Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The Upside of Doubling

There’s a woodpecker rapping on a palm tree somewhere nearby. He raps fast and lightly and then goes quiet again. It’s impossible to tell where he is in terms of distance and general direction relative to myself. Last night when I was walking with the wife and dog there was an owl up high in a tree. We could hear his voice but could not find him up in the branches; we had some idea of his distance and general direction relative to us but there was a streetlight glaring down and we could not see upper portion of the trees. Our dog did not care; she was busy setting up and delivering a tinkle at the base of the lamppost. Now, if there’d been another owl nearby, something to use as a point of comparison, we might’ve deduced the tree where the first owl was sitting.
As I was writing this a pounding began outside. It is quite regular, slow, and powerful, like a giant, sluggish woodpecker. But I know what it is; I can identify it as the sound of the bridge construction in the harbor. They are pounding in the footings. If I were to hear the woodpecker again, because I know the direction of the second pounding, I could fix the position of the woodpecker more accurately, or at least know where he isn’t. Doubles can be helpful in this way.

Here’s another example. Inspired by Chatterton, I wrote an offensive, lurid, sensational story that was almost totally ripped off from other writers. The last quality is what interests me the most; I felt that there was a healthy emotional distance between myself and the story (because it was a double). I took it to my writer’s group last night and read the first seven pages aloud; the reaction ranged from outright negativity to hopeful mystification. There was an intense young fellow in attendance who ripped into the story with great vigor, even going so far as to identity me (the writer) with the first-person narrator of the story. I reacted to his criticism with anger; I felt defensive. I thought I’d never met a person as annoying as this fellow. Then I realized that he reminded me of myself and I realized that I was reacting to his perceived defects of character as if they were my own.

I’m interested in group dynamics. I don’t believe we have complete freedom to choose our role within a group. So, until the arrival of this new fellow, I’d been the intense one, the one who sometimes went a little too far in his critiques, who was often overzealous in the pursuit of some minor observation. I was often mystified by my own behavior, as it didn’t seem consistent with my personality as it manifested outside the writer’s group.

Then, eureka! I recognized this young fellow as my double, and it occurred to me that he could take over the role of “angry young man” and that I could be left to pursue a new role in the group. Doubling as a means of liberation.

I’ll give another example that might illustrate this. When I was twelve, our family took a friend of my older brother’s into our home. He had come from a dysfunctional situation and was certainly grateful to have a nice place to stay; however, he was incorrigibly bad. He would crouch on the side of the house and smoke pot, he would ride his moped around town, looking for trashy girls, and he was a fan of heavy metal rock. He was a source of shock and dismay to my mother. However, upon his arrival, my experience in the family improved dramatically. Until that time I’d been the “bad child.” My older brother was studious, courteous, obedient, and quiet, and I was none of these things; consequently I was usually the focus of any corrective or punitive measures taken by my parents. Then along came my brother’s friend, who was in some ways my double, and I found new room to explore my identity. I was not the focal point of negativity; I was freed.

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