Oh, I’m up. It’s my turn again. Blog Time.
Blog Time ain’t exactly Miller Time, you know, where the point of the thing is to kick back and relax, raise the beer to the lips and press “play” on the remote. No, Blog Time requires effort. It requires that I have some kind of opinion on some matter of the day that means something to someone, including me.
Maybe I’ve said everything I have to say. Did you ever consider that?
No, that’s ridiculous. I’ll never have said everything I need to say. Although there’s still a chance I could make that move to Tibet, don the orange jumpsuit and meditate my way to Nirvana. And if there ever comes a time when you don’t hear from me, that’s a good place to look. It sounds oddly comforting – no Facebook, no outward communication, no blogs. I remember studying Japanese literature and religion in college and I was struck by one faction’s belief that the only purpose to life was to meditate oneself to a higher plane. Something like that – I mean, really, do not quote me on this stuff. But part of the discussion was that the poet or the artist should remain silent, too, because to engage in writing poetry or doing one’s art is an act of selfishness that ties one to the flesh. That is, it is a projection of self into the world. Why write poetry or anything if not for the satisfaction it brings us when others read our words? So, it comes back to self, ultimately. I’m sure David Corbett will have something to say about this – in fact, I invite him to jump in now and finish my education on the subject. Because, as we know, a little education is a dangerous thing – and I’ve only had a little education here.
Still, the concept strikes me as truthful, the concept that the writing is meant to fulfill a sense of self-satisfaction. Not that that’s a bad thing – do it if it makes you feel good. But so much of the time I see people writing in an effort to get “successful” or “famous” or to finally “get respect” from others. And, I admit, that’s been a big motivator for me, through the years.
But all along there’s been that nagging thought, that voice from my Japanese Literature and Religion class saying that the purpose of life is to focus on elevating our connection to the universe through meditation, and that even the act of writing is something that distracts us from this goal. It kind of freaks me out, that this should resonate with me. Because I don’t want to stop writing. I’ve always felt that writing is at the core of me. It’s my essence. So, why do I entertain this notion that writing is a masturbatory process? Was I just in a really susceptible place when I took that class? Corbett, help me out here.
My relationship to writing has changed over the years. I sacrificed everything so that I could produce writing that would get me that recognition, that “respect.” Is it worth it? Was it worth it? Yes, for me, in my experience, it was. However, I’ve had to do some repair work in its wake – I’ve made a point of spending more time with the family I ignored while I wrote those books and screenplays. I left the day job and spent a year writing at home so I could really be with them. But dwindling finances required a return to the work-force, which put me in the tough spot of having to prioritize my time again, which in the past has meant that the family gets the short end of the stick. And now I’m not willing to drop those precious relationships back to the third-tier, behind the day job and writing.
I no longer need to prove anything to myself. I no longer need to win an Academy Award, or to have the most successful book series in publication. These things would be nice, but I no longer live for them.
Instead, I’ve grown to appreciate this ability to express my views in writing for its own sake. The ability tell a story. This, in itself, is a prize. And I know that I can tell a story when the time for telling stories presents itself. I’ve discovered, in the process, that I’m a different kind of writer. I’m not a one or two book a year guy. I think my agent discovered this long before I did.
I think of all the experiences in life I’ve missed by sitting at a desk writing about the experience of life.
I wonder if it’s in me to sit silent and watch the world move about without the narration of my words. Maybe, someday. But I doubt it. I think I’m the guy who steps back and observes, then jumps in and produces, then steps back and observes. I’ve always been a sprinter, not a long-distance runner.
It’s nice to know the mountain is there. For the day I have nothing to say.
Which isn’t today.
See, I found something to blog about.
Great blog, as always, Steve. I had this exact conversation with another author friend recently. He's a bestseller, but wondering more and more frequently, "Where is the Tao in all this?"
Me, I'm not a Buddhist. I prefer the yoga path. They come from the same place, obviously, but yoga is more feminine, I feel, and I relate to the imagery MUCH more than I do to anything Buddhist. But it's exactly the same thought. If the true purpose of life is to mediate yourself to a higher consciousness, then isn't all this writing and the accompanying business of it antithetical to the true purpose of life?
Am VERY interested in what comes of this question today.
It would seem in your "old age" you're moving closer to acceptance–to being at peace with yourself. And I'm sure this will make you an even better writer than you already are. I think, because of all you've experienced in recent years, you're on the verge of becoming wise. The danger, though, is that frustration might tip you into cynicism.
Regarding meditating in Tibet, Japanese religion (and all the others): I don't believe the universe cares a damn about how we spend our time on this planet. It's immune to personal ambition, to our raging in the face of unfairness, or to prayer. So I can't imagine why anybody with the urge to write (or do anything else) wouldn't just do it for its own sake. And enjoy whatever small success comes from it.
There's no such thing, imho, as a higher state of consciousness that can be achieved through ritual mumbo jumbo. Certainly there is a higher state of intelligence which, unfortunately, I've never possessed. Examples of razor-sharp intelligence are found here every week in the posts of a gifted bunch of writers. So please…keep writing, and forget about Tibet.
But, Alex, you can't just skip over life to get to a higher consciousness. Somewhere in the living, is the learning.
Oh, hi Stephen! Love this. Are you saying that doing something other than writing is more of an experience, or just that you could have gone backpacking instead? Then you could have wondered why you couldn't write about it if you hadn't done it?
Even when you don't have anything to say, you have something to say–and good stuff too!
