Mad Woman In A Surreal World

I feel asleep last night thinking I’ve gone mad. I’ve gone mad. It’s finally happened. Again. I’ve gone mad. 

Future poetry compilation by yours truly entitled: Woman Gone Mad

or Mad Woman In A Weird World

or even Woman Going Mad Gone Gone Bye Bye Brain World See Ya Suckas I’m Off Wooey Hooey Hey!

I don’t mean to romanticize the feeling of delving into insanity. Because even though some of the mad geniuses I know periodically take trips into the deep end, and I’ve made my home there many a time, it is not a place of safe staying. It’s not like going to the movies where you can sit down in a plush seat and munch on salty treats while your mind and emotions are titillated by a story intentionally meant to temporarily mesmerize you.

No. It’s more like you look at your hands and you suddenly don’t recognize them as your hands, and you take these alien hands and you try to make them peel an orange, but they simply won’t listen, and then you start thinking, Impertinent hands! Whose bold joke is this to make hands that do not function? and at that point, some switch in your brain goes Okay, it’s started. Here we go, we’re in for a ride! The disconnect has begun and honey, you’re a captive passenger in a jankity cart headed straight to hell. Everything that you once knew becomes silly putty. Every person, every moment, every special belonging in your life dissipates into a vacuum of ethereal absurdity. How long it lasts varies. Sometimes it’s only a couple of hours, but I’ve survived there for weeks on end. My eyes are no longer my eyes. My toes not my toes. The world gets misty with a saturated detachment and the far away part of my brain that can still process cohesive thoughts nonchalantly looks on and wonders whether anyone notices I’m not all there. How good am I at passing.

I recently identified with the quote, “A writer is many people trying to be one person.”

As much as I revere geniuses like Hemingway and Faulkner (who wrote As I Lay Dying in a mere six months and was drunk every night doing it), it costs a lot to venture where the greats do. How many people walk around with imaginary straight jackets reeling in their octopus limbs. How many wrestle with the resistance of the deep end. How many people are in my head alone. How many want to come out and see the light.

No, I’m not romanticizing the feeling of the brain splitting apart into multiple compartments, each one screamingly disconnected from the others. My grandmother, though I never met her, was apparently schizotypal (very similar to schizophrenic) and, consequently, my father is a psychologist. Consequently, sometimes I think I am insane. I have too intimate a relationship with the schizo framework for it to be any way romantic to me. If it weren’t so real a possibility that someday my brain chemistry may flip a switch (my brain is constantly flipping all kinds of switches) and send me into mental paralysis, I might not resist the deep end so much.


That’s where the diamonds hide.

It’s only in those moments of departure that I feel the world whispering secrets too heavy for everyday existence. It’s only then that I take my shoveling hands and dig straight down into the dirt of reality, intending to pull up some gnawing roots. It’s not always dark, either. Sometimes, I’m so light I could fly and I tap into the common fabric of consciousness with delight. But they’re both extremes with a high price. The price is living outside the regular rhythm of social life.

I just finished reading a brilliant little novel called Hunger by a late 19th-century German writer Knut Hamsun. He spent his entire life poor, eking out a living as a schoolteacher, store clerk, farmhand, road laborer and various other odd positions before winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1920 — and dying in poverty in 1952. The novel is fast-paced, absurd and at times pathetically hilarious, chronicling an impoverished writer on a journey into irrationality as hunger, cold and misery become his closest friends. His mind, which he prizes as his greatest asset, starts to dissolve along with his body. Why live this way? Because he is a writer.

Toward the end of the story, a landlady who has housed him for three weeks on credit, starts becoming suspicious he will never pay her.

Their conversation goes:

“But you won’t ever finish that article, will you?”

“You think so? I may feel inspired to write tomorrow, or maybe even tonight; it’s not at all impossible that the inspiration will come sometime tonight, and then my article will be finished in a quarter of an hour, at the most. You see, it’s not the same with my work as with other people’s; I can’t just sit down and get so much done every day, I have to wait for the right moment. And nobody can tell the day or the hour when the spirit will come upon him. It must take its course.”

