This is the last of the four portraits I took at the Columbus Avenue Flea Market within the space of an hour. I was surprised to get so many good photos in so unlikely a location. This individual gave me permission to photograph him, but his thoughts seemed far away.
Friday, November 30, 2018
Wednesday, November 28, 2018
Shortly before 9 a.m. on Friday morning, Professor Elicott sat alone in the university’s faculty lounge, a comfortable and uncrowded space – perhaps because students had been so rigorously prohibited from ever entering its confines – that contained an array of sturdily built armchairs and glass-topped chrome tables. On the lime green walls were hung landscape paintings by a former instructor of abnormal psychology who had ended his days in confinement at Bellevue. The images were all of dimly lit jungle habitats overgrown with tendrils and vines in whose shadows half-seen predators lurked.
While Elicott waited for Reicha to join him, he read through a series of papers written by his freshmen students for the Introduction to Psychology course he taught twice a week. The material was all very basic and the professor found he needed to devote little more than half his attention to grading the assignments.
When Reicha finally arrived, he appeared tired and in a bad humor. He clutched a paper cup in his hand. Without saying a word, he threw himself down in a plush leather chair opposite Elicott’s own and directed a peevish glance at his colleague. “You certainly look well rested, Professor. I don’t know how you always manage to appear so wide awake so early in the day. By the time I’m able to get myself going, it’s already past lunchtime.”
“I simply keep regular hours and go to bed at a reasonable time. There isn’t anything more to it than that.” There was a hint of reproach in Elicott’s voice as he returned the other’s gaze. “You should try it yourself sometime.”
“Please,” said Reicha as he held up his hand in front of him. “The last thing I need now is a lecture. If that’s what I wanted, I could telephone my mother in Oregon.”
Elicott had no desire to antagonize his associate and adopted a more sympathetic tone. “What’s the matter, Doctor? Is your ex-wife causing you more problems? I would have thought the divorce had been finalized by now.”
“Don’t mention that woman to me. She’s the bane of my existence. Would you believe she’s asking the court to force me to put her new lover’s child through college? As if I didn’t have enough trouble paying child support for my own offspring.”
Elicott, who knew Reicha’s stormy marriage had finally broken up over an affair he had conducted rather too openly with a resident nurse at a nearby hospital, tried to be tactful. “At least she’s attempting to establish a life of her own. That’s what you claimed you’d always wanted, isn’t it?”
“I implore you not to throw my own words back at me,” the psychiatrist responded. “At least not until I’m in a better state of mind.”
“If it would help, you’re always welcome to join Eloise and me for dinner one evening. We’d love to have you over.”
“That’s very kind, Professor. I don’t want to impose on you and your wife though. There’s no reason why either of you should waste an evening listening to my problems. Especially as they’re no more original than any other man’s – just the usual complaints of a middle aged curmudgeon who once again has to accustom himself to living as a bachelor. It’s a fairly idiotic situation. And that’s exactly what makes it so tiresome.”
Elicott smiled politely. “As long as you know you’re welcome.”
“I appreciate that. I really do. For the time being, though, I’m probably better off driving out to Montauk on weekends and spending a few hours surfing the waves or else sitting alone on the beach.” With that, Reicha at last roused himself to some semblance of professionalism and turned to the matter at hand. “Why was it you wanted to meet this morning? Something to do with the project I suppose.”
Elicott broached the subject cautiously. “Things have generally been going well, but the actions of a few participants have given me cause for concern.”
“In what way? I’ve spoken to several of them and they’ve generally come across as a pretty tame bunch, at least as far as I can determine. Have any of them been acting out?”
“One of my concerns is with this Connor fellow,” said Elicott. “What do you think of him?” Without giving the psychiatrist any opportunity to respond, he continued, “To be frank, he seems pretty high strung to me. That’s why I sent him to you the other day.”
Reicha shrugged. “Borderline personality problem. He suffers from low level depression that’s aggravated by his current unemployment. I don’t see any reason to worry. Once he’s able to find himself a job and a girlfriend, he’ll be fine.”
