Monthly Archives: February 2020

The post-flight key


The temporal structure is off, which means that it doesn’t matter which thought, which symbol, came first. Still, I shall start, arbitrarily it seems, somewhere in the middle of the act. The first scene was an apt replica of a Star Wars moment—apt because the SW series isn’t exactly known for conventional adherence to chronologies. However, what I’m alluding to is the flinty wall of grey that began my vision, and the like barrage of grim imagery that confronts Rey and company in the recent and supposedly last SW installment. In particular, my scene resembles that in which Rey hijacks some kind of windsurfing boat and heads out amid a raging storm into a sea that envelops a derelict Death Star, there to meet Emperor Palpatine and her transcendent fate. Well, what I’m aboard is not a windsurfing boat, but what I’m faced with may be my fate, transcendent or not. Before me is a surface of concrete, I think, like an abandoned or half-destroyed freeway section that’s being assailed by waves that are lapping at its barriers. I’m positioned feet away from a precipice, dithering as to what direction to take, but apparently inclined to attempt stillness. It’s not working. At some point, I notice the structure beneath my feet moving, as if I were atop a great beast that is awakening from hibernation. The waves, it seems to me, will imminently consumer the structure I’m on and therefore me with it. It’s time for a decision, so I make my move. Next, I’m climbing onto a horizontal stanchion that is the summit of the freeway’s height as it is falling away, and as I steady myself for a leap I feel an exultant rush. A death wish? Not sure. The fear of the previous moment seems gone or at least subdued, replaced by a prideful spike upon making up my mind. The only thing that’s surprising is the sudden recession of the waves. Momentarily at a low ebb, I am convinced they will surge upwards again and wash me aside if I don’t jump soon.

I don’t recall looking down. I barely remember the leap. But I did experience the fall—the continued thought that I was joining an adventure rather than dying—and then especially the scything dive into the water. It’s cold but not too cold; certainly not biting, cruel, freezing cold. It’s cold like the previous several days had been cold: it’s a clammy, hard but tolerable cold beneath a warming layer of clothing. It’s a piece from reality intruding upon my scene, hitching a ride on the trip and making things seem better than they really are. But how things are is scary, actually. The momentum of the dive is taking me too deep, I am next thinking. As my descent reaches a natural end, I turn upwards, instinctively looking to the surface, hoping suddenly that I’m not too far down. There is no light, shaft-like or otherwise, and this signifies not only a blanketing darkness, but the absence of a divine beckoning. An indeterminate passage of time follows, after which I am somehow back upon that previous concrete surface, or some semblance of it, and glancing about again at the stormy scene around me. It is a composite world, made up of images familiar and not; a geography that I’ve discovered, that I’ve longed to discover having barely known that it existed. Nonetheless, it is recognizable. Amongst the images that draw me is the shape of a three-to-four story hotel or apartment complex. It is slightly sunken, as if pulled into the ground by an earthquake, but its integrity has held, making it seem whole and surviving. It is a bit like psychoanalysis, I speculate: an aged edifice being slowly pulled underground but hanging on; an institution seated at the end of a mythical river, or at the far reaches of the globe, and I have arrived at its door. It’s a different kind of home. This structure is similarly blackened by the surroundings, rather like the violent waves that are causing all the damage, and contrary to what my listener will soon suggest, I think this dark greyness is not an indictment of absent color, but instead a sharp, almost film noir-like affirmation.

