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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Wednesday, May 04, 2005


Woke at 2:15. I started to feel a vague anxiety, so I went downstairs to pour myself a scotch and took it back to bed to drink it in the dark.

I have experienced clinical levels of anxiety from time to time since my late teens, with bad episodes of it in my early 20s and in my late 30s. Back then I had no idea what it might be about. In my early 20s I was willing to believe it was related to mating problems (suggestion of an astrologer I consulted at the time)--but in my late 30s, as a long-married man?

A couple of years ago, when I was rereading The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell, I came across the suggestion by Freud that anxiety symptoms are a repeat of the trauma of birth: pressure, constriction, racing heart. Yes! I thought--that sounds right. Birth is the first and archetypal rite of passage. We leave what has become an uncomfortable darkness, push through to an unknown outside, and suddenly explode to a new form of existence in a bright, cold world, breathing on our own. (I'm worried that the increasing number of Caesarian sections are robbing children of this first accomplishment.) Mine was a breech birth. My first act was done bass ackwards, and in that awkward, backward, eccentric, and even dangerous way I have gone through life since.

I'm thinking that anxiety goes with resistance to the birth experience. My breech birth shows resistance to being born, I think. And I'm willing to believe that I have become jammed at thresholds in my life since then, causing intensifying anxiety.

For me, anxiety tends to be preceded by a certain flatness of thought, a kind of drab joylessness in any thought that arises. I can't find anything to enjoy mentally. There is a feeling of being trapped in a consciousness that can't change, can't enjoy. Then the symptoms start to appear: racing heart, shivering. I didn't get that far this morning--nowhere near. But anxiety hovered nearby. What birth am I struggling against?

I'm trying to give birth to this work--The Mission. Its birth will also be, in a sense, the birth of the artist who created it. It will be a masterpiece in the original sense: a work to demonstrate that the journeyman has graduated to mastery of his craft. Maybe I should be pushing in some other direction as well, the direction of light and independent life.

It's 6:25 p.m. I've poured myself a glass of wine. I have just helped Kimmie change her clothes and get settled on the sofa upstairs. After her noon fitness class today she developed a strong throbbing pain in her hip and leg--so strong she could barely walk. I picked her up at work (just a 5-minute hop down the hill) and drove her to her counselling session. After that she saw our chiropractor, who works out of the same office. I was afraid she might have a thrombosis, but Dr. Dickson says no: Kim no doubt threw her hip far out of alignment with her pratfall two Fridays ago, and some movement at fitness brought on the pain. Now it's Ibuprofen and ice. She lies under the lovely wool blanket that Dad gave us as a wedding present, leafing through her beloved "Painted Ladies" picture-books about beautiful Victorian houses in San Francisco.

Looks like I've got to get us something to eat.


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