Sunday, November 9, 2014

Heraclitus in an Inner Tube


You have to feel what you write. What a strange thing to stay. I have an odd feeling about that statement because I write to escape feeling. What I desire most is to transcend my emotions. I don’t like my emotions. Not all of them. I like feeling happy. Who doesn’t like feeling happy? But happiness, which runs the gamut from intense euphoria to a mild sense of well-being, is difficult to maintain, much less invoke. A lot of books have been written on the subject but no one has yet discovered a sure fire method for inducing a state of happiness at will. There are certain drugs that might lead to a brief state of ecstasy or euphoria but when they wear off they leave one feeling much worse than before one swallowed or injected the drug. Drugs are not really a good solution.
If the rent is paid, the mortgage is amortized, there’s food in the refrigerator, the water and electric bills are paid, one’s work is agreeable, there is plenty of positive feedback from friends and family, one’s health is good, and there’s freedom to do what one wants to do whenever and however one chooses to do it, there’s a strong possibility that something like happiness might be perpetuated for a respectable period of time. Days, weeks, maybe even years. But these things are no guarantee of happiness. A lot of people have such things in abundance and still feel unhappy much of the time.
Happiness is an odd and elusive animal. But it is only one among thousands of emotions, species unnamed, unrecognized that have yet to prowl one’s nervous system and embed themselves in the heart. And really there is no one single emotion. All emotions are blends. I have yet to meet anyone who has felt a singularity of love without also feeling frustration, confusion, bewilderment, betrayal, perplexity, urgency, adoration, turbulence, intimidation, dread, triumph, mystery, discord, ambivalence, ambiguity, temerity, endurance, effulgence, effrontery, excitement, derangement, and lust.
What I feel most of the time is anguish. Dread, anxiety, worry, disillusion, remorse. These are not pleasant things to feel. If these were the emotions that inspired me to write I’d be in real trouble.
But the fact is they are my main inspiration to write. Because I write to get away from these feelings.
How does that work? I’m not sure. But I have some theories.
First, language is a medium without limit. As soon as I enter into the field of composition I feel an expansion, a dilation of being. I feel the joy of limitless expansion.
There is also a very satisfying feeling in seeing one’s nebulous inner turmoil crystallize in the regenerative pharmacology of language. Words have a wonderful way of making one feel a little more distanced from inner discomfort. And if one is writing out of a sudden ecstasy, words make it shine back in the pellucid jewelry of linguistic abstractions. The very word ‘ecstasy’ is pertinent to the business of writing. Ecstasy comes from Greek ekstasis, “standing outside oneself.”
This is precisely what writing does: it leads us outside of ourselves.
Writing is a form of pharmacology. It has healing properties. And these properties are based on a principle of combinatorial process. Diverse elements are mingled together to create a symbol, an idea, an image. Language is inherently, strongly associative. Its actions are primarily chemical in nature, drawing on a dynamic of dissolution, distillation, and sublimation. Writing is synergistic. Emotion ceases to be a static condition. Feelings flow. Vary, fluctuate, metamorphose. Heraclitus goes floating by in an inner tube.
Ultimately, what is felt in the pursuit of escaping one’s feeling is another feeling. A bigger feeling. The feeling of sublimation. As one moves from a feeling of stubborn solidity to a state of vapory abstraction one feels the euphoria of displacement. Of buoyant reflection. One can feel the grip of an emotion loosen as soon as one begins to reflect on the feeling. Or out of that feeling. It’s not a position of ‘on’ so much as a position of disposition, the consciousness of being in relation to other things.
No emotion feels the same after a deepened analysis. It becomes less substantial, less imprisoning. It becomes a pale mist of tingling sensation. It drifts in reverie. It becomes an energy, a buoyancy that leads to music. A warm immersion in water, a narcotic camaraderie in a copper California night. Equations of sugar. Quakes of anarchical joy. An ecstasy of arroyos and turquoise auroras. The glide through an ocean of words variable as waves on a sweet Pacific tongue.

 

4 comments:

Delia Psyche said...

When I was 27 and miserable much of the time--doing menial work, living in a Stygian dumbwaiter, smoking and drinking too much, watching too many movies--I found Bertrand Russell's The Conquest of Happiness in a junk shop. It was a help. The central idea: the less preoccupied with yourself you are--the more preoccupied with external objects you are--the happier you are. In other words, you become happy by standing outside yourself.

John Olson said...

Sounds like you've had a career trajectory similar to mine. But yes, absolutely, I agree with Russell completely on that note. Russell would've liked the work of French poet Francis Ponge who concentrated all of his prose poems on descriptions of objects: soap, wine, radio, fruit box, insects, animals, you name it.

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