I’m reading Playwriting: Writing, Producing and Selling Your Play by Louis E. Catron.
I’m on chapter four, “The Credo”. It stopped me the last time round.
Catron urges you to write out your strongest convictions, at least eight of them, for at least ten pages total.
Hmm, reminds me that a few years ago, Rob Eshman, Editor of the Jewish Journal, told me to write out my Jewish beliefs. I shrank from the task.
OK, that hasn’t served me. Time to step up to the plate. What do I believe?
What do I love writing about? That’s a good start. What moves me? Where’s my passion? Which of my writings do I love to read? What makes me laugh?
What animated my writing over the years? What were my favorite themes?
The first theme in my writing was my desire for food — whatever I wanted and as much as I wanted. That’s what I wrote my first story on when I was eight. It went about 20 typed pages. I hand-wrote it and then my step-mom typed it and shared it around Avondale College and people commented that I seemed obsessed with food. My story described my best friend Wayne and I going on a rafting trip down Dora Creek, which flowed below my house. Before we left on our trip, we went to the Sanitarium Health Food Factory and bought all the food we wanted. Then we loaded it on our raft and away we went. It was like Huckleberry Finn Down Under.
Food was my greatest desire at age eight because yummy processed food such as peanut butter was strictly rationed in my house for health reasons. We were Seventh-Day Adventists and healthiness was next to Godliness and you don’t get health eating candy and snacking between meals and drinking water or juice, let alone, God forbid, soda, with your meals. It wasn’t until midway through eighth grade that I connected with the Muth family at Pacific Union College and got to eat and drink all the approved Adventist swag I wanted. That was a life-changing lunch that December of 1979. Think the movie The Blind Side. I was adopted by a loving family that allowed me all the peanut butter I desired and to drink with my meals and to talk about girls (my dad was completely against dating if you were under 18, and only for marriage after 18).
From age ten on, from fifth grade on, my greatest desire was for romance (none of that agape crap). That’s the thing I’ve yearned for most in my life — sex and love.
I’m fascinated by power and glory and meaning and the struggle for the good. Conflict, winners and losers appealed to me so much that during high school I wanted to be a sportswriter.
I loved history from about age eight on, particularly military history.
I became fascinated by politics with the election of Ronald Reagan when I was 14. With America’s economic revival in 1983, I got into economics for the next six years. I thought that was a key for me to unlock life. Journalism started to pall compared to the rewards of doing original academic research.
I loved literature. I read widely. I loved a good story. My step-mom wanted me to major in literature but it wasn’t manly enough for me. I wanted power, fame, fortune.
With CFS crippling me from 1988-1994, the search for meaning became primary in my writing. Then Judaism and ethics. Once I regained my health in 1994, my fascination with sex reared its ugly head and became supreme in my writing for the next 13 years.
What did I love in writing about sex? The humor. The outrage. The drama. The excitement.
Sex leads to love but when it gets out of control, it starts flirting with death. Dramatic stuff.
As I entered weekly therapy in 1998, after losing many friends because they were offended by my blogging about Dennis Prager, I became fascinated by human connection aka bonding aka attachment.
My primary themes in chronological order: Food, love, power, meaning, God, ethics, sex, connection.
My secondary theme underlying all other themes: Loss.
My therapist said that when I spoke, she sometimes got the image of a baby boy sucking on his mother’s breast, sure it was about to run dry. She said I exhausted people. I took and took and took, sure the tap was about to be turned off, thus bringing about the very thing I feared.
In high school, I started getting highs from breaking scoops. I loved the excitement, the adrenalin rush, the power and the glory of journalism.
What are the topics for my credo? Revealing life. That drives me. I loathe the corruption of power. I want to unmask the corrupt and write my own way to power.
I should talk about this with my therapist and get her to help me with my writer’s credo.
Writing is a way for me to explore my dreams. Writing is a way for me to gain mastery. Writing makes me feel alive. Why? Because I get strokes for it. I get influence and money and love and fame and fortune and attention.
Theoretically, a person’s greatest concern should be acting in accord with God’s moral law, but most people can’t live by abstract theory. Practically, a person’s greatest concern should be the quality of his bonds with those he loves. Happiness is proportionate to how close you are with those you want in your life.
Yet, my greatest concern is the quality of my work aka revealing life, even if it costs me bonds and happiness. I sense my lack of attachment and then try to justify it or deal with it by writing things that will keep me excluded.
According to Torah and reason, God is the one ends in life that you can pursue without diminishing yourself. God’s dictates are what is most important and what God most wants from us is ethical behavior.
From human connection naturally flows ethical behavior. The more connected you are, the happier you’ll feel, and the more righteous your behavior. You don’t increase your ties with others by cheating them. You usually have to disconnect from people before you can deliberately hurt them. You don’t hold your head high in the community by getting caught for bad behavior. Rather, good behavior builds bonds and your close ties with those you love constrain your tendencies to bad behavior.
