I've been road-traveling again. Not in California. I've got an entirely new batch of roadside insights to share that have nothing to do with old memories conjured by familiar landscapes and much more to do with deeply buried dreams unlocked by entirely new scenery. More on that soon.
When packing for a trip that was all about seeking out snow (new snow, powder snow, the kind you will not currently find in Mammoth or Tahoe), I felt instinctively that two things would be the things to bring with: an old journal filled with old writing scraps (time to make something of it all, perhaps) and a copy of Fernando Pessoa's The Book of Disquiet.
What I could not have known as I was flurry-packing down jackets, wind-block shells and low-light ski goggles is that these two items were, in fact, the items. I read a few scraps of my old work and had a strange sensation. I put them away. Picked them back up again. Felt strangeness again and again. Who had written these words? How was she so confident years ago in a way that I am not now? Where has she gone and can I get her back again?
I set my old words aside for the rest of the trip. This adventure was to be about fun, about snow, about wide open Wyoming spaces, about après ski and conversation with interesting locals. My old words had conjured up more than I intended. They'd made me feel somehow less. Somehow diminished. Somehow wishing the less wise me of years ago could re-emerge, then merge with the wiser (but meeker) me of now and embolden my future writings. It was too much to think about so I set them aside and didn't open them again.
I did, however, crack open Pessoa's disquieted thoughts. Here's what greeted me in fits & spurts throughout the entire first section:
"In the ordinary jumble of my literary drawer, I sometimes find texts I wrote ten, fifteen, or even more years ago. And many of them seem to me written by a stranger."
"I often find texts of mine that I wrote when I was very young--when I was seventeen or twenty. And some have a power of expression that I do not remember having then. Certain sentences and passages I wrote when I had just taken a few steps away from adolescence seem produced by the self I am today, educated by years and things. I recognize I am the same as I was. And having felt that I am today making a great progress from what I was, I wonder where this progress is if I was then the same as I am today. There is a mystery in this that reduces my worth and oppresses me."
"How did I advance toward what I already was? How can the person who knows me today not know me yesterday? All this confuses me in a labyrinth where I am with myself and wander away from myself. I wander with my thoughts and I'm sure that what I'm writing now I already wrote. I remember."
"Once again, I have found something of mine, written in French, over which fifteen years must have flown now. I've never been to France, never dealt face-to-face with the French, never, therefore, exercised that language in which I had ceased to be fluent. Today I read as much French as ever. I'm older, a more experienced thinker: I must have made some progress. And the French in that passage from my distant past possesses a confidence which today I do not possess. The style is fluid, but in a way I could never be today in that language, with entire passages, complete sentences, forms and modes of expression that demonstrate a control over that language that I lost without ever remembering I had it. How is it possible to explain that? Whom did I substitute inside myself?"
"But what am I experiencing when I read myself as if I were someone else? On which bank am I standing if I see myself in the depths?"
"At other times I have found things I've written that I don't remember having written -- which is shocking -- things I don't even remember being capable of writing -- and that does frighten me. Certain phrases belong to a different mentality. It's as if I'd found an old picture, unquestionably of me, in which I had a different physique, unknown features -- but features undoubtedly mine -- all horrifyingly my own."
Though Pessoa tends toward the dramatic, I know (without question) that bringing along my old writing and casting it aside amidst a range of uncomfortable emotions only to pick up Pessoa's ramblings on the same is not an accident.
I don't know what else it might be, but I am for the moment reassured by his words.
That many believe he was crazy is, obviously, beside the point, no?