nostalgia’s impotence

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“My bitterness over nostalgia’s impotence to revive and resurrect becomes a tearful rage against God, who created impossibilities, when I think about how the friends of my dreams – with whom I’ve shared so much in a make-believe life and with whom I’ve had so many stimulating conversations in imaginary cafés – have never had a space of their own where they could truly exist, independent of my consciousness of them!”-The Book of Disquiet, Pessoa

Nostalgia is no new topic here or anywhere. We dwell in nostalgia’s hallways and cellars too frequently – so frequently it is almost indecent, ignoring the obscenity of the inability to let go, elevating it in fact in many cultures and languages to be the highest form of memory and admiration.

“Even if time is just a manmade construct and has no inherent evil whatsoever. All that is truly deceptive about it is our human caprice and wont to waste time, playing games – or rather waste feelings, being petty and not doing what our heart really desires in life. Time and our perception of it imbues us with false confidence, with fear, with nostalgic sentimentality.”

In previous writings on the subject I had been writing about my memories of Japanese language camp, the passage of time and nostalgia without even touching on the Japanese-language term “natsukashi”, which is roughly the same as “nostalgia”, filled with the same push-pull of longing/sadness and sentimentality/if-only/some-other-life feeling. How many times have I spoken to a Japanese person who, with that telltale faraway look in their eye said wistfully, “Natsukashi…”, their voice trailing off as the mind traveled into the murky mists of the past. Even in citing Japanese poet Tamura and writing: “It is also the nostalgia – looking back at people, events – what has deeply affected and wounded us, things we carry for years, imprinted on us even when the person or event is long ago and the deep impression we have belies the brevity of these memorable encounters”, I still didn’t think of ‘natsukashi’.

But then ‘natsukashi’ leapt to mind yesterday when I had a long conversation about living in the past, not being able to let go, nostalgia and how difficult it is when one lives in her own conception of how the past was – her own nostalgia – and eventually faces the reality that the others who populated that storied past do not share the same perception of that past. It shouldn’t be necessary to reconcile one’s own view of the past and sense of longing for it with another’s view, in which longing plays no part. In fact without these mismatches, I imagine we’d have much less of the bittersweet poetry, literature and music we covet; I imagine we’d have nowhere near as much invested in nostalgia: in fact an integral part of nostalgia may in fact be that we are grasping for something that never really existed.

What Cannot Be
Odysseus Elytis

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Photo (c) 2017 – SD

Dual contracts

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“The weariness of being loved, of being truly loved! The weariness of being the object of other people’s burdensome emotions! Of seeing yourself – when what you wanted was to remain forever free” -Fernando Pessoa

Do you feel at the edge of something life-changing? Or maybe that everything has already changed, slowly, almost imperceptibly – to bring you to where you are?

Sometimes I feel close to that edge – like something that will alter or maybe even has altered everything is within my grasp. Other times, like tonight, back home again, as others celebrate Midsommar, I find myself alone watching the sky get dark around midnight, working even though this is still technically my vacation. And I think, sitting in encroaching darkness, “Nothing has really changed at all.”

Some things do change, though, in surprising ways. I think frequently these days about how, as kids, as adolescents, our parents want to know everything we do, going so far as to snoop and spy on our secretive young selves. And yet, as an adult, it’s like they just don’t want to know. And don’t ask. Much of my life, how I feel about things, is in a public-facing blog, but my mom has read maybe only two entries in her life. Not that it matters if she does, but it’s funny that it does not interest her at all now, but in youth… what parents would not have killed for that kind of unfiltered access to their teenager’s mysterious thoughts?

Sometimes I feel like I embody the duality of both the furtive, cagey adolescent, hiding away my real thoughts, feelings and life’s events, and the concerned parent, questioning my own thoughts, motives and feelings.

 

the suit of the smiling mortician

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“But every suit, since it isn’t eternal, lasts as long as it lasts; and soon, under the fraying clothes of the ideal we’ve formed, the real body of the person we dressed it in shows through. Romantic love is thus a path to disillusion, unless this disillusion, accepted from the start, decides to vary the ideal constantly, constantly sewing new suits in the soul’s workshops so as to constantly renew the appearance of the person they clothe.” –Fernando Pessoa

Black Postcards
Tomas Tranströmer
I
The calendar is full, future unknown.
The cable hums the folk song from no country.
Falling snow on the lead-still sea. Shadows
wrestle on the dock.

