Not a Cry for Help

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“So, what I said yesterday wasn’t a suicide threat or plea for help, but a truthful if exhausted expression of the contradictory reality I live and that is me, and of its consequences. As I’ve said before, the public/private split sweeps contradiction under the rug. Under the rug then go Berlant, Ehrenreich, Camus, Blanchot, Bataille, Crevel, Primo Levi, and many others. I don’t want to pretend bravery or optimism I don’t feel. I don’t want to dissemble or cloak contradiction in neoliberal language of personal perseverance, nor pretty it with the spoiled-meat sheen of what Berlant calls ‘cruel optimism.’”—William Ramp

Small Things Recollected

By Dr. William Ramp

“Antigrazioso (The Anti-Graceful),” by Umberto Boccioni.

“Antigrazioso (The Anti-Graceful),” by Umberto Boccioni.

William Ramp

Editors Note: Initially, this playlet appeared, in a slightly different form, on one of Bill Ramps social media pages, and was read by his editor (who reads, avidly, every word that drops from his keyboard). Imagine her (his editors) surprise when the subject of the play was ADHD, an affliction she knows well (as a blighted fellow sufferer of 70 years). So, I have prevailed upon Bill to permit me to publish this draft of his, well knowing that it meets none of his rigorous and perfectionist standards for Rampian publications. To hell with perfection, says I, this New Years Eve: this little screed speaks to me . . . where I live and have my being (and I know that I will not be alone). 

LETHBRIDGE, ALBERTA Canada—(Weekly Hubris)—1 January 2022—This record of miniature drama interrupts a series I began a few months ago (and will return to) on what wartime photographs may reveal about complicity in evil. It is presented mostly as-is, despite my post-facto wince at a certain level of hyperbole in medias res.

ACT I

SCENE I. Somewhere (dark) in Canada. A study (dark) with computer.

Bill seated at a screen, types, while connected to “social media,” for want of a better term. 

BILL: I give up. I’ve misplaced both my phone and iPad, and thus neither my landlord nor the window-repair folks have any way to contact me. I’m SO DONE with this affliction called me. 

Whatever. I’ll just keep grading and wait to see what next I lose or forget. I wish I could lose myself. Permanently.

SCENE II. Still somewhere (dark) in Canada. (Still) a study (dark) with computer.

Bill (still) seated at a screen, types, while connected to “social media”(still) for want of a better term. 

BILL: This is NOT a cry for help. All that I describe below is my sole and singular responsibility—and help would only get in the way and make things worse. This is a mere virtual howl at a Microsoft moon from a burdened, disoriented, and insomniac academic with a scheduled 10 a.m. meeting. Read only if you identify, or if you’re looking round for someone deeper in the bog.

This was my week to really get into the swing of grading, oh yeah!

This is my instead-week.

  1. Here be time-voracious meetings flying in by their scores, all scheduled this week because “classes are over.”
  2. And here is a rock, resting between the broken double panes of my bedroom window. In order for it to be fixed, I must move my bed, presently jammed up against it. In order to do that, I must move the bookcase jammed against its far end, and remove the 12-16 full document crates beneath it that fix it into place. All while ensuring I lift no more than 30 lbs in a tiny, impossibly cramped space, lest I burst an aorta. This for repair folks who may give me 15 mins notice.
  3. And here reappears in my inbox once again that boomerang poltergeist of a 100-pp manuscript, with an editorial note: Please go over this carefully to ensure that all of our edits have captured your meaning. At your earliest convenience, please!
  4. Here crouch, slavering, my un-sent course book order forms for next term; due last September. And somewhere in the sleeping city, stirs the oft-invoked and prescient “Oh Bill (sigh)” response deep in a dept. assistant’s amygdala.
  5. Plotting and farting inside me, a veritable rotten turnip pile of chronic and worsening maladies, all busily soliciting new recruits and making alliances to feast upon my gradual demise. My feet have no feeling, my legs are swollen, I cannot sleep for peeing, I cough out my lungs, and there is no health in me. And, Lo, Imbalance haunteth me and my tongue cleaveth like ash to the roof of my mouth. And so the man who cameth to measure the window this morn (on 5 mins notice) didst gave me that look; the one that sayeth, “Poor sod. Drunk at this hour. And a hoarder.”
  6. And I cannot type two typo-free words, and my vision creepeth rapidly to the driving license-pulling line, and no hare will wake to overtake it. Verily, my name is Wreckage, Destroyer of fond hopes.

