Sunday, November 27, 2011
In one’s strength
As Bryan has mentioned—see his comment below—this post and its predecessor may be so incoherent and lacking in worthwhile point as to cause nosebleed and/or blackouts in sensitive readers. But let it stand, as readers have taken the trouble to comment.
(Continued from previous post)
Extract from first day’s transcript, typed up 25th August 2005—a week after the session:
I will tell how I met Elaine.
That’s what I want to know.
Ah, right. In the year 2000 I did an expert course on creative thinking. Elaine taught part of the programme—in applied imagination, beelddenken, and there was one exercise in which she said, “OK, go back to the time when you were in your strength.” In your full strength?
And then I went back to the situation in ’86 when I was travelling through the United States with the Greyhound bus, and I was travelling, I think 10,000 miles in three weeks. And so there were times I didn’t know where I was coming from and didn’t know where I was going to. I was just travelling. And while I was travelling, drifting, I was in my strength. And the exercise she asked me to do brought me back to this feeling of just floating. And then I got very emotional about it, and I realised I hadn’t experienced this flow for many years.
Fourteen! (General laughter.)
To be exact.
Yes, for me it was a shift, you know, turning directions. It was like a decision was made: “Yes, I want to re-experience this flow”—which I am in now, five years later.
In his gratitude for being helped to “turn directions”, Bart had the idea of presenting Elaine with the gift of a specially-commissioned biography: hers, not his. And that’s how I got involved, as a newly-professional biographer—recently-published, at any rate.
We completed the fact-finding part in a series of recorded “trialogues” (Bart’s word). But it never went any further. I completed the transcripts, all except for the sections in Dutch, for which I needed Bart’s translatione At some stage, both he and Elaine changed their minds about completing the project. So it has been mothballed ever since. I’ve committed myself to lifetime confidentiality about the details of Elaine’s life and her identity. Had we continued with the project, I would have had to face an artistic dilemma: how to frame the story, what angle to write from. Our trialogues were not cross-examinations: they allowed her to speak freely, weave a tapestry of her own choosing. Bart & I from our different angles asked questions for clarity and understanding, that’s all. Elaine was a flouter of bourgeois conventions, but no ordinary bohemian. In a sense, that was the underlying theme. But I fought shy of producing (in effect) a ghosted autobiography. The problem is that a person still in the public eye, with clients and students, would probably want to present herself as an exemplar of all she stands for: highlighting discoveries, minimizing humiliating failures. As I write this I wonder if that’s true, so I check randomly among the transcripts (no.17 of 19), doing a word-search on ‘fail’. Hm, perhaps I was wrong in my judgement, I don’t know. But the imperfect English (not to mention the still-untranslated parts in Dutch) illustrates additional challenges for an author. Elaine speaks:
Then I decided, “no, I am alone and D is gone and I can reconciliate with what I had with him for having been 18, 19 years with him, and losing him.” It was “I think I have given everything I had, especially my love, and it is not good enough. Now I know absolutely nothing any more what to do, what to be with life.” So, when I reconciled, I said, “No, no, no, I reconcile with the whole of my life, even this twenty years!” It was a wonderful twenty years and some things went wrong. Now it’s over, so how to start again? He was there and we talked about it and I made a kind of—I changed my mind and I changed my mind as a loser or a somebody who had failed, but that feeling, I had that feeling very much. Now for sure, I know I have failed, at very different levels. And then I thought, “No, no, no, no, no. I will win more or I will choose for happiness, and I will do what is my bliss and I will do for me.”
I really had no idea how to execute the commission, for which I had already received air-fares and other expenses. What I could do, though, the only thing I really know how to do, was to focus on my own reactions. Accordingly, at the end of transcript no. 1 there’s a section titled “Vincent’s reflections”:
Bart is long-limbed, built on the Perpendicular style of architecture, like the Stadskerk Sint Cathrien in Eindhoven. [See top photo.] I imagine him descending from a Greyhound bus somewhere in America, on a late afternoon, with no possessions but a small backpack. Where are those limbs to take him? He is in his strength. A group exercise reminded him, awakened him, fourteen years later. The memory changed the direction of his life. And that is why we three are here, in this room, weaving a design of feelings and words to share with the whole world.
I walked this morning through Old Amersham, attracted by the flag of St George on the church tower. In that stroll, I too felt in my strength. The beauty of this chilly, sunny morning uplifted me. I was not possessed by the necessities of life, not driven by problems and desires. The present moment was sunlight kissing old stones, well-pruned trees in the churchyard hiding mysteries in their dark foliage. These were riches enough. I felt desire to capture the moment somehow, so I took some digital photos, but I knew they could not record my feeling.
“What is memory?” I wondered today, as I passed through the wrought iron gates inscribed “Garden of Remembrance”. We get more wisdom from the book of memory, I reflect, than from any printed book.
My short career as a biographer is over, I think. One has to stay within one’s strength.
Posted by Vincent at 11:36 am