In which one is the best looking horse in the glue factory…
You’re dizzy, aren’t you? What are the clichés about how dizziness feels: a spinning, a turning of your head that the world can’t catch up to, a whoaaaa windmill arms…? You have a carefulness now that has to be policy, can’t ever be forgotten, all spontaneous quick movements are relegated to your youth, a thing of the past, a way of the past. And the very fact of this different state you are in, this dizziness, (even if, lets be honest, you’re kind of used to it a little, as much as one can get used to being slightly off balance all the time, even at rest, one does acclimatize), but the fact of this difference is part of what creates the dizziness. An ontological loop of dizziness begetting dizziness; the dizzier you are, the more likely you are to be dizzy, the more you have to live as if you are dizzy.
Have you seen Alfred Hitchock’s film Vertigo? It is ostensibly about all kinds of dizzinesses. There is a famous shot that is repeated several times. It is from the top of a rickety staircase, looking down into the concentric squares of the bannisters winding down into smaller and smaller squares, all canted and expressionistic. The cinematographer, Robert Burkes, composed the shot as a rack focus, also known as the dolly zoom, meaning that the focal plane is shifted from close to far at the same time as the camera is zooming out. This technique causes the image to appear to be deepening, or moving away from the viewer. In the shot in question, the bottom of the stairs pulls away and seems to be an ever longer and deeper fall from the vantage point of the protagonist, looking down. Any dizzy person must close their eyes when this shot comes onto the screen.
And its not as if the dizziness will ever become your normal state. It will always be an overlay on the recognizable world, of “something wrong”. It’s our world, the plain old world, but now, has the addition of a circular motion, a lazy susaning, around and around. It’s our world, only, always off balance, the kind of off balance that is pulling you to collapse, tugging you down, gravity turned up. It’s a world where you can’t remember what it feels like to lay down and sleep without dreams of all the ways all the things are going to all fall. Because that is the truly amazing thing about your dizziness: even in the dark, you’re spinning. Even without visual landmarks that can be used to count the revolutions, the essential feeling of dizziness remains. The darkness is spinning.
Your movements slow, you check your orientation with every level change. Eyes to the horizon, scanning for the internal gyroscopic compass to flicker or steady. Your invisible google glass horizontal line is always trying to line up, like in the movies when the young pilot begins the bomber run and just has to lock in on the target before firing the missile. You begin to walk around with your head up, way up. Your eyes seeking balance in the sky, maybe? Or just a muscle memory correction of the retraining of your posture that has been part of the dizziness all along. Chin up to squeeze the nerves differently, to realign the ear crystals differently. Chin up aspirations, a purposeful hopefulness that is not entirely genuine, if desired. When you were younger, your downward trend may have been depressive, but, on the bright side, you always found money on the ground. Now, this totally alien feeling of not daring to look down, a rigorously determined alignment optimism, keeps your dizziness at bay. You walk through the world with the gestus of bravado, leading by the chin. And yet, any astute observer would notice your eyes. There the struggle still resides, an inner focus that never strays far from checking on the orientation of the world. The thought might occur to you that it is much harder to imagine solving problems or creating new paradigms when you are always being forced to attend to something as rudimentary as uprightness. Great movers and shakers are allowed to take something like this for granted, mostly, the assurance that they won’t be falling down in the next moment unless they consciously think about standing up. Or, that might be a rationalization for the level of debility you find your dizziness creates. There has been no precedent for this in your lives, in spite of many problems and physical pains, at no other time did you feel so vulnerable to a sudden upending.
