6/21/11: Anhedonia, a novel

                           Anhedonia, a Novel


The Definition

From Wikipedia: Anhedonia (from the Greek αν- an- [without] + ηδονή, hēdonē, [pleasure]) is an inability to experience pleasure from normally pleasurable life events such as eating, exercise, social interaction or sexual activities.

 The Setting

I ask myself: Am I the same woman who slept uncovered on the beach at Eleuthera, her green body available to men and mosquitoes? Who bore prescient dreams in which the man, soon to become her child’s father, was screwing the woman she secretly longed to forge into?

The Argument

Goddamn it, I’ve written so many words, so many words over so many years. Why shouldn’t I put them together and call it a novel?


The Question

Once I ask the question, the cat is out of the carrier. It’s one of those questions some would scoff at—perhaps you will put this down after it’s out there and I’ll have lost you as a reader. But no matter. I will forge ahead with it.  To me it’s an existential question that, by its nature, there is no answer for, or perhaps, different answers depending on personal subjective reality. I realize I just said subjective reality, so that may be a clue that this question will either seem insipid or profound to you. You do get to decide. Choose carefully what you read.

Let’s put the question aside for a moment. To begin with, I’m thinking I’m getting too old to write a novel. Of course I have the requisite 1.5 novels already written and unsold that you will never read (not to mention the self-help manual—Recipes for a Nervous Breakdown) (and certainly let’s not mention poetry). I’ve spent too many years working as a nurse, too little time getting to the juicy creative work, and now I’m tired. Afraid that I won’t remember details well enough to sustain a narrative. I heard or read somewhere recently (sorry, can’t remember where) that a writer, upon re-reading a freshly completed manuscript of his (her?) novel, discovered that the name of one particular character had changed more than a dozen times throughout the book. That’s what I’m talking about. I suppose if a writer re-reads the work every day before moving on with it—for the purpose of keeping up with it, that is—it simply would never get done. But could you stand to read a novel written by an aging, forgetful author that begins anew with each day’s writing? Please say yes. But don’t lie.

Job Loss

I find time to write these days because I recently lost yet another job. So perhaps that tells you something. Something about me, something about my mood. Which is a bit depressed, I don’t mind admitting. Overall, this is a throbbing lumbago of a life. A life in which I seek solitude but am viewed as choosing isolation. It’s just that I don’t want to talk anymore. Even more, I want to throw away the pills. I want to lead a melancholy life without guilt. Actually, I’ve been thinking a good bit about suicide, for what that’s worth.

From my journal 12/20/09: Washing dishes this morning, I admit to myself (quietly, inwardly, resignedly) that I am thinking about suicide. I’d rather not admit it to myself, because it calls for a response, although I don’t know what response would be helpful. Other than this.

I think the reasonable. I should see a therapist, talk about it, work on it, process it, whatever that might do to get me on another thought-track. But when I think about seeing a therapist, I imagine this perfectly reasonable but totally worthless response: worry, liability. There is the thought of seeking a spiritual healer as well, but an out-of-sorts response within me to that as well. Of course (of course, right?) I won’t commit this cruel act, before my mother died I held in rigid theory that I would never do that to her, afterword came some sense of relief that I was free to die now, and then my son stepped into that frame where I glanced periodically, predictably, to ward off acting on the thought. Ideation, it’s called. Having the idea floating about in consciousness. Reading David Foster Wallace this week doesn’t exactly help. But neither did reading Home by Marilynne Robinson, in which Jack—with whom I identify so strongly it brings fresh tears to my eyes simply to write these words—almost commits the act within sight of his loving siblings (not saccharin, real love) and his dying father, who would forgive him, but knows not what to forgive. And perhaps really can’t forgive spending a life worrying, praying, hoping for a full conversion from the person Jack was into someone that Jack simply was not.

Perhaps the most useful response from me would be to say that someone (me) so obsessed with death should not be working with the dying. Ah, that is truly a conundrum. I can do it, so I do. I have no boundaries about this work and identify, as best I can, with those who are a bit closer to the moment. I don’t really know why others do this work, perhaps in secret hearts we all feel this same seduction, but to admit it is clearly very poor etiquette. More likely, most others working in the field do not feel death’s pull the way I do, do the work for some other reason I am unable to fathom.

Dying itself is burdensome, a lot of work. As a witness to death, I have experienced how separate we are from one another, death does a good job of clearing the eyes of a false sense of connection. For some, of course there is another way to look at this. A way in which death is not a separation at all, merely a thinning of the atmosphere in which connection is palpable.

Do I cheat, reader, to lift from my journal? Cheat in either sense, that it is predigested, adds to the word count without really meaning to propel the story forward; or cheating because it’s not really fiction and I’m calling this effort here a novel? Again, you get to decide. At least I’m old enough now to know that I can use myself as the material for a novel without much risk of claiming sufficient memory to call this a memoir. It’s not a memoir, let’s be clear about that. The genre matters with this last hope for publishing something. Before posthumously, that is.

