There is that special agony of having to make a choice, doctor, and this course of therapy places importance on your choices. You make a choice to reflect your values, you carry through with it. Action. But instantly, after we make a choice, well, you're faced with a myriad of interpretations, the complexities of an act's values. Like, you ask yourself, in doing something, what value are you standing up for? Does my act mean this, or that? And in a way it becomes enormously stressful to make any sort of choice, because then you have to ask yourself and answer all these questions... And perhaps we can never know, really, the ultimate value. Am I making a particular choice to reflect my love of family, or am I closing my life down not choosing some wonderful new experience to be had on my birthday...
I mean, doctor, like let's take Jesus. Doesn't seem he's all that big on choices. He doesn't stop and interview scores of people who's going to be his disciple. No, it's that guy standing in front of him, the fisherman guy over there, the tax collector, another guy and his brother. He doesn't seem all that stressed out about things. And so this interesting tale of his journey emerges, he did this here, he did that there, he went over there. People talked to him, asked him questions, he answered them, he explained a few things. Things were neither within his capabilities nor without. He was a pretty good psychologist, meaning that he could see people's complexes, the things they were thinking. So when he said, thou hypocrite, he was saying so out of a pretty close judgment of an individual character. Some people choose to sit in front rows, to pontificate and make judging statements about the behavior of other people, "you're doing this, such and such a thing, not within the law..." And when such people define the law in a certain, probably narrow, way, "you can't heal people on the Sabbath," Jesus always offers another interpretation, deeper, clear and simple, understandable, and maybe even poetic. And he's so good at making choices, it's like he can even see into the future. There'll be an ass waiting for me, he says, and then they get there, and sure enough, there's an ass there waiting for him.
Well, anyway--thanks for listening to my little tale--I found myself a bit stressed out, about the holidays, about working on the holidays, about how I had to express my values, say, of family, what I should do, and on top of buying gifts and the whole list, wrapping paper, etc., etc., I guess my head was about to spin. And I was feeling really crappy about not being able to get some upcoming time off of work, let alone Christmas night, and I'd picked up a shift for my friend so he could go to his uncle's party, and I dragged myself to work that night, quite unhappy with the schedule, and I bitched a bit, vented my grumpiness, and then, I don't know, it all began to be clear and I could understand why, all the reasonable good reasons behind work. A guy had to go off to El Salvador for a cousin's wedding. Christmas night dinner indeed was going to busy enough to warrant bringing in the A-Team. And as long as it's justified from a business perspective, well, at least you feel better about it. You do what you can do.
But there is something wiser than the particulars of a choice and reasoning it all out, feeling this way one moment, feeling that way another moment even... It''s kind of like, let the choice happen, the outcome happen. Things will work out in the wash. And maybe some deeper part of the mind we don't consciously know has some sense of the peaceful final outcome, of the deeper general appropriateness. It can take a lot of stress to get through to that point though. Self-inflicted. Over thinking. Feeling the need to make judgments out of fearing not to make the right ones. Anxiety loop.
So you let things be, and at least that's easier on your blood pressure. And this represents a general maturity of stepping away from all the judgments of a thing being good or bad. And anyway, it lets you live in the current moment, relaxed as you can be. And that's a good thing. That's when you can get back aligned with the work you're doing, with the stuff you like, the stuff that engages you.
And maybe that's why I like tending bar. You're not choosing who comes and sits and what they want, what their tastes may be, and it's a great place to live in the Zen moment. A guy told me his friends had described me as a guy "who takes care of people." Wow, that's pretty cool.
A lot of the crap I write, I'm afraid has to do with all that worrying, of making snap judgments of the kind you later regret. How can you really say a final truth about anything. Things have to exist yin and yang, spider and fly, talky guy, quiet guy.... It's embarrassing being a writer, or the things you write, until you admit, hey, it's all as substantial as passing shadows, don't get worked up, get enough rest, eat properly, take care of yourself, learn about your true self. Maybe that's how it works, you have that rough draft where you have something in your craw, so you write something suggesting one side of truth and justice, you write it down, but sooner or later, the way you think about something inevitably gets adjusted. Yeah, the guy talks a lot, but he's not a bad guy, and he reads books and even writes them. (Maybe that's what irritated you about him in the first place.) Yeah, the boss eats with his family, but of course he's not going to tip, because he's working too.
Find something that's good, say, a Beatles song, and there's something simple and intuitive about it, its creation allowed by flow, not by constant judgment. There's an ease by which they played their instruments and sang, to their lyrics. "You think you've lost your love, well, I saw her yesterday-ee-yay, It's you she's thinking of. She told me what to say-ee-yay." George Harrison on the lead guitar.
Who even knows what he's producing in his work, by it, through it. The work accumulates through daily act, and by and by it slowly takes shape as it is. Or maybe you get better at it, through time.
Christ, I use to have a hard time back when I tended bar. I'd become very shy, even if I wasn't shy in high school. But after college, I don't know, like I lost all sense of self-confidence. I could hardly talk to people, and didn't really care about sports or golf or some televised crap. Really weird. Well, now I can talk to pretty much anyone. That's the craft I've learned over the years in places like the Beatles' Hamburg strip club. Well, I don't know, I could talk always talk to people, I've always liked talking to people, and you're good at what you like doing.
