I woke up this morning to gray skies, rain, a desk covered with Christmas cards still not answered, and a car that is having some problems. I was awakened by a nightmare in which repairs were being made inside my house — repairs which are necessary but not urgent, and which it would have been much better to leave for next week. My renter had told the repairman to go ahead, not realizing that the work would for several days cut off access to my bedroom and my study, so I would not be able to sleep at home or finish my syllabi until next week. I told the repairman to stop before this situation was created and he refused, saying either it would be done now or it would not be done until 300 other houses had been worked on.
This, however, is the day on which I take up my old life again, in which I lived well, put my work first, and did not wonder whether I had a right to these things. In Reeducation these things were avoidance tactics and coping strategies that helped one to evade one’s true feelings, or they were unearned privileges somehow. I remember saying, before taking Reeducation’s path, that it appeared it would be time consuming, draining and destructive and that I was not sure it would be a good choice since I had a career I really wanted to make and a life I wanted to live. I remember saying, after I began going down this path, that I was quite concerned about the effects it was already having on me. In Reeducation one lost human rights and was then released from camp but not from the diminished sense of identity with which one had been left.
I would even say Reeducation was about evading one’s actual life and finding non useful strategies for coping with having done this. Via Hattie, there is a long piece in the current New Yorker about Danish television and I would love to catch up on the shows. Part of the reason I have so little recreation time, or other time for that matter is the inordinate amount of time I have poured into understanding Reeducation over the past twenty years: first understanding its precepts and learning to apply them, then suffering under their yoke, and finally trying to dismantle the chains.
It is very important to continue to visualize myself as the person I was, to do this constantly, and to act as this person would have, to treat myself as this person would have. This is easy to do in atmospheres and cultures that support it but much less so here in Maringouin. Elsewhere I just find myself doing it but here I must be reminded, must recommit every day or several times a day.
Some notes for my novel today are about how the characters look backward. I also look backward but it is not the same: these characters appear to have lost a world both infinitely precious and infinitely painful, that is where their identity lies but that they cannot describe. They grasp for shards of it.
This is something older people do, I know, as the world becomes less and less familiar to them; it is also something women do, referring to the interesting lives they lost when they had children and the even fuller, more promising lives they had before marriage. There was a magical window, their early adult life and their courtship, and it is this they mourn.
I also know someone who most obsessively mourns a magical world of childhood and early 20th century children’s culture, and it does sound like a rich and miraculous thing. One of my friends’ parents were survivors of actual camps, where they had lost their first families; their effort was not to brood on it, not to pass on the horror. Ironically it was precisely this strategy which instilled in their new children the feeling of a memory gap, an undefinable loss.
My characters are different. They are not looking back to something that haunts them but that they think it best not to speak of. They are not attempting to resurrect from the past an attitude they wish to use now, as I am. It might simply be an attempt to commune in the present by holding onto a common past but in my novel it is not this simple.
They were raised by people who had suffered a great loss and these people had, in their turn, been raised by people who had suffered a great loss. Shards and fragments of tales are grasped at and layers upon layers of dead seek their origin, that drop of rain, that green pool on whose banks they first felt the sun.