“The good writing of any age has always been the product of someone’s neurosis, and we’d have a mighty dull literature if all the writers that came along were a bunch of happy chuckleheads.” ~ William Styron

Old Underwood Typewriter

  

“For if he like a madman lived; At least he like a wise one died.” ~ Cervantes
Old Royal Typewriter

I’ve been thinking about William Styron, can’t say exactly why. Styron is best known for writing The Confessions of Nat Turner, Lie Down in Darkness, and Sophie’s Choice, but he also wrote a beautiful memoir called Darkness Visible, which is probably my favorite work by Styron.

Darkness Visible (published first in Vanity Fair in 1989) relates the author’s battle with depression and his eventual recovery. The title is taken from John Milton’s description of hell in Paradise Lost:

No light; but rather darkness visible
Served only to discover sights of woe,
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
And rest can never dwell, hope never comes
That comes to all, but torture without end
Still urges, and a fiery deluge, fed
With ever-burning sulphur unconsumed.

I remember picking up Styron’s memoir in Barnes & Noble one Saturday afternoon, and sitting in the cafe and reading the entire thing while drinking a latte. It was one of those winter afternoons spent doing what I love to do most: combing the shelves of a bookstore and finding a treasure. I finished reading it, bought it, brought it home, and read it again.

I suppose Styron’s account of his own illness touched a place in me that was easily relatable. It was only a few years after Caitlin’s death, and I still wore my depression like a raw wound. The book is packed up in one of the storage bins—of course—or I would reread it this afternoon.

“When something can be read without effort, great effort has gone into its writing.” ~ Enrique Jardiel Poncela

I finished two more books last week, but I haven’t felt like writing the reviews yet. I really liked one of them, and I was enjoying the second one until it began to seem that the author had two separate storylines that didn’t quite converge. It felt forced. I don’t like that.

Still blastedly hot here. Our air conditioners are going full tilt, which is making the electric meter turn and turn, just adding up all of those megawatts, or whatever it is they use to measure usage. As is the way with most things in this house, the air conditioner that works the best, that cranks out the coldest air consistently, is the one in Eamonn’s bedroom. The one in our bedroom is limping on its last leg, and having to run it continuously is taxing the poor beast.

Late in the day yesterday, Corey and I got in the pool to try to cool ourselves; the pool water was as warm as bath water, not the cool, refreshing respite that my body expected. The dogs didn’t mind, though.  Tillie and Shakes will play pool ball in any kind of weather. If only people could find joy in the simplest things in the same way that dogs are able to appreciate the most that which is the smallest.

“Words are but the vague shadows of the volumes we mean.  Little audible links, they are, chaining together great inaudible feelings and purposes.” ~ Theodore Dreiser, 1900
Old Typewriter for Sale in Thrift Store

I had wanted to get a post written today as I’m not at all certain how much longer we will have Internet service. We are also likely to be losing phone service soon. Such is life.

Perhaps you wonder how or why I can put all of the minutiae in these posts for anyone to see, how I can share what might be considered embarrassing without any concern. I have thought about this very thing myself: Do I do myself a disservice by holding nothing back in this forum? I don’t think so. I mean, if I cannot be completely honest here, in this self-made outlet for myself, then where on earth can I be honest?

Yes, the fact that we are still juggling bills, losing services, living on the edge, so to speak, is nothing of which to be proud. But for us, it is a fact of life, or rather, the fact of our lives in this moment. Years from now when I think back on this time, these unending days of wanting a sense of normalcy, these trying times that task our patience and ask so much of us—later, when I come back to these entries and read about the circumstances of our life, I will be able to remember things as they were and not idealize them or romanticize them into being something they weren’t.

Part of my reason for wanting accurate accounts is that I realize that my memory is faulty, as it is for most humans. How many of us remember exactly how bad or good something was without adding or detracting from the truth? I’m not saying that I want to relive these days, but rather that I want to be able to remember the things I fretted about, the things that worried me, the ways in which we sought distraction from reality.

“Writers are not just people who sit down and write.  They hazard themselves.  Every time you compose a book your composition of yourself is at stake.” ~ E.L. Doctorow
Pittsfield Historical Society: Old Typewriter on Display

Maybe I’m kidding myself. It certainly would not be the first time that I have deluded myself into believing something that was not exactly true. I mean, I fancy myself a writer when that may not be the case. Will I let that stop me from doing this? Doubtful.

