Thursday, October 09, 2014

Ho i miei libri

I have my books
And my poetry to protect me;
I am shielded in my armor,
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.
I touch no one and no one touches me.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

And a rock feels no pain;
And an island never cries. 
--Paul Simon

I was a huge fan of Simon and Garfunkel.  Their first album, Wednesday Morning, 3 AM, was released on October 19, 1964.  I started college in fall 1964.  Going back to those songs is total nostalgia for me.  A wistful alienation, so common in that era, spoke to me.  They were overshadowed by the Beatles but I much preferred Paul and Artie.

There is no question that I saw the tragic sadness of anyone so cut off from others as the narrator of "I am a rock," and I did not hold that as any kind of ideal.  I admired the skill with which Paul Simon's words and music captured this kind of isolation, a shielding from the hurt that others can inflict, a defense against vulnerability, love, loss, betrayal, doubt, etc.

Tonight I listen to this song and look at these lyrics and think, "OMFG, that is truly who I was when I first fled my home town to the exotic environs of Claremont, California."  From the perspective of maturity I can look back and see exactly how deeply armored I was (and have been).  The added resonance of the moment lies in my current project, returning to the books of my youth to relive my journey, only this time without so many defenses.

I confessed in an earlier post that I have seen trees as guardian spirits: friendly, safe, watching over me.  I have often preferred trees to people. With trees I have never been pressured to perform, to be something I am not.  I am safe with trees.  Extending the imagery a bit, from trees we make books.  If trees represent the external (non-human) world in which I feel safe and which exalts my soul, then books represent the internal world in which I feel safe, the world of my mind and imagination, the meeting ground of souls across time and space where ideas and emotions are shared... but at a remove. A book or an idea may make some claim on me, demand some response, but there is not a physical person facing me: the situation where I immediately start to gauge "what does this person want from me?" and start to shape myself to that intuited, projected, genuine, or utterly misread desire of the other.  In short, when I am with other people my knee-jerk response is to abandon my self-hood in order to respond to them or elicit a response from them.

When one has done that for almost seven decades it is difficult to stop.

There is an element of shock in finding myself musing on this tonight.  As I seek to break out of the ancient patterns that initially allowed me to survive but then crippled me across the years, here I am going into one of my greatest retreats: books and the inner world of my mind.  Then again, the way we find healing of our past wounds is by naming them and dealing with them, often reliving our past, seeing if from new perspectives, letting ourselves grieve (with all the steps of denial and anger and bargaining, etc.), and eventually coming to peace.  We can acknowledge our very personal truth, honor both the good and the bad, keep what is of value, let go of the rest, and move forward.

So I retreat once more, but this time quite consciously and with the guidance of a good shrink, with a heart full of hope, and with friends who graciously put up with and support me in this journey.  I go within in order more freely and honestly to open up and open out.  As Hestia helps me to guard the hearth fire of my heart, the security of the inner flame can allow me to open more doors and windows and not hide a terrified spark behind so many barriers.

Beginning with my college years I kept journals.  I think I had thirteen notebooks eventually and only a few years ago tossed almost all of them.  I thought I could walk into my library right now and pull out the first one, started in my freshman year--contemporaneous to my early listening to Simon and Garfunkel. What I laid my hand on was volume two, spanning from July 1970 through January 1976.  Now this is going to be interesting reading!  Here is an early snippet, selected for the obvious link to the theme of Odyssey.

15 novembre 1970
Always going forth hoping to find
eternal journeys toward the evening
and the unknown - my own odyssey -
endless descriptions beyond the door
which marks my beginnings and measures the rhythms
of missed returns.  And so I wonder,
as I start my search just once again,
if destinations lurk beyond
the shadows of night, and if I might
perhaps this time be able to pierce
the curtain which cuts my dawn from my dusk,
airwoven mistwebs tangled in branches,
memories caught in my moments to snare me.
Then the mingled fires might greet me,
sunset, lamp, and hearth together,
waiting for my weary footfall
coming up the steps and crossing though
the door at last and knowing I was

[Below that is written: "That's a lousy vehicle for two lines."  I have no idea now which two lines.]

 I am tempted to comment: "Holy fucking shit! The conclusion of that poem is basically the ending of Darkslayer, Volume Two."

The thing is, of course, that my books and my poetry do not protect me.  Yes, they give me a safe space to ponder but they also pierce me to the depths, nourish me, challenge me, and remind me of truths deeper than words.  And, even if only in private, they have kept me vulnerable.  Rather like the desert monastics in the third and fourth century who fled to the Egyptian desert and there, in such incredible isolation, united their beings to the cosmos and to God, facing within themselves all the life-and-death struggles of the society they seemingly left behind.

So my current plunge into classic texts seems, to me, anything but safe.  I am off on the hero quest. There will be monsters.  Whether I need to slay them or befriend them or both or neither remains to be seen.  There is no formula, no rulebook, no guarantee. As my friend Lee shares in the old proverb:
Caminante, no hay camino; el camino se hace caminando.
[Traveler, there is no path; it is made as you go.]

 I also want to add that in the past few days some pains that I have admitted with my head but had immense difficulty feeling in my heart and gut now seem to be surfacing and I give great thanks for this.

--the BB

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