Belly of the Whale

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Friday, May 22, 2020. A sale! I was elated last night to see my first TC1 sale to the U.K., a paperback! Hooray, my vision of selling at least one copy per month, an oh-so-modest aspiration, remains alive! I’ve spent £120 or so on that particular advertising campaign (which has run for three weeks) with 240 or so clicks. It is obviously a costly thing to advertise a book that doesn’t sell – my ACOS (advertising cost of sales) number stands at 1,051%, horrible of course, but again, if I don’t advertise the book has no chance at all. And here, at long last – after three and a half months of paying for advertising in the U.K. – I have made a sale, Time Crime has officially entered the U.K. marketplace and moved beyond zero status. It feels like a hell of an achievement, let me tell you: “1” is so far beyond “0,” something is so much better than nothing, even if it is only one thing. It makes all the difference in the world to me to have a chance at a reader, a tribe of one if nothing else, in the U.K. That adds to my one customer in France and my handful of customers in the U.S., which according to the updated Amazon geographical data in my Author Central, indicates that one of those copies went to someone in Boston. Now, if only I could track exactly where in the U.K. – England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales – the book is going! Perhaps I’ll get an email someday, who knows? And a review? I can only dream that I’ll eventually encounter an enthusiastic supporter, one who goes to the trouble of providing a positive review. Although with that, of course, as I’ve said, comes the risk of a negative review, the possibility of an unhappy, disappointed reader. Ugh, it would break my heart. Such is the nature of true adventure, however – the risk must be endured or I’m not worthy of the attempt.

One by one, then. Book by book. Month by month. Click by online click. One reader at a time the novel is making its way forward, come what may. I’d watched a clip of an interview with Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke – perhaps the finest Sherlock and Watson ever – and Brett was expressing his wholehearted enjoyment of the success of the television series and the play, his “pink success” as he termed it, and he’d mentioned how actors struggle to survive let alone thrive or enjoy success of any type, in any form so that this was special. It was good to listen to an actor enjoy versus disparage success, to be enlivened and encouraged by a winning role versus expressing a jaded or otherwise frustrated attitude – so often it seems creative folk find the long sought after recognition to be limiting or disappointing. Not Brett. Not me, I venture to say.

I do not seek a specific type or degree or level of success beyond reasonable economic sustainability, as I’ve said. Beyond that, I retain grand aspirations for wide and brilliant success, remarkable success and the mythologization of my work in my lifetime. Knowing that perhaps I don’t want it, that having one’s wish come true in full force brings, as the Arabian Nights tale “The Fisherman and the Jinni” suggests, everything else that comes with it, too often for the worse. But knowing what you want, what it is that you really wish for or envision helps to moderate the wildness of the outcomes. At least that’s the idea I put my faith in. So that when I seek to be read, to be a part of a tribe, my tribe, I’m sincerely seeking a fully functional personal mythology which will naturally incorporate a return from exile. I seek to participate in the world-of-action and not merely write into the void. Art-craft is always a form of communication even when it is produced for its own sake. For if we’re honest with ourselves as artist-craftsmen, we never create without seeking someone to receive the work, to appreciate it, to connect with it. In that sense I write in an overtly commercial manner, intending to engage with a readership while expressing my individual vision which, if you know your mythology, is never exclusively individual because we are, at heart, in spirit, part of the Mystery of life as whole and we are never wholly alone within the Mystery, within the cosmos. Hence the essence of the mythology within Time Crime is an expression of what already is, what has always been and what always will be a part of us.

Meanwhile, I do despair that laboring at the home improvement store and pouring all that money into promoting Time Crime is a waste and a humiliating folly. But when I sell a book, when I encounter a potential reader (for not everyone who buys a book or an epub actually reads it) it’s worth it. Again and again, we require so very little. And today’s vintage post is especially apt.

