Gimme That (Old?) Time Religion

Hey everybody, it’s Wednesday, and you know what that means. That’s right, blog time!

I have a few things to talk about this week, but let’s start with the status update. Last week I had just finished Chapter 17 and planned to move on to Chapter 18 and…that’s where I remain. I’ve made some progress, just not as much as I would prefer, as the critique group intervened on the latter half of the week.

And that’s okay! I get so much value out of the experience that it’s not exactly a sacrifice. I got through the work with nary a scratch and traveled to the dreaded Baltimore for the meeting. As you can see, the place was in flames and I’m lucky to have gotten out with my life:

Baltimore2

 

Anyway, Chapter 18. I would like to be farther along, but the last few days have been focused on honing the chapter’s opening paragraphs. The problem? It felt too non-committal, too vague, which happens when your protagonist is blasted out of his minds on benzos. The scene needed juice, but how to get it? Ah, of course: look at it from the point of view of a critique. One thing never really added up, and it provided a hook for the scene. You see, Lindsay takes Dean to her place and Dean’s knowledge of the street on which she lives makes him a little uneasy. That prompted the question, how did he know of the street’s reputation, and what about it made him uneasy?

The street itself doesn’t have a bad reputation back home; my impression is entirely based on my own experiences. So why not share Dean’s experiences? It would give the reader more backstory and increase his anxiety about what might happen. That pushed things forward, and now I’m up to the part where he sees her apartment for the first time. Hopefully I can get farther in the next few days.

Now that other item that I wanted to talk about. I want to share a quick…well, ‘response’ is not quite the right word. Inspired post? Maybe that’ll work. On Saturday I was sitting around waiting for breakfast when this wonderful post from my friend Aniko Carmean popped up. I tried to write a few responses on her site, but they all felt kind of flat. The thing is, she was bravely sharing about a spiritual matter in her life, and everything felt like an empty pat on the back rather than a one-to-one relation. Thinking more about it, I realized it was a blog post. So…here you go. But first, read her post, it’s a good one.

Aniko, I get you. I’ve always been a spiritual seeker, and felt that hollow space in my life for a long time. I grew up Mormon, though we weren’t the most devout of members (at least until I was about eight years old). Still, even without being devout, I felt that I had some answers about what the afterlife looked like, what it meant to be spiritual, and the general shape of my “religious life”, for lack of a better term, going forward.

Then my teen years happened and, as teenagers often do, I found myself dissatisfied with the answers. Problem was, I looked around at my friends and most seemed pretty happy with what they had. My Baptist friends went to their church…well, religiously, and believed in the doctrine. Same for my Mennonite friends. And so on. It seemed that most people had not only been given a formula for spiritual happiness, but accepted it and found happiness. Age has revealed my situation to be far from unique, but it was a scary place as a kid growing up in the Bible Belt.

Maybe I didn’t have the right set of answers. I attended the Baptist church, sat in with the Mennonites, Brethren, Apostolic, Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist…. I would have gone to mosque or temple or whatever else if they had been available to a poor rural kid in the 90s. I craved one of two things: either a “peak experience”, that one moment of insight, the universal curtain pulled back; or a sense of spiritual satisfaction.

Both proved elusive.

I turned to other methods of pursuing it as I got older, from drugs to meditation to magick, and while meditation proved beneficial, none of them got me to where I wanted to be. Still I had that aching spiritual hole, and I ended up acting in desperate and self-destructive ways as a result of this absence. Things didn’t change until I started attending 12-step meetings. Though the concept is usually accused of centering on Christian values, I found that it fused my mindfulness lessons with some Buddhist philosophies. I don’t know if it was the system itself or simply being in the right place and right time in my life, but it brought me to a place where I finally started to achieve that peace. I learned how to be happy with what I had, to accept that I can’t control everything (or even most things), and to look for the beauty in the moment.

My understanding has continued to evolve, and I’ve since learned that my temple, my church, is right here, on the page. The sanctuary for my soul is literally at my fingertips. Writing is my form of communion, a connection with the beauty that underlies life and what some might call God, or the universe. I prefer to think of it as the initial creative impulse. I’ve given up on a precise definition for my beliefs. This very absence defines the one thing that has eluded me this whole time: an understanding that you can’t (or at least I can’t) “pin down” a religious experience. It’s ephemeral by its very nature, a butterfly flitting from one petal to another. Each of those experiences over the year was my religious practice, whether it happened in a pristine chapel or a dirty basement, under a Protestant roof or a Catholic tent. The very pursuit was an authentic religious experience, with my obsessive quest for some sort of resolution or ending as a fools’ errand, focusing on the finger rather than the stars to which it points.

