Sunday, March 28, 2010

Faulkner on Fear

I've been writing a lot about fear lately - the fear of being in groups, the fear of being alone. I thought this week, I'd share the most inspirational piece of writing I know about fear. It has to do specifically with writing but I think it applies to all varieties of creativity....and living. Here is Faulkner's Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech:

I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work -- a life's work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before. So this award is only mine in trust. It will not be difficult to find a dedication for the money part of it commensurate with the purpose and significance of its origin. But I would like to do the same with the acclaim too, by using this moment as a pinnacle from which I might be listened to by the young men and women already dedicated to the same anguish and travail, among whom is already that one who will some day stand here where I am standing.

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed -- love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

Until he relearns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.

The poet’s, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

On Procrastination

I'm starting a new book. I think I already told you about it. A story for my father-in-law about his childhood mentor. It's a study in making up history since I don't know a lot about him or the mentor. I can only imagine what their lives were like.

Sitting on the couch in my library, I'm finding ways to avoid writing. I hear my husband, rattling around in his studio. I imagine him painting, dancing back and forth in front of a new canvas. Sometimes, he is afraid to commit color to a surface, afraid that he might fail, just as I am afraid I might fail to find the words to write. I'm afraid my imagination will fail me. Do I have it in me to create?

The door to his studio just opened and closed. Now I imagine him outside, ranging around his old Model A truck, contemplating how he'll restore it this Spring. Ah, Spring! How does anyone do anything on such a beautiful day? He's coming up the stairs now to the main house. Perhaps he'll join me in my game of procrastination. Perhaps he'll save me from it.

No, I hear a brush drop. I imagine him picking it up, grabbing his palette. He has resumed work.

It is time for me to do the same. Writing is hard because it is alone work. And being alone is perhaps the hardest thing of all. Will anything save me from being alone with myself?

Today our daughter left for a new apartment closer to school. She says she fears being alone, not for her safety but for sanity. She just broke up with another boyfriend, an unsatisfactory relationship - not abusive, just second-rate. One in which she couldn't fully be herself. She's opted for making it on her own to being in a mediocre relationship.

I know there are books out these days about settling for a "good enough" relationship. You don't have to be single and hold out for the "right one" forever, they say. I'm not sure I agree with this. Holding out for the "right one" is holding out for the one who enhances your Self. It's not enough to just not be alone. One must be at peace with one's aloneness before joining up with another soul. My husband and I didn't choose each other to escape the loneliness but rather to share it, until our mutual emptiness united us both.

I think the fear of aloneness is the root of procrastination. Some might say it's fear of failure but at the root of the fear of failure is the fear of rejection and the root of the fear of rejection is the fear of being all alone in the world.

My husband just walked in. I ask him how it's going and he says "good. How about for you?" I say "good" in hopes that it will be. He can't live my life for me, no matter how close we are. It's up to me to handle my aloneness. I don't HAVE to write but I'd like to. So, up again old heart. Fill the void with imagination. In the end, that's all I can truly call my own.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Confessions of a former Group-o-Phobe

It's striking how hard group situations can be after being in a cult. I wrote last week about attending a group for former cult-members and it must have sounded like I had mastered the art of collective social situations. Not so. I still balk at everything from church to staff meetings to Weight Watchers pep sessions.

Weight Watchers is a good example. Everyone gathers to hear a motivational talk for the coming week. How to avoid fat foods and bulk up on healthy ones. How to exercise so you sweat. How to make the most your special W.W. system with points and all. How many points do Girl Scout cookies have anyway? All benign things.

I sit with a room full of overweight people, ladies mostly - or ladies who THINK they're overweight - and squirm in my chair as the "facilitator" whoops the crowd into a frenzy of enthusiastic starvation. She flips the flip chart and quotes inspirational sayings from such mental giants as Earl Nightingale and Dale Carnegie. "Yes, we can, yes, we can." It sometimes feels like an Obama rally.

