Given that I was having a sleepless night I decided to read Elizabeth's Hardwick's thinly disguised novel by that same title. Sleepless Nights. But I must admit that reading it just made me more awake. I realize that I was filled with longing. It is a desire that it is hard to describe. As I said to Larry this morning, I want to fall in love with life again. Not that I've fallen out of it, but between the fact that our daughter's dog tried to eat my parrot, my daughter had a bike accident, she had a reading, my back hurts, Larry is at the skin doctor, hoping for a clean bill of health, I can't wash dishes, I'm feeling that all of this is just getting in the way of where it is I want to go.
And where is that? Do I need to make a mileage run to Paris or LA to calm my wandering soul? I think of the Elizabeth Bishop poem, "Questions of Travel." Do I need to go there to think of here? I heard a line from Faulkner last night on, of all places, Criminal Minds (they do good quotes) and it was something like how we don't have to surpass the past or the present. We have to surpass ourselves. We have to do better at every moment.
My therapist whom I'd been seeing on and off since 1980 died in July. It was a heart-wrenching grief that grabbed me. Who would always be at the other end of the phone call now? Who would explain to me what boredom really meant? Then I had a dream the other night. I dreamt that somehow I was at a party on Park Avenue and Jane was there. I was stunned and told her that I thought she'd died, but she told me she didn't; she'd recovered. "So why didn't you call me?" I asked her. "I was waiting for you to call me," she replied.
I went back to reading Hardwick. The following lines jumped out at me. "The beginning of June was hot. I took a journey and, of course, immediately, everything was new. When you travel your first discovery is that you do not exist." The phlox bloomed in its faded purples. On the hillside, phallic pines. foreigners under the arcades, in basket shops. A steamy haze blurred the lines of the hills. A dirty, exhausting sky. Already the summer seemed to be passing away. Soon the boats would be gathered in, ferried roped to the dock."
What does she mean? When you travel...you do not exist. I feel as if I exist so much more when I travel. As if I am perhaps alive for the first time. But I think that what she is saying is different. It think what she's saying is similar to what Camus meant when
he said when we travel, we are the most afraid because we no longer have all that baggage with us - our job, our social standing, the people who prop us up on a daily basis - indeed we no longer have the props, that make us who are.
I think Hardwick is saying that once we are out in the big world, all those things that we think make us who we are no longer exist and we just become one with the whole roiling mass of life. It can be terrifying. And exhilarating. Once Andre Malraux said words that the effect that it is not so astonishing that we have been thrown at random among the profusion of stars. It is astonishing that we have been able to fashion images of ourselves sufficient to deny our nothings.
It seems to me that that is what we do in our daily lives with our friends and our dogs and our phones and take-out food and lovers and jobs. We fashion images that enable us to deny our nothingness. And it is only in travel - and perhaps I might add in sleepless nights - that we can come to the realization that we do not exist. Not as these distinct entities we think that we are but rather as a particle, the petal of a flower, a drop of rain within the vastness and endless hours of it all.