DOP1 2012 VINTAGE POST:

Belly of the Whale

Monday, September 17, 2012. There’s a young couple, probably in their late twenties, that we often see in the morning walking with their dog to the coffee shop downstairs. They remind Angie and me of ourselves and their dog reminds of ours too. We’re always happy to see them as if they’re acquaintances and we like to watch them come and go. They seem happy and at ease, never in a hurry, and since they often appear just as everyone else seems to be hustling off to work, we wonder what they do for a living. Whatever it is, it seems good to me. There they are, still early in their adult lives, living like I wouldn’t wanted to live then. To have a Monday morning walk to a coffee shop with my wife and dog instead of an anxious, angry, stressful battle in traffic to hurry up and get to work, to not be “late,” answering phone calls before I even got to the “office,” would’ve been beyond my comprehension when I was their age. My mornings, whenever I had a job, were nothing but agony really. If it wasn’t the traffic and the long drives, then it was the stress of the coming work day that filled me with a grinding, desperate frustration, alleviated only by the thought of the weekend, when my time would be my own again. Even going into zmo filled me with anxiety in the end. It never took long for the legitimacy and empowerment I felt by re-joining the workforce to drain away into the same old emptiness and frustration. Jobs always ended up making me feel like I had to become somebody else to get through them. I had to put on not only a mask and an act, but I had to suspend my “self” – put myself aside – and become the person that could tolerate the job and be who I felt others wanted me to be. There was always “keith at work” and “keith not at work.” Angie used to say that it took practically all weekend to wind me down from the work week, to purge the anxiety, only to have it start building up again on Sunday afternoon as I began again to dread going in on Monday. A horrible living death of a life. I knew it was wrong and felt powerless to change it, which only made the situation seem desperate and worse. I blamed myself as much as the world because I figured there must be something I’m doing wrong, something in me that needed fixing, and then some particular type of job that I could get, so that I could be happy at my work.

With the end of the zmo job, I think I’ve finally accepted that working for someone else is the problem, no matter who it is and no matter what I’m doing. If I’m not the boss, if I’m not in charge of myself, my hours, my day and what I do in it, then I’ll be miserable. I used to believe, maybe because I learned it from others, that such thinking meant I was weak or otherwise “spoiled” and precious. That a man sucks it up and does what he has to do; that liking your job wasn’t part of it – that work was something you did in spite of not wanting to do it and that I should feel fortunate to get any time off at all. Time off, which was the only thing that seemed to matter to me, was something you earned in tiny increments, after slogging your days away on the job. Of course the time off begins to seem silly after you condition yourself to the work-world. It’s only natural I think, as you attempt to morph your unwilling self into a willing worker, to finally start seeing time off as just another waste of time. I did. All I ever thought I wanted was more time off yet I’d struggle to take it sometimes, just like other folks. I baffled myself because it was always what I thought I wanted – more time to myself. But I found that the more I worked, the more I “morphed” or otherwise transformed myself into the work-a-day schmuck that I started out hating – telling myself I’d never be obsessed with my job – the more I became what I hated, the more obsessed I became with my job and the more I felt my “old” self disappearing. It was working I guess – I was transforming myself – even as I thought I was still holding on to the part of me that was really me. What I didn’t realize until my enantiodromia hit, until my biophycomythological “fever” broke, was that i was successfully cleaving myself into two different beings. The original me, connected to my suffocating heart, and the “actor” version, the one driven by my mind to achieve in the game as I saw it being played – the survivor – who was on the verge of being completely consumed by his role. Neurosis was upon me. The refinery job of course is what I’m talking about here – that’s what I’ve been “recovering” from so to say ever since. My little side trip back into the working world at zmo is what has triggered my backsliding but also my final push across the threshold into my hero journey – working for zcob, the most accommodating and compassionate company one could work for and finding it still insufficient for me is a quiet watershed moment of sorts. I sit here writing on a Monday free now from the burden of going into work and knowing, surrending to, the idea that I’ve played out the last option for refusing my call. I’ve spent a great deal of time, maybe more than one “micro” hero journey within the larger one in fact, at the jumping off point, the crossing of the first threshold as Campbell describes it so well in The Hero With a Thousand Faces. I’ve been refusing the call to adventure even as I’ve tried to convince myself that I’ve been answering it; the fact is that I’ve been attempting to answer it on my own terms, in a context subject not only to cosmic imperative – which demands an all-or-nothing surrender – but also to my ego-drive as it manifests within my established culture field: I’m still trying to compromise, to depart without severing my ties, to embark without cutting the line. I’ve been unwilling to let go of everything, to die to myself in order to be reborn which is counter to the lesson of the myth: one cannot both agree to the terms of destiny and at the same time refuse this or that aspect of the demand, which is for wholeheartedness. Otherwise, the surrender is disingenuous, the energy required is compromised, at least partially consumed in the service of an alternate agenda, one still hinged to causal imperatives – the security, sex and will-to-power of the first three chakras – subject to time-bound local custom, the lumbering social dynamic and stifling cultural inquisitions that, in service of the group, cripple unbound personal myth by way of the same praxis and ritual the myths once successfully invoked. One may survive the visscitudes of life, physically, within the abiding protection of the group, yet one dies to oneself, to one’s biobiophycomythology, relinquishing cosmic grace for a house and a job, acceptance from one’s peers and the leveling tedium of work-a-day subsistence; alive but not properly, productive but producing nothing to reflect truth; the energy of the spirit tragically diverted to the mundane, the eagle flight of the spirit denied by clipped wings. I’ve not wholeheartedly surrendered and the vocationally stuttering, psychologically disoriented, spiritually clipped nature of my life, precariously set upon the knife-edge of non-being, in danger of unbecoming, just as one who refuses the call to become a shaman is said to become a non-person, bereft within and without, culturally, socially and spiritually homeless.

