David Lee Beowülf
The Axe and Helmet , a collection of my monthly rants, raves, and reviews, was the official newsletter of the David Lee Beowulf Fan Club (founded by moi ). I “published” the A&H between April 1994 and March 1995, until a severe, morbid insanity forced me to discontinue publication. It was fun while it lasted. The insanity that stopped it was not fun.
Of course, by “publishing,” I mean putting together a Xeroxed two-to-eight page ‘zine and mailing off about a fifty copies to my pals. The insanity lasted from February 1995 to about July 1996. I credit my insanity to four factors: bad decision-making leading to amplified guilt, living in too small a space (7 ft W X 14 ft L X 8 ft H — no lie), “working with idiots,” and a “mobility deficit.” While some clowns will say “it’s always your decision, you could walk away,” I counter with, “sure, then I have to REALLY worry about where my next meal is coming from, and it’s against the law to slaughter your neighbors for food.” I’ll also add, that while feeling sorry for yourself is (ten points for the movie I’m quoting) “the most popular personal sport in America,” my personal problems are nothing like a resident of Bosnia’s or Rwanda’s or any other nation torn apart by civil war. How I wish I did live in Bosnia! Killing my antagonists with a machine gun would be a matter of course. Or Rwanda! Bother me?! I really will take a machete to your face! Argh!
Am I Going Insane (Radio)
Anyway, in order to take the job that paid me real money (which would allow me the luxury of actually paying off the debts I’d incurred while in graduate school), I literally had to rip myself out of Melbourne, Florida. When I’d graduated from FIT in 1992 into a particularly shitty economy, I’d also graduated into not having anywhere to live and not having a cent. And, get this: the student loan people expected me to start paying them back! So, with nowhere else to go, home I went. After about a year of temping and collecting rejection letters from miserly engineering companies, I came back to Melbourne, where at least I could be closer to Ink Nineteen and WFIT (R.I.P.). And ten months later, lo and behold, after struggling and working at minimum wage for a mad octogenarian Hungarian structural engineer, the “real” job came through. And the real job happened to be in New York City where I could live at home for “free” and see punk rock and metal shows. To get a job in New York, I had to move back to Florida, go figure. There was just one small problem… Hmmm, let me just say that there are times when I seem really distant ; even at, say a GWAR show. There’s a great line in High Plains Drifter , where Clint Eastwood is talking with the townsfolk after coaching them on how to protect their town from some marauders, just let out of jail, who are coming back for revenge. They ask what to do after they’ve won the siege and killed-off the gang. He says, “then you live with it.”
Movin’ On Up!
So anyway, I leave, get started with the job, and find that, a month later, my parents have sold their house and we have to move. Move where? Well, my parents aren’t too swift with such matters, so…
Financial circumstances preventing me from living elsewhere, I shared a cramped (super-cramped) “apartment” with two inconsiderate slobs (mom and dad), affording me negative privacy – I’d have to go into the bathroom and run the shower just to have a private telephone conversation. The “cell” in which I lived, well… I’m not a small person, and since I don’t like to throw things away (like my record collection or things people give me), each morning I’d get up and put a bunch of boxes on my bed. At night, I’d put them back on the floor; get the picture? And transportation was difficult, as I now lived too far from the activities which were such a big part of my life (rock and roll shows and a decent gym) – the new commuter train line only ran once an hour.
Working with idiots is always stressful, and I agree that “everyone” has to work with idiots. My problem, though, is that my place of work is loaded with well-tested regulations, concrete business processes, and solid methodologies. Now, if people who’d been working there for half their lives only knew what those were, I’d be much happier. As it was, constantly being given the “ask someone else” answer to all my questions was too much. At my level, I needed guidance, a mentor, someone with experience to mold me into a productive, effective worker. Boy, did I get a lesson… The amplified guilt resulted from a poor decision I made right before going insane… “Regrets? Do you have any regrets, Dave?”
“Yeah! I have a list of regrets as long as my fucking arms!”
I wrote most of this essay back in July 1998 while on vacation while I was scanning-in all the Axe and Helmets for an as-yet-unposted web archive. As I scanned each page, I remembered putting each issue together, folding them up, sending them out, etc. I also began to think about what really had transpired for the year and a half I was “insane.” How did I act? I didn’t hurt people or try to kill myself; I lost complete track of the time, though, and didn’t notice seasons changing, hell, I didn’t even notice the weather! That is, I lost touch with reality. There wasn’t a night or day , just a continuation . When I wasn’t asleep, I was at work or on the train. One day was no different than any other (“day” was meaningless, time to go to work again, that’s all). It was like the world around me was all in a fog, except for the path I had to take to and from work. Along with ceasing the A&H , I stopped working out ( bad ) and kept out of touch with most everyone I’d known. After all, life for me was divided between work and not work, that was all. Then one day it ended.
