What is insanity? I mean, really? What constitutes a moment of insanity in a human life? The insanity defense is used by serial killers. I suppose that's a string of moments of insanity, yes? One moment of insanity, we'll forgive you. A bunch of 'em? Nah, you get the death penalty. Nexxxxxt!
Is it insane to pick up a piece of broken glass-- a green beer bottle laying on the ground at a gas station-- and use it to cut open the palm of your own hand? Even if it felt good in the moment, even if no one can see the scar years later but you? Sometimes the pain on the outside is nothing compared to the pain on the inside.
Is it insane to take a dare-- any dare-- regardless of the possible consequences? "I dare you to go 90 on this curve." "I dare you to walk on the ledge of the parking garage." "I dare you to kiss me." Truth or dare? A lot of times, I took the dare rather than face the truth.
Is it insane for a free spirit who swore she'd never get married to marry a guy she'd only spent 3 weeks with (and who was, in fact, her boyfriend's roommate) and then move a thousand miles away from everything she knows so they can live on half the income she made by herself? Would knowing it's lasted 21 years so far make a difference to your answer?
Is it insane for a woman who has been content with her life to this point and was always ambivalent about having kids to choose to have a child at the age of 42 after 19 years of peaceful, child-free, happy marriage? How about if she chooses to do it again at 44? Is that two moments of insanity in 2 years? Does that make her a repeat offender?
Is it insane for a woman to take care of a newborn entirely by herself for 9 weeks after a Cesarean section and 5 months with only part-time help? What if she didn't have a choice? Is she crazy or stupid or brave or crazystupidbrave? Probably the last. We do what we have to do, despite the inane things people say, like: "I could never do what you are doing!" Careful, sweetheart. The karma gods are listening.
Is it insane to choose your career path at the age of 6 and stick to it for 38 years and counting, even though no one knows your name and the IRS pats you on the head and tells you not to worry about paying any silly ol' taxes because you don't make enough? What if it's the only thing you've ever wanted to do and it sustains your soul? What if it keeps you from guzzling a bottle of wine laced with the Percocet you refused to take after the C-section so you could care for your baby?
Is it insane to be scared to death of things-- and to do them anyway? Falling in love, speaking in public, writing a novel, editing an anthology, teaching a college class, being a parent, firing a gun, admitting fault, facing failure, trusting, confessing fear. That last one is the hardest. Me, afraid? Never! Fie! (As my Scottish friend would say.) Or maybe the trusting part is the hardest. Trust? Why would I trust anyone? I'm fearless and I don't need anyone. Ahh... hello, slippery slope...
If you look hard enough (or judge hard enough), you can find insanity in anything: dropping 25 bucks on a pedicure in the winter just so your feet feel like spring; buying a ridiculous two-seater convertible and refusing to give it up through one baby, two babies (19 years and counting...); flying across the country to read from a book that won't make you as much money as the trip cost (but making a friend whose value is far greater); dropping out of college-- twice-- before the age of 21 only to discover a love of academia that will see you through a Bachelor's degree at 30 and a Master's degree at 40; giving second (and third) chances to people just because their presence makes your life brighter and (usually) overshadows the inevitable hurt; choosing to live life outside the box when the rest of the world, certainly the rest of your world, is as square as square can be. That last one's a toughie. If the best way to learn a language is by immersion in a culture, then the easiest way for a free spirit to lose her soul is to immerse herself in a world of boxes and labels.
You have to fight the good fight, you know? But sometimes you wake up in a house in the suburbs with an SUV in the driveway and a dog sleeping at the end of the bed and a man whose ring you wear and whose name you took snoring next to you, then you shake your head and wonder how the hell that happened. Then you go out and drink tequila until it doesn't seem to matter. And then you write about it-- but only in a piece labeled fiction. Because if you called it a true story people would think you don't like your life and you do, you do! You love your life! But it wasn't necessarily the life you planned for yourself when you were 13, sweating on your twin bed beneath a noisy ceiling fan during the hottest part of a South Florida day.
Sometimes it's hard to reconcile fantasy with reality. Sometimes you have to compromise more than you would like. And sometimes you discover that the compromise was worth the Republican neighbors and the church pamphlets left on the door and the baby who blew out his diaper in the middle of the night and then rolled in the mess. Your world isn't shit, it just smells like it once in awhile. And shit is nothing more than fertilizer, right? So you grow your dreams, new dreams, beautiful dreams. You do. The only other option is to whither and die. Ask my mother.
You want to know the most insane thing anyone can say? It's said by the person who gets a news reporter's microphone shoved in his face while his house lays in rubble behind him, his wife is in the hospital, his neighbors are dead, his dog is missing, his place of business is as flattened as his house and his car is floating down the river. It's then he says the most insane thing a human being can say and he says it in all seriousness, "It could have been worse." It could have been worse. That's the human spirit for you. Strong, indomitable-- and batshit crazy when necessary. It's called survival.
What is life without a few hundred moments of insanity strung together over eight or nine decades? The most insane thing you can do in this life is be happy. Embrace the madness, the uncertainties and the hurts and still find a way to be happy. It really is insane if you think about it. Poverty, disease, racism, sexism, violence, economic crises, natural disasters, divorce, betrayal, bankruptcy, foreclosure, no medical insurance, layoffs, unemployment, domestic violence, boredom, monotony, lost promotions, two-faced friends, car accidents, crushing blows and heartbreaking disappointments and then, ultimately, death. What could be more insane than being happy, despite it all? Nothing. It could have been worse. It could always be worse.
Finding happiness and truth in the moments of insanity, finding happiness and truth in the words I put on the page. Finding myself in those batshit crazy moments when some part of my brain-- the primitive, reptilian part that is in charge of self-preservation says, "Um, hey, maybe it can't get worse than this. Maybe this is rock bottom. Maybe you should put down the knife and go dance in the rain and be happy, goddamit." That's life. My life, anyway.