(If you don't know that phrase, it is from one of the funniest and most touching of essays by Max Beerbohm, 'A Clergyman.' I suggest you find it and read it.)
An intense week... after another intense week, but this one was very different....
Well, for four days, at least: verve, intensity, demands on time and attention. Feeling smack in the midst of the swing of things.
Then minor stupidities on Friday morning – and I do mean minor: dressed in my best, because the party was that evening (don't be sarcastic, this really is the best clothing I brought), I thought I'd transfer the previous day's notes – seminars by Kast and Kime – to my laptop...
and did it backwards, losing a day's notes. Okay, well, not such a great disaster. But compounded by looking for a recovery program online – paying about £60 for it (yes, I know, far too expensive!) – and then couldn't retrieve the lost files...
And then I am forty minutes late for the colloquium, and everything about the day feels confused and stupid, and when I arrive, because I am late, my opportunity to present a case has been given to someone else.
Okay, so: ridiculous. Trivial. Pointless. But I felt so ground up in my own foolishness –
I did write an interesting half-page of single-spaced notes: what is going on in my head, what is this – crap? – Lucid, and I think it will be useful: I was able to watch myself go to pieces over something minor.
Monday's seminar, at the start of all this energy, was on the body – and I became a class example (voluntarily, if slightly uneasily) – an intense if brief experience coached by Dunlea: the entire class could see where my mind was going as I traced some unexpectedly deep connections to my father's kind attempts to educate a very young me into the physical world (help me fix the car, I'll take you to the Wright Brothers monument and you can sit on the floor and play with bits of solder while I work...).
Of course I think of myself as incompetent in the physical world (as I walked to the front of the class my leg was asleep, I tried to fight through it, and she made me stop and wait for the blood to come back – which was interesting, given my usual pattern of bulling through such things), but she gave me a breathtaking experience of how much that world actually means to me – the wood carvings on the wall of the Jung-Institut, my memories, my feelings – a deep trust in that part of the universe – which of course cross-connects me to my sisters' work in art, my brother's in engineering, my father's world...
Anyway. Powerful. And deeply illuminating: although it is clear that her training and ability in connecting to things that have been lost in the body are far beyond ours, she did (kindly, and with great practicality) give us basic structures for starting to work with analysands on their bodily memories.
I was walking on air for some time after that workshop...
It also felt strange, intense, as though I'd rediscovered a large chunk of me that had fallen out of sight.
Not only memory, emotion, body – but some cross-links with loss and sadness –
At Kime's thesis colloquium that night, I was still so charged from the day that something unexpected happened – I suddenly knew exactly what my dissertation would be: and sketched out a draft in a page, that expanded to a dense couple of pages, with other scraps following behind them.
It's AIDS and death, of course. But the map of the thing suddenly enveloped me: admittedly a rather massive map – if a postgrad brought such a thing to me I would say, hmm, you do know the joke about the Ph.D. exam question, don't you? – define the universe and give three examples?...
But this is, I think, doable – with a certain amount of carving and beating into place.
And those verbs seem appropriate: it has a powerful, solid quality, as though a lot of things (thirty-one years of HIV/AIDS?) have been forged, through the pressure of passing time, into a block of solid Carrera marble. (You'll allow me a certain passion for my own work at the moment, these ideas are new.) And all I have to do – all any sculptor needs to d0 – is carve away all the bits that don't look like a thesis....
In the last twenty minutes of the colloquium, I presented this new outline – strangely enough I was trembling slightly with the sheer charge of the day, the excitement and anxiety of this vision of this work – and everyone agreed: it's hefty, but makes sense, is exciting –
it was Philip who suggested that the title of the last section should become the title of the whole. Which gives it an unexpected boost into life: I said, I'm not willing to sidestep death and the darkest stuff, but – that title could work, it would be like re-reading the past thirty years in a way that changes their essential meaning – looking me in the eye (did I seem just a bit mad?) he agreed, saying, that is always possible, to understand our lives retroactively, differently.
A sense of deep power within me. And not only associated with death, with loss, this time: a way to write about this that reconnects it with living....
I have reached a point where my highly structured approach to living, eating, waking, laundry, in this small apartment, is such a familiar pattern...
A bit like a Zürich tram: the neat turn, the exact timing of its appearance. At times there is some squealing of the tracks, but ah well.
