On the Move: A Life - by Oliver Sacks

It seems to me that I discover my thoughts through the act of writing, in the act of writing. Occasionally, a piece comes out perfectly, but more often my writings need extensive pruning and editing, because I may express the same thought in many different ways. I can get waylaid by tangential thoughts and associations in mid-sentence, and this leads to parentheses, subordinate clauses, sentences of paragraphic length. I never use one adjective if six seem to me better and, in their cumulative effect, more incisive. I am haunted by the density of reality and try to capture this with (in Clifford Geertz's phrase) "thick description." All this creates problems of organization. I get intoxicated, sometimes, by the rush of thoughts and am too impatient to put them in the right order. But one needs a cool head, intervals of sobriety, as much as one needs that creative exuberance.

I think we all live in a swirl of anecdotes. . . . We (most of us) compose our lives into narratives. . . . I wonder what the origin is of the urge to "compose" oneself.

An experimentum suitatis, an experiment with, or on, myself.

It has sometimes seemed to me that I have lived at a certain distance from life. This changed when Billy and I fell in love. Deep, almost geological changes had to occur; in my case, the habits of a lifetime's solitude, and a sort of implicit selfishness and self-absorption, had to change. New needs, new fears, enter one's life--the need for another, the fear of abandonment. There have to be deep, mutual adaptations.

I started keeping journals when I was fourteen and at last count had nearly a thousand. They come in all shapes and sizes, from little pocket ones which I carry around with me to enormous tomes. I always keep a notebook by my bedside, for dreams as well as nighttime thoughts, and I try to have one by the swimming pool or the lakeside or the seashore; swimming too is very productive of thoughts which I must write, especially if they present themselves, as they sometimes do, in the form of whole sentences or paragraphs. The act of writing is itself enough; it serves to clarify my thoughts and feelings. The act of writing is an integral part of my mental life; ideas emerge, are shaped, in the act of writing. My journals are not written for others, nor do I usually look at them myself, but they are a special, indispensable form of talking to myself.

I often transcribe quotations I like, writing or typing them on pieces of brightly colored paper and pinning them to a bulletin board.

I am a storyteller, for better and for worse. I suspect that a feeling for stories, for narrative, is a universal human disposition, going with our powers of language, consciousness of self, and autobiographical memory.