It is simple, but always striking... especially for one who comes from calmer climates.
The wind is from the west, blowing strong all week on the back of my flat, the side with my bedroom, the side where the kitchen and bath are built in. The kitchen and bath, being towards the back and more exposed, are surprisingly cold.
A tree a few yards from my back door is always tossed back and forth, all night – and a small cloud moves rapidly across the sky.
This is North Sea weather, rapidly changing, intense, cold: and dramatic. It reminds me how charged the world is, how much energy operates in and through it...
Having lost the chance to study in Zürich this year – yes, it will happen; but next February at best, more plausibly next June – I'm still going to start analysis in the next few weeks, and am meeting two prospective analysts this week. I keep thinking that what is really the central 'presenting' problem for me these days is a cluster of anima issues, that is, my ability to relate to others and the world: and these have popped up here... in this miserable list, this list of dark things. Which is somewhat edited from the version that appeared in my own journal last week.
1. I have an increasing contempt for the lists of ‘twenty-five things about me’ that are going around on Facebook; they exhibit such a shallow, boring egotism – such little pieces of such unimportant puzzles, puzzles not even worth putting together.
2. Walking to work, to teach, to an appointment: I inevitably stalk along, aggressively facing into the direction I’m going, impatient with everyone in the way, abruptly angry at anyone who drifts along in front of me. It is not as though there are furies behind me, but rather as though a miserable but utterly necessary duty is before me – and one that is a matter of life and death.
3. Grissom’s farewell to CSI was on television last week. The actual farewell was well done, in retrospect – having the nerdy guy no one likes make a dramatic outburst; having Grissom walk along looking at people in their offices, and none of them look up but Catherine, who crinkles her eyes in the briefest but deepest of farewell looks; but I didn’t respond much to all of that. What caught me was the last thirty seconds in Costa Rica, when he is hiking to find Sarah – that was amazingly satisfying, and oddly unexpected. It made me happy, comforted, and of course jealous.
4. I am impatient with young people and their needs – except, sometimes, one on one, as in a tutorial with a student who suddenly makes sense to me: and then I am helpless to change the difficulties of their lives, in the face of the usual tiresome strictures that run the university and its judgment systems. Which is merely one of several problems that makes me wonder if I would make an acceptable therapist, as I am obviously impatient, judgmental and heartless.
5. I have been given the name Nachiketas, the boy from the Katha Upanishad who made friends with death; and that matters to me more than most things that have happened in my life.
6. I was so shattered by Reid’s death on December 2, 1983 – and/or I used it to justify the way I felt, the way I was constructed – that the following six or seven years were entirely emotionally organized around it; and everything since has been aftermath.
7. In fact I was so ready to be dead at a number of points after 1983, after 1987, after 1991, that when Philip died, when Vanessa died, and then when my sister Sandy died, I was filled with an enraged sense of inappropriateness – here are people who are still doing real work, living real lives with people who actually care about them, and they end up dying rather than me. Absurd. Terrible planning, bad choices.
8. When Sandy died, in fact, I struggled with my responses – they all seemed inappropriate, as they still do today: a ghostly sense of unreality, as I had seen her so rarely over the years; and an anger at everyone else, that they were all so shattered, as though this were the first death in the world. I wanted to shout so what, do you think this is the first person to die who shouldn’t have died? I’ve been living with this for twenty-five years, who the hell do you think you are, to take this so hard?
9. When I see trash blowing through the street, I think: the goddamn Brits really don’t give a damn, do they?
10. In fact, though I have lived in many places, and aggressively spent energy and money on travel, too many of the places where I have landed for any length of time have ended up being misery for me: the gray flatness of the Washington suburbs, the malevolent darkness of Berlin, the foreign emptiness of Hong Kong, the dull crudity of Newcastle. I do not know whether this is a matter of comparison – I can’t help wanting to get back to the lively and constantly changing beauty of San Francisco, the fun of Sydney, the beauties of southern Europe – or if it reflects a coldness in me, an inability to find joy in things. I suspect it is both.
11. My psoriasis has been remarkably damaging to my confidence and happiness ever since I was nineteen – strange, given that some people barely know it’s there. The sheer depth of my response to it is remarkable – and now that Sandy, who also had psoriasis, is dead, I feel weirdly unprotected, exposed to it.
12. In fact, Sandy’s death, and Vanessa’s and Philip’s, left me feeling peculiarly exposed in a larger way: as though casual gunshots were going through a crowd, but then others were mowed down, and there is a lot of space around me: I am no longer protected by the bodies of others.
13. I discovered about a year ago that HIV caused depression biochemically. As, to some extent, does HCV, as well as the medications of course. It actually helped detach myself from some of my depression to see that: although right now it doesn’t seem to matter much.
14. I was disturbed and fascinated by posters for the play Beirut in 1987; they were plastered up around the Village in New York, something like ’59 minutes to…’ something grim, I can’t remember what. Having read the play, it’s a crude but admittedly powerful picture of disaster, sex and death; but seeing it all around me in the dark streets had me feeling as though real crises were coming; as though they really were going to herd people up, and hang the HIV+ from lampposts.
15. I seem to respond rather strongly to changes in light, especially at this time of year. It may or may not cheer me up, as the case may be, but it certainly changes my sense of time and continuity – sometimes confusingly so.
16. After being deported from Australia, for the first time in my life I no longer knew where I wanted to live, no longer had aims and desires to be somewhere. To a large extent, I still don’t: a bad joke a few years ago was that I wanted to go back to San Francisco in 1979 – but that I couldn’t get the tickets. That joke seems flat now; and the world divides into pleasant places where I can’t get a job and don’t know anybody anyway, or miserable backwaters where I would live as I do now but it wouldn’t be worth the change.
