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read part one here
The Rabbit Hole
by Karina Wolf
I have a hangover for four days.
The following afternoon, I meet another friend-from-abroad and we walk down past Battery Park to the piers. Spalding Gray departed on his final ferry ride here and this is the site of the catalytic events of Desperately Seeking Susan, when Rosanna Arquette loses her memory. It is pissing rain but my friend has never seen the Statue of Liberty and we decide to take the trip anyway. Why not? A chance to rewrite history. The last time I was in Staten Island, I had gotten trapped at a party in New Dorp and a 50 year old roadie was trying to read my palm (I was 17).
On the way over, it is grey and foggy and the windows are so steamed up it is impossible to see anything. We get out of the station, head for a bar and decide to exchange music. I’m violating the word-rules again but I reason that this is more of a melodic dialogue—my friend wants to play something new he’s written.
A big, balding, grey-complected guy is writing out bills at the bar. Hey, he yells. Take the earphones out and talk to each other. He keeps harassing until we turn off the iPods and chat to him. Not talking is gonna break you guys up. I’m assuming you’re a couple. We were, says my friend. We broke up an hour ago but we’re thinking of getting back together.
Sometimes people break up in order to make up. It’s the making up, if you know what I mean. Harold—or Harry, or Hal—starts singing Al Green songs. He’s a widower (last May) but feels that he’s ready to move on. He also tells us that he lived in Bournemouth for 6 months, and the highlight of that time was his participation in Grab a Granny parties, the very Brit-perv tradition of going off for a night with an elderly woman. Hal went home with a 70 year old when he was 35, he tells us, and it was the best sex of his life. We cover our ears.
We return in heavy rain to line up for the departing boat. There is a giant aquarium in the waiting area. We look at the fishes. One of them looks like a parrot (it has blue, beaky lips), one is a stick of chewing gum, the silver ones resemble Lamborghinis, one strangely shaped guy with bulging eyes is kind of “slow.” On the return, the ferry passes the Statue of Liberty, and we imagine having the lone night watchman job.
We had a week-long fling a while ago, me and this friend; we always have a good time but I’m suddenly certain that Julia would say the right thing is always to keep moving forward.
The next day, my father, Dr. W, stops by after the panel on erotic transference. He’s glowing. He liked all the speakers, he tells me, even the elderly Jungian, who was happily married and only realized her feelings of eros toward a patient after having a dream in which a Bengal tiger was riding shotgun in her car. I think you would have found it enormously helpful, my father tells me. Sometimes he forgets that I’m not a work colleague. Or maybe it’s wishful thinking. He has brought mail, including books I had ordered from Amazon. I’m not tempted, even though I had so much coffee at lunch that I lie in bed all night, thinking. Barry has started to snore. I wonder if he has a deviated septum, sleep apnea, food allergies.
On Sunday, I am forced to read. In these cases, Julia advises, we should keep a media log. I head up to my teaching job, spend the morning with the Koreans and write down: 7 vocabulary questions, one dual passage on Gone with the Wind and Sherlock Holmes, one long passage on wolf behavior, one New Yorker article on Michelle Obama.
“MIA” – Emmy the Great (mp3)
“While You Wait for the Others” – Grizzly Bear (mp3)
I’m stoic on the return subway. I can’t listen to any more ambient music. I will just look at people, the way Maira Kalman does. I get home, can’t sleep, eat quantities of sugar, tear open the box from Amazon and sink into 90 pages of Susan Shapiro’s addiction memoir, in which she chronicles giving up smoking, toking, drinking, eating bread and chewing gum. I don’t even feel guilty, I’m enjoying it so much. I force myself to stop and do my own writing. I stop my own writing and finish the entire book.
Julia would call this a binge. Shapiro would say I’m “self-soothing” by practicing my word habit. Learn to get comfortable with suffering, her shrink Dr. Winters asserts.
I’ve been trying all week to think up things to tell George, my new therapist, and have been keeping a list of dreams. Luckily, the caffeine intake has produced some restless nights. I am able to recall that the character from V for Vendetta pursued me in the most recent one. George hasn’t seen Vendetta so he asks me to free-associate on the Hugo Weaving character. He’s wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, I muse. When I say that I associate Guy Fawkes with resistance instead of rebellion, George finds it very interesting.
