10 Feb 2016
An elderly woman walks up beside me. Her snow-white hair is freshly permed. Two gold chains hang around her neck. She is eyeing the gin distillery. I can tell she’s unfamiliar with the piece because she raises an eyebrow when the water mill actually rotates. As I pretend to appraise a picnic table’s paint job, I watch her; I want to see her reaction to the distillery’s three-figure price tag. I’ve yearned for that piece for years, my porcelain white whale. But I can’t get a distillery until I get a police station, and I can’t get a police station until I get a city hall. Instead, there’s a Batman tree ornament atop the church spire. For now, vigilante justice is the only justice my village needs. I fear a distillery will upset this delicate balance.
We all have our own particular madnesses. Even when those around us recognize them, the social contract demands we avert our gaze – or, failing that, at least to speak not of its peculiarities. It is embarrassing for others to be present when the oddity of our private selves is revealed, because they can recognize in these exposed moments their own lives, not the content of our strangeness, but the fact of strangeness itself.
To suffer without ever making explicit that suffering, with the sheer multitude of quiet desperations, is the implicit agreement that binds together society. I will not draw attention to your madness, and you will not draw attention to mine. It will surface in our public lives, as such things inevitably do regardless of any attempts at keeping them weighted down in the deep ocean that is our private lives. One insists on using their own writing instrument because “fountain pens simply write better”; one refuses an offered meal on the basis that the food is no longer raw; or one makes an offhand reference to the significance of an odd presentation of the minor arcana from their weekly reading. The silence punctuates those revelations far stronger than any mark. It is a quiet that is pregnant with uneasy tension, as if all participants are considering full abandonment of the many benefits of so-called civilization. After all, what is one to do with a rabid animal but alleviate their misery. And, of course, the exposed beast that uttered the proof of their illness is all too aware of their nakedness.
Rather than bloodletting, we have all decided to merely act as if these diseases are invisible. Never to be laid bare amidst the healthy minds of others. That is to say, the minds of those that are not ill in precisely the same way that ours happens to be.
Richard has broken this most sacred of vows, forcefully drawing our attention that which we are to pretend is not. He is supposed to have the decency to cover his nakedness, if not with clothes then at the very least with a fig leaf or a hand. Instead there he stands, facing forward, hands on hips as if to say, “I have nothing to be ashamed of”. The polite among us know that we should proffer our coats or avert our eyes – neither of which the impolite will even consider. Yet, by inaction, all are reduced to the same. Mouth agape we stand, looking at Richard as he presents his madness to us. But perhaps he is not naked after all. Perhaps he is clothed in the finest teeny little garments and all we have to do is but look closer.