Garrett (garote) wrote,

Cross-Country Trip Day 7: Mon Aug 20

The Missouri motel was not a good place to sleep.

I dreamed I was in a sleek, expensive car, and it was going down the road I used to live on as a child, but the engine was off. To get control of the car I had to start it. I turned the key and shifted out of neutral into the wrong gear, causing the car to grind to a stop. I heard the crackling sound of fire and realized the underside of the car was burning.

I bailed out of it and ran up the road, then stopped, and concentrated, and realized: "Wait, I just imagined bailing out; I didn't actually do it!" ... And instantly I was back inside the burning car. It exploded.

I woke up, half-scared out of my wits. I had to read inane movie reviews on my iPhone to reconnect with reality, and even then it was very hard to keep my mind from conjuring horror movie tropes in the shadowy corners of the room.

When I fell asleep again, I dreamed that I was in a dystopian future where most of the population were slaves. A crowd of us was lined up to see a new museum exhibit, in the big city auditorium. When the doors opened people began running inside to grab seats. I stood outside and watched, aghast at the chaos.

Then I heard gunshots, and screaming. Someone was killing people, inside the museum. I ran around to the front of the building and people began pouring out, waving their arms, running in all directions across the city square. Some were bleeding. I realized I shouldn't stick around to wait for the gunman - or multiple gunmen - to emerge. I began running away, into the warren of small apartments on the opposite side of the square.

One of the terrorists was after me. Or was it a policeman? A corrupt servant of the regime, intent on flushing out revolutionaries? I didn't know, but I did know I was being pursued. I ran from a figure in dark clothing. He was holding a weapon, aiming it at me. I dove into a crowd of people, packed into an alley, with fences on either side. My pursuer spotted me, and elbowed into the crowd. I ducked down, trying to get lost in the chaos, but the man drew close, and raised a weapon above his head. It was a large rock hammer, with the pointed end forward.

I surged upward, and met his rock hammer with the blade of my own, making a metallic clang. The weapons were locked together against our pulling. I pulled harder, and he lost his grip. His hammer went sailing out behind me. I brought mine down, and pierced his forehead with the sharp end, plunging it deep into his skull. Then I placed one hand against his neck and yanked the hammer free. He fell back onto the lid of a dumpster.

The crowd writhed around us, dozens of people witnessing my retaliation. I brought the hammer down again, and again, onto the man's face, pinning his body with my knees and one hand. Pieces of his head snapped off, or were sheared away. Eventually I destroyed his entire face, leaving only a red and gray mass. It wasn't an act of rage, it was the only way I could be sure that this terrifying pursuer was actually dead. And even then, death wasn't a certainty with these creatures. At least he would be unable to pursue.

I let go, and the body rolled and hit the street, where it was quickly obscured by the jostling crowd. I turned and pushed away. There was another pursuer nearby. I knew I'd been seen.

I woke up again, covered in sweat. This time, it was morning.

I drove through Missouri as quickly as I could. The state seemed an endless freeway with little to differentiate the miles. It hadn't impressed me the last time, either. I listened to more of the "Wait" book and found it to be very interesting. As I drove I thought about what I was hearing, and made little notes on my phone, which fleshed out into my own little mini-essay about stress and delay:

Procrastination and impatience are not opposites. They share something important. They are both born of a desire to keep the present uncluttered and orderly. This is a natural consequence of having a human brain, evolved from an animal brain. Being uncluttered in the present is very important for a living organism that must deal with its immediate environment. This explains the paradox of why some of us procrastinate when we are overwhelmed, and stress out about the future when everything is going smoothly. In the first case, we rebel against being too preoccupied while we feel an immediate threat. In the second case, choosing what we allow into our present is how we construct our future present, and we're trying to get all our worrying done "in advance".

Are poor people poor because they cannot manage their time, or pay attention? Which trait grew first? Consider that they have things constantly intruding into their present, threatening their basic survival, which fiercely aggravates their desire to de-clutter the present, by putting things off, even when it can have ugly consequences. If you spend most evenings worried sick about how you're going to make rent next month, where is the room for little worries like changing the oil, trimming the lawn, or reading fine print? And when the thing you worry about seems inescapable, the next natural choice is to find something to dull the worry itself, because relieving it the "right" way is not an option. Are poor people poor because they have poor impulse control? Or does being beaten repeatedly down destroy the impulse control they once had? It's a valid question, and it interferes with our search for a victim as much as for someone to blame.

And what about people who are not poor, but are perpetually sloppy anyway? If a scientist puts off errands because she is obsessively focused on curing cancer, is that really procrastination? Does it really make sense to call her lazy? No, the worst we can do is deride her housekeeping skills, and maybe shake our heads at her poor execution of "life / work balance". We can't make the leap from procrastinating to laziness.

In 2010 I had a huge, terrible knot of stress inside my mind. The sudden uncertainty about my present, and my future, and my self, was an enormous problem that screamed for my constant attention. My immediate physical needs were never threatened: I had money, I had a place to live, I had food and distraction and plenty of people to talk to ... but it made no difference. I was barely functional. I couldn't concentrate on a damn thing, except What The Hell Had I Done, and What The Hell Was I Going To Do. I remember that feeling well. It incapacitated me. It turned me into one of the walking dead. I had to do all of my usual thinking in tiny corners around the really big, intrusive, impossible thought.

In 2011 I did a whole lot of stuff, trying to hammer cracks into that stress. I think it finally began to disintegrate on a bicycle somewhere past Kansas. Now, nine months later, I retrace some of that journey at warp speed in a car, and I realize how different I feel.


I don't really know what I will choose to pull from the future. And that's fine - because for a change, I'm relaxed enough to actually pay some attention to it. I am neither obsessing about it - nor putting it off.

Thoughts of this nature, plus the audiobook, kept me going through Missouri, a scrap of Illinois, and well into Kentucky. I got a motel room just about 50 miles from the Mammoth Cave National Park. The price was low and the quality was high, and I slept well that night, for a change. No nightmares assailed me.
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