Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Advice to the Unwary Memoirist: Leave It Lay

If you want to sleep the sleep of the just, without Ambien or Advil PM, my advice to you is, don’t write a memoir. Unless you plan to keep your rose-colored glasses wired on. Then sure, whatever.

But if you genuinely want to know what was going on inside and around you when you were nineteen or six or thirty-five, my advice to you is, don’t. As a memoir client once said to me, “Leave it lay where Jesus flung it.”

He was a fox-hunter until he became too fat to sit a horse. That’s why I’ve chosen the illustration for this post.

Here’s what I’m talking about—

In the investigative process of writing about my long spiritual journey (last stop: Catholic Church), I have been talking with old friends. The good news is, I have discovered—sometimes after 40 years and a cobwebbing of misunderstanding—that they are friends. These men and women love me, they really love me! (Taking the heat off you here, Sally Fields. Your performance in “Lincoln” was good. Not great, but good.)

Some of these friends have become interested in my project. A few have provided pictures, like one of me bearded and nearly 40 years pre-Camino.

One close friend of college days and now again has shared his entire journal from his seven months at Cumbres, a “growth center” in New Hampshire where I met my longtime spiritual teacher. Because that friend and I were so cut from the same cloth—Midwesterners by birth we read the same books, chased the same girls, smoked the same, er, cigarettes—reading his journal is like jumping inside my own nineteen-year-old skin.

So young, so good, so confused.

I have now moved on to the story of my first trip through Europe with said spiritual teacher, and here a different friend has provided another knothole in time: a fistful of letters my teacher wrote to followers back home. Reading these letters last night from 9 to 10 pm, then going almost straight to bed, left me sleeping the sleep of the damned from just after midnight until 4 am, when I threw myself out of bed to begin this post.

My dreams had to do with me and the teacher and a friend from later years who never met the teacher, all trapped in a revolving door of intrigue, and that’s putting it nicely. Whatever challenge or peril my nineteen-year-old self faced then, my later friend was facing now, and sixty-one-year-old I was trying to advise or maybe console him.

It was very confusing. I’m still confused, I guess.

The confusion was probably deepened by my reading, as I dropped off to sleep, Bruce Chatwin’s book The Songlines, about Aboriginal spiritual life in Australia, recently recommended to me by yet another old friend. Which added a certain spice to my dreaming.

Well, there’s an antidote. It’s time for my morning reading from the Catechism of the Catholic Church and maybe I’ll write a post about that. That can’t be confusing, can it?

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