“Do you think so? He always seems so intense when I speak to him. He acts as though the project were the only thing in his life. It’s unnerving at times.”
“Exactly. The project is all he has. Connor’s self-esteem is so low right now that he needs to be successful here just to keep himself going. Personally, I think it’s a good thing that he’s so committed to what we’re doing. It keeps him focused.”
“I told you how upset he was over that missing version of Hamlet he imagined he’d seen. Doesn’t that strike you as odd in any way?”
Reicha took a sip of coffee – cream, no sugar – from the paper cup he held in his hand and then put it down on the table beside him. “The coffee they serve here in the cafeteria is wretched, isn’t it? Total swill.”
“I never drink it myself.” Elicott glanced briefly at the bottle of mineral water he had placed on the table beside him. “But I was talking about Connor’s attitude,” he resumed. “I’m no psychiatrist, of course, but the fact that he was so perturbed when his dream content failed to match reality would seem to indicate he has difficulty distinguishing between the two.”
“I wouldn’t fret too much about that myself. It’s always disconcerting to discover one’s memory is at fault. I’ve had my own lapses from time to time.”
“It’s happened to me on occasion as well,” the professor admitted. “And yes, such experiences can definitely be upsetting, sometimes deeply so.”
“When we consider who we are, it’s really our memories that determine our identities. If the memories themselves are false, then we’re literally different people than those we think ourselves to be. In the end, it becomes an almost existential dilemma.”
“That’s too theoretical an argument to be worth pursuing at this point,” said Elicott who was obviously feeling somewhat frustrated by the direction the conversation had taken. “Let’s put aside the matter of Connor for the time being, shall we? I’m actually more worried right now with the status of another subject, Marguerite Zilander. She seems to be experiencing genuine distress in her dreams.”
For the first time, Reicha’s expression grew perturbed. “Yes, she’s spoken to me about it several times herself. She’s very insistent and actually interrupted a conversation I was having with Connor because she wanted to discuss the problem in more detail. From what I can gather, she seems to think there are presences all about her whenever she has a dream, lucid or not. What’s interesting is that she claims never to have experienced anything like this before joining the project.”
“Is that what she calls them? ‘Presences’? That’s a pretty vague term. Couldn’t she be any more specific?”
“She hasn’t actually seen anyone, or anything, threatening her. She only senses these entities skulking in the background. According to her, they’re always careful not to show themselves. All she can tell me about them for certain is that they mean her no good.”
“What do you make of it?” Elicott picked up his bottle of mineral water, noticed it was empty and put it back down again.
The psychologist shook his head. “I’m not sure, at least not at this point. Marguerite’s dreams aren’t nightmares. Most of them, if not pleasant, are not particularly frightening either. At least not as she describes them. According to her, these beings she feels all about her aren’t really part of the dreams themselves but rather outsiders who’ve intruded within them. She has no idea why they are there or what they are planning to do.”
“What bothers me is her intimation that supernatural forces are at work,” said Elicott. He frowned. “I don’t care for that line of thinking at all. It’s bad enough as it is that there still exist in our society superstitious minds that would like nothing better than to impute occult overtones to any discussion of dreams. We don’t want to encourage their delusions.”
“I don’t think we have to worry ourselves over such unfortunates. These are the same individuals who imagine they’ve been abducted by aliens or that Atlantis is set once again to rise from the bottom of the sea. I don’t believe anyone takes these people seriously, least of all now in the twenty-first century. They’re for the most part harmless fantasists seeking to escape into an imaginary world of UFO conspiracies and doomsday scenarios. They have no way of coping with a world in which they feel they have no place other than to posit the existence of alternative realities.”
“There are many more such individuals than you might imagine,” objected Elicott. “And the real problem is that media pander to them shamelessly. If there were even the slightest suggestion that our experiment involved supernatural forces, the tabloids would descend upon us en masse. I shudder to think of the ridiculous stories they would fabricate.”
“You may be overdoing your concern on this point. I don’t think we need bother ourselves over whatever sensationalist stories a desperate reporter might fabricate.”
“I wish I could be as sanguine about the matter as you are. I can’t help but think of the damage such shoddy journalism could cause us.”