“The myths and folktales of the whole world make clear that the refusal is essentially a refusal to give up what one takes to be one’s own interest. The future is regarded not in terms of an unremitting series of deaths and births, but as though one’s present system of ideals, virtues, goals, and advantages were to be fixed and made secure. King Minos retained the divine bull, when the sacrifice would have signified submission to the will of the god of his society; for he preferred what he conceived to be his economic advantage. Thus he failed to advance into the life-role that he had assumed – and we have seen with what calamitous effect. The divinity itself became his terror; for obviously, if one is oneself one’s god, then God himself, the will of God, the power that would destroy one’s egocentric system, becomes a monster.

“I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;

“I fled Him, down the arches of the years;

“I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways

“Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears

I hid from Him, and under running laughter. (Francis Thompson, The Hound of Heaven)

“One is harassed, both day and night by the divine being that is the image of the living self within the locked labyrinth of one’s own disoriented psyche. The ways to the gates have all been lost: there is no exit. One can only cling, like Satan, furiously, to oneself and be in hell; or else break, and be annihilate at last, in God.”[1]

In the introduction to The Hero’s Journey – Joseph Campbell on His Life and Work, Campbell is quoted:

“It’s not the agony of the quest but the rapture of the revelation. Life is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be lived.”[2]

I’m tired today in some existential way. My muscles are stiff and I feel my age somehow. This in the midst of some of the most fulfilling biophycomythological progress I’ve experienced since Texas really. Usually at this time I’m abandoning my writing to prepare for work at zmo. What always seemed like a temporary part-time job that I could just dabble in and still live my life had, like every other fucking job I’ve ever had, begun to turn into a trap – a life-depleting, energy-sapping burden. But today, I’m free. For the first Monday afternoon in what seems like forever I’m doing what I want to do. Of course I’m anxious to make even more progress more quickly. Impatience is a personal dragon that threatens to derail even my most profound “accomplishments.” I feel compelled to reproduce here all the quotes from Campbell and others that mean a lot to me – that illuminate and help legitimize the mystifying fiascos, side-trips, false-starts and frustrations that have made my myth difficult to accept. I’m crossing or have crossed a threshold. It may be the threshold of departure or return I’m not exactly sure, but either way, it involves surrender, patience and letting go of my ego, letting go of the suffering that comes with grasping at the outcome of my deeds.

“Rebirth is symbolized in the worldwide womb image of the belly of the whale. The hero, instead of conquering or conciliating the power of the threshold, is swallowed into the unknown, and would appear to have died…. This popular motif gives emphasis to the lesson that that passage of the threshold is a form of self-annihilation. Its resemblance to the adventure of the Symplegades is obvious. But here, instead of passing outward, beyond the confines of the visible world, the hero goes inward, to be born again. The disappearance corresponds to the passing of a worshipper into the temple – where he is to be quickened by the recollection of who and what he is, namely dust and ashes unless immortal.[3]

“That is why the approaches of and the entrances to temples are flanked and defended by colossal gargoyles: dragons, lions, devil-slayers with drawn swords, resentful dwarves, winged bulls. These are the threshold guardians to ward away all incapable of encountering the higher silence within…. They illustrate the fact that the devotee at the moment of entry into the temple undergoes a metamorphosis. His secular character remains without; he sheds it as a snake its slough…..Allegorically, then, the passage into a temple and the hero-dive through the jaws of the whale are indentical adventures, both denoting, in the picture language, the life-centering, life-renewing act.”[4]

Threshold guardians, Japanese (see note 5 for citation).

