The Incalculable Dichotomy of Control (1/5/1)
She still has a grasp of me through my dreams and I don’t know what I’m supposed to do about it. Scanning movies like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or Inception for clues continues to make me feel connected to storylines of comparable conflict, but hasn’t helped erase her from my mind.
They say it’s healthy to let go of the past, to shed old stories and emerge from the cocoon anew, but how can I say goodbye to a part of me that, wether I like it or not, is now enmeshed in my biology?
The majority of us has felt the struggle of separation, and the effects can be as small as those vacation blues you have returning home from a brilliant trip with friends as you set your luggage in the hallway to realize the fun has stopped and it’s back to work, but as large as lamenting the unexpected death of a loved one, as you lay in the fetal position on the carpet, questioning every decision that was made.
“If I had done this differently, then that wouldn’t have happened.”
The incalculable dichotomy of control.
Aftershocks of trauma can quake in you like some soldier making sense of the emotional war they just endured, and my divorce just happens to be intertwined with that time I escaped Cedars-Sinai hospital because my amnesiac reset birthed a belief that I was now some superhuman creature quantum leaped into a dimension that needed my service. It’s no wonder I was then strapped to a stretcher and taken to a more secure location.
There is so much story that wants to break free from me, and I don’t know if you’ll be able to believe me, and wether that even matters. As far as I understand, the retelling of my experiences is as farfetched as when somebody tries to convince you they were abducted by aliens or that they’ve seen the edge of the flat Earth, but staying silent only traps my confusion and lets it fester in a body that longs for a community that comprehends the same level of absurd reality.
I’ve written it all in piles of journals and went as far as burning pages away as some symbolic gesture of rising out of ashes, but it isn’t enough, it wants more, the fable needs feeding and these incremental revelations seems to be satiating its appetite.
I understand that the performer feels more alive in front of an audience, so perhaps this story needs a public; if nobody is there to read the recollections of my danse macabre, did it even happen?
The tale I’m about to share with you across these coming weeks is true, but with repetition and edits, as well as chronological and geographical distance, makes memory into a strange sort of fiction.
Honesty with artistic license.
15th May 2019.
I was sent to Paris for the day to host a data analyst’s conference, which mainly involved bringing multiple keynote speakers on stage so they can point at spreadsheets and explain how the numbers could be bigger if things and stuff happened.
I didn’t really listen.
This gathering of mathematical nerds, these suited strangers with polished haircuts and shiny of shoes, are listening to jargon from the mouth of someone with the vocal range of a straight line.
“And as we asymptotically approach this bifurcation diagram…”
Biting my nails by the catering table at the back of the room, I wanted to understand what was being expressed, but the subject matter went over my head.
“…with changes in this parameter, increasing in non-linearity, you can see it splits the equilibrium in two, and the bifurcations multiply into a state of…”
It’s morning and these croissants are already stale.
They got low quality ones from grocery store, which gets more for their buck, but displays such a lazy tribute to the country dappled with boulangeries.
Regardless, I stuff a croissant in my mouth, and begin wrapping a few more in the hotel’s cloth napkins for later.
“… producing 2, 4, 8,” continues the expert on stage, “16, 32, and so on.”
Four croissants should be enough for tonight’s meal, but I’ve also got my eye on these hard-boiled eggs.
I’m the guy who comes to a breakfast buffet with an empty bag, so I can grab enough for lunch and dinner. I suppose a remnant habit from my homeless years.
“…with unpredictable windows inside the period-doubling of infinitely deep results. And yet, patterns appear in the formlessness.”
I suppose I’ll always be stuffing my pockets with the free food. I lack the skills of preparing for hibernation, what with being born in migration.
Even when I finally make my small fortune, if the gastronomy is gratis, let me fill my belly and fulfill its destiny of being digested.
“…and thus, facades of chaos behind cloaks of order.”
Nothing beats a real croissant, fresh from the oven.
But these crumbs from this ersatz pastry, this crescent-shaped mimic, this amber mockery, raining down from my mouth, collecting in my beard and on the orange hexagonal carpet, has disappointed me.
The organizer of the event steps up to me, glancing through thick-rimmed glass to observe my opened bag of stolen snacks.
