I've been reflecting further on what I wrote in my 12/19 post, "The Boat," about "my most valued identity, the one I cling to most obstinately, the writer," and about the possibility of freeing myself from that addiction. And I've come to understand that it's perfectly possible to release "the writer" without having to stop writing.
What a simple, self-evident, liberating insight! "The writer" is the one who clings to the identity; who is disappointed in himself when a day passes without his having written a single word; who takes pride in having readers who respond to his work and longs to expand his readership; who seeks publication, success, recognition, fame, monetary reward. Who desires respect for the quality of his work. Who buys in to the notion of "immortality," of not having lived in vain and being soon forgotten--at least insofar as he wants to have made his mark, to have left something of significance behind.
I think it's honest to say that I can free myself from all that. I no longer have that need to establish my standing as a writer. I have been more fortunate than most who think of themselves as writers; and not as fortunate as many. I have written, and published, scores of articles and reviews, most of them in national magazines. I have written, and published, two books of poetry, two novels, the monograph of an internationally celebrated artist, a memoir, and most recently a series of three books on the nexus between the practices of meditation and creativity. For each of those books, I have wished for far more than they were able to achieve, but I know that they reached out and touched hearts and minds other than my own. I'll admit I dreamed of writing the best-seller, of making millions. At one time it was my ambition to find myself on an airplane with a stranger reading one of my books in the next seat!
Perhaps it's too easy to let go of all that now that I know for sure that none of it will ever happen. But easy or not, it's an extraordinarily liberating insight, that I don't need that "writer" any more--and that I can continue to write happily without him. It means that I can look forward to the next few days of the holiday season without the anxiety of having something left undone. It means I can read the New York Times Sunday Book Review without having to come to terms with the demeaning feelings of envy that sneak up on me, and without the judgments that accompany it: I can write better than this guy. How come he gets his book published by a major publishing house, and deserves a review in the New York Times? The sheer injustice of it! I admit it, I have had those feelings, and have suffered for it.
Could this be a Christmas present to myself? A New Year's revolution? Goodbye, writer. Hello, writing? I sounds good.