The inner turmoil provoked by my pressing need to get my work moving, to resolve the issues surrounding the diversion of my attention to pressing personal circumstances, and to find some degree of balance and harmony within me, is evident as I gaze around my workspace and see literally dozens of loose ends, trails of reading materials, writing, articles and books, reference materials and correspondence, and emails and ideas are all over the place.
On top of the pile is a book by Stephen Greenblatt, called “Will in the World: How Shakespeare became Shakespeare,” which I am reading in preparation for attending a production of “Twelfth Night,” at the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre, one of the few more pleasant diversions on a long list of diversions. Will drew deeply on his “inner life,” according to Greenblatt, frequently writing with a “strong current of ironic laughter” at the thought of himself and his parents, “laying claim to a higher status,” than what might have reasonably been assigned to them in his lifetime. Comparing some of Shakespeare’s poetry to the ideas expressed in his romantic comedies, Greenblatt reiterates how both forms attend to the narratives they contain, which are “never explicit, but never completely out of view.” This could be an apt description of my own circumstance presently, as they resemble those of the great Elizabethan poet, who “can no longer understand how it will all work out.”
Below that are several issues of the Atlantic Monthly, and back issues of Scientific American, which I can never seem to keep up with, and which are frequently in just such an arrangement on my desk. Sometimes they get pretty ragged by the time I finish with them from carrying them everywhere I go. In the compartment stand on the left is a fascinating cornucopia of articles, reports, clippings from my recent reading, various other magazines which are on the secondary list, also back from several months, printouts from webpages I’ve visited and my “current” folder where I try to accumulate the bits and pieces from my current writing and research. It tends lately to be anything but “current.” I have considered changing the title of it to, “Last time I looked,” but the optimist in me resists the idea.
Slightly out of view in that section is another recent “bargain book,” called “Meditations,” by Marcus Aurelius, which I became interested in after seeing the film, “Gladiator,” starring Russell Crowe as the general turned slave turned gladiator Claudius Maximus. Richard Harris played the aging Marcus so well, that when I read the book now I can’t help but think of his portrayal of the character as the one I am reading about. Combined with all of these “known” items, or at least the more immediate of them, is a collection of mail, various publications and notebooks, all mostly just waiting for their turn in the maelstrom of chaos.
There is more clutter in my head lately than anything I have been able to construct or accumulate on my desk, but my desktop gives a fair indication of what’s going on in my head at the moment.
It becomes problematical when I try to distill some order from the chaos sometimes, but generally it is also illuminating in an important way when I contemplate the many facets of my intellectual and emotional chaos. In isolation, they don’t always have the same power as they do when they are a component of an avalanche. My empathetic nature has always been active in me, but I haven’t always been able to make good use of it. As a child, it led me to feel apart from others as no one seemed to know how to react to it, and they frequently reacted fearfully, not understanding this aspect of me. Clearly, I didn’t understand it either.
Adults would frequently comment on how pleasant a child I was; they saw me as kind and considerate of my peers, even at an early age, but no one seemed to recognize the cause–not even me. As I grew, my insecurity and the lack of an environment conducive to promoting this nature, I fear, stifled its development and led to a great deal of confusion on my part when it would surface abruptly. As the years passed, I was only able to make miniscule progress in understanding myself, often shining momentarily on a particular occasion, only to lose momentum just when I seemed to be enjoying some inadvertent advantage.
When I finally experienced the liberation of leaving home, no longer inhibited by the expectations of others, I had such a powerful opening into my inner world, that it nearly ruined me. It was like a bomb had gone off inside my whole life. Had it not been for my daily routines as a soldier in the military at the time, I might have been completely overwhelmed by it. It wasn’t until I arrived overseas in Germany that I finally had the opportunity to explore my empathetic nature at length, to understand it better, and to see how it was influencing my experience in the world. What I saw when I looked inside myself was like a train wreck, or a broken staircase in an abandoned house in the image above. It was very much like the image above. But before long, I began to glean some important insights into my circumstances and make deliberate use of them, showing me that I could benefit from opening to this nature within me.
It was like emerging from a long, dark hallway after the longest night of my life. I began to recognize how out of sync this nature seemed to place me relative to the rest of the world I knew, and to this day, even as I feel more synchronized with my inner nature than I ever have before, I still experience excruciating emotional pain when I am unable to connect with others who clearly have the same inclinations, but are struggling as I did to understand or to uncover their understanding as I did for so many years. Even as I gain in strength and understanding of my own nature, I often encounter such enormous resistance from others. It is rare to encounter anyone who seems to recognize the extraordinary quality of empathy without shrouding it in social pressures, or who isn’t afraid to embrace this aspect of our human nature without some mitigation of the sort that effectively disables it.
Empathy will be the subject I will be exploring in the weeks to come. The notion is central to my life right now, and I need to express my heart and soul more than ever. I hope my readers will bear with me while I do.