Introspection

in·tro·spec·tion/ˌintrəˈspekSH(ə)n/noun

  1. the examination or observation of one’s own mental and emotional processes.”quiet introspection can be extremely valuable.” definition provided by Oxford Languages

I’ve never been a city person. It’s always been me against the noise, the frenzy, the mass of humanity crowded into too small a space. Cities are not good for introspection. They require doing, constant response, and outward focused attention.

There was a time I needed that, thrived on it, depended on it. It was also the life of someone who spent it in the arts. I grew up attending my aunt and uncle’s piano concerts, and those of their friends who were cellists and classical guitarists. I attended countless recitals by their students. I went to museums, art galleries, stage performances. I wanted it live and personal or it didn’t interest me.

As my friends and family developed into their personal arts, I attended their dance performances, concerts, art openings, poetry, book readings, and they attended mine. For the great part of our lives that was how we defined entertainment. It was also the way creatives supported and continue to support each other.

I still go to art openings, although in this time of Covid most of them are online. I still listen to new poems, new songs, new dialogues. But they’re all virtual now. It’s the new reality and I try and adapt the best I can, but I miss the mingling, the walking through the galleries with others, the long conversations over coffee in the bookstores. I miss all that.

But those who create don’t stop creating because the times change. If anything, my friends are working on some of the most compelling and fascinating things now. I’m seeing sides of them emerge I suspect not even they knew were there. Some of it is the introspection that comes from age, but I know a great deal of it grew from the months of quarantine. We’re only now starting to see how it manifests externally.

Kristina has motivated me to write more authentically, to put in those ideas I think are too far out there to be understood. Make them think, she always told me, make them think. She still says that, but the they are not the same they as now. Nor am I. I’m different. There are days I barely recognize myself. And yet I’m still there. I’m still me.

It’s the me who writes books on an island in a house that has more windows than walls. It’s the me who is surrounded by the natural world and with silence that is enhanced by the songs of birds and the wind through the trees. It’s the me who realized I needed this environment to write the books I wanted to write, not the books other people wanted me to write.

I moved to an island seven years ago because I reached the point in my life where I needed to go within in order to proceed forward on the path I needed to take. I wanted to stop the external noise that interrupted the places my mind wanted to go. I wanted to write something that wasn’t about politics but was still political. I wanted my words to have less objectivity and more subjectivity. I wanted to be the change I sought in the world.

I also moved here to achieve the blissful state of contentment I sought. Many people seek happiness, but I sought contentment because unlike happiness, it was stable, calming, a part of me that was not dependent on external realities.

But the most carefully crafted plans of bears and dreamers often take odd turns. As I sought the middle ground in myself I realized it was a place I never lived. I never even got close to it. During one of the last present time conversations I had with Kristina before her mind narrowed to a small period of time, she reminded me of all the things we’ve done together over the years, all the edge clinging, the chance taking, the risks we didn’t know were so risky then. You never did ordinary, not in your art, your words, or your lovers.

Kristina can no longer type, but she can still talk and use the speak to text on her phone. Her emails are just as long, if not so well punctuated. I woke this morning to this list of questions from her.

Do you see your high school self differently now? Have you been able to sort through the good memories and let the bad ones sink to the bottom? Do you see how once you love yourself it becomes easy to love others? Do you feel that in your heart? Do you feel differently now about your high school friends? Do you understand how a small piece of something can seed a larger whole?

At first I thought the tumor was allowing her to move beyond the limited memory that has condensed her life to the years between 1965 to 1975. But then I realized those were also the questions we asked ourselves then. We just never received a satisfying answer.

Kristina is still in her tumor defined world. The time frame of her memory hasn’t changed. She just sees it all differently now. And because I committed myself to going along to wherever her memory takes her, I’ve had to look at those years differently as well. I’m nowhere near done. There are days when I feel I’m just getting started.

After I finish this book, I have an art project that’s been festering. Actually, I have several. And more books. I have time and a whole library of research material not at my fingertips, but living inside them. I intend to spend at least the next year setting them free.

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” Anais Nin

My personal website

Kate Taylor’s Art and Books

Pandemic Fiction As Truth

"These were the testaments they left behind, the harvests from  the beauty and despair they drew from their depths. They gave the monsters and demons equal say, and the result of such courage was an overlying stark beauty of emotional honesty." 

WHEN THE LAST OCEAN DIES (coming in October)

I was almost finished with the final book in my series when the pandemic hit. In one of those strange twists, I was reading BIRDSONG, the novel by Sebastian Faulks, during editing breaks. I started out reading it as a novel about the first World War that focused on the psychological trauma of war. Fiction is much better at describing such trauma than the sterilized "professional" accounts. 