All I know is that there are times, while writing, that I feel that elusive connection to the greater thing, whatever that thing may be. I agree with Richard that the universe doesn't give a rat's ass about what we do or how we attain the higher consciousness. There are as many ways as there are people, and perhaps for some of us, writing is that way.
The rest of it–talking about myself here–the striving for publication, the wishing for readers and accolades, the so-called certainty that when I attain all that, my life will be great–is the yang to the yang. Always the darkness within the light…Just the nature of things, I guess. But, jeez, what a struggle!
Have a great weekend! Lisa
Woops, meant to write "ying to the yang."
(Where is David today? Looking forward to more chewy thoughts.)
I think many writers are going through the process of assessing what we put into writing and what we get back in return in terms of happiness, financial gain, etc. I know I'm right there with you, Stephen! And would write more today except I'm on my phone and even short comments seem to take a while.
I was stuck in a meeting with city officials about a foreclosed property registration ordinance the neighborhood watch groups have been pushing for two years.
Speaking of higher consciousness.
Okay, here goes. The question you ask is the very same question Hamlet asks: To be or not to be. He isn't talking about suicide, as many people think. He's talking about engagement with the world. He's reflecting on a new way of being in the world as the MIddle Ages gave way to the Renaissance, though no one called them those things back then, of course.
The Middle Ages, with the Church as highest arbiter of truth, considered the monastic life, the retreat from the sinful world to meditate, live simply, and serve God, as the highest calling of man. (And yes, the emphasis was on men. Women could join convents of course but their spiritual path was considered inequivalent to men's and, well, that's a whole different lecture. And not a pretty one. Still going on: Ask American nuns.)
Anyhoo, with the rediscovery of Aristotle and a return to Classical Greek and Roman literature and art, not the Bible, for cultural and political guidance, there was a return to the ancient view of man's place in the world–an active participant in world events, where virtue lay in action, not reflection.
This tension, between retreat from the world for the sake of spiritual purity, and engagement with the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune," remains with us in a variety of forms — not least of which in the discord between ivory tower "literary writers" revered by academe and the well-schooled, and the more blood-on-the-typewriter mainstream and genre writers whom the elite find beneath them.
Although I disagree with Richard, I do believe there are more refined or deeper levels of awareness and understanding, and some of those are achieved through meditation, I'm a true believer in engagement with the messy, sloppy, imperfect world. I believe I'm at my best when I brave the inevitable frustrations, difficulties and failures that effort in the world obliges. I also think those frustrations and failures make me stronger, more humble, more compassionate, and wiser.
However, meditation makes me aware of how facile my thoughts and feelings can be, and how destructive latching on to them can be. Meditation calms me, helps me focus, and enhances my self-discipline through mindfulness. All good.
But there is something evasive about the monastic life, something deathlike, that I reject. I once referred to myself as an operatic Buddhist — I want arias and great stories and wine and love. I hate pain but I get that I can't avoid it, even in the lotus position.
I write to make sense of the senseless, to give voice to the unspoken, because I believe, like Simone de Beauvoir, that she who speaks from the depths of her loneliness speaks to us of ourselves. The more honest I am, the more I share an unspoken truth among us. My attempt to be the best writer I can be, sharing stories that try to be as true as they can be to my experience, invariably shed a light on the inner darkness of my readers' souls.
I also believe, like Heidegger and Sartre, that we create our character through action in the world. You don't find your true self under the Boddhi tree. You create it through your interactions with others and the world.
And we're all in this together, whether we want to admit it or not. Retreating from the world is just abandoning the people who need you. They may be shmucks, but if you work at it, you can figure that part out.
Again, sorry to be late to the discussion. I rushed back as soon as I could.
David – and I'm sorry for putting you on the spot with little to no warning. I didn't mean to add another obligation to your schedule today. I kind-of put a literary gun to your head. So, thanks for coming through for me.
And, of course, you've given even more than I could imagine. I'll be re-reading your comments all day. You always give me the tough meat to chew, which is all the more complicated since I'm a vegetarian.
Thanks for suffering the slings and arrows today. I give you the weekend off.
May I take this course credit/no credit, please?
"Regarding meditating in Tibet, Japanese religion (and all the others): I don't believe the universe cares a damn about how we spend our time on this planet. It's immune to personal ambition, to our raging in the face of unfairness, or to prayer. So I can't imagine why anybody with the urge to write (or do anything else) wouldn't just do it for its own sake."
Richard, that insight really stopped me cold.
Thanks, you've given me a huge lot to think about!
Richard – I second Alex's comment above. Thanks for your insight.
Lisa, Reine, Alex, David, Richard…I wish I had more time to respond today, but I'm in the thick of it at work. Thank you for keeping the conversation going.
Dvid always reminds me I've forgotten more than I ever learned I think…I read all that stuff but it never slides so glibly from my fingers. I think you can reach higher levels in the universe by doing whatever it is you want. Certainly the Dalai Lama thinks so, he doesn't think everyone should meditate (save for a few minutes a day, which all of us can benefit from a bit) all day and admits it. He subscribes to the different needs for different people.
What I liked abouit this blog is that it's the arc of Stephen's realization about life from birth to present in one short blog. And it makes us all reflect on what it is we had ambitions to do, and where we are, and what we're going to do going forward. Good head scratcher. I think we have to choose, and that is the point — you can choose to meditate your way to heaven or like the rest of us, scap around and do the things we are compelled to do like write and create art or dance and let that be our "meditation" on the world.