Jo Anna Wool

Hey John,

I've been thinking about your note for days now... and this morning I think I will actually have the time to respond, but even so I can't promise you much in the way of clarity. Many of the features of the internal landscape which you describe are quite familiar to me, but perhaps not so well-focused, if you know what I mean.

To explain, let me say I arrived "home" on Sunday night, as you know, from a two week vacation, which was nice in that we went to very nice places, and in that I had, for the first time in a while, the sort of vacation which did not involve a lot of running (or driving) around and which really succeeded in making me feel that I was gone, out of my real life, away, for a while. However, I did not succeed in accomplishing the mental task I had set out for myself for these two weeks.

This task was I suppose a variant of the usual mental task I set for myself while travelling, anywhere, even for a short distance or a short time: to look at my life from as much distance as I can, to get a sense of the shape of the forest, removed from the detail/muddle of tree after tree, and to see what, if anything, needs to be changed, and maybe even how to change it. For me, actually, there always seems to be something which needs to be changed. This time in my travels, the questions I was trying to resolve, the new perspective I was trying to arrive at--not, by a long shot, for the first time--had something to do with the quotation marks I've put around the word home.

To put it very simply, I don't feel at home here. I'd like to go home, but I'm not sure where that is. To make matters worse, I've been wondering about this for several years, like maybe fifteen or twenty years, trying one place after another. Nothing seems to fit.

The fact that I know that this is at least 50% an internal problem (i.e., at least as much a matter of where I am psychologically as physically) does not, alas, help me to answer the question. It's clear to me I've come to focus on the question of place (the central question here being, where would I like to live for the rest of my life? where could I see myself living?) in the way that some people focus on Who Is the Right Person? or When/How/Why Must I Grow Up? Not that I don't obsess over these little matters, too, just that they don't take the central place in my reflections, most of the time. For some reason the question of home is, for me, the stickiest wicket.

Perhaps the problem in all of these things is that we expect to experience them as revelations--ah, at last! I have found you! at last I have arrived! Endgames, in other words, happily ever afters. It seems to me that what we must want, in love, in our sense of ourselves as adults, and in our sense of belonging where we are, is to experience a sensation so powerful that it never wavers and can never be denied. Maybe (certainly, this is not a new idea) this is at least part of the motivation to write: we can end the stories where we want to end them, we can fix those fleeting moments of revelation forever, outside of time.

The distinction between art and life never having been all that clear to me, I don't enjoy discussions which pose one against the other (and if you add the word imitation to the mix, I get a headache instantly) but I would say it's probably our impulse to experience these overwhelming sensations (these glimpses of the forest, one could say) which makes us artists (temperamentally, at least, regardless of the volume or regularity of output).

The price of this impulse, of course, is to be rather clumsy and/or discontent in day to day life, as we've got to live it, tree after tree. I'd be a lot less confused in my own life at the moment, for example, I'd experience a lot less alientation and no doubt be a whole lot happier a lot more of the time, if I weren't always trying so hard to make sense of what I'm doing, to understand how this chapter fits into the picture of the whole of my life, and how my life fits into the general picture of human life as lived on earth at this and other points in time... but alas (or luckily, depending upon one's perspective), I can't stop myself from trying to understand these things.

I think that this is something that I expected to change as I grew up. It's possible even that I used to believe that once this changed, once I stopped being so questioning and critical, once I stopped being unable to accept any explanation (other than scientific explanations) for what I perceived or experienced in the world, and most of all, once my drive to formulate such explanations and force them upon the world in the form of stories, essays, emails and other forms of babbling had abated I would be, by definition, grown up. But I guess I must have abandoned that notion somewhere along the line.

These days I think I'm grown up. I think I must be: I'm as tall as I'll ever get, I know how to make money, everybody's getting older and I don't like it much, one acquires and sometimes loses some combination of spouse, house, divorce, car, kids. That's all that growing up amounts to for me. (And frankly I'm not sure that it amounts to a whole lot more than that for most other people.) As for the rest--ie., my problematic world view and strivings toward the bigger picture--for better or for worse, I don't suppose any longer that it will change. As the scorpion said, it's my nature.



Back to Cartania