I had my stories to tell of the week, telling my therapist that things were going okay. I'd faced the paperwork and the bureaucratic affair of getting my manager's license renewed. I could almost envision a comedy show sketch, The Seven Samurai, have to go do a similar piece of business; the class, the test, the paper work forms, the finding of a notary public before going to the big DC government office building to the ABRA office up on the fourth floor. Swords, horses, bow and arrow, a plan drawn up in classic samurai fashion along with preparing a tally of bandit soldiers they must eliminate, how they must allow the enemy in through their outer defenses, into the little village itself, but in small numbers... But first, through security and the metal detector. Leaving that office, much relieved, I unlocked my bicycle there at the corner of 14th and U Street on a Friday afternoon, sirens, construction, traffic, street people, and I said to myself, "get me the hell out of here." And as I rode south I could not help thinkingt of The Pogues song "White City." Tipperary farm country boy Shane MacGowan finding words as a way of dealing with the city. "Oh sweet city of my dreams, of speed and skill and schemes, like Atlantis you just disappeared from view..." He's writing, singing about a dog track "where now there's just a rubble and a hole," seeing his old recognizable town of pubs being torn down, his way of locating himself safely and recognizing a livable pattern in such a crazy place being threatened by "car parks going up." He sang it on Saturday Night Live once on a St. Patrick's Day, and was generally taken to be a madman, and true, this is late in the first incarnation of the band.
So we talk about things, about amygdala hijack, about my own ways here in the town, about maybe I might think of moving away, like to some college town like the ones I'm from, maybe Charlottesville. "Have you ever been to Charlottesville?" "Why, no, I haven't, always wanted to, don't have a car..." And for this and other topics of conversation we talk about anxiety, its role in controlling, or limiting the life you lead. "I heard you talk about this trip you might take to New Orleans and how your response is one of anxiety." "Well, yes, this is true." (I'd demonstrated to her how my mind broke up such an impossible thing in all its many steps...) And I think of the way I lead my life here, a routine. Living here twenty five years and I've not been to Charlottesville, only twice to the shore. We talk about the old fight or flight response system, the sympathetic nervous system, and then the calming deep breathing parasympathetic nervous system that brings one down after the jacked up run from the saber toothed tiger. Yes, I add, in Type Os this response of fight or flight is marked... And I think privately of the times I was stressed out and in a way "played dead." Yes, that explains some things.
The emotions come out a bit as I walk away from her office back up toward R Street, and it's almost like I can hear that eery music playing in that scene where the Sheriff, played by Gary Cooper, has been left completely alone to face the bad guys coming on the noon train; the camera pans away and up as he stands there looking left and right suddenly aware of the coming threat and Dmitri Tmokin's beautiful theme itself retreats to the upper registers of the ethereal violin strings with that extra eery note thrown in on top. The streets are empty, everyone in the town has gone into hiding safely indoors, or in the shooter friendly tavern that welcomes the business of Frank Miller and his wild gang. Rising, the camera reveals the broad space of the town, the lone figure very much alone now, jumpy. Then the drums start beating louder and louder as Gary Cooper walks toward us, sweating, his face showing his stomach's response to it all. Then the train whistle blows.
"Do not forsake oh my darling..." I'm hearing it, and I mumble it quietly to myself. Almost filling up. Deep breathing exercises, my good therapist person has suggested, asking me how often I meditate, and for once things are better by being made more tangible. And this is why such a great story and great story telling gets into your gut and takes up residence, because at a gut level you know the issue, you know what's going on. A great story makes something inside tangible, visible. "The noon-day train will bring Frank Miller. If I'm a man I must be brave, and I must face that deadly killer, or lie a coward, a craven coward, or lie a coward in my grave." Nice to have when the world is broken up into so many little modern sometimes bureaucratic threats and things that make you naturally uneasy, like sirens and big trucks coming your way and roads you cannot safely walk on as they were not meant to be travelled by the human being except as a highway. An anxious concern for getting enough of the proper food to get you through a shift. A wish for quiet, for things to stop for a moment, to have time to think, or time to act.
Later on I've watched a PBS piece about the making of High Noon, which set in its history is a response to the black-listing in Hollywood of the McCarthy Era. The guts it took to not name names when called upon. That piece has its own iceberg depth, the real stuff of personal experience.
We have nothing to fear but fear itself, a great person said, knowing the issues intimately. And perhaps some of us, by blood, by disposition, by our own animal nature, takes words viscerally and very seriously. Robin Williams' myriad voices come to mind, each phrase, each tone, each character's statement being of a deep gut response, far beyond the scholarly literary critique and yet related to that critical examination of nuances. I think of him in role in The Fisher King responding to the vision of the burning dark knight on horse pursuing him in horror, the great sometimes painful import of words. To some of us words fairly shout out. A response hard-wired, and this is something I began to observe about my own experience taking English classes in college, that I loved all this stuff of texts worth close readings and the close readings themselves, the processes of meeting them and understanding them on their own terms. It could be visceral and demanding, exhausting as a young reader trying to grasp adult things.