Deprivation, isolation, floating

What say the slain?
One day, months ago, during a brief respite from political ranting during a drive into town with Gamma, we listened to a radio program about a sensory deprivation / isolation / floating tank business in Vienna.
“I’ve always wanted to try that,” I said.
Gamma filed that information away neatly and guess what my daughters gave me for Father’s Day?
This is how I found myself sitting on a shady bench in a Vienna cemetery yesterday evening. I was early for my appointment at the Sargfabrik, an apartment complex in Vienna with a theater instead of a parking garage, and down in the cellar a room with a floatation tank.
Floatation (or floating? not sure) tank is what used to be called an isolation tank, and before that sensory deprivation tank.
I prefer sensory deprivation tank, but understand one must market the things.
Like I was saying, I was early as always and took a walk around the neighborhood and disliked the park (too sunny, for one thing, and generally unlikeable, at least yesterday evening, for me, at that spot) so I continued onward and found the cemetery next door and went in and found a shady bench and watched the gravediggers work, and read the dates on the headstones, as one does.
Then I thought, Ah! Cemetery – Sargfabrik, I get it!
I guess the Sargfabrik used to be an actual coffin factory until it was converted into housing.
Then I texted the floating tank guy that I was already in the neighborhood, in case I could get in early, and I did and there I sat, no longer in the cemetery, in the cellar, in a dimly lit, cool room, being orientated.
Epilepsy? he said. Claustrophobia?
Nah, I said.
Goals? Hopes? he said.
Curiosity, I said. Father’s Day.
He looked a little disappointed, (but I might have been making that up, there in the dim light) so I added, maybe get an insight into this deep sadness I lug around all the time that is kinda the mortar holding my world together? Or into this yapping I have been doing with my wife?
Okay, he said. I dunno, he didn’t look real relieved so maybe it really was the dim light after all.
He said he’d knock on the outside of the tank when my time was up, and left.
I took a shower and got into the tank and shut the lid.
I spent a long time getting comfortable which is weird because what could be more comfortable than floating naked in a shallow tub of super dense saltwater in the dark?
But such is life.
I floated there in the dark listening to something hum. Something was fucking humming! What kind of sensory deprivation is this? Maybe it was the ventilation.
More of a buzz than a hum. And not loud, but still.
It wasn’t me.
Then either I got used to it or it stopped.
I listened to my breathing for a while, and to my heartbeat.
After a long, tiring day, I was surprised I did not fall asleep, or even get sleepy. After lunch I had been nodding off at my desk.
I sort of meditated for a while. I hummed a little. My mind was pretty blank a lot of the time.
At some point I woke up, or regained consciousness, or something. So I was out for a while, in one way or another.
Toward the end, trying out different ways of holding my head and comparing relative comfort, I got salt water in both eyes and was really glad the orientator had showed me where the kleenexes were in case that happened. I opened the hatch and wiped out my eyes and closed the lid again and eventually the stinging stopped.
One’s ears are submerged in the tank, so sounds are muffled.
I lay there listening to my heartbeat.
Thump-thump-thump! Then after three thumps it stopped again. Weird, I thought. I tried various positions to hear my heartbeat clearly again like that. Then I did, I heard it again. Thump-thump-thump.
After doing this a few more times I realized it was the guy knocking on the outside of the tank that my time was up.
He went away again and I lay there for a minute, thinking, Well that was an anticlimax.
No jumping out of the tank and running around like a caveman like William Hurt in Altered States. No hallucinations, no epiphanies.
It didn’t even seem all that different from my normal, daily life, I thought.
Then I thought, my normal, daily life is like an isolation tank.
Then I thought, there’s an epiphany for you after all.

Father’s Day Tips

In which I ramble a bit.

Father’s Day falls a week earlier in Austria than it does in the United States. (For those of you who just tuned in, I am an American living in Austria.) One consequence of this is that I generally wished my father a happy Father’s Day a week early back when he was alive, and sometimes forgot to call him a week later. At least I called him, I guess.

Another consequence of this is that I can try things out and report the results of my experiments in time for fathers in the United States to benefit from my research.

My experiment this year was going to see a movie with my daughters.

We went to see “The Evil Dead.”

Going to a movie is not a bad Father’s Day activity. You have something to talk about afterwards, if you need anything to talk about. Generally, we have lots to talk about anyway, but it never hurts. It’s also not prohibitively expensive and so on. I will talk more about the pros and cons of movies in general, and especially this movie in particular, in a minute.

I started Father’s Day in a relaxed mood. My wife is away on business and the girls both spent the night in Vienna, leaving me alone with the pets. I fed the pets and ate and did yoga and meditated and did housework and finally called the girls around 11 and one was too busy to come out and the other one was still off the grid. I was incredibly disappointed that they did not instantly show up without prior discussion. I was shocked at the depth of my disappointment.

I finally reached the second kid too and we arranged to go to the movies in the evening. I ate some of the chili I had cooked for a Father’s Day lunch and went for a walk and wondered how, exactly, I was feeling and why. I took a camera with me (the Polaroid) and took a few pictures and Polaroids always look great and that cheered me up. So did walking in the sun.

