A few years ago, I picked up a pear that one of my kids had taken a single bite out of and discarded. The irrational miser in me couldn’t stand to see it go to waste, so I picked it up and took a bite with the intention to finish it off. No sooner had I sunk my teeth into the fruit than I understood why it had been discarded. The apparently healthy, ripe, juicy fruit tasted awful. A potent flavor of mold overpowered my taste buds and flowed up into my nose. I couldn’t get the piece of fruit I had bitten off out of my mouth fast enough. Apparently there was a small spot of mold on the pear somewhere, and the byproducts of that infection had spread throughout the entire fruit without visibly affecting it. It was a nasty surprise.
So what does that have to do with a mind? In short, that pear represents how a contaminant can invisibly soak through something and ruin it without any outward indications of what has happened. I feel like that has happened in my mind. Something has permeated and tainted it, with the end result being that almost everything I have historically enjoyed is at best bland and tasteless, or — more often — bitter and disgusting.
I used to love to read. In particular, I loved the characters and stories created by the likes of Dickens and Hugo. Now I find the abuse and inhumanity of the “bad” characters too much to read. I used to love reading history, and wasn’t particularly bothered by the failures of humanity or the biases of the historian. Now I often have a strong urge to set the book down or turn off the recording because everything seems to be reduced to black and white in terms that grate on me.
I used to love to write, and spent enormous amounts of time piecing together two novels. I sat down to re-look at one of them tonight to consider revising it to make it better conform to the model publishers expect. In scanning through it to assess the feasibility of this task, I realized I don’t like what I wrote, and I don’t have any real desire to revise it — especially to revise it to meet expectations for commercial fiction. At this moment, sitting in the dark typing away, I write because I am sleepless and need to vent some bile. Nothing more. I don’t particularly enjoy it.
I used to like to be helpful to others. I used to spend lots of time and talent helping people with things like fixing cars, repairing homes, whatever. It didn’t matter so long as I was being helpful. Now I am in a position where I know almost nobody, and have very little opportunity to serve in any meaningful way. To make things worse, I don’t want to be around people enough to learn what help they may need or expose my talents. That creates more demand, and my reserves are running low. Besides, who would want to spend time with an asshole like me at this point? Even my kids would rather not hang around me.
At some point in my distant life, I liked to watch movies and television. It’s torture now. I can’t stand the cookie-cutter stories, boring characters, predictable plots, and the self-righteousness of the industry that has gone out of its way to marginalize people like me. Documentaries I used to enjoy now sound like war-drums being beaten to manipulate the masses. I don’t enjoy them anymore.
Food has always been one of my greatest pleasures. At this point the foods I like most are not options, and what remains is difficult to choke down sometimes. On occasions when I cheat and eat things I shouldn’t, the knowledge that I’m caving to weakness poisons the food and ruins the pleasure. Food is no longer all that enjoyable.
I still like to be creative, but I find I have little opportunity to do so. “Free time” is all but nonexistent. When I spend a few minutes doing something like writing in this worthless unread blog, I feel guilty for not better using my time on any of the myriad of other things I should be doing. Working in the yard is more of a drudge than the therapy it used to be. Cars and motorcycles are mostly just expensive transportation. Work is what you do to pay the bills. Projects are work you do to spend what remains because that kind of work is preferable to doing nothing in the same way that eating moldy food is preferable to starvation.
I’d like to figure out what contaminant is at the heart of this mental malaise, cut out the source, and apply an antidote to what remains in order to bring back the joy. My attempts so far have mostly just been frustrating. In some cases, the therapy has been a neutral. In others it has shown me just how screwed up I am. And in others, I feel like it has brought issues that were previously unobtrusive front and center.
I have demons I can point to and name — experiences that have tainted me — but I haven’t the slightest idea how to exorcise them. I’m also sure there are other more subtle and probably more destructive ones lurking in the shadows. They are the contaminant tainting my pleasures, and I’m unsure how to move past them.