“I think this is your first analytic dream,” says my listener. My analyst. Welcome to my world. Really? I thought, both pleased and disconcerted simultaneously. I’m glad to have reached this apparent landmark, but I’d rather thought that I’d gotten past this bit already, having been in analysis for over a year. My first analytic dream, as in the first recounted dream that seemed to say something about the analysis itself? Was I slow learner? Am I on course in my learning? Anyway, I bit down on the plaintive observation and traded associations. I followed my analyst’s thought trail quickly enough and noted the crucial parallel. The dive was the thing: the deep dive into the unconscious. Of course, couldn’t miss that one. Then, due to the nature of the scene—the violent storm and so on—I mooted that the surface of the water might also represent death, which would make sense of my fear upon descending too far below the surface, plus the whole dream would link back to the recent reveries I’d been having with respect to that near fall from a ledge memory when I was two or three, and about which I journaled in the last entry. My analyst persisted, understandably enough, with the notion that I was poised upon another precipice, not one of imminent death but rather one of growth and understanding given the prospect of deepening work in psychoanalysis. We agreed upon one point only: it seemed important that my fears upon my watery descent were of being crushed or lost in darkness, not of drowning per se. We disagreed on the meaning of color versus black and white, as I’m not yet ready to cast my life so far as dull, or colorless. Or, we sort of agreed that the dark building that appears on the surface, plus the broken freeway that gets assaulted by the waves are…meaning, they seem to be recalling something like…

Nope. Lost it. That’s the nature of dreams, I’m afraid. My dreams, anyway. They exist in disorganized form and then die on the vine; a strangulated, inchoate death. Just as well, perhaps, because thoughts move on in daytime, on the couch, leaving some thoughts behind, abandoned, while traces of previously unfinished business are instead picked up. So I turned back the clock. I nearly died that day, I said, reiterating the link between the dream and death. I was about to revisit the scene or that script that I’d written about the aftermath of my rescue from the ledge: that imagined decompression of my mother’s terror juxtaposed against my cries of oblivious complaint. What did my toddler self imagine I was about to do, I wonder? What did I think she was stopping me from doing? Then something strange happened, in my process of recall, I mean. It was another temporal shift, this time one that picked up the story of my preverbal fall where I’d left off.

“Where were they that I was alone in the house like that?” I asked. As the question had trailed some version of the memory’s recap, my analyst followed along, mostly unconfused by my shift. Oh, I see, I heard the woman thinking: a prequel. I continued: “I mean, if she was outside in the back garden, and—as she insists to this day—my dad was nowhere to be seen…Karen, my sister, aged six at the time, doesn’t remember this…why was I left alone to wander about the house and be upstairs in a bedroom whose window is wide open?” I paused and listened to the blank space, as in the silence of a shared unknowing until that pre-thought also withered and died on the vine. I don’t know if I shrugged to punctuate the moment of deadening thought. It’s pointless to shrug when lying on the couch because the gesture is obscured. Mother blaming. My thoughts had stalled upon the point of mother blaming, I’m interested to note. Well, we don’t do that, do we? Yes, I know. I’ve been here before on a couple of recent entries. I went there in mine and Joe Farley’s forthcoming book, Getting Real About Sex Addiction. There I was following echoes, in a way. Not echoes of Esther Perel, as I’ve previously written, but rather psychoanalysts like Jean LaPlanche, or Robert Bly, the somewhat eclipsed men’s movement icon, whose book Iron John was a refuge for men like myself in the nineties.

Well, Bly had something to say about sympathetic mother blaming. His was more of a critical poke at the split-off self, like much my writing is, I believe. See, in his chapter, “The Pillow And The Key”, Bly revives a pre-Christian myth, later transformed into a Grimm fairy tale, about a boy who plays with a golden ball that unbeknownst to him represents his wholeness, but he loses it when the ball roles into a cage inhabited by the “Wild Man”, who has been imprisoned by the boy’s father, the King. This man says to the boy that he can have the ball back if the boy releases him from the cage. When the boy complains that he doesn’t have the key, the Wild Man replies, “the key is under your mother’s pillow”, and that pillow, with all of its Freudian sexual connotations, is where the mother stores all of her expectations for her son. From there, a tale unfolds in which the boy steals the key, frees the Wild Man but runs away from his family, to be mentored in the forest by the now indebted Wild Man. The remainder of the story entails the boy’s return from exile, which is less consequential as it pertains to Bly’s interest, which is to point out the mother’s implied role in civilizing the boy. What Bly and others of his ilk protest is the loss of healthy wildness in modern man, which is not to be confused with machismo, submission to corporate or industrialist slavery, or misogyny, but rather a mysterious realm wherein fathers are strong, decisive, and wise. It is he that is needed, for young men in particular, not a submission to a substitute and idealized feminine. But the taboo encoded in the “pillow” metaphor is in the way, suggested Bly, echoing Freud in his modern times. Women don’t want to hear this, Bly wrote in his preface to the last edition of Iron John: “We know that fathers have an erotic power over their daughters that they often don’t want to have named or exposed, and perhaps mothers are not eager to have their power named either.”