“It comes with the territory. These sorts of stories are part and parcel of every scientific venture. When CERN’s Large Hadron Collider first went online there were those who worried it would create a black hole that would swallow the planet. The press ran with the story because it was much easier to do so than to explain to readers the real goal of the project – the search for the Higgs boson. Few journalists, at least those without a degree in physics, are competent to offer an understandable explanation of subatomic particles.”
“I suppose you’re right,” Elicott admitted, “but that doesn’t bring us any closer to discovering the real cause of Marguerite Zilander’s fears. There must be some rational basis for them.”
“It may well be that at some point in her life she suffered some devastating trauma, the very memory of which she’s successfully repressed all these years. It’s only now that she’s experiencing these dreams that the problem is once again rising to the surface of her consciousness.”
“Marguerite never struck me as unbalanced,” Elicott protested. “In the personality tests we gave during the screening process, she scored highly as a well adjusted and fairly happy young woman.”
“That’s how she appeared to me also,” said Reicha. “The problem is that I can’t really get to the bottom of this until Marguerite herself furnishes me with more information.”
“Perhaps it’s just a temporary phase and will resolve itself on its own.” There was a hopeful note in Elicott’s voice as he said this.
“Let’s hope so,” answered Reicha. “That would be the best possible outcome for everyone. On the other hand, if her condition were to worsen and she were to descend into psychosis, it would have a disastrous effect not only on her own well being but on the status of the project itself.”
Monday, November 26, 2018
I've just learned of a new photo editing program that can be used directly in a web browser without any need to download software. Its user interface is practically identical to that of Photoshop, so there's no learning curve for those already familiar with the Adobe software. Best of all, it's available free of charge.
Developed by Ivan Kutskir in the Czech Republic, Photopea appears to share all the most important features available on PS including layers, layer masks, blend modes, brushes, selections and image adjustments.
As far as file formats, it should be possible to open files in the standard formats (jpg, tiff, gif, png, svg, and dng) as well as the proprietary formats psd, xcf, and sketch and then save to the following formats: jpg, psd, png and svg.
It should be noted that Photopea may not work properly, or at all, on older web browsers such as MS IE 11. On the other hand, I encountered no problem at all accessing it on Google Chrome.
Friday, November 23, 2018
Wednesday, November 21, 2018
“I’m glad we’re finally meeting somewhere else instead of that damn bar on Madison Avenue. That dump gives me the willies,” said Connor. He was sitting with Gallagher on a bench in Theodore Roosevelt Park behind the Museum of Natural History. “Besides,” he admitted, “I was getting awfully sick of drinking nothing but seltzer water.”
“You should’ve broken down and had a Guinness. It would have made you feel better. You’d have been a hell of a lot less uptight than you were the last time we were there.”
“That’s ok. I feel well enough as it is now that I’ve finally had the dream I’d been imagining for so long. True, it might not have been as exciting as I’d thought it would be, but at least I was able to pull it off. That’s the main thing.”
“I’m happy for you, but you have to admit it’s pretty insane what you told me about all those old textbooks. Imagine going back more than twenty years just to go through your college reading list all over again. Myself, I’m glad to be done with that shit.”
“Don’t play the illiterate with me, Richie. Now that you’re living in Williamsburg you like to pretend you’re a cool-talking hipster, but I can still recall the nights we stayed up till three in the morning arguing whether it was Faulkner or Hemingway who was the better writer. Back then, you were as much into reading those authors as I was.”
Gallagher laughed at the memory. “Hey, man, back then I just wanted to check out for myself how well read you were. I could’ve cared less about the authors themselves.”
“You could’ve fooled me.”
“You’re just jealous that my grades were higher than yours.”
“That’s because you cheated every chance you got.”
“So what? That just shows I was the smarter of us two,” crowed Gallagher. “Still am. Don’t think I didn’t catch the gaffe you made last week on Shakespearean sources.”
Connor was caught off guard. “And what exactly was that?”
“Didn’t you tell me that when you were going through that old textbook in your dream you came across an earlier version of Hamlet that had been written by Thomas Kyd?”
“Yes. What about it?”
