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Madness and Poetry

Its the plot of more dystopian movies and novels and television series than I can count — the powers that be discover the existence of people with divergent neurobiologies whose existence and whose perception of something other than the sanctioned (non)consensual reality poses the risk of an ideological contagion overtaking collective consciousness.

A year ago this week, researchers at Columbia University announced that they had found that Autisitic brains have “surplus” synapses and suggested that our “condition” could be “remedied” by giving drugs to “prune” those synapses — preferably soon after we are discovered . . .er, diagnosed.   (Meanwhile,  another group of researchers was investigating the use of a compound — psilocybin — that increases neuroplasticity and opens sensory gating channels — aka mimics Autistic neurobiology– to help people deal with the existential crisis associated with impending death.)  It’s the latest volley in capitalism’s war on consciousness.  Our wide open sensory gating channels allow us to perceive things we aren’t supposed to perceive.  Our penchant for nonlinear systems thinking, rooted in our rapidly branching neurons, reveals patterns in the world, and can see where webs are formed and where webs are broken.  Our forced facility in translating between neurotypical and neurodivergent frames of meaning often serves us well in understanding the semiotic worlds of animals, plants, fungi, landscapes, and machines.    All of this makes us resistant to certain kinds of conditioning — and thus requires that we be marginalized, neutralized, or contained.   The trauma we experience in our encounters with the dominant culture takes its toll on our physical and emotional health and makes some embrace electroshocks and chemical lobotomies out of a desire for inclusion and for an end to the attacks.

I told a friend once that I never wanted to be a warrior.  She told me that I had been at war every day of my life.

Ours is not the only form of neurodivergence that is under attack.    We know, for example, that elevated levels of dopamine increase the tendency to hear voices and experience presences that other people don’t perceive.   A culture that has declared the world dead and inert, that has attempted to drive the ghosts from its clockwork machinery, despises and fears those who still hear the world speaking.   Untrained prophets with various levels of ability to discern the source and interpret the contextual meaning of what they are hearing are commonly found among a city’s homeless.  So many are my neurodivergent kin.

Among the ones who hear and the ones who feel and the ones who see and the ones who dream the same message echoes over and over again:  “a storm is coming.”  Some say its already here.

As I write  this,Cedar and Douglas Fir forests are burning, and I see and feel the fevered nightmares of their overheating mycorrhizal minds, and the water in the rivers and streams that feed those forests are too hot and too low, and the salmon are dying before they can spawn.    The news from beyond this bioregion is filled with stories of migrants massing at borders as they flee poverty and violence — banging at the gates of the wealthy nations that inflicted poverty and violence on them.   And within the gates of Europe and North America, “austerity” is the word of the day as social infrastructure is dismantled to feed dying economies.

In times past, a society facing such devastation of the land and such suffering among its people would have called on seers to help it find its way out of crisis.  But the god of the market insists that nothing is real that cannot be be bought and sold and no work is of value if it does not increase wealth and no one is worthwhile who does not take part in production.   So it dismisses first those who mediate between the visible and invisible realms.   And then it silences the ones who make impermissible meanings from events in the material world — as exemplified by Canada’s war on science.  And so it continues on its same course, wreaking havoc.

Only the wild and the divine can temper and guide the human.   We need to reawaken the ability to engage them if we are to weather the growing storm.   To stave off death we need to resolve madness into poetry,

And so I pray to Lilith, the mother of monsters for the multiplication of synapses the monocrop farmers of consciousness would prune and the proliferation of mutant minds that dream back forests.   May myriad strange voices sing once and future worlds into life, overgrowing the ruins the storm will leave.



  1. The bit about dopamine explains an awful lot, actually — though please, no more of it for me, it exacerbates the panic.

    One wonders if it’s an adaptation…!


  2. Sean:

    I think that you know this already, but I am called to articulate it: to dream in the way that you describe it is to teach spirits that have mindlessly received the gift of energy to enter into relationship with it in order to love themselves and others. As I put it to someone that has since surrendered the world of the spirit (because it hurt too much): we will restore the forests by teaching the trees to reach back up into the sun and recompose themselves from the elements in the air.

    In the Christian mythos, this is articulated in Daniel’s Dream of the Four Beasts, the first three beasts representing the peak mammalian predators of the veldt, timberland and rainforest, and the fourth representing the incoherent morass of predatory human spirituality that exploits and destroys the world (no, the CEOs aren’t naïve – they use scientific materialism to beat the healers down). The “Ancient of Days” (the God of the Sun) appears to annihilate the fourth beast (through global warming) and then a chastened and mature humanity is reborn as tender of the Garden.

    I am really grateful to hear your voice, a voice that does not decry choice as “or” but rather heralds synthesis through “and”. I have spent most of my life trying to find a way around the barrier of pain that you describe, and have found in exhausted surrender the embrace of spirits far more ancient, patient, enduring and tender than I ever imagined existed. They need hearts like yours as a conduit to enter the world.



  3. aloha….yes……mahalo…..”may myriad strange voices sing once and future worlds into life, overgrowing the ruins
    the storm will leave’ Sean Donahue i will share this to fb…….ok?


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