The Blue Notebook
So I said the American could come, provided I didn’t have to see him, and then Molly said. ‘He’s not bad, I’ve met him, awfully brash and opinionated, but then they all are.’ I said: ‘I don’t think they’re brash, that’s a stereotype from the past, the Americans these days are cool and shut off, they’ve got glass or ice between themselves and the rest of the world.’ ‘Oh if you say so,’ Molly said, ‘but I’m busy.’
Afterwards I thought of what I’d said, it was interesting because I hadn’t known I’d thought it until I said it. But it’s true. Yes. They can be brash and noisy, but more often full of good-humour, yes that’s their characteristic, good-humour. And underneath the hysteria, the fear of involvement. I’ve been sitting and thinking about the Americans I’ve known. A lot of them now. I remember the week-end I spent with F., a friend of Nelson’s. At first, I was relieved, I thought: A normal man at last, thank God. Then I understood, everything was from his head. He was ‘good in bed’. Consciously, positively dutifully ‘a man’. But no warmth. Everything measured out. The wife ‘back home’ whom he patronized with every word he said (but really he was afraid of her — he was afraid not of her but of the obligations to society she represented). And the careful non-committal affairs. Exactly the right amount of warmth measured out — everything worked out, for such and such a relationship, so much emotion. Yes, that’s their quality, something measured, shrewd and cool. Of course, emotion is a trap, it delivers you into the hands of society, that’s why people are measuring it out.
I put myself back into the state of mind I was in when I went to Mother Sugar. I can’t feel, I said. I don’t care about anyone in the world except Janet. Seven years ago now? — something like that. When I left her I said: You’ve taught me to cry, thank you for nothing, you’ve given me back feeling, and it’s too painful.
How old-fashioned of me to seek a witch-doctor to be taught to feel. Because now I think of it, I see that people everywhere are trying not to feel. Cool, cool, cool, that’s the word. That’s the banner. From America first, but now us. I think of the groups of young people, political and social around London, Tommy’s friends, the new socialists — that’s what they have in common, a quality of measured emotion, coolness.
In a world as terrible as this, limit emotion. How odd I didn’t see it before.
And against this instinctive retreat into no-feeling, as a protection against pain, Mother Sugar — I remember saying to her in exasperation: ‘If I said to you that the H-bomb has fallen and obliterated half Europe, you’d click with your tongue, tck, tck, and then, if I was weeping and wailing, you’d invite me, with an admonitory frown or a gesture, to remember, or take into account some emotion I was wilfully excluding. What emotion? Why, joy, of course. Consider, my child, you’d say, or imply, the creative aspects of destruction! Consider the creative implications of the power locked in the atom! Allow your mind to rest on those first blades of tentative green grass that will poke into the light out of the lava in a million years time!’ She smiled, of course. Then the smile changed and became dry, here was one of the moments, outside the analyst-patient relationship that I waited for. She said: ‘My dear Anna, it is possible after all that in order to keep ourselves sane we will have to learn to rely on those blades of grass springing in a million years?’