Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Visit to the Hypnotist

In recent weeks I've taken to wandering the streets crying out like the ghost of Whitman, 'Oh notebook, my notebook! You were my library and playpark, my outer dream and my inner net!' I also hang out in North Shields Netto asking the refrigerated chickens in a Ginsbergian frenzy, 'Are you my notebook?'

No I don't. I'm so busy I'm struggling to put down the next five entries for this blog which I have 'written' in my head (more on this concept of what is already 'written' in the mind elsewhere.) But recently (before I went off to a festival and on a tour and embarked on mucho teaching), having just done a reading, I was having a quiet pint outside Venezuala's Bolivar Hall, just off the Tottenham Court Road, with brother brodyagi Andy Croft and Paul Summers. I'd gone through the potential scenarios of partial recovery, including a return to Moscow, when Paul said why not visit a hypnotist?

This immediately seemed a necessary part of this very project -- and I was encouraged by his tale of a composer who had retrieved an entire lost manuscript by this method, which put a similar goal in my mind.

I didn't only want to know where and when I might have lost the notebook, I wanted that particular twenty page passage from it concerning the trip we had taken to Moscow. Here were the closely-detailed descriptions of stations and passengers -- and the beginnings of drafts -- I particularly needed if my portion of the book was to go ahead according to my usual compositional method.

So I duly visited the hypnotist, who lived in a bungalow in Ponteland and specialised in past life regression, and found he was an old habitue of the Newcastle writing scene, and had known the likes of George Charlton in the early nineties, before I'd moved to the North East. Perhaps this (hypnotism? reincarnation?) is what happens to a percentage of all writers or readers of poetry. Whether influenced by his own past or not, he was certainly happy to try regressing me to two periods -- one the week before when the notebook had been lost, and the other six months previous to that in Moscow -- in the hope that some key details would re-emerge. But, he warned me, chances were fifty-fifty in such cases.

I set out the same recorder I'd taken round the Metro, capturing the clangs and whooshes, thunderings and clip-footed hurryings of that underground system, and was first relaxed, though without the twangs, plinks and plashings of the proffered muzak, and then encouraged to visualise a Secure Place. This, for me, is our bed in Crete, enveloped in the great cube of a mosquito net (or whatever you call a box where the sides are rectangles), but with window and french windows open to the hillside. I used to like sneaking in for a siesta and listening to the hoarse shout of cicadas on the the vine, a few tardy cockerels, and the sealion-meets-bicycle horn bark of a particularly unfortunate dog. In such scenarios, the notebook would always be tucked snugly under my pillow with a pen.

I was then taken back in what I supposed was a shallow trance (it was no doubt much deeper than I realised), attempting to access memories of first the more distant, and second the more proximate time. In each case I was surprised, firstly by how vivid the sense of inhabiting the memory was, and secondly by how much an act of will this was, by how clearly it was a memory I was riffling through as one riffles through papers, and not a reliving of a preserved experience.

I had, for instance, a strong impression of walking backwards and forwards surreptitiously recording the sound of the escalators in the first station we visited, Planernaya. I also had a vivid image of my feet marching along beneath me as I headed for the car on the fateful morning of Loss of Notebook. But everything was shot through with unlit spaces in which I began to distract myself half-consciously, half-hypnogogically with the image of the notebook as a koala bear's nose. Some aspect of me clearly wasn't taking things seriously enough.

I shouldn't have been surprised by that strong sense that this was not a live unfolding of a somehow recorded event, having done a collaborative project on the nature of memory with the eminent neuropsychologist Martin Conway, and having had conversations on this subject with the novelist and neuropsychologist Charles Ferneyhough, I was quite aware that each memory is a construct, rebuilt each time according to the viewpoint of the self you are at the point of recall, rather than a distinct object, perfectly preserved in the brain. I was even aware that this concept of the memory was likely to interfere with a process of hypnosis which assumed the possibility of perfect recall. I was all round too aware for the kind of flat-out sybilline intoning I had hoped for.

Equally, I knew fine that the carefully-assembled visualisation I was attempting was a mild version of the sort of inner journeying I had embarked on during my more chemically-stimulated twenties, and that a vivid interior life, borrowing from the eidetic states between sleeping and waking and including marsupials and, frequently, Mark E. Smith, was already very much part of my creative processes.

But I was heartened by the hypnotist's advice that this was a process strengthened by practice, and to a certain extent this has proven to be the case. I can now, through a process of self-hypnosis roughly parallel to the state of savasana I've been popping myself into since adolescence, strongly imagine the notebook and very roughly 'read' its contents, even though this does not amount to a process of dictation from some inner muse, and this in turn stimulates more detailed memories of the Moscow trip than I would otherwise experience. Hope stirs in the busiest of pigeon-shaped bosoms.

Of course, when I checked, I found I hadn't switched the recorder on.

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