“Kyd’s play doesn’t exist, that’s what. Not that there hasn’t been a lot written about it over the years. Some scholars think it’s a lost work, others that it was never written in the first place. It’s all speculation. For sure, there are some similarities between the Spanish Tragedy and Shakespeare’s play, but that’s it.”
Connor couldn’t believe it. “You’re putting me on, aren’t you?”
“You and I were in the same course back then. I took it as an elective. Don’t you remember? We even shared textbooks. I ended up doing a lot of research using those same sources after I decided my final paper would be a comparison of the four great tragedies. If there really had been in an earlier version of Hamlet in that textbook, I’d have seen it and studied it myself. I checked it out on Wikipedia the other night just to be sure.”
“No, that can’t be right.”
“Look it up for yourself if you don’t believe me.”
“You’re damn right I will.” Connor was livid. “I know that earlier version was there. It was sitting in front of me in black and white. I actually read some of it.”
Gallagher was taken aback by Connor’s vehemence. “What the hell are you getting so worked up about, man? It was only a dream you had. Dreams aren’t supposed to be real in the first place. Don’t you know that?”
“You don’t understand. It was real. That’s what I keep trying to explain to people, but they don’t get it. It wasn’t the usual jumble of images that pass through someone’s mind when they’re asleep. This was just as authentic an experience as you and me sitting here right this minute.”
“I don’t know what’s up with you lately. Maybe you should put the seltzer away altogether and start drinking the hard stuff. If this is what sobriety does to a person, I don’t want any part of it.”
“Very funny.” Connor dropped the subject. He was in no mood to be laughed at.
Later, after Connor had ridden the subway back to the university for the evening’s dream session, he went first to the campus bookstore. It took him quite a while to locate what he had come looking for – the liberal arts had been so abandoned by undergraduates that there were few English lit textbooks of any kind in stock – but at last he found the volume for which he had been searching. It was a softcover copy of Chauncey Wentworth’s mammoth Shakespearean Sources: A Renaissance Reader, the same 1984 edition he had used in his course work twenty years before and which he had last seen in his dream.
Connor hurriedly flipped through the Table of Contents. Not finding what he sought, he then painstakingly began browsing through the pages of the oversized textbook. For the most part, there were no surprises. He found almost all the texts he had seen in his dream and in exactly the same order as he remembered. Here were the selections from Boccaccio from which the bard had taken Romeo and Juliet and Much Ado About Nothing, here the chapters of Plutarch’s Lives that had formed the basis of the Roman Plays, and here Holinshed’s Chronicles from which had come Lear and Macbeth. Nowhere to be found, though, no matter how diligently Connor searched, were there any versions of Hamlet that preceded Shakespeare’s own.
After having looked through the index at the back of the book and then having gone through the entire volume a second time from cover to cover, Connor at last put it back down on the shelf from which he had taken it. “Well, I’ll be damned,” he muttered to himself. “It really isn’t there.”
“While lucid dreaming, in its ideal form, makes it possible for us to take control of our dreams, that control does not extend to the physical reality that exists outside the dream state itself.” Elicott looked at Connor to see if he was following. “In other words, we can’t change the real world through our dreams.”
The two were in the professor’s office. Connor had gone directly there after having left the bookstore. The researcher had been going through the results of the previous evening’s polysomnograms but had stopped at once when he saw how agitated his visitor appeared and had given him his full attention.
“I understand that perfectly well,” Connor argued. “What I don’t understand is how it’s possible for me to have read through a play that doesn’t actually exist. In my dream, it was all right there in front of me – the dramatis personae, the division between acts and scenes, the stage directions and the actors’ dialogues and monologues in their entirety. I could have put on a complete production and not have been missing anything.”
“It happened because your recollection is imperfect. That’s all there really is to it. Our memories are not infallible. I’ve had the experience myself of revisiting a place I thought I knew well and finding that things were not quite as I’d remembered them. You have to bear in mind that our memories do not so much store data as they do impressions. Details of what we’ve witnessed inevitably blur with the passage of time.”