…As soon as I was alone, I sprang up and started tearing my hair in despair. No, there wasn’t the least hope for me, no hope at all! My brain was bankrupt!

Oh, the manic exaggerative hopeless compulsion of the writer captured in its most basic essence! Oscillating from extreme arrogance to the deepest self-pity! Why have we chosen this life? Or has it chosen us?

Last night, I was there. My brain was bankrupt, unable even to tell my body to get out of this messy, vapid depression enough to form coherent thoughts. And my thoughts! My thoughts are all I have! What am I without searingly true thoughts? What kind of writer can’t think? And the unique dilemma of not being able to force oneself to think in a way that is conducive to producing words on the page is downright debilitating. Then what am I?! I couldn’t do it. There was nothing I could possibly to do to force myself to write the things I needed to write.

This makes for a very unstable way of living.

Also, at this point in my life, a very, very poor one. All I ache to do is let the winter erupt in some zig zagging vernacular, but that won’t pay the heating bills! Still, I’ve chosen it. I am sitting in a living room that pulses like a freezer but my hands (those hands that last night were not my hands) just type away with the frenetic energy of a bundled up Virginia Woolf. Right now, I’ve chosen this way, this meager living that allows me the afternoon freedom to let play out all the tap-dancing fantasies of inane thought patterns, and for that I can be proud.

I haven’t always been able to choose this way. I have always been poor. Grew up in a small room with no common windows to light the way. But that’s another story for later. Though I choose this way, there is zero romanticism in poverty.

“Poverty itself is only romanticized by fools.” -J.K. Rowling

Yeah, she may be a quadraple-billionaire now, but Rowling was scraping by with canned soup and welfare supporting a child in abject poverty before she became renowned for Harry Potter. There’s nothing glorious about existing in nothing.

Nonetheless, there is a rich vein of truth that only appears in those decrepit, crawling moments of mad possession. When the senses are on high alert to every passing bird, every roaming leaf carried about on the wind, every shaking thought seems drenched in gold. In these moments, everything is surreal and somehow truer than before. Walking around like there’s a vacancy in my eye sockets but some inner light inflamed somewhere else.

The main character of Hunger relates this bit, a little after being kicked out onto the street again:

In all that I observed in this way there was nothing, not even a tiny incidental circumstance, that escaped me. My attention was most alert, every little thing was sensitively picked up, and I had my own ideas about these matters as they occurred. So there couldn’t possibly be anything wrong with my sanity. As things were, how could there possibly be anything the matter with it?

Now, look here, I said all of a sudden, you have been bothering yourself about your sanity long enough, making yourself anxious on that score; now let’s put a stop to these tomfooleries! Is it a sign of insanity to perceive and understand all things as accurately as you do?

What great things come to life in the madness of absence! Absence of food, absence of sense, absence of sleep and of security. I’ve been swinging on this pendulum for more than a decade now, not always freely, but these are the crevices I now give myself permission to explore.

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman — mad genius! I am nothing short of a mad genius! Nothing short of a pitiful fool! All I have are the words, the words, the words. Catch me in a spirit of nonsense and you won’t recognize me from the grounded body I normally inhabit. There will be no editing of this post! I’m amazed I still remember to capitalize! How deeply ingrained some things are. How to shake even those. How to rebuild in the fire. How to emerge with some granular morsel from the depths, hunched over and protecting a shoddy bit of rough dirt that, once scraped away, might reveal something worthwhile. How to do this.

How to write not in your right mind! What genius is there in drafts?

What truth smoldering in the ash of the common! Pooey on psychology. Pooey on deadlines. Pooey on supposed to be.

No, there is no romanticism here. Only a compulsion to sift through toward understanding. Only a coping mechanism that is born out of some of the deepest despair. These may not be the words that shine toward truth, but at least they are words. They may be the precursor to some great awakening, who knows. After a night of delirium, at least I have these words on the page, however trite they may be. How to get productively lost in the process. How to see.

How madness can be transformed — that is all there is. You need only to cultivate return.

J.K. Rowling Speaks at Harvard Commencement from Harvard Magazine on Vimeo.


