Reconsidering my mid-life quest, by L.E. Taylor
A COUPLE OF DECADES AGO I found myself in a writer’s workshop on the high mesa outside Taos New Mexico. (I didn’t mean to start out with a pun, but there it is.) At the time, I wasn’t aware I was “finding myself,” but those five days did prompt an eventual change of course in my Middle American, middle-brow journey.
A whole series of coincidences led to that good moment. And to this one.
The class instructor was a remarkable soul by the name of Pierre Delattre (Deh-lot-truh). You probably don’t recognize the name, but that’s no reflection on you. Or Pierre. But once, it was different.
In the years I was struggling to make my way as a freelance ad man in the Midwest, Pierre was already established in the volatile bohemian neighborhoods of San Francisco. It was the 1960s and he was at the chaotic center of all the political and social drama. An ordained Presbyterian minister, Pierre was dubbed by Time Magazine, “The Beatnik Priest of San Francisco”. His notable autobiographical books are Walking On Air and Tales of a Dalai Lama.
My most admired of his works, however, is a collection called Episodes, a copy of which he inscribed to me.
But that came thirty years later when our paths would finally cross briefly, on the high table-land of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
Pierre’s one week writing-drill was rich in wisdom beyond tips on prose writing. Among his insights was the notion that our individual lives are patchworks of stories informed by experience – much of it ironic and improbable. He used a term I had heard, but never paid much attention to: Synchronicity. He gave examples in his own life of stunningly abrupt intersections of events, good fortune, and answered prayers.
As a young expatriate, Pierre was once marooned with his family in the impoverished backcountry of Mexico, flat broke with no way to get home. Contracted to write a novel, but battling a writer’s block, he finds himself absorbed with the abstract idea of “balance.” His fictional story is to be set in a circus, but he’s hit a wall. What does he know about the circus? At one critical moment of despair, a stranger arrives at his front door. Pierre writes this fragment in Episodes:
“Hi, I’m Carlos. I hear you’re writing a circus novel. I was a juggler in a circus for five years.” [Carlos] took me home; his whole family juggled for me. Carlos gave me a rare book on the mysticism of juggling.
Pierre quickly completes his manuscript and ships it off to his publisher. Soon, a check for his advance comes just in time to save the family. “We were down to our last peso,” he wrote.
THE BEGINNING OF MY OWN first novel came in the late nineties. Financially rewarded as a corporate marketing consultant, I was nonetheless, spiritually drained by the arid monotony of joyless striving. Also, the cash flow was waning. One chill gray morning I retreated into one of our vacant offices and, to excuse my need for solitude, I decided to learn how to use our strange new Apple word processor. I advised my assistant, and closed the door.
Averse to writing anything on my to-do list, I flashed on a morsel of family lore. Working from memory and embellishing as I went, I got caught up in the narrative. The next day I discovered I’d written not a short story; but “Chapter One.” For three years, amidst financial distress and personal sorrows, I journeyed every night into the past for hours, virtually taking dictation from an angel on my shoulder. The result was my 460 page novel, Elgan and Grace – A Twentieth Century Saga.
My occupation, since completing that book, has evolved into a special calling. Unexpectedly, I now find reward helping people of earlier generations reclaim their own rich nuggets of days past. My role is to share with them what I learned crafting my true stories. I coach them to capture their treasures with care, as a worthy legacy for others. The workshops are called Great Family Storytelling. Students are guided to not only remember, but also to write their tales in prose, as polished as they have the will to muster. I am not easy on them. The result for both student and family is the joy that comes with a strict labor of love, well done.
Synchronicity is not the fever-dream of some New Age yogi; it is the clinical inspiration of one of the great minds of psychiatry, Carl Jung. A Swiss disciple of the Viennese icon Sigmund Freud, Jung considered himself a scientist. His work has made a powerful impact on our notions of how the brain works. Much in the field that we take for granted originated with Carl Jung: the conscious and the unconscious, the phenomena of personality types, and how to explain synchronicity.
As he studied, Jung kept his mind open and did not dismiss the meaning of primal symbolism, or the possibility of multiple lives of one spirit (reincarnation). But, perhaps the most controversial of his obsessions was the bizarre coincidences in ordinary lives that are both timely and uncannily apt – the phenomenon he termed “synchronicity”.
Last week, I got an unexpected note from a former student on the topic of coincidence. She said she doesn’t believe in dumb coincidence; she thinks there’s an energy that surrounds us and influences us. Our life is full of opportunity and clues to light our Way; all we have to do is pay attention and respond. Some call it the Holy Spirit.
That’s when I remembered my old mentor Pierre, snoozing for decades in my subconscious. I went to the wall of books in my writer-cave. There, high-up, I found it, Episodes, by Pierre Delattre. I’d never read it all the way through, so riffled the pages for a moment. A word caught my eye, I backtracked. At the top of page 147, a one word title: “Synchronicity.”
OUR GIFT OF LIFE is designed to be more than a mindless slog from birth to death. It is a cavalcade of opportunities to conjure with and learn from, even as we wrestle with the earthly sojourn. Another pastor, this one half a lifetime ago at my home church in Ann Arbor, drummed the same mantra: Choose Life!
Consider this: You needn’t be a counter-culture rebel nor an arty mystic to grab your hold on the Truth, and then to share your joy with others. Just pay attention, trust what you see, and then follow; maybe the answers, after all, are hidden in the problems.
- Delattre, Pierre; Episodes; Gray Wolf Press, Saint Paul, MN; 1993.
- Taylor, L. E.; Elgan and Grace – A Twentieth Century Saga; FreisenPress; Vancouver B.C., Canada; 2012.
- Carl Jung, www.wikipedia.com
- Synchonicity, www.wikipedia.com
- [Author]; The Power of Your Subconscious Mind; [pub. Info.]; 1973.
- Murphy, Dr. Joseph; The Power of Your Subconscious Mind; Prentice-Hall; Paramus, NJ; 1963.