THERE. 

I send this out now across the dark Zuckerbergian barrens in hope that its faint “Oooooo” may reach some empathetic yet non-advisory ear, and that it may also cast an inhibitive spell on the demons and despairs hereby howled aloft.

Good night. Sleep tight. Don’t let the demons bite.

“The Night Wanderer,” by Edvard Munch.

“The Night Wanderer,” by Edvard Munch.

ACT II

SCENE I. Somewhere (dark) in Canada (again). A study (dark) with computer.

Bill (still) seated at a screen, (still) typing, while connected to “social media,” for want of a better term. 

BILL: Very brief update: I found the things. Rage has abated. Be assured I was & am safe. I may add a bit about what I said & why, but later. Right now, I need sleep.

“Self-portrait as Etcher,” by Rembrandt.

“Self-portrait as Etcher,” by Rembrandt.

ACT III

SCENE I. Somewhere (dark) in Canada (yet again). A study (dark, what else?) with computer.

Bill seated at a screen, typing (still); connected (still). 

BILL: What I said yesterday was about something in itself quite trivial, but the next to last straw in a long series of recent straws.  But it was also about something else that I’ll try to explain here. It wasn’t about offing myself. I’ve *thought* of that on several occasions, but never sensed it as a presence or force that threatened to take me over. So, I think I’m still pretty safe. 

Nor was it (solely) about self-hatred. It was sheer rage and frustration that had to go somewhere and needed to be spoken in its immediacy, and roughly. I’m not good at breaking dishes as a remedy for psychic or other blind alleys; I break words.

Here’s the thing. This affliction (mainly but not exclusively ADHD) is something I’d love to objectify, other, reject, and obliterate. I have the misfortune of having experienced a few magical and inexplicable hours without it; mostly in early childhood and twice on Demerol. So, I have a comparison. A sense of what life could be without it. Which makes it far more frustrating.

But I can’t rid myself of it. It’s part of me. No, it’s more than “part” of me. It IS me, profoundly and many ways; in my attention, distraction, and laterality; in my thinking and will; in my actions, my many wrong turns, and perhaps a very few right ones; in my failures, hurts, and hurting of others; in my relations (for good or ill), my self-giving, and deep selfishness; in my work and escapes from work; in impulse and humiliation; in fears and regrets; in all my emotions (the most recent ADHD research shows it to have profound impacts on affect as well as cognition).

It’s there in my sure knowledge that some folks love my impulsive wandering, sideways insights, and surface calm, but that others take offence at my unpredictable (un)conventionality, my occasional tendency to turn on people, and my failure to finish things (and thus to burden others with them), to acknowledge gifts, messages, and letters, or even to notice others. Like the person I’m told I nearly ran down and killed with my car one day. And it was also there on occasions that led a few to hate and despise me permanently for damage I did under its sway.

We are told these days that we need to “own” our afflictions as another dimension of ourselves or our spirituality; as a (paradoxical) strength or revelation, or as part of the Universe’s “plan.” That’s not the kind of owning I can do. I never accepted the cancers that felled many friends as “God’s plan.” I can’t now accept the Universe as God’s successor in this regard; nor can I accept the damaged and damaging me as part of some beautiful whole. 

Because, guess what: ADHD also bars me from spirituality. I’ve never had a spiritual experience, emotion, or revelation in my life. (I’m not alone in that).

“Self-Portrait,” by Michiel Sweerts.

“Self-Portrait,” by Michiel Sweerts.

