Conversations June 3, 2010

Thursday, June 3, 2010

5:30 AM. Finished Reynolds’ fifth volume, The Final Years. Reading of that long last act, Papa, the drinking, the drug cocktails they put you on, the accumulating injuries, most notably those received in Africa —

Looking at all that increasingly manic, increasingly depressive behavior —

Looking at self-pitying, and lashing out, and amazingly unconscious behavior (as with Adriana, for instance) —

It can’t have been fun to be around you, and can’t have been fun being you.

Does my suicide still seem like such a tragedy, such a dead-end? The family exit was messy — it was designed to be, of course — but it did get me out of that situation.

But at what cost? Or rather, since that isn’t the right question, how did you (why did you) get into that situation in the first place?

Still not quite the right question, which is, why are we talking about it? What’s to be gained by looking at it?

All right, let’s look at that, then. And I’ll put in the few lines I wrote Tuesday, after our session.

[Tuesday, June 1, 2010

[2:45 PM. Still reading The Final Years, amid other books. I suppose it is a prejudice of mine, but it seems to me that many of Papa Hemingway’s problems stemmed from too much alcohol all the time. Surely it can’t be good to drink routinely, every day, and then of course drink more for special occasions. It must have had its function, and at some point I will ask Papa. but not now. This is but to hold the place in my mind.

[– Another thing to mention, that we almost touched on already, is the violence of language and its connection to inner mainsprings.

[– Another thing to ask: why did he care how he appeared in print? It was other people’s writing, it was their responsibility. Why did he care?? It is as if the public reputation was too threatening if he didn’t control it, and after he got to a certain level he couldn’t control it. It had a life of its own, as we discussed. But — why did he care what other people thought/said/wrote about him? Why did it affect him?]

And I will consider the questions asked. We’ll get to them in due course. But the center of all this isn’t Ernest’s fascinating life, or Frank’s, or Carl Jung’s or anybody’s, but — life, the nature of and uses of.

If you will look at my life not as the life of one individual, acting in a unified manner according to thought-out plans for carefully considered objectives, but instead as a society of individuals —

Well, let’s take your wagon-train analogy. You’ve used it to describe short journeys where a group of people come together, they do the same thing at the same time, and they go their separate ways at the end. You’ve used it to describe Monroe programs. It could be used for lots of things. But let’s apply it to a lifetime.

When you look at your life as a group journey, a lot of things make more sense than they do if you think of it as one person being born, growing up, flourishing, getting old maybe, and dying. So many things look different.

Take inconsistencies, for instance. Well, you wouldn’t expect a whole group of people to be consistent, would you? Take force of will or lack of it. It just makes sense that some wagon trains have strong leaders and are very disciplined, and others have weaker ones, or less demanding ones, and the train is less disciplined. Take range. Some wagon trains are going to be made up of mostly the same kind of people, maybe all from the same village, all from the same stock, maybe lots of them kin, and their range of difference among them isn’t going to be very large. They’ll have individual differences, but generally they’ll see things the same way. Others will have been slapped together in haste, maybe, or for whatever reason will contain people of all kinds, many of them not seeing eye to eye, maybe many of them even hating each other.

All this isn’t just a flight of fancy. It’s a metaphor for what life in a body really is, and not a bad one. Start seeing yourself as a society instead of a unit and some things will come clear. You are a society of people inherited from your parents and all their predecessors, for one thing. And you are a society of all you’ve ever been in your history through the non-physical, too. You think of this as meaning “past lives” but that isn’t exactly it, and we’re not going to pursue it, because it doesn’t lead us anywhere we want to go.

All of this is abstract. Pin it against my very public life — and the private aspects of it, too — and we’ll flesh it out.

You’ve already seen how the example of explosive temper illustrates that we are different people at different times. It’s more accurate to say we are different people, or express different people, than to say we act as if we were different people. There isn’t any “as if” about it. Except, all those different people are traveling together (pulling and hauling against the harness often enough) so we are one person consisting of many people. It depends on how you look at it.

