“Pardon my sanity in a world insane.” – Emily Dickinson
“The older I get, the more I see how women are described as having gone mad, when what they’ve actually become is knowledgeable and powerful and fucking furious.” – Sophie Heawood
There is a cave at the end of the world where all of the madwomen finger the black dawn red and bend back the bars of sanity until they curve like crescent moons, shining a wet gleam onto a mirrored sea. These are all the cast-off girls, the crazy women. They laugh at the insanity of antiseptic hallways, bleach-white, the stench of chemicals. Here, all of the greatest artists and poets and the broadest minds of history are called crazy within their own narrow time-sphere of eternity. Here, there are glass-walled cells where the women are neatly organized and separated, filed away like documents in plastic prisons. Right and wrong are inverted, reality and illusion, Plato’s allegory sprouted wings and flown headfirst into Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, Cassandra the voiceless prophet waving her frantic arms, an Icaric combustion of heat and energy, scattering bodies as texts, poems, art in a bloody heap on the sun-scorched ground. Inside of time, Jung and Freud wander those white halls, clipboards in hand, Jacques Ferrand, S. Weir Mitchell, the keepers and experimenters of history’s hysterical women drink bourbon cut coffee and wrap their mouths around fat cigars in wood-grain offices with leather backed chairs while their Doras and Charlottes waste away in their repressions and rest cures and pats on the head.
Are you not a bit crazy too, boys, doctors, all you white-writers of history? Does your mind not wander and drift over the boundaries of time, spilling like salt across hurricane boundaries, do you not ever feel the volcanic desire to rage against the bone-stemmed frailty of yourselves? I think you’re lying if you say no. I think you’re a big fat, phallic-minded liar if you say no.
Give me wild women and weird kids and men with messy hair and coffee stains on their best blazers who recite “The Raven” like sheer lunatics, dancing Peyote over the dim of campfires, children who comment that clouds look like bunnies breathing fire, and if you tilt your head and squint your eyes, you too, can see can see that, yes, there is both fire and fluff in the glimmer of sky out the car window. I like people who live electric and shake the ground with their soul vibrations, who sing the rain raw, and claw at the tempest veil of humanity, begging like paupers for what is real.
There’s an old man with skin like a storm talking to his umbrella at the bus stop. He can’t tell you what year it is, but he remembers a girl named Stella who’s not a girl anymore and he wonders if she still hums while she cooks jambalaya in a sticky, southern kitchen. . . . His mind is a house, and his love lives in the next room, an eerie ghost-song in a red-beans-and-rice scented dream
A mist of a man sits hunched over a typewriter on a New Orleans street that runs like a river through a bayou of jazz music — he’ll write you a poem if you give him twenty bucks and a theme — lamp posts and lost loves maybe, something of vanilla-scented nostalgia, the syrupy confections of memory. When he’s not summoning poems for strangers on a street corner, he meditates in the swamp. He’ll marry you and your friend if you ask him to, like the backwater bayou poet-priest he is, if you’re nuts enough to ask (I think you are) . . . . His mind is a street, a swamp, a cocked fedora over Tennessee Williams eyes on a higher plane . . . . click-clacking art out into the purple night of jazz and drunks on a winding city street
There’s an artist who lives in a tent in the Mississippi Arts District (“If you throw a beer bottle off the deck at the pizza place, you’ll hit my house,” he says by way of direction); he sells thick slices of color drizzled in anti-capitalism, and heady charcoaled nudes to wealthy North Jackson residents. Sit with him while he rolls a cigarette and drinks coffee from a camouflage thermos and he’ll tell you about when he punched his wife’s transgender lover off the back of a motorcycle and went to jail. When he got out, the locks were changed, so he got a tent and a divorce and some paints in tins, and now his home is inside the pavement of the place he paints
A man named Miller turns into a cocktail waitress named Millie after eight most nights of the week, and she will give you advice about your hair that you did not ask for—go shorter she’ll says, shut up, you’ll say, and ask where she buys that devastating color of coral lipstick. Her house is a Ruby Slipper Red lip stain uprooted by the prairie tornadoes of misunderstanding that threaten her existence and expertise every day of her fairy tale life
So give me all the umbrella-conversationalists and tattooed goddesses with pierced faces and boys with green hair. We’re all temples of decay anyway. It’s a riot really, to realize that none of us are getting out of this game alive. Might as well love each other, might as well loosen the fuck up a little bit.
