I recently went through a therapeutic process using several different treatment modalities to deal with some unresolved issues such as 'status change' after a past relationship breakup. As part of this, it is usual for people to write letters to those people who they need to make amends to. These letters are not always sent, and, in most cases I have done so. They probably come across as slightly self-indulgent to others.
Below is one for a specific person I am no longer in contact with (with identifiable details in contrast to research ethics guidelines to have 'de-identifiable data' - I will explain to the person why if they ever contact me directly for clarification - for starters, I hope the person is safe and well). That said, the person may be unlikely to ever see or read this message. And, if they do read it, they will likely have a different view of the events described and their (non-) significance.
As Douglas Hofstadter observed in his book I Am A Strange Loop (Basic Books, New York, 2007), we can often end up with only self-referential 'simulations' or fleeting memories of the people in our deep past who were once close to us. These self-referential 'simulations' are often nothing like what a person is, now. Even if you have not seen a person in a long time --- in say 12 years --- such self-referential 'simulations' may be reactivated during periods of anxiety, stress and anniversarial issues.
This is meant as an 'appreciative' note before the memories fade. We may not be able to change our past yet we can change the significance and meaning-making that we imbue it, thus freeing our lives for the present and the unfolding future.
At least some of this did actually happen. The rest is a 'Just So' story --- a subjective 'narrative' that is constructed as a 'healing fiction' and meant to be discarded when the therapeutic intervention ends.
Timeline re-scripting using Tad James and Wyatt Woodsmall's 'timeline' methodology for Neurolinguistic Programming and 'brief' therapy intervention. For illustrative purposes only.
Important: Use of therapeutic intervention techniques by untrained practitioners or incompetent use with 'good intent' can be dangerous to both the practitioner, analyst and the analysand(s). A practitioner must be able to document their training, relevant experience and competency in the delivery of frameworks, procedures, instruments, techniques and tools.
Sources: Diane Vaughan's Uncoupling: Turning Points in Intimate Relationships (Vintage Books, New York, 1990); Jeffrey E. Young and Janet Klosko's Schema Therapy: A Practitioner's Guide (Guilford Press, New York, 2003); Tad James and Wyatt Woodsmall's Time Line Therapy and the Basis of Personality (Capitola CA, Meta Publications, 1988); the Sir James Goldsmith footage and interview in Adam Curtis' documentary series The Mayfair Set (1999); the dream transmissions in John Carpenter's film Prince of Darkness (1987); Pedro Almovodar's film Talk To Her (2002); and the 'poison pill' defence in hostile takeover attempts during mergers and acquisitions.
It is early 1995, probably around the evening of Saturday, 18th February. You are in your bedroom of the share flat in Barnes Way at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. You decide to go to a party at another flat. You get invited to a lot of parties, get to meet a lot of different people, and are very good at attracting and getting the attention of people you desire.
There are about 40 people at the party, packed into the flat's lower level and overflowing into the walkway outside. The flat's stereo is skipping between CDs by Bob Marley, the Butthole Surfers, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, early Madonna and George Michael.
In a corner is a young male in his early 20s, with glasses and red hair, and dressed in black. He is talking with a programmer flatmate of his about Douglas Hofstadter's idea of 'strange loops', the imagery of Garbage's film clip for 'Vow', and John Lilly's research into dolphin-human meta-communication.
"Who is that guy?" you ask your friends. "He's a strange one," they reply. "Silent type, deep waters. Don't go near him."
"What the hell," you think, "I can handle him." You approach and introduce yourself. "I'm Alex," he replies, and turns away from his flatmate to talk one-on-one with you, alone.
"What are you studying here?" he asks. "Economics major," you reply. "I'm about to establish my own, entrepreneurial import-export company and maybe become a financial lawyer."
Alex asks: "OK, so what are you studying or reading right now?"
You reply that it's a biography about the British entrepreneur and speculator Sir James Goldsmith - either Ivan Fallon's Billionaire: The Life and Times of Sir James Goldsmith (Arrow, London, 1991), or, more probably, Geoffrey Wansell's Tycoon: The Life of James Goldsmith (Grafton, London, 1987), but the copy is back in your flat, on the shelf above your bed, next to a fluffy pink elephant toy, your stereo and a tin can of your most treasured secrets and past loves.
"Yes," he replies, "Goldsmith was very low-key and smart: he foresaw the 1987 stock-market crash and how globalisation would change global capital markets and investment flows." He pauses. "Goldsmith was a tough corporate raider and private equity investor in Mexico, Russia, India and China. He had the foresight to see the volatile trends that Dow Theory and Technical Analysts would mistakenly think were their friends." And for effect: "He also knew when to get out of things before they went bad, unlike others."
He takes out a small, shiny black device you have never seen before. It has an Apple logo on it, the word 'iPod', a small screen, a red rotary dial, and headphones. On the back of the device are four signatures in white. You recognise one of them: U2's Bono. He mentions that he recently asked the British author J.G. Ballard on a phone call if he had seen U2's ZooTV multimedia installation designed by Brian Eno and Emergency Broadcast Network.
