Fall Healing Moon
I will not be attending the Woolly Mammoth’s centennial retreat (just kidding, 31 0r 32, something like that). But Charlie Haislet has proposed the Parsifal legend, the Grail quest, as a theme in the paragraph below. I’m going to write my answer here.
Parsifal and the Grail quest – it still works for me but now I am at a different place in the story. I am not now just stepping into the woods in a dark place where no one has gone before. I am at the end not the beginning of that quest, I either found the Grail or I didn’t. How does that feel, what does that mean? And as Judy, our visiting memoirist says, we have lived that story, now is the time to tell it.
Charlie has conflated two important stories here. The first is the Arthurian story of the grail quest, seen by Jungian analyst Robert Johnson as the quintessential story of masculine development. Note, by the way, that both men and women have a masculine development story.
The second is Dante’s Inferno. Canto 1 begins, famously:
Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself within a forest dark, For the straightforward pathway had been lost.
In our forties or so, in midlife, we tend to find both Percival and Dante as exemplars for the path forward. We go out into life, now grown and in touch with our powers, but find ourselves lost. What was I supposed to be doing here, anyhow? Is medicine right? Is architecture? Engineering? Banking? The ministry?
At forty-two I answered this question, no. The ministry is no longer where I need or want to be. Perhaps I never belonged there in the first place. Kate, like a medieval patronness, came into my life and said, in essence, “If no is your answer, try something else.”
pape de abraham-a hermit writing in his book
Ironically, right at that moment I was writing my Doctor of Ministry thesis. As I worked on it, what I wrote kept coming out as fiction. Also ironically, the title of the story, the novel on which I’d written several thousand words, maybe 40 or so, was “Even the Gods Must Die.” Hmm. See a connection there?
In my Percival naivete I set out on my writing quest. I planned a certain amount of money I wanted to earn each year. About $40,000 if I recall correctly. Hah. In terms of writing itself, I have succeeded. I have written nine novels, thirty or forty short stories, and literally, by this time, millions of words here on Ancientrails.
In terms of publishing my work I’ve failed. Big time. Consistently. A big lump of zero. At first I submitted my work, but I allowed rejections to stoke my fear, rather than my persistence. (which is, I should add, odd, since persistence has otherwise been a strong suit) I stopped submitting. I even stopped writing at one point and spent a year reading the classics, starting with Dante’s Divine Comedy. All of it.
Perhaps, in fact I think almost certainly, publishing was my Fisher King wound. Note, not the Grail, but the wound that could be healed by Percival’s question, the question of a fool, “Whom does the Grail serve?” Of course, that begs the question of the nature of the Grail itself. Johnson says that the question heals the Fisher King’s wound because its answer, “You My Lord, the Grail King.” reveals masculine development’s purpose: to serve a cause larger than your Self.
Dante’s quest leads him down into the darkest parts of himself, the layers of hell we each carry in our souls, up through the realm of Purgatory where those hells fall away, purged by coming closer to God, until the Self’s full glory is realized, like Percival, in submission to the Godhead.
Would I prefer to have sold novels and short stories, made money from my writing? Of course. And, at last, I’m in the process of a year long goal to achieve 100 rejections. I’m up to 10 right now. The strange part is that when I achieve publication, and I believe (hope) I will, it will mean little. I’ve already done the writing, I’ve lived the writing life for almost 30 years now and have done so with no encouragement from the business side.
So who or what was the thing larger than myself that I have served in the meantime? I have several answers. The first one, love. Kate. Our marriage. The second one, family. Our family and its extensions, principally through Jon and Joseph, but including our nuclear families. The third, religion, small r religion. A life pushed forward by deep questions, ones of meaning and purpose. The fourth, justice. Seeking in the political realm an answer to the dilemmas of poverty, racism, and capitalism. The fifth, mother earth. Seeking in the political and personal realms a close tie to life as it is, life in its plural forms and the inanimate that carries us through space, provides for our needs, the sun and mother earth in particular.
There is another, too, different from the rest. Art. Painting, sculpture, drawing, prints, music, dance, theater. Always there. From the Wagner operas I bought on 331/3 l.p.s and listened to in my room at 419 N. Canal in Alexandria to the time as a docent at the MIA and through many plays and concerts. Literature. Around the time I bought the Wagner operas with my paper route money, I read War and Peace. So many books, poems. Over so many years. And my own writing, my attempt to add to our cultural deposit.
Did I drink from the cup drained at the Last Supper, the last celebration of Passover by that band of Jews in first century Palestine? Yes, I believe I did. Did it change me? Not in the usual theological sense. But, in the psychological sense, it affirmed my journey, my pilgrimage. Not as someone else, not as someone others hoped I’d be, not as a someone even I hoped I might be, but as mySelf, this one unique, irreplaceable guy, both unimportant and ultimately important. Like each Woolly, like each family member, like each tree and snake, like each planet and moon and star.