tragedy of the Hindenburg; I could not believe she could be in the room watching all the actors fall and burn up above the airfield.  When I was 11, I saw The Poseidon Adventure on TV and I felt like I was trapped and drowning every night for what seemed like 10 years.

It's not just moving pictures, either; it is happening to me with books- I am reading, then some how startled into the present by an external sound- shattering all the fabricated tension of the book and it's spaces.  I feel like I am waking from a bad dream, or suddenly pulled out of a lengthy funeral service; a dim space with little air and smoky, choking incense.  I now have to avoid books* that consume my emotions too much, that have me feeling raw and exposed for weeks.

With even my skin; there is a patch on my shin that has phantom feelings.  There is nothing there, the doctor, the dermatologist have reassured me.  It feels like brushing very gently into a cactus for a minute or two, and then it is gone until later.

The nuances of taste seem heightened to me too; but I know (don't I?) how powerful the imagination is, and so I must be imaging that this cheese tastes of the smell of the grocery store.  Or that the coffee drink is just possibly a hair fermented?  Or that the lettuce tastes like the rubbery plastic it is wrapped in?  It's not all negative associations; the raw cabbage is a little sweet, like carrots.  The cake tastes faintly of dusty trail trodden pine needles.

I think, maybe, that all this claiming to be less affected might not be true.  Maybe we just tell ourselves we feel less.  Maybe that is easier than feeling ever more, and knowing there is less and less we can do about it, as we get, or grow, old.

*  Were we on Htrae, I would give you this list of books to avoid, but, we all know that would be like a dish of candy that no one could keep themselves from trying just one piece, and then, all my vain attempts to keep you safe from harm would be useless; as they probably are.  See:  The Croquet Player, H. G. Wells.