Saturday, August 21, 2010

i'm no wordslinger. a wordslinger has to possess the belief that she has not only something to say but has the right to say it....even if no one else reads it. i'm struggling here.

just finished reading iris murdoch's "the black prince" which left me trembling a bit, lightheaded and not just a little ponderous. after devouring "the red and the green" and "the bell" in just over three weeks this summer, i had to stop reading "the black prince" about a month ago. i'd come to...perhaps the last 20 pages, and its density increased (which is saying a lot) in relating a deeply disconcerting ending. i couldn't take it. throughout the read i thought to myself that these were some of the most abominable (and human) characters i'd ever seen and the text one of the most depressing. through most of it i was unable to put down the book, but i couldn't bring myself to push through those last pages. so i put it aside on my desk, telling myself that i'd come back to it after some of the tumult in my life abated.

that tumult has actually increased but for some reason i picked up the book tonight and read. it came much more easily than i thought it would.

i don't want to reveal much of the book. although it's not a "mystery", it needs to be treated as one as murdoch reveals much in quite a specific order which should be respected for the sake of the reader's experience of it. this is not a book review, however, and the point is my individual response to the text.

(my heart began to beat faster while writing that last bit, because in it i claimed my own individuality and even suggested that my thoughts include a point that matters not enough to be recorded.) see how i inadvertently typed "not" in that last phrase. the mistake is genuine.

the final pages of "the black prince" were brilliant and as i'm sure most readers feel at the conclusion of such a book, my stomach had tightened and my hands were shaking. i was holding my breath and tearing up and my mind was moving to and from passages and phrases about morality, spirituality and the nature of art. this is not a sentimental book, however. densely philosophical, yes. but nothing pretty about it. i then thought that, in contrast to my statement above, that perhaps most people don't generally react so viscerally in such a situation.

naturally, i began to wonder what's wrong with me and impulsively started to attribute it to my boundary-challenged emotions. but i couldn't ignore the content of the book itself. this is how i react to the written word and always have. my relationship to words has been so strong that i do wonder at times if it qualifies as pathological. the relationship is strong but i'm afraid that making use of it requires a tenacity i lack where creating something readable is concerned.

in "the black prince", murdoch's confessor speaks of silence and art. "all artists dream of a silence they must enter, as some creatures return to the sea to spawn." this silence is the only place in which i can create. i've written an entire essay in my head while lying in bed in a grey room with curtains drawn. i wouldn't have done it sitting alert at my desk in front of a 13" screen. words and revelations come when i'm still, usually prone, and quiet. it all can leave, however, in the time and activity it takes to find a pen and jot it down for later. there is too much delicacy in this and i'm both frightened and shamed by it. even was so bold as to walk downstairs, wash my face, and dry my hands before i'd written anything down. in most cases this would have allowed the words to slip away...but it also would have relieved the tension felt when they're there.

standing at the bathroom mirror, i realized that that might be the reason the thoughts and words fade so quickly. keeping them with me brings shaking hands and paralyzed breath, a condition which isn't necessarily exorcised by putting them on the page. movement and sound are distractions that self-medicate into a more tolerable state of being.

but tonight has been different. i reached for immediate relief by removing myself from the seated position, walking steps, adding water and a radio playing in the next room. there's ambivalence, though, because this particular time i did make a conscious effort to keep the words with me. i held on to what i'd read and what i'd already begun to write in my head...and to the physical tension which felt reassuring for one of the first times. "the black prince's" protagonist asserts that "the artist is masochist to his muse," (though this was strongly refuted by the character with the last words of the text whose beliefs and observations are perhaps supposed to represent truth.) to counter his argument, however, i'll share that my wise therapist once suggested that my resistance to finishing endeavors and creative efforts is reflected in my resistance to finish books. i usually have no less than ten books with bookmarks placed neatly back on my bookshelf. she presented me with the idea that leaving things unfinished leaves me in a state of chronic tension and that this is masochistic in itself. i'd never thought of it that way but it made sense enough to consider, of course. but, tonight i realized that the tension is the most powerful once the entire work has been read. with a work unfinished, the unknown is vague and therefore impotent. it feels safer this way.

something made me push through tonight, though, which has in fact given power to my ability to stake a claim. the lightheadedness and clenched insides somehow revealed to me that this is my relationship to words and that it's always been this way. as i struggle daily to discover why i'm here this gives me a clue.

earlier at dinner, my mother told me the popular story of when she realized i'd learned to read. it was at a very early age which caused her a great deal of anxiety and fear due to either a pseudoscientific suspicion or an archaic superstition that smart children almost inevitably grow ill and die. my mother is far from impractical or dumb, but fearing for one's child can trump everything, apparently.

when old enough to be able to print my name, i was eligible for a library card and the local librarian at the sedgwick branch in mt. airy removed the children's three-book limit in my case so my mom wouldn't have to bring me back every day for more books. i vaguely remember leaving that place with stacks of books that my mom and i had to carry several blocks home.

i'm not proposing that any of this early-ish reading activity was due to any higher degree of intelligence. i think it might have been due to some kind of dependence which i admit scares and saddens me a bit. my mother glossed over this possibility when i mentioned it tonight.

but, as time went on it became routine for me to take a book or two with me virtually wherever i went. luckily, i often carried a bag larger than my head which meant books were readily accessible in the event of finding myself bored, the only child around, or just overwhelmed by anything but the interior world. as an adult i've gone through varying phases of keeping words near me, but for the most part, i still take at least a small paperback with me everywhere i go. sunday night, i was out with friends, picked up my bag and for some reason managed to be genuinely surprised by how much it seemed to weigh. i peeked in and for a moment was surprised to find a thick paperback edition of bram stoker's dracula. but after just a second i remembered placing the book in my bag quite intentionally before leaving the house that night. one friend asked with a smile if i'd expected to be bored that night, and in complete honesty, i told him, "not at all!", and explained that this is just what i do.

i tend to be more sensitive than many to both kind and ill-intended words. i don't even necessarily believe that actions always speak louder than words. typos are excessively distracting...and in many cases a lover speaking what comes next is more exciting than his doing what comes next.

i'm not sure what all this means, and i don't think it's a helpful practice to view all of one's traits and dispositions as either healthy or unhealthy. but all this came to me as i stood before the bathroom mirror, and i was able to draw the conclusion that words and i are meant for each other and i should just consummate and get on with the challenging task of a committed relationship that can be easy to claim doesn't exist. claiming it means welcoming the tension and sometimes terrifying vulnerability that surrounds words, imperfection and even completion.

coming to terms with who you are, if you remain fearful of it, is a bit like a sentence for a crime you don't recall committing. i didn't decide for myself that words evoke the most potent emotions i have, and books can not only give life to everything that matters but serve as talismans against the intolerable as well.

it feels like an outrageously audacious to claim that i might have uncovered a some small piece of knowledge about what god created me to be. though not the most exemplary example of writing, what's on the screen now has been painstakingly formed. as unreal as it sounds, it feels like a therapeutic effort merely to write "i" and "me" as many times as i have in this one sitting. i'll be rethinking this entire revelation tomorrow.

i'm going to have work it through, however, if i intend on embracing, or at the very least coming to terms with, what emerges in the silence and stillness yet gives me a voice.