Thank you for the tape and thank you for your compliments on my gift—I didn’t really think they were chic or fashionable or anything, they just looked comfortable and kind of classic and like you wouldn’t be ashamed to wear them, and they were having a lulu of a sale so I got you some nice quality duds for real cheap and that was important to me right now because I’ve been overspending on Jim’s birthday and Jim has been overspending on mine because we didn’t know if I was going to be alive and we were getting real sentimental so we’ll be watching our budget for a while.
Thank you so much for this wonderful letter. All I can say is my heart soars like a hawk to be in the same creation with you, but we are all in the same heart, no matter how long the way the body, the heart always has its company.
Now, the reason that I am answering you fast: I really really, really want to encourage you. I don’t have an angle or anything I want out of you or any motive except that I see you failing to appreciate your own excellence and instead, probably because of some caustic comments from our mutually, dearly beloved, misogynist James, not mine, yours. (Laughs.) “Misanthrope” would probably be more like it but he certainly can find things to criticize
So let me just talk for a little while. I don’t know how long I’ll be able to talk. However long it is is however long this tape is going to be because we are going, believe it or not, to West Virginia tomorrow so I can speak at an interface conference of all the religions in the world about my feelings about one God and one Spirit, and they want to hear “one religion” but they’re not going to hear it from me. I have things to say that are probably interesting.
Anyway, I am looking forward to it. They have a hospital bed there for me, I’ve got my wheelchair, I’ve got a chaise lounge that works for me and if it doesn’t I can go back to my room and sit in a hospital bed and they’re going to fix absolutely everything for me so I do not have to move a muscle. Jim’s got a bed for me in the back of the van that’s all snugged in tight and he’s even got some tapes for me to listen to if I get tired of leaning back in the front and it’s pretty comfortable.
This is a seven-hour trip so Jim plans on stopping for two rests at least and just walking me around some. I am still having the tummy trouble. It has ceased being absolutely radically dangerous. It has, however, not ceased being serious and I am still on alternate medication that is not taking care of the arthritis with lupus symptoms. It’s just masking them under this huge cortisone bubble, and that can’t last forever.
So I have run out of emotions about it. There’s just so much you can feel about something like that. I’m just so grateful for every moment of every day and that doesn’t include the large amount of time that I spend getting really bitchy and moaning and feeling sorry for myself and doing all the wrong things, which I am also doing. (Laughs.) But the two exist in the same mind which is not crazed, it’s just an extreme situation and no solutions are coming forth and I’ve been hurting for a long time and I think that pain makes you kind of crazy.
So whatever is happening with me I know good and well I’m 1) depressed; and 2) overjoyed to have a pulse, (laughs) so I think I’m breaking even on that one.
So, at any rate, to your encouragement: I really want you to hear me so please listen to me—please. I know that I know nothing about almost anything, I realize that. But I know artists, I know creativity, it’s my nature. I know that I’m not the same creative that you are. Everyone who is a creative person is unique. But, we all have one thing in common and that is, we cannot hide from our muse. We cannot hide from our talent. We cannot hide from our honesty, our sincerity, our passion.
What makes us an artist? What makes us have something worthy of writing down, singing, saying, painting, anything, but that we have realized something and we may not even know what it is. We’re driven.
That’s what muses do. Whether it’s Jesus Christ or Eroto, or whatever mythological system you want to go into for your particular muse. You cannot argue with your own talent and your own instincts. You are the only person in the universe, the only person in creation that can do honest S work, because you’re the only S there is, and your visions are just as wonderful as anybody’s and there is no such thing as failed or wrong or stupid.
There is only doing the best you can, letting your muse lead you in the path of service that it and you have agreed upon before this incarnation and if you’ve done the best you can, whatever happens to it after that, that’s what happens to it. Some things are fortunate, some things are unfortunate but your part is to do your very best, your very most honest, your very most passionate, your very most caring, and if you don’t know where the story is taking you, then fine, you are in the best shape possible because your story has come alive and the characters will do what they’re going to do and they’ll tell you about it while you’re writing it.