Buck Lanham was shocked to see me as he did right after the war. He had met and had become good friends with one me; he saw, in Cuba, that same me — because we were friends, connected in that time and experience — but not the same me, because I was battling with other things and therefore other aspects of me were more in control; other parts of me, the “me”s that were as real and had as much right as any other part.

Well, this isn’t very clear. Let’s try again. Suppose you get drunk. They say “in wine, there is truth,” meaning that you say things you might not say otherwise, because alcohol reduces the inhibitions against saying it.

But that isn’t all it does! And here is a clue to your question about why I drank so much.

Go ahead. I’m very interested in that question.

Stick with the society idea. If you have a society of people, and only one or only a few get to run things, and the vast majority don’t get much of a say — especially if you can imagine it that the few get to breathe fresh air and the many are crammed down in steerage, breathing and re-breathing stale, foul air all the time — you can see that anything that unbuttoned the hatchways and let the steerage passengers out would be risking a huge explosion, or call it a temporary revolution. And the people that came running up the ladders into the daylight are not likely to have had their manners improved by their confinement below.

Now, change metaphors. Go back to your wagon train. Maybe your wagon-master goes off somewhere and people take turns being temporary wagon-master. Some may be one way, others another way. Poets, tyrants, losers, can-do movers and shakers, could be anything. They are all part of the one wagon-train, but they’re all different individuals with their own histories and objectives and points of view. Now, who can predict what they’ll do, or how they’ll see things, while the wagon-master is gone?

And — to carry that analogy one last step — during the process of drinking, the wagon-master gradually loosens up; he feels himself going off duty; he’s willing to share the reins with others when normally he wouldn’t. His world expands; he feels freer and less burdened. While he’s sharing the reins with others he may feel a part of something much bigger than himself, something more attractive, more important, the way Joseph Smallwood felt as part of the army at Gettysburg. But — then the wagon-master gives over, and goes away, or goes to sleep, or whatever, and when he’s back in charge maybe he remembers that sense of being bigger than his usual self, but maybe he doesn’t remember why he felt that way, or maybe he thinks it was only a side effect of the drinking, not a real situation.

That’s pretty interesting. Certainly it can be hard to remember that feeling, later, and nearly impossible to recapture it. That’s why I knew that drugs couldn’t be the way to what I wanted — you’d always have to come down, and could you hold what you’d seen? This, regardless other side-effects of either drugs or alcohol.

Now, as wagon-master, you are responsible for the behavior of the people that make up the train. You have to be. If it weren’t you, who could it be? But the thing I am trying to emphasize here is that you may be responsible for them all, but you aren’t the same as them. Just like any officer of any unit, you’re going to have to answer for things you yourself think are stupid or irresponsible or even reprehensible — but they are your responsibility. You can’t escape the responsibility and there isn’t any reason you should try to — but just remember that you don’t have to identify with every member of your society just because you are going to be identified with him by others.

Let’s continue this analogy. Suppose your wagon-master gets killed, or gets lost, or loses his ability to be wagon-master and nobody else steps up to be wagon-master. Then you have a candidate for the lunatic asylum, because there’s no stability, neither of purpose nor of point of view. Then you don’t have a unit — a wagon-train — except in so far as they share a body. In other respects they’re just a bunch of wagons that happen to be in the same place or in close proximity. And maybe you call them a disassociated individual. Isn’t that a telling phrase? An “individual” that is no longer a coherent society, a society that no longer functions as if it were an individual.

Now, you’re thinking I’m poaching on Carl’s territory, but doesn’t all this have clear application to my life as illustration? And if I handed you off to Carl, even if he were talking about my life, wouldn’t it create a separation in your mind? These things are real, and they are important, or you can’t see things straight.

Okay. I think this society is going to stop for now, it being a 6:45. Maybe more later today. Thanks.

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