Tenacity is one of my high values, because it says, “Never give up.” But everything has a dark side and sometimes tenacity prevents clearing the deck for a new strategy, a new day, when the old practices are simply not succeeding. One can bash one’s head against limits until it’s bloody. (Did I say I’ve been watching “Spartacus, Blood and Sand”?)
When SHOULD a person give up? Some suggestions:
1. New evidence comes to light that discredits what you are fighting for.
2. Emotional attachment falls away -- but why does it to that? What does it mean when it happens? What if it really didn’t?
3. Continuing would destroy you. But maybe not.
4. Continuing would destroy someone you love.
5. A better goal displaces the one you’re pursuing.
6. You find evidence of denial on your part or maybe lying on the part of some other. Isn’t that just number one on this list?
7. Someone whom you were defending asks you to give it up for their own reasons. (You might not agree with them.)
Sipping away at my morning coffee, it comes to me that there is no one I could trustingly consult about my present life dilemmas. (Don’t imagine I’m going to list them for you to pick at!) At 72 most of my past heroes are dead. They were often much older than I was. Some of them are discredited by greed or status-chasing (mostly ministers). Many more are so stuck in old moral systems that they can’t even consider some of the questions I confront. They are blind. They have coped all their lives by ruling certain things off-limits, withdrawing from challenge.
And more again would interpret any confidences or requests for advice as permission to enlist me as a client. This is what rules out all professional counselors. They interpret according to their own world-view and if you resist that, they become dominating or cut you loose. What a hostile world I seem to live in! Do I find no one benign, impartial, straightforward? Provisionally, no, but I’m still searching around. Some are benign but unempowered, unable to sustain other people’s problems.
Sometimes change comes about because of relating to individuals and other times whole contexts change. What should be the morality of teenagers in a world where fourteen-year-olds wonder whether they are “normal” if they don’t have sex by then? But they don’t worry about getting married -- in most states it would be illegal if they did. How much have things been changed by having more control, like the pill? And how much was governed by a general prosperity that turned out to be hollow, not just a house of cards but a house of empty value. If things so vital to family are so vulnerable, how can one make them the basis of a stable life? Who will raise the children?
If I’m going to accept the Deleuzeguattarian understanding of human relationships, maybe there should NOT be “experts,” people whose opinions I respect more than my own. Maybe my strategy should be “working through” instead of consulting. Maybe being solitary as a strategy for preserving boundaries is just not a good one: it invites some to see it as a challenge to penetrate. Those “rhizomes,” after all, are communities, are they not?
What about all the books? Why do I have them if they don’t offer advice? They offer TOO MUCH advice. I drown in advice. Historical examples offer recommendations for what I should do and also the opposite. By now fame and fortune appear to be accidental -- at one time I thought that really trying or having natural talent would get you there. That’s what the generation just ahead of me thought. But then, fame and fortune have also turned hollow. Diamonds are just another carbon form.
Books -- oh, books. Books are the products of chance as much as the grandiose narcissism we call genius. Books are the product of marketing, and marketers are shrewd, neither grandiose nor wise.
But writing -- ah, writing! For me, that’s living. But is it A living? Lynda Barry, beloved cartoonist, cannot make a living with cartoons anymore. (INCREDIBLE !!!) So she’s teaching writing. On paper directly. Her first assignment to her students is to draw a spiral that fills the page, around and around until they come to the middle. That’s focusing. They COULD walk a spiral labyrinth. They could imagine a pool of light and pretend it was shrinking around them until it was just their hand and the paper. Whatever trick works. At that center point one can begin to write. Aaaaaah.
What would make me give up writing? Brain damage. That’s all I can think of. I’ve postponed writing for a lot of different people: family, friends, lovers. And I’ve put it off out of selfishness because there were more interesting things to do. Now the reality is upon me: write or die. No cause, no persuasion, no compensation, no morality, can pull me away from it now. It IS my morality. I measure everything by what it will contribute to my writing.
Some people are alarmed. They fancy I will tell all their secrets or make them look bad. But that’s not writing. That’s just tattling. What I’m after is the hearts of things. Truthfully, not very many people are worth writing about. Most of them don’t know how hard it is to keep writing and revising and writing and resisting closure even when the thing is plenty long enough and you think you’ve done the best you can do. Because probably at that point you’ve only cleared off the “overburden” which is the dirt on top of the true lode.
“The Molten Chalice” AKA “The Poetics of LIturgy” is rubble from a former life, long gone. I don’t just mean I left the ministry, I mean the denomination is not at all the same (possibly not viable), the seminary is sold (they pretend not), and I don’t know anyone anymore. BUT in the rubble are the nuggets. Isn’t it a resistance to closure, a faithfulness, to recover those bits of value? There are only two measures now: is there time? Do I have the skill? Not where will it lead, because I don’t know where and neither does anyone else.