Gilbert and Gubar’s Madwoman in the Attic theme covers a lot more people than Victorian housewives locked away by their dumbass husbands. We find out that the fairy tales aren’t real, that the boys Grimm were closer to the actual truth than was W. Disney, and we have fun clichés like “mid-life crises” or “seven year itch” and the like to explain behavior that makes us uncomfortable, but the truth is that anyone who takes a second to fully realize the fact that we are alive for a blip in history on a spinning planet among hundreds of thousands of other spinning planets in a great universe of Unknown will be able to see through the idiocy of routine, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s idea of “foolish consistency,” all the zombie themed films and shows we can stomach, ripping flesh from flesh until we feel normal enough to continue in the great parade.
We’re all going to die! It’s a huge riot, a great ruse, costumed madness!
“Crazy” – or the Greek root of “Hysterical” – is used as an insult in postmodern society; when used about women, it is synonymous with disobedient, boisterous, refusing to shut up, living outside of the norm types of badass bitches. All that we say we appreciate, but really despise, the pornography of normal-ism. The madwoman is antisocial, unruly, oversexed, the ones used for observation in asylums. The glass is two-way, though.
In the South, different is dangerous. I can tell you from experience. Pour me something dark and give me one of Freud’s phallic cigars and I’ll tell you all about it. Or lock me up if you are brainwashed enough to think that you can. This is my story. I will write the Truth real from an island perched so perilously above your carefully considered lives and fake fables that it just may topple your pretend rules, all the made up nonsense you rest within falling like ash over the phoenix fires of a long-risen corpse.
Outside of time, in that same cave of women, there is fire in jars, there are rich wool rugs on wood floors and sweet ripe fruit and heavy churned cheeses, big dogs laze on warm tiles and the night wraps us in the heat of herself. There are full-bodied wines and strong bourbon poured deep between the crevices of darkness. There are books and art and ideas that flicker about the room like flame-light – Cassandra is there, curled in a shawl of velvet visions, yes, but her author Aeschylus is not. Loose curls of gray hair slip free from star-shaped pins in her hair and she has conversations with herself in the corner. Gertrude Stein refills her tea cup with whiskey from time to time. Bertha Rochester bays at the moon outside, Miss Havisham scoops great handfuls of stale wedding cake up from its tiers and mashes it into the floor, building, like a child in a sandbox, some unrecognizable structure. Virginia Woolf is there, Kate Chopin, and Sylvia Plath. Woolf’s pockets are weighted with roots instead of rocks, though, Chopin’s feet have not yet been ocean-wet, and Plath watches with a wry glimmer in her dark eyes, cigarette between fragile fingers, from a settee off to the side. Oscar Wilde, Walt Whitman, our beat poets in braille — Ginsberg howling, Kerouac clambering, laughing, Edgar Allan Poe, Rumi and Degas and Dali pass herb and decanter, Edith Wharton and Agatha Christie and Emily Dickinson all in white, lounge about, they are all there, all the bright stars who tried to tell us how dully the earth shone.
To the world it will look like we wait for you in glass cells. There is a slightly different reality, though, that reads us all sitting around in a lamp-lit night, slightly drunk, telling stories and commenting on the ash-rain beyond the cave. Welcome. Warm yourself with whiskey and the fire of your own truth. Welcome.
Megan Ainsworth is a Southern United States essayist and memoirist who teaches writing and literature at a community college in Jackson, Mississippi. Her work has been published in the Brick Street Press 2008 and 2010 Short Fiction Anthologies, on Elephant Journal, The Good Men Project, and on her blog site; she was a finalist in the “Lorian Hemingway Short Fiction Competition.” Madgirl Elegies is a six month installment column for Corporeal Clamor. She is interested in gender politics and race relations, particularly at the intersection of faith and spirituality in the Deep South. She shares a home with a precious and precocious four year old daughter, three rescue pups, and a fish named Steve. She is completing a memoir and a novel-length work of fiction.