Saturday, 8 August 2015

Rain all day, or 100% humidity against deep grey. I didn't venture out. Read Allen Shawn instead, Wish I Could Be There: notes from a phobic life. By evening and no clearing of the sky, what I've read has filtered in and opened up everything it found there. As JS Foer said, and Rimbaud did not need to: everything is illuminated.
It is therefore no mere figure of speech to say that what happens to us becomes a part of us. Just as our faces, our hands, our skins, our hearts, and our lungs reflect our habits, so do our brains. In other words, what we do, feel, and live through is what we become.
Wish I Could Be There is a paradigm of scrutiny. Here is Allen Shawn on the subject of his father's face:
as he drove through a deserted mountainous area or an expanse of empty land, as if the shadow of death were passing over him. The outer vacuum seemed to be seeping into his brain, as if he could not help internalizing the emptiness he saw outside the car window… There was almost no boundary between his sensitivity to the mystery of life and his phobic terror of it. (In Hebrew, incidentally, there is also no such differentiation; the same word is used to connote both 'awe' and 'fear'.
The phobia might be a metaphor, a story you tell yourself to mask the real story, an outlet, like dreams, where we can disguise our meaning as much as we need to.
We could almost say that our sense of 'security' and 'safety' represents a reprieve from uneasiness… when we are feeling safe, we are simply inured to the strangeness of life.
I have, I think (as we all like to think with recurrent dreams) the usual spread of phobias – snakes, jellyfish, the sight of tripe or suction pads on squid, water in various guises – but to read a book like this is to emerge more alert to the quality of your own experience, your various fears and trepidations raised like braille on the fabric of your day. Nothing is usual, after all.

The degree of my self-preoccupation is appalling, he writes, near the beginning of the book. That's OK, I want to say to him. Some of us enjoy that. I always used to have trouble with how to spell 'appalling'. I was too appalled to know. Too embarrassed (whose spelling I also had trouble with).
'Just remember', said one of Allen Shawn's teachers, 'your strengths are your weaknesses.'

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