Two facts remain. 

  1. This thing is NOT me.
  2. This thing inseparably IS me. 

It is that very real paradox, plus the mounting pressure of events and obligations that sharpened it, that candled my anger yesterday. Not just losing a couple of electronic devices.

Please believe me: it was honest anger at something that factually fucks me up every single day: in my waking AND my sleeping. It never goes away. It fights every med I’ve ever thrown at it.

The least I can do is to acknowledge how it sits in/as (not) me, and neither dissemble nor sublimate away my fury at it in a pretense of bravery and positivity. That’s a Big Lie in our culture; that all anyone has to do is to dig deep down into one’s self to find gold. I am furious and frustrated and fearful in the presence of ADHD, which means in my own presence.

Please also consider that it may be possible to accept these realities and to be angry about having to accept them. To be truthful in my case is not to resolve a contradiction but to acknowledge it. 

Welcome to me/not/me. 

So, what I said yesterday wasn’t a suicide threat or plea for help, but a truthful if exhausted expression of the contradictory reality I live and that is me, and of its consequences. As I’ve said before, the public/personal split sweeps contradiction under the rug. Under the rug then go Berlant, Ehrenreich, Camus, Blanchot, Bataille, Crevel, Primo Levi, and many others. I don’t want to pretend bravery or optimism I don’t feel. I don’t want to dissemble or cloak contradiction in neoliberal language of personal perseverance, nor pretty it with the spoiled-meat sheen of what Berlant calls “cruel optimism.”

(Of course, the contradiction-that-I-am doesn’t relate personal to public as essence to surface; “I” am a mere local effect of biological, sociopolitical, and interactional configurations, subjected to, resistive to, and reducible by them. So, for example, my claim that all I describe here “is my sole and singular responsibility” perfectly fits into neoliberal discourse. But on the other hand, I feel morally compelled to indicate that I am exceptionally privileged by comparison to ADHD sufferers without my material and social advantages. There’s yet another contradiction/juxtaposition here: Neoliberal talk of personal responsibility and a social justice emphasis on (dis)privilege both have their truths, but both also discomfit me. Both can be used divisively and to personalize public issues.)

What else to say?

“The Garden of Earthly Delights (Detail),” by Hieronymus Bosch.

“The Garden of Earthly Delights (Detail),” by Hieronymus Bosch.

I guess, maybe, that what I wrote yesterday has a larger dimension. If I don’t “have” spirituality, I DO have a religion of sorts, and the sorts that persistently crop up are profoundly Jewish. Christ is a somewhat alien figure, but Jewish Yeshua accepts or rebukes with a disarming directness. I have neither Jewish heritage nor connection, but these things speak to me.

In Jewish religious practice (and Jewish religion is above all a practical matter), it is accepted to be angry at G-d and to voice that anger—to refer to G-d, even to G-d’s face, as an abuser.

I extend that courtesy, if reluctantly, also to the Universe.

If the Universe has consciousness, it is seriously fucked. My attitude toward it is a Kabbalistic one (at a gentile remove); that it is composed of scattered shards of light from a creation turned destructive. And that everything good since has resulted from hapless but obstinate attempts by its own lost and wandering denizens to put those shards back together. Shards that slice the hands that do the work.

And the moon, receiver of dark night howls? Whether she will ever come down I leave to her. I know only the wisdom of canids, that she is to be bayed at. And that she has, in calm, majestic silence, received bayings for thousands of generations. And, further, that it is good at times to howl in the presence, however distant, of others, and to be knit with them in common plaint on cold nights.

It was in that sense of plaint that I addressed this screed to the moon, but in that sense it was also a short psalm. The book of Psalms is the central book in the Bible. It’s rough and in places revolting enough to have been smoothed over by redacting hands. Read it between the redactions. It’s the most human book in the Bible, and the revolting, depressing and lost bits are necessary to that humanity. Read it in the King James Version, or Robert Alter’s.

