Why ORNAMENTAL ILLNESSES?

As I was typing the introduction, I knew the name of the blog was going to be an issue. For 30+ posts, it’s been just been a cute little bit of wordplay, shiny stories just hanging there. But now that I’ve declared the blog’s dual purpose of being a writing blog that also deals with my struggles with mental illness, it just seems about four clicks past cute…

And it is. But you know what? I don’t care. I’ve always been a sucker for wordplay. Alliteration makes my spleen spin, especially when it serves absolutely no narrative purpose and doesn’t make much sense. I navigate NYC with the help of a myriad of mnemonic devices –Confused about the order of those two similar sounding L Train stops in Williamsburg? Well, remember that babies eat GRAHAM crackers before they eat GRANDs Biscuits. You’re welcome. And I would be forever grateful if could be remembered for a snappy portmanteau or two. On the subject of Williamsburg again, I am currently trying to convince my friends to refer to the area along the East River and Wythe Avenue where all the fancy-lad hipsters hang out as the Beardpacking District.

I’ve actually managed to convince myself there’s some meat on these flippant wordbones. First of all, the word “ornamental” isn’t completely accidental. There’s a reason that word in all its forms was the base for a whole mess of handles on “dating” sites in the first few years after I came out. I’m a bit of a design geek, and by far my favorite architect/designer is Adolf Loos, an Austrian who worked at the turn of the 20th century. He is probably best remembered for his 1908 essay “Ornament and Crime” in which he declared –he was always declaring things –“The evolution of culture is synonymous with the removal of ornament from objects of daily use.” In his eyes, all extraneous ornament does is render an object subject to the whims of fashion; the crime part comes in when you think of all the labor that went into a thing that’s only going to wind up in the trash because folks stop liking tassels on their shoes, big-ass carved eagles on their breakfronts, or acid washing on their Z Cavariccis. You could say that one of the purposes of this blog is to get people to look past the extraneous illness and focus on the sturdy, well-made individual underneath.

Interior of the The Villa Müller in Prague.
Interior of the The Villa Müller in Prague.
Interior of the The Villa Müller in Prague. Embrace the RAUMPLAN!
Embrace the RAUMPLAN!

Of course it’s not entirely accurate to say that my bipolar, or anybody’s mental illness, is an extraneous part of them. I was born with this, so naturally my personality developed and matured under somewhat different conditions than someone with “normal” chemistry. There’s not enough room here to go into what proportion of myself was shaped by this chemistry or by my environment or by an environment I perceive through a distorted lens because of the stupid chemistry.

Yet, there is one way that the “illness” can be seen as “ornamental.” I think sometimes I’m faking it. I know I’m not faking the underlying ailment, but I know sometimes I selectively emphasize and announce symptoms for my own purposes. I am not above using my reputation for claustrophobia as an excuse to leave a boring party or bar where all I’m doing with my life is shouting small talk over bad techno. Or there was the time when I got out of being arrested small-town Georgia deputy by staging a panic attack complete with wheezing and purple face. You could just see the visions of paperwork should I die passing over the deputy’s face. And I was voted Class Clutz of my senior class in high school, but don’t think for a second all those stair-dives were due to slippy TopSiders. Concern can be a powerful aphrodisiac. I have no illusions that my illness has made me a saint. I plan on exploring the ways I have used the bipolar to shape my surroundings to my liking. Whether that is a good thing or, shall we say, suboptimal, is open for debate.

It’s still Christmas if the tree is bare, but it’s a helluva lot more Christmas if the branches are dripping with glass balls and tinsel.

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3 thoughts on “Why ORNAMENTAL ILLNESSES?

  1. Nice to see someone else suffering from a mental illness dealing with it through writing. Have to admit, I’ve used my depression and social anxieties to escape more than a few uncomfortable situations.

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