Sunday, May 27, 2007

A Mental Safari

The word "safari," in Swahili, means "journey"; it has nothing to do with animals. Someone "on safari" is just away and unobtainable and out of touch. The same might be said, I suppose, about a person who has entered a state of meditation or a psychotic state. The person who embarks on a state of mediation or who has become psychotic has entered an intrapsychic world that is unobtainable and out of touch.

Out of touch in my inner world is where I want to be. The wish to disappear sends many people to meditate or to wish for insanity. If you are thoroughly sick of being kept waiting at home or at work, meditation or psychosis is perfect: let other people wait for a change. Meditation or severe mental illness is a sort of revenge for having been put on hold, having to leave messages on answering machines, not knowing your party's extension, being kept waiting all your working life -- the homebound writer's irritants. Being kept waiting is the human condition.

I thought, Let other people explain where I am. I imagined the dialogue:

"When will Gary be back?"

"We don't know."

"Where is he?"

"We're not sure."

"Can we get in touch with him?"


Meditation or severe mental illness, the journey through one's intrapsychic world, can also be a sort of revenge on cellular phones and fax machines, on telephones and the daily newspaper, on the creepier aspects of the modern world that allow anyone who chooses to get his insinuating hands on you. I desired to be unobtainable. In the novel Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad depicts Kurtz, sick as he is, attempting to escape from Marlow's riverboat, crawling on all fours like an animal, trying to flee into the jungle. I understood that.

I was going on a journey to my intrapsychic world for the best reason -- in a spirit of discovery; and for the pettiest -- simply to disappear, to light out, with a suggestion of I dare you to try and find me.

Work (when I worked, that is) had become a routine, and routines make time pass quickly. I was a sitting duck in my predictable routine: people knew when to call me; they knew when I would be at my desk. I was in such regular touch it made having a job a mode of life I hated. I was sick of being called up and importuned, asked for favors, hit up for money. You stick around too long and people begin to impose their own deadlines on you. "I need this by the twenty-fifth" or "Please read this by Friday" or "Try to finish this over the weekend" or "Let's have a conference call on Wednesday." Call me, fax me, e-mail me. You can get me anytime on my cell phone, here's the number.

Being available at any time in the totally accessible world seemed to me pure horror. It made me want to find a place that was not accessible at all: no phones, no fax machines, not even mail delivery, the wonderful old world of being out of touch. In other words, gone away.

Sure, I would still receive calls, faxes, and telephone calls. But I could ignore them if I chose to do so. I would live life on my own terms. If I chose to ignore the ringing telephone I could safely ignore it.

All I had to do was remove myself. I loved not having to ask permission, and in fact in my domestic life things had begun to get a little predictable, too -- Gary Freedman at home every evening.

I wanted to drop out. People said, "Get a cell phone, use FedEx, sign up for Hotmail, stop in at Internet cafes, visit my Web site . . . "

I said no thanks. The whole point of my leaving was to escape this stuff, to be out of touch. The greatest justification for becoming unobtainable through a persistent meditative state is not self-improvement but rather performing a vanishing act, disappearing without a trace. As Huck put it, lighting out for the territory.

One's inner world is one of the last great places on earth a person can vanish into. I wanted that. Let them wait. I have been kept waiting far too many times for far too long.

I am outta here, I told myself. I would become unobtainable by reason of psychosis. A journey to one's inner world from which there is no escape.

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