Seven years ago, in January, 2011, my friend Charles Sides and I drove down to Marathon, in the Florida Keys, and spent two weeks at a home borrowed from my friends Linda and Neal Rogers. During that time we went twice to Key West, where Hemingway had lived for a dozen productive years, and I bought a lot of books as usual and mostly we enjoyed the sun and the warmth and didn’t feel the need to do much more than sit around and rest.
I was pretty unsettled. I had just written The Cosmic Internet, I was actively considering moving to Charlottesville after 13 years living in Nelson County near The Monroe Institute, and, not least, I was sick. A few days after I returned home, I had a conversation with Hemingway that made some things clear, and taught me a technique that I think others may find useful.
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
4:20 AM. Can’t sleep. Well, the fruit stand is open. Papa?
Continue with the exercise.
And that is?
That is, to see your life to this point and see what it has led you to, so that you can begin to express what you have never felt able to express. For, it is this lack of ability to understand your life (partly because you can’t express what you know, which would make you more able to understand more) that is a very common problem. As people see somebody working it out in public, they will get their own ideas on how to do their own sums.
Is this a particularly appropriate time for the exercise?
Can’t you feel it?
I do, actually. The vacation in Florida, which already seems a good while ago, marked a sort of intermission, a time away from normal, and was dominated by thoughts of moving, and by a strange sickness that wasn’t asthma, and a sort of gathering of forces, maybe.
That last statement. It doesn’t really say anything. Say it, or give up hope of understanding what you mean and what you’re only half perceiving.
I begin to see what you are doing. You are showing me how you worked and why you did what you did.
But do the work.
All right. Gathering of forces. What did I mean? I had a sense that both Charles and I were preparing somehow for a new phase in our lives. There was a sense of anticipation of change, and a readiness for change, in fact an impatience with a continuation of the old.
How? How did you feel that?
It’s beyond any “how.” I just felt it.
If you’re going to communicate, you’re going to have to hand the reader something definite. The by-product will be that you will hand it to yourself, at a deeper level of understanding than you have ever known. How did the sense of anticipation of change manifest?
I don’t know, really.
I would sit on the deck looking out at the water. I had books about Hemingway. I had just been to Key West (the first full day in the Keys). I had other books I had brought, that I had no interest in reading at the moment. I had this journal, though I don’t remember using it much.
Having said that, I just looked back, and I see that in fact we [Hemingway and I] had some substantial conversations. I suppose I never transcribed them, or, no, I think I did, but I didn’t send them to my Papa list because of technical difficulties. Posted them to my blog, maybe.
But anyway, it looks like my time went to reading, talking to you, planning to move, and talking with Charles. And being sick, and a little sightseeing, not much.
How did the sense of anticipation manifest itself?
I don’t know!
Yes, you do. Or, you will, when you do the work.
I am put in mind of sitting in the chair on the deck. That’s what keeps coming up. Not sitting at the breakfast bar or lying in bed or driving around, but sitting on the chair there. Charles and I both did a lot of that. It wasn’t when I was reading, or even writing, but when I was just sitting.
You’re getting there. And?
Well, I don’t know “and” what. My sleep was disturbed once I got sick. I slept practically all the way back to Charles’s house, two days in the car. I slept a lot while down there. But what can I say about what happened when I slept?
Pursue the thread. This is the work I did in silence, that never showed. This is the iceberg-beneath-water.
But in regard to different subject matter.
Do you think so? Different externals, yes. But a man’s internal experience of life can be experienced with superficial understanding or can be deeply understood, and mine was as deep an understanding as I could achieve. Yours to now has not been.
I can see that. Partly it was not knowing how.
Yes. Mostly it was that so many memories hurt, or were embarrassing, and that didn’t encourage the process of examination any.
And, as I say, I didn’t know how to go about dredging. I can easily help others dredge, but I am more or less terra incognita to myself.
Or that is your cover story. Just be willing to see. What happened when you were just sitting?
Things were going through my mind, probably. Stuff about your life, all kinds of thoughts, but I don’t remember what.
So remember the water and the island and the sky at night or in early morning or in midday or evening. It all changed continually.
Yes, of course it did, and sometimes — often, in fact — it was a little chilly. Particularly after I got sick, it wasn’t always entirely comfortable, but usually more comfortable than being inside. I don’t see how to get to whatever you’re trying to get me to, here.
You tell others about state-specific memories. Doesn’t it apply to you?
Oh sure, it isn’t an intellectual thing at all, it’s a matter of getting back to the emotion that will connect up to the memory of where I was when I felt that emotion.
Isn’t that what I said when I advised people to remember what specific detail had caused an emotion in them? The water jumping off a tightened fishing line, for instance?
I didn’t understand it that way. In fact I didn’t understand it at all. I could see that it was giving you something, but I couldn’t see what.
So now that you know, apply it. Do you remember what you were looking at?
I remember the wading birds. Charles thought they were always waiting for dinner. I figured much of their day involved other things that birds might understand but we don’t. But for all I know they do think about food all day long.
Did you look?
I sure did. My eyes aren’t very good for distance anymore — I often saw only a blur where Charles would see birds — but I’d see the ones close —
You know, thinking about it, that inability to see detail or even clear outline was on my mind that trip. I’ve come to accept it but it was getting in my way. I could see color changes, but even color is off when you can’t see in focus.
So your life was out of focus?
You could put it that way. So — how out of focus? In what way? Telling, I guess, that I can always read, with or without glasses, even if I can’t read road signs or see birds or trees or anything else clearly.
Yes, in fact, my life was feeling somewhat out of focus. I’d just finished the Cosmic Internet book, so I should have been feeling pretty good about that, and in fact I did. But I was feeling impatient about the time I waste. I was feeling, obscurely, that I was on the verge of stagnating. Can’t say why I was feeling that.
Oh? Can’t you?
Can’t if I don’t know why.
State-specific memory. You don’t remember the individual thoughts, you get back into the emotional place where you connected to those thoughts. Watching the blurred but pleasant scenery, enjoying the day or night. Waking up, that time, to the intense star shine that you’d never experienced before. Why were you feeling you were stagnating?
For some reason the idea of living in town was growing on me, and had been for a little while. Somehow it seemed that the townhouse I was thinking of at the time (which didn’t materialize) was going to encourage and force me to consolidate, to concentrate. I would center more on myself and less on my surroundings — which is ridiculous, as I center on myself continually, practically to a pathological degree.
Follow, don’t judge. Judgment automatically cuts off access; it is not a mode of perception.
There was this feeling that I wanted to concentrate on expressing what I know, and somehow to continue to live on the New Land as I had for more than a dozen years would not aid but hinder that process. I had a strong sense of “more lives to lead,” like Henry leaving Walden. It was time to put some things into the past so as to see them more clearly.
Yeah, I heard that. To see more clearly. But I think I’m pretty much done for the moment.
Maybe you learned a skill here, though.
Maybe I did. We’ll see. Thank you, Papa, I do appreciate it.