You are getting younger... and younger...
I was writing my current novel, The White Devil, which is set in a London boarding school I had attended in 1988, and I was doing research. I didn’t want to foot the expense for a round trip to London to refresh my memories. First, because I am cheap; and second, because what I needed was travel in time, not space.
So I contacted some hypnotists. I asked them if they could transport me back to my time at Harrow School, when I was seventeen years old, and, you know… just kind of walk me around, take me on a tour of my past.
I reached one hypnotist on the phone. He sounded like exactly the kind of guy who had learned hypnotism via correspondence course so he get you into his office, reduce you to semi-consciousness, and fondle you. Short discussion.
Then I met a therapist at a conference who hypnotizes writers to get them past writers’ block: a noble calling, I thought. She was a bespectacled, nervous woman with a voice as soft as a baby pillow.
Wary after the call with Dr. Fondler, I asked her to lunch rather than schedule an office meeting. Over salads on a bright summer day in the Village, she told me that hypnotism would do nothing for me and that my writing project would be very challenging.
“The turmoil of being a teenager—it’s hard to recreate. I can’t do it with hypnosis. You are in your thirties,” she observed. “At your age, you have more in common psychologically with your latency period than you do with your adolescent self.”
I tried not to take this personally.
“I want to create a portrait of falling in love at seventeen,” I said. “When it’s all, just, wild. When you’re experiencing it for the first time.”
“Can’t help.” She grinned at me in a way made worse by her timid demeanor, and my vanity. “Your days of wild love are behind you.”
So I flew to London. I plumbed my memories. I amalgamated and compressed many girlfriends into one figure; I sprinkled on some fantasy; and as always cast the love object in the mold of the Dark Lady of my life, my mediterranean wife—and came out with a hyperverbal, busty, slutty, self-destructive thespian named Persephone Vine.
I wrote. I edited. This week, I published.
And then—with some distance, and in preparation for a few bookstore appearances—I re-read.
Did I do it? Did I meet the hypnotist’s challenge? Did I capture the wild love? I remember relationships at seventeen as being overwhelming, obsessive, polymorphously perverse… but when I re-read the passages what I felt most was sadness.
These kids had the wild love. But it was wild like Hobbes’ description of man in a state of nature. They were vulnerable. Confused. Unaware. Raw. And a little bit doomed.
Was that really what it was like?
Or is that just what the serene, middle-aged man thinks of wild love?
The philosopher Hobbes, in calling a life in nature “nasty brutish and short” was trying to cure us of sentimentalizing it.
I suspect that if any of us had a chance to reach back through twenty years—not on a couch; not over a damned salad—and wrap our fingers around that time of our lives, it would be about as exciting, about as romantic, as gripping bare electric wire.
I guess the hypnotist warned me.
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