Tuesday, December 4, 2007
WRITTEN WORD 36 - The End of Insight
I had lived on writing for thirty years and only been away from it for six. When I came back to the written word I must have thought I could also come back to my old faith in the logic of outcomes. For six years I had been getting my information visually, not from mere words. I had rejoiced in my freedom from writing, which had come to seem such a dry, musty craft. I was a painter and not a writer. And yet now I needed words again, or thought I did.
The changes that had come in my life in this period when I was not writing had led to many surprises, not the least being conscious awareness for the first time of spiritual hunger I felt for realms where I did not have the illusion I could know outcomes before I stepped into them – real life being like real writing in which so much happens that you cannot start with the last line and write into it.
My world had changed so much that at this time I was returning to writing that I was studying at a university – something that for reasons I still respected I would not have gone near in my professional writing years and was very careful about now – and it was a liberal Jesuit place, Boston College – a Catholic world that I had respected intellectually since I first saw it from a tight-ass right-wing Calvinist place -- and also avoided intellectually and now remembered in a warm way because of people I had known people who did not flit the Catholic clichés, people I had known, courageous saint-life activists in places like Taiwan and the Borneo part of Indonesia, and Somoza’s Nicaragua and the Philippines of the cruel Marcoses. And right now I was across the Charles at a place called Weston exploring the 16TH century spiritual exercises of Ignatius of Loyola – and it meant writing again. For the exercises entail stepping right into stories, which might be stories from the past but would inevitably be the writer’s most crucial stories in the present. People I knew now had used the exercises to change their lives – to leave the priesthood or go into it -- to leave or go into marriages – to leave and enter careers -- and I understood the proposition that you could find God’s will if you stepped into your story this way.
But I made a grave error. I thought that with words I could and should bring logic back into my life again now after a vacation from linear thinking. And so I wrote about something that concerned me night and day at this moment. I was about to get married again, this time to a sexually and artistically charged woman with problems covered over by her appeal, a woman with whom I had been conducting an affair. There were obstacles to this connection -- the biggest being the woman’s insufferable good boy son, whom she had had when she was a teenager. I decided I would write about it, and see where I came out.
And I got a good part of the story right. He was indeed a horror, although to his relatives he was a prince. A sociopath maybe. He hung onto his mother like an infant -- a 21 year old infant -- tortured her with tales of blood and disease and masochism in the gay life he led – tortured his sister by working hard to keep up the myth that she was nothing more than a lightweight wild child, when in fact she was not just more attractive than he was, she was smarter, and she was artistically gifted – brains and artistic talent being his own domain, his alone, forbidden for anyone else in his family, much less a vibrant younger sister. I saw signs that he was pushing her, with the help of her strange father, who still looked almost like a teenager himself, in the direction of even street prostitution. Moreover, he was making plans to live with my future wife and me.
And now as I wrote about this – about it more than in it -- I saw an overriding reason why the situation was so upsetting to me that it felt like unmanageable chaos. This awful kid was now pushing the idea he had learned in classes that criticism was superior to art – and that the only good poem, as he had been told at the New School, was one that was written into a well worked out, foregone conclusion. He was the policeman, stopping art and life from breaking out. This son, Jason, had exactly the role in his family that my twin brother, Peter, had had in mine – not the violent sex part but everything else, the good little, the clever little boy who put his sibling in the shade.
And I made the mistake of thinking that this insight was enough – thinking again, as I had before the changes in my life began, that insight ever could be enough. Going against something I knew. And so I did what I had wanted to do in the first place. I went ahead with the marriage, which did not last 18 months.
And I very soon knew I never would never have gotten in it if I had really stepped into the story, which was probably what Ignatius meant – recreated the story rather than buried it in insight.