[5]

Angie discovered this allegory, “Impatient Young Samurai and the Old Master,” at a dojo where she takes kick-boxing classes:

“Matajuro (a.k.a. Munefuyu) Yagyu (1613-75) was the son of the famous swordsman Munenori Yagyu who was fencing teacher to the Shogun, Ieyasu Tokagawa. Believing that Matajuro was too undisciplined to ever achieve mastery, Munenori disowned him. So Matajuro, hoping to redeem himself in his father’s eyes, went to seek out a famous swordsman named Banzo, who had retired to Mount Futara.

“’You wish to learn swordsmanship under my guidance?’ asked Banzo. ‘You cannot fulfill the requirements.’

“’I will work very hard, how many years will it take me to become a master?’ asked the youth.

“’Oh, maybe ten years,’ Banzo replied.

“’I can’t wait that long,’ continued Matajuro. ‘If I work far more intensively, how long would it take me?’

“Oh, maybe thirty years,” said Banzo.

“’Why is that?’ asked Matajuro.

“‘Well,’ said Banzo, ‘with one eye fixed on your destination, you have only one eye to find your way.’

“‘Very well,’ declared the youth, understanding that he was being rebuked for impatience, ‘I will be your devoted servant and endure any hardship. Please teach me.’

“Banzo agreed under the conditions that Matajuro never speak of fencing and never touch a sword. For three years Matajuro cooked for his master, washed the dishes, made his bed, cared for the garden, all without a word of swordsmanship. He had begun to think he would never learn the art he had come to learn, when one day, while Matajuro was cooking rice, Banzo crept up behind him and hit him quite hard with a wooden sword.

“The following day, when Matajuro was fetching water from the well, Banzo again sprang upon him unexpectedly.

“After that, day and night, Matajuro had to defend himself from unexpected thrusts. Not a moment passed in any day that he did not have to stay alert to avoid the sword of the master.

“He learnt so quickly that his Zanshin (awareness), concentration, his speed and a sort of sixth sense enabled him to avoid Banzo’s attacks. Then one day, before completing ten years after his arrival, the master told him he had nothing more to teach him.

“Afterward…

“Matajuro returned home to his father and proved himself to be one of the best swordsmen in the land. He eventually took over as head of the Edo branch of the Yagyu Shinkage-ryu, and while in service to the shogunate, he too rose to the level of a minor daimyo, like Munenori.

“Epilogue…

“This story is a reminder to be patient, that training is not always what it appears to be, and to realize that constant vigilance day and night is necessary if one truly wants to reach mastery of anything, including oneself. Or in other words “good things come to those who endure.”[6]

I see how pervasively I’ve allowed impatience to influence my life; how insidiously destructive its been to what I try to create; how in an attempt to hasten the attainment of my goals it has only delayed, by many years and maybe decades, the transformation I need to undergo to attain them; how it’s “ham-strung” the playing out of my myth. Even now, in the act of writing these words, of admitting to myself how I’m holding myself back, I am impatient. I want to get past this writing, this quoting of others, this self-analysis and this troublesome self-work to what I still see in the future as the “real me” and my “real life” – a life somehow flush with material rewards, the adulation of others, and self-congratulation; a life of ease, peace and the outcome of my deeds, all the while knowing those are not things to want, that mastery of the two worlds does not come by way of attachment to either. Life is not, as Campbell says, a problem to be solved but a mystery to be lived and here I entangle myself in the very creation of a problem that does exist outside of my own disturbed psyche. It’s absurd to both demand freedom from achievement and then think of nothing else but achievement, of doing. Why all the counterproductive back and forth? Why the here and there, the one and the other, the dark and light? What is this impossible biobiophycomythological ping-pong game – this impossible paradox that I can neither allow nor shift?

