Confessions of a Post-Spiritual Maverick .... a sort of memoir



WHY I WRITE

and where to from here?

‘You can please some of the people all of the time and all of the people
some of the time but you can't please all of the people all of the time.’

---- variation of a quote by Abraham Lincoln ----

 

I have written two pieces on the matter of beliefs. The first, a vignette titled To Believe or Not to Believe, That is the Question recounts an interaction I had with a born-again Christian regarding the difference between beliefs and knowing, and how the former plays a pivotal role in the development of  fundamentalism. The piece was written in first-person present tense, and in a tongue-in-cheek manner.
        After I wrote the vignette, a number of friends questioned my perspective on beliefs, especially as they apply to how I actually function in the world. In order to clarify my use of the word ‘belief’, and how that informs my claim of not believing in anything, I wrote the second piece, titled Belief, in a style more akin to a formal essay.
        Both pieces were assessed by colleagues at writers’ groups, as well as by friends. My expectations were that everyone would prefer the vignette, while the essay’s formal, and perhaps more academic and turgid approach would be seen by most as rather dull. To my surprise, some people not only felt the essay warranted inclusion in my memoir, but it more clearly conveyed my understanding of the nature of beliefs, and it revealed an honesty on my part not matched by the vignette.
        In light of the above events, I wish to explore the following two questions:
        (1) Can both styles of writing be used in the same book?
        (2) Why am I writing the book, given the process remains a continual struggle?
        First, in response to question 2, I mainly write because it fosters my general wellbeing. It’s sort of like how I get out of bed each morning, do thirty minutes of stretching, drink a litre of lemon water, then eat breakfast and brush my teeth. None of these activities is absolutely necessary, but I don’t want to end up a crippled and hungry old man with arthritis and bad breath! Likewise, I write most days because the urge to write is compelling and I need an outlet for this particular form of creative energy. Such postulates may sound rather superficial - there must be deep and meaningful reasons for writing, right?... like wanting to save the planet or peoples’ souls - but the desire to write just for its own sake fairly accurately accounts for a significant part of what motivates me.
        The second reason I write is for my own edification - it helps me more clearly see underlying patterns that prevent me from living a life free of egoity. For example, by examining the interaction I had with the composite character Emma in the vignette, I came to more clearly see my own fundamentalism and tendencies towards emotional withdrawal. Generally, writing serves as a vehicle for the process of self-understanding; it also gives me the opportunity to share what I have discovered.
        The challenges now are to establish and conform the chapters to the main theme of the book, as well as to find a way to best express them; i.e., to determine which style of writing offers the clearest and more entertaining presentation.

  The main theme of the memoir is that all beliefs are arbitrary, divisive, and restrict the otherwise free flow of life.

I ‘knew’ as a child that beliefs were nonsensical, but was not fully sensitised to how others around me did not. I wasn’t aware of their strong tendencies to identify with religions, nationalities, or even ideas or beliefs. It wasn’t until an incident occurred in my ninth year with an Italian Catholic boy who lived on the other side of the fence that I realised the negative effects identification had on peoples’ lives, especially their relationships with others. The question ‘If Italy and Australia went to war, would we have to fight each other?’ simply appeared in my mind. The incident was a pivotal moment in my life so I initially titled the book:

The Other Side of the Fence

a memoir of one person’s journey through the spiritual malaise


        The journey is a malaise because the ‘spiritual’ search for truth at the end of a path is a futile venture, no different to the search for happiness in any other of the myriad of ways people use to exploit themselves. There is simply no way to Truth as alluded to by many spiritual paths. Truth is, necessarily, always already the case; the realisation of this cannot come about in a mythical future when the right teacher or teaching has been found, or enough practices have been performed, or when some belief system or faith-based disposition has been clutched onto with great force. The word ‘journey’ is, therefore, a misnomer, but it lends itself well to the creation of a memoir that must, to some extent, follow a temporal course.
        When the vignettes, short stories, essays, and eventually several poems, began conforming to a consistent theme, I changed the title of the memoir to better reflect the underlying message of the impending book, as well as to directly inform the reader that the writer of the book is a rather eccentric fellow. The title thus became:

Confessions of a Post-Spiritual Maverick

a sort of memoir

        The term ‘Post-Spiritual’ is used to show that, after having persisted in a conventional ‘spiritual’ path for some years, I came out the other end no longer able to distinguish between what was spiritual and what was not spiritual. That is, what I once set-aside as a genuine spiritual endeavour, I eventually came to see as just another divisive activity, albeit a more subtle and sophisticated one. The ‘maverick’ bit adds a slightly comical aspect to the title, and is used to suggest both an unconventional person as well as a one-of-a-kind type of person (which, of course, we all are anyway). The word ‘confessions’ is used because I am revealing aspects of myself that are less than flattering. The entire work is proposed as a ‘sort of memoir’ because a few stories did not actually occur although they are based on real experiences. Those stories are obvious, like for example, ‘The Day I Uploaded My Ego’. Clearly, it is not possible to be free of one’s ego by transferring it onto the Internet. (Or is it?)
        Although the characters in the book really appeared, and the incidents portrayed did occur, they are all incidentals to the main themes. Basically, I use personalities as props to place in settings, as a director would in a theatrical play or movie. They are a means to show how I view the world, the lens through which I see and interpret things. I could simply say that beliefs have nothing to do with the Truth; however, without putting such a notion into the context of everyday life, what I proclaim would inevitably be viewed by others as highly improbable. Even in context, most people don’t believe me!
        So as to best present my point-of-view, I have now incorporated both styles of writing, as well as included a few poems. The first-person present tense approach will appear in the book as vignettes, to give the reader some sense of what informs me and where I am at in real-time. In-between the vignettes, I will include short stories, essays and poems that to some extent will present events in a more chronological order. I suspect the essays will have greater appeal for the left-brain types who require logical argumentation, while the right-brain types are more likely to find the vignettes appealing. Ultimately, I want to show that, although rational thinking and proficient writing have a place in the communication of ideas, the vignettes add a fuller perspective by bringing them vividly into life.

Of all the challenges that must be faced in the writing of a memoir, the biggest one for me is whether I have the insight, and the courage, to remove the gap between who I really am and how much I am willing to reveal. If I can do this with honesty and integrity, the struggle to write the memoir will have been worthwhile, for myself, and hopefully, for others as well.

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