Saturday, July 09, 2011


I've mentioned before that my cat has a habit of waking me up at 4 am. He's now decided that he wants to eat at 3 am, and my refusal to feed him until at least 4 means that the 3:00 hour is a decidedly unsettled one, full of yowling, pawing, and being frequently nuzzled by a wet cat nose. He's going to be awfully traumatized when I go away for 2 weeks to the UK. My neighbor won't feed him until at least 8 am.

In any event, I don't know yet whether these early feline wake-ups are a curse or a blessing. I'd like to have a full night's sleep, but I also find that early morning is the best writing time for me. Last year I wrote about a Sylvia Plath documentary from the Voices and Visions series. In the documentary, A. Alvarez mentioned the last year's of Plath's life, when she was writing intensely. He said she would get up at 3 or 4 in the morning, work until the kids got up--and then she was a Mum, looking after the kids, and looking after the house. By nighttime, she was likely too exhausted to write anything. In this scene in the documentary, you see a woman portraying Plath, opening her shutters to a London sunrise, looking over the rooftops, the outside sounds dominated by deliverymen making early morning deliveries. The woman glances out the window, then picks up her tea, and heads for her typewriter. I was reminded of this scene once when I was staying in an old Bloomsbury hotel in London. I opened the curtains at around 5 in the morning in late July, and I had this view of the London rooftops with all of the pastels of an impending sunrise. I looked down, and there were very few people about--just trucks making deliveries. And, I was sitting there with my tea, taking in the morning air. While I would never compare myself to Sylvia Plath in a literary sense, I can definitely understand the charm of those early hours looking over the city, and why one would want to write at those hours.

Besides the atmosphere, the other thing about early mornings is that I've usually just woken up from REM sleep. This means that I'm fresh from dreaming, and my mind is filled with those thoughts that occur before the conscious ego has entirely taken over. Lately my dreams have been coming from the collective rather than the personal unconscious. It may be because of daytime conscious thoughts--I've finished my fiction series reflecting on various archetypes, and I've been confronted with both the Child and the Trickster archetypes in dreams. I also had an insight about a character that I created years ago--back in the mid-1980s. This character doesn't appear in any of my published writings; she is the focus of a novel I've been writing for some time, and a character like her is in the story "Animus". While the story of this character is not my story by any means, I recognize that the character's myth is also one of my own driving myths.

"Myth" is a frequently misunderstood term. I sometimes use the word "narrative" instead. I remember a conversation in New York with John Foxx during the same London trip mentioned above, when he told me there was nothing "mythical" about his work. This is because he and I are not using the same definition of myth. The work of the writer and the artist is by definition "mythical"--that work is storytelling work. Whatever imagery is used, with paint, words, photos, music--some narrative is being related. Much is made in literary theory about "intent"--there is the author's intent, and then there's how readers interpret a work. In short, the author created the piece with his or her own unconscious myth, and others viewing, hearing, or reading the piece will relate it to their own unconscious myth. Or, I should say, one myth of our many myths.

I don't want to get into the story of my character here, as it is complex. But the driving myth comes from the personal unconscious. While I did not have a perfect childhood, it was still a very imaginative one. I held onto it as long as I could. Then one day, I woke up, and everything was different. The kind of play I engaged in was suddenly childish, and I found myself with romantic feelings. This literally happened in one night. I just woke up in the morning, and this is how I felt. Life completely changed after that, and while I could never go back to being a "child", I also didn't like adolescence. Love was a hurtful thing, frequently unrequited, and it was against a backdrop of adolescent social drama. The worst part is that it was largely unavoidable--young hormones do not yield to being tamed. The myth started then, and it has to do with being thrust into the maelstrom of life without any warning or control. Because romantic love was wrapped up in all of this, that has gotten a decidedly unfavorable review from me. There is a sense of past happiness decimated, and the need to stoically keep moving forward, because going backward is impossible.

Of course, rationally I know that all of this upheaval was necessary. One doesn't stay in a single phase of life forever. But the unconscious still plays it out as a betrayal on the part of life--on the part of "God", on the part of society. And therefore, all of the above are viewed with polite suspicion.

I'm not interested in turning this into a personal therapy session, so I think that's enough said. But it is a pretty good illustration of how our unconscious stories drive our life decisions, and our creative output as well.

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