Wednesday, January 18, 2012

On Remembrance - Part I

Salvador Dalì - The Persistence of Memory
There is something I need to confess: I have been indulging on whether to deal with this matter or just avoid it like the plague.
True, I wrote something about memory a few weeks ago, but it was a purely technical post, a rather impersonal one, which began with the lofty tones of a scientific dissertation and ended with questions that have now become, for me, an almost desperate plea to know and to understand. 
So, I had decided I would never publish anything else on the matter until at least one doubt could be sorted out.

Then I started reading Marcel Proust's Swann's Way, the first volume of his titanic work Remembrance of Things Past. I had waited thus far before devoting myself to it; I did not want to be simply stirred by curiosity, but I wanted the push to come from an inner need. This is how I usually approach any books.
From the very first page, I could see how daring Proust had been, laying himself before his memories, either the glorious or painful ones. Then, I shamefully realized that my decision of not writing about it or anyway sticking to an impersonal approach was not just dictated by my usual attempts at trying to come to an all-comprising and complete system, to then and only then write about it; my reluctance was rather dictated by pure and utter fear.

It is the fear of entering a realm - that of memory and the emotions that arise from it - where the lack of control once we step in is confirmed by the words of the greatest psychologists and psychiatrists that ever lived, not to mention my personal experience which, when all is said and done, counts a lot to me.

I thought about Strasberg's assumption that, as long as we work with memories older than seven years, there is nothing to worry about. Yet, I know by direct and indirect experience that older memories and long-gone events can affect us emotionally in just as uncontrolled a way as an event that happened the day before.
Moreover, the human soul is by its own nature inclined to find much deeper inspiration in pain rather than happiness.

Marilyn Monroe, beautifully portrayed by Michelle Williams in My Week with Marilyn, was a profoundly unhappy person; Stephen King witnessed the violent death of a friend at a very young age. Although he reportedly has no memory of the event, the most basic notions of psychology tell us that it is still there, repressed somewhere in his unconscious, gnarling and twisting. Jim Carrey suffered from scattered but intense bouts of depression. Vittorio Gassman spent his last years merged in a profound mal d'etre.
I cannot believe there is no relation between their state and their work as actors.

Acting, writing, painting, composing and playing music, are experiments of the soul. We must be open to inspiration, no matter where we get it from; but there's a degree of caution we should take as for how we get it. Psychoses and, in the best scenarios, neuroses, are there, constantly lurking to affect the methodless and those who are not in control.  

Can we be creative and be inspired without vowing ourselves to unhappiness, I wonder.



  1. Wow! Another thought-provoking post, Jay.
    Hmmm, I tend to find inspiration in beautiful things (such as nature, pets, happy memories). However, I've realized that a lot of my stories are inspired from unpleasant memories, experiences, sadness, even bad weather. I find them cathartic. I, too, wrote a similar post last March about the process of using negative experiences as inspiration. I love your sentence, "the human soul is by its own nature inclined to find much deeper inspiration in pain rather than in happiness." I concur 100%.
    So wonder no more, Jay. Yes, we can be creative no matter how high or how low our spirits are.
    Great post!

  2. Dear Claudia,
    I'm glad you found my post interesting. Part II will come next Wednesday and I'll go into something a bit more personal.
    I also find that my creativity springs up when I'm going through sad experiences and rough patches. I noticed that what I write or the way I act tends to be much more melodramatic during those moments. So, at least when I write, I try to edit the whole thing much later, after getting over the sad moment. In this way I can have something a bit more balanced.
    This is not what I did for this post though, which also arose from a sad period of my life and was published right after I wrote it.
    Thanks for giving me your take, Claudia.
    Do you think it is possible, instead, to have good pieces of creativity and inspiration and be happy at the same time?

  3. Well said. I can't tell you how much this post spoke to me; I had a very similar conversation the other night with my artist friend. It came at just the right time. Consider me speechless. (For now). Looking foward to Part II.

  4. Dear Brit,
    Part II will come Wednesday next week.
    It seems this kind of topics come up when we have a strong need for introspection.
    Looking forward to your next comment!

  5. Very interesting post Jay and well put. For me I know that creativity helps me through the rough times and with my writing I do my best work when it comes from a place of pain. Not sure why that is but its how I am.

    Looking forward to following you!


  6. Cathy,
    First and foremost, welcome to my blog.
    Creativity helps me a lot too during the rough times, and the rough times seem to help my creativity.
    I'll talk about this next Wednesday.
    Thanks for your comment, Cathy!

  7. I find my most "successful" stories (the ones strangers actually like! LOL!) are the ones where I draw from my deepest most profound emotional experiences. It's when I am totally removed that I struggle to inject any soul in my stories and they just read contrived and fall flat!

    I think seeking your inner writer/artist/creative soul gives one control over one's psychoses and neuroses and dark demons or at least gives them all an outlet to soar! Hopefully far away! Take care

  8. Old Kitty,
    I totally agree with you. Psychoses, neuroses, and demons remain until we find the right ways to vent them out. I believe art makes this possible when it is born out of a deeper inner search.
    Thanks for sharing your take, Old Kitty!

  9. Ah—I’ve always thought what a great winter project it would be to read all of Proust at one go!

    But as for inspiration needing to come from unhappiness—I wonder. I definitely fight that. I know that to write, and to be myself, I must be in a calm, safe place emotionally. Being an empath, it’s especially difficult to find that place; I’ve always taken on the feelings of others that have been stronger (and usually more negative) than my own. It’s been a revelation recently learning that I don’t have to do that. But how to keep that necessary distance is the question, and it seems part of the crux of performing as you've described it. As you say, being able to control the emotional flow; to express through the acting or the writing feelings which can’t be expressed or dealt with in real life. The Buddhists would say we should just be with them, and then let them go, not hold on. I like to think it’s a kind of alchemy, transforming negative emotions into something positive.

    And much belatedly, in response to your question about the author at the window, I’d like to offer the Billy Collins poem about the poets at their windows, if you don’t know it—

    1. Christie,
      Reading Proust is to me regeneration, solace, and regaining strength.
      I like your idea of an alchemy that turns negative emotions into something positive. I think finding the way to do so is the secret to dealing with them, and finally get over them.

      Thanks for the link to the poem. It couldn't be more appropriate and - you guessed right!!