4 A.M.

March 26, 2010 § 2 Comments

Me at 9 or 10

At 4 a.m. I was thinking about my childhood bedroom. It had pink walls, white bookshelves, and a gold rug. Now I remember the gold rug—at 4 a.m., I just remembered “gold” and was thinking “gold trim?”, “golden brown furniture?” though I knew those were not right. And maybe the gold rug is wrong too, but it will do for now. The colors hold the child self that is still here, intact.

I was alone a lot in childhood, but especially alone when I woke up at night. I never knew what time it was, only that I had been asleep for hours and the house was quiet.  I would turn on the light and be Margaret, an activity. I pushed my seeing deep into the back of my brain, a darkly vivid place that was like a magic castle, with rooms neverending. I thought it should be a forest, but it was a house—I imagined that when I was older I would push further and find the forest. I investigated left and right: where thoughts came from and where they went. I painted my consciousness over and over myself, layers like the glaze on pottery.

I’ve spent my life trying to unveil myself, to lovers and friends, to the world in writing. Intimacy has always mattered more than money or success. And yet in therapy there was a moment when my therapist was saying that he didn’t think we’d make more progress until I was ready to let him in entirely. I said, “But I will never let anyone in entirely. It’s out of the question.” I felt then the presence of the child in her pink and gold room and knew she was me and I her, still, and it didn’t seem wrong.

He was shocked at the finality of my words. He said that, if such were the case, therapy wouldn’t work. I replied that I doubted anyone ever let a therapist in entirely; they just believed or pretended they did. We argued this a little, but it was a pointless argument.

The child keeps painting herself on the walls. She’s profoundly lonely yet balanced in the dark. I’ve given up trying to force the container. Once, when I was still in therapy, I battered my defenses down until my ego, that bundled nub of self, slid off its pedestal. I was a flickering spark in a maelstrom of unconnected images, my mind churning and thumping like an overstuffed washing machine. The dislocation, loss of control, the feeling of being tossed around like a dirty sock was terrifying beyond words; I had just enough me left to note that this must be what psychosis was like, or more simply: this must be psychosis.

I was lucky; I’d been investigating altered states for years and had some scraps of advice. I looked at my hands. I looked at the fingers, the thumbs, the raised greenish veins and knobby knuckles; then I looked at my arms and legs, their contours, bumps and freckles; I sank into my body’s posture and aches. Gradually the churning lessened and my ego anchored. The images retreated to their ordinary ocean, lapping my island self.

I know I didn’t try to open myself properly. I know there are ways—yearas of meditation, etc—to do it more safely. But love, therapy and memoir- writing were my big gambles. The child doesn’t want to try anymore. She thinks adulthood is a mug’s game.

(In the poem below, the indentations are where the line continues…obvious in some poems, annoying in this one with its short lines. WordPress is hard to work in, sometimes. I can’t conrol the text.)

There is a solitude of space
A solitude of sea
A solitude of death,
  but these Society shall be
Compared with that profounder
That polar privacy
A soul admitted to itself—
  Finite Infinity.

Emily Dickinson


November 29, 2008 § Leave a comment

Oh dear. I meant to blog at least every other day, but Thanksgiving and Florida have undone that resolution. That edge of loneliness and despair impelling me to reach out to faceless dozens has been soothed by Charles’ loving presence, and finally a decent set-up in the kitchen. I made cranberry muffins this morning from a recipe in a falling-apart 50 yr old Fannie Farmer cookbook, and we ate them while watching Al Gore on Oprah talk about the end of the world. On the map Al made the piece of Florida where we were sitting disappear underwater and as my eyes strayed back to Oprah’s perfect bronze-black curls I felt already underwater: hearing the ex-veep dimly, sensing the storm overhead, entranced by the hum of deep water. As a child and teenager I was so interior I barely noticed how the world worked, even when it directly impinged on me. Necessity and loneliness have taken care of that, but I wonder what I have gained. I know more, see more, but not enough to succeed in my enterprises, and I have lost the joy and space inside my head. I remember moving around in my consciousness as if in a landscape bounded at the back by a forest—which I am now reminded of by the dense foliage of Oprah’s hair— getting close to the forest and thinking it went on forever. I worried that if I went too far, I’d never come back to our house, dinner, my mother.

I thought I could explore that part of myself later. And in my 20’s and 30’s it was still there, but felt more alien, clearly dangerous, hinting of mystic wisdom and psychotic drift, and what the difference was, and whether I make choices after taking the first step wasn’t clear. It should be noted that I also didn’t want to experience anything close to ‘God’ or ‘The Good’ as that would entail responsibilities I didn’t want. And now? My brain feels corroded, as rust-eaten as our old ’68 Ford Torino when we abandoned it in Charlottesville in 1979. If I desired to go anywhere beyond this ordinary consciousness, I’d have to practice, focus and sweat—and still let go of what I don’t want to let go of, my precious selfishness.

So I live dimly in the world, which is being changed, changed utterly, as I write. I can’t honestly say I want to be more engaged. As to what I owe human society that has given me so much: I’m afraid it wasn’t a wise investment. I’m like a house cat that catches the occasional mouse (which in fact I do; I’m good at catching mice), but generally prefers sleep.

No. It’s Florida doing this to me. I’ll wake up again. I hope.

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