Herbalife… Get A Life

Oh poor Monday, how it was wasted drinking lemon tea and gushing about yoga across the table from a Grade A Pyramid Schemer. Real job interview for a “customer service position” at a “health and wellness center”? I think not.

What should have been a totally rad introduction to a blossoming, awesome chapter in my life where I get paid to drink gallons of tea all day, talk about yoga (and maybe do some of it), help people pick vitamins and stuff and generally contribute to a better way of stumbling through existence ended up being a complete waste of my day as a sadly enthusiastic salesman tried to recruit me to Herbalife.

On my way to my new happy hippie health job.

Let me warn you right now, if you happen to respond to a job that sounds awesome and show up to a “wellness center” (that even has a website, albeit a pretty crappy one) with, suspiciously, one singular logo plastered around the office – you guessed it, Herbalife – stop right there, don’t talk to anybody or look anybody in their Pyramid Scheming eyes and scoot your booty back into your car or bike or rollerblades and turn around, go home and continue watching 30 Rock in your pajamas while eating mango ice cream. 30 Rock world is a much better world than Herbalife Bullshit World.

After discovering there was no such happy hippie health job.

I’ve been privy to a scheme or two in my day (ever been heckled by Vector marketing?) and this seemed fairly legitimate. Real looking website with brick and mortar location, YouTube video of the business’s grand opening, NO mention of Herbalife ANYWHERE  and no “get rick quick” phrasing in the job posting, and pay scale listed as hourly (which it definitely is not).

Oh, wait a minute. All I had to do to get an interview was list why I wanted to work in health and wellness. (“Because, like, health is so im-por-tant, and wellness is about mind and body and soul and stuff.”) And I got an email for a job interview within 24 hours. Yeah, maybe this was how it worked in 1913, but not 99 years later in the midst of the worst recession since the country’s last actual depression.

Me applying for a job in 1913.

So, I should have suspected something at that point, but I guess it just goes to show my true nature – a gullibly inflated sense of self that’s usually buried under layers upon layers of self-doubt, surfacing only to lure me into Herbalife traps: “Yeah, I really AM that awesome! See how easy it is for me to get a really awesome paid job I love!”

The second clue that something was not “professional” about this “job interview” was the fact that my interviewer showed up 7 and a half minutes late to our scheduled meeting, and the “office” was locked and empty. He arrived finally, a middle-aged dreadlocked African-American dude with crooked teeth wearing sweatpants and a sports jersey who was waving and shouting enthusiastic apologies for being late.

I probably wouldn't have minded if it were this guy who showed up late...

Okay, so I go into the office and then, BAM – RED FLAG – large empty room with a few tables, a counter full of Herbalife products, shelves full of Herbalife products and Herbalife banners all around the room. And not much else. I should have started smelling something at this point. And then, I did.

In close proximity to my “interviewer,” it became embarrassingly clear that he smelled. This is not something I would want someone posting about me on the Internet, but he smelled. Like unwashed human. Not just B.O., but like living-in-someone’s-basement-and-verging-on-homeless smell.

And the worst part about it? He was so nice. He was enthusiastic, personable, smiley, encouraging – I perhaps am sometimes too giving in my judgments of people (see: creepy stalkers, backstabbing best friends, regrettable boyfriends) so I stuck it out. I sat down (in very nice interview get-up, I should add), told him about myself, drank his lemon tea (delicious, to their credit, those wily ones) and gave him my resume, plus two writing samples I had on vitamin supplements that I thought would be impressive to a health and wellness center, all neatly packaged in a presentation folder. I think it totally would have been at least nod-worthy – to a real health and wellness center.

If by "job" you mean "soul crushing disappointment."

Blah, blah, blah – I put on the impressive act, raving about how much I love yoga, and how health is so important to me, and how I really, really want to do a spring detox cleanse. He LOVED my passion for yoga (in fact, maybe I’d like to teach a class?), he kept confirming how well I was getting “it” and he refilled my tea (biggest bonus points for this one). He ate it up, and that repressed ego we talked about earlier surfaced up to offer commentary on the event, “Heck yeah, I AM actually pretty fucking rad, huh? It’s in the bag.” Too bad this was mostly his expert sales coddling bringing it out in me.