“Hey, thanks for coming along to this.”
“No problem,” I smile back, hiding the imposter syndrome as best as I can, feeling my big toe poking out of the hole in my sock and sticking to the worn-out sole.
I’m not the right product for this occasion.
“Do you have any jokes on excel-centric budgeting, financial reporting or spreadsheet-based analytical applications?”
“I think you hired the wrong clown,” smiling my way into her good books, “I mainly have jokes about human evolution, and my penis, but hey, knock knock,” gesturing for a reply.
“Who’s there? You’re supposed to say “who’s there?”
“Ok, who’s there?”
“Excel. And now you say who?”
“No, you say, excel who?”
“Excellent jokes,” he continues, with a huge smile on his face, proud of the work he’s done, “I have…,” chocking on some dislodged croissant in the back of his throat as though it were now taking revenge for the earlier insults, “… excel-lent jokes.”
“Well, we’re all excited to have you close the day with your show,” she says, before heading towards her next assignment.
“Yes,” he replies with an already defeated grin, “I’m ready.”
Ready to leave. Will they turn into an angry mob yell ‘Ctrl Del Alt’e”.
As a comic, I have to excel at writing formulas that reliably create audible contractions of the diaphragm. The software hears the joke, sends it traveling through billions of nerves, across trillions of connections, all ending, possibly in laughter. The formula is tested through trial and error in front of varying crowds to maximize data collection. The intensity and frequency of the laughter is funneled back to the generator, the comedian.
Configurations are analyzed,
tweaked and repeated,
for maximum learning, maximum effect.
The funny bones thicken, even if it is still just comedy marrow.
There is much beauty to a comedy club.
The subjects are packed tightly in a dark room.
The ideal temperature is set for the venue’s capacity.
They are offered delicious solvents to loosen the hard day out of their muscles, tantalize their tastebuds to heighten the experience, and if needed, to numb away the pain.
They all face the same direction, the brightly lit stage, so their concentration gravitates to one point in space; firefighters to a flame.
The technician gives them a three-minute warning requesting they “please turn off your phones and keep conversations to a minimum as the show is about to begin” so you don’t distract yourself, your neighbors and the performer.
Spoon-feed the rules.
Each audience, ambience, area and artist are different.
Blah blah blah, I could go on, there’s much to consider when creating a symbiotic relationship between comic and crowd.
I dream of finding that one joke, the joke – that can make absolutely anyone laugh.
I assume it’s a well-timed fart what with it being a Universal sound, even black holes do it in the form of a quasar. Sort of…
But there’s another joke that I’m interested in, the joke that can physically kill. I wonder if all comedians secretly want to make someone laugh so hard that they die.
Just imagine it.
It’s a new material night and I have an opening that I’d like to try out, but haven’t got it memorized so I bring my notepad on stage. I step behind the microphone and reveal this fresh new take to the unsuspecting victims. But alas it doesn’t get the reaction I had hoped for, perhaps it isn’t funny enough, maybe it’s the delivery which needs adjusting… I’ll listen to the recording tonight on the train, to see how I can improve it. Because the punchline got half of the audience, and although that’s being generous, I know it has legs, I have to try it again, and also, I really like it.
And I’m not the only one.
In the epicenter of the darkness, someone is still laughing.
The kind with that contagious quality.
That’s a beautiful sound.
When people laugh simply because someone else is doing so. Another’s chuckle as food for their ears and music for their bellies.
This time however, the ripple eventually dissipates while the victim continues, one hand clutching at their chest as if trying to reach the lungs from the outside, while the other hand squeezes the leg of the person next to them, unable to verbally communicate their anguish.
It’s hard to ignore people with unique laughs, especially when they’re corpsing.
Comics usually highlight these moments, especially because it disturbs the flow and timing of the material, and thus requires us to include these unprepared moments as welcome breaks in the show.
But on this occasion, things are different.
Before the comedian has the opportunity to highlight this baneful little gift, the concerned murmurs from the crowd permeate and overwhelm the room. The cackling from the blackness has become obnoxiously loud and suffocated.
It is the comedian’s responsibility to keep things under control, but he just stands there, watching, appreciating.
