As the deadline for the new SUN approaches, I become more anxious — not about the choreography of the whole issue; that’s second-nature by now — but about writing this column. You’d think this would be second-nature, too, but it’s mostly second-guessing. Did I say it right? Reveal too much, or too little? Is it good writing? I’m the editor peering over my own shoulder, the kibbitzer at the card table where I’m dealing from a marked deck, the voyeur outside the window watching me undress. Ah, the veils of personality we part with curious fingers, for a better look at who we “really” are — so we can come to some truth? Go through the motions? We seduce no one as thoroughly as ourselves. Splashing around in the pool of the mind, calling it the ocean of being.
When I talked with Hugh Prather last month, he spoke of how writing used to be a chore, until he realized that his talent for expressing himself was given to him to make him happy, not miserable. He decided to write only when it was enjoyable, and when it stopped being enjoyable to do something else.
How remarkable, I thought. To give up the pre-dawn ambush, the sour sweat of the forced march, the battle-readiness of the mind: all aimed at nailing the right word, like a beast who roams the peripheries of the imagination, roping it to the hood, bringing it home.
Once, I gave up writing, because I realized I was only trying to impress my father — a stunning and valuable realization, but not entirely true. I was playing to the gallery, all right, but the only one up there — in a thousand different disguises — was me. In one disguise, I was the dutiful son, bent by my father’s manipulativeness, his temper, his stingy love. Was that my father’s fault? Was it mine? We are all innocent, ignorant of who we really are, afraid and therefore treacherous, imagining that our treacheries will protect us — from death, disease, disapproval.
Words can be treacherous too, even the right ones, especially the right ones. Golden spikes driven through the tongue, or is it fool’s gold — talk of love and truth. The instant intimacy of undressed bodies and hearts — that’s not truth, that’s two egos crooning their specialness to each other. The ego gets as drunk on its weaknesses as on its strengths — just keep the beer and pretzels coming. Being honest is important; understanding the truth of who we are is more important. If honesty is nothing more than the mind describing its prison, with wit, or pity, or irony, pulling from its wallet pictures of its beloved cell, what’s gained?
The pool is small. Mind-expanding drugs and dark-blossoming sex make it seem larger, for a moment. The red stain of suffering makes it seem smaller, until the pain passes and we return to our poolside banter, sipping a beer, cracking a joke, wondering at the steady crashing sound from over the dunes.