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You Could Be Mad, Too!
Written on Jan. 15th, 1998 @State Library, Ilorin

you could be mad, too!

THE DAY I had that strange impression for the first time, I was at my desk in the dilapidated classroom just looking at the other kids as they turned the classroom into what looked like a loose asylum. Yes, ‘asylum’ should be the right, apposite word to describe the state of the classroom that October 1987 morning; for the pupils were simply hysterical, like lobotomized little madmen, just because the class teacher happened to be out of sight for a few minutes.

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Left on their own, children tend toward disorderliness, messiness, and most often they prefer to tend towards madness than ordinary disorderliness and messiness. The pupils in my class that 1987 morning were, in a word, mad. Very much so indeed. And that was the day it first occurred to me that madness exists in everyone and in everything that exists.

Sitting at a desk in the State Library and writing this piece eleven years on today, I still realize that madness is as real as my name is Gene, and (over the years) it has so much gotten the best of me already. Looking at my life, both private and public, an abundant lot of madness can be found, which to a large degree justifies my assertion that madness exists in everyone and in everything that exists:

For example, I have bed sheets that I keep scrupulously clean and well laid every night before going to sleep; but by the next morning they’d be all tussled and messed up and I think that’s a wee sort of madness. Beyond that, I also have this irresistible madness for stealing meat in the soup pot when nobody is watching; and even my purportedly smart little Sony MCH G77 Series CD Player sometimes have the mad habit of refusing to play any of my favourite discs just when I want to hear them most. Some instances of trivial madness there, you might say.

But all these sorts of near daily personal madness that I experience in my home, I understand, are not really peculiar to me alone. You and I know that you too do have your own bouts of personal madness in various forms and we know that many other people like (or unlike) you and me also have theirs as well.

There was, for example, a young man called Jiggins about whom Stephen Leacock (1869 — 1944) had written in his book, Literary Lapses. Needless to say, Leacock’s story of Jiggins pertains to personal madness. According to Leacock, Mr. Jiggins was overtaken by some weird form of “Health Consciousness”. Jiggins wanted to be strong and healthy. He wanted to live long and he believed that vigorous physical exercise was the only surest way for anyone to live to be as old as, say, around 200 years.

So every morning Jiggins would take a cold plunge. He said it opened his pores. After this, he took a hot sponge. He said it closed the pores. He just got so great at opening and shutting his pores at will.

Jiggins also used to stand and breathe at the open window for half an hour before dressing. He said it expanded his lungs. Then after he had got his undershirt on, Jiggins would hitch himself up like a dog in harness and do Sandow exercise (whatever that means). He did them forwards, backwards, and hind-side up. He could have gotten a job as a dog anywhere.

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He spent all his time at this kind of thing; and at his spare time in office, Jiggins would lay face down on the floor and then try to see if he could raise himself on his knuckles. He always tried hard to accomplish this, but he hardly could ever succeed in that task. Instead, he got sprained knuckles and, rather than being sane after that, he chose the madness of seeking out some even harder things to do in the name of keeping fit. Then he would spend the rest of his lunch hour on his stomach, perfectly happy. . .

Also, in the evenings, Jiggins would remain in his room where he lifted iron bars, cannonballs, heavy dumb bells, and what not. He hauled himself to the ceiling with his teeth and, if you were the type that had an ear for heavy, distant sounds, you could hear the thumps half a mile away as he came crashing down. Yet he liked it. Madness.

I think it was the same Jiggins, as Leacock related the story, who woke up at impossible hours to walk around the lawns so that his feet could “breathe in the dew”. He spent half of the night slinging himself in his room. Jiggins said it all made his brain clear. When he got his brain perfectly clear, he went to bed and slept. But as soon as he woke up, he began clearing his brain again... He made himself such a great nuisance, but Jiggins never lived to be 200 years old. He developed some old fashioned disease and died before he was 32. Madness.

We have a lot more people around with lots of personal madness, and some of them can really go to the extreme with their madness. I once read the story, for example, of a certain young lady whose case of personal madness even went beyond the extreme. The story simply had it that the young lady in question took off all her clothes and undies and walked stark naked on North Michigan Avenue (of Chicago) in broad daylight and with everyone staring! Yet the weird lady seemed perfectly blissful and calm. It was from Bob Greene’s American Beat (1983) that I read this incredible, movie like story of depravity, but Greene said the “show” had nothing to do with sexual titillation. It wasn’t an advertising stunt designed to promote a product or a movie either. Bob Greene said the young lady was simply crying for help. She was telling everyone who cared to stare at her that things were not right. Extreme madness (or what would be your comment?).

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A lot of madness exists in our personal lives like we have seen, but it also exists in our interpersonal or social lives as well. Consider love for instance — that mad disease, that psychosis of normal people, wherein cares and fears and seething jealousies and raging pains constantly open new wounds while the old ones are still festering. It is only in love that the very thing we desire becomes the very thing we hurt, as in the case of a furious kiss which wounds the tender lip of the one kissed.

More seriously, the madness of love is very much marked in a man’s life as soon as he begins to waste his strength and lives (as) a poor slave to the will of the woman of his madness. He may contract debts apace till his fame and honour grow sick and die. Rich shoes adorn her feet and jewels set in gold as well as finest fabrics are worn by her. His father might have toiled and fought hard to acquire some wealth, but all of it now buys expensive meals for her and impossible cosmetics as outrageous gifts and presents. Great shows and sports may be organized at her doorstep, and royal feasts, where choicest foods and drinks provoke guests, are lavishly sponsored in her name. All these for the madness of love; all these because the blind fool thinks his love is a great angel that deserves everything great.