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Did I want to know what it was like to go fast in my friend’s new Tesla Model Three? Not really, I thought yet didn’t quite say. Not that it would have made any difference. Within a split-second of the question he hit the gas, or drove up the voltage, or did whatever it is you do to a Tesla to make it nearly lift from the ground and speed forward like something launched from a catapult. My hair stood on end and my ass rose from my seat, reminding me that it was a ride—just a ride, my internalized soothing voice opined. “That felt like flight,” I said as we slowed down just seconds later, the result of heavy traffic in a busy part of town. Fleetingly, I considered that the Tesla Model Three from 2018 seemed designed for the salt flats of Utah, not the civilized grids of an overpopulated California. Frustratingly for my friend yet thankfully for myself, this meant that bursts of speed would be brief, and if I am going to fly or take flight on matters and sustain the air speed, it will need to be in contexts of my own choosing.

Been thinking a lot about flight recently. It keeps showing up in my memory and therefore as appendages to thought and reverie. The themes are polarized around positive and negative connotations, with one meaning suggesting fear and disappearance, the other ambition and drive. I want to fly, says the ambition. I want to take flight, says the fearful cousin. Anyway, the antecedent memory is from the preverbal era of my life and contains narrative that is disputed by the principals, myself excluded. I was merely the center of attention—of horrified attention. See, I was two and a half when it happened. No, that’s not right, says a dissenting voice: I was closer to the age of three. The resolution of this lies in a discussion of chronology, plus a backwards itinerary of where my family lived in the years 1969 to 1971, roughly. These were years of mobility for our family, and years of my taking flight, apparently. They were the years of stepping away, of sneaking away, or running away from containing or leash-holding adults. A beloved aunt and later Godmother got more than she bargained for when she successfully corralled me at an amusement park and fixed me into a rickshaw that would carry me home. I may have been restrained physically but not emotionally, and at age two, I could wail with the best of them. My aunt’s ears rang for another thirty years. That’s how long she kept alive the tale of my oppositional or determined separatism until she and her opinions were muted by age.

Once, she may have been a prominent voice of criticism in my parents’ ear, given how “willful” I will have seemed at the time. Or fearless. The most striking anecdote of these early years of mine centered about this aforementioned tendency to climb upon ledges and flirt with the danger of falling, poised to fly. I recall some later episodes, instances from my latency years of ages 6-10 when such precipice-approaching behavior jangled nerves, eliciting shrill complaints and punitive aftermaths. But there was no punishment after the earliest of these known events, as far as I know. At the outset of this chronologically ambiguous event, I was standing upon a window sill, hanging outside an opening that looked out from a second floor onto a back garden. As I picture it now, I conjure thick deciduous vegetation and a verdant lawn, the result of plentiful rain across seasons in Britain. Our family garden will have been about twenty yards deep, but the well-cut grass, moist and somewhat soft, will have stopped several feet short of a back door, yielding to a stretch of hard pavement, unforgiving to a falling body. My mother recalls hearing my voice. “Hello Mummy,” I called out cheerfully, she says. It’s funny, but the “mummy” bit is the one that makes me cringe, with embarrassment, I mean. Others think it cute or charming, this distinctively British term. I find it precious. Not me. Regardless, in this context, not even my mother found my expression charming. “STAY RIGHT THERE AND DON’T MOVE”, she recalls calling out. Next, she dashed into the house and ran upstairs, and within seconds she had gathered me in her arms and thus rescued me from falling to my death.

