The Mad Ones

When I am on my own for too long, I crave company.  Then, when I get to spend time with people, I sometimes want to sit quietly and not talk too much.  Companionable silence isn’t to everyone’s taste, but it’s worth giving pause, mid-conversation, to check oneself and to assess, as my friend N. used to say, whether or not you have been on ‘non-stop download’ for the last half hour.  Each of us will have our own ‘don’t get me started’ subject – or for those of us who are less aware, it might be called the, ‘funny you should mention it’ matter.  There’s always one pet subject each of us find hard to drop once it has been zipped open and let loose on the tongue.  It might be a person, a project, politics, philosophy, perfect pasta, the price of heifers, or plucking your eyebrows.  Yes, we all have our fixation, fascination, obsession.  That precious point we love to talk about when presented with a willing pair of ears to listen.

I got a bit cross with Jack Kerouac this week.  I shouldn’t, because his was only a download on the page and I could have set the book down without causing him any offence.  I got cross with a long, breathless line from, On The Road, the one that goes: “the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes, ‘Awww!’”

Famously, Kerouac wrote On The Road in an unbroken three-week sitting, fuelled by coffee, cigarettes, amphetamines and the odd nap.  No doubt, by the end of all that, Kerouac had joined the ranks of the ‘mad ones’, washed away by ceaselessly crashing words sounding in his head.  The words do catch me – they are words with a hypnotic, poetic rhythm.  So much so that one feels compelled to go out there – anywhere, somewhere – and talk and burn and explode.  Then I check myself.  “Awww, what?” I want to yell at Jack, feeling exhausted at the thought of the mad ones, hoping there is someone nearby with a bucket of water to put them out so that (once dry) they can sit quietly and find contentment in wanting less. How’s that for grumpy?

Last weekend I spent some time with C. He is desirous of Jack’s sort of people. He yawned openly at my commonplace conversation, whereas his mad explosions were too much of a side order for my quiet morning scrambled eggs.  We lapsed into a companionable silence.  Over the years we have passed each other on the path of madness; when I was the one to burn he calmed me, when he was going up in flames I was there with the milk jug. One cannot be an exploding roman candle every day, it’s ok to hold back.

The Interview, by William Letford

A middle-management centaur, half man

half desk, imbued with authority power,

collars for shoulders, buttons for nipples.

Lips like a paper clip. ‘So,’ he says, in a flat,

wooden tone, ‘tell me your positive attributes.’

I only have one so I tell him the truth.

I say, ‘I’m greedy. Gluttony is my positive

attribute. I want everything, and I don’t mean

the money you’re offering.  Capital is desire

for the deluded. I want loneliness because

loneliness is beautiful. I want love because

love is pain, and pain is essential. I want

fear. Fear is fact. I want all the lust life can

muster.  Lust is the push.  My mother pushed.

Normal doesn’t exist so give me madness.

I want it all. The whole lot. No holding back.’

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