Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Shulamith Firestone - Airless Spaces

Second time through this collection of shorts and it's still unquestionably, some of the realest shit I've ever read.

Emotional Paralysis

Coming out of the hospital, she could not shop. It was more than just the surfeit of goods, which had always confused her. Even a shopping list did not help, she dropped her cart in the middle and fled. Her shelves were lined with missing objects she needed and had almost bought. Even when she succeeded in actually going through with a purchase, she came home dissatisfied with her choice. To pick out a simple birthday card for her more and more distant relatives was agony. She was reminded of those stories of war-torn soldiers who arrived back from years in the army unable to make even the smallest decision. The hospital did that to you: meals were all laid out, but even tnhere4 she had a hard time choosing any small choices on the menu, and was glad they had dispensed with that pretense and just gave the same thing to everyone every day: a variation on bread and cheese, sometimes a grilled cheese sandwich, sometimes macaroni and cheese; and for dinner it was invariably a leg of chicken. she got used to this routine and felt cheated out of her meal if it was anything else. Similarly, just to order deodorant from the gift shop of the hospital was a big deal, and even choosing gum in lieu of the now-banned cigarettes gave her a problem. She had few visitors and they did not as a rule bring her anything she really needed, just clutter for her two or three drawers where she had been wont to squirrel away extra linen. She still didn’t have a decent pen or paper.

Her indecision was awful, for no sooner did an impulse arise to do something than it would be crossed by a contrary impulse; she was conflicted. (She watched herself undergo this in slow-motion as it were, but was powerless to avoid it.) Or she was confronted by so many choices of things to do, that must be done, that she could choose none of them. She not only couldn’t shift gears, her gears were locked. she was paralyzed into inaction and came to rely on other people to marshal her or just to do the task entirely instead of her. Her inability to initiate a simple motion read as extreme laziness. Inertia is my middle name, she was fond of saying to her worker.

This paralysis was stubborn and lingered for years, not months, after a hospital stay. She needed to be babied, but there was no one around to do it now, and her things just didn’t get done. Slips of paper mounted, but filing terrified her and she didn’t have a filing cabinet anyhow. She was as though blind, feeling under different clumps of stuff for half-remembered items. This mounding applied to clothing as well. Besides, she had lost her feel for the weather and always wore the wrong thing.

She could not read. She could not write. She had been reading Dante's Inferno when she first went into the hospital, she remembered, and at quite a good clip too, but when she came out, she couldn’t even get down a fashion rag; the words bounced off her forehead like it was steel; she simply couldn’t care about the contents of any written material., be it heavy or lightweight. Why? Why read it? Why absorb? This inability applied also to movies and video cassettes and computers and telephones; the latest amazing jumps in technology left her cold, and she could hardly turn on a radio, let alone program a VCR.

This left a huge gap in her time once filled by reading, writing, cinema. Nor could she hang out. She was getting too old, and didn’t have the money anyway. Her old habits of seclusion and screening out distraction remained, but there was nothing to be secluded for. Once in a while she prodded herself to write, but the old excitement of creation did not return, or if it did, it fizzled by morning after her nightly medication. It was a dry fuck, every work word painful and laborious. But like sex itself, even masturbation, it was the initiative that was most lacking.

Her general state of indecision was matched only by impatience. For example, waiting for doctors or nurses or clerks in the outpatient wing of the hospital was agony. She shifted from one leg to another like someone who was holding it in, and kept jabbing her face and her forms at personnel until they began to dismiss her as daffy. She could hardly sit still in a doctor’s waiting room, a beauty parlor or church service, or stand in a postal queue, and travel was, forget it. She couldn’t read, she was too nervous, she couldn’t even watch TV. Instead she reverted to hospital behavior: long hours of blanking out, just watching the hands of the clock go round until the next mealtime or bedtime or wakeup time. Sometimes she panicked at the thought that she had 30 more years to kill this way, with only more and more institutionalization ahead of her and suicide no longer an option.

Perhaps due to the medication, her biggest trouble was she couldn’t care about anything, and love was forgotten. That left getting through the blank days as comfortably as possible, trying not to sink under the boredom and total loss of hope. She was lucid, yes, at want price. She sometimes recognized on the faces of others joy and ambition and other emotions she could recall having had once, long ago. But her life was ruined, and she had no salvage plan. The decades were passing quickly and she was going gray; she was no longer attractive to anyone, male or female. Indeed, she felt herself repulsive, in the most literal sense. Hearing of a death, she often wished she could trade places with that person – let someone who knew how to organize and enjoy life benefit from her bodily health better than she could!

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