Friday, September 22, 2017

Snow Globe (Excerpt from Conjecture)

There are days I remember like scenes crystalized in a snow globe, really slices of many different days merged together and distilled into smaller capsules of time. I see myself and my sisters, Rose and Celia, sitting at one end of the long wooden table of the orphanage dining room, not too close to each other, each with ample room for our morning tea, toast, papers, inks, embroidery, what have you, but still leaving two-thirds of the long table empty. We are not sitting like ladies, but contort ourselves into all sorts of shapes for better access to our fascinations, myself with one foot flat on the chair and a knee up close to my chest to rest an open book against, and a plate of breakfast perched between thigh and belly. Rose is sitting cross-legged, drawing in a large folio upon her lap, with precision and soul. She dips her pen into her tea cup by mistake and brings an ink bottle to her mouth, thinking it is toast. Celia is perched on her knees, chair with its back toward the table, presiding over a wide circle of accoutrements and instruction manuals, preparing for some experiment, hardly taking a sip or nibble at all in her rapture. The pages turning, the pens scratching, the rustling of papers and clanking of tools mix with the sound of knives on butter dishes and cups on saucers, an occasional exclamation of discovery or consternation. These morning hours, seen from the distance of decades, seem impossibly free. Athans will be working until the early afternoon, and we are certain not to be called upon to know or prove anything until he emerges from his study. If it be summer, the casement windows are flung open and birds alight on the sill, singing their morning songs. The flowering trees shake themselves awake and cast yesterday’s new blossoms into the air, delivering their soft-sweet petals onto the table. If it be winter, we have lighted the old stove, and the sound of crackling and shifting wood mingles with the woosh of icy wind and the scurrying of small industrious animals inside the walls. I have not combed my hair, but I let my fingers work through some knots when a hand is free from page turning or teacup lifting, unconcerned about bits of jam or buttery crumbs on my fingercomb; Celia has her hair pulled back, out of the way of her work, bound with a scarf that looks a bit like a sorcerer’s turban; and pretty Rose is already miraculously coiffed, with lovely braids and twists and chignons, flowers tucked amid her golden hair, wearing a neat and fetching dress, newly tailored by her deft hand.  We let the tea go cold and forget to feed the stove until almost too late, just catching the last embers to start a new log a’ blazing.

If I shake the snow globe, the settling flakes show a table left uncleared, as we three go tearing across the vast yard, past marble statues and the splashing fountain, some dogs running at our feet, our skirts flying, birds scattering, either together all of us, or two and one, or each alone, to seek out a special spot where we cannot be spied by Athans from his tower studiolo (not that he is likely to look up from his work, but still, who knows?), to reach some perch for lake gazing or a bed of pine needles under a tall fir tree, or to find the rare lady slipper; or, if winter, to listen, on snowy days, to the silence of the brown and white world syncopated by our tromping over unshoveled paths, wrapped in capes and woolen scarves and wearing furry hats and boots, filling with icy snow. We walk sometimes for hours, not uttering a word, or singing madrigals or maybe telling secrets, returning, finally, hungry and thirsty and tired, in time to await Athans who emerges like clockwork from his study, to find us at the dining room table again, this time slightly more decorous than at breakfast, ready for our lessons. We no longer exist like this, except in this my vision. At the time, of course, I had no idea how happy we were. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Lola Writes to Athans


I have been hypnotized. My brain—my famous brain—would not turn off completely. When has it ever except under the influence of passion? But it softened its dense weave, and opened some, like continents separating, or braids loosening. So that images could slip through, images normally…No. I was going to write, images that are normally suppressed. But it isn’t that. All the images are always rising, always present, floating, as it were, before the mind’s eye. But usually the conscious mind pays them no heed if they do not seem rationally connected to what it already has determined as the subject at hand. The conscious mind rejects everything that does not fit clearly into the already-arrived at concept-construct-narrative. It stubbornly sticks to its story, despite the constant presence of other facts, truths, despite new information that would change its mind. Despite even feelings that don’t seem to fit. It thinks it is so reasonable. And, insofar as reason is the creation of abstract constructs, it certainly is. Reason, thus, is different (not quite opposite, not quite enemy) from experience, which is an everything. Experience contains the all and Reason partitions it up into meaning. Experience is unfiltered, but the brain-machine can only digest phenomena by arranging it according to its own structure and capabilities, also, its own past experiences and the already-formed categories. To make new categories and combinatory arrangements is much more difficult than using the old ones. But, in any case, if we may move on without having fully solved these fundamental problems (excuse us, Kant), I want to tell you about being hypnotized.

The great discovery was this:
When we are in a state to access the subconscious imagery, we allow ourselves to dwell on things we normally would deem irrelevant. It is just these things, that seem to come from nowhere, but maybe come from the subconscious or the collective unconscious or are, perhaps, merely random, it is these things alone that can open the usually locked doors between our conscious minds and an infinity of rich and self-generating revelation. The state is a  loosening of the mind so that these images can rise and be observed. They float before us. Instead of suppressing them, we regard them with curiosity. What might they “mean”? What might they tell us about ourselves?