You’re not going to know anything about a lot of that if that’s the way your muse is working. I had that happen to me with Esmeralda Sweetwater. Don would do plot stuff but I didn’t know how people were going to act toward one another or what was going to happen next or how people were going to move around. It just poured out of me. It was in there. I couldn’t do anything but just write it down. I was sort of like a middleman between my muse, my talent, my gift, and the medium upon which I put it.
When I wrote the Channeling Handbook I wrote it all on tape. I thought it was the junkiest, stupidest book in the world because I was used to my very crystalline typing writing style, which is dense, lucid, rather stylized—I’m a good writer. The taped stuff was all conversational, very easy to get, very easy to read. It seemed I was taking so many words to say something simple.
It turns out that’s everybody’s favorite book because they can understand it. (Laughs.) We just don’t know, Sally.
Now let me take a look. First of all, there are hours of writing. Be compelled to that typewriter. Be driven, be inspired. If you aren’t writing at 10 in the morning, don’t sit down in front of the computer and drive yourself crazy. If you are writing at 2 o’clock in the morning, get up and do it. I think you should take yourself absolutely seriously here. Not that you’re going to get solemn and sober and prissy and “this is my god-given task.” Laugh about it, but do it. Because that’s the way art is, it comes.
Let the family know what’s going on with you and ask for their cooperation. I think that everyone will give you cooperation, I really do. I don’t know how Jim might react to someone whom he probably does not consider to be as good a writer as himself but who is actually doing some work, because Jim is an excellent writer. He’s extremely creative and I’ve seen his stuff. He threw it all aside so he could draw lines and stuff, make money, support a family, contribute to the gene pool and be fair and ethical and that is his modus operandi and that is fine for Jim.
That is not fine for S. That has nothing to do with you except that you have to live with it, okay?
Now, it’s going slowly. It will go variably, probably, or it just might come in convenient bursts. Your muse and you might have struck an agreement that said, “No, I’d rather do this in a more comfortable way, please let me write when I can write but don’t wake me up at 3:00 a.m. with a new idea.” But maybe it will go slowly and in a way that’s good because that gives things a time to slip and slide and bend in the middle in your mind and open up a lot of deep intuition and a lot of feelings and mass archetypical kind of relationships that you might want to be investing in with these characters and this situation.
There is no sin in writing slowly. Amelia Frazier wrote or studied for two hours a day for years and she wrote “Mary, Queen of Scots,” which is the most respected biography of Mary, Queen of Scots. It was a huge book. So as long as it’s going, great. If you have writer’s block, then quit. Don’t push through it. Go do something until you get so bored that you really want to write. Or sit in the sun or sit in the shade.
Of course, you see the blank pages as an abyss and you see something about walking into that abyss the same as the fool walking off the cliff into nothingness, taking a leap of faith. But I think that there are good reasons for you to kindle your faith. I’ve read some of your work and it’s unique; it’s fascinating. It’s not entirely human, if you know what I mean. You have a way of being the wise S that is outside of this illusion that kind of leaks into your writing and informs it and creates a kind of mystic to it that is excellent and I wouldn’t want to see that go away for anything.
So you have to trust yourself to be good, to express your deepest feelings. You also know that for every doubt there is something in you that knows faithfully and truly that you are not alone here, that you are guided and that you do have a muse, a spirit, and that spirit is a warrior, a very tough strong warrior. It has nothing to do with your physical body, just your mental body.
Scared, excited, and anxious are not necessarily bad emotions. The kind of self confidence that it would normally take for a person to do this is hidden rather deeply in you although I think that you do have self confidence strongly in you but you’ve had it pushed down by circumstance, by not perhaps being loved as you would have liked to be loved in your life, certainly that was the case for a very long time for me. I didn’t feel as loved as I was loving, and that was bad.
You don’t have to walk across the abyss. You only have to do it one word at a time or one idea at a time. You don’t have to think about the book, you only have to think about what is happening with your people and what’s happening in your head or what might be going on that you want to jot down in a notebook for color or for a situation or for the names of some plants, or for some kind of medieval or some churchly thing that you wouldn’t know about unless you’d done some research and you wanted to write it down.
In other words, your computer will be gangbusters for you because as you do your research you can file it in and then call up everything on such and such and look and see what kind of an atmosphere you want to create with good background and good research.
