Day 44: In which I edge gingerly around the hole’s perimeter.

The idea that there is a gaping hole at the center of my being derives from lavishly compensated mental health professional #2.

He was asking me about my adolescence. I was explaining that I felt unattractive as an adolescent. There was no great trauma; it was just the run-of-the-mill brutality of teenagers (certain boys who would call me a “dog” whenever they saw me, that kind of thing). There was much worse. One girl in my year was systematically ostracized. We were in the same science class and I remember one chemistry lesson in which no-one would sit near her and she was weeping at a table by herself. I didn’t know her very well, but I thought of myself, high-mindedly, as a champion of the oppressed, and so I left my friends to sit with her and put my arm around her.

This didn’t do her any favors. On the contrary, it cemented her status as a social pariah. It was kind of like Lily Bart putting a friendly arm around Jane Eyre’s shoulder and saying, “I know you’re an outcast now, but stick with me, kid, I’ve got this negotiating-of-the-social-sphere thing down pat.” I remember her confronting me later to inform me that my public display of solidarity with her had in fact made her life much worse.

So, anyway, I was discussing this period in my life with lavishly compensated mental health professional #2. His therapeutic method involves re-articulating what the patient describes so as to highlight the emotional content of the experience, almost like re-interpreting a naturalist painting in expressionist terms.

So he re-narrated my account of my adolescent insecurity, and this is how he put it:

Dr. S: It was so, so painful. Because you felt you were, you were just hideous. You were a monster. You were Frankenstein! You were the bride of Frankenstein!”

D-R: [Laughing] I’m 100% sure that I did not say I felt like Frankenstein.

Dr. S: [Concerned face] Tell me what’s funny?

D-R: [Sheepish] Oh … it’s silly, it doesn’t really matter, I understand what you’re saying. It’s just funny because I write about Frankenstein and even if I had meant that I had felt I was monstrously hideous I would not have said I felt like Frankenstein, because Frankenstein is the scientist, so I would have said I felt like Frankenstein’s monster. Sorry, I know I’m just being pedantic … [trailing off]

[Dr. S nods understandingly but repeatedly goes on to refer to my insecurity in terms of Frankenstein, at which I can’t help smirking every single time because I’m an unbearably smug English Professor]

The point, in any case, is that the cavity in my soul, Dr. S. hypothesized, first appeared in this period of adolescence. OK. That seems vaguely plausible. But what is the hole for crying out loud? What properties does it have? Well, I can’t speak for your hole, but Dr. S says that my hole is a bottomless pit of want. And, because it’s a bottomless pit, that means that no matter what I shove into it (love; work; cake; blogging etc.) in a futile attempt to fill the yawning abyss, it is all for nought.

The image that comes to mind for me is an inverse magic-porridge pot. Remember the magic porridge-pot from the Grimm’s fairy tale? No matter how much you eat from it, it remains constantly full of bubbling, delicious porridge? [1] Well, likewise, with my hole, no matter how much you fill it up, it remains empty.

Ever since Dr S. first proposed the hole hypothesis to me, I’ve been a bit despondent. I explained this to him at the end of a session recently.

“The thing is,” I said, “I’m a bit worried about this hole. Because you say that it can never be filled. So, I can’t help feeling that I’m completely fucked then, because I just have this bottomless hole and there’s nothing I can do about it. “

Dr. S looked at me quizzically as I voiced these concerns. I half expected him to say, “You know that I don’t mean a literal hole, don’t you?” But he didn’t say that. He said, “Aha! What you need to do is stop trying to fill the hole and instead focus on healing the hole.”

Huh. I hadn’t thought of it like that. Perhaps because I’d been thinking of it more as a magical porridge-negating pot, or possibly some kind of black hole, the possibility of “healing” the hole had never occurred to me.

“How do I heal it then?”

Surely, dear reader, you don’t need me to tell you the answer, do you?

Therapy, lots and lots of therapy.

At the moment I feel that the hole is temporal as well as spatial, like one of those “vacant spaces of time,” that the narrator of Tom Jones encourages the reader to fill with her own conjectures. Surely, it’s apparent from the rapid rate at which I compose these dispatches that I don’t really have enough to do at the moment. Yes, I am aware that this is a great luxury, and, no, I am not complaining, and, no, I don’t want to be on your committee. [2] I am teaching a class and advising students and so on and so forth. But there’s a vacant space where my research and writing used to be. What’s that you say, don’t I have a second book I’m supposed to be writing? Well, yes, I do, and I have thousands of words already written, but somehow I don’t have the heart at the moment to open up the files.

