The last year has been difficult for a variety of reasons that I need not go into here. Suffice it to say that through all of this my relationship to writing has changed. With my time so limited, my interests changing from the literary, spiritual, and artistic to the historical and political, my goals as a writer have somewhat altered. My objective as a writer after age twenty-five has always been to get readers to feel and to think, to react; first, by relating to my poetry and personal essays, through which I have shared my deepest humanity, and second, through the academic-style essays I write so that readers can become more thoughtful, critical thinkers about the subjects I explore.
When I first started writing at age fourteen it was nothing more than an outlet for my thoughts and feelings, the clichéd means of self-expression that all forms of art are for young people who cannot connect to others because they are different and cannot wholly relate to their peers. For me, naturally, that difference was being gay. After I attained my English degrees and developed a more mature voice as a poet and became a critical thinker and writer thanks to my education in literature, art history, and philosophy, my poetry became more consciously artistic and my essays more analytical.
Over a decade later my world has shifted in ways I could not fathom when I was twenty-five. For a few years now, though I have tried unsuccessfully to fight it, my interests have gone in a different direction. Since I no longer teach, I do not have a way to channel my education in and love for literature beyond reading the classics (which I’ve practically exhausted) for my own pleasure and edification. I no longer write essays about art, literature, even philosophy and religion because I no longer actively engage in those disciplines as I used to in my twenties and early thirties.
For the time being, the great loves of my youth have ebbed, and the flow that is pulling me under now has its source in the political and historical. It seems I have learned from art and literature, philosophy and religion, what I was meant to learn from them, at least for now. Namely, in order to make change in the world, to initiate revolutionary action, one must first recognize what makes us human and therefore the same as others, as reflected in art and literature, and become compassionate, full of love and mercy for all humankind, which can be achieved through self-knowledge, learning one’s own needs and desires (many of which all humans share), and through cultivating a relationship with God, spiritually connecting to that which is greater and deeper than each of us. Once we are able to make the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual connection to our humanity through the self and a relationship to God, we are then able to go out into the world and become involved with those who are not friends, family, or coworkers, helping them on an individual as well as group level. We can do this through our religious community or through the political and activist sphere. It is here that the title of this post most clearly comes into play for me.
I would love for nothing more than to return to the ivory tower of academia, privately studying the various periods and authors, styles and movements, of art and literature, philosophy and religion, and teaching them to students at the university level again. But there is a certain sterility to teaching in that it is getting harder and harder to reach students and get them to open their eyes to the wider world beyond themselves, beyond what is right there before them in their everyday lives. It is true that youth is wasted on the young in that the energy of youth would (if it were lacking in self-centeredness and had greater knowledge of things outside itself) be better utilized if it served the world rather than merely itself. But that is not what it means to be young. As for reading literature and writing about it on my own time, since I am no longer a student or a professor there is really no value or purpose in doing so. What can it profit me if I cannot share it with others, with those who share the same interests and knowledgebase?
For me, the problem has been in accepting this and in transitioning to a new perspective, a new sphere in which I am meant to live and grow, in which I am meant to do different work, different writing, in this case. It would be easier for me to be in the world of study and teaching, and that may be the object of my will, but it is not my fate.
God seems to be trying to get me to understand and accept that I could only do so much, and for so long, in the academic world as a student and as a professor. God also seems to be trying to get me to accept that (again, at least for now) my life as a poet is at an ebb, and that being a critical essayist needs to take center stage in my life as a writer for the foreseeable future. Art and literature, philosophy and religion, have always been personal to me, private spheres that have nourished me as a human being and in part still do, but which only reach so far, and are left behind in the more relentless calling that I have continuously tried to ignore, blocking my ears to it as to the sirens’ call, knowing full well that in the end it is ultimately futile, because our wills and fates do contrary run, and because I have been beckoned on to action and service that goes beyond the pursuit of these disciplines for my own pleasure and benefit, or teaching them to others.
God seems to be telling me I must continue educating but not through writing poetry, not through teaching or writing about my favorite fields of study. God seems to be trying to get me to accept that I have been called to teach others about their true nature as human beings, as individuals living and working in communities of all kinds, to educate them out of their ignorance, out of their unproductive fear and fleeting desire, out of their destructive anger and hate, out of their oppressive illusions and complacency, showing them they are not just human beings but citizens of nations and the globe, that we are all interconnected, we are all one, that the survival of humanity is based on the survival of the community and the individuals who constitute that community.
For me, this vocation is inherently political and grounded in a deeper understanding of history, not just of humankind but also of the many nations that have directed the sweep of history, bringing us to the present moment. The human race knows not its true power over the course of its existence as individuals and as a race, and for millennia it has been dominated and brainwashed by small but powerful elites that have benefited at the expense of the communities and nations of the world whom they have continuously professed they seek to serve and protect, and yet have barely done so, leaving the masses with nothing but mounting debt and anger, fear and hate, despair and disillusionment.
The voice of one can be and is the voice of many when that voice has found its humanity not just in the individual it comes from but in people from all walks of life. God has given me an insatiable desire to learn about life and the world and a writer’s voice with which to educate others so that they can find the power to liberate themselves from the forces that keep them from living fulfilling lives, and I have been called on and fated to use my knowledge and voice to stoke the fires of revolution for the freedom and progress of humanity. As with the prophets, it may not be the path I have chosen, but it is the one that has been cast down at my feet, and I can deny it, stand still, and close my eyes to it all I want, but it is here before me and in the end will not be ignored and must be traveled down. Where we think we will find fulfillment and completion may not be where we are fated to. Our wills and fates do contrary run. There is a terrible beauty in that. Embrace it and you will be free.