October is my favorite month. Cooler weather, playoff baseball, memories of Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves creeping me ever closer into an axiety disorder.
It’s the year 2000 and, while not the jetpack futuretopia I had imagined as a boy, it is the zenith of a certain phase of my life. A manic ascent of responsibility and success. Travel, Napster, E*Trade. Making more money at 25 than I do today at 40, 60-hour weeks the norm.
Yet I can’t seem to hang on through the ride. I’ve fallen in love and the sense that it could ever be lost begins to preoccupy the few spare thought cycles left to me apart from work and sleep. I’d always been afraid of flying on my frequent business trips, but now I felt like there was so much more to lose. I was acknowledged as a rising star in my job, even as I was more sure than ever it was happening beyond and despite my own efforts, and that my own career would far exceed the life of the company to which I devoted every ounce of available mental energy.
I found myself gripped by a kind of mundane existential horror. Constant sweats and racing thoughts. Numbness and pain all through my arms and chest. Spinning dizziness springing from nowhere. And always the fear.
I became certain that I would die on or around my approaching 26th year.
As I’ve grown older and more comfortable talking about these experiences I’ve found it’s actually rather common for panic disorders to manifest in a person’s mid-twenties, particularly when paired with biological factors and family history. Hey,even my neuroses are normcore!
In spite of, or perhaps because of, my fragile state of mind, I chose that October to immerse myself in what was marketed as a horror novel. Good idea! Amazon’s editors describe House of Leaves thus:
Had The Blair Witch Project been a book instead of a film, and had it been written by, say, Nabokov at his most playful, revised by Stephen King at his most cerebral, and typeset by the futurist editors of Blast at their most avant-garde, the result might have been something like [it].
The PoMo shenanigans I still cherished post-lit-degree were on full display—House of Leaves is a found story, about a book, about a documentary film. Ersatz editor Johnny Truant (a Pynchonesque name on top of everything) writes about the book you are reading about reading:
For some reason, you will no longer be the person you believed you once were. You’ll detect slow and subtle shifts going on all around you, more importantly shifts in you. Worse, you’ll realize it’s always been shifting, like a shimmer of sorts, a vast shimmer, only dark like a room. But you won’t understand why or how.
And I’ll be damned if that isn’t exactly how I felt as I sank ever deeper in Danielewski’s book. Hypnotized by it, like it should have come with a warning label. Like the house it describes, House of Leaves seemed impossibly deeper and larger than itself as I read and re-read the twisting accounts within.
As that fall froze into winter, my anxiety intensified until one day I found myself in an urgent care center, 100% convinced that I was having a heart attack, that everything had gone irretrievably wrong and that I had somehow squandered everything good ever given to me in my life.
Of course it wasn’t true. Our minds are liars. Help is always available and I was fortunate enough to have someone help me find it. The woman I was so afraid of losing stood by me every step of the way while I found a mix of mindfulness and medication that, mostly, keeps the darkness away. Today she’s my wife. That next October I quit the job that made me so physically and emotionally sick.
My copy of House of Leaves still sits in a box in the basement, though. Waiting for me to return.
And now, some links!
Why every newborn you see on Facebook is wrapped in the same baby blanket and its relationship to the largest employer in the village where I live.
Linguists may dismiss the form’s shortcuts and tacky neologisms, but in texting is the beginning of the full-fledged digital grammar.
For all we do it, though, texting is culturally invisible. No wonder we screw things up with texting — sexts, solicitations, quarrels, misfires and misunderstanding. We don’t know what the hell we’re doing. Unlike with gaming, no books exist about the dark allure of texting; its elegant storytelling; its shocking semiotics.
Data scientist Alice Zhao analyzed the texts she and her (now) husband have changed over the course of their relationship in How Text Messages Change from Dating to Marriage
In a world where the commonly held wisdom is that technology isolates us, it’s worth considering another side of the story.
The Halloween of my dreams by the late Marjorie Williams
Be well my friends.