I hope I’ve not come across as ungrateful for several expressions of concern. They were warming and I am grateful. And I would that I could believe as some of you believe. But I’m in another place, behind a veil not rent for me, and I must be truthful about it—to you, but not at or for you. For my own sake, and I think perhaps for some others.

“Mixed/Oil on panel,” by Ratko Šoć.

“Mislilac [Thinker],” by Ratko Šoć. 

Acknowledgement and references:

The lesson about psalmody was taught me by my former brother-in-law, who lived some hard things and connected some shards with understated courage, and wisdom. I name you here, Peter Brown.

“. . . the spoiled-meat sheen of what Berlant calls ‘cruel optimism.’”

Lauren Berlant, Cruel Optimism (Raleigh NC: Duke University Press, 2011).

“. . . to refer to G-d . . . as an abuser.”

David Blumenthal, Facing the Abusing God: A Theology of Protest (Louisville KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993).

Image Sources:

L’antigrazioso, by Umberto Boccioni, 1912. From Wikimedia Commons, at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:L%27antigrazioso_by_Umberto_Boccioni,_1912.jpeg.

“The Night Wanderer,” by Edvard Munch, 1923-1924, at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Edvard_Munch_-_The_Night_Wanderer_-_MM.M.00589_-_Munch_Museum.jpg.

“Self-portrait as Etcher,” 1648, by Rembrandt. From Wikipedia, at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-portraits_by_Rembrandt#/media/File:Rembrandt_Harmenszoon_van_Rijn_-_Self_Portrait_Drawing_at_a_Window_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg.

“Self-Portrait With a Skull, by Michiel Sweerts, 1660. From Wikimedia Commons, at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Michael_Sweerts_-_self_portrait_with_a_skull_c.1660.jpg.

“The Garden of Earthly Delights (Tryptich, 1490-1510/Detail),” by Hieronymus Bosch. From Wikipedia, at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Garden_of_Earthly_Delights#/media/File:The_Garden_of_earthly_delights.jpg.

“Mislilac [Thinker],” 1998, by  Ratko Šoć. From Wikimedia Commons, at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mislilac_Ulje_na_platnu_1998.godina_100x100cm.jpg.

About William Ramp

William Ramp teaches sociology at the University of Lethbridge, in Alberta, Canada. He’s bemused to find himself in his sixth decade, nursing both a long and faulty memory, and age-inappropriate attitudes. He is fortunate to be organized, inspired and kept in line by dear friends and cheerfully-irreverent children. He contends as best he can with a host of garden-variety demons, imagining that some day he will beat them all, but suspecting he really should invite them in for coffee and a chat at fireside. Though trained in academic prose, he’s returning to a love of creative and incidental writing left behind in high school. That love is now his lifeline; a way to retain a footing on new paths and to contribute to uncaged and free-range conversation. His interests tend to be intellectual, but he delights in poring over antique machinery, grafting strange sprigs onto unsuspecting trees, listening to frogs in spring, watching thunderstorms outside and in bare feet, and talking to crows and magpies. He bumbles at night around the porch-lights of culture and ideas, and gravitates to redolent old things left at the curb of modern life. He tries not to let frustration with bad politics and worse news eclipse his sometimes wayward and over-ardent affections for the things of this world. Banner(1) photo used by permission of photographer Penny McCoy: www.pennyphotographics.com; banner(2) photo used by permission of photographer Bradley Rawlings; headshot photo by Louis-Philippe Valiquete, Laboratoire d'études durkheimienne, UQAM.
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7 Responses to Not a Cry for Help

  1. Claire Bateman says:

    No words would suffice in response to this powerful piece, just: !!!!!!!

  2. Robin White says:

    The thing I find so remarkable about the Biblical laments is the fact that the Psalmists, amidst utter despair, cry out honestly — in faith. Even while feeling completely forsaken, forgotten, even assaulted, the lamenters address God. Even while feeling abandoned, the cry is from a position of faith. The very fact that they turn to God with their grief is an act of faith. AND in almost every case, the one who complains eventually moves from the allegation to a stance of praise. I find such faith absolutely astounding.

