Wednesday, December 22, 2010

'Keep it Simple, But Don't Be Stupid'

Keep it simple, but don't be stupid. I'm sure the writing I'll be doing today will not be popular, and I'm sure that it certainly won't be simple. I'll start out with an anecdote, which is one that continues to repeat itself in different situations in my life. It goes like this. "I'm at the end of a hike, when two men in their thirties approach me. They ask me if I know Jesus. They ask me if I want to get saved. They ask me if I want to go to heaven. I hesitate. I think back to being baptized in a swimming pool when I was twenty. I think back to retreats, all night prayer meetings, counseling sessions, marriage, speaking in tongues, worship, praise, faith, hope. I say nothing, I just smile. They proceed to speak to me passages from Romans, John, and other books of the New Testament. I hear the gospel according to Nathan, the first man, and I'm given a brochure by the second man, (don't remember his name). "Are you from around here?" I say. "Where do you go to church?" I'm asked if I'm willing to admit that I am a sinner. "No, I'm not currently sinning. But I plan on it shortly." The conversation abruptly ends. No one asked me if I had ever had an experience with Christ. No one asked me if I, in fact, am already a Christian. No one asked me if I know what the gospel is. No one asked me if I have sung, 'Amazing Grace'. No one asks me if I have laid my hands upon the sick. No one asked me if I want to talk. I wasn't speaking in the correct language. I wasn't speaking the right words. I wasn't willing to pray immediately with these two strangers.

I'm in the church of my ancestors, sitting with two young missionaries. I'm listening, as this is the fourth session I've had with them. They ask me the same questions. They ask me if I want to be with my family for all of eternity. They tell me 'Heavenly Father' loves me. They never ask me if I have ever had an experience with Christ. They never ask me if I have a history with the church. They never ask me if I've ever read the Book of Mormon. I think back of fasting and staying up for three days and going out into a hay field to pray for a revelation on the truth of the church. I recall the dream I had that very night, later, having fallen asleep, of preparing for a wedding where I'd be marrying my cousin. In the dream, I'm trying to stop the wedding. In the dream I'm marrying several women. In the dream I am in a panic. I wake up in the hay field afterwards and go find some food to take away my hunger.

Finally, I break out in a moment of clarity and frustration and I tell these young missionaries of my experience, of my dream. I tell them that I am Hyrum Smith's grandson, and that my family has dreams. I recall testimonies in church and through reading where I had heard of dreams within the church, of visions. I tell them that this was the answer to my searching. (I really want to have a vision and an answer right then and there on this Saturday morning with these missionaries, on my knees. I want the angels to appear, and I want to know where the golden plates lie.) "How shall I interpret this dream? How shall I live with this answer?" I am met with wide-eyed stairs and silence, and the air is sucked out of the room. It is my last meeting with the missionaries, they are relieved and so am I. "But I am so willing for answers!" Why are my answers not valid? What am I to do with my answer? These are not the answers that they can or want to hear. (I fall into the 6% that don't get the right revelation of the truth.)

I'm sitting at a table at an AA meeting. Two men are asking me how long it's been since I had a drink. I say, "Yesterday." I'm asked if I'm ready to go to any lengths to get sober. "What does that mean?" I say. "Are you willing to listen to us? Are you willing to take these steps? Are you willing to let a higher power take over your will and your life?" No one asks me if I've had an experience with Christ. No one asks me if I've ever experienced sobriety. No one asks me if there is a higher power in my life. No one asks why I drink. I spend the next seven years sober, in and out of meetings, staying close to my concept of God. I drink again. I relapse. I'm told that I did so because I didn't not follow the guidelines, that I stopped going to meetings, that I did not call my sponsor, that I did not work my steps. I'm never asked how I stayed sober for seven years. I'm never asked if there is a reason that I started drinking again, if there was a crisis, if there was a….reason. I'm never asked whether I learned something in those seven years, if there was a way that I managed to 'stay sober'. I'm only told that I drank again because I did not follow the steps. That I stopped going to church. That my 'program' was not the right one.

