Thursday, January 8, 2009

Art & the Unconscious

Unconscious, "that part of the mind that is inaccessible to the conscious mind but that affects behavior, emotions, etc." We know about it, but can we ever know it, really? Many thinkers say that we cannot know it directly, only by oblique routes--therapy, dreams, and I would add, art. I heard myself say just that in conversation with a friend recently, and the statement keeps echoing in my head. This theory, that art is the revelation of the unconscious, would explain why I cannot stop making poems or stories. If I write enough of them, and as Allen Ginsberg would have it, "notice what I notice," I might see into that dark room in the cellar. An interesting thought.

Working for a time with my friend Jan, reading each other's fiction, I realized that I had lots of stories about alienated children. Well, that was a lightbulb moment. My family was fractured in all sorts of ways, and while I was never abused or neglected, I was shuffled around to live with various relatives as a way of managing my mother's need to work and her rather unorthodox way of job jumping. Often she planned to come see me or retrieve me from my temporary housing, but things often got in the way--no gas for the car, the car broken, another illness. And there I was, waiting for something to happen. I still find myself waiting for things to happen, until I remember that I can take an initiative as an adult. I don't have to wait for things/people to come to me. This waiting sensation and a tendency to let my characters disappear or run away surely come from that childhood vault of feelings that I have recognized only by seeing what comes out in the writing. Someone help me here, who said, "How do I know what I think till I see what I write?" How do I know what I feel, and what I fear, till I see what's on the page?

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