Elicott held up his hand. “You said yourself it had been over twenty years since you had last picked up that textbook. After all that time, it’s not surprising to me at all that there were discrepancies in your remembrance of its contents. To be honest, it would have been much more remarkable if everything had been exactly the same.”
“I suppose you’re right,” Connor admitted. His expression, however, showed that he had not been completely convinced.
“Good. I’m glad that’s settled. Let’s move on then, shall we?”
Connor saw nothing was to be gained by any further debate. “Sure,” he agreed politely. “What comes next?”
The professor pulled a sheaf of notes from his desk drawer and began to shuffle through them. “Now that you’ve achieved your objective in reading the books you’ve dreamt of, we’ll set ourselves a new goal.”
“Which is?” Connor found himself growing interested in spite of himself.
“Do you own a camera?”
Connor was surprised by the question. “Yes, I have a fairly good mirrorless camera, digital of course. It’s only 16 megapixels and doesn’t work that well in low light, but it’s good enough when I’m traveling or just walking around the city.”
“That’s fine. As long as it’s something you feel comfortable using.”
“Yes, I know the controls well enough. Will it be part of the next assignment?”
“It’s a simple dream project we’re giving to everyone taking part in the experiment. No real photography expertise is required. All you and the others have to do is to use your own camera, the one you’re most familiar with, to photograph your surroundings while dreaming. That’s it. Then, when you awake, you’ll describe the photographs you’ve taken as best you can remember them, and we’ll compare them to everyone else’s. The idea is to achieve the highest level of detail possible in your recollection of the imaginary photos.”
Connor considered the idea. “It sounds simple enough. Is there any other purpose behind it other than to test the complexity of our memories?”
“We think it’s a great way to gauge everyone’s progress. Some subjects will be able to take the photos, others won’t. Of those who do, some will succeed better than others. There will be those who’ll describe the photos in exact detail while most will probably only be able to give the most general description. It’s even possible that some participants will encounter technical problems – shots that are blurred or out of focus – exactly as if they had been using a real camera.”
“It sounds fine to me. I was wondering what I was going to do for an encore anyway. I don’t think there’d be much point in staying in the library looking at any more books, especially not if it turns out I’ve read them all already.”
“You did achieve what you were after,” Elicott reminded him.
“But it wasn’t nearly as exciting as I’d thought it would be,” Connor complained. “I don’t know what I was expecting, but it was a big disappointment that all the works, except of course that Elizabethan drama I somehow imagined, turned out to be so familiar. That didn’t seem fair somehow.” He realized he was being childish.
“It couldn’t very well have been otherwise. As for the play you thought you’d read, that was only a faulty impression momentarily given reality by your unconscious.”
“Yes, that’s obvious enough to me now. The problem is that the whole sense of mystery I felt in earlier dreams when I was seeing all those unknown books is gone.”
“That’s an interesting way to put it. Carl Jung considered his theoretical archetypes to be by their very nature incapable of rational explanation. If they were, they wouldn’t be able to mediate between the conscious and unconscious. In certain ways, dreams serve the same function as do Jung’s archetypes. Once they can be explained by the rational mind, they lose some of the mystical power they originally held over us.”
“But we always want to know what our dreams are about,” Connor maintained. “That’s why people go to fortune tellers. And to psychiatrists.”
“That’s because people always want to make themselves whole. The most basic desire of humanity, the one that can never be fulfilled, is to integrate our conscious and unconscious minds into a single functioning unit.”
The young woman was suddenly at Connor’s side as he walked off campus that evening. One minute he’d been alone and the next she was there speaking to him.
“Did you see what I bought?” she asked. Without waiting for an answer, she dug in her backpack and pulled out the same copy of Shakespearean Sources that Connor had been looking at earlier that day. “I was at the bookstore when you were there this afternoon,” the woman explained, “and I saw how engrossed you were in it. After watching you go through it, I just had to buy it to see what you had found inside that was so fascinating.”
Connor took a closer look at his new companion. She appeared to be in her early twenties, but that might only have been because her classic all-American appearance – fair skin, blonde hair and cornflower blue eyes – made her look younger than she really was. Wearing no makeup and dressed down in jeans and a ragged sweatshirt with a picture of Jim Morrison on front, she reminded Connor of old photos he’d once seen of revelers at music festivals back in the 1960’s.