So here’s my new idea: maybe the hole will go away if I stop shoving stuff into it and instead start emptying it (you didn’t see that coming, did you, reverse-magic-porridge pot! Aha!). I’ve been trying, vainly, to pile stuff into said hole so I can hoist myself out of it. But perhaps what I really need to do is dig down deep and tunnel out the other side.

Because I worry that if I keep shoving the hole full of cake and tea and sympathy, and whatnot, that means that I am just one of life’s take, take, takers. You know, like, I dunno, uh, Faust? But I don’t want to be like Faust! I want to be more like, perhaps, the Dalai Llama. Do you think he has a giant existential hole? No way. That man is brimful of sweet, sweet porridge, I tell you. It’s gushing out of him.

If I were a better person, perhaps I would give up all of my worldly possessions and go and help the needy. But, since I’m not, perhaps I could give you some of my time, or some of my cake and tea and sympathy, dear readers? Do you perhaps have a draft of something you’ve been wanting someone to read? Or maybe you’d like to write or call or drop by my office and tell me about your troubles? I’m having so much therapy at the moment that I feel confident that I’ve now mastered the full range of soothing voices and faces that one may assume to offer comfort. Or maybe you just really need someone to bake you a cake: I make an excellent Victoria sponge if I do say so myself.

What d’you reck?


[1] My takeaway from that fairy tale was that porridge is incredibly delicious. I recall that no matter what version I read, it was always described as “the most delicious porridge,” and it would always put me in the mood for making porridge. It was inevitably disappointing, at least the way my Mum insisted on making it (oats; salt; water; served with milk or single cream; the addition of sugar or sweetener of any kind was regarded as an ABOMINATION perpetrated by Sassenachs). I do recall that at Girton when Liz and I would make porridge in ritualistic fashion every morning after completing our medieval translation practice, that it did taste incredibly delicious. But perhaps anything you eat after early morning Middle-English translation exercises tastes incredibly delicious?

[2] I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s not like my time is not in very high demand. Why, in the past twenty-four hours alone, I’ve received two emails with the subject line, “We miss you!” Obviously, neither one was from one of you, dear readers, since you hear from me with great regularity. No, the first was from my running app. “Hey There,” it said. “It’s Runkeeper. Let’s stay healthy ….” The second was from Lucky Magazine. It just said “WE MISS YOU” in big red caps and it was next to a slightly disturbing graphic of a giant pair of snake-skin-upholstered red lips, reminiscent of that Salvador Dali sofa. There was no explanation of why this image was there, e.g. if they missed me so much that they were going to send me a giant lip sofa. Anyway, the point is that corporate entities are positively gagging for my time and, given that they do miss me, after all, I’m thinking quite seriously that I should comply.


3 thoughts on “Day 44: In which I edge gingerly around the hole’s perimeter.

  1. Paul K. Anonymous says:

    Good grief ! Or rather, unnecessary grief. Stop wasting time and (apparently lots of) money. on the fraudulent Dr S.. He is clearly the biggest and most damaging hole in your life: a giant A__hole. (Sorry. We professors are obligated always to find the mot juste if we can, and that’s his)

  2. marissaklopez says:

    Everyone has that gaping hole; everyone feels ugly. Maybe just acknowledge that and move on? You can’t fill it or heal it or close read it or analyze it, but you can have lots and lots of fun at Legoland, focusing on the trees instead of the forest. (But then, maybe I should stop drinking and take up therapy?) I don’t know, Duck-Rabbitt … navel gazing rarely helps. No matter how long you stare at the duck-rabbit you never REALLY figure it out, do you? Is it this or is it that? Who cares? (But then, maybe I’m a bigger a-hole than your therapist? Paul K is totally right; plus, I’m not even an 18th centuryist – or 19th British, whatevs – and that Frankenstein mess up always annoys me too.)

  3. Paul and Marissa, you are both so right!

    Perhaps when I see Dr. S this week I will say to him, “You, sir, are pathologizing the human condition! What do you have to say to that?”

    Sorry to be so gloomily self-absorbed. I feel like Rick Deckard’s wife in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, who perversely calls up a “six hour self-accusatory depression” on her Penfield mood organ. I do start to feel confused when one therapist urges, “get in touch with the pain and just sit with it” while the other (adopting more of the Legoland approach) counsels me to read a magazine, exercise, or play a video game when the gloom sets in.

    Or maybe I just need different drugs. As Claire observed, at the moment I am a TERRIBLE advertisement for anti-depressants.

    Anyway, thanks for commenting: it makes me happy to know that you’re reading. And the next post is not gloomy in the least. Promise.

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