Volatile adj. having a high vapor pressure and a low boiling point;
(of circumstances) liable to sudden, unpredictable, or explosive change
[ETYMOLOGY: from Latin volatilis flying, from volare to fly]
“To lose the scar of knowledge is to renew the wound.” - Wendell Berry
“The rings around Saturn are its own shattered moon.” - Jane LeCroy
Making Maps with the Artifacts of Our Fleeting Memories or On Being a Time Traveler
In traditional Hopi language, there’s no past, present, or future in the grammar structure - different objects and people have different "states of becoming." It’s a way of conceiving TIME that is completely unlike the one with which we’ve all grown up. This idea has always resonated with me and captured my imagination—maybe it’s because of the non-linear nature of my mind and the blessing or curse I carry of feeling things strong and synchronous. As someone struggling with what is known these days, in the early part of the 21st Century, as bipolar disorder, it often becomes very clear to me that we don’t all move at the same speeds or experience the same versions of reality. Even though we are all supposedly living under the same conventions of linear time, there are other things happening that are much harder to describe, much harder to grasp and hold on to with the language we are given to make sense of our lives.
The world inside my head sometimes feels like a carnival sideshow trickster game—full of smoke and mirrors, warping and shaping history through various gradations of manic and depressive lenses.
When I’m manic I feel like I have powers to see right through the things around me. I can’t help noticing that the world is ending—but my mind screws up the calculations and thinks that the world is ending RIGHT NOW. When I’m depressed the television seems like it’s broadcasting Live From Hell on all the channels. Time has stopped and I’m trapped in the worst nightmare I can possibly dream up for eternity. When I’m really down it’s so easy for me to forget any good I’ve ever done and rewrite myself as a miserable pathetic asshole and my life as a shameful tragedy that never should have happened. But when I’m up it seems like the entire universe is behind me, and not only have I worked out the perfect plans for the future of the planet—I have the energy to carry them out single-handedly and still come up with plans for the rest of the universe after that.
Unbeknownst to me, right around the corner all my plans are destined to crumble and I’m going to find myself wandering alone in the streets with the broken pieces, wondering how I ever had the imagination to dream them all up and the chutzpah to actually believe they might happen. It’s a strange universe I inhabit, let me tell you. My past is never fixed, it seems to bend with the force of the present. Even when my life is the most steady and my internal pendulum is swinging closer to center, all my experiences are still informed by everything I’ve seen through these eyes, everything I’ve felt with this heart—and everything that, at some point, I believed to be real.
Because this territory in my internal universe is continually shifting, I’ve learned to look for patterns and rhythms in the chaos that I can use as guides when I can’t locate steady ground. So I make maps from my memories. I make my maps out of words and stories.
I keep a written journal, and anyone who knows me knows that my big black book goes with me everywhere. It lies at the edge of my mattress next to my head, every night, with an open pen nestled in its crevice, waiting for me to wake up and scribble down my dreams. My journal books are cut and paste patchworks layered with different pieces of my life: my own words interspersed between flyers from events, seed packets, photos of friends and loved ones, collages of torn apart and reworked advertisements, dried leaves, maps of towns and cities, newspaper and magazine clippings, postcards, and scribbled contact info and little drawings from the people I meet. My journals are multi-layered metaphorically and physically. Sometimes if I write something that I can't bear to look at because it's too embarrassing or complicated, I'll paste over it with a photo or a flyer and know I can go back and read it when I'm ready, whether it's a week later or in three years when I rediscover its beckoning pages calling to me from the shelf.
Above my desk the big black journals sit next to one another, held together with duct tape and sweat and train grease and gluestick glue. They document the last 9 years of my life--the years since I dropped out of college--in case I have trouble making sense of where I’ve been; they’re something I can refer back to when I’m trying to figure out where I’ve been. I can trace my dreams and my waking hours back almost a decade and find deeper insight into myself with every passing year.
My journals are the maps of this crazy journey.
They look like the rings of a tree in the history they tell by their appearance. The books I’ve kept as I was breaking down in psychosis are tattered shreds and barely held together, showing evidence of trauma the same way the inner rings of a tree from a year of fires will be darker and more charred. My handwriting changes between my mania and my depression -- excited sentences taking up enormous spaces and whole melancholy paragraphs carved in sketches in the margins. My dreams are always written down sloppily, in crude half-asleep chicken scratch, nestled between the other entries, marking the space between days. When there are no dreams to mark the space, that in itself becomes a marker that I wasn’t paying attention to my dreams.
“Remember that the tattoos on your arms are dark blue stories and your dreams hold the keys to the secret answers of the universe…”
- a old journal entry written by moonlight from me to my future self
The last time I was putting my life back together after it had completely fallen apart I discovered the true power of my journals. When I’ve been knocked way far off balance it’s much easier for me to forget who I am and buy into the idea that everything I’ve done with my life or cared about in the end just makes me a criminal and a worthless deadbeat with no job skills or diploma that is destined to end up in prison or living on his poor mom’s couch forever. My thoughts become plagued with oceans of “if only’s” and I wish desperately for another chance to go back and change my sorry fate. When I rediscovered my journals I realized I’d left so many notes for myself from all the other times I went through this and that I already knew myself better than anyone: “Just in case you forgot—things were really bad back here but you pulled through like a champ —you’re gonna make it kid.” and “don’t you ever forget what the sunset looks like from the open door of this boxcar, don’t you ever ever forget how alive you are right now. it’s still all in you, remember?”
Reading my old journals feels like I’m traveling through time. I suddenly have the ability to revisit earlier lives—but through the eyes of someone older, who sees things from a wiser place. And although I’m obviously the one who wrote them, it’s amazing what a different person I feel like now. It’s so hard to believe that all those lives were lived by the same person, and that person is me. I wonder what would happen to all those memories if I didn’t write them down—if all the ridiculous and dangerous things I’ve ever done, all the dismal and wondrous places I’ve ever been, and all the brilliant and revolutionary people I’ve ever known, weren’t documented for me to rediscover like buried treasure lessons in the future. I wonder if all those memories would eventually just dissolve, unnoticed, like tears in rain.
This is my history. This is how I know I've been alive and that I'm not just living with a bunch of somebody else's memories that I watched on television or saw in a movie or read about in the paper. I take notes. And my notes become stories, my stories become lessons, and my lessons become incorporated into my own personal mythology that I carry around with me everywhere. This is what gives the crazy patterns of my life meaning. This is how I map my world.
I hope these words maybe will inspire you to make maps of your own.
This piece was taken from the book me and my friend Ashley just wrote: “Navigating the Space Between Brilliance and Madness – a Reader and Roadmap of Bipolar Worlds.” We’re traveling around the country on book tour right now, facilitating radical mental health workshops, visiting old friends, and having big springtime adventures. By the time you read this we probably will have sold out of the first printing, but if you’re interested drop me a line and I’ll tell you how to get a hold of one. Or check out our website:
www.theicarusproject.net mad love, sascha
PO Box 18 Spring Glen, NY 12483 (917)733 9316