What Are You Working On?
Though in all the world northern California is the place where I feel most physically at home, I often feel at odds with the sort of New Age optimism that abounds here. By temperament somewhat melancholic and with an academic background in Philosophy, I often feel less than impressed by "create-your-own-reality" thinking. Like Philip K. Dick, I'm more inclined to believe that "Reality is that which, when you wish it were otherwise, does not go away."
Yet at a certain point I began to realize that, through my melancholic/philosophic temperament, I sometimes created unnecessary limitations. And I have often felt genuinely inspired by what some of the New Age optimist people I know have created for themselves and for others. So -- going against my own grain -- I undertook an experiment to make three wishes come true. And, remarkably enough, they did.
I've had two main challenges all the way through, and I'm still struggling with them. One is that this book grew out of my own fundamental ambivalence toward the subject of wishing. Having been raised as a Catholic and then discovered Buddhism as a young adult, I'm very oriented toward accepting the reality of suffering and then seeking to transcend it through spiritual realization. The idea of making a quasi-spiritual practice of wishing for concrete, tangible things in your life is quite foreign to me. Of course, this supplies a certain dramatic tension for the book -- but it also means that I'm fighting my own resistance much of the time. And that's hard!
The other thing that's been very difficult is that, though I often write in the first person, I don't really like to reveal very much personal information about myself. I actually love reading other people's very revealing accounts of their own lives (when they're both revealing and well-written) but when it comes to my own writing, I become very critical about its being narcissistic, self-indulgent, etcetera... And it just makes me feel much more exposed than I'm comfortable being.
I also don't like exposing things about other people in my life -- but unless you've been a hermit, it's hard to write about your own life in a personal way without revealing certain things about certain people you've been close to. And that weighs on me. Yet the way I've set this book up, as a personal experiment woven into a more philosophical/anthropological exploration -- there's just no getting around this thorny problem. Which, alas, I have not yet had a moment of inspiration about. It's been more like biting the bullet -- a bullet which, as I'm all too aware, I placed between my own teeth.
Well, I didn't realize until just now, facing this question, that what's been most rewarding about it is also the thing which I mentioned as the number one challenge. And that is: the book has forced me to face my own ambivalence about desire, about wanting certain things in my life and then actively investing myself in making them happen. And besides the conceptual and psychological rewards of feeling that I've emerged from certain unnecessarily pessimistic shackles, there have also been some very visible, tangible rewards. For instance, there's been a serious illness in my family recently and -- in a very practical way, making use of some of what I've learned in working on this book -- I managed to arrive at what is (for now) an expansive way of coping with it. There has been a lot of fear and constriction in the family atmosphere and -- as corny as it sounds -- I really permitted myself to 1) envision the best possible solution 2) wish for it and 3) work to make it happen.
I don't mind saying what they are. I wanted them to be in three different dimensions of reality, and so they are: a wish for a house, a wish for a new love, and a wish for spiritual healing.
I have a book contract, with Random House, and the manuscript is due to them in October. Because of the serious family illness I mentioned above, as well as my full-time teaching, it's been an enormous challenge to keep up my writing schedule. But I know that I'm doing the best that I can, and I'm wishing for the best possible outcome.
Oxenhandler on the Day of the Dead
See more What Are You Working On? interviews.
published 7 April 06 on Too Beautiful. email copyright 2006 Mark Pritchard, Bernal Heights, San Francisco