I haven’t been here (before your eyes) in a long time, but I’ve been here (in the ether) all along, my mind swirling—or, not as fluid as that, more like straining, stumbling, stuttering—with so many things I could write about if I were coherent but not feeling coherent in the least.
e x … c a v a t e good times, come on!
(think Kool and the Gang)
The metaphor I was straining at involved a thing in the real world—the Kola Superdeep Borehole, the deepest hole in the earth, drilled by Soviet scientists off and on from 1970 to 1994, that goes 7.5 miles down into the earth’s crust. In contrast, the center of the earth is estimated to be nearly 4,000 miles down, so… nice try, boys; close but no cigar. At 7.5 miles they were forced to quit drilling because of unexpectedly high temperatures (356°F) and a nougat-like center (I’m imagining), where the porous and permeable rock behaved “more like a plastic than a solid.” The hole, only 9 inches in diameter, is under this rusted metal cap on the Kola Peninsula of Russia (Fig. 1).
Fig. 1. Beginning of really deep hole.
So, the strained metaphor was my felt need to excavate the depths of my own crusty shell, hoping to find the deep inner mantle where the past and present coexist, if not collide. (My newspaper horoscope has always used phrases like “fantasy collides with destiny.”) And if past and present are down there, then future must be down there, too—in the sense of a seed, which by definition embodies its destiny: The acorn can only grow into its future self, an oak tree.
I don’t know about destiny, but I’ve fantasized plenty in my life. I liked some science fiction as a child, but I wasn’t that interested in aliens or distant planets. But Journey to the Center of the Earth resonated with me for some reason. For someone who wasn’t that interested in outer space, I was blown away by the idea that the Verne adventurers encountered sky down there. If only I had known the phrase “blew my mind” back then, I would have had many occasions to use it. I was only 10 years old, but still. Sometimes I think I thought more about infinity and death and other unknowns between the ages of 6 and 10 than I have since. Childhood is deep, which most adults forget. It looks so simple, even primitive. Cry, sleep, shit, eat, you’re like a tiny predictable entity—a clean slate—that hasn’t yet been filled with the detritus from interaction with the outside world. But the inside! The inside is full of feeling and thought, regardless of whether anyone takes you seriously or not. I’m sure I wasn’t the only kid who had big things on her mind, or maybe it was the extreme encounters I had with death and illness that made me a little philosopher, maybe a wannabe nihilist. Life didn’t look that good to me when my brother was buried under the ground and my father was ensconced in a VA hospital with MS, only to return home so changed that I didn’t recognize him. For the longest time I thought, “What’s next?” Who will die or leave me next? How will I make my way in the world? In high school I was convinced there would be no end to the misery. Every day, every week brought a challenge, sometimes new, sometimes a dreaded repetition. If it wasn’t a single event—an oral book report, a debate, a dentist appointment, a babysitting job, a piano lesson, an unasked-for and oft-rebelled-against hair perm—it was the daily curse of car sickness, pimples, awkward social encounters, acute self-consciousness, fear of being diagnosed with mental illness, and a mortifying awareness of how poor we were. I couldn’t escape any of it. Without a sane adult to explain to you that everyone goes through this kind of thing, it’s only in hindsight that you realize you were not the only one. I remember having a meeting with my high school guidance counselor, Mr. Schmidtke, and not knowing if I was supposed to be talking about the surface—grades, college, etc.—or my fears and anxieties, which were at least 7.5 mental miles down in my psyche. In one of my favorite movies, Ordinary People, I was envious of the kid who had Judd Hirsch to talk to and get a real response from. I didn’t see a real therapist until I was 46, and by that time I had come a long way on my own, through contemplation, observation, and a strong desire to understand.
So, my life has turned out pretty great, and I have the comforting thought that I probably won’t live long enough to see the world get blown up or a neo-Hitler arise from the Far Right. (How far do you think Hitler would have gotten if his party was named the Tee-Party instead of Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei? I still regret that our American Partiers did not keep the name “Teabaggers” after they found out what it meant. That would have been so delicious.)
But—where was I?—the past (like the center of our planet) still exists, no matter how deeply it has been buried or “forgotten.” I’m not sure I understand what the subconscious really is and how it works—it’s like being controlled by an invisible government (and the visible one is bad enough). I already “understand” my past in words and pictures, but I expect somehow to be able to embody the whole time-driven story that is me, the equivalent of 7.5 miles down, where it’s really, really hot and more mush than solid. I don’t think I need to go the whole 4,000 mental miles to the center—where, surely, I understand now, there would have to be “sky,” wouldn’t there? because there is so much we can’t see, haven’t examined, haven’t even imagined—right beneath our feet / brain / what-have-you.
For lots of reasons, we prefer to look to our sky—the one that’s above us, readily visible, no drilling required—for the pie or the salvation, the “something bigger than ourselves” whether we call it god or our higher self. Wouldn’t it be great to have an eternal substitute mother or father, someone / something so big and powerful that it would never die, and therefore we would never die? It would be the answer to everything, wouldn’t it? And that’s what we want, the answer to everything. Because who can live on this razor’s edge of life-and-death with nothing to hold on to but a sharp, painful knowledge that it will all end one day. As Woody Allen said, “Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering—and it’s all over much too soon.”
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I want to be whole—not a hole filled with a mystery too far down to reach. I want to experience my full potential, not limp along on the fire road just because it’s wide and smooth. But that means going down, down into the deep forest or a series of dark caves or a me-shaped hole in the ground, looking to find the mythical sky or the plastic hot mess, whatever it turns out to be.
So I’ve told you the metaphor, and you can find out more about the Kola Superdeep Borehole if you’re interested. By the way, they found water down there (H2 and O molecules) and “microfossils” from bacteria billions of years old. So the drilling wasn’t a failure, just full of surprises. Like our own personal depths, I suppose.
You are not dead yet, it’s not too late / to open your depths by plunging into them / and drink in the life / that reveals itself quietly there.—Rainier Marie Rilke