Once, maybe 6 or 7 years ago, a therapist who was paying me well to help her sort through the general anxiety of life — okay, perhaps I was paying her — said, “What you don’t know about motives could fill an ocean.”
She was gentle with her observation, spoke it in a manner meant to soothe me, as if over time I might begin to remove one cup of ocean water at a time and move closer toward understanding why I behave the ways I do.
(I believe in global warming: melting glaciers, ice shelves, and…rising sea levels. I’m not pessimistic by nature, but this metaphor is becoming more and more Sisyphean. Whatever progress I make, the sea continues to rise. Time for a new metaphor.)
I think about her comment often, and even more during the past week having just returned from the beach. Gazing to the horizon promotes contemplation, yes?
(By the way, I was disappointed to learn that — depending upon a few mathematical variables — the horizon is generally three miles or so away. I prefer the infinite. Of course, when I run three miles, three miles feels infinite. It’s all relative. I think that’s what Einstein meant.)
Back to motives.
In my intimate relationships — with family, primarily, and especially my wife — I sometimes cut with words that fly so fast into the space between us that I’m not aware of how sharp they are, or where they came from. And when she reacts, I’ll brush away what I said as meaningless, accuse her of being overly sensitive. Or, if something she says or doesn’t say (or does or doesn’t do) hurts my feelings, I’ll retreat to my cave to sulk. In other situations, I might have a flash of anger or irritability that’s caused by…hell if I know. These are just three of at least three miles’ worth of examples.
So yes, what I don’t know about motives could fill an ocean.
Writing fiction is about conflict — “the human heart in conflict with itself” (Faulkner) — and when rendering truthful lies on paper, I’m more adept at working with motives. I can endow a character with a surface desire, beneath which deeper currents flow. I wish it were so easy with me.
A friend of mine (another writer) and I went for a bike ride a few weeks back. We talked about access to emotions. “Well, there’s anger…and that’s it,” he said. “Plenty of retrospection afterward, but that never goes anywhere.” I understood. We laughed, and I tossed up a rhetorical question: “Maybe it’s a gender thing?”
We rode most of the way back in silence. What was I thinking? Something about motives?
Hell if I know.