Did I make a choice being a bartender? Was it conscious? No, not at all. I totally fell into it. My mom would talk about our visit in Ireland, and how people would talk and talk. I'd remember the car would stop by the side of the road on a sunny day with the fields around us, and maybe we'd ask for directions, and the guy with the tractor--they always waved to you, even if they just had one spare finger--would talk and talk and ask questions, and it was hard to understand with his accent, but it sounded marvelous, and we'd sit there, and sit there...
I don't know, maybe it was that thing with the girl in college that fucked me up.... Every time I made a choice, tried to talk to her, it always seemed to go awry, she'd snap at me, whatever. And I would then feel like I'd expressed myself, and was rejected, and that's when she'd be vulnerable, but by the time I let myself see that, her vulnerability, the closeness of my success, the chance had just passed me by, and then it was all back to the start, ground zero, the old drawing board. Yeah, I felt I'd expressed my values.
And the same thing with my English classes. I took a long time, I got very focussed on a text, because I love the whole thing, what you could learn directly from words, but also what you might learn by further study, and there was always something, just sometimes you have to wait for it, 'til your deeper understanding comes out. Was I rewarded for that? At times, yes, but sometimes, really not, in fact a great harshness, a D.... Not out of disregard or sloppiness, but really out of a deep love...
So that's why I guess I didn't feel I could trust myself, or anything, really, as if everyone was messing with me. I mean, you start second-guessing, you start feeling bad about yourself every time you have to make a decision, because of all that weight, fucking things up with the girl you shoulda married, fucking things up with the career you shoulda had. That will make you depressed, sure. The thought that anything you do will be wrong. Even if you're expressing your values. And college is a time you're supposed to leave with self-confidence...
I guess that's where Jesus comes in. You come to deeper higher meaning. You see the shortcomings, the weakness of faith in people. You see how you have struggled on, and made deeper meaning out of life's twists and turns, sad as they can be sometimes. You held your little candle flame up so people could eventually see it.
I guess that's what my mother stands for in my book. Standing up. Having faith. Faith when the world gives you obstacles and impediments and coldness. Trudging on, when few believe in you, when the way it tough...
Funny, we say, when we have to make a choice, 'what would Jesus do.' What would Jesus do?
Or you make a sort of joke. "Jesus goes to see his therapist in her office, walks down there, puts in the code to open the door, climbs the stairs, says hello, sits down in the chair. And he's like, 'what the fuck? Why are people like that? I can wake poor sick little princesses from the dead, but I can't get a goddamn date..."
I was talking to my therapist doctor about how my collegiate attempts to express my values, through taking apart a poem to get to the essence of its teaching. "There is a difference between feelings and values," she said, with some authority.
Hmm. But that was a value, to explore the deep truths, that literature leads to. And you have to inhabit a poem before you get it. It's like acting. I enjoy that.
"But I wonder," she said, "if some of this isn't obsessive behavior. You could have written a paper that would have satisfied a professor's needs, handed it in on time, but instead you..."
She looked carefully at me. In a way she had not looked at me before, squarely, as if to say 'this could well be an issue here, don't you think?'
Well, I never thought of that. I was an arrogant little guy back then, the son of a professor, looking for deeper meaning... I was doing what I'd found so engaging, that discovery in DeMott's class, the guy I got the most out of, of inhabiting something well enough to finally bring it to life. I thought for a moment, looking out the window at a grey December day. But I see what you mean. But how do you know, whether or not your obsessive?
What if you were less obsessed with writing now, and spent more time sending things off?
Hmm. I thought about it. Wasn't the first time I'd heard that. "You're obsessed." "Who else am I obsessed with?" "You're obsessed with lots of people," she'd said as we walked along there in front of the old library.
I don't know, why does one write, why does one do yoga? To think things through, to do some inversion stands and get yourself in a better mood. To figure some stuff out by writing down a sketch. Each an exercise. But the best stuff you'll write is the stuff you write for yourself, and at this point in the history of writing, I don't think it's the worst thing to write out what goes on in your head, in the thoughtful parts of it, the feeling parts of it. Not as glorious as Ulysses, but, honest anyway, little daily exercises when allowed for the sake of some kind of balance.
But is everything I do, the way I live, a bit obsessive? The way I cook hamburgers, don't eat out hardly ever, have my particular hours... Yes, could well be. The things we do alone, are they necessarily obsessive?
Yes, but that's the literary element, the obsession of Captain Ahab, which surely reflects Melville's self, the same with Don Quixote, an old gent who's been around the block a few times obsessed with the gallant chivalry of old tales retold.
The time was up and I pulled out my check book. "Just when you think you got it figured out," I said, back to the old drawing board," scribbling out thirty five exactly. "And we can take this up next time." Okay.
So that was my problem. Obsession. Not knowing when to say when, a fixed wheel in my own patterned loop.
Well, you try to think things through. What do have to go on? Some form of intuition. Habit, knowing the things that work for you, like the food that doesn't throw your guts out of whack and give you gas or make your joints ache. Like the wild experience of writing, of not really knowing what you are thinking until you write it down, a record of it, kind of like a dream, a way of working things out.