All I know is that putting these words on these pages is the best way I know of keeping my sanity. For many years, I kept things inside until they exploded. That’s no way to live. It’s bad for the soul, and it’s hell on a relationship. Sitting here in my corner, pausing before the keys, allows me to sift and assimilate, pronounce and validate. Perhaps five years from now I’ll read this entry and think to myself, “what a load of crap.” But at least I tried.

The three of us, Corey, Brett, and I move through these days in the ways that best suit us as individuals. Admittedly, many people probably see the loss of the Internet as not a big deal, and when it comes down to a choice between groceries and Internet service, well, food wins. But the Internet is not a luxury for any of us. Each of us uses this connection to the outside world in our own way: I read—news about the oil spill, what’s going on in politics, other blogs, stories about current events, whatever—and then I write. Brett communicates with his friend in Greece, and he comments on forums that he finds interesting. Corey is always looking for something new to learn, whether it’s a particular movement in history, or the healing properties of a plant, or a recipe for homemade mayonnaise.

Regardless, we are, in a very real sense, a family that is dependent upon today’s technology as a form of sustenance. I do not see this as a bad thing. Rather, I see this as survival.

More later whenever. Peace.

Music by Sugarland, “Just Might Make Me Believe.” One of the songs of my life.

“Every exit is an entry somewhere.” ~ Tom Stoppard

Perception Versus Reality

 

“If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.” ~ William Blake
George Rickey's "Column of Four Squares Gyratory III

A quiet Sunday. Corey is working 3 to 11 again. The dogs are being lazy. Laundry is going. Outside, no sounds coming from the park, only the occasional birdsong. Comfortable temperatures and sunshine, although rain later. All in all, not a bad day.

I was thinking last night, or rather, early this morning, about the differences between what we perceive and what is real, that is, is what we see necessarily what is real? Is our reality the only reality?

 I think that what set me on this tangent was a dream from which I awakened in which my father was going to drive a big white Cadillac to a physical therapy appointment; my mother was rearranging papers, and different people kept coming in and out. My father, who was a small man, never felt comfortable in big cars. In his later years, I think that he would have been hard-pressed to see over the steering wheel of a big Cadillac.

But I awoke from this dream thinking about how the mind works, how in dreams reality is always altered at least slightly if not completely. I mean, the appearance of my father so often in my dreams is obviously not in keeping with the reality of my life because my father died almost nine years ago. Yet there he is. I know that I’m simplifying considerably, but for approximately one-quarter  to one-third of our lives, we exist in a state of unreality—those hours in which we sleep and dream; although the dreaming part is usually only about 25 percent of that sleeping time, taking place during REM sleep.

But the perceptions in dreams are not what I am really talking about. I think.

“But I look up:
the stars write.
Unknowing I understand:
I too am written,
and at this very moment
someone spells me out.” ~ Octavio Paz
Liu Bolin, "The Invisible Man," Urban Camouflage

As far as I can discern, the concepts of perception and reality are both fluid, totally dependent upon the individual. My sense of what is right and just is based on how I was raised, the laws of the country of my birth, the beliefs instilled in me by family. For example, I do not believe that it is right to force a woman to cover her body because the sight of a female ankle might drive a man into unbidden lust. However, I was raised in a society in which the roles of men and women have continually evolved. My reality is not that my bare legs are sinful; does that mean that in another city in another country the idea of the exposed female body as unholy is wrong? No. Not wrong. Just different.

But let’s move closer to home. I believe that there is exquisite beauty in a yard that is filled with different kinds of flowers and trees. Five houses down the street there is a house that does not have one tree, one shrub, one flower. My perception is that it is barren. The owner’s perception may be that such a yard is maintenance free, clean lines, uncluttered.

When the trees lose their leaves in the fall, I do not feel a great compulsion to rake the leaves and dispose of them. In fact, I love the look of fallen leaves. My nosy neighbor cannot abide a stray leaf. She probably sees my leaf-strewn yard as the end result of laziness, slovenliness. I see her perfect yard as a reflection of how uptight she is.

Granted, these are relatively small things. But you get the point: What I perceive as beauty is not necessarily seen as beautiful by someone whose reality does not allow for things to be out of place.