It’s the not letting go. It’s the habit of not surrendering. Because I’ve allowed all those years of fighting with myself and others – with the universe – to define me and sustain me and I don’t want to let that part of me go. I don’t want to let die the whole of me that needs to in order to transform, to enter the temple, to pass the threshold guardians, to be swallowed into the belly of the whale. What am I afraid of? What or whom am I afraid of becoming?

“The hero whose attachment to ego is already annihilate passes back and forth across the horizons of the world, in and out of the dragon, as readily as a king through the rooms of his house. And therein lies his power to save; for his passing and returning demonstrate that through all the contraries of phenomenality the Uncreate-Imperishable remains, and there is nothing to fear.”[7]

I sit here on a sunny Monday afternoon writing, listening to music, eating a pleasant lunch and drinking a beer, all in my own time; engaging in all the things I want to do and none of the things I don’t. It should be heaven here on earth for me. Yet I place one eye on the finish line: that published book, that earning power, that praise and acceptance, that achieving; always furiously pitched towards accumulation of the more and better, of getting started and getting going.

The great tragedy of speed as an answer to the complexities and responsibilities of existence is that very soon we cannot recognize anything or anyone who is not traveling at the same velocity as we are. We see only those moving in the same whirling orbit and only those moving with the same urgency. Soon we begin to suffer a form of amnesia, caused by the blurred vision of velocity itself, where those things germane to our humanity are dropped from our minds one by one. We start to lose sight of any colleagues who are moving at a slower pace, and we start to lose sight of the bigger, slower cycles that underlie our work. We especially lose sight of the big, unfolding wave form passing through our lives that is indicative of our central character. On the personal side, as slaves to speed, we start to lose sight of family members, especially children, or those that are ill or infirm, who are not flying through the world as quickly and determinedly as we are. Just as seriously, we begin to leave behind the parts of our own selves that limp a little, the vulnerabilities that actually give us color and character. We forget that our sanity is dependent on a relationship with longer, more patient cycles extending beyond the urgencies and madness of the office.

Once we ourselves are touched by that mortality, however, through whatever agency it arrives in our lives – a broken limb, the loss of a loved one, the collapse of our business, a moment of humiliation in the doorway of a meeting room – our identities built on speed almost immediately fall apart and disintegrate. We find ourselves suddenly alone and friendless, strangers even to ourselves.[8]

Almost any of my marriage struggles can be traced back to my impatience and that “amnesia” and “blurred vision.” Some of it of course is lack of shared experience – a spouse returns from war and can no longer indentify with their partner – the shared experience is now with others, often much more powerfully. Of course the so-called “war” more often has nothing to do with the military and everything to do with your work, your fucked-up job and your fucked-up place within it. My Texas job was the biggest challenge of my life: exhilarating and immersing, it was the intense involvement I’d craved, a battle worthy of my talents, requiring me to function at full capacity; I thought I’d finally arrived, all my work had finally begun to pay off. The genie had granted my wish and as the myth attests, I was also to receive everything else that came with it, things I was unprepared for, that I hadn’t forseen so blindly ambitious and biobiophycomythologically frustrated was I that I couldn’t see the black power of the goddess, the divine feminine energy of the universe perhaps – shakti – that both creates and consumes – the goddess Kali. Enraptured, in trance, in fever, desperate to keep up with myself, with my new life, I’d made a deal with the devil and would soon begin to pay my debt with everything I had, my health, my job, my marriage. I was experiencing things that I felt could only effectively be understood, related to and shared by those people also in the so-called “trenches,” “in the same boat,” fighting the same “war.” Of course there’s no going back, that’s part of the deal with the devil, part of the granting of the wish, part of grasping at an outcome for which you are insufficiently initiated. I’m doing it again, with my writing: I want so desperately for it to come to something, now, immediately, so I can move on, get going, begin living again in terms of the society I long to properly enter and belong to.

I mentioned experiencing both mental and physical fatigue today; of feeling my age somehow. There’s also a disconcerting lack of joy in my work today, as if my life’s work – my writing – is a chore of some type. This is how I manage to defeat myself, by way of biobiophycomythological impatience, by demanding it all on my terms, according to my time; I question everything that isn’t immediately successful, that doesn’t provide an undeniable spark of some sort of cosmic symbiosis – a flash of recognition between me and the universe. Even when it feels right, that I’m pointed in the right direction, I somehow try to convince myself that it should feel more right, that each moment should feel right, which is to say exhilaratingly right; that it should seem continually new and fresh and bold and adventurous, completely absent of drudgery and any notion of deliberate practice or need for endurance. I want it all now, simply on the pretext that I’ve made a decision. What else defines impatience?

