Fr Hunwicke has a very resonant post on his blog about Identity. I have often wrestled with this point in my short, albeit evanescent life. I say evanescent because I lay in bed this morning and while staring at the ceiling I was comparing my life to that of a friend of mine 10 years my junior. I simply thought that ''10 years has gone by pretty quick'' and began to wonder what good I had done, or had been rendered unto me, in that time. I don't tend to have sentimental feelings about trivial things, but lately a sense of melancholy or loss, even of impending loss, has been creeping into the dark corners of my mind. Things aren't permanent, things can be lost, one can become lost, and frankly, I am feeling pretty hopeless about things at present. I am only 21, but I feel old - ridiculous though that may seem - and, well, wasted. There are things that I feel ought to have been done by now - I should have gone on the Grand Tour of Italy (after the manner, not in every grim detail mind you! of the 18th century Grand Tourist), I should have my Degree, I should be reading Classics, I should be well rid of that nightmare of a job by now. But I seem to be stuck in some sort of mire of procrastination, and a grim stasis of immediate and fruitless pleasures - all the while I feel the winds of change and progress passing me by, quite literally.
I read a most interesting memoir once, called Girl, Interrupted, by Susanna Kaysen, a woman about 40 years older than I who has Borderline Personality Disorder (I am aware that there is a film, loosely based on the memoir, with the same name - just don't bother going to see it, it's rubbish). I enjoy works of this kind because they are very personal and eloquent - The Lord of the Rings is a similar work in this sense, it is very personal. In fact, shortly before publication, Tolkien wrote to his friend Fr Robert Murray, SJ, and remarked: ''I have exposed my heart to be shot at.'' This memoir narrates in a somewhat erratic and jumpy fashion her experiences in the McLean Hospital in the late 1960s, when she was my age. In a chapter called aptly ''Velocity and Viscosity,'' she says that mental illnesses (that is, of course, if one links Asperger Syndrome with a ''mental illness'' - I don't, nor do I consider myself to be disabled) come in two forms: slow and fast. This is not to do with onset or duration, but the quality of the illness itself. For example, the quality of a ''slow'' kind of illness would be viscosity. Kaysen does not list Asperger Syndrome in the list (it was not generally known in the '60s), but things like catatonia, depression etc. She writes:
''Experience is thick. Perceptions are thickened and dulled. Time is slow, dripping slowly through the clogged filter of thickened perception. The body temperature is low. The pulse is sluggish. The immune system is half-asleep. The organism is torpid and brackish. Even the reflexes are diminished, as if the lower leg couldn't be bothered to jerk itself out of its stupor when the knee is tapped.''
I can identify with this plethora of perceptions, to a limited extent. This is not to say, however, that my existence is juxtaposed to a constant lethargy. I think that I would contrast this experience of viscosity with the fact that my own existence seems slow but I am also at once aware that it is slow, I am aware of the plethora of perceptions and their qualities, but being aware, I cannot do anything about it. The experience is like putting one's head out of a fast-travelling car window, closing one's eyes, and feeling the wind and the sun - or that memorable and more than resonant quote from The Lord of the Rings: ''It was that more than the drag of the Ring that made him cower and stoop as he walked. The Eye: that horrible growing sense of a hostile will that strove with great power to pierce all shadows of cloud, and earth, and flesh, and to see you: to pin you under its deadly gaze, naked, immovable. So thin, so frail and thin, the veils were become that still warded it off. Frodo knew just where the present habitation and heart of that will now was: as certainly as a man can tell the direction of the sun with his eyes shut. He was facing it, and its potency beat upon his brow.''
