The Crack-Up

                                                                   THE CRACK-UP

Of course all life is a process of breaking down, but the blows that do the dramatic side of the work -- the big sudden blows that come, or seem to come, from outside -- the ones you remember and blame things on and, in moments of weakness, tell your friends about, don’t show their effect all at once.

There is another sort of blow that comes from within -- that you don’t feel until it’s too late to do anything about it, until you realize with finality that in some regard you will never be as good a man again. The first sort of breakage seems to happen quick -- the second kind happens almost without your knowing it but is realized suddenly indeed.

Before I go on with this short history, let me make a general observation -- the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise. 

Now a man can crack in many ways --

the realization of having cracked was not simultaneous with a blow, but with a reprieve.

I had gone on about my affairs in the city where I was then living, not caring much, not thinking how much had been left undone, or what would become of this and that responsibility, like people do in books; I was well insured and anyhow I had been only a mediocre caretaker of most of the things left in my hands, even of my talent.

But now I wanted to be absolutely alone and so arranged a certain insulation from ordinary cares.

It was not an unhappy time. I went away and there were fewer people. I found I was good-and-tired. I could lie around and was glad to, sleeping or dozing sometimes twenty hours a day and in the intervals trying resolutely not to think -- instead I made lists -- made lists and tore them up, hundreds of lists: of cavalry leaders and football players and cities, and popular tunes and pitchers, and happy times, and hobbies and houses lived in and how many suits since I left the army and how many pairs of shoes. And lists of women I’d liked, and of the times I had let myself be snubbed by people who had not been my betters in character or ability.

-- And then suddenly, surprisingly, I got better-- And cracked like an old plate as soon as I heard the news.

I saw that for a long time I had not liked people and things, but only followed the rickety old pretense of liking. I saw that even my love for those closest to me had become only an attempt to love, that my casual relations -- with an editor, a tobacco seller, the child of a friend, were only what I remembered I should do, from other days. All in the same month I became bitter about such things as the sound of the radio, the advertisements in the magazines, the screech of tracks, the dead silence of the country -- contemptuous at human softness, immediately (if secretively) quarrelsome toward hardness -- hating the night when I couldn’t sleep and hating the day because it went toward night. I slept on the heart side now because I knew that the sooner I could tire that out, even a little, the sooner would come that blessed hour of nightmare which, like a catharsis, would enable me to better meet the new day.

 All rather inhuman and undernourished, isn’t it? Well, that, children, is the true sign of cracking up.

“Instead of being so sorry for yourself, listen -- “she said. (She always says “Listen,” because she thinks while she talks -- really thinks.) So she said: “Listen. Suppose this wasn’t a crack in you -- suppose it was a crack in the Grand Canyon.”
“The crack’s in me,” I said heroically.

“Listen! The world only exists in your eyes -- your conception of it. You can make it as big or as small as you want to. And you’re trying to be a little puny individual. By God, if I ever cracked, I’d try to make the world crack with me. Listen! The world only exists through your apprehension of it, and so it’s much better to say that it’s not you that’s cracked -- it’s the Grand Canyon.”

I could walk from her door, holding myself very carefully like cracked crockery, and go away into the world of bitterness, where I was making a home with such materials as are found there -- and quote to myself after I left her door:

“Ye are the salt of the earth. But if the salt hath lost its savour, wherewith shall it be salted?”