By Tanya Ruckstuhl-Valenti LICSW, MSW
I’m finally doing something I’ve been half-promising and half-threatening myself with for years:
In an attempt to both make amends to the neglected reading assignments of my youth as well as deepen my literary roots, I have been reading the classics.
My great expectations are facing a serious challenge from Melville. I have been reading Moby Dick for the past two hundred years. Because I am stubborn and Moby Dick is considered to be one of the most important works of American fiction ever written, I am slowly grinding through this 624 page novel. There are the occasional passages that break my heart open with their beautifully written descriptions but overall reading this book feels a bit like waiting at the airport to take a trip for which the airplane may or may not arrive. I am reading and waiting.
Waiting for the truly deranged Ahab to finally blow his top, for Moby Dick to show up, for Ishmael to move from narrator to actor, for Starbuck to take a stand: I am within 124 pages of the end and none of these things have happened. As a reader I am struggling with the tension of not knowing the outcome of this incredibly long yarn and the ambivalence of enjoying a master work of imagination as well as feeling oppressed by its length.
A feature of strong mental health is the capacity to manage ambivalence (a.k.a. conflicting feelings: I love the book and I hate it) as well as not knowing the future outcome of current situations…because barring possession of a time machine, none of us do.
Emotionally healthy folks can feel more than one way about their friends, family members, jobs, etc… as well as not knowing what will happen: if their relationship will work out, if that new job will be theirs, if their children will succeed–which is to say that tension and anxiety is registered, but not debilitating.
I liken it to the difference between softly playing mildly annoying background elevator music versus full-on, volume-cranked rap. Now, I’m taking a deep breath, turning down the distracting music in my head, and getting back to the whale.