Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The beauty of the husband

I read this section of an Anne Carson poem (from her book The Beauty Of The Husband) a few days ago.  It spoke to me about me.

What really connects words and things? 
Not much, decided my husband
and proceeded to use language
in the way that Homer says the gods do.
All human words are known to the gods but have for them
entirely other meanings
alongside our meanings.
They flip the switch at will. 
My husband lied about everything. 
Money, meetings, mistresses,
the birthplace of his parents,
the store where he bought shirts, the spelling of his own name.
He lied when it was not necessary to lie.
He lied when it wasn't even convenient.
He lied when he knew they knew he was lying.
He lied when it broke their hearts.
My brazen, compulsive lying really is not much different.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Home Sweet Home

One of my earliest childhood memories is of a creche called Home Sweet Home. An unbearably, monstrously ironic name. I was four, or perhaps five years old. A van would cart me there after school ended at noon, and I would spend the rest of the day in total isolation. My mother would pick me up at about 6 pm or so. This was a moment I would anticipate for hours everyday.

A few years later, we moved houses and I changed schools. We lived in a middle-income housing complex with a few hundred other families, the majority of whom sent their children to my new school. Every evening, the van would ferry all the kids home from school. Everyone, that is, except me. I would endure the daily ignominy of watching all the others be dropped off home, while I was carted to a new creche, the last stop on the van's route. I would stay there -- often in total isolation -- till my mother picked me up at about 7 pm or so. This continued for years.

I can see things more clearly today, but I remember my strong feelings of rejection and humiliation. I learned to suppress these feelings because I was a little boy who loved his mother and didn't want to hurt her or earn her disapproval. I learned to be alone, to wait, to not reveal my feelings to anyone, maybe to not feel at all. These traits have stayed with me.

Sometimes, these days, I feel like that little boy. All alone, unfeeling, waiting to be picked up by someone who can (or pretend to) love me. Remember Roland Barthes?

“Am I in love? --yes, since I am waiting. The other one never waits. Sometimes I want to play the part of the one who doesn't wait; I try to busy myself elsewhere, to arrive late; but I always lose at this game. Whatever I do, I find myself there, with nothing to do, punctual, even ahead of time. The lover's fatal identity is precisely this: I am the one who waits.”

Friday, November 25, 2016

The psychoanalyst writer

I love the work of the psychoanalyst & writer Adam Phillips, a master of the epigram (in the true, wry British fashion) and an acute observer of the depths of human pretension.

Last night, I was flipping through his book Monogamy, when I came across this passage:

We work hard to keep certain versions of ourselves in other people’s minds; and, of course, the less appealing ones out of their minds. And yet everyone we meet invents us, whether we like it or not. Indeed nothing convinces us more of the existence of other people, of just how different they are from us, than what they can make of what we say to them. Our stories often become unrecognisable as they go from mouth to mouth. 
Being misrepresented is simply being presented with a version of ourselves - an invention - that we cannot agree with. But we are daunted by other people making us up, by the number of people we seem to be. We become frantic trying to keep the numbers down, trying to keep the true story of who we really are in circulation. This, perhaps, more than anything else drives us into the arms of one special partner. Monogamy is a way of getting the versions of ourselves down to a minimum. And, of course, a way of convincing ourselves that some versions are truer than others - that some are special.
This is an almost perfect distillation of my thoughts at this point in my life.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Stop all the clocks

I keep my true self hidden away from others because its unpleasantness (and my sense of shame) is at odds with my need to be accepted by people around me. An unintended consequence is a loss of intimacy. People I have known for years often suddenly come to the realisation that they don't know who I "really" am. People with stronger intuition perceive this much earlier.

At that point, I usually have two choices: either reveal more of myself and risk purge, or make my superficial self more believable, more real.

Over the course of my life, I've usually chosen #2. It's easy, and I've developed my capacity for lying so adroitly that it's second nature. Occasionally, even I find it hard to distinguish my real and superficial selves. I've been reading Alice Miller's The Drama of The Gifted Child (a David Foster Wallace favourite, it turns out), and I'm understanding this reflex a little better.

This year in particular, I've tried #1. It's easy to be truly yourself with strangers, particularly those in a different country. I really felt like I effected a permanent shift sometime in the middle of the year, but I am regressing again. The problem with being oneself is that any kind of rejection is brutally devastating: it's easy to change one's superficial self and be a different person; how does one change one's true self when it's not good enough?

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

An escape from the self

The great psychologist Roy Baumeister defined the six stages of suicidal ideation in a now-classic 1990 paper called "Suicide As An Escape From The Self."

  1. Falling short of standards: The pain of living a life that is below one's own expectations, or expectations that others have.
  2. Attribution of self: The recent realisation that one's difficulties are the result of one's own deficiencies
  3. High self-awareness: Suicide notes typically have a high usage of singular pronouns. Lots of "I", no "us" or "we". The psychology literature tells us that this is a high correlate with self-awareness, or at the very least, with the ability to take responsibility for oneself.
  4. Negative affect: Feeling acute negative emotions like anxiety and shame in sharp bursts 
  5. Cognitive deconstruction: Thinking is broken down into concrete thoughts about the immediate present - the past and the future bring too much anxiety. The first thing that dissolves is a sense of time. Interestingly (to me), there is often an significant increase in reading books, as this helps in efficiently replacing one's own real world with the author's.
  6. Disinhibition: The actual act requires a reduced sensitivity towards pain - both the physical pain one inflicts on oneself and the pain that loved ones (if any) will feel at one's loss.
When laid out so starkly, it is quite clear to me that I have point #6 to thank for my continuing existence. Thankfully, my own exposure to death and violence has been rather limited, and my fear of bodily injury is very high. I suppose there is an upside after all to fainting in the clinic during a routine blood test. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Carl Solomon! I'm with you in Rockland

You may know already that the title of this blog is named after a line in Allen Ginsberg's poem Howl.

I read it yesterday after many years. It made me happy for a while: the sense of rhythm, the richness of the images, the heads crowned with laurel in oblivion.

I remembered memorising a part of the poem back in college, when I was still a young man, and reciting them when drunk. I used to love how "angel headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night" rolled off my lips. I'd say it again and again, like it was the Diamond sutra.

It made me feel so alive.

Monday, November 21, 2016

It's all come back too clearly

Two things have been swirling in my mind the last couple of days.

First, the Joan Baez song Diamonds and Rust. I hadn't thought of it in years, and then, all of a sudden, it came back to me on Saturday night. I now marvel at "Now you're telling me / You're not nostalgic / Well give me another word for it / You were so good with words / And at keeping things vague." She was talking to me all along, and it took Saturday for me to realise it. I've always used my facility with words to keep things vague, to avoid responsibility, to be one thing and its opposite at the same time.

Second, the Kenneth Koch line, "You aren't just the age you are. You're all the ages you ever have been." Every time I try to run away from my past, to try to be a different person, it catches up with me. The fell clutch of circumstance ensures it. I'll never escape my past, my father, my chemistry, my melancholy, my selfishness, my sadness, my ability to inflict damage.

I'll never escape my nature -- just read posts on this blog from ages ago, and gawp at how I am exactly the same. If anything, I've lost the intellectual spark I once had.The sad truth is that the moral arc of my universe will never bend towards anything good. Every zig towards improvement is inevitably followed by a zag towards despair, and it's all my fault.

Thank you for listening.

About Me

a recluse waiting for salvation