I’m not always happy or sedate. I have my bad days like anyone else, but I do at least have some refuge to which I can return on a consistent basis. I would worry about what happens when it goes away, but what is the point of that? The moment is what matters. That’s all I need, literally, for right now.

Anyway, enough rambling. Hopefully that made some semblance of sense. If not, I’ll be back next week with a lot less ramble. See you then.

The Circle: Connecting with Something Greater

I’ve mentioned before that I only returned to writing last October/November after a long break. Years and years of not writing. I hadn’t written regularly since the end of 2005. In fact, at one point I had given up the dream entirely, deciding to just accept that I was a technical writer and got paid to write – why make more effort? The idea is silly these days, but it was a different time and place for me emotionally.

I couldn’t tell you what brought me back to fiction. It was just an itch. Something that felt undefined and needed to be expressed. It was screaming inside of me. It was difficult to get started again, of course. It always is. Writing is like a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it gets. I’ve seen evidence of that in the work that I’ve done over the last year. I know two of my biggest influences in going again were participating in Word Wars and seeing my friend Cathy Wiley chasing her dream.

The more work I did, the more I wanted to do. I found a growing sense of well-being as I wrote, as if I were getting in touch with an essential part of myself that had been neglected and unexpressed for all those years. You know, you hear the cliche about how writers just have to write? Yeah, I’m a living cliche. Since I’ve started writing more regularly, I’ve noticed a marked improvement in my outlook on life and my moods have become more stable. In general, I feel like life is more worth living than when I was drifting along.

That’s not to say that the writing life isn’t without frustration. Any writer can tell you how frustrating the enterprise is; it’s a very hard thing to do. Yet somehow we just keep throwing ourselves at the wall, trying to reach the promised land on the other side. Of course, sometimes the act of throwing yourself against the wall is just as if not more valuable than the times when you break through, to torture the hell out of a metaphor.

This is on my mind because today, as I wrote, I was seized by a strange feeling. An overwhelming sense of my own mortality, an understanding on an emotional level in way that I had never grasped before, that yes, I would die one day. I’m still trying to parse out what it means for me emotionally. I would classify it as some sort of spiritual experience, though.

Now, before I continue. I strive to be religion-neutral on this site. I respect people’s beliefs, and I appreciate when they respect mine. We all do what we need to do to get through life. I do think the world would be better if we could understand one another’s beliefs and leave room for them, but I don’t think you can point the finger at any one faith in particular when you talk about that little predilection.

That said, I have found that my go-to way to be spiritual and, for lack of a better way to put it, commune and worship, is to write stories. It is the one consistent way that I can get in touch with a creative spark inside of me, something that feels a bit beyond just my own meager reach as an individual. This has contributed to the sense of well-being that I mentioned. Yes, some of it arises as a by-product of having a structured goal, which always helps when you have ADHD, but some of it can be chalked up to the spiritual connection that I feel. At times I feel that something greater than me is speaking through me.

I’m not going to try to put that in a box and label it. I’m not going to try to rationalize or dissect what might be doing that. There was a time when I thought that the answer was to pick apart every detail of life, especially my own internal life, to understand why I feel the way I feel. I realize now that that doesn’t matter. Not really. It’s irrelevant to the fact that it makes me feel happy, more fulfilled, and more in touch with the world around me, as well as feeling self-confident and that I have a place in the world. Dissecting that could only serve to diminish it.

I would never take those gifts for granted (self-confidence, feeling fulfilled, etc.), because they are things that I had not had for a long, long time. As a matter of fact, it’s relatively recent that I’ve started to even have a glimpse of those things and what they really mean, probably since 2009. Of course, it’s only grown stronger as I’ve written for a regular basis.

All this is a roundabout way of saying that, for me, creativity is an expression of something greater than just our day-to-day lives. Yes, it entertains, yes, it can have effects on society, what have you, but on a more personal level, it connects the writer with something greater than him or herself and connects the reader with that writer. They both conspire from that point to transcend time and place.

I’d never go so far as to say that books are sacred – that’s a bit overwrought for my blood. Obviously I think books are great, but they’re ultimately just products. What matters is the process itself. Could the process be sacred? Maybe there’s a little something to that. It’s something that I try to keep in mind every day.