Unstable Minds
Brian Conlon


I really don't want to see anyone I know. It's not that I'm embarrassed to be here, or that there is anyone in particular I want to avoid, it's simply that I don't want to acknowledge the existence of others right now. Generally, I like people, particularly people I know, but it's that moment of recognition, or "I've seen you before and, in fact, I know who you are and I know where you are right now," that I just can't stand. I don't harbor a similar aversion to any other known objects. If I saw my friend's dog wondering around the hallway without my friend I would not be the least bit bothered, likewise for that painting I just passed. It comes down to this: I am here, but I'd rather not anyone know that. If a person sits in a lecture, says not a word, and is recognized by no one, then who is to say he was at the lecture? Furthermore, who is to say I should know what the lecture was about, or who else was there? Without recognition I have no responsibility and there is no record of my existence. If I am, in fact, nowhere else, but the lecture hall, and no one in the lecture hall knows I am there, then I am, in essence, nowhere.

What a terrific feeling it is to be nowhere. You must try it sometime. It is not as the Beatles would have it. You are not making nowhere plans: you are simply not liable to anyone for anything within reason.

The problem with being nowhere is that you are inherently bound by social mores which prohibit you from exploiting your nowhereness to its full potential. There is but one rule when you are nowhere, that is, you must not do anything that will disturb your lack of existence. You can do anything that will not result in people recounting what you have done. What can be done is dependent on the type of nowhere you happen to be in. If you are, for instance, in a lecture nowhere, then you may not get up and scream, or really talk at all, unless other people are talking such that your voice is unrecognizable. However, if you are in a dark loud nowhere, perhaps a scary movie screening, you may do almost anything and remain nowhere. While it has certain benefits, a loud dark nowhere is not as satisfying because there may be many other people there who are also nowhere. The very best, I mean the very best, and most difficult to preserve nowhere, is one in which everyone else in the room is definitely somewhere and you stand (or sit) alone in your nowhere. While you cannot truly maintain this nowhere for any great period of time without appearing crazy or being forced into somewhere, the satisfaction of knowing that everyone else is accountable and you are not (so long as you do not draw attention to yourself) is tremendous.

What is the difference between being nowhere and being alone? If you ask this question, you do not and can not know the joys of being nowhere, or the sorrows of being alone. When you are alone there is no way out other than to actively seek out other people, you can do anything and there is no chance of anyone noticing or caring. Conversely, when you are nowhere there are constant hurdles you must avoid to retain your nowhere and all can be lost with the most innocuous indiscretion. Likewise, when you are nowhere and want to escape (for some reason) it is as simple as introducing yourself or dropping your pen on the floor. Suddenly you are somewhere and everybody knows it.

What is the difference between being alone in a crowd and being nowhere? This is a more challenging question, but just as simply resolved. When you are alone in a crowd, this is not by choice, you may very well desire to be with someone in the crowd or be known to the crowd, but can not, because of some personal timidity, bring yourself to change your circumstance. However, when you are nowhere, you are there out of conscious desire and the only goal is to retain that nowhere, to defend it against all those who might encroach upon it. It is your nowhere!


Death Sentence

Who would I choose to give me my death sentence? I think a coach, a fat one, but imposing. "Go out there and die for your school, lay it on the line. No one will remember what game we played today, but they will remember the men who played it," and so on and so forth. I've never played a sport, but I think a coach would say something like that, they should.

What if they don't? I'm not sure, I guess my second choice would be some type of real gung ho military guy: "Listen here son, your country needs you out there today on that battlefield and if you don't make it back alive, I'll make sure your parents get a neatly folded flag" and stuff like that. That's not such a bad way to find out you're going to die, a real strong guy with a jaw and stubble, and the assurance of the folded flag, and your parents, they'd have to still be alive to get the flag. If my parents were still alive I think they'd accept the flag, even given our strained relationship. My Dad might unfold it though, just to make sure it was all there. Mom, well, she might admonish him for that, "Hank, you think this nicely dressed man with the jaw and the stubble, you think he's going to give us a fake flag?" My parents were never sentenced to death, it just happened.

If the military guy were unavailable I might choose a politician, a real slimeball, someone you wouldn't trust as far as you could throw him and couldn't throw him very far because of the slime. He'd say, "Listen, I'm going to be straight with you, because that's what I do and the American people need someone to be straight with them. After all, these political insiders in Washington just lie, lie, lie all the time, no telling if they even believe in Jesus. I believe, I'm telling you I believe and that's why, son, that's why I'm telling you you're never going to die," and tell your friends about my website etc. and so on. Who wouldn't welcome death after that type of sentence? It's true though what he said about those Washington fat cats, just waiting for the cat nip to fall out of your pockets. I don't believe in pockets anymore. My sister says her's are just for show because she has to where tight pants. I'm not convinced; I think I could slide a dime in there. She insists that I shouldn't, and I've obeyed her wishes.