It was one in a long list of books I read as I tried to understand what happened to the mind when confronted with previously unimaginable horrors. IF THIS IS A MAN by Primo Levi set me on this path when I first read it several years ago. It gave me insight into a part of the human psyche that was indestructible. But I already knew such indestructibility came with a price. I saw first hand how human beings far too often chewed off one or more of their limbs to survive. I wanted more.

And I got more when the times I was reading in changed. Like most narrowly focused readers, if it wasn't for the pandemic hitting when it did, I might have finished BIRDSONG with yet more understanding of war trauma, but completely missed the significance of another event in the book, the 1918 influenza. 

From the perspective of a modern reader who lived with the global reality of world travel for most of my life, I suddenly saw something in what I read that I didn't see on the first reading. The returning soldiers who helped spread the virus all over the world. In the global world that is part of our reality now, it was easy to see this, so I saw it clearly. But the book focused more on the psychological damage of war, the brain damage, the disabled who lost arms and legs in battle, and the permanent lung destruction that also came home with the soldiers.

I clearly saw my blind spot then, and it became more prominent when the pandemic became personal instead of an historical event from the past.  Along with most of the world, I was suddenly quarantined. My life changed little as I already lived on a small island with few people, and I have always been pretty much a loner who prefers my own company.  Now I was facing an extended isolation with just one other person and a cat. I prepared for it by making a long list of books to read as I finished editing my book. I bought new goodies for my art box. I added supplies to my already adequate earthquake stash. I was ready.

What I wasn't ready for was history repeating itself. My reading of news accounts of the day and the politicizing of the virus began to merge into one miserable truth. As a species, we humans are damned stupid. The 1918 pandemic had the same anti-mask plague rats infecting each other in the name of freedom. The same people called it a lie, a plot, a hoax for the same reasons they did in 1918. The same excuses, the same manipulations, the same conspiracy gulping cultists rose up like flies seeking the same communal shit pile to wallow in together. All hail polio, smallpox, and Caesar!

But I was saved from utter despair when I began digging into my stack of books from the writers of that time. They left us some damned good insightful fiction into what it was like to live during a pandemic. As did the art of that time, the music, the fashion, and the ideas that were germinated during isolation and blossomed when the quarantine ended. 

Along with the fiction, I read post-pandemic criticisms of the hedonism, the outright disdain for social rules that no longer applied, the anguished cries of woe that portrayed the excesses of the 20's as the whole taste of the time. I also read the petty moralists of our time who squawked of the doom to come, the collapse of society, the debauchery, oh yes, the debauchery to come. What they really feared, every damn one of them was something that was seeping through the cracks of our isolation. 

As the quarantine grew from weeks to months,we became more honest. The isolation nibbled away at our social skills. It made us less reluctant to bite the words from tongues left alone too long. We began to share ourselves in weird and wonderful ways. But it wasn't so much the famous paintings we recreated with ourselves as the subjects and then posted online to share with the world from our phones, often with only our pets to play the parts of missing characters.  It was the need to share.

Many times as I viewed the contributions from all over the world, I broke down in tears. The zoom orchestras where everyone played from their living rooms. The demonstrations on how to make your own face mask. Videos for those learning to bake bread for the first time. The world was sharing the same experiences, at the same moment in time, from the same depths of our souls. The world of people, the world of human beings, the world of emotional, weeping, laughing contributors were leaving a record of their humanity.

The changes crept in so slowly that at first they went unnoticed. Little things like around month six I started to have phone conversations with friends that not only were longer than all the ones before, they were more satisfying. The artifice was eroding. The need to pretend to be someone else was wearing away. We began to speak truth to each other. We began to let others see who were really were underneath all the superficial social skills that once defined us.

Those I loved before, I loved even more because I knew them better now, and they began to know me. We began to grow into more appropriate human skins together. My friendships deepened. I grew more comfortable with telling people I loved them, something I've never been very good at. The pandemic gave me an opportunity to get better at it.

But I had to approach all this new reality realistically. I've never been someone who could distance myself from the emotions and traumas of others. It's probably why I needed so much time alone. Sponges needs wringing out time or they will drown willingly, happily, sacrificially in other people's drama pools. I'm working on something I've never been good at, the middle ground. I know it's there, but it's just not as satisfying anymore.

The important thing I was left with was the hope that what I saw happening to me was also happening to others, because honesty, both emotional and intellectual, is a vital thread we need to stitch together new truths, whether it's in our relationships or part of our shared visions for healing the planet.

And of course, after all this, I looked at the book I was editing and realized I needed to start over. My dystopian world was suddenly not a distant fantasy but a quickly evolving reality. I also felt, as a writer, I had an historical responsibility to describe a piece of the emotional truth happening all around me.

That's why I started my book over. I needed to put in the art, the music, the new awareness of self, the need to connect, the global village as a real thing, but most of all, the ability for human beings to get so comfortable in their own skins that saying I love you to a friend, a lover, or themselves, was as important as anything else. I wanted to be part of that mark on history. 



My personal website:
Ursine Logic's Books and Art