But you see, the story and the passion are yours. You’ve not premeditated this like Norman Mailer did when he joined the Army so he could write “The Naked and the Dead.” You’re not sarcastic or cynical. You are Don Quixote tilting at windmills. Now that’s the way authors should be. It isn’t that they don’t have something to say, but what they have to say is in the fabric of being, not necessarily the doing of human events but of the essence of all of that that comes out in atmospheres, in essences of being, in characters and in nature.
You’re dealing with a tremendously subtle yet, I think, treatable nuance because you yourself are an infinitely subtle person who chooses a fairly minimalistic façade—plain S, plain haircut, not much makeup, plain clothing but inside you’re just byzantine, you’re just endless. I’ve never known an end to you. I think you’re one of the most interesting people I know.
You need to hear me say this to you. It’s the truth, Sal. It’s the simple truth. Now Jim may not be able to talk philosophy with you because he’s, I don’t know, given it up for Lent, and doesn’t want to be bothered and I respect that. That does not mean that your opinions, your concerns, everything that is moving you to write now, is not good and it is doable. You can do this. You can.
I always did wonder if you were going to be able to do a straight formula book because from the beginning you had challenging ideas for a 170 page romance in big print. If you’re going to go back and do a series about the crusades or whatever, you’re not going to do it in 170 pages and make any sense at anything. How much misunderstanding can you get in 170 pages? Just barely enough to have everything come out right, right? But if you try to add history to that, and nuances and subtle characters and so forth, it’s not a 170 page book, it’s just not.
The Crucifixion of Esmeralda Sweetwater was probably twice that, if it was printed in that kind of print. And that was a parable; it wasn’t a full blown historical novel. Historical novels do tend to go on. The only thing that you need to worry about is self indulgence in terms of preaching. If you’re having messages in a book about love, be sure an let the storyteller, not the author, let the characters express it, not the author’s commentary on the characters express it.
You’re not sure where the story will take you—I’ve addressed that. Let me address it again, just for comfort. The less you know about where the story is going to take you, the more interesting the story is going to get. Not just for you but for everybody. Because you’re not doing it to a formula; you’re not doing it to a preset outline that has some kind of a formula implicit in the agenda; you don’t have an agenda. You’re telling a living, breathing story. A story is a complex of ideas and concepts. The concepts aren’t even in words. You job is to try to corral enough words to kind of throw up a fence around these concepts and do it in such a way that the characters tell their story by their actions, by their thoughts, by their attitudes.
Of course, you do have a good deal of control just in how you want it to flow. If you want it to flow poetically or if you want it to be more stark like Hemingway or if you want it to be more along the lines of some slight fantasy or even more than a slight amount of fantasy so that there is an archetypical feeling about it as well as just the linear storytelling about it.
The only thing that you need to do you need to do after you’ve got your story written. And that is to go through and make sure the plot holds together. Make sure that the continuity runs; make sure that people are wearing the right kind of clothes; make sure that if something happens in 1192 that you don’t have it happening in 1196 in another part of the book. You have to tinker with it like an engine. You have to tinker with the engine of this plot until it will run—that’s what the story runs on.
Don always said that the story in a movie was the engine and the fuel was a threat. He thought that the threat should come right at the beginning of the movie and it should run the movie all the way through. I thought that was too simplistic but then again I also have a byzantine interior, not that Don didn’t, but it wasn’t particularly byzantine when it came to plots. He didn’t have much feeling about the nuances of personality and shades of character and morality and ethics, all of these things that obviously are going to be in your mind and on the mind of the characters and so forth.
Now you said here, “I know that unless I do it I will have failed to pursue a dream for the second time and I am still trying to accept my first failure.”
Without knowing what that first failure was, because honestly, I have a very convenient memory and I don’t remember a failure. Let me tell you, you’re not the only one. I was just telling Jim as he was driving me back from the eye doctors today that it had come into my mind and surprised the heck out of me that a song came on the radio that I knew and I thought “that’s what I should have sung.” And what the thought was about “that’s what I should have sung” was in 1983 when I went to Atlanta during that sad chapter of the last year of Don’s life when Jim and I were just desperately trying anything we could think of to get him in a better situation so he’d feel better.