It may have something to do with arrival too – the sort of success hangover you get when your life simplifies (and you simplify yourself) – giving up that seeker role and learning to inhabit the world “in a lighter way” as David Whyte describes.[9] I reread some of my thoughts on this in the chapter entitled “The End of the Beginning,” written as it was back in March, and there I was already struggling with the zmo job and the limits I saw within zcob as a whole. But I allowed them to play out until I reached the vanishing point, which is what I typically need to feel comfortable with a decision like that – I want to give it every opportunity somehow, even if it seems pretty obvious (to everyone else at least) that it’ll never work.

Whyte says some interesting things about his own “arrival,” arriving as it did a little too early for him. Through a serendipitous combination of luck and initiative, of timing and drive, he was offered a speaking engagement before several hundred people, filling in for a presenter who’d cancelled:

At this moment I was facing one of those grander lifelong goals. An audience for my work. A joy for which I was unprepared. To find good work, no matter the path we have chosen, means coming out of hiding. How many times do we keep a hope or dream in abeyance because the possibility of failure is too much to contemplate? If we failed at that, then who would we be? Would there be anything left at all? Making ourselves visible is, in effect, simultaneously arranging for the possibility of our own disappearance. I had a momentary understanding as I looked out on those upturned faces that there was no way round that disappearance, I just had to keep sight of everything that was appearing before me anew as my old sense of things disappeared. The territory that lay between me and the audience was my new home; that was what I had to focus on.[10]

Off the Rails

Tuesday, September 18, 2012. Campbell comments on what myth is in relation to science (he was interested in biology in prep school):

[N]ow I think of mythology as a function of biology, a statement of the impulse system of the body and the organs. Not something that’s made up in the head. What’s made up in the head is the fiction; what comes out of the heart is a myth. These are totally different things altogether.[11]

Within The Hero’s Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life and Work, Campbell responds to the following suggestion from his audience: “But maybe ordinary people who may not think of themselves as artists can indeed be artists.”

The problem with being an artist is that you have to practice a technique. This turned up when my wife Jean came here to Esalen one year. She’s a professional dancer, and in her teaching she’s teaching people who want to dance. And there’s a lot of chores just moving your legs around, hanging onto a bar.

I was lecturing on mythology and Jean was going to do something with her dancers. In the evening, well, she was just terribly discouraged. I said, “Oh, Jeannie, what’s the matter?”

She said, “They just want the Esalen experience!”

So the next day or two I looked out the window and saw Jean with her pupils. She had them opening their arms to the sun and rolling downhill and skipping around.

It pointed out to me a very important matter with respect to the arts. There are two totally different aspects. The thing that irritated Jean was that these people were calling this thing creative – creative art. It’s not. It’s therapeutic. Here is a person who’s off the rails trying to get back onto the rails by means of art: that’s artist therapy. But the artist who is on the rails and works out of that sense – that’s a totally different thing. Both are perfectly okay, but it’s good to know the difference.

You don’t ask a professional dancer to even know how to handle people who don’t want to dance.[12]

What does this say about what I’m doing? What does it say about me? I think it says that I’m not doing creative work; that instead, while I’m thinking I’m doing creative work, I’m just using my writing as therapy. Yet to dismiss the dop as mere therapy seems off the mark somehow – while it’s certainly been therapeutic to journal in this way, I’ve been aware since I began of something else going on, of an aspiration I have to create something more structurally sound, more architecturally ambitious and of some compelling use to others. I want to reveal the process of self-work in real time, to tell my story, to use writing to help work out my myth on paper so to speak, to write out my thoughts as a way of making them real, but there is also some deep sense of having begun to present my boon, such as it is; that what I’m doing here in the dop is already the work I have to do and not merely preliminary, not merely just a trial along the way, not just therapy and self-work that I’m undertaking in anticipation of beginning another manner of work – something perhaps more important – later on. It’s been a source of suffering to struggle with this idea – this sense – of writing the dop for others, for an audience while at the same time I write it for myself.

