I want to write like music. I want to write in a sustained sound. I want to write in a loop that goes around, on and on. I want to write with never-ending tension. I want to write like the opening of a door, the scuffle of feet, the distant sound of something coming soon.
I want to write like I dream and see my mother, looking young and sharp, in the car with me to the airport, our bags overflowing out the back, a starship flier picking us up before we even get there, continents vanishing in steam.
I want to write like it was left unsaid, like eyes see. I want to write in a burrow, like roots to rocks. I want to write words that mean something else in their unconscious self.
We drove sixteen hours to a Grateful Dead show in Columbia, South Carolina. I took the graveyard shift and consumed caffeine pills and coffee to stay awake. I didn’t sleep that night nor the next day, and came crashing down in the middle of the concert.
Awful black clouds washed over me as I desperately tried to think of a sane notion and cling to it. I knew this was just a matter of exhaustion and thought that if I just turned as much of my body off as I could, it would eventually pass. It didn’t work. I knew that I knew nothing, that I really never thought about anyone but myself, that no one existed, nothing existed except my nonsensical perspective.
I tried to think of the most basic things possible. Chair. Table. Lamp. These were words. I understood them. I knew what they were. But then the chair would dissolve into a table and the table would melt into the lamp, the lamp would fade to black. There was no substance, no reality, nothing existed. Chair. Table. Lamp. They didn’t actually exist. They only existed in my mind. The black clouds continued to flow in. If a chair wasn’t a chair, then I wasn’t anything. I didn’t exist. I only thought I did.
Chair. Table. Lamp. I could sit in a chair, write on a table, see light from a lamp. It wasn’t my imagination. I could touch them. I knew I could touch them. Chair. Table. Lamp. I had eyes. I had fingers. I knew they existed…the house lights went out. This was reality. A cheer went up. The band was returning to the stage for the encore. The clouds seemed to be breaking up. I didn’t have to focus my wild stare on anything. I could gaze into the soft colored lights. I was going to live. And stay sane. For now at least.
The very first time The Fear hit me was when I was six or seven years old. We were having Sunday supper and were watching The Wizard of Oz. Everything seemed to be normal. Nothing of note, to the best of my memory, happened that day. This was probably the fourth or fifth time I had seen the film. And then, right when the witch appeared in a cloud of orange smoke in Munchkin Land I got this horrible feeling. I wasn’t afraid of the witch; it wasn’t anything like that. It was a much more general feeling. Everything just seemed wrong, bad, evil. I couldn’t sit still. I had to stand up and move.
I walked across the room – nobody, not my sister, brother, father or mother, seemed to take any particular notice – and sat in a chair in the corner. I figured that if I didn’t watch the movie the feeling would go away. But it didn’t. I walked out of the room, down the hall and around the quiet, empty house. I paced up and down the stairs, went room to room, floor to floor. It took some time, but it did eventually fade away. I never directly associated the feeling with anything, but the movie certainly did seem to have brought it on. I didn’t watch any more of the film that night, nor did I see it for another fifteen years.
For the next few years I had two consistent nightmares. One where a witch lived in the basement and another where I would be sucked in between the walls and into the pipes by some sort of foreboding evil. I saw The Wizard of Oz again sometime later. It was incredible; no horrible feelings. I laughed all the way through. It is one of the best films ever made.
Highsmith revealed that in order to get herself in a different frame of mind, by pretending she was not herself, moving herself into a state of innocence, free of the day-to-day worries and anxieties of life. Her favorite technique to ease herself into the right frame of mind for work was to sit on her bed surrounded by cigarettes, ashtray, matches, a mug of coffee, a doughnut and an accompanying saucer of sugar. She had to avoid any sense of discipline and make the act of writing as pleasurable as possible.