Well, the local Bach Society in Atlanta is called “The Robert Shaw Choral” and I auditioned for it. I’m a good choral soprano, mezzo soprano or alto, put me where you want to, I can even sing tenor in a pinch, I have a real wide range, but I sang the piece that has two alternate versions. It was by Bach and I consulted Melvin Dickenson before I left Louisville and asked which one was the original, the one Bach wrote first. He showed me the one that was more interesting, [Carla sings a demo.] which was different than the music the accompanist was reading from, the other version, and they told me they would not accept me because I was so flat on one note.
I tried to explain it was not a flat note it was the other version’s correct note sung correctly, but she would not let me talk. She said “I’m terribly sorry, I have many calls to make and you just didn’t make it,” and she hung up on me. I tried twice more to talk to the woman but she wouldn’t take my call. I was never so humiliated in my life. I cried for five hours. I was so mad. I was so insulted and so rejected that I just about split a gut. I mean to tell you, I cried until my eyes swelled up and turned white. I had gone over the edge. I’ve never forgotten that day and I still burn.
It was the only time that I ever did something that I know I can do well and was rejected. It blew me away. Sally, here we are, loving, caring, supposedly grown up people but we have not been trained to take rejection very well, especially from ourselves. We can forgive anybody almost anything, although that is certainly not as true of me now as it was ten years ago. I am getting meaner in my old age. But we can’t forgive ourselves.
I don’t think you failed any more than I failed. I think circumstances overtook you as they overtook me. I think there came a point when you couldn’t do it any more. That passed and it was gone. You can fret about it, you can think about it, you can feel like a failure but you couldn’t do anything to change it.
S, you’ve got to fall in love with that person that made it through. You survived. You didn’t give up. It’s our failures that make us grow and I’ve learned that by failing, not by not failing. I have grown the most from my pain. And the reason is it gets your attention—plain and simple. Suffer a little bit and you start paying attention. But it’s got to start with you loving S. And I know I’m asking you to do the hardest thing that anybody has asked you to do in this whole lifetime and that’s love yourself.
Don’t let yourself say the word “failure.” That’s not kind and you need to be kind to yourself. The only failure you can have is the failure to love yourself and to forgive yourself. We all make mistakes, we’re all just drastically human and there’s nothing we can do about it until we’re off this rock. We’re going to live until we die. It’s much more pleasant and dignified and accurate to be in love with yourself and all your warts and imperfections that condemn yourself for this failure or that because this is a very relativistic illusion and any success can be looked at as a failure and any failure as a success.
You give me the facts of the matter and I can read back to you that you were a heroine. I promise you that. That’s how slippery this so-called reality is. It’s an illusion. It’s all in the attitude. You know how people always say “it’s all in the wrist?” Well, I think the attitude is your mental, emotional, spiritual wrist and the really good pitchers in this life are the ones who have the most flexible, self-loving, self-forgiving, self-compassionate attitude. It’s all in the attitude. Don’t let anybody get in the way. Not me, not Jim, not yourself. Just take the pressure off of yourself and say “I’m doing this.” And do it.
Just putter around and please yourself and walk up and down and do all the things that writers do when they’re thinking something through or feeling something through or letting their characters tell them what the heck they’re going to do next. Or do some research. This is not just a dream, this is also fun. Now, of course, it’s hard, very difficult and a long task, but I guarantee that I will be here for you and even though I can’t do the kind of work I’d hoped to because my hands are continuing to opt out as far as doing anything that would take any amount of time at all.
My scribble is getting worse and worse but I can think and I can talk and I do have an ungodly number of opinions about everything in the entire world. I don’t know where they all came from. I was born with 16,000 drawers full of opinions on everything and I’ll be glad to share them with you. Actually, my opinions are pretty good. I’ve been offered jobs being a critic, being a reviewer, that kind of thing, right out of college, because I was pretty outstanding at tearing things apart because I can see a lot of different ways at once. It’s sort of the multi-track thinking that’s one of the advantages of a high I.Q.
Consequently, the things that I have to say often have a little substance to them and I’m yours, girl. I would be with you the whole way. Any time you want me to look at stuff and make suggestions, fine. I was just sorry that I couldn’t do more of the actual writing and more of the actual research and I really had hopes of that but it was a false hope. It was one of those things that I wanted to do so much but I fooled myself. So, okay, sue me. That’s my attitude these days.