Connor took a step forward. “Are you a student here?”
“Oh, no. I’m just visiting.” She paused. “My name is Deirdre.”
“Are you an English lit major? Is that why you bought the book?”
“No, I already told you. I only picked it up because I saw how involved you were in reading it. I figured there had to be something incredible inside if you were so absorbed.”
“That’s a hell of a reason to buy a book if you ask me. Especially one so dense as that. It isn’t even Shakespeare’s own work that’s in it, only plays by other authors he drew on for his storylines. Most of those obscure sixteenth century works are almost unreadable today. Even scholars have difficulty with some of the texts.”
“Please don’t worry on my account. I’ll manage quite nicely, thank you.” Deirdre’s tone had grown pert.
“I wasn’t trying to put you down. It’s just that it can be pretty heavy going reading through all that. Shakespeare lifted the plots for almost all his plays from lesser writers.”
Connor picked up on that at once. “Yes, even Hamlet. What made you choose that particular example?”
“You have a lot of questions, don’t you?” Deirdre asked in a teasing voice.
Connor realized she was playing with him. “And you seem to have all the answers.” He glanced at his watch while wondering if he had time to ask this woman for a cup of coffee. He had decided he wanted to get to know her better. By the time he looked back up, though, she was already gone. He looked all around him, but she was nowhere to be seen.
Monday, November 19, 2018
Photographing reflections of autumn foliage in still water can create vivid abstractions that any Fauve artist would have envied. A few days after I photographed this, New York City was hit with its first big snowstorm of the season and most of the leaves were stripped bare from the trees.
Friday, November 16, 2018
This was another individual who allowed me to photograph him at the Columbus Avenue Flea Market last year. He was a willing subject and happy to have his photograph taken. I very much enjoyed talking with him while taking the shot.
Wednesday, November 14, 2018
Dr. Hans Reicha, thought Connor when he finally met the man, could not have looked less the part of a psychiatrist if he had tried. He stood well over six and a half feet tall and was in peak physical condition. His rugged features were heavily tanned and set off by a thick mop of blonde hair. A gaudy silk sports shirt, patterned with palm trees and cocoanuts, hung loosely on his athletic frame. Only the incongruous wire rimmed glasses he wore provided the least hint of academia.
“You look like you’re ready to go surfing,” joked Connor after they had introduced themselves and shaken hands. The doctor’s grip had been so vise-like it had left Connor’s own hand numb.
“Ha. That’s a good one.” Dr. Reicha’s voice was a booming baritone. “As a matter of fact, I did my graduate work in Hawaii. I think I spent more time in the water than I did in the classroom. Oahu has some of the best surfing in the world, you know.”
Connor could easily picture the man riding the curl of a gargantuan wave headed toward Waikiki Beach. “New York must be a letdown after that.”
“Oh, no. The city has plenty to offer. I love that it keeps going night and day. And I can always take my board out to Long Island if I want to get wet.”
“You must be pretty busy though. Professor Elicott told me you were the top man in your field.” The professor had actually said no such thing, but Connor saw no harm in paying the psychiatrist a compliment.
“That’s very thoughtful of him.” Reicha gave Connor so piercing glance that the latter wondered if he had not after all seen through the small lie. “The man’s a gentleman,” the doctor continued. “Always has a kind word for everyone.”
Connor felt himself growing increasingly exasperated with Reicha’s bluff heartiness and began to wonder if it were in fact only an act he put on for his patients’ benefit. He decided to find out for himself. “And what kind words did Professor Elicott have to say about me?” he asked in a deliberate attempt at provocation.
Reicha caught on at once. “Ha. I see your point. You’re wondering exactly why you’re here.”
“That I already know,” answered Connor bluntly. “The professor explained to me at my initial interview that you and I would eventually be going over my dream content.”
“Yes, of course. Dreams when analyzed always provide a wealth of associations. It’s necessary for both Professor Elicott and me to investigate those associations not only to understand what you’ve experienced but also to provide you with greater direction.”