"Where did you get this?" you ask him.
"I'm a cinema studies and politics student who reviewed things and wrote interviews for the student newspaper Rabelais," Alex replies. "I just got off a lecture tour in Sydney following Noam Chomsky around, you know, like that 'gonzo' journalist Hunter S. Thompson?
"Anyway, sometimes a company uses our class as a 'test audience' for a new product, or sends the student newspaper a new toy to play with. It took us about a year to convince the companies that we were a 'legit' operation and not just a bunch of rebels without a pause.
"You might see this, ah, secret prototype in full production, in a few years. I have to send it back in a couple of days. The 'non-disclosure agreement' I had to sign was about 20 pages long --- but the company did wonder if others would be interested in the device."
He presses the red button. The screen lights up. He scrolls using the rotary dial, finds a menu item, and clicks it. The screen goes black for a second. He hands the device and headphones to you.
The video on the strange, black device starts. On the screen you see:
• A montage of footage about Sir James Goldsmith from the Adam Curtis documentary The Mayfair Set (BBC, London, 1999). Curtis narrates about Goldsmith's marriage at 20 to the Bolivian heiress Maria Isabel Patiño, his early deals, his Mexico estate, his unsuccessful attempt to takeover the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, an interview with Goldsmith talking about his book The Trap (1993), and the reactions to his death from pancreatic cancer in 1997, including from Tony Blair. Will he really be the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom as Curtis says?
• A title card with the words --- 'Student Short Film - Alternative Asset Class Investment: Risk Arbitrage'. The title card fails to reveal a black googly-eyed fish swimming in a fish tank that you used to own. The title card fades to grainy, scratchy black and white footage, as if you were watching a 1920s silent film from your deep, ancient, and nostalgic past.
• It is sometime in early-to-mid 1996. You are excitedly putting up streamers for a house screening party. It is the finale for the Avedon trial case in Steven Bocho's first series of Murder One (1995). Something about a second series with the Australian actor Anthony LaPaglia, but the soundtrack is maybe glitchy and you don't catch all of the conversation.
• It is sometime in mid 1997. You are standing with your mother in front of Alex's personal research collection. He has a lot of Arkana/Penguin books on George Gurdjieff, Peter Ouspensky, and something called the Fourth Way, and dealing with World War I and the 1917 Revolution in Russia. Alex tells you that his university library has a number of rare books because the library was built in the mid-to-late 1960s, during the 'Age of Aquarius' and the Human Potential movement. He has also found several other rare books in the local Theosophical Society bookshop and in second-hand bookstores. They deal with unusual subjects: Boris Mouravieff's 'Gnosis' trilogy (partly, on the Eastern tradition of Russian Orthodox Christianity as a constructivist model of medieval 'courtly love'), and a slim volume by Hassan Shusud (on the Khwajagan or Muslim 'Masters of Wisdom' of Central Asia, as a model of inter-generational cultural transmission and renewal).
Your mother comments on the title of one book that you pull out. It is James William Gibson's book Warrior Dreams: Paramilitary Culture in Post-Vietnam America (Hill & Wang, New York, 1994) which Alex has a publisher review copy of. He tells you that when he first went online in late 1993 he found Usenet newsgroups where people were very angry about the Ruby Ridge shootings and how U.S. law enforcement treated the Branch Davidians at Waco. He explains the book is interesting because Gibson was doing an anthropological study of U.S. paramilitary culture at the time that foresaw the cultural antecedents of Timothy McVeigh's involvement in the Oklahoma City Bombing on 19th April 1995.
He picks up a different book and hands it to you. It is by the dolphin and floatation tank researchers John Lilly and his wife Antonietta Lilly: The Dyadic Cyclone: The Autobiography of a Couple (Simon & Schuster, New York, 1976). He points at the word 'dyadic' and suggests it will be very important for whoever you are in a relationship with.
• It is Saturday, 18th April 1998 in the early evening. You are sitting on a lounge-room couch with Alex and his friend Terry Carty who is a fan of Elvis Presley, the early Rolling Stones, early Bob Dylan, Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters. The music discussion ranges from Jagger/Richards to Leadbelly's song 'Where Did You Sleep Last Night?' on Nirvana's MTV Unplugged in New York. Terry has bought a rare bootleg that he has told Alex about. It is a soundboard tape of an early Wings performance that has Linda McCartney's backing vocals isolated from the other musicians and the venue audience. You all laugh at how out-of-tune Linda McCartney sounds. You then turn on the lounge-room television to see the day's news. The lead story is that Linda McCartney has just passed away from liver cancer, on 17th April.
Stunned, Alex walks outside to your shared house front-yard. He gazes up at the sky, mumbles something about the dust-jacket for the first edition of Philip K. Dick's posthumously published novel Radio Free Albemuth (1985), something called 'VALIS', a writing syndicate in Austin, Texas, with a strange sense of humour, and shakes his head in disbelief. Your car's starter engine will not work. Alex returns inside and looks at Terry and yourself: "Something very weird has just happened."
