Yesterday was one of those days. A cloud of chaos decended on me and my brain blew up. It was like someone slapped me in the face and said “Stop it!” and I realized fully that I am not a businessman. These admirable young fellows and old gray-haired chaps with tans and sports cars all have a certain talent. It is a creative talent for being able to build businesses, to create an organization out of money and people and words and sheer charisma perhaps. An organization is a web of ideas, but it is also a web of material things and people. It is an admirable talent, but I’m afraid that I do not possess it.
I seem to have some sort of desire or motivation to create organizations, clubs, and so forth, but few have ever lasted and those that have endured are decidedly not taken at all seriously by the members. Avalon Center was my attempt to create a real business, a non-profit educational organization founded on philosophical Druidry, yadda-yadda-yadda. It is a worthy idea, compelling for many. But it always made me uncomfortable when people joined the venture saying, “Let me help you realize your dream.” Because it isn’t my dream. I finally woke up and realized that my daydreaming about running a giant corporation or commanding billions of dollars, or doing worthwhile things through the medium of corporate power (even on a small scale) is just not my dream. I had those daydreams as a teenager. One reads Sci-Fi stories about corporations that build robots or develop miracles of modern technology and science. It’s the same fiction — earnestly conjuring something that isn’t there into existence and convincing a lot of other people to join you to make it happen.
At age eighteen, I embarked on a very short and abortive maiden voyage in the U.S. Navy. Never got near a ship or an ocean. Lasted a total of about a week, I think. Wrong path. Very wrong for me. Why I could not see that I was heading for the same sort of crack-up with Avalon Center I do not know. I also do not know why I am writing this in a public journal. I can’t get used to this idea of public journalizing about one’s private life. I mean it isn’t one’s inner life if one publishes it, is it? Well, maybe I’ve answered my own question. That might be just the point.
Anyway, yesterday, nearly to the anniversary of the last time i reached this point, I once again decided that my involvement with Avalon Center has to end. I have shepherded it thus far and that is the limit of my ability. I do not want to be a business executive, profit or non, and I do not even really feel a desire to be a teacher. I thought I felt the call to teach, but now I have reached the conclusion that it was a misapprehension on my part. I dislike the business of religious visions and talking to gods and other invisible superhuman beings. I doubt I will be able to stop doing that, but I cannot make a business out of it. I do not want to be a spiritual leader, a moral leader, an intellectual leader, or indeed any kind of a leader. I want to just wander off in the forest by myself or with friends or with my dog. No leading. My dog wants to be a leader. He can have it.
When I had my first major crack-up, it was prompted by the wrong turn. I had got up in the morning and put on the wrong techno-trousers. I was pulling myself apart trying to do what I thought my father and society expected me to do. I wanted to be an admirable young man. Today I still want to be an admirable and respected old man, but I rather think that at some point one has to give up on those sorts of desires. It is a bit like giving up on wishing that one were handsome. I know that is heresy in America. The American male is supposed to believe he can have it all and do anything he sets his mind too, up to and including being President of the country and carving his face on Mt. Rushmore.
But that’s a myth, a fantasy that no doubt motivates many millions of American males, and indeed many more around the globe. Call it the fantasy of omnipotence. Male competitiveness? I’ve never been any good at it and have always in fact shied away from machismo displays of power or competence or superiority. In fact, I have a phobia of being considered bossy and pompous. All the more unfortunate because I seem to appear in just that light to most people. If only we could really understand each other, from the inside, instead of just judging each other by the strange distorted or utterly bland masks we wear. Pompous earnestness; seriousness; grown-up thinking. The desire to be in charge of stuff — imitation of God the Father.
i turned in a book review today on a book I did not like, but one which nevertheless made me think hard about myself, about religion, and about science as a discourse and a belief system. I like science as a practical exercise — experiments and formulas and all that — but as a belief system it gives me the willies. So does Christianity sometimes. I lost track of Christ, or he let me go at some point about age 23. I was quite an ecstatic that year — actually the Spring of 1984, as I recall — but then it fizzled out. And ecstatic Christians who love their Jesus and their Bible have long given me the heebie-jeebies. My mother excepted. She’s a doll and I would never impugn her simple and confident faith even though I don’t share it.
The book that I reviewed engaged the question of whether religious faith of that sort — the sort that is accepted as certainty — is part of our human genetic makeup. I do not know, but suspect this thesis is the one argued in The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and other scientific atheists. I do not desire to dispute with atheists or deny them their beliefs. They arrive at their logical conclusions just as anyone does, for their own purposes, and with their own premises. I also do not argue that human beings need to have a religion or believe in any particular brand of god. Unfortunately for me, I fall in between the cracks. I cannot derive comfort from joining the company of the devout atheists and their convictions, nor can I derive comfort from joining the company of any of ten dozen varieties of The Faithful following a particular pope, prophet or guru.
This position is a very lonely one. I’m sitting in a corner watching the party and wishing I was at home reading a book.
I am left without any sort of organization or even category to which I can happily assign myself. Neither fish, flesh, nor fowl. Which is perhaps why I thought of creating my own organization, an academic organization that fit me, one that is not based on religion or on atheism. I work at home and am quite alone in my daily life, while my daughter is at school and my wife is at her office. My company is a dog and a cat and, of course, various gods, elves, and other invisible friends. Richard Dawkins and other mature grown-ups have learned to hold themselves above having invisible friends. The more business or professional associates you have and the more your life exists in the structure of man-made organizations, the more you are likely to forget about invisible friends, and God along with them.