“That makes sense enough,” allowed Connor. He decided he would do best to be direct in stating the reservations he still harbored. “I agreed to this analysis in principle when I joined the project. If I seem hesitant, it’s only because I’ve never taken part in such a thing before. I’ve always tried to stay away from psychologists and psychiatrists. I guess that because I never wanted to have anyone rummaging about inside my head.”
Reicha grew pensive. “People who are reluctant to engage in analysis are sometimes so disinclined because there are ideas and experiences hidden away in their unconscious that, for one reason or another, they would rather not face.”
“In other words,” said Connor, “they prefer to let sleeping dogs lie.”
“Exactly.” Reicha gave a thin smile. “Unfortunately, problems don’t often go away on their own if they’re ignored. Beyond that, analysis when properly conducted offers the individual the opportunity to learn more about himself and to better adjust to the world in which he lives.” It was a line the psychiatrist must have used often. He had it down pat.
“I think I’m pretty well adjusted as it is.” Connor’s answer rang false in his own ears. Even as he said the words, he realized how fundamentally untrue they were.
The psychiatrist, however, was unperturbed by Connor’s objection. “I’m sure you are. But that’s no reason we can’t take a closer look at your dreams, is it?”
At that moment there came a knock on the office door. Reicha rose to open it. A young woman dressed in a sweatsuit stood outside. She was a petite brunette with bright green eyes. Connor recognized her as another participant in the project. He had passed her once or twice in the hall; though she was quite attractive, he had never attempted to speak to her. From the way she now held her hand to her mouth and glanced about the room without being able to focus on anything, Connor guessed she was deeply upset about something.
The woman made to enter but then retreated when she saw Connor sitting inside. “I’m sorry,” she said belatedly. “I should have made an appointment.”
Dr. Reicha was all smiles. If he were at all disturbed by the intrusion, he was careful not to show it. “That’s not necessary, Marguerite. I’m always happy to speak with members of the project. Unfortunately, I’m in the midst of a discussion at the moment with one of your fellow participants.” He turned toward Connor. “Marguerite, this is Connor. Connor, Marguerite.”
“How do you do?” asked Connor politely.
Marguerite barely glanced at him. “I can come by later,” she suggested to Dr. Reicha.
“If it’s important, I should be free in an hour.”
“I think it is.” Marguerite gazed uncertainly at the psychiatrist.
“An hour it is then,” he said and quickly checked his watch.
Marguerite nodded and backed out the door without giving Connor another look.
“I’m sorry about the interruption,” said Dr. Reicha after the woman had left.
“It’s no problem. I don’t mind at all. I guess when you’re a psychiatrist things like that happen all the time.”
“Yes, I’m always on call, just like the family doctor.” Reicha sighed in mock self-pity. “Now what were we talking about?”
“We were about to take a closer look at my dreams.”
“Yes, indeed we were. Professor Elicott told me how anxious you’d been to explore this particular dream in which you had previously been unable to discover the contents and titles of books you’d seen lying about.”
“That’s right. It bothered me a lot that I couldn’t find out what was inside all those books. It was driving me to distraction.”
“Had you ever given any thought in your waking life to what all these volumes might contain?” Reicha gave Connor a moment to consider before continuing. “In other words, was there anything specific you had been hoping to find in all these books?”
“Answers,” replied Connor. He had said it automatically without having permitted himself time to think.
Reicha followed up immediately. “Answers to what?”
“I couldn’t really tell you.” Then, as if realizing how unsatisfactory an answer that were, Connor searched for words as he attempted to explain himself more fully. To his surprise, he instead found himself bringing up a question he had long kept to himself. “Have you ever had patients who thought they were living in the wrong time place and time? I don’t mean people who are just unhappy with what they’ve got. That would be pretty much everyone. The people I’m talking about are the ones who don’t fit into the twenty-first century that’s all around us.”