Life is too short. I really want to be the best person I can be. I don’t want to cause people trouble, but I respect myself at this point and I won’t take abuse and I’ll be glad to listen to anything anyone wants to say to me if they’ll say it to me in a way that there’s an open discussion but if I’m going to get dumped on then I’m going to say “fuck you,” and that’s it. I will not do it any more and I hope you don’t either.
It’s not hostility coming out it’s just simple respect. It’s what this world is about—respect. If we can respect ourselves and others and treat ourselves and others with respect, the problems of the world—could we but do this—would be taken care of. We don’t respect people. We don’t respect large groups of people. We respect things, like money, power, status, but not someone who holds to an idea.
There is some of that inherent in everyone’s makeup. We respect the man who jumped into the Potomac when they had that awful plane crash into the bridge and save several people but not himself. We respect that. We understand that. We understanding dying for our brothers. But what we don’t understand is poor people; people that don’t speak our language or speak it poorly; people that had circumstances happen in their lives which has caused them to act in a way that is against our ethics who we don’t bother to question just precisely what the situation was or how we would have acted in that situation. We’re pretty intolerant as a culture. We’re pretty goal oriented; our ethics are all situational; the ends always justify the means in this culture as far as I can tell.
In other words, the culture is bullshit. But underneath all these layers of apparent reality lie the real tissue of life, the essence of existence of consciousness, it’s eternal and it has things that come up again and again like the light motifs in operas and it’s the artists responsibility to move beyond that shallow linear time/space frame that we seem to be walking down.
You start realizing in a work the resonances, the verticality, the depth of this present moment and of every present moment, all the things that are in this moment, not just me talking to you. That’s not all you’re hearing. You’ve got the stuff going on in your house; you’ve got the stuff going on in your mind, you’ve got the stuff going on about your job, about your relationships, about your kids. You have got so many layers of resonance and everything that you see will remind you of a trail of other things that you’ve seen in your life and things that are said remind you—songs come up and remind you. It is an incredibly full universe. Every ounce of infinity is just packed with resonance and what artists do is get beyond the words that they’re using to resonate.
So don’t be afraid, just do it. If it takes more faith than you have at one particular moment, then get up and walk away and do whatever you need to feed yourself and to bring back your feelings of “Well, let’s just have another go at that one.” Whether it takes a walk on the beach or being alone someplace (bathrooms and libraries); whether it takes something that is extremely mundane. Don’t be afraid to walk away from a project just because it is not going well at that moment. You don’t have to fight with the material—it isn’t a contest.
You’re really trying to cooperate with these stories, and these characters and these themes and that is often a very complex task and sometimes when it all comes together you just can’t move your fingers fast enough and sometimes it doesn’t all come together and that’s not the big scary thing unless you’re the kind of a person that’s going to give yourself a hard time every time she forgets to set the timer and burns the brownies.
If something hasn’t turned out right, then set it aside. It may come in later or you may find yourself using some of it as you use some of your notes to round out a situation that you would not be able to round out if you did not have that prose already written. Don’t throw away anything. Be very practical about that and keep a notebook with you all the time because things happen in your dreams—things happen from one moment to the next and you’ll lose them if you don’t write them down. That’s what happens to artists and I know artists.
So please, please S, hang on to my encouragement even if it doesn’t sound precisely accurate to you right now and let it kind of sink in for a few days and don’t reject it out of hand. And S, I don’t think I’m wrong. I could be but I don’t think so. I think that you’re doing great and the things that are happening to you are quite normal to happen to an author that has been seized by vision ...
[Side one of tape ends.]
...we are bound by our own past. Now when we make promises to people I think we should be bound by our past. I’m a great believer in ethics and I believe in keeping promises no matter how inconvenient. But your promise to yourself is to try. You can’t promise that you’re going to write a best seller. You can’t say because of whatever failure it was back then that you failed because you didn’t sell your material or because you didn’t finished your material. You might not have lived long enough yet to write the material that you want to. Or the material that you wrote might have been so far from Ursula LaGuinn (which is the writer that you remind me of most) that even Playboy couldn’t understand you. (Laughs.) (LaGuinn published her first story in Playboy.)
