notes from a writer's sketchpad
It was as if therapy had gone its limit, and all it could do as far as spiritual help for me was offer yoga and meditation, ways to heighten consciousness, ways to control the 'monkey mind' and all its thoughts which are often largely negative and tiresome.
I needed more than that. I needed a diagnosis of my spiritual condition. The professionally certified practitioner seemed to be unable to go there, as much as her efforts were helpful.
I began to wonder, had I somehow rejected God's love, in its many forms, for whatever reason, prideful selfish arrogance, the sense of ego and being hurt, simple foolishness? I sought out that love in the wrong places, or rather substitutes for it, not willingly, not by design, but by fault. Did my own situation speak of the fault, the sin, within all humanity.
I wasn't performing more of an action than a reaction when I went out into the world on my own, a reaction to a particular failure of mine.
And yet, still, even for the sinful, who turn their backs on God's love incarnate, there is the redemption of his continuing love for us, still saving us, still healing us, despite our prodigal habits, our lostness in the seas, our Jonah-like guilt. Maybe it's all to prove a point.
Dostoevsky, as Shakespeare before him, and Cervantes, was never afraid of handling subject that could easily be maudlin cliché, designs clearly set-up in order to have a self-serving excuse to write something. But it becomes like the scientist running an experiment. Maybe we all assumed the basics. But we still need to investigate them.
But it's like, could you pick out any topic more obvious, more a pretentious claim to being great literature in a wanna-be kind of a way. Examples, the preamble of Notes From the House of The Dead about a strange solitary writer figure that sets up the story, or even the basic premise of Karamazov, three brothers, a mad sensuous father who is murdered...
"Tale of Two Cities, yeah, come on, no more than potential for a sit-com..."
We look at all things with skepticism now. Poets, saints, musical maestro genius, novelists... What can you contribute to the new economy...
Dostoevsky foresees the horrors and evils of Communism, saw it all coming .
We can all seem to fail at relationships. We get tripped up, reacting to a superficial dismissal where one has been accepted, the female part of the equation just waiting secretively. Foolish things can happen, and yet even when all has gone wrong, when she goes off and marries the doctor and you're struggling and fallen low because of the stress and throw away so much of the opportunities that once stood before you, still, there is the charitable love as spoken of in Corinthians, remaining, enduring, even when it becomes superfluous, seemingly wasted, gone to naught. It remains, because it is a love itself, because it is what it is, long-suffering, not vaunting itself up, a thing quite different from the banal. A strange thing that one still has to make sense of in this world as far as its purpose. Crucified and still, the love for us endures, even as we reject it, or take offense on our own for what we perceive and react to as rejection.
We are all early Christians caught in the current incarnation of empire. Jesus did not fit in well, he was a 'screw-up' as far as the politics and the empire and the religious authorities of the day. He could have shut up, but he didn't. He could have blended in more, but he wouldn't. It doesn't seem he was intentionally provocative, but yet he had his run-ins.
There has to be some physical law of human consciousness. See and expect evil of the world and your fellow human and that is what you will get. Seek profit, selfishly, and treat other peoples as enemy to your interest and you will perpetuate the opposite of peace. But if one sees peace and good as a basic thing in your fellow human, your consciousness allows a cooperative environment to come forth. The Cheney level of consciousness has its fruits in the world, but so does that of seemingly rank and file people who create peace around them.
Jesus did not judge. He did not take the sinners as his enemies, nor attempt rule over them nor exploitation. He accepted those people in to his company, forgiving of sins and faults and the bad decisions people make. He saw the disappointment people can be, and to them still he offered peace and good will. If they initially might have made a person nervous, he knew how to handle them, in almost default ways, if we were to attempt to relate.
What if he were to unleash his own real politics? What if he came on the scene as a political thinker? What would he reveal as public and foreign policy? What would that true human being of peace and truth bring to the current table? What would his psychology be for all those of us who mourn in our own ways?
It's there in the Gospels, to tease out. It's there in the influence of the message going out into the world.
The world is full of well-meaning experts, with secular tactics for a world viewed secularly. The world has conflicts arisen through secular behavior, through practical attempts to dominate a neighbor.
