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The following entries span five decades of Spalding Gray’s life and are culled from The Journals of Spalding Gray. The book is organized chronologically by decade. Each decade is given its own prologue, a passage from Gray’s private writing from that time that offers a glimpse of this era in his life.
I had been brought up to look forward to heaven then began to think of heaven as history, that I would lie old and forever in the arms of someone while they accounted my life. That no matter what the pain, it would all have distance when it was recounted at another time. Told as a story in front of a fi re through a very long night, left with a slight memory of it in the morning. This was in a way what I came to see as hope. Hope was a fantasy of the future and now with age the future has shrunk and so has the investment of hope in that future. What was there left to do but to report to myself the condition of the world that is out there, as I saw it. What was there left to do but to ask you to listen?
Somewhere there was a war going on and back in Rhode Island, my mother was having her second nervous breakdown. Perhaps she was having it because of the war. I couldn’t stand being around her anymore. I didn’t know what to do. I’d try to read to her from the Alan Watts book Psychotherapy, East and West but it didn’t make sense to either of us. What she needed was something else no one could give. My father sent her to a psychiatrist but that didn’t help because she was a Christian Scientist and didn’t trust doctors so she wouldn’t talk to him. But she did call her Christian Science practitioner and he gave her some phrase to repeat like, “God is all loving and I’m His perfect reflection.” Then she’d hang up the phone and pace the living room while repeating that phrase over and over while tearing the hair out of the back of her head. There was a ratty bald spot there. Then, afraid that my father would catch her in that demented state and pack her off to yet another institution for more shock treatments, she’d begin to try to pull herself together by starting to make the evening meal. Mumbling to herself over the frozen peas, “Oh God, don’t let him see me this way. Oh God, help me get through another day.” I just watched it all like a very sad and confusing performance. A crazy show; I didn’t know what else to do.
I suddenly felt as though my life has been lived like a man from the press. I’m always telling a story to myself or someone else. I’m telling a story about my life.
May 29, 1973
There is always a constant precarious balance between dark and light. The yin and yang. Civilization and its discontents.
Looking back on it after the fact, I realize that “Swimming to Cambodia” is an attempt to balance those poles. Like any work of art it is an attempt to become God out of a loss of contact.
An attempt to create a tiny, balanced universe. An attempt to play at being God out of a lack of contact with the real or imagined source.
And like life it is a fixed and imperfect text.
That is when suicide comes. It comes when the shadow part or let’s say the part of you that you hate starts to take over and fill up or push out all the other parts until you are all the part that you hate and there is this one little part left that is the killer and the killer is closely related to the self hate and at last it does its dirty little deed.
April 1, 1995
But I still remember how my children have been a blessing and these memories burn in my heart like a religious icon.
A) Marissa toasting me on my birthday for bringing her brother Forrest into the world.
B) Forrest waking and kissing me in all my lost agitated state on the way to MV in the Ford Escort.
C) Theo’s face at birth and the honest confusion it expressed. Kathie told me later how she had to hold him and comfort him and tell him it was alright.
Love is stronger than death, but life is stronger than love. (DARK, DARK, we all go into the DARK— ELIOT)
Undated from his 2000 journal
I began to realize I was acting as though the world were going to end and this was helping lead to its destruction. The only positive act would be to leave a record. To leave a chronicle of feelings, acts, reflections, something outside of me, something that might be useful in the unexpected future.
From the Hardcover edition.