Monthly Archives: January 2016

Do It Right

Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a treatise on attitude.

When I first read the book, I was home in San Diego for Christmas break, from my graduate studies at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Laura, my first wife, myself, and our newborn Darcy had driven from San Diego to Iowa in August and returned in December in a Ford delivery van. It was the stripped-down model, with no insulation, which I had vowed to remedy before driving back to a place that has winter.

My original plan was to line the walls inside with insulation and cover it with cardboard. But while reading Zen and the Art, which taught dedication to care and quality in all efforts, I couldn’t let myself get away with that. So I bought a pile of redwood bender board and spent a whole week on the project. As long as I kept the van, looking at what I had done uplifted me.

Whether our current task is raising kids or counseling friends or writing stories or poems, we owe it to ourselves, families, friends, readers, and God, to use our gifts with care and dedication.

If we writers don’t frequently ask ourselves “Can I do better?” and labor over every clumsy word; if we don’t give our hearts to our stories and ask ourselves at least once on every page, “Am I being honest or just recycling clichés of language or story?”; if we’re not willing to revise until our brains reel from the effort, we’ll be hacks.

The world doesn’t need anymore hacks.

So, given that our tasks are many and our lives are harried, how do we make the time to do everything we do as unto the Lord?

Writing and the Spirit, the book, has some powerful suggestions.

Hell

I have trouble envisioning either heaven or hell. And I’m increasingly coming to understand St. Paul’s comment in 1 Corinthians 15:19,  “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

I mean, though we may or may not be actively persecuted for our beliefs, trusting in the primary instruction of Christ–which is essentially to continually love and sacrifice for even those who abuse or demean us–is at odds not only with the messages our culture throws at us but also with our human natures, as we are essentially selfish creatures.

By the way, isn’t Christ’s instruction what President Obama in his State of the Union address meant when he (at least twice) urged congress and the American people to practice “unarmed truth and unconditional love.”

Anyway, the closer I get to eternity, the more I want to believe in the reality of an afterlife. I suspect I could believe more fervently if I can better learn to imagine what eternity looks or feels like.

Long ago, I got blessed by a glimpse of heaven. I’ll address that blessing in a post all it’s own. For now, here’s a passage from my novel Midheaven inspired by that experience: “I’m painting a mural on the whole north wall, a canyon and beyond the canyon a row of cedar decked out with golden and silver bells. Between the canyon and the cedar is a garden of fruit and blossoms maybe brighter even than Van Gogh would’ve made them and pathways lined with a rainbow of flowers and a different moon for each evening. I’ve painted twelve so far. At night I hear the bells play lovely tunes, sonatas and lullabies.”

What’s on my mind today, though, is hell.

Jack Kerouac described the feeling of an especially vile hangover as certainty that he should not have gotten born, a dread conviction that his life was a hideous mistake.

I’m hardly such an expert on hangovers as Kerouac, but I have suffered a few and awoke to the horror of recalling and passionately regretting my comments and/or behavior of the previous night.

I wonder if that state could be a glimpse of hell.

Not that I intend to go to hell, but just in case, or should the theory of purgatory prove valid, I’m rededicating myself to behaving and thinking in ways I hope will please God. And even more deeply, I’m determined to write what I believe pleases God.

I don’t consider fear the best motivator, but sometimes it works. Fear has kept me a couple decades without a hangover. And I certainly dread even one hour in a purgatory of shame and remorse, hungover from life.

Imagine the horror of those whose motives for writing were money or pride. God have mercy.