II
In the middle of life it happens that death comes
and takes your measurements. This visit
is forgotten and life goes on. But the suit is
sewn in the silence.

Original
Svarta vykort
I
Almanackan fullskriven, framtid okänd.
Kabeln nynnar folkvisan utan hemland.
Snöfall i det blystilla havet. Skuggor
brottas på kajen.

II
Mitt i livet händer det att döden kommer
och tar mått på människan. Det besöket
glöms och livet fortsätter. Men kostymen
sys i det tysta.

After this…

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Returning from the land of Pessoa some weeks ago, and now as I think about inertia and the desire to do anything/nothing, I can only borrow his words:

“From any trip, even a short one, I return as from a slumber full of dreams – in a dazed confusion, with one sensation stuck to another, drunk from what I saw. I can’t rest because my soul’s not well. I can’t move because something’s not right between my body and soul. What I lack isn’t mobility but the very desire to move.”

It’s always the statement, the promise – to oneself or to others – that “after this, I will do this…” or “once this is complete, things will go back to normal”. Is this just self-deception?

I crash into this promise again and again but have learned never to believe it. Usually, the chaos is the norm, and only in subsiding or disappearing would things feel abnormal. I don’t know if this approach is optimism or excuse-making. Either way, it’s not really my style, that is, being so out of touch with myself, my life and its patterns that I fool myself and others into thinking that things will be drastically different at some unknown point in the future “when things calm down”. Some people are not meant for calm, and they never will be.

I am not one of those people, even if I, too, find myself making excuses – as we all do. Some excuses more damaging than others. I reread Pessoa’s words, which he applies to returning from a short trip, but which could be any situation that feels like a “slumber full of dreams”. Initially it made me think of a moment in recent time, how someone else must have felt. Thinking that I could put words to or start to understand his confusion comforted me. Weeks later, I thought, though, that this was not entirely new to me: years and years earlier, the roles were reversed, and I was the confused one.

Even decades after a moment like that occurs, followed by the “dazed confusion”, the memory of the excuses that inevitably accompany the ‘aftermath’ sticks with me. Almost 20 years ago, a confessional evening spent with a friend, candlelight in a terrible storm: the moment, the evening, was “one sensation stuck to another”, sort of drunk from being caught up in the experience, in being enveloped completely by that immediate moment. But returning to reality from it, the very desire to move robbed from me – a swirl of conflicting emotion – including a kind of love and admiration for her, a guilty desire not to hurt her, but a much stronger feeling of needing to start concocting excuses for why this would never work.

In Gabor Maté’s book on addiction, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, he writes: “if you want to find liberation in your commitments, your word needs to be freely given or not given at all. Don’t make promises to reform out of a sense of duty or to appease someone else. If you don’t know how to say no to other people’s expectations, howsoever well meant or valid those may be, your yes has no authenticity. This is what I have learned.” This applies not just to addicts but to everyone, myself included.

In trying not to disappoint people or making ourselves appear superhuman, to be all things to all people, most of us overpromise and underdeliver. But shouldn’t we be striving to make promises (not to reform, in the case of the addict of the quote) that we freely commit to keep? The expectations of others can weigh heavy, but that inadvertent and slippery giving of false hope that making empty promises creates weighs much heavier and hurts more in the long run – for everyone involved. Perhaps, though, it is that people are unable to be honest with themselves (maybe it’s where the optimism comes in: “we’re doing our best” and “maybe things will change”).

Wind turbines and renewable therapies

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On an Aimee Mann listening kick. It has been years since I paid attention. I think when I first moved to Oslo almost ten years ago, Mann had released a new album, and I swallowed it whole. And then nothing. She recently released a new album, Mental Illness, which is quite good, but the final track, “Poor Judge” is superlative.

But I’ve gone deep into the back catalog:

Just one question before I pack – when you fuck it up later, do I get my money back?

