In a book called Spiritual Enlightenment: the Damnedest Thing, Jed McKenna describes something he calls spiritual autolysis. Autolysis is self-digestion, and basically it means deconstructing one’s false identity by writing. McKenna, the author/character of the books, claims that’s how he got enlightened, by writing.
Isn’t that just what a writer would say?
I don’t believe it’s possible to totally digest oneself until there’s nothing left but truth, not by writing anyway. Yet I live as if I believed it. It’s my “true goal” (i.e., the one I most want to believe in), even after all my small successes and massive failures have proven, time and time again, that I will likely never achieve this by writing.
I can say that I write because it’s my way of deconstructing the lies of my false identity and getting to the bedrock of my experience. But chances are, that’s only what I tell myself because the false identity needs to write to keep itself going. Like an alcoholic with his alcohol, I use writing to keep the hazy cloud of unknowing intact, to keep reality at bay.
I am a deconstruction artist. I never tire of finding still deeper layers of “text” to break down to their constituents and see what’s beneath them. I also never seem to cease believing that, someday, I will reach the “ground” and find the pay streak.
But I also write to get the world’s attention. I write in the hope it will provide me with a platform from which I can receive a never-ending stream of admiration. This desire never seems to go away.
So you have process and product. Either way, writing provides me with a feeling of engagement, purpose, and meaning, whether it’s with my inner world or the outer one.
You can have process without product (write with your finger or invisible ink, write and then delete it all), but you can’t ever have product without process. Ex nihilo nihil fit, nothing comes from nothing. The means must always justify the end.
As I sit here, the only part of me that’s moving are my hands and arms. My attention is on rows of keys and on the small characters on a computer screen. That’s it. What’s engaged most of all is my so-called mind. The architect of illusions. The controller of worlds, itself a mere chimera, a collection of snowflakes posing as a snowball.
I am now writing another book about movies. I write about movies because I love to watch movies. Movies are an escape from my thoughts. Of course I am still thinking when I watch a movie, but if it’s good enough I’m thinking about what’s going on in the movie, instead of (so much) my own life. In that sense, a movie is a transcendental experience. It allows me to transcend, momentarily, my identity. A bit like alcohol. But like alcohol, after the spell is over my identity comes back, as petulant and resilient as ever.
I have few illusions about movies; I watch them as a way to unwind and zone out of physical-mental existence. It’s like sleeping with my eyes open and a ready-made dream to download. On the other hand, because it’s mentally relaxing for me, it’s possible I am more in my body when I’m watching a movie than at other times. Not with my awareness (I don’t focus on my body when I watch a movie), but in some sense I may be more aligned with my body, more settled into it. When we sleep we certainly are, and even drunks are said to fall down stairs better than sober people. (By “better” I don’t mean more frequently or rapidly but without harming themselves so much.)
My goal is to write with the total body. To write as a means to become embodied, and to allow the process of embodiment to inform what I write and give it substance, blood, body, so the reader can receive a literary transfusion and become more embodied too.
As I write, hour after hour week after week and year after year, I am waiting. I am waiting for that final breakthrough, the epiphany in which all the pieces come together for an instant and I see the method of my madness and let it all go, watch identity disperse into nothingness and nowhereness, leaving only the shimmering of an unraveled life. The moment it all comes to an end, and I am finally done.
At the same time, part of me hopes that the moment I find that authentic core, my true voice, I will then produce something so profound that the curtain of anonymity will be drawn aside and I will be shuttled onto the world’s stage, an audience of millions wildly applauding.
I know this is all crap. The internal breakthrough, if it’s real, won’t leave me holding a Pulitzer prize but will be the end of my story, forever. An empty stage, with no audience, no performer, no prizes, nada. The self-digested author.
The part of me that’s motivated to pursue the process of writing to create a product that will launch my career doesn’t get this. The catch of spiritual autolysis is that no one ever reads it. You can’t be totally honest if you are writing to be read. You can’t even be totally honest when you aren’t writing to be read, when it’s only you, yourself, and yours. We are bullshit to the end.
The desire to make a good impression and the desire to get clear of the false identity (which only cares about the impression it’s making) can’t co-exist. It’s one, or the other.
If I really believed I could write myself to freedom, I would stop writing to be read and get down to it.
But I’m afraid I’d stop writing at all.