Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Jung Over, Part Two: Geography of the Self

Last month, I took instruction from a dream concocted by my unconscious mind, and wrote about it on this blog. It was confirmation of Karl Jung's theories of dreams.

This time, I've re-read something in John Updike that I experienced in a dream, and once again I find confirmation for Karl Jung's teachings.  Jung thought that dreams of homes are dreams of our own bodies;  the human inhabitant is the soul. 

Updike begins his memoir Self-Consciousness with a long essay about his childhood home.  When he was around 50, he left his Mother and second wife watching the movie Being There in the old cinema of Shillington, PA, while he took the chance to wander up and down the street where he'd lived as a young boy, and where he'd strutted as a teenager.  "You had to be there" never was more appropos, as he detailed ordinary places to the point that I was just about exasperated. That the whole town was merely the furniture of his consciousness, and he, center of this universe, was almost embarrassing.  But then he reached his conclusion:
Billions of consciousnesses silt history full, and every one of them is the center of the universe.  What can we do in the face of this unthinkable truth but scream or take refuge in God? ... [Reviewing the town] I had expected to be told who I was, and why, and had not been entirely disappointed. (40-41).
Elsewhere in this blog, I review Updike's final book of poetry, in which he writes one more time of his Shillington childhood, admitting that he has written of these many times, because "for me, they have no bottom." (See my Updike page.)

My Shillington is Cincinnati.  My grandmother lived in a modest but immaculate home in Madeira, north of the city.  It was a home purchased by her son, my Uncle Jack, in the late 1940s.  She moved in when Jack and his wife Blanche moved to the swanky Indian Hills neighborhood. 

Not long after my grandmother died, I had a vivid dream from which I awoke with tears streaming down my face.  That was unprecedented, and I took notice!  In the dream, not so different from my actual final visit to her home following her funeral, I searched every room of her home for "the secret to me."  Something there, I didn't know what, was the key to my personality and my future.  I cried because I could not find it.

A moment's reflection, after I awoke, revealed that the "key" was nothing in the house, but the house itself:  a sense of myself as loved, worthy, special, that I felt whenever I visited my grandmother's home.  Her antiques and her notions of interior decoration (pink shag rug in the kitchen, pink marbled wall paper and chandeliered sconces in the tiny bathroom)  made the place, for me, the epitome of class.

Updike's memoir moves on to other topics.  He modestly focuses on his physical weaknesses that, by forcing him to compensate, contributed to his eventual success.  His sense of indignities as one of the poor boys in Shillington motivated his "revenge" of becoming the town's single celebrity.  His account of the humiliations of stuttering turns into an account of his success as a writer in a chapter called "Getting the Words Out." 

I'm amused, at 54, to read his description of being in his mid-50s, a bit foolish-looking to others, a bit oblivious to the current popular trends, and yet feeling that his life is really just beginning.  He had become like the father-in-law that he used to ridicule.

I wonder at the fact that I've now spent time rereading a memoir by an author whose complete works, based on memory I've read.    There's a part of me that feels ashamed to be spending my time and energy on someone so self-absorbed. 

Still, as Updike tells us, the materialists have it all wrong.  If they deny God and the realm of spirit, they deny the "very realm where we exist and where all things precious are kept" (250).

Well, Updike is wise, and Jung is right:  my Grandmother's house is also me.  When I was about to leave her home for the last time, I burst into tears and sobs that I hadn't had at the funeral.   I ran back to her bedroom and sobbed, not for her, but for the loss of the little boy who had been her grandson: no one else would remember him.  Thankfully, I was able to keep a couple of chairs from her home, which had seemed to me thrones for a young prince.   I have them, still.

So the places of our youth are also symbols of ourselves.  Jung is right, Updike intuits that, and my dreams to this day confirm it. 

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