The universe is alive, responsive to our consciousness, our frames of mind, our mental attitudes. The answers to its problems are not secular ones. Secular efforts fall within the possibility of competition with those of others.
I didn't have much choice but to do what I have done, to be a local barman, a neighborhood place of peace and good will, hospitality, charitable attitude. The work seemed to assuage certain sorenesses, and I when I looked up at a happy bar I saw the deeper level of my subconscious manifested outwardly. And then, at the end of the night, I'd go home, tired, the duties of another day satisfied.
But still, at least you have to wonder, by more or less logic, that the Christian model is embedded within us. If God is projected as Christ, and if Christ is substantiate in bread and wine, then there is something there to take in and to follow, to be, in some way, because this is who we are, that which is, and we a part of that which is in the final analysis.
How do we go about that? How do we accept that, gracefully wear it? It is an intellectual problem, a problem of action, a problem of morality. And there is a great and impossible distance between what we would be able to do, even in our wild imaginations, and the things the master can do. So great that it's almost silly to try, and really, where could you begin to look, but to just get on with your life and try not to be any odder than you already are.
Greatly nervous I wake up, on a day off, 'what to do,' I ask myself. How to fit the post office errand, the Rite Aid, the whatever groceries you missed and back-up wine, and then the healthy things, and then, yes, how to keep the mind engaged with those things you had a chance to study in college, the poems of Yeats and Larkin, and then all the politic world to catch up with to formulate a better more informed than gut opinion... It all seems impossible getting up, particularly the writing, because what point does writing have? Better keep it simple, a walk in the woods, since you missed going to Mass, not that, not that you're any zealot, and why do people get offended so easily when you have a figure like Jesus to appreciate, not like you're trying to piss on anyone else's beliefs...
But still, you are the idiot when you wake up, and you have to shake that off and start doing things, whatever they are, running your fingers over a keyboard, the sun out, calling you, promising to help your abused body clock, and then, there might be others of your own species out there to see, that would help too, even as you're doing, or pretending to do, some work.
The pain medication for the scrotul surgery was helpful to calmly see the beauty of being alive, on top of surviving the operating table, being put out by anesthesia, for the removal of an epididymal mass, one that turned out to be almost a bit too close to the testicle for comfort, the surgeon's good judgment call, that put me in a Elder Zossima from Karamazov kind of a mood, and I'll stick with that until that too becomes just another phase in my own dirt that's not deep enough except through prayer.
I was on a roll a long time ago, tying prayer to literature. Hemingway and his late works, all of them really, prayer, and does not he become the old man facing the sea and the big fish, the last bullfighting story... Some kind of word made flesh, in the human animal way, not quite as high as one could strive, but an important explorative test of the physics, if you will, of it all. He'd been through the wars, in synch with his time, of the clerics' treason, and maybe he couldn't help but be part of that technological battle for supremacy against the technology of other writers, like his imaginary boxing ring. A better way to make plastics makes a better windshield, the economic dance. Maybe he'd had too much existentialism seep into his ex-pat post Great War life, and you couldn't blame him for it, if he'd sort of wanted to do his work and then have his earthly pleasures.
Writing is a technology, to get to other thoughts than those that pop up in the news of the world. It is the work of monkish people, some perhaps a tiny bit high on green tea. And it's only appropriate that after writing the monk does not forget who he is, while still living. A serious business, confusing sometimes, at times quite thoroughly distracted by things outer and inner, fits of nerves, tasks of the practical life.
The scary thing is the reliance on, the belief in, a process coming from a vaguely understood part of one's own consciousness, that reveals itself, often without the slightest clue beforehand, only by sitting down and engaging in that process which itself is strange and vague of specific purpose, the blank page to fill. And each of us is left to do it in our own way, a way to control, as it were, a rebel mind full of ideas and memories, each asking for treatment. A mystery in a logic-driven world, a mystical process, what can you do?
