I’m obsessing about obsessing.
I’ve decided recently that I intend henceforth to claim to be descended from Ostrogothic kings, Vandals, Clovis I, conqueror of the Alemanni, Emperor Charlemagne, and three unfortunate knights of England, one beheaded during the Hundred Year’s War and two beheaded during the Wars of Roses. But I get ahead of myself. (Haha, a head.)
Have you ever met the King of England? I did, in Belltown in the ’80s. He was a homeless man from the British West Indies, a British subject. His ancestors had been brought there to be slaves. He had a legal argument, the conclusion being he was the king of England, and Elizabeth II was a fraud.
The King of England wasn’t so focused on finding a way to boot Liz and Phil out of Windsor castle as he was on his legal argument. It was complicated. He’d written it out in tiny cursive on a dozen or so legal-size pages and quoted from it at length every time we met. He had his own wherefores, whereases, clauses, sections and parties of numbered parts and knew them all by heart. The parties of the parts included various pretenders to his throne going back to the Stewarts.
Years before, I’d worked across the street from the University of Zürich. A mathematician from the U of Zürich would regularly visit our group of mathematicians on our side of the street and regale us with his stories about Carl Gustav Jung. He pointed across the street and said, “That was the window of his office there, on the second floor, you could see him from here often.” The man would praise his old friend Jung to the hilt and then turn to his obsession with Old Testament trivia and asked me what I thought about the symbolism behind the Ark of the Covenant. I thought he was a little tetched, as we’d call it back home.
But then about five years later I was in Seattle, homeless, living out of my car and way stressed out. I became obsessed with Jung and his researches into symbolism and read everything he had to say about it.
That’s what I want to talk about.
Some of us in this big wide world, when we get way stressed out, like when we’ve been living on the streets for months, we turn to the comfort of friends among fellow homeless people or we fall into a state of fatigue and distance ourselves from the entire universe of things and people, and walk around in a fog. Others of us, like me, react like the King of England.
I could totally get how wrapped up he was in his elaborate legal argument, having myself obsessed in libraries over volumes 5 through 14 of the Collected Works of Jung during months of homelessness.
In the ’90s I was homeless again and seriously stressed out. I again spent months prowling libraries obsessed in turn by geological records of global planetary change and their correlations with calculated planetary orbital shifts, and with the idea that Scotland could have been named after Scythians.
I was fairly sure Scotland was not named after the Scythians. But the point is, I was obsessed with the idea it could have been.
Jung would have looked into the symbolism of it and have worked at understanding how the idea “Scotland being named after the Scythians” related to my horrible childhood or the condition of sleeping nights in a field in Interbay. He might have noted that one of my grandmothers claimed to be 100 percent Scottish.
In 2007 I lost my only child, my daughter. A loss like that resembles becoming homeless. Homelessness is, after all, about loss. It’s a “-lessness.”
When people lose their housing they often lose a lot of other connections in their lives, too. They lose friends, family connections and mementos of their families. Losing my daughter felt like being homeless again. Loss and more loss.
As I mentioned above, lately I have “tracked” my father’s ancestors back to the kings of the Ostrogoths.
There’s a symbolism to it Jung would have appreciated. Every loss demands restoration. I would prefer Elizabeth to 12 kings of the Ostrogoths with a Catalan comtessa thrown in, but they’ll have to do.
Dr. Wes Browning is a one time math professor and three times homeless. He has been involved with Real Change since he supplied the art for the first cover in November of 1994. This is his regular humor column, Adventures in Irony.
Read the full May 31 issue.