I am a writer. In school I was an English major. In graduate school I was indoctrinated with the critical theory of discourses and the making of meaning. Making meaning out of whatever we find at hand is the primary occupation of Homo sapiens. When our ancestors were hard to distinguish from other great apes, we sat around making meaning out of food and stones and sticks. Over what must have been a very long time in pre-history we apes developed languages and then the meaning business really took off. Maybe we couldn’t actually make meanings before we had language. Maybe gestures and grunts are not enough. Language gave us the ability to make meaning.
Scientists like to think that they simply discover truth or facts. They don’t tend to think of what they are doing as making meaning. They seem, at any rate, to believe that the meanings they make (their interpretations of the data at hand) are correct and certain, that they are right. Even if they allow that they might be mistaken, they fail to see that their utterances are only privileged if other people believe they are privileged. From where i stand, this gesture is the same one that devout religionists make. They think they have the answers. They think that there are answers. They think that the cosmos is some sort of big true-false test. (It isn’t. It’s an essay test.)
Another curious similarity is that the scientific atheist arrives at just the same place as the religious zealot in claiming that Homo sapiens is the ruddy bee’s knees. We are just so super-duper. The devout Christian may say we are made in God’s super-duper image and so we are special. Dawkins and his ilk seem to be saying that intelligence and design are late developments in the evolution of the universe, and we are the examples of intelligence, not God. So, hmmm, we are not made “in the image of God” but we substitute our own intelligence for that of God. We are either ordained by God as supreme over other animals or we are ordained by the process of evolution as the pinnacle of complexity. Both views sound like preposterous and deluded hubris to me.
Maybe it was that summer I spent reading Greek tragedies that put me off hubris. I have had a distaste for it ever since. But then i run up against it in myself when i go off trying to be a chancellor or a CEO or any of these other titles for chief executives. I couldn’t execute a fly.
I couldn’t execute my way out of a wet paper bag.
One thing I can do — besides dust and wash dishes and vacuum clean — is write. I can help my daughter with her homework, and in time help her sort through the knotty brambles of philosophy and life. I have not bequeathed her any gods, though I do talk about them from time to time. My favorite deity is the Moon. I’m rather fond of Thoth, the Egyptian god of ideas and ibises. But the Bible is not a part of my heritage I want to pass on. My parents had the Bible and Republicanism and I have set both aside. No offense intended, but they just do not suit me and I find them both a bit repulsive in their mindless authoritarianism and chauvinism.
Now Jesus, he’s as interesting as any number of other ancient wise chaps teaching forgiveness or charity or compassion. I guess i took him at his word when he said “Unless ye become as a little child…” and decided i didn’t care for the whole world of grown-ups. I’m glad for my daughter because she gives me an excuse to remain in the world of childhood as much as I can.
My writing takes me there too. I do not have any real desire to write weighty, mature wiseman tomes on Druidry or philosophy or literary criticism, or any other sort of “non-fiction.” That is because I have come to view all discourses as essentially fictitious. The whole idea that there is a class of writing that we can call “non-fiction” is itself a fiction. We create meanings. Some are offered in earnest. Some are offered in the form of parables and stories with a touch of coyness, fun, or irony, or even drama. But it is all just stories. Stories all the way down.
The Supreme Being is a story. I am a story too. We exist in language and its discourses. We cannot escape from them once we are indoctrinated into them and our brains shaped within that envelope of words and images. The only thing we can do is exercise our freedom to choose which stories we like, and which stories we want to tell. Those who want to go to church every Sunday or synagogue every sabbath or read the Koran have made a decision (or deferred to the decision of their parents) that they want to listen to those stories over and over again every week. Really devout souls read them every day and think that this makes them better people.
I do not feel that way. Or rather by Bible is a lot bigger. It is a Biblioteca. The world of books is my Bible and I select those stories that are interesting and appeal to me, for whatever reason. I don’t say that others should share my taste in books. I don’t belong to a Book Club or read what Oprah or the Pope recommend. I seldom even read what my friends recommend. i just follow my own nose and whimsy.
So, let’s face it. That is not the stuff of which C.E.O.’s are made, nor Deans, chancellors, or even college professors, i think. You can be a writer or you can be an Organization Man. It is a very rare bird that can do both. Of course, professors and other Organization Men write books and articles and stuff all the time. They are the principal churners-out of verbiage and meanings. The professional academician is expected and rewarded for churning. But they do not think they are writing fiction. They are (pretty much always) writing in dead earnest. The theologians earnestly try to refute the scientists who try to refute the theologians ad nauseam. But, as anyone can tell you who has seen or read The Importance of Being Earnest, being earnest is a fiction too.
As for me, this week i bid farewell to Avalon Center with the hope that others can carry on with it and do a much better job that I have done or ever would do. Avalon is better off without me. Does that make me a father abandoing his child? I hope not. I don’t like that metaphor, so I will not apply it. Indeed, literally, I am embracing my fatherhood and my child by giving up this other brainchild that has taken up far too much of my time and made me a crabby wreck. I do not expect to get back my mental or physical health, but I would like to hold out some hope that I may.
Thus I will return to my first calling — to being a writer. I hope that I can stop running away from it. I hope that now, just a couple years shy of 50, I can stop trying to grow up and instead do what I am good at, which just has nothing to do with the grown-up world. i am sorry to disappoint, but it cannot be helped.
Ah, but in the subject line I mentioned “virtual board meetings.” That is a funny irony. I tendered my resignation yesterday and the virtual board of governors meeting via e-mails is such a slow medium of exchange (what irony!) that there has been hardly any reaction. If we had all been sitting in a room, there would have been an imediate reaction of some sort. But so far pretty much just a silence until people catch up with their mail. And the technocrats think this is progress. I don’t want a reaction, of course, but the corporation does have to either go on under new management or be settled and in either case I will undoubtedly be required to help with the mopping up. Fortunately, I am not bad with a mop.
(Ex-executive and director of nothing, including my own fate…)