“Could this be the day?” He thinks, cupping a hand over his eyes to shield himself from the spotlight and get a better view through the fourth wall.
“Something is wrong” heckles an audience member.
The auditorium lights come on as the club manager makes her way through the frozen solid crowd. They don’t know what to do. They’ve never seen a crimson man with terrified, bulging eyes, and a Cheshire Cat mouth strangling the trenches of a tangled throat.
There’s no Heimlich manoeuvre for whatever this is.
His body convulsing back and forth to force air in and out, scrapping and screeching as oxygen moves up and down through the pipes. Edited soundbites delivered as a blend of screaming and maniacal laughter, which will now haunt everybody in that room.
All, except the buffoon, centre stage watching the pandemonium unfold in front of him as though it were his turn to be the audience member, tucking his lips in his mouth and biting down to stop himself from laughing at the inescapable theatre of cause and effect.
Death by laughter.
There have been cases.
In 1410, King martin of Aragon died from a joke told by his court jester…
… so it’s possible.
In the 3rd century BC, Greek philosopher Chrysippus supposedly died after seeing a donkey drinking wine and stumbling around.
Zeuxis, a Greek artist from the 5th Century BC was to make a painting of Aphrodite, Goddess of Beauty, and began to guffaw uncontrollably when the old lady who commissioned the work demanded she model for the portrait. Laughter is one of the most pleasurable of human emotions, and is not only a gift to experience, but one to give to another.
That’s what I’ll tell the police officer taking my statement as the grinning carcass is carted away from the gig. Try bagging that weapon in your evidence bags.
“Excuse me? You’re up.”
The thick-rimmed organizer wakes me out of my daydream and I’m back in Paris, tasked with mining humor from a bunch of exhausted analysts who have spent all day in their cream cuboid, hunched in rigid chairs, fixating on a slew of spreadsheets.
There isn’t even an aux cable to plug and play some intro music. No way to send some beats, some banging baselines pumping and thumping through their slumped bodies. No means to enliven, no sound waves to loosen the musculature, even by a small percentage.
I’m welcomed by a pitter patter of applause that depletes up to the high ceilings of the conference room, and step out, not in front of the usual black or brick background of a club, but in front of a bright canvas used for projecting charts on the implementation and development of business models.
The audience are better lit than me, their melting faces behind a swarm of opened laptops.
There is a time and a place for comedy, and this feels like an uphill battle.
“Give me a cheer if you’ve ever seen or heard tortoises having sex?”
Listen to this very bit here: https://music.apple.com/us/album/tortoise-love/1439749723?i=1439749748
A decent sample of the crowd clap their hands with a sprinkle of hooting.
“OK, few of you. If you haven’t, it’s the cutest thing. It takes the male ages to get on top of the female because of their ridiculous shape, and they make the sweetest noise ever when they get at it. Aaaaah!”
There’s no correct spelling for the sound of reptile intercourse, but I can compare it to a French person slowly saying the number one after inhaling a helium balloon.
Or a dog’s squeaky toy that sounds sad.
A sporadically deflating polychloroprene sex doll.
A turtle’s orgasm is a unique sound and I proceed to squawk it into the microphone until I get a mix of patchy laughter and bemused looks.
I do this for a while.
“I like to see how long I can do it before everyone starts freaking out and one of you thinks I’m trapped in a time loop. ‘He’s stuck, someone prod him.’”
This bit of material is odd but pays off well so I gladly continue.
“My wife and I laughed hard when we heard this for the first time. She laughed so hard that I thought ‘Oh, she likes that? I’m gonna do it to her’. So I waited for that perfect moment in our relationship, during sex, not when she came, not when I came, but that wonderful moment when you both ejaculate at the same time. It doesn’t happen for everyone, we’re all different, but for me and her, it’s when we’re holding onto each other, and we’re looking deep into one another’s eyes, we’re not fucking here, we’re making love. It’s a beautiful and tender moment between two people.”
I briefly pause here, almost a microsecond, to let them soak in the strangely romantic scene.
“And as we both spasm in ecstasy, I ruined it with a high-pitched Aaaaaaaah!”
A tortoise orgasm erupts out of the speakers.
The whole crowd is on board and roars in the positive.
