05 May 2002

Hell is -- other people!”
   - Jean Paul Sartre, Huis Clos

I found a sheet of three-hole punched notepaper folded and tucked between the pages of a book about the salutory effects of a positive attitude at the Public Library last week. On the notepaper, a message, or maybe a fragment of a message, that fills the whole of the front, top to bottom. The writing is large, bold, written in a hasty, slapdash hand that courses across the page. Surprisingly, the haste didn’t seem to prevent the writer from staying within the lines. Given the content, that’s peculiar. I did not decide to check out the book, but I did decide to take possession of the notepaper, the contents of which I now share with you:

constant elaboratan elumemanation from the one who with viger perades the avounus of my brand, revoliving is aparent, the tide ticks away at the stone sand is left to hold on, my mind flounder when it comes to remembering how one lives without a box, keep the bug far from the human living aperatis, this is how: know i’m dying. Survival of the fitest, delivering am end to something living, erks my being. he was a humbel, gentil, son of a bitch. Made ju feel guilty for living, every time: sayed somethin his face would make ya regreat you ever say anything at all, He never sayed a goddam word besids Please and Thankyou i swear, I wanted to beat him sensles. and so I digress: simply just ad water, you dimwits sertinly should not have a problem with this. Fear of flachuwance caused by los of stability intestents in dis eray bills not payed lost friends to no end junk yard dogs fester in onsted turmoil. i watch as she begins to pay more atintion to the little deils of this creation The faks existing matters are far from gone, but i hear her pleas, When bugs becom the pashin every thing will be okay.

It’s fascinating, reading this stuff. How often do we have the chance to see, up close and personal, a thought disorder in action? I’ve amused myself for a week with this piece of paper, in its white-ruled mystery. Who is the author? How old? Is it a man or a woman who thinks these things? Where does the author live? Is this one of my townsmen or neighbors? Is this an adult, or a child? Why does the narrative break off the way it does? And why is this screed sitting in a self-help book about positive attitude?

I could write a story about this, I think. Several stories, actually, each told from a different viewpoint, all about this single sheet of paper, and its significance and meaning in the world. It’s not enough simply to tell how it arrived in the book, because the story doesn’t end there, does it? Nor is it enough to tell only the effect on me of finding and reading it, because heaven only knows how many before me found the sheet, and left it in the book. Maybe some of those indifferent discoverers lacked the curiosity that afflicts me, makes me want to know the cause, the reason, the motivating force that compelled the writer to put down those words, and then leave them in the book. Maybe the words and the hand in which they were written felt too threatening, or too crazed, and the discomfort they generated was enough to make those people abandon the book, and the paper.

When we communicate, we send both significance and meaning with our words and actions. The way we present is as important as the what it is we present. I once was told I was loved by a person whose face was beet-red, and the corners of whose mouth were turned down in a grimace. Do you think I believed in that person’s love, for even a heartbeat? Not on your life. And looking at the heavy strokes and slash of the pen on the notepaper, can I believe what the writer says at the end of the page, that everything will be okay? Can you?

Excuse me. I want to write to my congressman about the prevailing policies toward de-institutionalization.


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