Sunday, March 02, 2008

A Thin Shaky Line




I think sanity is a matter of perception and degree. Same for insanity - like obsessive-compulsive disorders or OCDs - excessive hand washing or germ- and other phobias. I remember the old definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. And milder forms, almost slipping under the fence post so to speak, of chatting to oneself or counting compulsively. I have ruminated on this topic for a while having been on both sides of this shaky line, I believe. What is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour after all is a very thin line - apart from the screaming obvious of running naked down the street at midnight and howling at the moon as you do so.

I am reminded of human mental fragility in the days I spend working in my office, which is on the second floor of the house in which I’m temporarily residing. There is a fine view of a similar large house across the way in this refined, quiet neighbourhood a little north of Toronto. I am privy to the comings and goings of the man of this house who is always attired in unfashionable baggy light jeans topped by a worn jacket that would have looked hip in the cheering section of high school basket ball games forty years ago. This man fills his days with trips to shops. Often up to eight times a day. I say shops because he comes back from his short journeys and climbs out of the car (he always drives, this being the true ‘burbs) holding a little bag of whatever and marches importantly into his house hoisting it aloft. The car is left on the driveway during the day to facilitate another trip, because that always follows, as night follows day. He scoots out again within an hour and heads off for another ten or fifteen minutes and comes back, once again triumphant, holding another little bag.

Now the fact that I watch this performance with such avidity brings my own sanity into question. The fact that I write about it would be a strong case for determining my own mental health as well.

But he reminds me of something which is tickling at the edge of my memory and it finally comes to the surface today and I ponder on the – as I call them – Eleanor Rigby kind of lives that people do live everywhere, whether in mansions, lofts, apartments or rooming houses.

I had a dear friend, now passed, who loved nothing better than to cook for me, usually down-home food (he was from the heartland of New Brunswick) and he lived on the twenty-first floor of a high-rise. One night he passed me his binoculars and told me to have a look over at the building next door, at a floor just beneath ours. I was astonished to see a woman, dressed completely in black, lit by the naked lights above her, pacing the whole length of her apartment from kitchen to bedroom and back again in full view of her uncovered windows. He told me she would do that from when she got home from her day, around six, until eleven when all her lights would go out, one by one, leaving her in complete darkness.

Killing time. Afraid to be still. Being busy, oh so busy. Keeping the black dog at bay. We all have our methods.

7 comments:

  1. That's true, it's a fine dividing line between sanity and insanity. I think I often come pretty close to it myself. I've always talked to myself, even on the street, though I've never counted compulsively. My vivid imagination can part company with reality on occasion too. The woman who paces her apartment all evening in full view of the neighbours is fascinating. As you say, probably afraid to be still. Or maybe secretly enjoying the attention and the air of mystery she gives off?

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  2. A couple of years ago I took a picture of my OCD neighbour vacuuming the road in the fall. Actually, I took another one too - this one of her sweeping the road that winter too. She continues to amuse us but I haven't hauled out the camera in awhile.

    The comment list on flickr is worth the effort I made.

    If we don't laugh then that's when the line disappears altogether, methinks ;)

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  3. Nick:
    Through the binocs she looked stressed to the max, I felt she needed help in the worst way. My friend tried to find her but had to give up, he even raced down one morning when he saw her leave her building but missed her. I don't know what he was going to do but being the compassionate person he was he would have found something to say.
    Yeah, we wiggle across the line throughout our lives, I think the test is that we know it!!
    XO
    WWW

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  4. Orla:
    Yes your neighbour exhibits bizaarre symptoms alright, on the extreme end of a neat-phobia.
    You're absolutely right, once we fail to see the humour, we are inserious trouble!
    XO
    WWW

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  5. Thought provoking piece WWW - thank you.

    It reminded me of an old Yorkshire saying:

    "All the world's queer, save thee and me....and even thee's a bit queer".

    (Queer as in peculiar mind -not gay!!)


    What would life be without our idiosyncracies though? Boring.

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  6. I'm pleased to be completely normal - even though everyone else is totally bonkers!

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  7. I agree, T. We are all entitled to our little trips across the line from time to time and as long as we're hurting no one else, why worry?
    RJA:
    That's why we keep you around, you bring us "unrulys" to order!
    XO
    WWW

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