Faith seeking understanding #063: On the limits of hero worship

Faith seeking understanding, my personal journey towards a deeper knowledge of and intimacy with God, the cosmos, humanity and myself through thoughts, words and (occasionally) images, is a series of [hopefully] daily reflections I’m writing with the purpose of publishing something on a regular basis for others to read, either here, at joncarllewis.com or among my writings at Medium.com.

Photo by Gabriel Bassino on Unsplash.

I suppose one should be very careful about choosing one’s heroes. Pick someone too brilliant, and one runs the risk of sure frustration. Pick someone too, uh, not brilliant, and one’s aspirations are too easy to attain. However, the heart picks whom the heart will pick, and so I have become saddled with Gore Vidal.

I used to want to be Stephen King. I wanted to crank out thick book after thick book of evocative prose which— if not particularly horrific—were, nevertheless, similarly compelling. I wanted a similar output. Of course, I could not have known in the youth in which these dreams were formed how different my style and history of writing would turn out to be. As it turns out, writing is a laborious, time-intensive process for me. Blessed with huge blocks of time in which to write, I find myself metaphorically pacing the floor, waiting for inspiration to seize me long enough to eke out a few hundred words, and then returning to my pacing mind, waiting for something else to show up. Given that strong, 1000-word-a-day suggestion of his, I am doomed to be a failure—at least at this point in my career.

I also used to want to be the apostle Paul (at least in terms of literary output). I wanted to pen missives full of spiritual wisdom, ingenious in their ability to forge and sustain a movement. I wanted to be a spiritual authority, ascetic in my lifestyle and promiscuous in the life of my spirit and mind. But the life of an ascetic was not to be the life to which I was called. Paul may have been able to struggle against the flesh—even his thorn in the flesh—and subdue his body to his ideals, but I haven’t been able to pull that off. Furthermore, having tried to follow his example and finding it leading me to the brink of despair, I decided (wisely, I think) to abandon all hope of following in those bloody footprints. Also, I find I enjoy being liked too much. I struggle with the fear of going too far in my writing and pissing people off. I don’t’ think paul worried about that when taking up his pen. On the contrary, his penchant for speaking sternly to those he loved seems to be, paradoxically, one of his most enduring—if not endearing—characteristics.

Sometimes I flirt with the concept of adopting Jesus as a life model. However, in terms of writing, this would be a bust for me. The only thing we see him writing down is a few characters in the sand; his great talent was telling stories in the oral tradition. And I’m just too scatterbrained to keep a story straight unless I write it down.

Francis of Assisi has at times captured my imagination. Although I can’t fully get behind the lifestyle of wandering from place to place without a library—let alone a place to lay my head at night, he did manage to compose some of the first literary works ever to be composed in the new Italian language. But, again, I don’t think he was a particular fan of pens and paper and libraries to consult, and I am attached to these things. I love my writing tools, and I love having near instant access to all of the wisdom of the world via Amazon and the rest of the internet.

So, I view this infatuation with Gore Vidal with a healthy dose of suspicion. In what ways, unbeknownst to me at this point, will I find that there is no way for me to measure up to his literary accomplishments. Certainly, I see a lot of similarities in the life of the mind and affections between him and me, but I simply do not have the pedigree to be telling kiss-and-tell stories among the likes of Jack Kennedy and Anaïs Nin.

Perhaps this is for the best, however. Because (when I in a sober moment return to the earth from which his writing has transported me) I realize that what gives Vidal’s writing so much power is the fact that he has been able to so sublimely communicate himself—or at least a version of himself tailor-made for mass consumption—I must seek to do the same: I must find the ability to distill my essence and communicate that essence with courage and clarity and conviction.

Not to say I’m not allowed to have heroes. Heroes spur us onward—or, at least, they do for me. But I must be careful to examine what it is of each hero I admire. I must honestly compare my work and my aspirations to theirs so that I know what I am admiring them for. I must make an honest assessment of what I think I can learn from each of my heroes and apply to my own work and aspirations.

I must look to my heroes to find out to most effectively and evocatively communicate my truth, my insights, my vocabulary, my style, my vision.

That won’t be asking too much.

Because, quite frankly, hoping to go to sleep as myself and waking as Gore Vidal would not only be disconcerting, but unpleasant. The fact remains that, despite his many literary charms, he’s quite dead. And if I am to make even the faintest mark on the great palimpsest of literature, I need to stay alive.

That and get to work.

Thank you for your time and attention.
I’d love to know your thoughts on what you’ve read.
Please comment, below, or email me at joncarllewis@gmail.com.
May God richly bless you on your journey.

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Faith seeking understanding #063: On the limits of hero worship

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