Heavens… such memories, both of listening so intently and relating to Mann’s clever, cutting lyrics and then seeing Mann live with Naomi oh so many years ago. Some other life, really.

If you really pay attention to Mann’s lyrics, you actually can get a little mini-therapy session, I think. A glimpse into how things go. But we don’t listen.

Just as we never can take even our own advice when the rational side of ourselves tells us what to do. If such a thing exists.

the bottom fell out and i became withdrawn

Many people, even those I barely know, with many different problems, ranging from nymphomania to fear of death, from existential maladies to relationship woes (infidelities, parental lack of communication, getting dumped, etc.), keep turning to me to discuss these issues. Some in a therapeutic way and some in a misguided bid to send me into some kind of (mental?) overdrive. But all I can come back with is the question, again and again, “What is it you want to achieve?

“My parent isn’t coming to visit this year and didn’t bother telling me. Should I confront?”
“That depends. What do you want to achieve?”

“I want to fuck every person I see. Is there something wrong with me?”
“That depends. What do you want to achieve?”

“My latest boyfriend, who was also my lawyer/contractor/plumber/boss, dumped me. Should I just give up on dating?”
“First of all, don’t date your —- (anything that you rely on). Second of all, that depends. What do you want to achieve?”

There will also be some curious reader who will see all these descriptions/scenes and imagine that everything applies to them. But no, not everything is, “Me! Me! Me!” and the world does not revolve around you. But still I’d ask the same question: “What do you want to achieve (by imagining everything is about you)?”

You can keep talking, exploring, finding out what you want to achieve through your actions – or letting what you want to achieve dictate what course of action you choose to take.

But the questioning will grow wearisome. (I guess that’s why people ask me; it’s wearisome to ask oneself endlessly without a wall to throw the ideas against.)

It all brings to mind once more the words of Pessoa:

“What men wanted and didn’t achieve, what they killed in order to achieve, and all that souls have secretly been – all of this filled the feeling soul with which I walked to the seashore. What lovers found strange in those they love, what the wife never revealed to her husband, what the mother imagines about the son she didn’t have, what only had form in a smile or opportunity, in a time that wasn’t the right time or in an emotion that was missing – all of this went to the seashore with me and with me returned, and the waves grandly churned their music that made me live it all in a sleep.” -from The Book of Disquiet

“There are times when everything wearies us, including what we would normally find restful. Wearisome things weary us by definition, restful things by the wearying thought of procuring them. There are dejections of the soul more subdued than any kind of anxiety or pain; I believe they’re known only by those who elude human pains and anxieties and are sufficiently diplomatic with themselves to avoid even tedium.” -from The Book of Disquiet

in the absence

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In the absence of time to write something, I instead quote. Pessoa, of course:

“Metaphysical theories that can give us the momentary illusion that we’ve explained the unexplainable; moral theories that can fool us for an hour into thinking we finally know which of all the closed doors leads to virtue; political theories that convince us for a day that we’ve solved some problem, when there are no solvable problems except in mathematics … May our attitude towards life be summed up in this consciously futile activity, in this preoccupation that gives no pleasure but at least keeps us from feeling the presence of pain. There’s no better sign that a civilization has reached its height than the awareness, in its members, of the futility of all effort, given that we’re ruled by implacable laws, which nothing can repeal or obstruct. We may be slaves shackled to the whim of gods who are stronger than us, but they’re not any better, being subject – like us – to the iron hand of an abstract Fate, which is superior to justice and kindness, indifferent to good and evil.”

“The feelings that hurt most, the emotions that sting most, are those that are absurd: the longing for impossible things, precisely because they are impossible; nostalgia for what never was; the desire for what could have been; regret over not being someone else; dissatisfaction with the world’s existence. All these half-tones of the soul’s consciousness create in us a painful landscape, an eternal sunset of what we are.”

“This is my morality, or metaphysics, or me. Passer-by of everything, even of my own soul, I belong to nothing, I desire nothing, I am nothing – just an abstract centre of impersonal sensations, a fallen sentient mirror reflecting the world’s diversity. I don’t know if I’m happy this way. Nor do I care.”