An artist is not in the field to achieve, to realize, but to become fulfilled. It’s a life-fulfilling, totally different structure…. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re first-, second-, third-rate in the public eye. Each artist, as I know them, is in fulfillment in his or her own way. It’s not a competitive field…. Commercial art is something else. I mean direct, creative art.[13]

I struggle with this because I’m struggling to discover what I’m actually doing, instead of what I think I’m doing. It matters to me because I’m tired and frustrated at the thought of wasting my time – my limited fucking time in life – doing something that I’m not really doing, of otherwise fooling myself into thinking I’m working when perhaps I’m merely working through something, of being convinced I’m on the adventure so to speak when in fact I’m not, that my writing is merely part of the trial and not the boon. What would Campbell say to such self-doubt? I think he’d say the same thing I’ve said before to myself: that if one’s heart is saying “yes” or “aha!” – if there’s a compelling sense of having answered the call and of discarding everything that does not serve that call – if there’s a sense of zeal and a sense of intuitive truth to the undertaking – then one is doing it, one is on the adventure and living one’s personal myth. Accompanying the sense of bliss at being compelled forward, of being guided within and without, is an undeniable anxiety and fear – a sense of torment and suffering – induced precisely perhaps by the pathless nature of the journey (the existence of a path indicates someone else’s path). Yet I suspect this resistance – this fear of surrender and of the faith required in one’s guides – may also point towards the truth and integrity of the journey, just as bliss does; except where the heart is willing, the mind remains suspicious, loath to suspend reason, perhaps knowing the danger, remembering past failures and simply bound by habit to the iron-like instinct demonstrated within the first three chakras. The heart longs to thrive at all cost, risking death if necessary, whereas the mind takes the measure of everything, arithmetically, and is quick to compromise if the numbers don’t add up on the side of life – of remaining alive – until the heart, perhaps fortified by the spirit, can carry the day, forcing one’s being – one’s unified trinity – up to and past one’s limiting pedestrian self, kicking and screaming as perhaps needs be. It may be that I’ve here become somewhat lyrically carried away, but these ideas ring true to my own experience.

One option for my writing, if I want it out there, is to put it out there and forget about it; blog or otherwise “post” the shit. Join that crowd and see if I can stand out and get some attention, right? I can’t imagine getting anywhere with that strategy, and in the end, I don’t want that kind of attention even if it was possible to get. Yes, I want readers. But only in the context of a legitimate, professional publishing contract, from a publisher that pays a healthy chunk of change for what I’m tearing my guts out trying to create. No, I don’t want to give my shit away, have it disregarded or otherwise ignored, or even worse, to generate that impossibly small crowd of folks who patronize the impossibly small business of any kind, the only requirement being that it’s small. I don’t want the anti-big-business, keep-up-the-good-work-but-we’re-not-going-to-pay-a-living-wage-for-it type of recognition. It’s the same recognition and acceptance that the folks who run The Gallery Project (the art gallery in Ann Arbor where Kevin exhibited) get and complain about. As they said, “They [their patrons] like knowing that we’re here, but they won’t help pay to keep us here.” Bingo, and that also describes the food cart business in a nutshell.

I sometimes question my own motives and integrity; am I so determined to “be somebody” – to be a writer for example – that I’m willing to shirk my duty to make my own living, to live as a house-husband rather than endure what must be endured to be a man in this society? What is it, after all, that compels me to write? There have been, throughout history, notorious examples of fakirs in the contemplative traditions and two in fact came within the circle of Joseph Campbell.[14] Jamake Highwater (? – 2001), the widely published author, lecturer and PBS television host, appeared as an interviewer in The Hero’s Journey but was also notoriously accused of misrepresenting his supposed American Indian heritage. Eventually, under scrutiny by many, including the American Indians he claimed as his people, Highwater admitted, in an article published by Jack Anderson, to having lied “repeatedly about many details of his life.”[15]

Asked why someone of such genuine and extraordinary talent felt he had to concoct a spurious background, Highwater said he felt that doors would not have opened for him if he had relied on his talent alone.

“Society puts certain pressures on people,” he explained. At one point he said, “Maybe I should have been more forthright.”

