Whole Earth Review SUMMER 1993 - by Brian Eno


The surgery was delightful: airy and plant-filled, and with a tinted window through which amber sunlight burst. Shirley was so happy she'd finally come.

It was her friend Sylvia who'd told her about it. She'd known Sylvia since college, and, out of inertia more than anything else, they'd occasionally meet for coffee and send each other Christmas cards, exchanging not-too-intimate details about their affairs, then their husbands, their children, and now, again, their affairs. It was an acquaintance marked by a reliable dullness, the steady drip-filtering of normal-life tidbits.

Until, that is, Sylvia took the plunge into cosmetic psychiatry and emerged sparklingly neurotic, full of psychic texture, a fountain of bubbling idiosyncrasies. Now she was the life and soul of the kaffee-klatsch - so much to talk about! It was hard, actually, to ever catch her at home these days, let alone arrange to meet with her, so full was her diary. Her newly scatty giggle, her wild outbursts of anger, her amusing absentmindedness, made any gathering come to life. And then, a few months later, when her estranged husband Jeffrey (who'd always been such a drip) went under the same metaphorical knife and emerged as a conceptual artist with an engaging speech defect and mild multiple schizophrenia, their lives took a whole new turn. Jeffrey (now also bisexual) moved back in and they fought and fucked, bellowed and threatened and howled with manic laughter practically round the clock. Everyone wanted to visit them, to be able to say they'd attended the wacky party where Sylvia downed Jeff with a single blow of a Chablis bottle, or the one where Jeff was discovered having anal sex with Sylvia's brother, the Curate of Montreal, in the woodshed, or, most memorably, the time they dropped hallucinogens together and somehow completely exchanged personalities, Sylvia furiously arguing among herselves about decommodification and floating signifiers, while Jeff incessantly sprayed permset on his shining bald pate and optimistically combed the air. It was a complete riot, everyone agreed.

Inspiring though all this was, Shirley felt she was after something a little less dramatic. She'd been through the catalogue of nervous disorders and was attracted both to manic depression and obsessive behaviour. It was the doctor who persuaded her that obsessive behaviour, though slightly more expensive to do, was actually very appealing and easily updated. This mattered a lot to Shirley - after all, you didn't want to get stuck with the same neurosis forever - and then she read that Stephanie Wilson, the actress, had one done and as a result always had to open the door with the same hand or else she got real mad. Everyone remarked on it. On the talk shows they always arranged things so that Stephanie had to open a door with the wrong hand. It made for fabulous TV.

Shirley's mind was made up.

She opened her eyes, emerging slowly from the anaesthetic cloud. The room around her stopped wobbling and fell into place. Some vaguely familiar soft music was playing, something ambient. Outside in the sunny gardens, young birds twittered and a lone dog barked haphazardly. The warm eyes of the doctor and nurse gazed down at her. She tried a smile.

How are you feeling? asked the nurse, stroking the back of her hand. And the doctor, not waiting for her reply, said: Everything went just fine. You were a perfect patient.

The nurse reached behind Shirley's head and helped her into a sitting position. The room was delightful - peach and gold - except for UGH! (how on Earth hadn't she noticed them before?) those absolutely dreadful curtains. Some vile sub-Laura Ashley print - completely disastrous.

They'll have to come down immediately, she stated flatly and incontrovertibly, her angry, trembling finger directed accusingly at the curtains. I hate florals at the best of times, and these are particularly disgusting. Shirley was shaking with rage. She thought she'd never felt so upset.

But of course, of course, said the nurse, breathless with apologies. We'll see to it right away. They'll be gone when you get back from lunch. She reached for the phone and said something to the maintenance department. As she spoke, she flashed a quick smile to the doctor, who returned it with a conspiratorial wink. The operation had worked, of course, but just to confirm it they would arrange for Sylvia's lunch to be served on a complete rose-pattern service.