At the same time: I start to envision when all this work will be done, when I will no longer come here to study. A year or two – I feel much more aware of it – the combination of relief and loss...
The difference between the hyper-patterned structure I've built for myself over the past few years here... and those points when suddenly the sky opens up, into larger vistas: supervision, class, colloquium – something truly shattering becomes visible, a subtler but greater set of patterns clicks into view, an enormous space of seeing.
And then I go back to the tram approach to life: the exact timing of the train home, the predictable structure of my dinner options...
Winborn's tough, detailed seminars: his insistence for having read every piece of the history of a problem, and all its roots and reflections. A gentle man, deeply serious about his work – he reminds me of John. I told him he must write textbooks – which had never occurred to him before: I hope he makes some of these things happen.
Such a lot to do in both of his long seminars, Tuesday and Wednesday: a sense of work, solid work, hammered into great metal panes of something that cannot help but last. Like the working materials in Rodin's studio.
The party, Friday night – I was still tired, confused – but it was a pleasure: sitting across from Nancy and talking to her about, well, everything. Many of us were tired enough that it was hard to stay in that extrovert room for more than an hour or two, but we were happy enough.
When I came home, a PDF of the complete Stäbler book was in my email: final proofs? – a sense of being overwhelmed, but within 24 hours I'd managed to go through it – the dedication is missing, the first score excerpt shouldn't be adjacent to the poem fragment, the huge number of photographs at the end needs to be balanced by a couple at the beginning – I think it will look good.
We'll see how I get through that being finished, and looking polished, and rather beautiful.
Saturday, sleep. A lot of sleep: recovery, mostly? A relief not to leave my room, to quietly make tea, and go back to bed.
But, while I should have been reading Jung's Collected Works 5 – which feels like a slog at the moment – I read Annie Dillard's Holy the Firm instead. Which I haven't read in... how many years? And even then it wasn't such a favourite.
It makes more sense to me now. And I suddenly thought: aha – though I'm not a religious person – I'm putting too much of a Holy Vocation onto this work: you know how this goes – the priest in training who keeps frantically worrying about whether he is pure enough, strong enough – who is utterly exasperating in his insistence on worrying about everything –
Mitchell, on our usual Sunday night Skype (after he pointed out how hot it is in LA – I am, as always, frankly envious), knew exactly what I was talking about: the sin of scrupulosity. Basically: overdoing it. Something seminarians roll their eyes in exasperation over: the tiresomely fretful student.
Like when one of our postgraduates who is doing good work worries, and bemoans, and bemoans, and runs in circles, because it might not be good enough –
An antidote to the week. And, perhaps, an antidote to some mental habits I've gotten into around this training – and my ways of talking about it....
On Sunday we went to the Zürich Opera: Ariadne auf Naxos, which I have actually never seen live. Utterly enthralling: I sat with Anna, and we had a very classy box near the stage – Renae had what were probably more expensive orchestra seats, but we had the advantage of height. I have always thought Ariadne was a mess as plots go; but such an intense, high artistry, and of course we were very near the orchestra. Endless passion, and Schlag; and it took real nerve for Bacchus to light a fire in the midst of the table onstage, but boy was it worth it –
I'm not telling this coherently. This has already been a blog entry that tried to do too much; oh well.
Okay, one of my favourite things about Ariadne was that the second, major act took place in a stuffy mitteleuropäische restaurant (Bernhard corrected me about the location, pointing out that it was supposed to be Austrian not Swiss, which of course makes more sense). Ariadne herself, a tragically beautiful tall redhead in a black dress and coat, sits at a table near the front – a table with too many wine glasses already on it; the waiters and waitresses walk by, carefully seeming not to notice that she is still there. People come and go and sit at tables; the chaotic two plots play out across this restaurant space, and the three nymphs are of course waitresses – at one point they sit on a table and it rises in the air, and some of their gestures become suspiciously, and funnily, weialala-esque. Bacchus was amazing, the Composer was amazing (where did those ppp note beginnings come from?), and of course Ariadne was really, really amazing –
what would sopranos do with their lives, if Strauss hadn't existed? Their days would be distinctly grayer. And shorter, and more boring.
Enough. You can see all this energy and chaos. Tomorrow starts early, more reading to do –
at least my lunch is already made and in the refrigerator –
and so –