Shortly after the insanity left me, I read One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (at Ian’s suggestion). The Big Chief, the main character, used to see the world in a fog , that is, he really would see smoke all over the place, along with ferocious monsters lurking everywhere. In the end, he now longer sees the fog and is sane. In July of 1996, when my personal insanity ended, I experienced a similar feeling. All of a sudden, I started standing up straight again, I could breathe deeply, I could stretch out, my body wasn’t in pain any more. And I started thinking clearly. All without any drugs… I was floored! I could see everything again!
I also read Barbara O’Brien’s book Operators and Things , published in 1958. It’s a true account of her bout with and eventual recovery from schizophrenia. She was, of all things, a female technical professional in the late 1940s. In addition to the “male chauvinists,” she worked with idiots. One day she woke up and there was a strange man sitting in a chair next to her. In reality, he wasn’t there at all, but, and this is the creepy thing about schizophrenia, she actually saw him, just as plain as you reading this issue of Ink Nineteen . Soon, there were others, and she found out that there was a conspiracy to kill her. One side kept telling her to kill herself; there was a war inside her head . But something inside also told her to get away, change her environment. And she did, and she recovered. After, unfortunately, learning first-hand about the ineffectiveness of Freudians, mental hospitals, and so on.
21st Century Schizoid Man!
I doubt I could be diagnosed as schizophrenic, I didn’t hear voices or see things that weren’t there. But I did feel this looming depression. I always felt cramped, I always felt like I was walking on a balance beam; it was as though every turn I made led to a brick wall, and there were lots and lots of turns… While I did tend to stay up late and not get much sleep, I didn’t experience a change in sleeping patterns. The strangest thing was my inability to sit comfortably on a soft chair or sofa. I’d find that sitting on a nice chair was, well, unusual . I also couldn’t talk to people outside of work. For example, I’d go into a grocery store and I found that I didn’t know how to answer a question like “cash or credit card?” Instead of cooking for myself, I’d eat at lousy restaurants or “Korean” delis, not caring what I ate. I also didn’t bother getting a haircut for almost a year… Something prevented me, however, from turning to alcohol and/or drugs; it would have been a great chance to become an alcoholic, too. Something also kept at me to continue writing for Ink Nineteen and persevering at interviewing bands and listening to hundreds of new records.
In Barbara O’Brien’s case, physical changes in her surroundings eventually brought her out of schizophrenia, and that’s what took away my insanity.
What brought me out was moving to larger living quarters in May 1996. They’re larger and near the good commuter train line. Then I joined a gym in New York City, so that I’d have no excuse for missing a workout before or after work. I also started making my own food again. And from then to about November of 1997, when a large Asian affliction finally subsided, I was in a personal rebuilding stage. I began to get into a daily routine, just like I’d had back in Melbourne circa 1993. Things became normal, and I was becoming someone I’d recognized. This period of rebuilding is best described, somewhat cryptically, in one of my best Ink Nineteen essays of 1997, “Stay Plaid.”
Between then and January 1998, I concerned myself with planning the future, which included gaining insight into just what I’m supposed to be doing with myself, and firmly re-establishing my relationship with the Lord (surprised? you shouldn’t be). In January 1998, I took an opportunity and moved to a differnet division of my company. What I did before was concerned with getting other people to do things for me, all the time preparing “cover your ass” documentation and learning the art of finger-pointing. In other words, I was a “project manager.” The technical challenges I craved simply weren’t there. Not that the work was easy, it’s that someone else did all the technical work, and all I did was attach a memo asking that they do it. Not only that, but I had to reduce any related technical discussions to a fourth-grade level and limit most matters to funding. Most important, it seemed, was getting around regulations and avoiding business processes no one knew in the first place. Actually, spending all the money was the most important thing… For crying out loud! I’m an engineer! I want to build things, not write memos and chase money! (Note the wise: I did the job properly and took the check. Quitting the job would have been stupid , insanity or no insanity.)
Now, things are totally different. What I do now involves serious technical work in the office balanced with lots of field time. I no longer feel like a fish out of water (a lot of the time I’m in the water, literally). Plus, I’m always working with people of good technical and scientific focus. Business processes are looked upon as just that: processes. They’re not considered obstacles at all, but simply a small and necessary part of the job we do. And the work is very exciting, as I get to engage in meaningful technical discussions and draw lines on big pieces of paper. Like I told an old colleague a few months ago, “every day is like Saturday.” I want to go to work, I love my job; it’s fun!
Actually, I’m just happy being “sane.”