Every time someone asks me what this book is about, I struggle a little. I’m in the middle of writing, still, and am still trying to figure out how to make the thing do its thing. I don’t have the distance to be able to label it in a meta-view way, because I’ve got the micro-vew stuff up all around me. Seriously, I’m pretty sure I’m going to have to wait for the marketing people at my publisher to have a crack at this thing before I’ll have a concise, one-sentence description of it.
OK, I do have a concise, one-sentence description of the thing: I’m writing a book about taking on a serious spiritual practice (or religious discipline, pick your language)–its trials, tribulations and political implications.
It’s about how coming to religion forces a person to radically re-think one’s relationships, one’s identity, one’s idea of fun, one’s emotional terrain and one’s politics. It’s about how this process is confusing, angst-inducing, painful and utterly magical. It’s about how these struggles and questions are ancient–check the medieval mystics and Zen stories, and you’ll find people whining about how sick they are of having to rework their relationships to desire, having eerily similar fights with family members, etc. It’s also about how the particulars of the world today (and I’m mostly talking about late capitalist America) make these same old challenges harder than ever, and possibly create new obstacles for the aspirant. It’s about how if you start paying attention, it becomes harder not to pay attention–and the ways in which this has radical implications both for the way a person might regard his or her own life, and the way he or she might understand the world and his/her position in it. And how that’s not always comfortable, but dang is it important. Oh, and it’s about me, I suppose–I use my own story as a way of getting into all this, because people like stories. So I guess you could say there’s some memoir-type stuff in there as well. Hence the ongoing appearance of the 38 Geary bus.
Even 78.3% of the way through the rough draft, I still find it hard to articulate what I’m doing. I have a pretty clear sense of what I’m doing as I do it, but it’s difficult to talk about with someone who’s not me or one of my beta-testers at this stage of the game. It’ll start becoming easier about 3/4 of the way through revisions, I’m pretty sure. And this is WITH a 78 page book proposal and extensive, annotated chapter outlines! Welcome to the creative process.
Here are some of the quotes that I used at the very beginning of the proposal, if that gives you a sense of the direction of things–these kind of reflect the first half of the book or so. A couple of them are in the mss, certainly not all.
“We are aging soldiers in an ancient war
Seeking out some half remembered shore
We drink our fill and still we thirst for more
Asking if there’s no heaven what is this hunger for?”
— Emmylou Harris
“I am but a poor struggling soul yearning to be wholly goodâ€¦. I know that I have still before me a difficult path to traverse.”
“Oh Lord, give me chastity, but do not give it yet.”
“I remember how learnedly and enthusiastically I could talk for hours about mysticism and the experimental knowledge of God, and all the while I was stoking the fires of the argument with scotch and soda.”
“You have an idea of what the new country looks like. Still, you are very much at home, although not truly at peace, in the old country…. You know that what helped you and guided you in the old country no longer works, but what else do you have to go by?… Trust is so hard, because you have nothing to fall back on.”
“Taste it and you will see that God is good.”