If the politician refused to take a stand one way or the other on my death, I guess I'd choose a doctor, a very rigid and thoughtless one, one with bucked teeth, who had LASIK eye surgery, but still wears glasses because his nurse once said they were stylish. He'd tell me, "We've conducted a battery of tests, although we could do more. You want us to do more?" "No," I'd reply. "Well then, given the results from our battery of tests, the nurse and I ran under the supervision of X prestigious hospital, which we are affiliated, and Y specialist, who really was of the same opinion I am, we must conclude that you have only a short while until you will die and it may or may not be excruciatingly painful," depending on the medication plan you choose and this is a very important choice and whatnot. I would walk out of the office, considering my medication plans: one more important consumer choice before I bite it. It could occupy some time that I would otherwise be thinking of death. A thought about death occurs to me right now: it wouldn't be so bad if they served lunch. I have to admit this is sort of a generic thought and does not apply more to death than life really, but I'm nearly certain it'd be better with lunch. It wouldn't even have to be fancy, maybe some sandwich crackers and a drink.

Let's say the Doctor is unwilling to commit to the diagnosis for fear it might somehow affect his golf game. Then I'd say let a judge sentence me, let's have it out with all the pomp and self-righteousness someone who spends his days judging people can muster. "I, Judge Horgan, having studied the law extensively, and examined your character and behavior thoroughly, hereby, in the name of the state which you have lived your entire life to the detriment of all other residents, and in accordance with all previous precedent, which indicates that you and those of your ilk should be sentenced thusly, and that is to death" by lethal injection on such and such a date, to be administered by so and so, to my great pleasure. After being told so frankly the pernicious nature of my existence I would gladly face death with a toothy grin just hideous enough for those watching at home to remember how much I deserved to die.

The last person I would want to give me my death sentence would be me. I'd say, "You know, I think it's time. It's been a good run, but I've got to die now, or at least very soon," so sorry about that or whatever. How depressing would that be?


The Sky is Falling

Arching my back to such an extent that it might crack, I noticed the sky appeared as if it might fall down on me. The man in the tuxedo waiting for the bus to my right did not seem bothered. He checked his watch and spat on the sidewalk. He looked at me. I crossed my eyes and leaned against the fence. He spat again.

"The sky may be falling," I said.

"If only it were that simple," he said.

"When the sky falls in and crushes us, its simplicity will be no consolation," I said.

"To you," he said.

I arched my back again. I could see neither the Sun nor the Moon. They must have anticipated the fall. The sky was getting closer, but still seemed a significant distance away. I crouched, balancing myself on my high-heels. The heels would have to go if the sky got much closer. The man in the tuxedo reached in his front pocket and pulled out a cigarette. He threw it at me.

"Are you not going to pick that up?" he asked.

"No, I'm not. Why'd you throw it?" I said.

"To see if you'd pick it up," he said.

"I would if the sky weren't falling," I said.

"I'm glad," he said.

This lunatic did not get the gravity of the situation, or lack thereof, I'm not really a science person. The heels had to go, so I threw them at him, maintaining my balance and keeping my crouch.

"You're going to ruin that skirt," he said.

"The sky is not interested in my skirt," I said.

"I might be," he said.

"Pick up my shoes," I said.

"No, I'm not going to," he said.

The sky was getting closer; it was nearly at fence level. The tuxedo man fanned his face with his cell phone. He stopped and looked at it carefully and then placed it in his pants pocket. My thighs were getting weak. My left one twitched, so I decided to lie on the pavement.

"The bus should be here by now," he said.

"Great," I said.

"That's what I'm waiting for," he said.

"I'm waiting for the sky to fall," I said.

"I bet the bus makes it here first," he said.

I heard a noise and saw the bus approaching from a distance. I covered my ears and took one more deep breath as the sky fell on me in its entirety.

"Are you getting on?" asked the tuxedo man.

"I suppose," I said, shaking off the sky, grabbing my heels and taking his hand.


You're Wrong

Ah, well no, not exactly. Not, not exactly. I thought about that, but no, that's not right. I can't imagine what you just said being the right answer. I've heard many answers similar to yours and they were all not right, so if yours were to be right it would ruin the trend. The last trend I noticed, though unrelated, has continued on indefinitely. Even if your answer were right, it is not illuminating enough to reverse the trend, which I am very attached to. It's not even about having the right answer, which yours is not, it's more about having a coherent theory. No, not that theory. I mean a coherent theory. Testable? No, not necessarily, just something you can stick to. I can't stick to your answer without some overriding theory or trend. No, that's not what I mean. Trends have to be established over time, you can't just make them up. Theories have to have long, complicated books written about them, explaining with examples, examples that almost fit the theory. Less than 200 pages is not a theory. You can have a trend with 200 pages, but barely. You found your answer in a book? How long was it? Well then. No, I still don't think so. How many authors? No, no, two or more, but less than five. What school? No, I went there for awhile, nothing good was coming from there. The department was stagnant, no free thinkers. It took me three different proposals to get my thesis approved. The other two were too original. Look it up on your own time. This is class time. Anyone else? No, well, the answer is seven.


