The Eternal Freshman Year Question

What do you think it means to be alive? What does it mean to be human?

I always thought the Bard Freshman seminar was stupid. “What does it mean to be human in the year 20…” That’s not how life works. You don’t get questions and answers in order. Large questions, from my perspective, are a trap – like the ocean.

When I was in middle school an educational computer game accidentally taught me a life lesson; here’s how it happened. They were testing an educational game about infectious disease transfer. It was poorly designed. When it wasn’t glitching or refusing to function as a group chat (believe me we tried) it was a series of clicks. You designed a character, and could move their avatar. Mine was male.

I made him walk into the ocean. I made him walk until I lost the island. One day I started the game and couldn’t remember the direction (I’m dyslexic). I had assured one of my nearby friends that no, I wasn’t going to lose the island.

And that’s kind of what mental illness is like.

Each part of my life has an aspect of war to it. More than the struggle of everyday tasks; the value of everything: the stripping of insulation, emotional systems, years of memory…for the space. The space not to unpack boxes. Avoid questions and answers which contain the sea. The “sane” asylum (Recommended Reading: Douglas Adams).

I have taught a boy something important. He’s about ten (my dyslexia extends to numbers). He says, time moves forward, not backwards. I have said to him, time moves forward, not backwards. He’s autistic. We’ll call him G. Anyway Gman is making strides in language; struggling.

He started asking me questions about past dates like they were present. His language is restricted, what he says and what he means is intelligent if unintelligible. So I decided to toss him a complex idea. His father is under the impression that he’s bored at school. And my impression is it’s hard for him to focus. So true to mercenary form (Recommend reading: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss) I say, “Time moves forward, not backwards.” But that question, that question is an ocean; you have to be careful with how you get lost in it. A circular lesson on a linear path. Forwards, not backwards What I imagine is the solidarity offered from someone living with a different kind of mental illness. You can’t keep your best days.


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