  3. William Ramp says:

    Claire Bateman, thank you. I had serious doubts about publishing something that began as a social-mediated rage against the dark, but that a reader of your calibre would respond as you did is reassuring. My scruples were worth disobeying if this venture assured one person that they were not alone in the affliction described.

    Robin White, I too find the faith of the psalmists astounding. It is not accidental that this piece of writing formed an address, whether to the moon, or to God, or to [the possibility of] readers who would “get” what I was trying to articulate. That last possibility *also* involves faith, and both Judaism and Christianity invite us, if in different ways, to see in the faces of such human others the face of God.

    My own faith in others, in myself, and in God, is fitful and damaged. I can, at least, be honest about that. The move from the allegation to praise is beyond astounding to me; it is beyond comprehension. But perhaps its possibility does not rest upon my comprehension.

    Paul, I think, packed a lot of this into a single sentence in 1 Corinthians: “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” But that sentence became shopworn as Christian discourse became ever more triumphalist. Rather than a hard and central truth of the human condition, “seeing darkly” and “in part” became a mere antechamber to the fond idea that revelation would somehow in the end serve up (like a divine butler) to the more privileged class of cosmic reassurance-diners a perfect sense-making soufflé as an ultimate opt-in reward,

    I think it is possible, even necessary, to assert that there can be a certain honesty, even a moral duty, to peer into the dark, cursing the limits of [in]sight; to report on horrors seen too clearly and/or with incomprehension, and to rail against both. I am impelled to such honesty and protest only fitfully and through pain, not by profession or consistency of will.

    But I do believe that the very possibility of Revelation depends upon protest. Or to clothe the point in religious language, that perhaps our purpose in creation is to take exception – vigorously AND directly – to what we see of the ways of its creator.

  4. Claire J Bateman says:

    Yes, indeed, William.

    Jeremiah 15:8:

    Why has my pain been endless
    And my wound incurable, refusing to be healed?
    Will You indeed be to me like a deceptive stream
    With water that is unreliable?

    It’s not the whole story, but it’s a very real part of the story.

  5. William Ramp says:

    Claire Bateman, those few lines sound depths and compass breadths that few others can approach — and that the term “jeremiad” cannot contain.
    Thank you. Very real indeed.

  6. William Ramp says:

    May I add a small detail concerning Peter Brown to whom I’m indebted for suggesting that I read the Psalms for a genre of individual and common plaint, speaking human truth to divine power directly and without gloss, refusing to let apparent contradiction pass without voicing – witnessing to – the pain it inflicts.

    Peter was also vehicle of a different blessing. Several years ago, a filmmaker friend of his suggested he check out a certain online periodical. Having done so, and with some of my Facebook screeds in mind, Peter suggested I consider contacting the editor to offer a piece of writing on spec. For once, I followed through on a suggestion, and received a cautious response: should I willingly commit to producing and revising (in a timely fashion, to high standards) not just one piece but a monthly column, we could talk.

    We talked, and so it was that Small Things Recollected was born And by some inscrutable editorial grace, wretchedly undeserved, it was sustained, despite existential crises (a.k.a. routine deadline violations and m.i.a’s), last-last minute addenda, tin-ear responses, and misdirected missives. By a similar providence, its author came to touch the hem of and eventually (and unexpectedly) to find himself enfolded (erratic black-sheep Presbyterianism & all) within a writerly family, both close and wide.

  7. Elizabeth Boleman-Herring says:

    Bill, if Weekly Hubris is anything at all, in the face of so much, it is my poorly bound, soft-covered (because virtual) book of psalms-written-by-other-psalmists, which I raise up to the silent sky and impending darkness. The sweet serendipity of discovering, and clinging to, you and all your fellow writers-not-in-residence has been one of the pillars of my existence (and faith) this past decade. Peter Brown! Thank you, Peter Brown!

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