Soon after this event you change universities and undergraduate degrees. Change has been 'on the cards' for awhile. You finally break up with Alex; it's tough for a few months yet you are stronger and more focused for the experience. You embark on a new life with new opportunities and new friends. You see Alex socially a few times after that but he takes the relationship's end pretty badly and things don't work out: he confronts feelings of suicidal ideation at your last face-to-face meeting. It is more like REM's 'The One I Love' than 'Losing My Religion'.
• It is Friday, 21st September 2001. You are watching the U.S. President George W. Bush on the television announce the Global War on Terror, in a landmark joint sitting of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, filmed on 20th September due to the time difference between Australia and the United States.
The same day as Bush's speech Alex is on a plane to New York --- on his 28th birthday --- and cringing, laughing about you whilst watching the films Bridget Jones's Diary (2001) and Shrek (2001). He wishes the in-flight entertainment system had the BBC mini-series Edge of Darkness (1985). As you know, romantic comedies are not his usual thing. Thankfully, there are no episodes of Sex and the City and he skips over Friends.
When he gets to New York City and stays with his friend, author Howard Bloom in Park Slopes, Brooklyn, it is a late autumn afternoon. Alex stands on the roof of Bloom's apartment block and sees the dust cloud over Ground Zero. At that moment he has four thoughts. First: It's been a week and the dust cloud is still here - don't see that in the newspapers or media coverage! Second: I am alone here, I wish you were here to see this with me, where the hell are you? He turns and sees a brief flash of you behind him on the rooftop. Third: I've got a feeling something pretty bad is now going to happen! Fourth: New Yorkers are being nice to each-other for once, but I wonder what it's like somewhere else where bombs fall all the time? What is it like for those people?
A few weeks later he is in Newcastle to speak at a festival called This Is Not Art. He leaves a garbled, late night phone message at your mother's house, wishing you a happy birthday. Soon afterwards, your partner writes Alex to mention you have talked about him, but does not leave a reply email address.
• It is near the time of your death, sometime far in the unknown, onrushing future. You are surrounded in hospice care by your closest friends and family. You have had a rich, deeply satisfying life despite its difficulties and occasional disappointments. A thanatologist - someone who studies the human experience of death - plays quiet harp music in the background.
At the moment near your death, as you drift peacefully away, your mind begins to spool back through your life, like the Lost finale (2010) or how David Fincher's film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) ends --- revisiting all of the people --- some major and some minor --- who you had a positive impact on and whose lives you changed. As the sea of faces flies past, you feel a sense of warmth, light, gratitude, acceptance, and above all, unconditional love.
Alex is one of the faces you see flash past you. He is holding your pink, fluffy elephant toy. He tells you that whilst your relationship with him in this alternative future was life-changing, it was like that between Sir James Goldsmith and the Bolivian heiress Maria Isabel Patiño: short, painful, and bittersweet, and only one of many other relationships you have had since. He says the Australian artist Vali Myers once looked at him sadly, before you met him, and told him not to worry about women or to get fixated on one: he would meet plenty of them.
"What did I mean to you?" you ask. At that point your mind returns to a moment in late 1995, in your flat, when Alex says he has just felt your thoughts change. "Yes, that's normal for a couple," you reply, thinking of the Taoist tantric practices you initiated Alex --- and many others --- into, without perhaps explicitly being aware that this is what you were doing.
He was finally beginning to thaw, with your help.
His image flickers. As you see his eyes, he says: "I once read a pulpy novel in my teens that explains all of this, and it's not Stephen King's The Stand. I also later corresponded with John Shirley, the scriptwriter of The Crow, a film that deeply affected you, and although I have a copy, I still have not seen it. I am sending you this message from the year 1-9-9-"
The video suddenly ends with static and the sound of white noise.
"Well, hey, I bet you're relieved you never had to go through all of that!" Alex laughs. "It's just a student film project, all very abstract. Thanks for being a 'test audience' for five or seven minutes." He takes the strange black device from you, smiles and turns to leave. "It's late, I need a coffee, and I have some writing to do, and deadlines to meet." He walks out of the party just as Robby Krieger's guitar starts to play the opening riff on the flat's stereo to 'The End' by The Doors.
You feel the moment is 'staged' and he is being too serious and, at the same time, totally self-indulgent with you. Your friends were right to warn you. You change the stereo's CD player to Madonna's 'Erotica' instead. Way more fun and appropriate music for a university flat party on a Saturday night, and to get people on the dance floor. And, hey, it's early: only 1am. At least two more parties to go to tonight, and new people to meet. Plus: anyone who decides to work on a Saturday night when there are parties to go to must be crazy or socially phobic!
A few days later you decide to return the Goldsmith book to the Borchardt library at La Trobe University. When you get to the pedestrian walkway between Barnes Way, Kingsbury Drive, and the main campus, Alex is waiting at the lights. "Let me drop that back for you," he says, "you have more important things to do."
You hand the Goldsmith book to him without saying a word. The pedestrian lights change. He walks across Kingsbury Drive and does not turn to look back at you.
Far away, you hear the La Trobe clock bells chime the number thirteen.
You never see Alex again.