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“Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”
E.M. Forster

The Soul Phone Won’t Stop Ringing

The Boy is pacing up and down the hallway. Like he is trying to get somewhere but he can’t arrive. It is too far away. The hallway is a corridor. It connects his bedroom with the bedroom of the Sister and the Brother and, most importantly, with the bedroom of the Mother and the Father. There is the kitchen at the far end. Turn right and you get through another passageway into the living room. Turn back on yourself and you see the telephone on a marble table with mahogany legs with a dog basket underneath at the other end of the corridor with the front door to the left. In between are two bathrooms. Putting its arm around the block of rooms is an elbow of a balcony on the fourth floor. That is where the Boy lived when he was a boy. But where he is going is not in any of those rooms.

Perhaps there are two places the Boy wants to go: he is trying to get away from what is there and to somewhere else. But the Boy doesn’t know where and he doesn’t know what is wrong with where he is either. It is home and he doesn’t know another. The alternative, which he cannot see, would be to be someone else or better, to be himself. The problem is that the False Self has moved into the Boy and his True Self has moved into the basement. The False Self is trying to walk out and make space for his True Self but it can’t because only the False Self is liked by the Mother and the Father. The Boy is trying to get into the basement. The Real Self is lost in darkness and doesn’t know where to go. So, instead the Boy just paces up and down the hallway.

The Boy feels giddy from pacing which feels good and when he walks for long enough, the telephone stops ringing. That feels even better.
I haven’t mentioned this yet. There is another place the Boy wants to go. That place is where the telephone doesn’t ring because it always rings and it hurts his head that it won’t stop.

It rings all the time the telephone on the top of the table at the end of the corridor next to his bedroom. It rings and rings and the Boy can never answer it. And, although he can never answer it -because when he does, the carpet rolls up to trip him up and he smashes his teeth on the marble top- the phone call is already happening even while he has not yet answered the phone and while it is still ringing. It is his soul phone calling him to tell him that the Mother and the Father are dead.


Writing takes me to a threshold. I am offered the opportunity to write my way over and through it, but I spend significant time and energy avoiding it. Although it is precisely what I am drawn to, I cannot easily pass through the veil. It is often as though I must first build up significant frustration and then take that emotional charge to commit to what I have set out to do: write.

You’d be right to advise me to just do it. But such is the destiny of one who has spent the first half of his lifetime constructing himself in service of someone else’s emotional needs that he cannot “just do it” unless it is entirely clear to him what it is he is doing and even then he gets lost. The only way to avoid the agony of being trapped in the web of my own constructs is to get into a state of flow which is not the same as a state of thinking. When I think the words, they lose their immediacy. I think for someone else. It is not what I want to say. It is how I think I need to say it so that someone else will understand me. This is ironic because I also know that the one I have spent a lifetime trying to get to understand me, will either do so out of his own or not at all. Yet, I spend considerable time and energy on constructing a piece as somebody else might understand and while I do so, the threads unravel. I can no longer hold in my head what I spent years carefully collecting and bringing together. I am petrified of what I am trying to do and expecting it to be dismissed, shot down. And, most ironic of all, I also know that he who I feel eternally criticised, misunderstood and dismissed by, only has a faint semblance to the real man in the external world. My Inner Father still holds me in his vice whereas my father has offered some signs of reflection, and, truth be told, it doesn’t matter. But just like “just do it” won’t do it, so “it doesn’t matter” holds no sway, unless I find my way back into the flow because enough pressure has built up and I just do it. Just like I am doing right now.

This is the real crux of this project: to commit to the place I found once I had peeled back enough layers of the onion to find where my path had become someone else’s, the place where I had sacrificed my True Self in favour of a False Self, untangled the stinking mess, unmerged myself from the frightening demons who insisted that losing them would be my death when really it was theirs, and returned there, able to hold my own as a grown man where I could not as a child, and start walking the path again, falling off the cliff edge every step of the way.

Intelligence. My father praised intelligence. For him, it was the panacea. I ended up trying for intelligence because anything else was simply wrong. I am not unintelligent but I am actually not a good thinker. I am a good perceiver. I can read between the lines. Pick up subtleties. But being intelligent somehow reversed the umbilical cord for my father and I could nurture him that way. It was wrong and felt wrong but I knew no different. And any different caused pain. It is an irony that of course I felt pain this way too. However, it was the lesser of the two pains and it could be explained simply by believing that I was wrong. Believing that my father was wrong was not possible at the time because I needed him as a father.

As an ageing man, Winnicott wrote a poem about the effects of the psychical death of the mother on the child:

The dead mother

Mother below is weeping
weeping
weeping
Thus I knew her

Once, stretched out on her lap
as now on dead tree
I learned to make her smile
to stem her tears
to undo her guilt
to cure her inwards death
To enliven her was my living.

(Winnicott 1966)

In my case, I had a double role. I found that my living as a child and adolescent revolved around enlivening both of my parents but in different often conflicting ways. Thus, a relationship triangle of projected love, jealousy and compliance held us hostage and led to bitter and almost deadly conflicts: when I was 21, my father attempted suicide after we’d had an argument about his displeasure at my working late in “his living room” after he had gone to bed. (As so often, the content of the argument was hardly the substance of it.)

It was but the tip of the iceberg of the psychic entanglement which had been my incubator. I had to make several attempts to leave home because the enmeshment did not want to be disturbed and it used every tool at its disposal to crush any sign of independent life.

I ran away. I did it my way. The second part of my life’s story unfolded in many chapters as I, the Changeling, tried to find myself. It’s eventual end was the realisation that what I was running away from was staring back at me in the mirror, now no longer patiently waiting.

The one I am writes. He writes not because understands. He writes because he wants to understand. It is a journey into the belly of the beast, a journey underground. Yet, again and again, the tendrils of my thinking break through and take over, try to structure what I say, suck the life out what it is that make me alive, try to force me into some dead, wooden thing – well thought through but lifeless – and make it impossible for my True Self to get anywhere.

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