Going deep

1 July 2014

It’s curious to note the changing tides of memories alternately recalled and left dormant.

For some years, I thought often of the times when newly acquainted strangers would tell me I was “too intense” or “too deep,” or some such thing. This happened repeatedly throughout my adolescence. It always felt unfair, and somehow dishonest.

Nowadays I rarely hear such things, and it’s been some years since I’ve thought about it for more than a passing moment. But in the past, even after it had been a while since anyone had said such a thing directly, still I would think of it, and its memory would inform my daily practice. What is this tide of memories ebbing and flowing throughout life? I feel I’m only now becoming acquainted with these ebbs and flows…

By the time I was eight or nine I had already come to feel, and be, deeply isolated. Sometimes when my friends recall that time, their stories feel like fiercely first-person accounts in a way I find beautiful and unfamiliar. To me, memories of that time are like illuminated narratives, stories with accompanying pictures. What does it mean that I “remember” the dis-ease I felt when a friend revealed he had a crush on a girl I liked too, but secretly? It feels like a re-reading of a nearly lost story. Later, when I was fifteen, I fell hard for a girl I, and all of my close friends, considered my first crush. What, then, of that almost forgotten experience of fright and confusion when Danny spoke dreamily of that other girl years before…?

Being called “too deep” felt at once like an attack on the safety of my isolation (come out here if you want to play) and a refusal to join me where it really counted, in the depths (I’ll stay up here where it’s safe, thank you). Safety was revealed as an illusion that could be shattered at any moment by a slightly different perspective. From here, my hiding place feels safe; from there it feels like a trap. “Too deep” meant I was on the right track – I was going deep – but it also meant I was lost, too deep to be found, to be felt, to be recovered. What I wanted was to reject both of these ideas: I’m just here, come join me.

Like many who have come before me, but with considerably less deftness and dexterity than some, I have attempted to turn this depth inside out. I have tried to find depth in surface, surface in depth. If I can collapse the two into each other, reading depth into things surface, and revealing the shallowness of the depths, perhaps I can free myself from this double burden of going too deep…

Alas, so far the attempts have all led to subtly dead ends. The new game is to maintain something of the hopefulness, the grandiosity, the ambition of such aims while abandoning the ideals of freedom or perfection or stability. Perhaps these ideals, while essential for the flourishing of human thought, are nevertheless constraints that must be recognized as such. They cannot be but ideals, as they would require a world unlike our own, and would mean a transformation of our species into something it is not and cannot be. (Then again, perhaps this is what they always meant by “too deep” – reaching for profundities but finding only vague hints. Speaking perhaps with passion but without precision or concreteness. “Too deep” qua superficial.)

There may be no real overcoming of them – that, too, is just another instantiation of the same flawed idealism – and recognizing them as what they are may not actually create any new kind of freedom. Why, then? Why not choose the ideal, even if it cuts against the realities of our experience, our biology, our narratives, our conflicts…? This is just the thing I mean: I’m impelled to choose otherwise by my history, my disposition, my relationships, my isolation.

My memories feel somewhat different these days than they did a few years ago. They feel distinct from my experience. They don’t feel dead, exactly, but nor do they feel vital. I take it that memories are malleable, and that the past(s) is (are) a story (stories) awaiting revision, but a few years ago that meant for me a habit of recalling, rethinking, reshaping. The past was the material from which I shaped dreams and songs and meditations. Conversations were part present relation, part historical revision. Now I feel a little less of that immediacy. Maybe the past is coming to be more presently present. I needn’t evoke it effortfully, it simply floods. Perhaps that’s why I also feel a little less of the present’s immediacy these days. Maybe it was easy to have a sense of the fierce immediacy of the present when the past could only be evoked with effort.

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