Plus, you look drunk, and this offends your pride. You walk in rounded ellipticals, not the shortest route between two points, but a little longer to get there because you can’t seem to walk straight. Bumping into walls, you develop a vocabulary of antic exclamations, “whooo…!” and “…ooopseeee….” and the unspellable “…zsheeee…” which is hissed through the teeth when a particularly close call of crashing into something or falling has been narrowly averted. Now permit me to presume that this issue of pride is no small part of what makes your dizziness unbearable. It’s not just the nausea and the uncertainty that you hate, it’s the gracelessness of it. Your patented adult skulky slow walking boot parades are undermined by the staggering rhythm interruption, the sudden stopping to look at your thumbs held at arms length (a trick some disciples of Rumi showed you once) when in the spin, and the waves of crushing vomit previews that ride across your face; all these take you far outside the carefully constructed persona of adult person in the world who can navigate. When dizzy, you can only really navigate up, or down.
As you become accustomed to the fact of your dizziness, you begin to notice that the dizziness seems to be affecting a bunch of people, it isn’t just you careening around, staggering. People you like and respect can be seen to be holding on for dear life to a wall or a railing, holding up their fingers in a “just a sec, let me get my bearings” gesture. Everywhere you look, in fact, there are thoughtful, insightful people almost falling down. Perhaps you missed them at first because you were so busy looking way up, over everyone’s heads, to the exclusion of human activity. You may begin to develop a visual technique of keeping your chin up, but your eyes looking lower, as if through the bottom of a pair of bifocals when looking back and forth between close and far. You see many people windmilling, crashing, standing sickly still, and that is when it occurs to you: maybe this isn’t just your particular problem. Maybe something is actually happening, and the inner ears of sensitive people everywhere are being pulled down into a different relationship with the center of the earth? The next time you are in a crowd you notice the dizzy ones immediately, now that you have identified them as a possibility. They are everywhere, and you can only shake your head in wonder as to why you didn’t see them before. Of course, your personal dizziness immediately says “do not shake your head, idiot…” Yes, everywhere you look there are others almost falling, catching themselves, steadying themselves, and carefully moving on.
Because you are just the kind of person who adds things up, you begin to think of organizing. What if all the dizzy people got together and agitated for a set-up that accommodated you more effectively? What if you were able to use your incredible intelligences to design a world where the resistance to spinning, staggering, crashing, and falling were unnecessary because nothing was ever still? So it wouldn’t be you careening through a world that didn’t move even though if felt like it did, it would be everyone careening through a constantly moving world? And the movement was not just relegated to merry go arounds, traffic circles, revolving doors, and orbits, but it was absolutely the state of all places in the world, circles within circles? Because then everyone would be spinning, along with everything, and there would be no question of keeping anything upright or stable. The collapsing of everything and everyone would be the state of the world, and you could just get on with things, in spite of all the revolutions. The exception would be moments of stillness, a sudden stopping and taking stock, the kind of stock that can’t be taken when the world is moving past your eyes in a repeated frenzy. That would the one in a million glimpse, the world at rest, when the spiraling undoing of the world took a break and we all heaved a sigh of relief. Then, even when it all started up again, you would at least know it was possible, that moment. That would be a different world than the one you live in now.
In Vertigo, the protagonist lived in a world that spun out of control because of his obsession with an iconic woman. His physical vertigo was only a metaphor for the larger problems in his life, namely he couldn’t see that the “available” woman who was his friend was right in front of his face. The audience is yelling at him to pay attention to her, that she is worthy of his desire. But her name is “Midge” and there is no way any character named “Midge” can be an object of desire in 1950’s Hollywood. So he chases his own tail trying to catch the elusive woman, going around and around following her in a long sequence that would never stand in a commercial movie now, its editing being far too slow and not dramatic enough. Many shots of driving and stopping and getting out and watching, then getting back in the car and driving some more. In fact, one of the most interesting things about Vertigo overall is the pacing. It is not a raucous, momentum driven disorientation tantrum; rather it is stately, deliberate, overly conscious. As if Alfred Hitchcock were avoiding the spin, even though the spin is his subject matter. As if he were one of the dizzy ones, stiffly keeping upright, only intermittently looking down, and then quickly looking back up just in time to interrupt the fall.
As you go on about your business, navigating a stock-still world while invisibly spinning out of control, just remember, you are not alone. Many of us are whipping out our thumbs.