I'm in a room with a woman. I'm asked if I want to be in a relationship. I'm asked if I know what that means. I'm asked if I'm willing to make a commitment. I'm asked if I know what that looks like. I'm asked if I know how to love, if I know what that means. I'm asked if I'm willing to take certain steps. The questions bring up answers, but time will not allow me to answer those questions. I'm not compliant quickly enough. I'm working through the questions, it is a process, I say. It is complex, it is not simple. I am willing, but I am not simple. I give the wrong answers. I argue for my convictions. I speak in my own language. I want to share my experience, but my experiences become invalid. I become a collective history of someone I don't recognize. Someone in this collective history who did not listen. Someone in this collective history who did not make a commitment. Someone in this collective history who was abandoned. I'm never asked if I've ever been abandoned. I'm never asked if the same issues are mine. I'm never asked if I can really do this. Do I understand my experience with Christ? Communication is lost, the gospel, and the good news of a relationship is lost for want of an answer. We begin speaking in a different language, the same meanings, but different words. But there was love, and the language of love is the same, but the translation is often difficult. I am shut out. The community will rescue both of us. There are accusations. I am excommunicated from a church I never really had a chance to belong to. All of my fasting, all of my praying, all of my desire came tumbling down like a tower of cards.

Language can be a barrier, or it can be liberating. All of these stories have similar themes. They are all speaking on the same doctrines, separated in their adherence to words, or language. If you belong to a group, if you commit to a group, you must learn the language, you must speak in that language to be understood. You must follow the rules. You must go to church. You must comply, and you must submit to authority. There is the language of science, the language of the politics, the language of religion, the language of philosophy, the language of love, the language of art, the language of social structure. This is not an indictment of the adherence to language and conviction as a way to live a life, its just an observation. To a writer, words have meaning as do actions and observations. And in these words and use of language, I'll not be easily swayed to swim with the masses. I have spent many a year adhering to the language and format of a group philosophy, but I find myself betwixt and between, confused at times, but other times in this place profoundly effected by my isolation. It doesn't mean I don't understand these things, it just means that I want resolution for some of these questions I asked, and contrary to what I am told, they are not simple answers. If I wanted simple, I know exactly where to go. I have lived a difficult life, but it has been of my choosing, and if I'm in the pickle jar, I damn well take responsibility for it, but I will not give up my right to think some original thoughts, and if I lose my ass to do so, so be it.

Lastly, this is where I make a choice to write, as a writer and a thinker. This is not where I look to find answers that are quick and easy. This is where I practice the art of writing. I am not looking for you to save me or to love me. I also look to this place to practice an honest adherence to the language that continues to grow in my life, and the thoughts that are sometimes unpracticed but set down in words that I may continue to formulate, to examine, that I may continue to grow as a writer and a thinker. I may write something here that may appear to be disturbing or depressing to some of you, but to me they are what allow me to be hopeful, an idea at a time. Why do I do it in a public forum? Because even though I don't expect you to save me or to love me, I selfishly send my thoughts out, because I'm grappling with truth and art, and I remain hopeful that there are those of you out there that are doing the same thing, and if you read some of these ideas, you might be effected by it, or on occasion, moved by it. Wow, anonymous, you really got me going…Thank you…

**The stories I told in this are true. I want to ad, that the LDS missionaries were wonderful beautiful young women, and I'm sure I made an impression on them as they did me. We didn't meet again because I didn't want to shake their faith, which wasn't my intention, but it did become brutal in a calm and clear way. I love the missionaries from the church, I want to be clear on this. The two men who met me on the mountain, however, were arrogant and smug. Not the kind of missionaries I would ever listen to. The two men from AA were just doing what they had been taught, and, there is not much room for philosophical discussions at critical moments, and I do understand this. My own observation, however, (and I went to my first AA meeting at sixteen) is that you are taught to listen and not talk, and it does work because at that point most alcoholics are so beat up they are willing to go to any lengths. I love the AA program, (well most of it). If you have lost everything, your utter vulnerability doesn't take much swaying to do what you are told, and its better than dying...


TJ in Boulder said...

This is so interesting. We stopped by to see Steve and Cheryl and she used this concept of the languages of various components of Boulder. Perhaps she was referencing you piece here? But how could that be? You hadn't posted it yet.....

Twilight Zone music....

This is a particularly nice piece of writing - particularly for someone who has worked in counseling. Yes, so often the other is so focused on the process they forget to listen. Or, ask the right question and get out of the way.

Cheryl said...

This is weird to read your entry after posting my own. I wondered if I had some how caused it but it didn't seem like it or even enough time. It helped to go back and read the entry and comments I had missed. It's just amazing how connected twins like us are.

Anonymous said...

I am anonymous, though I am not "the anonymous." I am only anonymous because I simply forgot my account log in and password.

I read the comment left by anonymous in the last post, and I am glad it was put there.