You'd almost want to jump up and run away from it, a fear of being singled out. But you get strange blips of things that look like knowledge on the radar screen, and one of those blips is that Christ is useful for showing that which will play out in our own lives. Fear not, though, no harm comes, just calm wisdom. Yes, you'll learn a bit about being forsaken, or about being the odd bird, or about 'being poor,' but be reassured, as Christ is reassuring and of the highest form of intelligence we can know, that the path works. You just need not be ashamed of it. And perhaps you have to remind those who you share with that you aren't out to offend anyone or change another belief in the slightest way, because knowledge brings you a confidence in the direction the wind is blowing in, in the path we're on. Things which prompt even Christ to say that the only one good, truly good, is He that sent The Son into the world.
It does make sense, though, that you'd end up bearing some difficulties, because of this stance, as a creative type, as a seeker, as a person attempting to find his own soul and the meaning of souls. And if one takes up such practical tools tested over time, such as the Lord's Prayer, Our Father Who Art in Heaven, Hallowed Be Thy Name, and if that seems to help, it's a matter of expedition, of getting something done, of 'being the ball' in life, as a waiter has to be the ball to get through a night expeditiously.
I wrote of sorrowful things once, as if looking for somewhere to place puzzlement or blame, but fortunately, I'd like to think, the good path of a seeker shines out even through the lumps of a college kid's life, showing that he is attuned to something, even if he's only allowed it in brief moments of private revery. He does, after all, discover the power of prayer, not that he uses it perfectly, as if it were an infallible genie you could ask three wishes of.
Indeed, what does he use it for, what's his next chapter? Where does he take it, this knowledge, this tool in life he thinks might be useful somehow? The left hand does not know what the right is doing, this is very true. But where does he take this sort of nuclear energy of being? What should he do with it, where put it to the best use? And who would have authority to give some sort of final answer to such questions? How to interpret? Does it leave you in need of entering the monastery, so as to find a place in the world; but one is already in the world just as he is.
What else makes you calmer, than such explorations.
So where did my own writing prayers lead to, after I submitted myself to all the humble bar servitude I went and sought out? Where did the quiet nascent sort of holy person who likes peace and nature and birds and trees and all creatures end up? What outlets had he, and what support?
Too many times I succumbed to glossing over the awkwardness of standing before people and trying to figure out what to make of such a life taken as a whole by taking a drink, as if I had been implicated in the indulgence, responsible for it, the cause of it, to which I may have responded with being the drum major of the supposed benefits of wine. I hope that was never the core of the activity, which I'd prefer to boil down into that basic spiritual encomium that it is better to serve than be served, who am I to demand the labor of another?
It was not easy to formulate such questionings out of the blue of American popular culture. I fell to dullard tendencies I suppose, even if I tried not to. Into blank spaces did I seem to fall, and no boss, no system of employment seemed to care very much beyond seeing that I attended to my duties, which I did well, well as I could, not sparing of energy, having a body that needs to move around at a good pace. The system did not seem to care enough for such a unit of labor, but let him keep working until he drops such as he is and then take his Social Security benefit, "thank you for your years of service; you had good rapport and retained many a customer."
"Brothers, do not be afraid of men's sin, for this likeness of God's love is the height of love on earth," I read in the notes about the Elder Zosima--drawn from the homilies of 7th century monk St. Isaac the Syrian, which the author had a copy of, according to the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation's notes --in Book VI of The Brothers Karamazov. Is that what I've been up to these lost years?
And not only that, "take yourself up and make yourself responsible for man's sins," realize that you yourself are just as sinful. You hadn't thought of that, had you. What's a barman to do with that one? That's the shocker, when you realize that you are as sinful as any, the only excuse being that this same burden falls upon everyone. The best you can do is wake up to it.
Would that be a kind of late hour conversion, to the extent that such a thing would even be possible? How else to manifest that, but by writing, but by attempting to be a shade righteous and good, by dusting off who you were as a child...
It all seems to start from the self-realization of my own faults, my own travesties, my own great mistakes, some of which seem barely forgivable, attributed only to someone in sinful lostness. Never my intention, but these things happen, even trying to be on good behavior, the ego slipping in, clouding us over.
And if that's where the prayers of writing left me, and brought to me some seriousness, as Lady Korbonska recommended, than I can only begin now and try anew, and in that way uncover parts of the self one was too shy to admit to.