Believe in yourself because you are more than you think you are or you are more than you feel like you are right now and you have helpers. Not just me, but unseen helpers, angels unawares, your muse, your spirit, your gift. This is you. Just do it, please.
Since I’m getting this off to you fast, fast, fast I won’t have listened to Fresh Air 7 or Celtic Dreams but I will take them with me on the way to West Virginia. It’s a very quixotic thing I’m doing, going to West Virginia, but to be able to speak to people of all faiths about one God is something I really didn’t want to pass up.
These people are weird. I think they’re weird. The people from this place, which they call “New Vrindavin” and I don’t know what that means, are the “guru type” (student and teacher), they come here and sit at my feet, they get realization. It’s so crazy. The first time they did that I thought maybe my feet stank and they were all discussing the odor. No, they were trying to sit at the foot of the guru.
Well, I don’t buy into that stuff. I’m not anybody’s guru. But if they want to play that game and get realization because they think I’m a guru then that’s their path, but I don’t buy into it and I don’t buy into it passively either, I expressed my thought that I am a colleague and we are all colleagues, but apparently, this is what gurus do. So I can’t win. On the other hand, I can’t lose.
It’s time for me to wind down and do some packing because I haven’t done the first thing and I’m going to be gone until Monday so I have things to do. Jim will probably have done most of it for me and I’ll just have to pick what I’m going to wear.
I’ll let you know how things are going the next time I hear from you. It’s sort of on an even keel. I’m definitely depressed because this is a poor situation my health is in now. I’ve got new joint damage that is going to be working its way through. But hey, I’ve got a pulse. Basically, that’s the bottom line. I’m here and I’m having a great time. Jim and I are having probably the best year of our life together. The problems are horrendous but we’ve been tackling them together.
We’re at the point of realizing that if I did die at least we would have done something that we were glad to have done with our relationship personally as well as L&L co-workers and so forth. We’ve pulled together in some really decent ways and we like that and we like each other and we like the “us” of us.
So I’m really, really tickled to still be here and I hope that I’ll be a real old lady before I die as long as I can be with Jim because I’d like to be really nice to the guy for a really long time. He is so incredibly nice to me.
Thank you for thinking of me, I really do appreciate the goodies. I had a wonderful birthday with lots of company. Everybody brought all kinds of food and we had a beautiful setting because Jim’s done so many wonderful things with the garden. When it got darker the fireflies were starting to glow, then we came in and had some more nice talks. I never did move much, I stayed in my little chaise lounge and then on my couch because if I don’t, I wake up the next morning not being able to move at all. So I do take care of myself these days, much more than I used to.
I’m very bold these days and tell people to sit in front of me because I can’t look sideways, things I never used to do but I can’t work around it any more so I’m just quite blunt.
Think well of yourself S, think well of your talent, think well of your spirit, think well of having a pulse and there just being so much time and rejoice. It’s really an exciting time. So what if it’s scary? Call me if you get scared. If I can give you some Dutch courage, fine. Really, I think once you think it through you’ll see that it’s all right there for you and all you have to do is name it and claim it and realize that it’s going to take a long time. It’s going to go on and on until it’s done and you don’t have much choice about that because when your characters are done they’re going to tell you but not before
I really have faith in you. I really do, as much as I have faith in myself which I really do. As much as I have faith in faith itself which is really where the mystery is and where the center of my faith is. Yes, we can know nothing; yes it’s a mystery and yes, I love that mystery and I thank it for creating me and I will love it and be a co-creator as best as I can with every breath of my body until I am no longer breathing and I know you feel just as passionate about what you are doing.
So hang in there, girl. Never, never doubt yourself any longer than it takes to feel the feeling and go through the pain to do the suffering that is necessary for you to see who you are at that moment. Don’t run away from that stuff, that’s good stuff. Some people call it suffering; I call it learning. Look at things straight, walk through them, not around them and you will be moving faster than you’ve ever moved in your life.
So I hope that I haven’t overwhelmed you but I do love you dearly and I do not want to see you feeling at all the way that you are feeling in this letter, like maybe you weren’t doing something worthwhile. You are. You’re doing great, just keep doing it.
I love you lots and lots and lots and I’ll be talking with you.