Sunny Days in Heaven
Spiritual/Political/Philosophical Blog on the Nature of Truth and Falsehood and Heaven

Friday, December 02, 2005  

Just an opinion and none of my business but . . .

I’m a fan of James Lileks. So much so that I find it a shame how he squanders his gift for invention, his ability to coin expressions, create amazing similes at the drop of a hat.

I find it a shame because I am so poor in contrast, and I can hardly believe that he is so fecund. I fear he will run out of sharp sentences that delight so readily. He is prolific at making clauses and quips that sparkle and jump out.

James has a good life, as he readily admits. A wife, a child, religion, a job that pays him to write, an income from writing books, and his large and loyal group of fans. Yet, Lileks has a tendency toward melancholy and black moods (which he is adept at managing).

I was wondering why a man as blessed as he might also be a depressive?

Then it occurred to me. Although Lileks gets to make his living writing, something which he loves, his writing is unsatisfying to him on a very fundamental level. I’ll explain.

People who are driven to writing are not born to do so as many people imagine, but are determined by a number of psychological needs. There is the desire to call attention to oneself. Look at me! See how smart, clever, worthwhile, and wonderful I am. Go ahead and love me. This is compensation for an emotional imbalance of some sort.

There is a desire to express oneself creatively because it just plain feels good to make something that celebrates the beauty of everything you love about being alive. (Creativity turned to rage doesn’t really feel good any more than yelling at someone does. It gets something off your chest, and it feels satisfying at the moment to say what you feel, but it never really pays off emotionally if you have a conscience.)

There is also a third desire of creative self-expression - to know yourself, to seek out truth, to understand, to discover meaning. Writing, for example, reveals something about the writer, and if he wants, he can examine his writing to learn what was underlying his expression at the time, same as a man studies his dreams to see what they might mean below the surface.

Shakespeare reveals the depth that psychological self-discovery can get to, and he might even have realized the mythical dimensions of being through his plays.

So imagine that you’re a curious man, a reflective one who is stuck in place writing the same page over and over again except that the words are simply different. The same attitude. The same style. The same gimmicks and devices. The same detachment or enagagement.

It’s a form of torture. It’s a bit like being a world class athlete relegated to always playing in a league of third stringers. And you have to do it for the money. As much as you try to find it satisfying, you know that you aren’t being challenged in a way that would thrill and expand your being, both in joy and skill.

Creativity, ultimately or at its essence, is a soul search for God. By knowing God, we also get to know ourselves. One feeds the other and we spiral in ascension of truth, goodness, and beauty. That is, our vision of being, our consciousness develops in ways that are awesome, only to learn there is more that is awesome to come.

We see in all our works how well we mirror purity, simplicity, and joy if we are willing to be open to what our conscience (or the Holy Spirit) informs us about reality.

People who want to make progress in prayer, for example, are told to keep a journal and write down what they think and feel, experience, doubt, and wonder about God and themselves.

It works. It helps people advance in prayer and understanding.

Simply because some writing is more commercial or “light”, it doesn’t make it less illuminating if the person or the critic delves into content and what it can otherwise mean apart from social commentary, discursive exposition, or superficial intent.

But if you’re a thoughtful person who enjoys questing for more knowledge about the nature of reality and the Self, being stuck in a position of having to crank out the columns, the pages, the books and so forth that are commercially valuable, but spiritually empty or lightweight -- well, it gnaws at the soul. It always feels good to accomplish a goal, and doing that which earns a living is obviously good, the soul wants to get on the flying horse and ride. The stomach makes it crawl back into the cave to mine coal.

Postponing the active and devoted quest in Truth to its ever more amazing revelations debilitates and depresses. No matter how marvelous many consolations are -- wife, children, providing for others, fellowship with like minded people, creature comforts which are delightful -- these don’t satisfy the soul in the same way that seeking God and truth does.

As St. Augustine wrote, “My heart is restless until it rests in You.”

A life filled with even worthwhile distractions wears on a soulful man. He has his pleasures, but they don’t please the soul. A sensitive human being suffers in these circumstances, and I thinks it’s fair to say that James Lileks is an astute, insightful, and sensitive fellow. And that’s why he gets down in the mouth fairly regularly, I think.

posted by Mark Butterworth | 1:44 PM |