Pay Me

I think one of my clients has murdered someone. I can't tell anyone because of my policy about appearing as though I'm a licensed therapist. I have this poster on my office door that says, "What happens in the storage closet stays in the storage closet!" It has a tall man in a janitor's jumpsuit holding a mop seductively, as what appears to be a female teacher in a plaid skirt and knee high socks approaches, maybe it's a student, but she wears glasses, so I doubt it. A friend of mine bought it for me when I was a janitor and it seemed like an appropriate way to notify my clients of my strict confidentiality policy.

This client, he keeps talking about his death sentence and how he'd like something more definite. He says, "We all have one, mine is now just 'eventually' and that's insubstantial."

He once asked me, "If you were to sentence me to death, what would you say?"

I told him, "It's not really my job to give death sentences, but if you really want to hear it . . ."

"Oh yes, I'd like nothing more, what would you say?"

"I'd say, 'Listen here Martin, I know you thought you'd be living a long life, with a family and children and stuff like that, but I'm afraid your mind is so unstable, that I, in accordance with my professional obligations and my obligations to society at large as a mental health professional, must inform you that you will be dead in no more than three years and four months,' that's what I'd say."

He told me flatly, "That won't do, too indefinite." At that point I promised him I'd work on it, if only he would schedule another session with my secretary.

This other patient, he thinks he has some sort of new theory of what it means to be anonymous. It is really a bunch of nonsense, but he presents it like it is some new philosophy that can change the world. As far as I can gage it comes down to this: If people don't know where you are it is somehow liberating. He blathers on about it. I try to tell him I get it and it makes no sense, but he keeps explaining.

"Now do you get it?" he asks.

"No, you need more therapy, I'm pretty sure," I say.

I think he disagrees but loves to hear himself speak (and think even) so much that he agrees to come back. I don't think anyone else would put up with him. He asked to see my credentials once. I assured him they were being framed. He seemed to believe me.

Another client seems to have catastrophe issues. She thinks nature is constantly out to get her.

Once, when it became overcast during her appointment, she suddenly announced, "The Sun is dying out, can't you see?"

"No, it's just cloudy," I replied.

As it got darker, she scrambled through my office, turning on all the available lights, at one point incanting, "The Sun is gone, let there be light!"

My receptionist tried to get her to schedule another appointment, but she was uncertain whether there was any reason to, given the likelihood that the world would soon expire. I mentioned that there would be no fee if it happened that the world ended between now and her next appointment. This persuaded her. I fear this hysteria of hers may be getting worse, but I really don't know what to do to help her. She thinks her biggest problem is that men don't respect her and her second biggest problem is that women don't like her. I am convinced her biggest problem is that she is completely insane and that her second biggest problem is that she dresses too formally for my taste. She says she likes to be well-dressed in case something were to happen. I try to assure her that being formally-dressed is not being well-dressed. She says she doesn't understand the difference and I assure her that another session may help her see.

My favorite client I'm pretty sure has not murdered anyone, at least literally. He's a philosophy professor at the local community college. Initially, he asked if he could pay me in lectures. I reminded him of my cash only policy, and he said that he had presumed the policy did not apply to him. I asked him why he felt that way and he asked me whether I was asking as a therapist or a disciple. I informed him that I was asking as a businessman.

"So not as a disciple?" he inquired.

"No," I responded.

"Few follow, but many lead, when those who should follow think they can lead," he said.

"Is that Nietzsche?" I asked.

"That's a Ranglor, mine alone," he pointed out.

"Why do you think you need therapy?" I asked.

"Why do you think you need to be a therapist?" he asked.

"As a businessman?" I asked.

"As a disciple," he said.

"I don't have an answer for you now, but perhaps if you scheduled another appointment," I replied.

In short, I have a burgeoning practice, one that might even be called diverse: a few crazies, a couple of vain idiots, half a dozen outright criminals and a secretary. I'm a good listener; do you need a friendly ear? If you contact my secretary we can arrange a treatment program that's right for you. I have flexible hours and billing rates and can resolve your mental health issues discretely and confidentially. Remember, what happens in the storage closet stays in the storage closet!

Copyright 2011. All rights reserved.

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