The world often seems to me to be a surreal place. On days when it snows, I will often go out and watch the flakes fall almost not believing what my eyes are telling me. Yes, it is snowing.
On very cold days –if I am properly dressed- I don’t always believe that it is cold or that it is winter.
On the days when I have to go over to the university I have a ritual which I follow to ensure that the house is secure while I am away. I will check the backdoor repeatedly to see that it is locked. In our house the kitchen faces the backyard and is separated from the outside by a sliding glass door. The door is locked in two ways: there is a handle on the sliding door and there is an aluminum bar which is applied to stop the sliding door. It is very easy to see that the door is locked and yet, I will check the door a half dozen times before I leave. Perhaps this is because I am a compulsive person when it comes to the security of my home and family (we have two dogs, two rats, two toads, many fish and snails and I must protect them all). But I suspect that there is something more than compulsion at work here.
When I make to lower the aluminum bar I could swear to you that I do not feel the bar in my hands. I watch what I am doing; I make a point of fixing my attention on what I am doing –on the act of lowering the metal bar. Still, this does not always work.
Now, full disclosure: I have had a semi-obsession with door locking since I was young. I believe that I acquired this obsession from my father who always had a ritual when he would leave the house –it was a ritual that could take some minutes, often to the consternation of anyone waiting on him. He would run back and forth between the front and backdoors of our house and shake the door by the handle repeatedly. If we were waiting in the car to go somewhere we could watch the front door shake (and hear it) from the driveway.
I know this ritual had an impact upon me as a child because I developed a similar compulsion which, over the years, I have tried to combat. Some days are better than others.
So, there is certainly a psychological basis for my door-locking neurosis.
I would not call myself security obsessed. I have never had any inclination to own a gun; I am not someone who feels that the use of force is the only way to keep a home safe and secure. I don’t attribute my door locking fetish to a fear of home invasion.
What is it then?
I don’t know exactly, but I do have one clue as to what is happening. Whenever I am very busy and hurried and harried this need to feel the door locking in my hands increases. When I am rushed I often feel disconnected from my physical environment, I also begin to feel “out of time.” When these moments arrive it is very difficult to experience what the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn calls “mindfulness,” or being fully in touch with one’s senses.
I accept that losing touch with mindfulness is part of my difficulty in those moments. But I also suspect there is something else at work: I suspect that Poetry is afoot.
I do not know what Poetry is, exactly. I would never want to form any definition because I simply do not like definitions, especially when it comes to matters of art, life and behavior. I can accept definitions as heuristic tools, but nothing more.
Poetry for me and in my life has meant an acute awareness of time. I have always been extremely sensitive to the passage of time. I am moved by the seasons, by the length of day and night. I feel myself altered by the weather and the appearance and disappearance of animals and people. When I was a child I developed an unusual habit of asking my mother and her friends for the exact date of any events they were discussing. When my mother would reminisce while visiting with family members I felt the need to know precisely when something happened. What precision actually is in the temporal world remains a mystery to me. I remember also how I always wanted to know everyone’s precise age when something happened to them –I used to ask all of my neighbors how old they were (which is how I learned not to). If I did not get the answer I wanted I would try and calculate it in my head. My interest led me to remember everyone’s birthdays; I developed an excellent memory for dates. I also took to knowing how old historical figures were when they died. Whenever I encountered dates next to someone’s name I would quickly calculate the length of their life. I even became fascinated by writing my own name on paper like this: Jeremy Nathan Marks (1979- ).
For me, this is Poetry -numbers remain only symbols no matter how seriously I take them. I often find I have a dreamy relationship with certain of my activities. I do realize how there is an incipient danger in this temporal hyper-sensitivity. I would not say that I am time-obsessed, but I am very sensitive to a feeling that every moment I live is bringing me closer to my end.
I should insist that this is not morbidity: I do not have an obsession with death. What I think is happening to me is that I am becoming deeply in touch with my own physical being –I am watching myself age. I pay close attention to the foods I eat and how they make me feel; I think carefully about where all of my food is coming from (I’ve become a vegan). My powers of empathy have, I think, been heightened; I often feel myself having a form of out-of-body experience when I am moved by the suffering (and joy) of other beings.
This is indeed Poetry for me: empathy; a sense of mortality; onrushing hope and fear about the great agonies of our world; and, lastly, a tendency for flight out of the body at any moment –though where I go, I am not always quite sure (sometimes I think I land in a state of emotion rather than any physical body).
What all this has led to is the strange experience of feeling that closing the backdoor is a foreign, other-worldly action. I have to keep feeling that aluminum bar to make sure it is still there and I am still here. I find this a strange paradox: have I ever been more aware of my body? Have I ever been more aware of my age? Have I ever been more in tune with the stage of life I am living? Have I ever loved as deeply and enduringly as I do at present? Have I ever felt my senses as keenly as I do now?
Okay, so why the onrush of the surreal?
-Jeremy Nathan Marks