17. I appear to have devolved into a cliché: the aging gay bachelor academic who lives alone. All I need are piles of old newspapers and too many cats, and the identification will be complete. I wonder what I seem like to my younger students – although I know of course that they are probably barely aware of my existence, except as a droning voice telling them the history of unimportant musics.
18. I doubt there is much love left in me, in any case. I feel, night after night, that the capacity for falling in love is simply burned out of me: for thirty years I had flung love at people who hadn’t returned it, or who had died or vanished, flung away so much that there simply isn’t anything left. The well is dry.
19. And, embarrassingly, the well of sexuality is even drier: I seem to be post-sexual, post-desire, post-physical. Astounding, given my behavior from the mid-70s to about the second millennium – but I’ve gradually turned into a dull bag of potatoes, a dry broken twig. Not surprising, perhaps, given my medications.
20. It is still painful to remember my encounter with Ron in 1980: an amazingly handsome man, a graphic designer with a green Jaguar and a beautiful house in a hilly part of San Francisco. After two weeks of him trying to make love to me in his huge waterbed, I simply couldn’t do it any more – I was literally too embarrassed: I couldn’t put together knowing someone, talking to him, and having sex too. He said, kindly and full of regret: Well, it’s clear that you aren’t interested… I followed him around the house that day, trying to say, no I want to be interested, I just don’t know how to… and then the horror of a big Sunday party with all his friends, that last afternoon. Now I think: why on earth did I stay for the party? But I was too confused, too shattered, too unwilling to leave the scene of our embarrassing lack of connection; and far too young and stupid to do the intelligent thing and simply leave him alone.
21. I still miss my San Francisco apartment on Collingwood Street, with its little back garden; an apartment perfect for a young man, although it would have helped if I could have paid the rent more regularly. The person I was then: although I could not get anything right with other people, although the number of days of feeling torn up about something stupid I’d said or done or some rejection by some man was far too many, there was a living quality in me that later seemed to have died.
22. Perhaps, in fact, what Mitch said about me having an exceptionally strong persona is still true today: that the remains of that living feeling have continued as charm and friendliness in my persona – but that I have none of that kindness, that affection, that sturdy love, for myself; and that in fact most of what remains is the appearance of warmth, with the heart of it evaporated into the air.
23. I remain amazed by how deadly my emotions can be: envy for practically anyone and anything successful, rage at being thwarted, cold distaste for the clinging needs of others. I was disoriented enough that I had been so rude to N. – it was worse that I did the same thing a second time; fortunately N., being better at these things than I am, managed to give me the space to be pleasant to her so that all was forgiven. But my actions in this were pathetic, incompetent, the actions of someone whose emotional growth is truly stunted.
24. I am trying not to be jealous, or envious, of P. and his relationship; actually I don’t envy it – it doesn’t seem like something I need for myself – but I am jealous of the fact that his attention is now always elsewhere. I want to be acknowledged for my place in his life, I want to have his attention – but of course if I had it I would feel guilty, since he needs so much to move on, to have a real emotional connection.
25. I am amazed that the twisted skeins of darkness that run me: not at how dark they are – truth to tell, there isn’t much evil in me – but at how miserable, how gray they are: I am indeed a melancholic, a rather pathetic depressive. How, then, can I do the work I am set to do, am at least planning on doing? Isn’t it plausible that some Chirons are too wounded to heal?
A difficult day after a difficult night: not much sleep resulted in a chaos of thoughts, worries. Can I really afford this, this adventure in Küsnacht? Is it a good time to be starting such a program, am I sure that I can do the work, that I won't tire and fail?
Of course I can't, and of course I'm not. But I already know all that: I am doing it because it is the only way anything at all will make sense. It is an adventure: and one that is both not very wise, and at the same time the wisest move of all.
In thinking of flights in June, hotels, how can I save money on accommodations, I realize: ah, I could take a train across Europe – would that be more expensive or cheaper?
In any case, it would make me more European: I would be a little bit closer to that world I love, the hat, the glasses, the dignified bearing while getting my luggage to the train...
And I declaim, aloud, while getting into the bathtub of hot oiled water: "I, Ashenbach"... and laugh, realizing I am the only one who can hear the tympani, and the halo of strings.
After being split between days of work – teaching, students, paperwork – and nights of reading and thinking about my glorious future as a Jungian analyst, I grabbed a book off the shelf to read in between things: Thomas Disch's story collection Getting Into Death.
This is of course the same brilliant Tom Disch who died so darkly last summer; who, after his lover died, was threatened with eviction from his New York apartment, and committed suicide. A smart, bitter, cruelly resentful old man – as you can see from his blog – who finally could see no future for himself.
And, as has happened to me before, I was drawn unwilling but fascinated into his brilliantly, even beautifully mordant world: he is such a fine and excellent writer, yet so poisonously unhappy, so precise in his dismissal of – well, everything. The intelligent, dying heroine of the title story, who is so jaded, yet interested in every sordid detail of her own impending final heart attack and her hospital visitors' failed lives; the pathetic hopes of the sub-sub-famous art world of The Joycelin Schrager Story; the sheer malevolence, the downward spiral, of Istanbul in The Asian Shore – these people are all so exceptionally beautifully destroyed...
All of which, of course, gives the lie to any of my hopes of change and meaning in my own life.
Some books are distinctly dangerous to take off the shelves....