Every once in a while living in the country surprises me.
There were years where I couldn’t imagine leaving the city, let alone being married, motherhood, and driving a SUV. Add these to the long list of things my 30 year old self would have become nauseated over and I’ve managed to turn my long list of young don'ts into adult dos. And to be honest, I’m pretty happy about it. I like living in the mountains with silver haired hippies who swore they wouldn’t leave San Francisco 50 years ago. I guess we have that in common. Change is good. Or at the least very interesting.
At an intersection in town that stands as a testament to the full breath of suburban living with its lanes of traffic, slow moving cars and well tended median garden is a salmon colored wall with these words spray painted in red. “SLEEPWALKING THROUGH CATASTROPHE.”
This sentence I cannot stop thinking about, appeared maybe a week or two ago and to my complete delight has been left to breathe with no rush to cover up or hide beneath a fresh coat of paint. The words are not complex in the way that graffiti letters often are, providing a clue as to the artist. These are pretty regular looking letters. Close together, a little shaky. Perhaps rushed. This is one of those rare presentations of graffiti where the message is not given any competition. The words matter because that’s all there really is.
I had an immediate aesthetic response to these words and it was the first time I ever wished the traffic light was just a little bit longer. But as the light changed, I settled for just knowing they exist. I imagined a soft heather grey sweatshirt with the words printed on the chest. A Blackwing pencil engraved with the sentiment. A tattoo covering my forearm in gothic old English font. These words excited me. Perhaps because they ring so true.
Social media has brought the field of psychology into the realm of the shortsighted. Social media has done this for most things, but when a frame of mind like psychology that is built on vastness and consideration of multiple truths begins to split away from the ability to consider the human condition as complex, we all lose. And I guess the words SLEEPWALKING THROUGH CATASTROPHE reminded me of how ideas converge from multiple places of origin and it is critical to our wellness as a societal system to consider ideas, actions, behaviors as holding multiple truths.
Are we sleepwalking through catastrophe? Yeah, probably. And ouch, we’ve been sleepwalking for a really long time. But also, okay. At some point we have to go through the motions to survive. It is not our purpose to have an opinion or pay attention to every single thing simultaneously. Not over the long haul anyway. Nearly all of us burn out from this approach. And those who don’t are fucking unicorns.
What I love about graffiti that rings true for psychology as well is its permanence. I imagine the SLEEPWALKING THROUGH CATASTROPHE words will soon disappear from the salmon wall at the intersection. It will most likely be painted over with the same color that inevitably never really matches perfectly. A series of roller marks will remind me that the words are there underneath the fresh paint. That the work to change the surface, move forward, cover up, doesn’t undo the act. The wall remembers, I remember. Catastrophe comes in many forms and various severity. And it’s there, even when processed. We do the work, move forward, paint over it if you will, but we carry it with us. Sometimes out of sight. And our body eventually learns to sleep in it and tend to other things. This is how we work through trauma.
I guess my point here is that sleepwalking can both serve us and get us stuck when it stops serving us. We need sleep. And rest. And we deserve self-preservation. And this need is different from turning away. That’s why I love these words so much. SLEEPWALKING THROUGH CATASTROPHE. Sleepwalking is dreaming on it, processing it, working on it and that’s not turning away. Not at all.