“It’s really a pretty common phenomenon these days. More so than you might think. There are a huge number of individuals, especially those getting on in years, who aren’t able to cope with the technological and social changes constantly occurring all about them. There’s nothing they feel they can hang on to, nothing that’s stable and permanent. Globalization and interconnectivity are usually seen as positive developments, but they can also be deeply unsettling. Religious truths no longer offer the solace they once did. Social values have undergone vast changes as we’ve forced ourselves to rethink our positions on such issues as abortion, gay rights and women’s equality. There are many, many people who want to return to a less complicated past.”
“I know there are those who try to get by without computers and smartphones, but that’s not what I’m talking about,” Connor interrupted. “That’s nothing but escapism. What I mean is that I sometimes feel that I’m in the wrong world, that I should be living in a specific time and place other than the one where I now find myself.”
“Fine. But what time and what place?”
“That’s the problem. I don’t know. I’ve traveled a fair bit in Europe and Asia over the years and visited a good many places, but I’ve never felt any more sense of belonging there than I do here in New York City.”
Dr. Reicha spread his hands. “There you have it then. You’re not content here, but you have no idea where it is you would be happy. Isn’t your longing to be somewhere else, somewhere you better fit in, also a form of escapism?”
“So what do I do then?” asked Connor.
“You already know the answer to that. You have to learn to adjust to your present circumstances. There’s really nowhere else you can go. Happiness is a state of mind, not a geographical location outside yourself. Once you can accept that, you’ll feel much better.”
“That’s easy enough to say,” complained Connor, “but platitudes are just so many words.”
Reicha didn’t show any sign of having been offended by Connor’s directness. “How long have you been out of work?” he asked abruptly.
“It’s been a few months.” Connor had already made up his mind to talk as little as possible about employment status and personal life. He was afraid if he got involved in either subject he would let something slip about the months he had spent in prison.
“It must be frustrating not to have a regular job to go to every day,” Dr. Reicha prompted him.
“I’m not the only one. Sometimes when I watch the news it seems half the country is out of work and struggling to get by.”
“What about a significant other? Do you have anyone in your life right now?”
“No one, and there’s not likely to be as long as I’m walking around flat broke. Poverty doesn’t work particularly well as an aphrodisiac.”
“Are you sure that’s all there is to it?” the psychiatrist inquired gently. “Is there any other reason you’re alone?”
Connor was determined to make no mention of his divorce but instead to keep his comments as general as possible. “Look, I’ve had my share of relationships over the years, but somehow they’ve never seemed to work out. Things will go along well for a while, and then the woman and I will drift apart. There are never any arguments or hard feelings, just two people discovering they didn’t have as much in common as they’d first thought.” As Connor thought back to his last encounter with Jocelyn, he realized how apt his words really were. Not only did the two of them no longer have any connection with one another but probably they had never had anything solid between them even during the time of their marriage. If Connor had remained so long with his ex-wife, it had only been because he hadn’t wanted to endure the loneliness of being on his own. And now, ironically, he was living a more solitary life than he could ever have imagined possible.
“So it’s not the woman’s fault?” Reicha asked.
Connor choked back the anger he felt at the thought of Jocelyn’s betrayal and concentrated on keeping his voice as flat and emotionless as possible. He had made up his mind not to allow the psychiatrist access to what was actually passing through his mind. “Not really. Most of the women I’ve known have been pretty decent people. More often than not, I was the one who wasn’t able to connect with them.”
“Why do you think that is?”
“I couldn’t tell you. All my life I’ve been outsider. Even when I’m with other people I’m not really entirely there with them, if you catch my drift.”
Reicha jabbed a finger in his direction. “Don’t you think that your sense of alienation, this feeling you have that you should be living in a different time and place, might stem from an inability to establish meaningful relationships with others?”
“I can understand why you’d see it that way,” replied Connor slowly, “but I really believe there’s more to it than that. You can think of me as an incurable romantic if you want, but I’m sure there is someone – even if she’s not now here in New York – who’s right for me. It’s not so much that I’ve never been able to find her as that I’ve lost her. I knew her once and then we were torn apart, how I don’t know, and she and I are still searching for one another and trying to reconnect.”
The psychiatrist appeared bemused. “Do you think that will ever happen?”
“I’m not sure. All I know is that I have to keep looking and hoping.”