Monday, October 28, 2013

I Have A Thinking Problem

 A few days ago I sent myself an email that said "Is thinking about things ruining my life?"

You know what they say: "The first step is admitting you have a problem."

So yes: I have a thinking problem.

As the offspring of a chemical engineering professor dad and a letters-to-the-editor type mom, I probably started off with a genetic predisposition for problem thinking, and a lot of my youth was spent pursuing a more non-thinking lifestyle. Mostly that was through the classic methods of sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll.

In college I studied math, and I might have been OK if I'd been able to stick with that. Because even though math is thinking, it's not thinking about anything. It's like the mental equivalent of wholesome but pointless exercise: you do it, it's fun, and when you're done, you're pleasantly worn out and ready for rest.

But as we all know that didn't happen. And opting for philosophy -- well, it's like a sugar addict committing to life in a candy store. Thinking thinking thinking, and then when the day is over, you just can't stop. A movie? Food? Music? Ooh, I have some thoughts!!!

The other day I happened to pick up a book by Colette -- the first of the wonderful Claudine books, Claudine at School. You know about Colette? Belle époque writer and music-hall performer, celebrity with a complex and varied romantic life.

When I was in my late teens I was a maniac for Colette's writings and I was especially crazy about the Claudine stories, which begin with the story of teenage small-town Claudine and her crushes and romances with other girls, her flirtations with teachers and adults of both sexes, her intellectually sophisticated jokes, and her ultimate seriousness about life. The Claudine stories get more complicated, but always, they are books that make me feel at home.

When I picked up Claudine at School last week, I began with Colette's Preface, and was reminded of the fact that her famous wit and charlatan first husband Willy (full name Henry Gauthier-Villars, he claimed to be a fancy aristocrat) had told her to write the stories and had told her to "spice them up."

And because my thinking is now out of control, this led me into a spiral of reflection. Were the things I resonated with in Colette partly there because some guy wanted to sell more books? If they were did it matter? How did feminism come into play?

My friend assured me that there was really no cause for concern. The things I loved in Colette were the things she continued to write about for the rest of her very long life, during and after her other two marriages and her many other affairs and her many romantic friendships. Even if Willy  had prompted her thoughts on that occasion, they were her thoughts, and they were of a piece with the way she wrote about life and love and sex for the rest of her life.

Though I'm persuaded by this answer, I feel something in this thought process has not been good, that the thoughts themselves dampened or mediated something that had been bright and unmediated, in a wonderful way, before I started thinking too much about them. I feel I used to be able to access that brighter more immediate relation to the world, before my thinking got out of control.

There is no real answer to this problem. Like eating, thinking isn't the kind of thing you can just give up cold turkey. And it's not like I can reimmerse myself in the sex, drugs and rock'n'roll lifestyle. Because as we all know, the way of the adolescent, though it's not wrong, is just not sustainable.


Daniel said...


Your post has a sad tone, which I want to acknowledge before adding that it also made me laugh out loud. I love the idea of thinking out of control, or out of control thinking. I totally relate, and sometimes like of think of ways to control it. Maybe secondary materials - prefaces, commentary, &c - on things that are beloved should be avoided at all costs. A willful exercise in not learning! :)

Patricia Marino said...

Hi Daniel,
Sad-funny is the best kind of funny and I'm so glad it make you laugh.

I used to have an effective anti-preface-etc. policy ... but I feel like scholarship/research has been like a gateway drug: once I started reading prefaces, I couldn't stop!