I spent Saturday afternoon and evening with high school buddies from the 1960s. Even though most of us were pretty smart or athletic or both in high school, our common interest was in having large parties and drinking beer together. And so that party continued on Saturday as if it had never discontinued, even though many of us are now grandparents and retirees. Some have moved very far away, some never far at all. One who had flown in from Colorado to California for the event brought a scrapbook of old photos, a year book or two, and some other high school memorabilia. What fun looking through these images from the past, as though the images were looking forward in time toward us. We were busy thinking about what our lives were going to become, and now we can look back on that era of the unknown and the apprehension about our futures.
About five of us had been involved in a petty crime, mooning, when we were about sixteen. In our foolish and light-hearted youth we had not considered our behavior a crime. It was interesting to hear each of us, after forty-five years, tell our different versions of the story. We all had different ideas on the details of the events of that day. None of us could come to any agreement on whose version was most accurate, even though we all easily recalled the larger story. The conversation, as it swirled between us, just showed me how skewed our powers of observation and memory can be.
Even as I write something down within moments after observation, my subjective impressions may be quite a bit different than what had just happened. Perhaps my whole life and the way I see myself is considerably different through the eyes of others than the way I understand myself to be. Of course, inside in the world of my soul, which I perceive to be immense and quite nebulous, I am the only one to be able to perceive and make observation, as is true for all. What I pull out of that area of soul and try to add to my sense of coherency and explanation for what dwells therein, by means of journaling, may perhaps be just as badly distorted as the story that me and my four friends tried to jointly reconstruct from our shared past.
My mind seems to want to understand things perfectly clear, just as they are, and yet I sense this huge disconnect between what is my perception and what is the true nature of the soul. All of us are a slightly bundled ball of confusion when it comes to getting the right understanding of who we are in our entirety, of what is our true identity. Maybe my soul is much like quantum physics, in that by its inherent nature it is not supposed to be easily determined or defined. If I could identify the parameters of my soul and write a detailed description of how much psychic space it occupies, I think I would have destroyed the life of it. Even trying to describe a little of what goes on inside of me is nearly impossible and often makes little or no sense to anyone else either. At any rate, me and my friends at the reunion were all puzzled by the fact that our accounts of the event were so far apart.
I picked up a copy of Sylvia Plath’s unabridged journal the other day, or rather I 3G wirelessly downloaded a copy of it to my Kindle. (Funny that you pick up a paper book, but download an ebook.) That lady could write. The first few entries I’ve gone through deal a lot with her late-teens angst about the world, the same angst that me and my beer-drinking high school buddies experienced in the 1960s. Plath’s angst sprung from the early 1950s, and I’m sure those children of the other decades had their psychological traumatizing as well. Perhaps this has been the experience of teenagers since the advent of human consciousness? No longer children, but not quite adults, stuck in an uncomfortable in-between place that has the capability of warping them for life.
I know some of Plath’s biography, so know that where she is headed with her wonderful powers of expression is a suicide at the age of thirty. I wonder if she had perhaps a more religious or spiritual understanding of man’s position in the universe, and less of the deterministic, materialist, scientific view of the nature of man, that she might have been able to overcome her depressive disorder, and move forward with greater art to share with the world? Perhaps not. Often, like with the production of oyster pearls, the irritation of life is the driving force behind the art. Not all, but so many great writers in the history of western literature seem to have deep, dark, disturbing problems that drive them to express themselves and at the same time cause them much misery.
I have tried to avoid reading those sorts of writers just because I do not want to get pulled into the same sort of death trap as them. Life is already too short and too difficult to want to go purposefully follow and introduce somebody else’s difficulty into my own psyche. I have made an exception here with Plath because her writing is so powerfully expressive that it has influenced many to want to emulate her style and approach.