Thomas Merton once wrote that pride makes us artificial, humility makes us real.
Writers die twice, wrote Martin Amis in his new collection of essays, “The Rub Of Life:” Once when the body dies, and once when the talent dies.
My talent has not died, but my understanding of it has. The Wise Man inside of me is dying, there will be no resurrection, I think it is too late for that, I’m ready to shed that skin.
I realized that I was never going to be a great writer nearly 20 years ago, my dreams of writing great novels and bathing in a sea of literary rose pedals died swift and hard. Generally speaking, great writers do not write blogs or books about dogs and farms and life in the country.
The realization that I would never be a great writer crushed me at first, it was painful for me, but also turned out to be profoundly liberating.
The death of the literary fantasy freed me, I think, to become a good writer, and for the first time, a happy one. It turns out I didn’t really need to be a great writer, just an ordinary one who wrote every day.
With the creation of my blog, I was finally free to become my own writer, to write for me, about what I wished to write about, and in my own sloppy and erratic voice. I was free to think. I no longer needed the permission or approval of agents, editors, critics, bookstores, literary snobs, or even my readers.
I was humbled, but necessarily so. I needed to understand my self in a different way, I needed to be reborn, resurrected, risen from the spiritually dead.
You either find yourself or stay lost, and I found myself. I found myself taking photographs that I loved and other people loved. The artist inside of me escaped long years of imprisonment and torture.
The Great Recession, as it will forever be called, destroyed the world of publishing as I knew it, and so I became a new kind of writer, and here I am, writing every day, feeling at long last and for the first time, that I am doing precisely what I was meant to be doing, and loving every day of it. My life has meaning.
Somehow, in my meanderings through life, I had become the Wise Man who knew how other people ought to live and told them so. This iteration from insecurity to arrogance came perhaps out of years of analysis and therapy, experimentation and change, battered by the hard and relentless lessons and realities of life. I thought I had learned things.
I got sick yesterday, Maria passed long her cold, and a good friend tried to comfort me. He told I needed to rest and take care of myself. Don’t worry about me, I said, I am happy with who I am. We all have to die of something.
Later in life, people began to come to me and ask me how they ought to live. Perhaps it was the therapy, or the books, or the things I was learning. I slipped into this role, I sat with friends and told them how they should live – only if they asked, only if they wanted me too, but still, it is only recently that I have seen the arrogance and delusion of the Wise Man. I guess it was flattering. When you tell other people how to live, it is presumed that you know, and the human ego is an amazing thing, me, someone who had bumbled spectacularly and destructively through a whole love had suddenly become a Wise Man who told other people how to live, it was flattering and puffed me up like a big balloon.
If you can tell other people how to live, if you have become a Wise Man, then you must know how to live. Even if you don’t.
People who asked me to be in this role were fascinated by me, it seemed, and eager to know what I thought. But over time, I noticed a strange thing. While I was always changing, they never did. While I was taking my life apart and re-constructing it – for better or worse – they never did. We always parted like two ships whose engines were on full forward and where heading in opposite directions. We just sailed away from one another..
Inside of me, all along, I knew better, I never believed that I knew how to tell anybody else how to live, just look at the catastrophe that my own life became for a long time.
I noticed these relationships never lasted, not only were they co-dependent, they were not of course, equal friendships. When you think you know how other people should live, then the relationships is almost irreversibly thrown out of balance, it isn’t really about you at all, but the notion of saving someone who must save themselves. That is not friendship on either end, friendships are mutually nourishing and bounded by trust. When you tell somebody how to live, they will almost inevitably throw up a wall around themselves to protect themselves from you.
Recognizing the limits of my talent was the first step towards real humility. But that wasn’t enough, it took a lot more.
Breaking down was another, the firebombing of my life that the recession brought was another. So was my divorce after 35 years of marriage, the loss of all of my friends, and my estrangement from my daughter for some years. I fell apart, gave all my money away, went bust, and the bleeding didn’t stop until I met Maria and felt the healing powers of true love and a powerfully determined therapist.
That was when I got serious about changing, just as went whizzing past 60. Better late than never. That was when I took my responsibility for my life, and actually began living it.
I said goodbye to the Wise Man. For me, the path to wisdom began with accepting who I was not, what I did not know. I too looked for a wise man or women who might save me. It soon became terrifying to look in that mirror.
I studied empathy, and released it inside of myself. Empathy, more than any other thing, taught me humility. When you stand in the shoes of the people I see every day now, it is very difficult to feel wise or superior. I know nothing, really, that is what wisdom means in a sense. I am not God, I am not a wise man, I have no idea how other people should live.
If there was an AA meeting for narcissism, that might make a good prayer.
You cannot have a healthy relationship with an unhealthy person, the therapist told me. Co-dependence is when you give pieces of your life away to others. You can only save yourself, not others.
When you change, you will lost almost everyone in your life, because most people do not wish to change, and you will trouble them. And when you stop being a Wise Man, they will run from you and never return.
We do not exist for ourselves alone, and it is only when I became fully convinced of this fact that I began to love myself in an honest way and thus begin to love others.
As the Wise Man began to die, so did I begin to live. So long.