Coming Down to Earth

How dreams might help me steal a march on apocalypse.

I remembered this morning how, when I was very young, I used to worry about being obliterated by space debris (meteors, out of commission satellites and so on). Not only me but everybody I loved – and somehow this led me to think about degradation: PhDs being taught as if they were undergraduate experiences; psychotherapists who qualify without having read anything apart from secondary texts; newspapers riddled with mistakes and quirks that make the old-fashioned Grauniad (sic) seem like a work of perfection … and other stories of things falling apart.

These are some of the things that worry me. I read them, and many other things as a sign of degradation, a general fraying of the fabric of life. There are other things I worry about which might seem less esoteric, but I care about small things. I see changes in small things as a sign of shifts elsewhere, shifts in things that might be so large I cannot really comprehend or them or take them in: the ways in which we love each other, for example, or the ways in which we treat people who don’t have jobs or money.

Those things appear to change in ways that might seem easy to point at and to act on politically (with minimal results) but the part of the change that really matters seems to be protected or hidden so that all I can make of it I have to do by inference or reading through tiny pieces of debris I encounter.

The debris of degradation: what PhDs, psychotherapists and newspapers have shown me.

This might amount to the ways in which scholarship and thinking are devalued in favour of time gains in the name of professional advancement, validating information in the eyes of dominant intellectual groups, and following ideas that are supportable or fundable by bodies linked to industries or organisations that never declare their investment in being shielded from thinking that problematises what they do … which might explain the shrinkage of psychoanalytic and Marxist (where Marx has been read by people like Althusser or Adorno) approaches in favour of humanist ones – ones that assume all can be known.

Or it could comprise the insecurity and unexplored laziness of psychotherapists who don’t read a thinkers’ ideas in her or his original form (perhaps in translation), but who follow the lead of a secondary thinker instead without ever querying why they’d let that other individual do their thinking for them – or where that kind of deferral might lead in their own work.

It might be the lack of care and attention, the set of assumptions, the compromised sense of enquiry and the poor relational sense suggested to me by a journalist who doesn’t write out acronyms in full the first time they use them.

There’s a danger in all of this of my wanting to retreat to another time, or if things are degrading, like meteors passing though the atmosphere, to somehow go higher again. Of course that isn’t possible. But if we keep paying really close attention to the things that matter to us, so our ideas of ‘the world’ are as complex as possible, not complicated but complex (subtly opening out into more opportunities for understanding and action that doesn’t miss the mark, similar to the way I hope I might suggest something to a client in a psychotherapy session) the future might at least be less degrading.

We are, however, coming down to earth. Dreams of the future are failing us.

Looking back at my childish fantasies of extinction I see one of the ways I was perhaps more in touch with life then, than now. Our species suffers from a delusion that improvement is always possible or desirable, and that it is somehow a route towards something usually referred to as happiness. As a child I realised there are no happy endings.

We are falling to earth and approaching extinction. Climate change will see to that if a meteor doesn’t first. Life between now and then, in the fearful shadow of extinction (because so much of our behaviour is driven by a fear we have yet to realise), needs to be attended to in ways we are starting to withdraw from. What can we do rather than continue to lose ourselves? We need to re-learn how to pay attention to ourselves, and to each other.

I suppose something will eventually be revealed. That’s what apocalypse is about: maybe showing us the things I have described here as hidden, revealed only in debris, the broken off parts of bigger things that somehow make it to earth. Apocalypse and revelation come together, though; and anyone thinking about them then will surely only have been consumed by sadness.

Is it possible to steal a march on apocalypse? In dreams, perhaps.

When I Read Aloud

I’m not sure what happens when I read aloud from my book. I did it this evening and it went something like this. I found I was better sitting rather than standing, partly because of my back aching and partly because why would you read something standing up? I can’t do it. I’ve never read standing up anywhere apart from in church, when I was a child, and it was forced on me, or once or twice at assembly at school, when I remember my voice became thin and listless.
        I talked a little, which comes easily enough given what I spend most of my day doing, describing what I was doing when I thought of writing the book and several things came to me: Harley Street, all the voices I have heard speak to me, and the silences; that I wrote a ghost story, I didn’t write about anything, and I remembered the beginning of The Turn of The Screw, in Harley Street.
        And there was something about the other writers reading this evening, Sean and Seraphina. I’ve met a lot of authors and they’re usually creepy, like men wandering in and out of sex shops, but Sean and Seraphina weren’t like that. Sean and Seraphina didn’t feel as if they had something to be ashamed of: they knew something about writing that they didn’t have to say. It came out as they read, like the hum of bees or something. And then I read something from my book that Sam, my friend, Dodo-Master of Ceremonies, suggested. I didn’t get lost in it but it seemed to happen. It must be something like singing a song, for which I’d probably stand up and throw myself around. So songs are in some ways different from reading, but I’m not entirely sure how.
        Perhaps you can’t hold a book and throw yourself around, and I wouldn’t throw myself around anyway (back ache).
        Nico stood still. Most of the singers I like stand still. None of them sit down.
       There’s a problem with tenses here, which is less to do with a grammar failure than what happens when I read aloud..

Out of a Book

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 storySo 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

Well …


Reading, Trauma

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.

Everything’s Already There

Everything’s on the surface, to be read, not down deep. Reading takes time, though, things happen while I read, and the surface changes for me – as it would do for us if we were working together. There is no deep unless it’s a feeling: deep can be a defence against the unknown and the unknowable. There’s never more than what’s already there.