Although he still insists he is an Indian, Highwater has dropped any claim to Indianhood from his approved press release. “I’m not going to say I’m an Indian anymore….”[16]

I can’t imagine lying about my background and credentials in an effort to forward a career. Yet could there be, in my own bid to express my talents, in my struggle to find a reception for my boon, for perhaps renown and societal recognition, an aspect of misrepresention, of falseness to it all? In the pursuit of the truth about myself, can I have in fact expressed something less? Is acting “as if” as Canfield suggests, a form of deception, at least to oneself? Surely one can lie to oneself and it’s this self-disengenuousness that I fear, I don’t really know why. Perhaps what I’m tyring to identify is not falsehood, self-deception or self-delusion, but the desperate lack of one-hundred-percent confidence in who I am, or who I know myself to be in the process of becoming so to speak, of the self-transformation involved in becoming who you are? One cannot be certain, one cannot be absolutely, positively sure of oneself, especially in the face of so many false starts and fiascos.

When I stumbled upon the controversy surrounding Highwater, I wondered what Campbell thought of it, if he even knew about it or cared. Would he have disparaged the man and preferred never to have met him? – preferring that any of Highwater’s comments be edited out of Life & Work? After all, Campbell was an authentic scholar and one devoted to the idea of authenticity: one of his first published works was “The Skin of Whose Teeth?” – an article meant to expose Billy Wilder’s popular play The Skin of Our Teeth as nothing but a pastiche of James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake. But I’d like to think that Campbell, upon hearing of any controversy regarding Highwater’s integrity, might also have been compassionate for someone struggling, as this man appeared to be, along his way, doing right and also doing wrong in an attempt to be who he thought he was. Campbell had some things to say about expressing your shadow and the “dangerous and disastrous aspects of your potential.”[17] He said, “Evidently, the shadow holds not only what is good for you but what is bad as well” suggesting that we “find a way to realize [our] shadow in [our] life somehow.”[18] Campbell also tells us that he thinks compassion is the “only attitude that will solve the situation.”[19] In the context of the statement, he was referring to the problem of love being a projection onto the opposite sex of what we want, ignoring the reality of the other, and creating an inevitable dillusion. Until the dillusion or spell is broken and then we have a choice to make: to withdraw our projection (leave that person) and look around for somebody else to project it on or show compassion for the imperfection in that person, to, as he says, “live with and be nice to it, showing compassion for the fallibilities that I myself have certainly brought to life as a human being.” He continues:

Perfection is inhuman. Human beings are not perfect. What evokes our love – and I mean love, not lust – is the imperfection of the human being. So, when the imperfection of the real person, compared to the ideal of your animus or anima, peeks through, say, This is a challenge to my compassion. Then make a try, and something might begin to get going here. You might begin to be quit of your fix on your anima. It’s just as bad to be fixed on your anima and miss as to be fixed on your persona: you’ve got to get free of that. And the lesson of life is to release you from it. This is what Jung calls individuation, to see people and yourself in terms of what you indeed are, not in terms of all these archetypes that you are projecting around and that have been projected on you.[20]


[1] Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces…, 49-50.

[2] Joseph Campbell, The Hero’s Journey…, .xvii.

[3] Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces…, 76-77.

[4] Ibid., 77.

[5] Joseph Campbell, “Threshold Guardians, Bearing Thunderbolts, (painted wood, Japan, A.D. 1203),” The Hero…, 76.

[6] CITATION?!

[7] Jospeh Campbell, The Hero…, 78.

[8] David Whyte, Crossing…, 118-119.

[9] Ibid., 142.

[10] Ibid., 143, 146, 148.

[11] Joseph Campbell, The Hero’s Journey…, 73.

[12] Ibid., 95.

[13] Ibid., 94.

[14] Jamake Highwater is here discussed, but another controversy involved the Tasaday People – a supposed recently discovered primitive race later proven, after having been described, with photographs, in Campbell’s The Way of the Animal Powers: Vol. 1 Historical Atlas of World Mythology, to have been contrived. Additional discussion appears later in DOP, whereby I inquire to the JCF and receive a reply.

[15] news.google.com, 12.25.2013, citing The Free Lance-Star, February 16, 1984, p.16.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Campbell, Joseph, Pathways…p.74.

[18] Ibid., pp.77-75.

[19] Ibid., p.76.

[20] Ibid.