Addiction involves changing your relationship with time, and in time. That’s my thought for the New Year.
I was reading Elizabeth Bowen’s essay Out of a Book, and wondering (as I often do … sometimes I wish so badly for the spontaneity of my seven-year-old self and for what he’d be doing, having read that essay, right now. Up a tree maybe? Making something out of sticks in a wood, with bits of string and wire. Drawing … which became the eventual move to writing … as a last resort … enough …) why I had decided to find that essay this morning, quite out of the blue (looking back over this sentence I think I need a typographical convention for over-long parenthetical wondering). I finished reading it, which is the trick, not to let the wondering disconnect me from the reading, just to stay in it, and of course it came to me, written as it was:
The apparent choices of art are nothing but addictions
Out of a Book, 1946
I was going back to the same old thing.
Addiction isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Usually it is. Most usually it comes about as a way of coping when someone starts to feel overwhelmed and hasn’t really had the best advice. Falstaff, rather than Shakespeare, for example; a good reason not to get lost in a character, but to read really closely.
So what do I learn from this, speaking as someone who likes to learn as much as possible about life? Perhaps Bowen gives me a very good idea of where my life has come from. As a child I read so much: some things, even, that I have no idea what I took from them. I read Kafka at a really weirdly young age because my mother, who’d started an OU course in literature, left a copy of his short stories lying around with what looked like a picture of a beetle on the front. As it happened my primary school playground seemed to attract a lot of stag beetles, so I was drawn to that book as much as I was to the other one that always seemed to be lying around, a compendium of photos of the dark side of the moon. But that’s for another time.
This week I have a story, Heidi’s Advertisements (or the return of the Mouse Folk) published in Minor Literatures, a piece of writing that cleaves from Josephine the Singer, or The Mouse Folk, Kafka’s last story. So I imagine reading Bowen’s essay again has much to do with that.
And it could also be connected to the fact I woke up wondering how much, in my imagination, I still identify with Spock, the Nimoy version, from Star Trek. He was half human, and I’ve been thinking about my humanity … and in many ways, growing up with a father as intensely foreign as mine, that was how I started to feel. Not entirely human; and that’s never entirely left me. More than that though, which is after all a little psychological, I look around me, especially at work, and I think Im wise not to forget about how utterly obsessed I was with Start Trek. It isn’t just books that shape our lives in the ways Bowen suggests (and she doesn’t limit life to books, either, she just loves them).
I may see, for instance, a road running uphill, a skyline, a figure coming slowly over the hill – the approach of the figure is momentous, accompanied by fear or rapture or fear of rapture or a rapture of fear. But who and how is this? Am I sure this is not a figure out of a book?
Out of a Book, 1946
I have a thought that the act of reading is detraumatising. The most current forms of trauma treatment involve bilateral movement, where someone is anchored in the present moment while they consider memories. When I read the focus of my eyes moves across a page, left to right. I turn pages, right to left. even when I’m lost in a story, and I notice this. Sometimes I find reading unaccountably difficult, but if I move through that difficulty I often feel exhilarated. What’s the trauma? There’s all kinds of trauma, all of the time. Life’s traumatic even if it isn’t dramatic.
I see the symptoms as far as I can, and sometimes other people see them for me. The way I touch my face before speaking sometimes, I could tell you where that comes from. Other things, you’ll notice them if you’re around me long enough as much as I’d notice things in you, and their effects. Hopefully I know enough of these things and what they create to make my life less chaotic than it could be. Many things I discovered in writing, after reading. The effect of a book on me.
Screens worry me: TV screens where eyes don’t move and flat screens where pages don’t turn. Where’s the anchor in the now? If you can’t get into therapy then read something on paper. Read some stories by Colette. She’s amazing and they’re wonderfully short. Just don’t let the difficulty of a book stop you. Addicts: read books. Find a way to read a whole novel, every page without skipping, and then talk about it with someone. Talk about what happened.
Things happen, and they happen in places. They don’t just happen. I could probably riff on like that for a while, some odd little trumpet solo (I do play the trumpet, in case that sounds a little too gratuitous). But things happen in places. Many things, once they’ve happened, I can’t imagine them having happened anywhere else.
