Books and Lives We’ve Yet to Live

July 31, 2011 at 1:02 am (Uncategorized)

The other day I received a box of advance copies of my book. Actually, I was startled to see it because I didn’t check the return address and I was expecting a pair of trail running shoes that I ordered online, but that’s another story. In any case, the box contained several dozen copies of Demons in the Age of Light, and as I held a copy of the book in my hands for the first time, it struck me  that this little rectangle of paper and words was the culmination of not only a year of hard writing and two subsequent ones of intensive revision, but of my life as I’ve lived it up to this point. That’s the peculiar thing about a memoir—how do you capture a life, even with a narrow-angle lens, even stylized and Photoshopped as all works of autobiography are, in 85,000 words? Obviously, the book isn’t ‘me’, but it’s the only way in which many people will ever know ‘me’, and in a way, that rough sketch of me will become more real, in some ways, than ‘I’ am as a living person. It’s weird to think about. It’s one thing when characters take on a life of their own, but it’s altogether more surreal when that character is yourself.

All in all, I’m happy with the book, but it’s interesting to look at it and realize how, even in the few months that have passed since the print was finalized, my ideas about the world have been shaped by the books and news stories I’ve read, the people I’ve talked to, and heck, even the food I’ve eaten.  The simple act of moving through time has made me into a subtly yet fundamentally different person than I was in June—or five years ago, when much of Demons is set. On a physiological level, most people know that the majority of cells in their body are replaced in a fairly short period of time. I think it’s something like two weeks for skin cells, four months for red blood cells, and ten years for our skeleton to contain an entirely different set of atoms than it started with. But we view our personalities as something stable and perhaps incapable of radical change. Our opinions evolve, our fashion sense and tastes in music hopefully improve with age, but this process is so slow and mercurial that even we, as conscious entities, are often not aware that it’s happening.

Eastern philosophy is more attuned to this idea of impermanence, and I’ve studied it a bit, but it’s hard to stay aware of the fact as I go about my daily life. So much of our ‘success’ from a cultural standpoint is predicated on our stability, on the development of a solid ego that shapes our every perception and interaction with the world. Even more than we limit ourselves, we are held in check by others. Certainly everyone knows certain people who drag us right back into old behavior patterns, ones that we sincerely thought we’d outgrown. Welcome to the world of the social animal, right? In a way it was easier for me not to conform to expectations when I was sick, because I was so trapped in my solipsist thinking that I simply didn’t notice or care what other people thought of me. I’ve come to realize that one of the ‘taxes’ of being well is that pressure from the outside moves conveniently in to fill the gap. In theory, I should be getting on my knees and thanking God every day that I don’t have hallucinations, that I can enjoy being around other people, that my health problems are getting better, that I find moments of serenity between periods of depression that are intrinsic to my nature. And I do, but I also begin to care too much about things that didn’t trouble me before, simply because my mind is conditioned to be troubled about SOMETHING.

My life is a thousand percent better than it was when I was eighteen, but seeing Demons in print has made me realize how much farther I still have to go. Like, what will the book of the next five years of my life contain? Or the next fifty, if that’s what’s in the cards. What will the cover look like, who will the characters be, and will it have a happy ending? More importantly, will it be a bestseller? ^.^ It’s both liberating and terrifying to realize: I am writing that book right now. Some of the events will be beyond my control, but many of them, far more than I’d like to think, are entirely up to me. We’re all authors—maybe we don’t get to choose the outcome or anticipate the plot twists, but the genre at least is up to us, because it’s all in the telling. Right now, I’m thinking a futuristic literary psychological thriller time travel romance with film noir and magical realist overtones would be cool. But that may change with time!

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  1. Jonah said,

    I read a passage from your book and it effected me profoundly. There were numerous places where I felt a very intense connection to your story, from conversations with your father (mine also worked with Santeria priests when he was younger) and in some of the more harrowing experiences you had with demonic forces. I am looking forward to receiving a copy and reading the entire thing. Thank you for your honesty and all the work you’ve put into this.

  2. Whitney Robinson said,

    Thank you! I worked on the book in isolation for so long (not really wanting to share it with friends or family members for obvious reasons) that it’s amazing to have people finally reading it :-)

    Have you written anything or considered writing about your own experiences?

  3. Jonah said,

    Hi Whitney, thank you for the super fast reply. I sent you something to the e-mail you have listed on here in the about section, but you might not check that anymore because publicly listed e-mails tend to turn into spam bins. I have written something and intend to continue writing about my experiences. Really I want to turn it into a film project. I can’t think of films that really hit the nail with this kind of stuff. Some Bergman comes close, but it doesn’t reproduce the feeling of it.

  4. Brett Roberts said,

    “All the world is a stage, and all the men and women, mere players.”

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