Friday, February 12, 2010

Tell Me Who You Are

Following up on yesterday's entry, let me model an exercise that came to me last night in a state of semi-dream. It's called "Tell Me Who You Are." Here we go:

Me: So, tell me who you are

Myself: My name is Peter Clothier. I'm a writer.

Me: Thank you. (Long pause in which I Myself acknowledge in inadequacy of the response.) Now, tell me who you are.

Myself: I'm a father. I'm a writer. I live in Los Angeles and I own a small cottage in Laguna Beach. I consider myself to be fortunate beyond my own expectations. I have not had--nor have I needed--a "job" for the past twenty-five years, but before that I had a successful twenty-five year run in academia. I have been published widely, including several books. I have been married for close to forty years--not without difficult moments, but our relationship continues strong.

Me: What does it mean to you to be a father?

Myself: It means great joy--and great sadness.

Me: What's the joy about?

Myself: It's about the love, not often enough expressed perhaps, but always there, in the heart. It's about having two sons and a daughter, my sons now approaching middle age and seemingly well adjusted in their lives. I take pleasure in their success, their independence, their intellectual acumen, their health. I take pleasure in knowing that they are both good people. The joy is about having three beautiful grandchildren and knowing that they are growing into remarkable human beings. The joy is about having a daughter who is beautiful and smart and gifted with sensitivity that shines in her, even though it sometimes leaves her more susceptible than most of us to pain. It's about believing in her vulnerable humanity.

Me: And the sadness?

Myself: The sadness is about separation. It's about the fact that my two sons live far away and that I rarely see them. The fact that my three grandchildren live five thousand miles away, too far to be able to watch them grow on a daily, even a weekly basis. It's about knowing that those closest to me are so far away, and knowing that they have their own lives to live in which I have no right to be more than an observer. I know this to be right and proper, the way things are, but there is still some part of me that would want the right to protect them and assure their happiness. There is sadness, too, at a greater depth, in the understanding that I will no longer be there for them one day; in the anticipation of loss.

(Another long pause...)

Me: So what does it mean to you to be a writer?

Myself: It means daily dedication and discipline. It means putting it down in words. It means following the words, not preceding them or determining their shape with thought. It means not knowing what I mean until I see what I say. It also means fulfilling my sense of purpose in life, because after years of trying to be something else, I now know without question that this is what I was given to do. To be a writer, to me, means to have the passion to communicate some important part of myself to other people, to mine my own psyche in order to find the human gold I share with my fellow beings on this planet.

Me: Thank you. What obstacles do you set up, and what excuses do you give yourself in order to avoid the responsibility of doing what you're given to do?

Myself: I measure myself against great writers and account myself too small. At my worst, I envy the success of others, deeming them unworthy but allowing their success (in terms of money, fame...) to shame me. I succumb to my laziness. I sit in judgment of myself, and sentence myself to death.

Me: So what is the inner spark that keeps you going? That fires the pistons, keeps the engine running?

Myself: I'm not sure that I see it as a spark. There's a kind of obstinacy involved. I'm a Leo, I have a stubborn streak. There's a kind of inner insistence. Call it, perhaps, a compulsion, even an addiction. It's what I do. One thing that has greatly helped me in the years since I discovered it is my meditation practice. That's something I do daily, pretty much hell or high water. I show up. I sit down. I focus, concentrate. When the mind wanders, I bring it back. I persist. This has served as the model for my writing practice. I do not sit around awaiting the arrival of the Muse. I show up. I sit down. I get focused. I concentrate. I persist...

This is one way down, as I see it, to create this inner dialogue, a series of invitations to take the next step into where the mind is leading me. I follow along as best I can. I sometimes visualize steps that lead down into the darkness of the mind's cave, where I hope to discover one more piece of treasure that I had escape me before. Clearly, there are many side paths in the brief exchange above that have gone unexplored, that offer passages into further depths. The important thing, as I see it, is to keep traveling, to understand that there is always further to go, more to be revealed. I still have, as the poet said, "miles to go before I sleep."

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