The Necessary Inner Friction of the Older Writer

The way it’s supposed to go is that when you get older you become more satisfied, because you’ve got the things you’ve been trying all your life to get. As a kid, you were educated in how to find a job that pays for the things you’re also educated that you must have. You must have a family, a house, a car, money in the bank, a favourite holiday spot in Italy with the means to go there more and more, especially in retirement; to pick up a little of the language; to knowingly kid yourself that Roberto who owns your favourite restaurant on the harbour sees you as one of the family.

But what’s going on if in old age you’re thoroughly dissatisfied, even when you have all the things you’ve been told you want? Is it that those things ought to be bigger, better, replaced, more valuable? Is it just that you’re unforgivably ungrateful for all that the world’s provided you with?

Or is it that the things you really want were nothing to do with the stuff you were told you wanted in the first place? Things like understanding the world better; being more aware, perceptive, wise?

Has a point come when, with a spiritually subtle horror, you’ve realised that the kinds of esoteric things you wanted don’t even run in parallel with the stuff you can buy. They actually run in the opposite direction.

So it is that as you get more of the obvious stuff, it just highlights how little of the real stuff you actually have. That 55 inch 4K TV with 300 channels seems to watch you like a giant eye of irony, mocking the fact that while you can just point the remote at it, switch it on and bring the world into your living room, you don’t even have a clue where to find the on switch where your understanding of life is concerned.

Along with being educated into running the smooth path of work-money-things, you weren’t taught that getting the spiritual stuff is not so laid out and clear. And you were certainly not made aware that spiritual stuff is not even something that you can ‘get’.

A great irony can be that you realise finally that pursuit of the spiritual is nothing like the material. It starts, perhaps, in childhood with simply being open to all possibilities in oneself, and how they connect to, come from and feed back into nature. The irony being that after a lifetime of pursuing easily quantifiable stuff, it may be too late to suddenly open the doors to the unknown.

Writers, too, are educated to get things. To write a book; then to get it published; then to make money from it and receive good reviews; then to write another book, and another – all with the same kind of branded covers. Where the spiritual’s concerned, it may be better for the writer to fail. That way, his creative bag never clicks into the treads of the baggage carousel of acclaim; he never keeps on getting the things everyone tells him he wants; never becomes just another thing to get.

Getting older can be the best time for a writer, if he uses the friction caused by his material comfort moving in the opposite direction to his spiritual dissatisfaction. This friction in itself improves insight; will cause him to question everything. The man who’s only ever wanted a nice house and a classic car or two, and gets them, doesn’t question anything. Instead, he attends endless dinner parties and golf club events, practising his fake humility, while lapping up the largely imagined envy of his peers. If anyone ever questions him, like his oddly but probably only temporarily, rebellious teenage daughter, he’ll punish her a little, but with love, because he knows that eventually she’ll come round, will ultimately want the same things he does and when that happens he can feel warm and useful in helping her to get them.

The older, friction-driven, writer can produce wonders. He has experience of the world but then so do most people his age. The wonders come when he goes full-time. Not full-time as a writer, but full-time as a spiritual seeker, with material comfort almost an irrelevance (although he’s thankful to have it).

The wonders-seeking writer will go out for a meal with friends, and will happily apply himself to making the evening work. He’ll listen to people’s stories, and put himself out to be funny and interesting. All the while, he’ll also notice the comfort moves everyone makes without being aware of it. The subtle steering of a conversation into the warm shallow waters of social-cult agreement whenever there’s the danger of real disagreement ahead. The views that sound so logical but when you lift the mind cover slightly, it’s easy to see that they’re really the views of the work-money-things community, the largest in the western world. The conversations that sound spontaneous but are really just self-aggrandisement commodity trading for the most part.

And he will go home and lie awake, frustrated, sad, angry, deeply wishful that it could be different one day; that he could sit down with people who were open and fascinated by the world like children are but with wisdom and experience to make some magical sense of it too. Of the spiritual.

And if he’s a real writer, he won’t wake up in the morning thankfully having forgotten the night before. Instead, he’ll go to his desk and write about it.