That’s the end of the anecdote as it is recalled by her. Recently, my aged father added that he was as scared as my mother at the time, for he was at the bottom of that garden also, only less quick to move. While my mother ran to grab me, he positioned himself at the base of our house, looking to gauge the trajectory of my imminent fall and hoping to catch me. My mother disputes this piece, claiming with a hint of bitterness that my father wasn’t even there—like he often wasn’t there, she seems to imply. To be fair, I haven’t done or thought much in the intervening near-fifty years to add anything to this memory. But recently it’s been coming back, this memory, though not quite in a haunting fashion; rather, again, as a fragment attached to the end of a thought-train, as if the image of myself upon a window ledge, looking out, has something to say to a thought unfinished. I have finished the anecdote recently for my mother’s benefit. Meaning, I have speculatively recounted the missing pieces, adding a script to the thirty second yarn as it has previously existed. In this re-boot, I wail, just like I did to my Godmother once, when my mother pulls me away from the ledge. I conjure for her the moments of terror as she rushes into the house and dashes upstairs, wondering if she’ll get to me in time. Can you imagine? I also suppose the recalibration that occurred as she sat me down on her lap, upon a bed or some other piece of furniture, just feet away from that ledge. Her nerves will have been on overload but in decompression mode—her heart and head thumping with slowly ebbing alarm. She may have shut out my cries of protest, instead gripping me with longing, determined to not let me go as she rocked me in her arms, soothing herself more than she was me.

Modern psychology casts a skeptical eye upon such moments, thinking there is a sting in the tail of clinging motherhood, the context notwithstanding. I likely didn’t like it either at the time, I have supposed. Upon my re-enacting description, my mother confirmed that theory, quietly saying, “That’s right” with a stirred-up air about her, like she was reliving a hitherto censored moment through my imagination. I wanted to fly then, I think. I wanted to do things I wasn’t ready or meant to do, and I often stepped out of line, not thinking that others would pull me back to either compliance or safety, but I experienced that good luck anyway, of course. I’ve done my own pulling back as an adult–to a fault, some would say. I should do this or go for that. Latter day conservatism has blocked me. Minor frustrations on paths of mooted improvements can feel like punishments for getting away from a more carefully prescribed course. More recently, it’s been, you should have done that years ago. You’re getting a late start now. That’s me thinking—thinking instead that I got a too-early start, followed by a gradual retreat from precipices, the good and the bad. Now they beckon again, the risks, the impending losses, the opportunities and the defeats. It’s a selective critique, however, one that picks and chooses still what seems like worthwhile play, adventures that fit me versus those that feel like gratuitous indulgence or danger. No, Joe. No Tesla for me, thank you very much.


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Riding the high that you are disgusted with

A monologue:

