Dear Millicent,

I just woke up feeling rattled from having a dream where I was at a party and suffered the same minute embarrassments I do at real parties.  In the dream I talked too much about my work, flirted poorly with an esteemed professor of my youth, and then my mom got mad at me for not making her guests comfortable.  There was not even an incisive meaning of the dream.  It was mundane, obvious, and pretty much already lived, why did my mind go through the motions of making it up?

I once heard a This American Life where a psychiatrist who was schizophrenic had made a training tape for New York City cops so they could understand a bit more about schizophrenics when they approached them. They had to wear headphones and listen to the tape for an entire day, if I remember correctly.  She said that “hearing voices” was not like have strange thoughts float around in your mind. It was like somebody behind you startling you by yelling or whispering things to you.  The cassette was of these possible assaults/conversations and it illustrated to the cops how hard it is to focus one’s attention beyond the external voice that has most of your ear.

I was surprised by this definition.  Schizophrenia has that fuzzy meaning when said casually–usually suggesting something out of nowhere, contradictory, or strangely juxtaposed.  Schizophrenic critics must be an unsynchronized chorus, and a schizophrenic work must be a patchwork (with seams either clumsily or masterfully exposed).  Schizophrenic love must be hot and cold, out of balance, or a case of a PMS.  But, like you mention with your sister, none of this cutesy summing up actually holds sway with the real effect of the condition.

The one thing that irks me when the word is used as an adjective, even with the “being cut in half in the shower” phrase (I think I have to mention, what does the shower have to do with it? The drain, for cleanliness?) is that it relies heavily on a sense of absolute freedom from responsibility.  This is where it makes me think of the training cassette.  We are attracted to the odd contrast, the juxtaposition, that just arrives.  Perhaps this is why we embrace the word and the idea of the word, and don’t really want to know about the real stuff of the schizophrenic experience.

The Happy Puppet terrifies me, as do all genetic prophecies that suggest procreation is a lottery or grab-bag, or worse, the highest stakes and most depressing version ever of the game show “Let’s Make a Deal.”  Is it Doris Lessing that wrote about the family that has hit the genetic jackpot until their last child, which ultimately destroys, well, everything?