I have this impossible idea that everything counts and is measured, a measured thing, tangible, intangible, something with heft, something that can break or be broken. Something. Someone. The realness of it. The limits. The weight. The tangential-ness. The simple knowledge that we are each alone. We are either seen or not seen and we don’t get to know which. Memory and the imprint of memory. The way the past is the present and never dies, won’t let us die, won’t leave us alone, not for an instant. The odd things that come up out of my own bowl of memory, at odd moments. A woman, a child, a phrase, a look. Shame, the causes of shame, the results of shame. I have been poor, I have been violated, I can try to listen, to witness. Much is lost when we don’t know where the resources are kept or how. How to. I didn’t know.

Let’s mull on this question: Is it better to disagree with what is uncomfortable than to reach across that abyss? I have found that most people hold by the principle that it is better to disagree. The morbidly outreaching hand will most certainly pull you down with it. So we’re not really allowed to say what we think, and never get to know if in the private hearts of others, we are the same. This does not lead me to feel very connected, that’s certain.

I am trying to get across not so much a story as a parable (or is it an allegory?) about how actually alone and unconnected we are. You surely don’t want to hear this. I’m sure you don’t want to hear the question either. (That will come later, I think, when you least expect it perhaps.) But that’s so arrogant of me, isn’t it? To presume that your dark heart is a lighter shade of dark than my dark heart. Actually, what I presume is one of two things, which I’m trying to unknot here before I die. One: that you do feel connected within your life to others, yes, some moments of being alone, but not the full-blown storm of isolation that I feel. Or, two: that like me, you feel quite alone, but unwilling to admit it. So which is it?

This entry was posted in An Accumulation of Losses, Fables and Fairytales. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to 6/21/11: Anhedonia, a novel

  1. Reaching across the abyss to you to say a few things:

    1. It’s OK with me that you are thinking about suicide, but I hope you don’t do it. Write that novel instead, please. Yes, of course I want to read it.

    2. I just watched a filmed play version of Blythe Danner and Frank Langella in The Eccentricities of a Nightingale, by Tennessee Williams, I think sort of an early version of Summer and Smoke. (Maybe Summer and Smoke is the film version.) Anyway, it also addresses the risks and rareness of reaching out to one another, but oh, my, the language about that and the human awe at someone who can and does is amazing in that play and might hit home with you right now.

    3. Re: Home. I needed a spoiler warning!

    4. I like your thoughts on using yourself, your journal, your imagination and whatever it takes to do this as a novel. Not a memoir, since, as you say, memory & detail might be so compromised that the supposed autobiography would be exposed as fiction, so you might as well free yourself completely and make it fiction. Does that sound right to you? I ponder this with you in light of recent publishing controversies about just this kind of thing.

    • thanks for reading, suicide is unlikely, sorry about the spoiler, thanks for suggestions (all of which go on my reading/to-see/to-listen-to list), and most of all, appreciate the encouragement

  2. Dave Bonta says:

    Write it. I’m sure I don’t feel as isolated as you do, but for that very reason, the projected novel sounds like something I would like to read.

  3. Dale Favier says:

    I’d say write it, at least start it, for all kinds of reasons. I’m new here (by way of Dave’s link) so I can’t honestly say if I’d read it. I’d certainly start. (Who cares if a character’s name changes? Someone can edit for consistency later, if it matters.)

    As for alone, connected: for me they’re totalizing, mutually exclusive visions. When I feel myself to be radically alone, I can know, intellectually, that I’ve felt connected, but I have no access to memories of it. For all practical purposes, I’ve been radically alone all my life.

    And likewise when I’m connected, I feel connected to everybody and everything, and the fact that I have felt radically alone is something I know with the topmost, superficial layer of my mind. I can say the words, but I can’t feel them. I can’t unearth the memories of being alone. In that state, I’ve been fundamentally connected all my life.

    Maybe one of the two is a delusory state, but I don’t think that’s necessarily so. Nor am I sure that one of them is the “real” me. When I was a teenager, and up through my early twenties, I spent most of my time alone. The proportion of time I spend connected has steadily increased. Now, in my fifties, I spend most of my time connected. If the proportions were reversed, I certainly would find suicide very attractive, as I did when I was young. And if I never felt connected at all — well, I don’t think I’d be here writing a comment.

    Maybe I’m trying to have it both ways here? I’m trying to be as honest as I can. I don’t think my dark heart is a lighter shade of yours, when it’s dark. It’s just not dark very often. The light comes flooding in and everything changes — now just now, but also retroactively: my past is no longer dark either. But I’m not in control of it, and I can’t predict it.

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