I decided to stop being upset (hurt, angry, frustrated, insulted, whatever). It wasn’t anyone’s fault, or if it was, it was my fault. Here’s a Father’s Day tip: if you want to spend the day with your kids, tell them in advance. Otherwise they might be busy with other, totally legitimate things.

I was reading a book, which I shall not mention here by name because I don’t like to diss authors. This was sort of self-helpy/philosophical and was based on a great idea (had a great title) about things dying people regret. This is a great idea for a book, and so I bought it, at a bookstore, looking through it only minimally prior to purchase and not checking reviews first.

Another Father’s Day tip: always check the goodreads reviews!

This book had five brief chapters (practically blog entries, which is what the book started out as I gather) making up about 10% of the book; the rest was memoirs about the author’s (to the average reader) unremarkable life and made her sound (to me) flakey.

But she did mention something about there being two basic motivations, love and fear, and I thought about this out walking by the creek. I don’t know if it is a valid thing to say, but it made sense to me, fear being my main motivation most of the time. Not with my kids – usually love is my motivator there, but I think all my disappointment was more grounded in fear and I decided to reject that and stop being passive-aggressive on Father’s Day and concentrate on love etc etc.

I got home in a good mood, and had three nice polaroids (creek, railroad bridge/creek, tree/sky).

That evening we went to the movies.

Father’s Day tip: movies are okay, but probably not The Evil Dead.

I mean, the movie choice had its pros and cons. Major con: it starts out with a father killing his demon-possessed daughter with a sawed-off shotgun and fire in a shack cellar full of dead cats.

Starts off. And goes downhill from there.

Pros: plenty to talk about afterwards.

Possible discussion topics:

  • Proper choice of Father’s Day films, and who should do the choosing.
  • The creolization of evil (one of my daughters is an anthropologist); in the case of this film, the Evul Book was apparently written in a mixture of runes and Latin, with Celtic-sounding demons
  • The sources of horror (in this movie, sexual horror, xenophobia (see book), family (duh), nature, etc)
  • Chekhov’s pistol (Gamma and I have been talking about this and applying it to whatever we watch – ‘Look! Chekhov’s shovel,’ I said, when we were watching a crime show, and sure enough, the bad guy beaned an investigator with the spade 1 minute later). The Evil Dead had a Chekhov’s nail gun, electric carving knife, shotgun, machete, rotten stairs, etc.
  • Plot holes (nail guns, for example, have safety features – you can’t just shoot them like automatic weapons. Or: who would ever actually stay in a cabin that nasty in woods that creepy? Etc., etc., and etc.)
  • Whether binary systems such as love vs fear as motivators are legitimate or shallow, etc.

Despite these pros, I would choose a different movie if I could do it over, or just go for a walk with them, or out to dinner.

We had a nice time, though, once one subtracts the actual movie from the equation. I am a very fortunate father, to  have kids such as I do. I love them both, equally, and am proud of them both although I generally try not to be proud of anything. I enjoy being around them, they are great arguers, and smart, and funny and entirely different from each other but both awesome.

It being Father’s Day, another thing I thought about on my walk was my fathering strategy and whether that was good, and if I was a good father. That’s really hard to say. My kids are still both in one piece (each) and doing well. Personally, I think I should be more involved with them and their lives, although freedom and space is also a good thing. At any rate, they’re turning out well so far. Hard to say if I can take any credit for that.

Ah, retrospection.

Personal blogging seems to be dying (stick with me, this is still on topic). I used to blame facebook and all the other social media distractions and other options besides blogging, but now I think this is more of an evolution, changing it into something else and not ‘killing’ blogging.

What is going to kill personal blogging is the fact that the cute little kids who did the cute, funny little things we blogged about ten years ago are sixteen now and reading what we wrote back then.

When we got home from the movie, we went for another walk by the creek to sort of get our minds off demonic possession etc. and Gamma said to her sister, “You know what dad wrote about me on his blog?”

It involved ballet class and farting.

Oh, well.

For years now, I have resisted blogging about my family, usually, to respect their privacy.



You do what you can, I guess.

In Japan, near Tokyo there is a bay called Tokyo Bay. Land was reclaimed in Tokyo Bay and houses were built on it. At the end of one street is a small playground and in the playground is a blue slide, or was, 23 years ago. As if it were yesterday, I remember standing at the base of the slide’s ladder while Beta, a tiny toddler in Osh Kosh B’Gosh overalls, scaled the ladder, teetered dangerously at the top of the slide for a few seconds, then slid the fuck down.

While she climbed the ladder with total concentration, I stood there ready to catch her. (Maybe I have written about this before, it sounds familiar). Then I remained there while she teetered, and rushed around to the bottom of the slide to catch her before she hit the ground.

She was doing her thing, and I was terrified and trying not to show it. Love and fear again, I guess, as long as you live. Playground slides turn into harp festivals in Edinburgh, foreign exchange programs in France, skydiving in New Zealand, paragliding in Nepal, solo trips through India, study in Norway, and so on.

And look at her now: on Friday, she received her Master’s degree in law, and intends to study further (thank god for affordable European education). I try not to be proud, but I am proud, and I am bragging, and there is nothing more reprehensible than that, but that is what personal blogs are for. I used to think they were for undermining the neoliberal patriarchy, but I guess not.

Main Father’s Day tip: love your kids and do your best to be a good father.