It is a prejudice to equate Procrastination with laziness, but it so happens that people do. They are mistaken, of course, grievously so. As a student, I am expected to write essays and meet deadlines. Someone said once that meeting deadlines is like training to jump through a succession of hoops. Sometimes, however, it is quite impossible, and I fail in a severe kind of way. Say I am expected to write an essay with this title: To what extent are the modern ideas of Inter-religious dialogue and Ecumenism annexed to Relativism? This is a cogent question, but difficult to answer. Since one of the criterion for Asperger Syndrome is the presence of restricted, repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behaviour, thoughts and interests, my approach to this question is bound to be marked by the transfixingly repetitive thoughts already being repeated in my mind over, and over, and over again in so many waves - the Latin word for wave is ''unda'' from which we get our ''inundate'' - this word encapsulates the feeling in this odd way. And so, if this does not seem altogether incomprehensible, my approach to the question is impossibly difficult. It is like my thoughts - and I think constantly - are battling one with the other, or since they are transfixed and immovable sometimes, at least trying to shout each other down. Rather like the Music of the Ainur in a certain sense, with the discord of the music of Melkor, as a clamorous unison as of many trumpets braying upon a few notes, making endless war upon the Ainur. It is rather like thinking about something ineffable and trying to articulate it - it is quite impossible. Imagine a clogged filter, with water dripping slowly through. It is like approaching an essay, an essay about a subject I have no interest in, dislodges an avalanche of thoughts that get stuck somewhere. Where do they get stuck, and why? That, I think, no one will ever know, but the answer to that question is, I suppose, the answer to all my problems...
In writing essays, I get bogged down with frivolities and minute details. I remember one essay I wrote, for which I was given a measly 2:1, I spent two days, two valuable days, ruminating over the subtler philological and theological implications of one word. In essays at Undergraduate level, this is neither encouraged nor appropriate, nor does it gain one extra marks with the tutor. I find that by focusing on details I am loosing marks. But why is this so? No one else seems to bother with details. It irritates me when I read in tomes or other books things like: ''we must needs move on for want of space'' or ''it will suffice to give a mere résumé of its contents.'' It irritates me because details are important and tributary to the whole. I have often been accused of ''not seeing the wood for the trees'' but why is this bad? Without details there would be no trees, no woodland. In an essay criteria, I am often awarded a ''satisfactory'' or even ''poor'' mark for ''focus on key issues.''
Wasting one's time thinking is an enjoyable pursuit, at least to me. I could quite literally entertain myself for years at a time just by thinking. I think about everything and anything. Thinking almost makes my job bearable, I just escape, although it doesn't always work. However, trying to think about essays and how best to complete them without being too meticulous causes immense amounts of stress. You may ask: would you wish to change your mind, your peculiar mind, for a mind better suited to academic success - sausage factory mentality in other words - just to pass your degree? I would say no, emphatically NO. I just wish that it were easier. The grievous thing about my sort of thinking, though, is that time passes by so quickly. This may be a rather lame way to end this post, but I suppose I can only re-echo Lord Henry's admonition to Dorian Gray:
''The world belongs to you for a season....The moment I met you I saw that you were quite unconscious of what you really are, of what you really might be. There was so much in you that charmed me that I felt I must tell you something about yourself. I thought how tragic it would be if you were wasted. For there is such a little time that your youth will last - such a little time. The common hill-flowers wither, but they blossom again. The laburnum will be as yellow next June as it is now. In a month there will be purple stars on the clematis, and year after year the green night of its leaves will hold its purple stars. But we never get back our youth. The pulse of joy that beats in us at twenty, becomes sluggish. Our limbs fail, our senses rot. We degenerate into hideous puppets, haunted by the memory of the passions of which we were too much afraid, and the exquisite temptations that we had not the courage to yield to. Youth! Youth! There is absolutely nothing in the world but youth!'' (Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Chapter II).
I am by no means advocating hedonism as the cure for perpetual stasis, but there must be something I can do. At the moment, I am enjoying Latin - I find great joy in translation. Unfortunately, I began this post by thinking about one's ''identity.'' I suppose I had better conclude by at least saying something about that! What I have written sort of evolved with the telling, and it has been interesting to relate. I suppose I most identify with a wandering Sindarin Elf in Beleriand in the quiet of the world before the return of Morgoth, or your average northern barbarian newly acquainted with the Classics - perhaps even taken to Rome by the legions. What is my purpose in life? Lord only knows...I just think that perhaps my mind is an anomaly, an enigma to the whole, I just don't quite fit in, and can only watch as the time goes by...
These are probably ravings, so forgive me if they seem altogether incomprehensible!