There’s a curious phenomenon that occurs when an artist gives free reign to the phantom figures animating the psyche and allows them to speak.
Freud has famously said that “Dreams are the royal road to the unconscious.” If that is so, then Art is a winding and convoluted path from it.
The phantoms that I have committed to the page as fantasy have come to life for me more than once. Sometimes the crossover from fiction to fact has taken years, sometimes decades, but it has happened often enough that it is a truism for me that my life imitates my art, or rather, my art prefigures, unconsciously, my future life.
One could explain this in psychological terms as wish-fulfilment: the written word acts as a sort of map leading me toward the conjuring of my deepest desires. A sort of vision board. Or one could understand it as the divine act of artists: literally calling into being that which previously never existed.
However you characterize it, it is something that I believe is not unique to me, but probably a common experience of artists.
As I recall, years ago, before her coup de grâce, Frankie Shaw had posted on Twitter or Instagram a photo of her on the set of SMILF with a whiteboard sketching her greatest fear. It was a chart of sorts, tracking her increasing success and then, in the future, it suddenly takes a precipitous drop into failure. Sure, this is a common anxiety among folks who gain some success at whatever it is they do, but with her it became a self-fulfilling prophesy. Not only that, but her fictional character on SMILF self-sabotaged just about as much as she self-pleasured. So, perhaps it is no surprise that in life Frankie Shaw was her own undoing.
Maybe this tragic trajectory is what I find so damn attractive about her, both in her art and in real life.
Always late to the party, recently Lo and I have discovered a television character no less flawed than Frankie Shaw, but whom Lo can embrace as a kindred spirit: Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag.
It became apparent early on that this deeply scarred character shared many of Lo’s kinky quirks: masturbating in bed while lying next to her sleeping boyfriend; interrupting coitus in order to finish herself off solo; sleeping with every man who is deemed off-limits to her. Not to mention that Fleabag has a wicked sense of humor. The further we binged on the all-too-brief series, the more that was revealed about Fleabag’s traumatic history, the more Lo saw herself in the character.
Suffice it to say that between you, my dear reader, and me, I have kept you at arm’s length from Lo’s dark depths, but that does not mean they do not exist. The job of art is to transform the expletives of existence into sublime poetry in order that we might live in an uneasy tension with our demons. To whatever extent possible, I try to do that for you — painting a faithful portrait, but one that necessarily leaves much darkness just outside the frame.
Recently I was in an old church for a funeral. I know that sounds like a non sequitur, but stick with me. As I sat there, a bit bored and distracted, I looked up and saw the old, exposed, solid wood beams of the vaulted ceiling. They all met in the middle where the wood was at its thickest and it directed one’s view upward. I thought, “That wood, this architecture, is symbolic. It’s meaningful and is saying something in its silent language.” I think that Lo is with me because I’m like the center of those beams: I provide stability support to the rest of the structure, while simultaneously holding things together. For the most part, I do it silently and without anyone noticing. But Lo knows it on a deep level.
However, even having said that, I know that Lo also thinks that there must be something in my distant past, something buried, something beyond my conscious awareness that has scarred me as well. First, almost no one gets through this life without some sort of trauma. Second, she knows me better than anyone — perhaps even better than I know myself, in some ways. And though I’ve never identified it, she is quite confident that there is something lurking there, deep beneath the surface, far below the vaulted ceiling of my silent security that is buried in my past. Maybe she’s right.
Writers work out deep problems in the soul. That’s why they circle back again and again. And we all know that here, in these pages, I circle back again and again to certain themes, vignettes, and motifs. I’m sure there are many men who live with nymphomaniacs like Lo, but do not feel the compulsion to write about the repeated sexploits they get up to together. Yet I do — so much! What does that say about me, I wonder? Is Lo a symptom of my wounded soul or is she the balm that I need to heal? The same could be asked about my compulsive writing. Perhaps they are both. I don’t know, but in time the work that needs to be done will unfold. Trust in the process. Be open to the process. Give reign to the process and the wrongs will write themselves.