Analysis, Memories, Observations, Reflection

The Day I Decided I Was Like an Octopus

“Polycephalocladed” sounds like an animal with a twisty-cone shell and tentacles trolling a primordial sea. The idea of being a polycephaloclade surfaced in another climate, during an earlier epoch. My mind was hot soup, then.

I aerated another Piedmont lawn on a summer’s day — picturesque except for the crust of grass-seed and dust clinging to a film of sweat on my face and arms. I etched an inward-spiraling path of holes. My blue-collar-man body stayed yoked by the fists to the machine I’d nicknamed “Daeodon“: a lawncare wraith and his many-tusked, snorting combustion beast. As a child I was prone to pacing yards, using my swirling torrent steps to pan thoughts for flecks of gold or the ‘bones’ of imagined prehistoric animals. I often lost the present moment and began to run and skip. Call it “light kinesthetic therapy”, in contrast to the Gatorade-soaked penance of that September.

There were no embankments, at least. Dehydration and lingering disgrace brought a specific toxicity to a raging boil, in me, when I wrangled machines on hillsides. These “tar-pit reveries” metastasized in the strangling trenches of afternoons, virulence proportional to the slope. I maimed or killed him, whomever he was, and evolved by the spoils… Carl Jung suggested we †carry many archetypes in our subconscious– I’m of a certain generation: I pictured Nidoking. These working-fever-dreams were paradoxical sources of strength and shame, slaking a thirst for adrenaline but warping my self-image.

Rearing-up on two legs, I could become †equal parts ground-pounding and venom.

Yet that day I had ‘steam-cooked-zombie’ fatigue as I meandered the garden boxes of a level back-yard. Trains-of-thought about movies and books chugga-chugga’ed around my tracks, the same scenes and themes in tightening loops. Fiction was respite from memory and speculation. I pocked the last stripe of untouched backyard and moved to shadier turf. The front-lawn became my zen garden. Trees create the necessity for growing arcs, similar to Tibetan monks raking ever-widening circles around boulders. My attention became like double-exposed film, senses continually monitoring the machine that carved eddying swirls of holes while consciousness untethered itself from the present.

Some now-forgotten inkling fermented in my skull, slowly, and a foam of vague anger formed and lingered. A song popped into my head: Luna’s rendition of “Alone in Kyoto” blew away the scum. I noticed. Some ‘other’ part of me had sent “Alone in Kyoto”, an unsolicited medicine bundle, from the vast honeycomb of melodies in my brain. It was very effective: I had a tremendous insight. The urge to write about it has never dissipated but the ability is elusive.

I had already named some of my conflicting attitudes. “Charlie”, for example, referred to a pernicious self-destructive “voice” — a discursive thread, a verbal entity without vocal reality. ‘The Beast’ was Charlie’s homicidal analogue, perhaps a Hulked-out Charlie. I called my artistic impulse Phoenix; my social conscience, Xavier. As a lover, I had been “Sabr”: a Palestinian colloquialism for ‘prickly-pear’ but also a pun on a word for ‘patience’. Until “Alone in Kyoto” came from my mental jukebox, I had assumed the ‘voices’ should be assimilated or else I might seem insane. My desire to be ‘one’ (ironically?) drove me mad– the distinct threads were impossible to resolve into a single stream.

‘Polycephalocladed’ is preferable as a descriptor (‘multicerebramosus’ sounds like a disease). Poly, from the greek meaning multiple; cephalo, meaning head or brain; clade, meaning shoots or branches. I grafted together a new word to describe how I am composed from integrated, distinct parts.

An octopus’s spatial reasoning abilities are believed to be spread throughout their arms, so that each arm is contributing to its understanding of the environment. ‘Mind’ is never only in the head, for anyone, but when an octopus uses its tentacles to sense, manipulate, and solve problems it makes embodied cognition exquisitely visible! The octopus helped me realize that separate parts can coexist if they are integrated. I imagine that some people are more like sea-snakes: singular, teeth-forward and fluke behind. I am not so streamlined but my self is still unified without being as unitary. All of the many “voices” are the arms I use to orient in life, yet I am not eight+ different things… I am one with many branches. As Whitman wrote, “I contain multitudes”.

The rest of that Autumn, I tried to be aware when I was too far “into one of my arms” rather than connected to the ‘head’ part of me that summoned “Alone in Kyoto” and brought me back to center. Perhaps I struggle to finish this essay because that means I must carry the story forward and consummate the implications. “I must make everyone understand precisely,” I thought, “in order for it to truly become real.” I connected the idea to some other practices I was developing, including the stones. “Until I perfect my meditative practice and my shamanic orientation,” I might say, “I’m not sure I’m ready to really begin…”

This is a well-known phenomenon marinated in my unique flavors: I lived most of my life under the influence of subtle pathologies I did not understand and those conditions enforced limits that are difficult to transcend all at once, even as the ability develops. People who have been depressed for a while start to identify with it and don’t know what to do when depression affects them less, when there is not enough depression left to define them and they have to cobble together the parts of themselves and see who they really are with or without mental health challenges. Focus turns toward our outward situation when the inward situation gets stable enough– sometimes even ‘smart’ people unconsciously find ways to thwart their own progress in order to continue facing problems they already know about rather than embracing NEW challenges.

The impatience to transcend, itself, causes episodes of delay yet cannot stop the more powerful underlying principle: my will was always strong. Rather than getting abstract, I’ll get metaphorical: if an aerator’s drive-chain slipped from its gears and jammed, then it wouldn’t turn its tines, couldn’t even roll, and was way too heavy to drag: a shit-cake baked in hell with the words “fuck-off” written on it in frosting. Once I got the drive-chain situated again (out of necessity) that beast could pull– nothing was wrong with the engine. That didn’t always mean I fixed everything right away– sometimes I ate the rest of my lunch and slugged some water.

My mental engine was still running but the chain slipped. I think it’s getting situated, again. TBC…

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