“So, did I tell you I had this higher power moment? No? Oh man, I gotta tell you this. So, I’ve been doin’ well, right—I’ve got something like ninety days since I’ve done anything like inner circle, or middle circle behavior. Then I get this thing I gotta do mid-week for my job. I’m going down to this storage place, got my documents in order, gotta secure some space for our lab. It’s a semi-regular part of my job, and I’ve been to this place before, and it’s a fairly easy errand to run, only I need to carry some equipment so I say to this intern in our office, ‘hey you—and I’m pointing to him like this—let’s go, I got a job for you. Anyway, we head down there, get inside this place which is in the middle of this industrial park where there’s hardly anyone around and…behind the counter there is this totally cute girl who walks up to the front desk and…I can just tell—I’m not tryin’ to be a dick—that something’s happening. I mean, she’s smilin’ and being totally helpful right from the get-go, and being talkative, which makes me feel talkative and I can feel right away a surge of confidence. So, we do some business. There are these forms to fill out for the securing of the space we need. Meanwhile, the intern’s just standing there, waiting to be told something but not saying anything. The conversation is totally between me and this girl, right! I can’t remember exactly what we’re talking about—I make some cute remarks about what it’s like to work in storage or something—I mean, whatever, I’m just being funny, or she’s responding like I’m funny, giggling and everything. But she’s not stupid. She’s being sweet and kinda’ funny herself and she’s lookin’ at me like she’s into me. She’s fixing me with these eyes that are just, like, shining into me. Plus, the order starts taking a long time, as in longer than it should do, and eventually one or two other people are coming into the office and she’s gotta attend to them, only when she does she gives me this disappointed look, saying she’ll be right back, like she wants me to stick around. She does this two or three times and I can tell it’s a way to stall, only at some point it becomes awkward because my goddamn intern is still standing around saying nothing and acting like a third wheel. So, eventually we’ve gotta leave because we’ve completed what we need to do and she’s saying things like, ‘well, there you are…’ with a trailing, unsure sound in her voice, like she’s waiting for me to do something to keep this thing going. Actually, one thing I did do while she was helping another customer was grab a business card that might have been hers and I wrote on the back of it my phone number while she was away, thinking I’d come upon some reason to give it to her, only no logical reasons emerged, so…Anyway, we leave the store with me feeling frustrated because that all felt good, ya’ know—I mean, it’s been I don’t know how long since I just let myself flirt like that with someone, and I didn’t wanna’ stop. At the same time I didn’t wanna’ continue this thing because I had this voice in my head which was saying, ‘you know this is only gonna’ end up in a bad place. Nothing good can come of this. I don’t wanna’ keep being that guy’. But minutes later I’m outside my car after we’ve dropped off some equipment and it’s time to go back to the office, and I have an idea. The intern had come in a second car and I tell him that there’s something I forgot but he doesn’t need to stick around so he can just go back without me. Then I can go back inside and say something similar, like, ‘hey, I just forgot this one thing, apologize for inconvenience’—except that was bullshit, of course—and we’d continue the conversation and…I don’t know…I just didn’t want that feeling to end, ya’ know? So, moments later I’m back in the store and feeling like the coast is clear because it’ll just be me and the girl. No one else around. And when I walk back in and she sees me she smiles and she laughs, like she knows what’s happening, only what she says is a joke about the forms being a pain in the ass or something. Then something weird happened. Actually, two weird things happened. First, while I’m filling out some other form that I totally don’t need but whatever, she starts talking about her life and telling me about her problems—something to do with her kid and her mom. That’s all she mentions, so I don’t know if she was married—she didn’t have a ring on. And it was strange, though it soon became this really cool and intimate conversation, even though it wasn’t as much fun as it was earlier. Also, the whole time we’re talking, I’m aware of the card that’s in my pocket that has my number on it and at any moment I could take it out and give it to her, because now she was trusting me with intimate details of her life. But I didn’t. Then this older woman comes in—another customer—who is also talkative, so the girl starts having to deal with her like she did the other previous customers, like she’d get rid of this lady soon enough so we could resume our thing. Only the woman won’t leave. This woman is way chatty and is a regular or something, and starts talking about something in her life that she thinks the girl is interested in or knows something about. And this goes on for like another ten minutes…so long that at some point I can’t keep up the pretense that there’s anything left for me to do. I mean, I’ve totally exhausted whatever pretext I could possibly come up with for sticking around. I know it, and the girl knows it too as she finally comes over, does this inspection-like thing with my form and says—again—‘yeah, so…looks good. So, you’re all set’ in this voice that’s trying not to sound disappointed but wishing she could tell this other lady to get lost. And I smile and shrug—something lame because I didn’t know what else to do. Anyway, I leave, right? And as I’m walking out, part of me is feeling like I did before—frustrated and everything, missing that good feeling and wanting it back—but another part of me is feeling this relief coming on, like this was all predestined, as if that old woman had been an angel that had been sent down to be this nuisance, but a nuisance that would rescue me from a bad decision, plus the feeling of a high that I’d later be disgusted with. It was like someone or thing was looking out for me”


Or her



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