When manic depressives refuse to take their medicine because they fear giving up the wild surge of creativity they experience when high, this is what they are talking about. The great lie, of course, is that this is real, productive creativity. In truth it is more like riding on a runaway train, hanging on for dear life. These self-deluding individuals don’t see that the illness is controlling them, not vice versa.
The following is an excerpt from INVISIBLE DRIVING, my bipolar memoir.
I’m constantly picking things up. Not valuable things. Souvenirs. Things that capture my attention. Documenting where I’ve been. Sometimes things just appeal to me and I tuck them into my pockets. Periodically I empty my pockets onto a periodic table, a most extraordinary experience, if elementary. The dandiest things show up. Of course, matches from my favorite spots, the swankest watering holes in Philadelphia. The Four Seasons. The Bellevue. The Barclay. The Rittenhouse. I especially like hotels. Then there are the small restaurants, I’m building up quite a tour. This is my circuit, it’s short, and highly charged. Get it? I’ve put myself on a talk show circuit, performing at the best restaurants and hotels in the area. I’ve thrust myself into the spotlight, entertaining daily, nightly, constantly.
Your trash is my art. Wire has begun to attract my eye, there’s a lot of it lying on the street, especially around construction sites. I pick it up and start working it with my hands, usually without breaking my stride, when I do break my stride I have to put it into a cast of thousands. I make elaborate snake sculptures out of the pieces. The brightly colored plastic coatings of electrical wire are cheerful. The beauty of copper wire is irresistible. Phone wire makes excellent braid. Silver wire, the kind that holds together wooden packing crates, looks expensive. Working the wire gives me something to do with my hands besides smoking. The snake sculptures are proliferating. My pockets are full of snakes and my fingertips are in ribbons with little wire cuts. I have peaceful snakes, coiled in repose. I have mean cobras with arched backs, standing tall and ready to strike, for higher wages, of sin. (Wow, that was a good one, even for me). How do I come up with this stuff? I was always funny, but I never used to be this funny.
I have elegant, long snakes whose bodies sway back and forth like a windy road. Not a windy road, a windy road. Fearing that they might multiply in my pockets I leave them in strategic locations. Unsigned. Little objets d’art which I hope will hit the bull’s eye. Something unexpected. To be found by someone who would say, “What the hell is this?” or “isn’t that pretty” or, dread the thought, nothing at all. I have a heart as big as all Manhattan, leaving my little wire reptiles to delight the multitudes. Art into life, make my life my art, performance art.
Moving things from one pocket to another, throwing things out and accumulating new things, is a constant process. It’s as though my hands have a life of their own. At any given moment I’m carrying four or five lighters, for the constant cigarettes and joints, and of course, to light the cigarettes of women, God what a gentleman I am. The very picture of a gentleman. Deferential and accommodating to women, witty, interested in them. Admiring. Finding things in my pockets. The matches from the swank spots. Useful for showing that I know where the best spots are. Useful as giveaways. “By the way, if you want to try another really sweet spot, here.” Then press the selected matchbook into the palm. Our little secret amulet. She then knows that it’s good, and that she can find me there too. Generous. Sharing my knowledge of what is good. An intense desire to please, entirely selfless. I find pleasure in pleasing others.
The humor comes from this. What better thing to give a person than a laugh, even if it is hard to wrap. Finding things in my pockets. Bonus points. Bonus points are washers. I see them on the street, looking like little lost zeros. If I see an interesting one, particularly large or small or perfectly formed, I pick it up and pocket it. I have plastic ones that are brightly colored and metal ones that weigh me down. If someone does or says something that impresses me, if somebody connects with a joke or somehow demonstrates brain activity, I award a bonus point. The gesture is usually received with bemused appreciation. Who is this guy with the pockets that never end? Women are so accustomed to being hit on by conventional guys at bars in conventional ways that something odd can be disarming. Especially if the guy is only looking for an appreciative audience, not to get laid. Not that I only give them out to women. Bartenders, especially at the tonier spots, tend to be a world-weary, wise, sarcastic lot, well cast for my brand of humor. I’ve assigned several bonus points to bartenders. I’ve skipped a few on the blackened Delaware River too during the darkest hours of the night as I wondered if this was all some sort of dream run amuck.
My pockets have enough business cards to start three rolodexes. Cards with women’s names and phone numbers scribbled on the back. Cards of musicians. Cards from limousine companies, restaurants, bars, strangers I’ve met at bars. I have cards of magicians, mimes, (mimes need business cards more than the average professional and a mime is a terrible thing to waste), florists, erotic lingerie vendors, others, everything you’d need to start a nightclub, an escort service, a limousine company, or a troupe of rogue performance artists. The cards too keep changing, like a river passing through my pockets, that’s it, that’s why I’m always fishing in my pockets, at last I’ve figured it out. Always upgrading, only the best will do. Joints, yes there are always joints and roaches floating around in my pockets. I’ve made some wonderful roach clips out of found wire too. Packs of cigarettes, naturally. Photographs. Bits and pieces I intend to use in collages. Ah, one day, I will retire to the country and do only collage, unless of course I exhaust the medium, and break her crystal ball, and graduate from collage. But not today. Photographs torn from magazines. Receipts from money access machines, automatic tellers, like me, an automatic truth teller. I’m searching the universe for clues to explain my next move. The one thing that my pockets are free of is money. But there is value. Surely knowing where all the best spots are is a valuable knowledge. But not something I can convert to cash. Not without becoming a pimp, or an escort. And I haven’t fallen to that. Sex is for pleasure, so marvelous that it shouldn’t be ruined by money. If you want to know what you should be doing for a living, look to the things you do for free. Those are the things you love the best. And I’m living for a living, pushing the envelope of discovery.
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