And because of his great madness, the foolish hero of love sees a fine beau in his blind heart even though she’s ugly. He says “she’s graceful all over” if she is actually a spiky little dwarf; and if she’s owl eyed like Pallas, his mad heart is content. She’s “modest” if she’s actually dumb in reality; and “portable” if really she’s a scrawny creature just one breath away from death. If she has big, hanging lips, they are a delight to kiss; and the great swelling bosom is the highest pneumatic bliss. Madness! The madness of love!!

(And) we can also see a lot of madness in yet another aspect of our interpersonal or social affairs: the madness of fashion. I believe that in the past, the purpose of dress(ing) was to promote sexual modesty. We read from the Bible that this was the original reason for wearing clothes – Adam and Eve, once they realized that they were naked, apparently felt immodest and “sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons” (apparently so as to look and feel modest in each other’s presence and in the presence of their Creator).

In modern days however, the role of fashion in our interpersonal or social relationships seem to have more to do with madness than with modesty. As a matter of fact, we can too easily see that the deliberate concealment of certain parts of the body is no more intended as a means of discouraging mad, sexual interests, but as a clever device for arousing them.

The madness of modern fashion makes it certainly true that those parts of the human body considered to be sexually arousing are often covered in such a way as to exaggerate and draw attention to them. It makes the people wearing such “fashionable clothes” to appear like they’re saying: “Hey look! I’ve got an irresistible secret here. Come on, have a try at it... Come and have a taste!” It makes them seem like attractively wrapped birthday presents, and they make us who stare at them to become madly curious, madly turned on, and we so much want to “undo the package” in order to have a taste of the goodies concealed underneath. For many of us that stare, we can’t resist the mad urge to undo the package and the bites that follow thereafter are... Well, what madness!

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It is really a mad, insane world we live in. Everything seems to be generated only to be corrupted. People generate ideas about health, love, education, etc, but in the long run either they or their ideals or both are rendered insane along the line. Mountains and automobile tyres look like they can stand the test of time when they are first made, and human beings are finest in childhood and youth. But automobile tyres wear out and mountains wear down. Even people wrinkle in old age or before then; and they sometimes look very much like my mad bed sheets which have never been smooth.

There is a lot of madness at the level of atomic physics too, where atomic nuclei prefer to disintegrate and decay according to the mad laws of entropy, rather than conglomerate and rebuild according to the agreeable laws of mutual attraction.

In the bio sciences, we know how a seed soaks up some soil and some carbon and some sunshine and some water and arrange it all into an enchanting rose after some appointed length of time. We also know about how a seed in the womb takes some oxygen and fruit juices and digested food and becomes a fine little baby. But even fine flowers wither and fine babies die. I tell you, everything seems to be generated in order to be corrupted and that, I guess, is the manifestation of universal madness.

Madness, alas, appears to be the predominant rule of nature in life, the major and preferred means to the end of most things (if not all things) in existence. We admit that there is a lot of sanity too though, but the line is so thin between sanity and insanity, between things being manageable and their being out of hand. One minute, a person or a thing or a condition may seem just sane, just fine, just perfect; but the next minute the same person or thing or condition may have crossed over to insanity, to madness.

Madness seems to win always. We may try to avoid it though, but we often end up creating some more madness in one corner of the universe when we try avoiding it at another corner. I may, for example, try to run away from the madness of hunger by ensuring that I am gainfully employed to work somewhere and earn a steady means of my livelihood. Yet I might create greater madness along the line when I have to contend with cut throat competition at work, when I have to battle with the temptation of dishonesty which may lead to fraud, when I have to work long hours in front of my desktop all day only to come back the following morning and find out that one of my mad colleagues had “accidentally” erased all my labours from the computer hard disk drive...

It could be a despairing situation for sure. I mean, it is a self defeating venture when we run away from madness somewhere only to end up creating more of it elsewhere; whether directly or indirectly. Yes, madness always wins. However, this may not be because sanity is impossible, but because there are always so many more ways toward insanity, toward madness, than there are toward sanity. There are so many more ways for school pupils to go hey wire and turn the classroom into an asylum (and even rebel) when their teacher leaves the class than there are ways to keep them well behaved, sane and in order.

There are also so many more ways by which I can find an excuse for stealing meat out of the soup pot when no one is watching than there are ways to avoid thinking about it in the first place. And there are so many more ways to stare at a Afigure 8" babe who is fashionably dressed in sexually arousing clothes than there are ways to look at a nun or a “hijabite.” And why not, there is certainly that greater chance of catching the greatest attention when a young lady cries for help by adopting the insane tactic of stripping off on the streets in broad daylight than when she adopts more subtle methods like just screaming along the street.

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The fact that there exists many more ways towards madness than towards sanity summarizes why madness always wins; and that is why it will continue to win, continue to remain the price we pay for the complexities of our modern life... Worse, people and things will always be mad, and I doubt if you and I would ever be exempted from the reality of madness.

Oh yes, I humbly admit that I am mad to some measurable degree, and you could be mad too!

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