I’m in a new town training and something seems to have come into focus for me rather differently than I ever imagined it would. It’s something arising from the people I’m with, and something from the people who aren’t here in person but who very much are in my thoughts. But would I be feeling and thinking as I am now if I hadn’t walked in from Stony Stratford this morning, wondering when I’d look at something and not notice the design of it. Not the look of it but the design; not the sense of the building, the road, the artifical lake, the fence, the oversized technopark shed thing itself but of the lines, the shapes and the forms its maker saw?
After leaving the old village where I found a room (there’s a network rail conference going on at the training venue and the attendees appear to have spilled into almost every hotel I rang. They were playing Spirit in the Sky at Lunch Time; the version by Dr and the Medics.) everything seems so new: everything living’s coming into leaf or bloom now its spring; almost everything built’s been around for less time than me. And I’m not that old. It’s so strange, looking around me and wanting to see something from before me. I could say there’s the earth but first there’s the grass … and the trees, most of the trees, they seem young.
I feel so outside of here it’s peculiar. I’m not surprised a lens has somehow sharpened, turned, kaleidoscoped. Every so often we need to unplug and reconfigure in strangeness without our comforts and securities, and I’ve always found that most possible when there’s only a slight twist to things. Not another country or another culture but this country and a pocket in this culture. Too strange and somehow hatches are battoned down. This way something nearly tricks me into believing nothing’s changed – and even when I see the differences there’s a lag in my believing; a disbelief I can’t control in the idea that it’s not the same.
I tell myself this is different and what seems similar shines back at me in a slightly gaudy way, a bit of a dream. And a whole way of thinking becomes clear that had previously kept itself at least half-obscure.
Denial leaves people saying all kinds of things: the right thing, the wrong thing. When denial, a fundamental emotional disconnection between me and not me, occurs … anything goes. A person carries on acting as if whatever’s not them isn’t really there; and the world of not them languishes or prospers from the effects of what they do, but only co-incidentally. A coincidence becomes the only real point of coming together. Outside of coincidence, the world outside is kept magically apart – when of course it isn’t. Denial’s a recipe for disaster, another holocaust, a cold world in flames.
Over the last few days I’ve heard several different accounts of how to work with addiction, from the ones reluctant to talk about addiction as something in itself (psychoanalytic, the one I was trained in) to those so specifically about addiction you’d think they were talking about a chemical (coincidentally). All and none work. As Freud remarked, intellectual awareness never changed anybody … and in all the books, pamphlets, youtube clips and Ted talks there’s no more truer truth than that. Whatever your thoughts it’s the way you bring them to bear that matters. I have reduced everything you need to know down to one simple step.
STEP 1 (and only) Don’t try it on your own.
I’m not sure what happens after this step, but nor is anyone else. If you look at step one-and-only really closely you’ll notice a number of things. First of all it’s a negative statement, which isn’t ideal. I could have said: do this with someone else, or try it with friends, or something like that; but I think I would have missed the point. There are many ways to do it, just one to not do it: on your own. This leads us to the ‘it’. What is it? You tell me. Tell me what ‘it’ is and we’ll have something on the go, you and I, if it’s me you’re talking to – and if not you’ll have someone else there. How can you work out what ‘it’ is? Look for an explorer, not an expert to talk to. You don’t need facts, you want to go on an adventure.
It’s painful to witness Labour MPs pronouncing and parading about how important it is for their party to remain ‘electable’. It seems as if they are putting something off … the moment they say what they stand for? I’m wondering if there are many differences between this strategy for survival and the one compulsively adopted by many of the people I treat for addiction: to try very hard to cause as little conflict as possible; and if conflict arises (done this way it inevitably does, somewhere, and is by then usually explosive) to distance yourself as quickly as possible by the most effective means available. It never ends well. Continue reading “Socialists Anonymous”
It feels as if there is nothing there. There are so many things I could write about but the ‘something’ I am looking for hasn’t occurred to me yet. It’s not a bad place to start writing, but one where people usually stop. After all, what can you do if there’s nothing to do? Before I began this I could have written about David Cameron’s ‘arm candy’, whether there’s something anti-Semitic or anti-Islamic in all of the pig-presence in the news lately … but these were just thoughts in my head brought to me by some things I’d been reading, some conversations. Continue reading “Nothing There: A Cure for Writer’s Block and Other Things”