Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Curse These Prolific Writers!

Every time I turn around, I find out about another book that I have to read. Most of them are old books too--by which I mean, written ten years ago or more. I'm not even trying to keep up with new writing. (Similarly, I've given up on getting ahold of new music.)

When I was younger, it used to make me sad to discover that certain of my favorite authors had been alive when I was born, and subsequently died. As if the fact that we had both existed simultaneously in this world would have enabled me to meet them or write to them or something. (Never mind that I might only have been four years old when they died, or that I've never actually written to a writer.)

But at this rate, I'm going to start being glad when good writers hop the twig. Then at least I'll know that the number of their works is finite. Not that I'll ever get caught up anyway: because they outnumber me. Damn them all.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


One goldfinch ("That's not a yellow butterfly, it's a bird!")

One red-winged blackbird (not near my house--on a family visit)

What is it about the red-winged blackbird that tugs at my heart? There are plenty of medium-sized black birds around. But the sight of that red and yellow epaulet . . . tells me I'm in the country. Grackles and starlings seem common and ordinary. The red-winged blackbird is a wild bird.

Update (August 21): I have seen the goldfinch twice more since then, once in the same location and just today, in another spot about half a mile away from the original sighting. I assume it is the same bird. They must have their own territory. The second time, I also saw him with a plain brown bird which I assume to have been his mate.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Ruined House: A Metaphor

When I was 18, I went to therapy for about six months. Almost the first thing I explained to my counselor was that I didn't intend for this to be "a lifetime project." I wanted to get in and get out. I had gathered that some people spent years in therapy (although at that time I don't believe I knew anyone who actually had) and to me that seemed like a bad idea. Since then I've become more confirmed in my belief that lots of talking does not actually help. Some people get very adept at talking about their emotions and their traumas--analysing themselves--and they genuinely feel bad. But talking is no substitute for actually doing the work.

The time that I spent talking to my therapist was only the tip of the iceberg. Outside of our sessions I spent hours thinking and remembering and feeling my feelings. That was the real work. Having a professional person to talk to was also vitally important. But I was doing the work myself. And it took years . . . much, much longer than six months.

Just today I realized what it is like, this work.

Imagine a house that's been gutted by fire: not completely destroyed. But there's a lot of structural damage, and all the furniture and belongings that were in the house have been charred and water-soaked, reduced to rubbish and sludge. Or perhaps the house was struck by an earthquake, or bombed.

In any case, therapy is the task of clearing out all the junk. It's hard work. It's sad work. And when it's over, you don't have much to show for it: only the ruins of a house. (It's almost exasperating.) Now the work of rebuilding begins . . . and maybe the house is so damaged that you have to tear it all down and start over.

It is possible to do. One does make progress, slowly. (One of the odd things about it is that you can make progress without even being aware of it. You just keep slogging along, and one day you lift your head and notice that the house is actually looking quite nice.) Of course, houses require a lot of upkeep. There's always something that needs to be worked on, and perhaps the carpentry will never be quite finished. I've never owned an actual house--it seems like a daunting prospect, on top of all the work that this imaginary house requires.

The very strangest thing about this house, the self, is that even though this metaphor of building the house is so useful, it's wrong in one important respect: the house builds itself. Each one of our houses has hidden rooms, passageways, staircases, sometimes entire floors that we can discover one day and announce "I had no idea that was there!" Where do these rooms come from, when we are quite certain that the house was at one point almost completely destroyed? Were they there all the time? Maybe.

Some parts of the house we need to build for ourselves, I think. Or at least decorate. We need to know what's there, and where it is, so that we're not constantly bumping into the furniture. But these unexpected rooms . . . personally I rather enjoy them. After spending so much time clearing away the rubbish and having to worry about the whole thing falling down, it's nice to explore some rooms that are, in my opinion at least, well-furnished and clean. My compliments to the decorator.