He’s also skeptical about the word assignment. I consider aloud whether conversation and alcohol are in violation of the no-media rule. “Words are supposedly allowing me to avoid feeling and now maybe I’m substituting conversation for feeling.” George thinks I think too much, and reminds me that it is healing to interact with other human beings. “I think it’s okay if you skip the logos fast,” he advises. In celebration, I go home and listen to podcasts with the Coen brothers and the screenwriter Ronald Harwood. Harwood is out of this world.
Then I receive an alarming email from my sister-in-law. I can’t help but read it.
I can’t believe you are taking an actual class with the woman who wrote the Artist’s Way! I can’t believe it! I can almost remember her name, is it Julia Cameron? I didn’t realize she had been married to Martin Scorsese. How many times has he been married, anyway? I know about 20 years ago he was married to a woman who had his baby at like age 55, but since it wasn’t all over the news, I am guessing she used someone else’s eggs and they hush hushed it. I remember thinking that was very intriguing at the time, and wondering why I couldn’t read all about it in People Magazine. Was that the same woman?
I faithfully followed her book during a period when I was feeling incredibly uncreative, and I really adhered to the whole protocol down to the last detail. I certainly DO remember how tough it was not to read anything for that time, I remember forcing myself not to cheat and read the cereal box at breakfast.
Busted. My sister-in-law goes on to tell me that she was able to earn a living entirely from her own artwork after following the protocol in this book. I have to reconsider George’s words.
Elizabeth Hardwick’s book Seduction and Betrayal lies abandoned by the nightstand. In it, she writes about my favorite novel, Wuthering Heights. WH is not a deconstruction of social constructs like Charlotte’s Jane Eyre. (Was it Charlotte who wrote Jane Eyre? Without the internet, I’m creating an entire literary history, like that woman who wrote a world history entirely from her own spotty memory; or Maira Kalman’s mother, who drew a subjective map of the United States when compromised by dementia). The novel’s interest is in following a perpetuating psychic trap. And by this point, I know: I am caught in my own psychic trap.
I survive until Wednesday. Before class, I run down and take a picture of the billboard I keep thinking about whenever I walk by the river. Albee is always trenchant:
“First Fantasy” – Citay (mp3)
The best part of Wednesday night is when Julia reads out our cards about how we’ve completed the weekly assignments. We get to hear what each person has done for his artist date (an activity, carried out alone, that’s fun or stimulating artistically). Someone went to see Richard Diebenkorn; someone saw Dianne Wiest in The Cherry Orchard; someone had a threesome. “I know it involves two other people, but my artist self was very happy.” Another student: “I wrote a love letter to a woman whom I’ve recently fallen in love with. I’m a woman with a boyfriend. It’s your fault, Cameron.” Guffaws and clapping.
Then we talk about how people experienced the reading ban. Some people found that words were a barrier between themselves and their own perceptions. Some discovered that no media meant they stopped living vicariously. Some people drew better boundaries. One student asks Julia how often she uses these kinds of strategies in her own life. “As needed,” Julia says. “I do it when the class does it. And then sometimes spontaneously. Probably a lot of you know that I had a nervous breakdown last year.”
Clearly, not everyone knows she had a nervous breakdown last year.
A guy, who has told me he’s depressed, raises his hand and asks, “So what were the causes of your breakdown? Were they mostly external things?” I know that he’s asking because of his own difficulties, but it feels like an invasive question in front of a huge group.
Julia answers pretty honestly. A combination of external things, the wrong meds, a family history of depression—this hasn’t been the first time. She is so gracious and poised. Everyone is quiet. “I was fine on Tuesday—I was teaching this class—then all of a sudden, I couldn’t form sentences. My mind was fragmented. And it was interesting, because a lot of the recuperative therapy involved exercises like the ones in creativity class.” Suddenly, everyone laughs and any resistance evaporates.
Karina Wolf is the senior contributor to This Recording. You can find part one of The Rabbit Hole here.
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