I was having one of those incredible days, the kind where I was taken somewhere that was geographically close to home and yet in every other way, miles from ordinary. It felt like such a jarring violation of context that I found myself staring at everyday objects, seeing their absurdity for the first time. A friend had invited me over to his mother’s apartment for roast beef and at the moment my fascination peaked I was starring at a bowl containing eight carrots, although I was having trouble reconciling the word carrot at that particular moment. They were those little gentrified ones that look like they have been turned on a lathe, or left over night in a rock polisher. What is the deal with those little carrot stubs? How are they made? And more importantly, why had it taken me twenty nine years to ask such a fundamental question?
Surely the answer to that last question rested, at least partially, in the venue that night. My friend’s mother was an interesting lady, very nice, let’s get that out of the way right at the get go. She was a very warm, sweet woman who clearly loves her son to the ends of the earth. She also possessed a peculiar way of looking at me; she had a wide eyed stare where one eye seemed to grow gradually bigger then the other. Along with her disarming gaze, her voice would change volume while she spoke, actually when I think about it now, it was more like someone had bumped the dial in between songs. She would be talking and her candor would lead to a break in the conversation. Then when she started back up again it was as if the person she was trying to reach had moved into a different room. Her place was very orderly and cluttered if those two words can be used in the same sentence. Family portraits covered the walls and when wall space had come to and end she started to stand them on the end tables so that one might leaf through them like a vinyl collection. Soft pastels ruled the walls behind the framed photos and all accompanying decorations were in corresponding shades of Easter mauves and dusty pinks. On her coffee table were fanned a stack of the two religious magazines that are popular among Jehovah’s Witnesses, The Watchtower and Awake.
I sat there at this doily clad dinner table, a table unaccustomed to a second guest, helping myself to seconds and fending off threats of store bought desert. It was an evening to give thanks for the only method of self discovery I have ever known, the kind brought about by contextual beatings. In my life I have been loath to question things that I consider to be true about myself or the world at large and more often than not I have needed to be dunked into an environment so far from my own landscape as to be considered fanciful before I am willing to examine my mental topography. I will cling to what I hold to be true so tightly that enhanced interrogation is required before I will call into question the beliefs I have constructed to make sense of the world around me and my place in it. I remember that I considered myself not to be a judgmental person, who surrounded himself with equally open minded people, until the day came when I dated a girl who was prudent enough to point out that we were all lobbing criticism at anyone we thought to be closed minded. I took many useful things from that relationship and among them was the realization that I was walking around with a whole set of hippy ideals that no more reflected the way I was walking through the world than a funhouse mirror.
Discomfort is the only harbinger of change in my life. I will never look at those carrots in a new light unless I am slapped out of my delusion that my upbringing is normal. In much the same way, I am unlikely to be the figurehead for reform in my life unless I have exhausted all avenues of suffering and discomfort. I did not find myself in treatment four times in four years because I had a bunch of opportunities elsewhere.