Tuesday, 31 March 2009

The past is another country....

....and one a lot of people choose to avoid, it seems. I've lost count recently of the number of times people say something like, "Oh that's all in the past. I don't need to dwell on that. Better to forget about it and move on." Sometimes they're referring to something personal, sometimes it's something general, even quite trivial. My partner will repeat it like a mantra, as if every day he can wake up like an amnesiac, blithely unaware of anything that has passed before. Tabula rasa, off we go!

Should we just forgive and forget, Dr Joshua Coleman asks in his excellent book, When Parents Hurt? Sure, if we can. "But there is so much pressure in our culture to 'get over it' and 'move on' and 'grow up' that many people aren't allowed to look back long enough to grieve what they didn't get from their parents without someone calling them immature. They end up blaming themselves for their inadequacies and conflicts without understanding how these problems came to be."

While I would never advocate that people live in the past, dwelling on misfortune, injustice or whatever, I find myself getting increasingly exasperated with the mentality that you can just march ever onwards without trying to look back 'to know what prints I leave', as Larkin wrote.

In my experience, those people who behave the worst in the present are often those who refuse to acknowledge the impact of their past. And the past can exert its influence in unforeseen ways. I know one woman, who cheerfully admits her childhood was appalling, but claims she has simply risen above it. Yet she showers her children with so many material things that they are positively drowning in stuff - in toys, games, money, food, praise, endless tokens of 'love'. And it's clearly not doing them a lot of good.

If you've not taken account of your loveless childhood, and truly come to terms with it, then you're in grave danger of either re-enacting it or, as in this mother's case, blindly over-compensating for it. Either way, you're still in thrall to your past - you just don't know it. As Hollis puts it in Finding Meaning: "Seldom are we wholly present to this moment, this ever-new reality, without the interference of the past. Whoever denies this invasive power of history is living unconsciously..."

Or, to repeat the wonderful Bergen Evans quote that underscores the film Magnolia, itself a magnificent, epic meditation on how our personal histories converge in the present: "'We may be through with the past, but the past ain't through with us."

Friday, 13 March 2009

My Evil Twins

I've been reading James Hollis' Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life. He can be a bit wordy at times, but then he's a Jungian depth psychologist and that seems to always to involve a rather discursive, somewhat poetical method of expression. But god, the wisdom there. This book is packed with insights, the kind that make you go, 'ahhh.... I've often wondered about that, and this finally explains it'. Those lovely eureka moments.

There are many ideas in Finding Meaning that I intend to digest over time, but I particularly like this line:

"Each morning the twin gremlins of fear and lethargy sit at the end of our bed and smirk."

I think any one of us that doesn't have a standard nine-to-five job must be able to relate to what Hollis is saying here. Or am I the only one who wakes up in the morning with the best of intentions, only to watch them wither away as apprehension, laziness and sheer lack of energy take their toll?

Nowhere do these two gremlins have more impact than in our creative lives. I so often don't really want to do what I really want to do. I want to write fiction. But most of the time it is the very, very last thing I feel like doing. Honestly, I've found myself actually willing to fill in my tax return or clean out the oven rather than sit down and face the blank screen. Why, why, why, I ask myself? Fear and lethargy, fear and lethargy is the best response I've had yet.

Trouble is, it's one thing to diagnose the problem, quite another to cure it. I'm still searching for an antidote. I've read a number of books about overcoming your creative blocks. However, reading about overcoming your creative blocks is a lot easier than actually overcoming them. The best of the bunch, however, has to be The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, a kind of boot camp for those whose inner gremlins definitely have the upper hand.

I definitely must re-read it.