“What the caterpillar calls the end, the rest of the world calls a butterfly.” ~ Lao-tzu
Trompe l'oiel by Richard Haas, Facade of Brotherhood Building, Cincinnati, OH

My perception of the reality of my life at the moment is shaped in great part by the reality of my past. Three years ago, money was not so much an issue. I did not awaken each morning and measure the possibilities of my day by how much pain I was experiencing. Today, I see my life as being very limited, hemmed in by circumstances that are very much out of my control. These are my perceptions.

Across the world, in a small village somewhere, the days are measured in more concrete terms: how much water is available? Will there be enough rain to sustain the crops? Will another child die from dysentery?

Across the country in a city somewhere, a woman with perfect nails and a chic haircut is measuring her day by how many pairs of shoes she will buy, whether or not to lunch in this trendy bistro or that one.

Is one reality better than the others? Is one reality less of an existence than the others? We make these judgments according to what we know, most of the time without ever considering what is going on across the world, across the country, or even across the street.

“We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.” ~ Anaïs Nin
3D Sidewalk Illusion by Julian Beever

I don’t know if I’m being very effective here in making my point. What I had planned to say, or thought that I might say, does not seem to be translating well onto this page.

I think that too often we take our own realities and try to impose them on others. Take the Catholic church (or not).  I am not catholic, but many people assume that I am because I am Filipino.  But my feelings about the Catholic church are mostly hostile, and I realize that my hostility comes from my firm belief that there should be equality between the sexes; the Catholic church is inherently misogynistic. Men have all of the power. Therefore, I cannot reconcile myself to be of a faith that in its basic tenets places women below men. For me, that’s just a bunch of hooey.

But I was watching some documentary a while back that discussed how Catholicism, because of its staunch stance against the use of condoms is causing more deaths in third world countries. Consider: according to the pope, condoms are a sin because of that whole sex and procreation thing. Men with AIDS are forbidden by the church to use condoms when having sex with their wives even though the unprotected sex will most likely result in the wife contracting AIDS.

In my reality, this makes no sense, no sense whatsoever. But there are a whole bunch of people out there for whom this reality makes perfect sense. Do I have a right to be indignant? Well obviously I can be as indignant as I want to be, but whether or not that indignation should be heaped on any Catholic with whom I might come into contact is questionable.

But I’m right. Right? Transmitting AIDS is wrong. Right? Well, duh. But to people of faith, for whom the word of the pope is infallible, it’s not a duh. On the contrary. It’s not even a quandary.

Hence the whole personal reality and perception versus that of another person, society, country, etc. The concept of fluidity is more fact than concept. My reality of today is so different from my reality of 20 years ago.

“I want so to live that I work with my hands and my feeling and my brain. I want a garden, a small house, grass, animals, books, pictures, music. And out of this, the expression of this, I want to be writing (Though I may write about cabmen. That’s no matter.) But warm, eager, living life — to be rooted in life — to learn, to desire, to feel, to think, to act. This is what I want. And nothing less. That is what I must try for.” ~ Katherine Mansfield
Trompe l'oiel Mural: Before and After

When I was younger, my reality went something like this: career first, family incidental. Before I had children I could not conceive of a time in which my career was not the most important thing in my life. My personal success was directly tied to the size and location of my office, the amount of my salary, the scope of my bonuses. In my 20’s, I was a political animal in the corporate world. I had the kind of personality that would have actually done very well in politics.

After I had Alexis, my reality shifted, slightly at first, then dramatically as the days passed into months. I hit a point in my life in which I could not conceive of ever placing anything above her needs, her comfort, her security.  And so on.

My reality now? Not sure. I perceive of myself as being so different from what I used to be, but I don’t know if that is true. It could well be that time has passed, but I have remained the same. Or maybe time has passed, and I have allowed my reality to evolve. I just know that Mansfield’s quote comes about as close to my ideal reality as I can sum up in words: home, animals, books, pictures, music, writing. To continue to learn, expand my mind. Not to stop thinking and delving and discovering.

I feel fortunate that my reality does not include the possibility of starvation, or imminent rape, or death from something easily preventable. That my reality does not include Manolo Blahniks and pricey eateries really doesn’t bother me. In fact, I think that if I were to put on a pair of shoes that cost $800, I would probably hate myself because I would not be able to rid my mind of the thought of how that money might be put to better use.

Evolving realities. Shifting perceptions. Movement. Growth. Life is not the destination; it’s how we get there and what we do along the way.

More later. Peace.

Music by Sugarland, “Make Me Believe”