The hypnotist asked me about love. What was in the way?

And I saw a vast storehouse of skeletons, of corpses, lying one atop the other, blanched and moldering. It was, I knew of an instant, that old holocaust theme. I thought, Oh, Lola, really, how unoriginal. Is this the best you can do? But there it was, and, well, without my normal filter, I let them command my attention, as answer to the question: What is in the way of love? And even cheaper, even more cliché, there rose a rose, alternating with the field of the dead, the moistest, most red, the juiciest of roses. And I spoke: I cannot have happy love because all these people are dead. The rose spoke: Live, enjoy, love. The corpses said, remember us.
Then I saw an ice queen, rising up out of the cold tundra. And knew she was I. Small children clutched at the hem of her gown. Children in black and white with large frightened eyes like those of my mother in those old photographs. My job forever was to take care of the children and protect them from evil. To take care of my mother, and my father too. And I could not let up, not to live my own life, not to love.

The hypnotist said: But what if the danger has passed? Can you relinquish your vigilance? What if the children are grown? Can they not take care of themselves?

And what about the child that was you, she asked, do you see her? And there I found myself sitting on the floor of a parqueted apartment, bereft and alone, for there was no one to care for me when the parents were the children and there was need of someone to protect them and who but me?

So she asked me was I ready to take myself in my arms and lift myself up, to carry myself up the stairs which she had me imagine as she counted, one step at a time, up and up, and up and up, to leave them to their own troubles and traumas, to rise, 1, 2, 3, 4….one more, another, another, another, 9, 10, 11, up to the surface of life, leaving the dead to bury the dead, and to be free to love and live and devour and be devoured in the great feast of life, rolling in a bed of flowers, thorns and silken petals and all. And when my mind was loose, unattached to all that I had learned about bad poetry and maudlin self-pity, moist-eyed and grateful, I did as she bid me, and did not devastate my subconscious with any super-sophisticated critique. For a moment, I was at peace, and glad.

Your Mad Lola

Friday, March 31, 2017

Enough of That

At a secret sacred summit over red tea in a corner of the special tea room, we established (once again) some ritual practices for approaching the almost impossible: for translating the vision in our heads and hearts into particular words in particular orders. My friend was waving his hands around in the air, describing the seemingly infinite arcs of the 7 different worlds he was carrying in his brain and the intense desire to recapture and pin down these visions before time ran out. There were books to read and languages to learn, histories to grapple with, science and metaphysics, not to mention sleep and care of the body and one's local surroundings. He sees practically no one, which would seem to help in cutting out distractions and concentrating the mind; I, on the other hand, am inundated with social distractions and excuses for not working (especially these last months when I sacrificed my writing almost altogether for local politics), but now I am trying to eliminate as many of these as possible, returning to my old standby of no appointments before 3 or 4 in the afternoon. The mornings entirely devoted to work. But that is easier said than done, because here I am, with my notes and my notebooks, my pens and my cup of coffee (tea sometimes, coffee today, because my lovely housemates left me some in a nice steaming pot on the counter), and I don't know how to begin.

So I am trying to remember what we said over tea the other day. I was telling him that I did not really think he could force himself to have the visions again, and I blurted out--rather rudely perhaps--that he was controlling. I only said it because I am too. I was remembering Proust's theory of involuntary memory. Proust insisted that you could not make the memories come. Correspondences between two separate things would spark memories and spark writing, but you could not artificially create such a moment. We talked about the proverbial need to be in "the flow" and I suggested that it had something to do with a sort of tight rope strung taut but loose at the same time...that the mind had to be loosely focused, to allow ideas to come from the subconscious, but also we had to be present and awake to capture them when they appeared. I know that when translating I can sometimes find the right word before I know why it is correct. It might also be akin to the way great musicians and athletes do their thing without thinking, after years of training, and a certain ability to be present without grasping too hard.

Then I remembered being hypnotized. It was not a deep trance, but enough to just disable a certain rational part of my brain. I was asked questions and images appeared to me. If I had been in my normal state, I would have dismissed them as irrelevant to the question. In fact, images and ideas flow through our minds all the time, but because we are looking for something else, because we have our conscious minds clamped firmly on something we are searching for or that we expect to appear, we ignore these seemingly extraneous gifts. Under hypnosis, instead of pushing the seemingly stray images away, I gave them credence, I let them rise. And when I looked at them, loosely but with a certain focus, they were immensely fruitful, bursting and bursting with significance and fascination.

So we determined we must show up, be present, without trying too hard to control what happened. We must be open and loose, but also focused. It sounds simple enough, but then my friend said, "But I can always sabotage myself". Ah, yes, of course. And so can I. I took a sip of tea, the last dregs, chewing on a loose tea leaf, and said to us both, "Well, sure, you can, we are experts at self sabotage. But enough of that".

Yes, we laughed. We have sabotaged ourselves for years and years. It is getting boring by now, isn't it? Let's get out of our own way and let the work happen.