But I'm better than I used to be. There was a time, shortly after I left The Way, that sitting in a room of fervent believers, like, um, church, for instance, would trigger my anxiety through the roof. When the minister would quote the Bible, it would be like someone shouting "Incoming!" to a Vietnam vet. I'd want to dive under the nearest pew and cover my ears. But now I'm a relatively content churchgoer. So what's changed?

First of all, I can CHOOSE when to go and when not to go to church (I average about once a month.) I can CHOOSE to leave also if I feel uncomfortable. Not so in The Way. There I was under the constant threat of becoming "a greasespot on the highway of life" if I disagreed. I also have learned to LISTEN to my inner voice. If a group gives me the heebie-geebies, I split. Fast.

My boss at work is a cool guy. He's a forty-something psychiatrist who studies Buddhism, practices Tai Chi and cooks gourmet food. He's absolutely astounding with the inmates. He also attends the Zen Mountain Monastery and knows my history. He assures me that the monastery is not a cult. "As long as it's 'us' and not 'them', " he says, "I will go. As soon as they start playing the 'better than' game, I'm out."

That seems to be a good distinction. Whether it's Weight Watchers, church or a Buddhist Meditation group, as long as the group tolerates differences, mine for instance, and is inclusive of other people, I'm okay with it. We don't have to buy into EVERYTHING they're saying. We can pick and chose. If the shoe fits, we wear it. If it doesn't, we don't blame our foot. We look for a different shoe! Some groups can be so rigid, you're bad if you're slightly unique, which we all are. It's their way or the highway. I'll take the highway - even if it means being alone. It's not always comfortable, but it certainly is safer.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Trauma and Recovery

I recently co-facilitated a former-members support group for ex-cultists. We met in a spacious office and went around the circle and told our stories by turn. There were survivors of all sorts of groups - Bible-based cults, therapy cults, new age cults, even political cults. We listened to each other's stories, reacted and asked questions. Even though I had heard many similar accounts, it didn't mitigate the shock of what people do under cult mind-control.

When it came to me, I rattled off the litany of abuse which I'd suffered while involved with The Way International- things like sexual abuse, physical abuse, spiritual exploitation, psychological manipulation, severe depression, suicide attempts. They were all old hat to me. But when I finished my recounting, everyone sat in silence. I felt embarrassed, like I had done something wrong and upset the group.

On my way home, while driving, I had a chance to reflect on what had taken place. I had been horrified by some of the things I heard from some of the ex-members - things like hypnotism, child abuse, brainwashing. Perhaps, I thought, other people had had a similar reaction to my story. Even though I'd been through it a thousand times, I even wrote a book about it all, it was still unsettling for me to see people's response to my story. They were looking at me the way I had looked at them.

I think whenever people hear about trauma of any sort, the reaction is the same. Shock, denial, horror, anger and grief and so on. Even if you've been through abuse yourself, hearing other people's stories can elicit these same emotions. Now I think I understand how people I know feel when they read my book - why some of them look at me cross-eyed and don't know what to say. Perhaps they worry that these aberrations of normal human experience are contagious.

My abuse took place over twenty-five years ago. I'm healthy, happy and living a more or less sane life. But when I show my scars, and see myself through the eyes of others, I am reminded of the pain. The pain is new to the ones who are hearing it for the first time. But, for me, these wounds are healed and I am basically whole. I only get thrown if I react to their shock, like a baby that falls and looks at the pain on its mother's face then starts to cry.

I have to remind myself that I am not a child. I am no longer a victim. I will always be an ex-member, always a survivor but now, by God's grace, I'm a "thriver." It's been a long road from trauma to recovery and I need not go back. Except to hold out a hand to someone who is trying to cross the chasm to healing themselves. That is why I'm co-facilitating the group. But that doesn't mean I still don't get tweaked by my own story. Sometimes it's just plain hard for me to believe I went through all that stuff. And if it's hard for me to believe it, why should I be surprised that others feel the same way, too?