Some comedians don’t laugh at their own jokes, but I like to participate.
“Gentlemen”, I switch tones as if about to say something serious, “Gentlemen, you haven’t lived until you’ve felt a woman’s vagina muscles laugh you out of her.”
With the gesture of my hand, I mimic what that might have looked like, and add the required onomatopoeic sound. I’ll let you imagine.
“And that’s quite impressive laughing out fifteen inches!”
This fuels the laughter even further and I edge to the front row with my hand raised for a high five. Sometimes, I really have to look for an audience member willing to oblige my cockiness.
I regain centre stage and just as the laughter floats away, and drop the bombshell.
“It won’t surprise you to hear I’m now divorced.”
They laugh, I smile, and die a little inside. Only thirty-seven minutes more to go.
Well, it was all downhill from that point, but I’m out of there and that show is already in the past. My bag is packed, along with the notebook gifted to me by the data geeks, and with time to spare before the train, I make my way towards the Cafe Des Deux Moulins; the location of Amelie’s workplace in the movie ‘Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amelie Poulain’, for a quick selfie and an espresso.
I could take the metro, but there’s more to see above ground. I like to imagine how many others have shared the same space; the hundreds, thousands of years, of stories that flow through the exact same point.
I must anchor this pensive and poetic state to terra firma, and not crash through the mesosphere and out into the abyss of stars, otherwise I’ll get lost, because when you really think about it, no point in spacetime has ever been shared, making each moment totally unique. Because if the Earth travels about 2.6 million kilometres (1.6 million miles) a day, at a speed of 107,226 km/h (66,627 mp/h) around the Sun, which is also travelling at the immense speed of 200 kilometres per second (124.3 miles a second), orbiting the centre of the Milky Way Galaxy, which itself is gliding through the cosmos at a velocity of 2.1 million km/h (1.3 million mp/h) towards the Leo and Virgo constellations, etcetera etcetera.
You are never in the same space twice, even when you sit idly on your sofa for your full day in pyjamas.
But in the interest of remaining present, we are back on Earth, Europe, France, Paris, Protagonist, stepping out of la Place de la République with its picturesque statue adorning in the middle of the square; Lady Marianne standing tall by some of her pals and a lion; a classic combination for an important monument.
I make my way up the Boulevard de Magenta and attempt to stay present, but I just don’t know what that’s supposed to look like.
What am I supposed to focus on?
My legs are on automatic and know the route, and I align my facial muscles to mould what I assume is a stoic exterior, so as to not worry any approaching pedestrians with my infernal interior.
I focus on my breath.
The fresh, cool air, perhaps a little polluted from the city’s transport and chimney-smoking inhabitants.
I admire the colours presented in front of me. The cyan sky contrasted with the foliage and pale bark of Horse Chestnut trees, their organic forms complimenting Paris’s bone white architecture, looming over each bustling street.
A multi-direction catwalk of people of every origin and destination, each with their own pace, their own purpose.
An old lady slumped on a bench with a forlorn expression on her face, her mind is elsewhere, waiting for her husk to tither into the gutter, swept away by the city’s unique sewer system. Water flowing out of these bouches de lavage, these washing outlets, to collect debris along the curb and into the chthonic World, away from the life above.
An unusual feat of engineering, retrofitted in this part of the World, because it had to evolve from a previous structure.
The gushing of the water, the tooting and booping of cars expecting faster moving traffic, ignored by the streaming mopeds, all part of the cacophony of this capital city.
Is this what being present means? To just look at everything and be content with the forward motion of time?
One busker adding charm with the bow of his violin, lulling me to halt and enjoy the melody.
I recognize this song as one of the classics, but I don’t know the title or the artist. I am not well versed in this World’s trivia. I can, however, hear the melancholy of the creator, manifested through this player who isn’t just playing this music to make ends meet, but from a need within, a necessity, an attempt to express the inexpressible. It is the Musician asking the ear if it can discern anything past the notes.
Please say you can hear what I hear.
I dip my hand in my pocket to grab some coins to chuck in the performer’s violin case, and am caught up by the couple arguing behind me, yelling at one another in a language to which I am not privy. I recognize the frustration of their ineludible carousel.