And you know, at first the job did sound like something I could be interested in, when he explained it like I would be a motivational fitness coach to help severely overweight people get healthier, run and organize fitness classes, manage the office and track clients’ progress to their goals. Then he showed me a cheesy Powerpoint on Herbalife, the vitamin line they sell. So it’s not really a wellness center, but a hub for Herbalife sales reps, huh? (The classes and nutrition counseling are all just to sell more Herbalife and no one gets paid for any of it.)

And finally, he got to the pay scale.

Yep, you guessed it – 100% commission. And once you train two people, who each train two people, who each train two people…. that’s when you get $4,000 a month for doing nothing. Un-huh. That sounds like bona fide pyramid scheme to me, buddy.


At this point, I had all “impress interviewer” signals go into sleepy, angry mode and kind of slumped there waiting for him to finish, trying to be “nice” but planning my exit. Just to finalize the no-deal, he showed me their “activities board,” on which are weekly (unpaid) training meetings, weekly (unpaid) conference calls, monthly (unpaid) longer training meetings and annual (unpaid) training conferences. Oh yeah, and the fitness classes they teach for free are all unpaid and all climax with a refreshing Herbalife free sample.

Also, to get in on this fantastic career, all you have to do is start by buying a $68 training kit, which supposedly includes some sort of “nutrition certification” and samples of Herbalife shakes. Un-huh. Plus, it’s highly recommended you test out the products yourself in order to sell them to people – oh, but you have to actually buy them.

Look at all these great and valuable items that come in an Herbalife starter kit.

Okay, so when we were wrapping up and he asked me if I had any questions, I looked him straight in his friendly little eyes and asked, “This isn’t a pyramid scheme, is it?” to which he subtly looked away, got a little quieter and assured me it was not. Oh, okay then. Problem solved. …Not. (Did he forget that at least three times throughout our “interview” he had jovially expressed to me how much he loved being paid to tell stories to people?)

After I asked this question, I started heading for the door and he said he’d follow up with me around Wednesday. I haven’t heard from him since, so I hope he’s astute enough to have gathered I won’t be playing. I just wonder: he said he was a divorced father of two kids who was a stay-at-home dad for seven years, but is he really? Does he really believe in what he’s saying and is just a poor fool getting duped? Is the economy so bad real jobs don’t exist anymore? Or is he an expert con artist, lying and scheming his way up to the theoretical top? Did he really lose 40 pounds in 4 months? Is Herbalife REALLY all natural (judging from their list of 35 different ingredients with chemical-sounding names on every package, I highly doubt it)? Is everything he said to me a lie?? Do I even exist???

Where am I? Is this heaven?

Okay, yes I do exist, and so do pyramid scheme catchers (PSCs) – apparently, Herbalife actually is truly a 5 billion dollar industry with claws in countries all over the world. They’re technically what is defended as a multi-level marketing business model rather than a pyramid scheme, since they sell actual products, but I think it’s just a fancy way of saying shitty fucking company. Though a quick search on Google reveals this type of network marketing is not in fact illegal because there is a product at its core (think Tupperware parties or Avon ladies), it might as well be called a pyramid scheme. As shown in the European settlement case linked above, the commission made from retail sales is nothing compared to the incentive for building a solid base of bodies beneath you to climb and piss on as you Herba-strangle your way to a Caribbean vacation.

Not sure I’m right? Here’s how the guy broke it down: I’d get 25% commission starting off then 50% later on for anything I sell. A single product goes for about $15, so whoop-dee-do, I sell one vial of lab food to some beef-eating sucker and I reap a whole $4. However, if I train 2 x 2 x 2 (14 more minions on the bottom), I will get a comfy little reward of $4,000 per month. And a “full-time” worker supposedly makes $118,000 a year for having successfully weaved a thick bloodrug made out of the mushed brains of Herbalife zombies for people to wipe their feet on.

So, anyone who has been unwittingly lured into a fake store that is full of Herbalife salespeople, tuck your tush in and head out the door before they can stick their vitamins in it.

Not worth your soul.

Now go out and get a real job, whydontcha.