Because this post is the best god-damned piece of writing I think I have read on here. That comment anonymous left, hit you upside the skull. It lit a flame in the trenches of your belly. Did you read what you wrote? Read it again. Did you feel the fire in those words? The vulnerability? The passion? The truth?

Ha ha!

Communication is the basis of life. Think about it. Everything is centered around communication, miscommunication, lack of communication etc. Art is about communication, writing, painting, acting, good behavior, bad behavior etc. they are all attempts to get someone to notice us when we express love, pain, hate, fear. It provokes people to hear us, love us, remember us and validate us as human beings.

As for being more about others and less about yourself, I can say this..I work in a field that requires me to be less about myself and more about others, you have to and even that requires balance.

My entire job requires communicating with a woman who speaks only by grunts and blinking her eyes but somehow, we have had hour long conversations. Did it happen immediately? No. It took time. It took me to slow down and listen and it took her to be patient while I learned her style of communicating. I can now figure out in four words, what most of us would put into a thousand. I work with another female whose speech impediment is so severe you would scratch your head in bewilderment when she looked at you and spoke. But I can interpret every word she says. How? Paying attention. Listening. Asking questions, answering questions, reading body language, validating and being sensitive to her fears, likes, worries and dislikes. Did this happen overnight? No. I was so afraid I would never learn her language and the situation would fail. The other lady communicates through behavior or lack of. How do I know when something is right or wrong? Pay attention. Ask questions, use analogies. Did this happen overnight? No. It took time to listen, observe, build trust, take interest, ask questions and wait for her to "act out a response."

I learned how to communicate from those whose said disability, is that they have the inability to communicate their needs.

Bullshit. They can, we cannot.

Yes, I should have already known how to do all of this communicating thing. At my age, I should have the art of communication mastered. But alas, I do not. Most humans do not because we fail to take the time to listen to someone or take interest in their history or ask about their experiences, their crisis, their awakenings, their beliefs, their fears, their God.
We fail to try to know how to hear their answer.

Kudos to you my not so simple friend. And kudos to that damned anonymous individual that thrust you into and then out of, yourself and share with us, all that you have heard, seen, been, loved, lost, done, and said.

i heart you.

caroline said...

and what would your life look like, taste like, FEEL like when you keep your own road AND win your ass?


Chuckh said...

I have never particularly thought of Raymond as selfish. Focused, inspirational, independent, hard working, talented, can-do, are better adjectives, I think. I wouldn't let the comment of one person who was afraid to say whom they were offend or irritate. They had an ax to grind or were ignorant of all the facts.

Anonymous said...

Beautifully written Ramie, Hey maybe you should write a book or something, just sayin' (again)

Peace, Jul.

Gerry said...

Hmm, after reading this entry and all the comments I thought well, maybe it will be safe to die without fearing the art of communication may die with me, that is when I am not getting any response to anything I write, just a turgid silence. I always tried to encourage people to communicate when it seemed to me like people out there did not want people to write after they had gone to all the trouble to encourage them to read and write, because that would be more competition, and so the more people were writing, the littler piece of pie the many would get. So the city did not want a bunch of playwrights springing up with plays they wanted people to see and the newspapers to recognize. The people with valid credentials like Pulitzers and Tonys would get less play, and the word professional writer might be tarnished if all these wannabees got any attention. The system outside of college was designed to convince you you just could not make the grade as a writer, so why not find some other honorable way to make a living and get attention and leave writing to the professionals. There is something very contradictory going on here, I thought, DISCOURAGEMENT, dead time, suppression, the union getting rid of the scabs!

Anonymous said...

"I'm asked if I'm willing to admit that I am a sinner. "No, I'm not currently sinning. But I plan on it shortly."

I laughed out loud when I read this. If you never write another line, your well directed sarcasm has unlocked the secret of the universe right there (for me), assuming there is a key to the universe that is. Personally I have not found the need for any key of any sort. Only the desire to find myself in a situation of total and complete joyful abandonment, like a a child lost in the opening of a present or, in my case, when the wind comes up, the canvas goes taught, the bow dips a bit, and the boat takes off like a shot. At that moment I am "there". All else, questions of sinning included, are irrelevant........

Don't question why, just keep writing !!! (as if you could actually stop !?!) As much as we may think we need to reach others with our creations, we do not and the creating does not depend and is not demeaned by a lack of reaction from others that inhabit this planet.........

See ya around,