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I Have Voluntary Tourette’s (and Am Insane)

This is Blake’s 100th post for, and to mark the occasion he told us he wanted to write “something more personal” than his usual fare. In that spirit, he sent us this peek inside his brain. It's crazy in there.
December 3, 2013, 4:25pm

Selfie by the author

It seems like just yesterday when Blake Butler, all doe-eyed and full of weird collections of words, began writing for us on a weekly basis. Over time, what started as a regular space for him to write about literature morphed into something bigger. During the last couple of years Blake has branched out to explore topics as diverse as the horrors and wonders of a Wendy’s Pretzel Burger to the dusty rumors of literary giants to interviews with both emerging and established authors. This is Blake’s 100th post for, and to mark the occasion he told us he wanted to write “something more personal” than his usual fare. In that spirit, he sent us the below peek inside his brain.


I have long been a creature of habit and repetition. The more any day feels exactly like the one before it, the more comfortable I am, and the more productive I become in whatever I happen to be working on. At the same time, I hate planning. I never know what I want to do until just before I do it. Plans—even fun ones like having dinner or watching a movie with someone at the house—seem designed to disrupt my concentration. As uptight as this might make me sound, on the outside I feel I’m generally easygoing, even at times when my insides are all screaming.

This daily masking of discomfort has instilled in my person an odd habit of regular stress relief in the form what I’ve come to think of as “Voluntary Tourette’s.” In other words, I make repeating patterns of private sounds that I don’t necessarily have to make the way someone with actual Tourette’s literally can’t control, but that I perform now throughout the day with such regularity that it seems like I can’t stop, or at least haven’t stopped for over a decade. For the most part I can keep myself from doing these things in front of others, though after a few days in the same room as someone I’m on a trip with or whatever they start leaking out, slowly opening into my regular manners of conversation.

Maybe it’s a form of security, a way to prove to myself I am still here, and I still remember the sound I made the day before; my brain is still alive. The tics occupy the same place in me as other obsessive practices in my life, like writing, a daily impulse I haven’t been able to shake off for longer than the oldest of my noises. Sometimes I remember that the neighbor I share a wall with in my loft apartment can probably hear me talking to myself, sometimes shouting, and I wonder what it would look like if she were asked to draw me. Having shared a wall in the past with someone who actually did have Tourette’s (and who liked to stay up until 4 AM most nights doing coke and talking to his dog), I know that reams of random noise and guttural loops can seem monstrous and idiotic.


But while most everything else in the world changes, the sounds are mine. As they mutate, I mutate with them, like a sentence continually revised.


Meow Mix Jingle

It’s fitting that the first recurring tic I can remember, one I’ve been repeating week in and week out for more than 15 years now, is from a commercial for cat food. I’ve never owned a cat or bought Meow Mix, yet somehow its name rings daily in my brain. I think I started off singing it like the cats in the jingle, and then slowly whittled it down to just the name of the brand¾two monosyllabic, alliterative nouns placed back to back like little knife jabs. I like to say “meow mix” primarily while opening the fridge and when waiting for an elevator after having pressed the button. I imagine whoever wrote this jingle forgot about it not long after, and is likely dead now.

Four Syllable Gibberish Word Beginning with B and Ending in O

The first time I said this word that is not a word at all I was standing in line at a grocery store checkout after midnight, waiting to buy frozen pizza. The sound just came out of my mouth, casually as you please. I don’t remember anything about the feeling of it, or why that syllabic string in particular felt worth repeating, but since then, more than ten years ago, I’ve repeated the sound at least a dozen times every single day. Over time, the phrase has mutated through several different modes, taking random modifiers, recently including “hey, [gibberish word]” (as if I’m speaking to a person by that name), and “[gibberish word] fuck you” (in a sing-song voice). I don’t know what the word means or why I say it.


La Quados Maneos

I often find myself speaking in a fake version of Spanish, because I don’t actually know Spanish. Speaking like this in long strings eliminates the possibility of other thought, kind of like when a kid closes his or her eyes to avoid something they are afraid of, as if their not seeing makes the thing not exist. There’s a whole song that comes out around this one particular phrase, “la quados maneos.” It annoys even me, though once I’ve begun singing it I can’t stop in the middle, and usually need to repeat it more than once. I think it makes me feel like I’m in a room I don’t particularly like but that if the room ceased to exist I would feel nostalgic for it, or for the habit, and so I better repeat it.

Air Drum / “Death Face”

Sometimes the vocal tics are appended with physical motions, like this one where I do my hands like I’m playing a blastbeat on the snare and shrieking at the same time, though no actual sound comes out. This one comes out when I feel really insane or bottled up in a social situation, and eventually excuse myself to the bathroom or to walk around the corner so I can make this face by myself and get it out. It also happens when something I like has happened, like if I’m winning at a sports bet or whenever an event occurs that will make my life easier going forward. The tics seem to come as often with the acceptance of positive occurrences as they do with feeling generally fucked by minor to large things on any given day.

Sorry Fa’ Ya’, I Hate It Fa’ Ya’

A friend of mine in middle school said this—repeatedly and in a fake Irish accent—to everyone, without any indication as to what he felt sorry for you about. In high school, he died in his sleep. Now I find myself repeating the line for him, like the bug got in my blood too. I have some idea today of what anyone might be sorry about. Because as weird as it feels to know you are a person who must repeat gibberish constantly in order to be able to think clearly, you’re still alive, and the time you have left to recur in is disappearing.