A writer, yes, forgive, heightens the dramas of normal life. Circumstances get dramatized, increased in importance, taken from every day life, milked for meaning and tension. Or is it that you have to delve into potentially embarrassing things when you are writing, I don't know.
But over the course of a year of weekly therapy sessions, I turned out to be no crazier than anyone else, if anything, too normal, just truly susceptible to the things of the psyche that can plague all of us. Maybe that comes with being sensitive. You're sensitive to the outer world, of course, you'd be sensitive to the inner world. In the writing mind, things can seem more dramatic, more a struggle, and yes, I suppose that drama can feed on itself if you let it.
What I needed was direction in life, to find and connect with my values and to continue on with them, and I wasn't sure what they were nor how in this world to carry out with them.
Perhaps I took it as a political necessity, to tend bar. It wasn't perfect, by any means. In the way Lincoln handled the issues of his day... It's not a pure moral high-ground stand that you are able to take in life; it's what's doable. Being a barman was a compromise, a dance of keeping alive as a writer for a person in need of a job that stimulated the mind, a place for a person looking for meaning in that time in life when one can feel lost. It had its risks, its distractions, its downfalls, its moments of failure and lostness. But it somehow managed to keep me open to things as the shell a person must have hardened over the years into maturity.
I'd missed one session, staying up to late watching a documentary about Pantani on Netflix after my shift, missing my vibrating iPhone alarm... Rescheduled for the first day after my workweek ended.
"So how do I know the difference, when am I simply being negative, pessimistic, stuck in a mood, and when am I deciding not to pursue an avenue that's no good for my values... How do I know when my judgement is good?"
"You're asking for help for your writing... If someone, some professor, let's say, wasn't helpful for that, didn't give you constructive feedback, than that's not a good place to find it."
Dr. H. stood up from her chair, went to a cabinet next to the table where her laptop sat and pulled out a form, a Values Worksheet for me.
"But it's like I didn't follow through with my values, you know, back in college... We all want love and good relationships and family, someone to talk to. It's like I'm the poster child..."
Dr. H. stood, facing me, a long light sweater hanging down to her lower pants. "Doesn't sound like she was a warm and fuzzy kind of person... It doesn't sound like there was much in the way of open communication. It doesn't sound like there was any kind of real relationship whatsoever..."
"Look at the values. What do you want in an intimate relationship... What does that look like."
That was helpful.
"And college is a time of exploration, a developmental age. Who knows so well their values at that age, let alone how to be aligned with them, to know where to find support... And for some of us it's not just the twenties, but the thirties and the forties too, searching..."
We both chuckled. And that too was helpful. No judgment. No self-judment. I looked over the worksheet and how I might approach it. Yes, if I went hiking I would be touching upon values of friendship, health and spirituality.
"Some people may have a value system that's all about a clear pathway, climbing the professional ladder, making more money, getting the promotion, the real estate," she explained. "And some people want meaning, to be engaged in creativity and the things they have a passion for... And they decide that maybe all it takes to have a meaningful life is $70,000..."
I began to feel a bit exonerated. And that helped with the "dirty" discomforts, the guilt, the feeling of having messed everything up quite enough all on my own.
Later, I reflected. We all might have our own particular values; of course we do. I thought about who had been helpful for me, and this is something one must be very honest with himself. Because we can idealize the shape of the real human beings we encounter and look up to, seek friendship and guidance and help from. You look at people full of hope, and when you have lots of needs lots of them seem to have appeal to you. But it's very hard to pick out who, truly, is a help to you as you try to follow your own way. It wasn't something I wanted to look at directly. And thus I wasn't looking directly at my own value system.
And maybe, finally, when you look deeply and directly at your own values, however strange they might seem in light of the mainstream, then your searching narrows. Widely and broadly had I searched, for which I deserved credit, even if I wasted a lot of time and gotten lost. You can't blame an author for that. I'd worked hard enough, done a stand up job as a barman, done the job, had my beer and gone home and no one could say anything bad about that. I'd waited on many people, supported the regular customers, professionally, patiently, politely, with a decent sense of life's humor.
I got home, a bit discombobulated. I sprayed some bleach around the shower tiles, sat down to and watched a young slender fresh-faced French kid win a beautiful Alpine stage, the final climb up an incredible hairpin slope.
So I had my worksheet. I took a nap, I went out for a bike ride, all the way to Rock Creek Park, beyond my expectations of how far I would go, it being an evening with the sun coming through the July trees, the air clear and clean, Adirondack.
Your values are your values. What can you do, but develop them as they are. The people we meet and how we get along with them reflect your values as much as anything. One has his own vision, and rather than trying to bend over backwards and please the crowds, there comes a time of focus, of an acceptance of that vision.
The struggle of the race, to write a record of its values... And any individual, of course, will have a difficult and confusing time to live in his own present struggles and still get to the eternal, the deeper common. Finding little signs along the way of where to look. Finding the deeper values to share with another person, that's what it was all about, sharing a poem, medieval but contemporary, finding beauty.
It's a matter of turning things around, a change of consciousness. Instead of the Repetition-Compulsion the good doctor mentioned, refining her point of Recapitulation, of wishing to be in the company of those who were not helpful to the inner vision, the thing became to be, as a writer must be, happy to do his work.
Or maybe find something else somehow related. And then maybe the political compromise wasn't working any more, if you took a long hard look at it, and had the courage to know and follow through with all the values that had been suppressed over the years in the bargain you'd accepted...
Later that night, after waking from a nap in front of the TV, I went through my closets, and ended up tossing out a lot of old shirts, Hawaiian patterned ones, as if one could lead a life of such leisure and freedom...