Am I observing myself split in two?
The two are shouting at each other’s reflection while standing in front of a shop window with a TV beaming Brexit bugaboo, and I don’t know wether to laugh or cry.
Behind the musician, a homeless man and his dog patiently waiting for change, and now I wonder who my few coins should go to, feeling guilty for helping.
The byzantine impossibility of life, giving me drama to shield me from the despotism of existence. Would it be uncouth to scream, here and now, at the top of my lungs?
Probably better than stepping in front of this oncoming bus; that would ruin the driver’s day. An unnecessary disturbance.
“But it doesn’t matter.”
We return to our regular programming.
He walks to the street artist, with his stoic mask slipping form his face, and drops his cash in. The artist thankfully nodding whilst continuing to play.
And off he goes, leaving the other problems behind.
His bag is plenty full.
“Just enjoy the colours and the birds. The wind in the leaves. Distract yourself with the beautiful things.”
Which he does, and which blurs him some time later to the bottom of the steep stairs leading up to the Sacré Coeur Basilica, and eventually to the café.
He climbs the narrow corridor of stone and overhanging canopy, when all of a sudden, it strikes him.
One with bigger significance than the hundreds of daily possibilities normally encountered. This one literarily stops him in his tracks.
A graffiti etched in chalk on the side of the steps.
“Nous ne sommes pas que des corps de cinéma.”
We are not just bodies of Cinema.
I suppose this was a gentle protest in support of the Me Too movement, which brought to light widespread accounts of sexual harassment and abuse, and was made largely visible through the cinematic workforce. And seeing as the Cannes Film Festival is happening at this very moment, only 690 kilometres away, the graffiti is apt for display.
“Apt”, for some art have specific times and places for discovery.
The lyrics of some songs make more sense after certain experiences, scenes in a movie or a stanza in literature can open dams of grief in ways nothing else could; strokes of a brush that render a painting as though seen before, eternal.
A hundred eyes will see one thing in fifty ways.
And this graffiti has my attention.
It may be my self-diagnosed apophenia seeking to connect my personal experience to something bigger, to gain a raison d’être on the edge of the void, but this sentence, ‘nous ne sommes pas due des corps de cinéma’, speaks to me as though it were written for me to read, delivered by a celestial friend.
“Be careful”, I tell myself.
It was only two months ago that I suffered (although he’s not sure that’s the correct word) from a form of transient global amnesia in which I forgot everything.
Everything needed so that “I” disappeared.
I no longer existed for what I understand to be a few days.
But it’s all under investigation and difficult to escape.
Since then, I’ve felt dead.
I suppose a challenging feeling to comprehend, but the only way I can express this fascinatingly dissociative state, dancing on my own through a dreamscape, with my physical body left behind, perhaps in hospital still, under some comatose spell.
I have a way of romanticizing experience, but don’t be fooled, it’s a heavy and lonely sensation.
I am no longer sure who is at the wheel of my vehicle, but I am doing my best to grasp how this new technology works.
It is difficult to put into words an experience that seismically shifts someone into an altered paradigm, an experience so transformative, it kills the person you were before, that I was before. And this innate drive that longs to be understood does so using the cinematic lexicon, helping me through this character study of a lost soul.
He marches up the hill, ignoring the Parisian skyline with its miniature Eiffel Tower in the distance, or the dozens of fools’ gold replicas sold as key-rings in the tourist traps lining the road. He sweeps past the armed security guards keeping watch, some looking in the crowd, some looking out and over the horizon, needed to protect some from those who want to kill themselves.
He arrives, a coffee is ordered, some squished croissants are pulled out of the bag; briefly pausing with guilt at having forgotten the food when passing the homeless man and his dog, and shakes the crumbs from the new notebook.
Today seems like the day to start logging the cause and effect of what led him, me, us, to the psychiatric ward.
So… when do I begin?
Buy the physical album here: https://www.blondemedicine.com/store/bm008
Huge thank you to Cameron, Ryan and Ellie who have donated some delicious pizza slice this week. I really appreciate you feeding me as well as you nourishing words of encouragement. If anyone else wants to get involved, meet me here: https://www.buymeacoffee.com/Lampaert
Lots of love to you all,