* What is my strongest belief? Most number one belief is in God, creator of the universe, whose primary demand of people is that they act ethically (aka according to the guidelines of the Torah). God will reward and punish, both in this life and the next.
If there is a Creator of all, then it flows logically that He will have an interest in his creation, that He will want those who have free will to choose to treat ethically other members of creation, and that all choices will have eternal consequences wherein the wicked are punished and the good are rewarded.
Because I believe in the God of the Torah, I believe that life is meaningful, that life questions each of us every waking moment, and that how we respond will echo through eternity. You ever watch a movie and want to step into the frame? You will. Each of us will get to see in the afterlife a movie of our life. For some this will be heaven, for others it will be hell.
God wants us to be happy, joyous and free.
* My second fundamental belief is that people are not basically good, that people need moral education and organization, and that religion is generally the best way for people to join together and pursue the good life. Most people are better off (morally, socially, psychologically, economically, etc) if they are a part of a transcendent community (which usually means an organized religion) that looks out for one another.
* I believe that our allegiances not only bind us together but blind us to the suffering of those outside of our allegiances. Every close-knit group is going to have moral blind spots that you could drive a truck through. I attach to close-knit groups, particularly close-knit traditional religious groups akin to the one I was raised in, but then I stand outside of them in my thinking and writing. Because I value publishing that reveals life, I do this at the price of my happiness/connections/popularity/welfare.
* I value freedom over equality of result, freedom over democracy, but because people are not naturally good, I believe that civilization must have bulwarks that limit or channel personal freedom towards ends that are good for society and the raising of children (such as teaching that the ideal vessel for sex is monogamous male-female marriage, encouraging religion, distrusting those outside of marriage and religion, etc).
* I believe that people are driven towards human attachment but if they can’t do it healthfully, they’ll attach to food, drugs, alcohol, TV, sports, exercise, etc and addictions naturally tend towards destruction.
* Life is easier and happier for people if they believe many things that are not true (such as the traditional teachings of their religion or tribe, that their aging sagging spouse is beautiful, that their parents loved them, etc). Many false beliefs in the realms of the personal and the religious are not only harmless but positively wonderful for the believer.
* I believe that the less you take things personally, the happier you’ll be. I believe that you can let go of all conscious resentment against people, places and things. I believe that you can fake it until you make it. I believe that you can recover from addiction by, among other ways, working the 12 Steps.
* Arguments about matters of faith are a waste of time. Theology doesn’t matter much.
* “He feels things deeply?” Yeah? Every man is super-sensitive about himself.
* Every minute (after ten) thinking about the next life wastes this life.
* Evil people are as apt to see morality clearly as good people.
* Everybody has parts of his life that cannot be shaken by criticism and ridicule. That’s where you are secure. When you’re criticized and bothered, that’s where you are insecure.
* People instinctively know your weak points and they will push your buttons until you become secure in that area. Life will keep reminding you of what you need to work on. Life will also show you what you’re good at. When the pain becomes intense enough, you’ll grow choose death.
* Many perhaps most of the greatest things in your life will be given to you so long as people like you and find you useful (a typical perspective of the youngest child).
* Woody Allen says 80% of life is just showing up. He’s wrong. It’s no more than 20%. If you show up but are either incompetent or unlikable, you won’t succeed.
* Addicts will use everyone and everything in their lives to meet their addictive needs.
* People will always treat their own property with greater care.
* Whatever you subsidize, including bad behavior, you’ll get more of. Whenever you increase the price of something, holding all other factors even, you’ll get less. Demand curves slope down and supply curves slope up.
* Almost all ethical questions will be solved by publicity aka if people know what you do, you’ll take care to control yourself.
* Sharing and judging are different modes. You can’t be in one and do the other. You can’t create and edit at the same time.
* Life is easier, if, all other things being equal, you just go along with other people’s enthusiasms and show appreciation for their kindness.
* You can get away with a lot if you’re honest.
* People who relate to you as fodder for a cause are easy to spot and easy to use.
* Nothing significant is accomplished without passion and you can’t get passionate about something unless you believe it is for the greater good.
* People need to put you in a box. Labels are necessary because people are many and our time and brain power are limited so we need to file people in our mind according to categories. When people can’t put a label on you, when you refuse to conform to known categories, they’ll usually dismiss you rather than push themselves.
* It’s hard to advance your social status from second grade.
* The purpose of going to work is to help God’s kids.
What are my most powerful contradictory impulses? I want to pursue my addictions (aka women), yet God commands me to be holy. Life comes down to the quality of your connections with others and yet I’m driven to shock and awe. I want to be loved by the people I respect and yet I pursue distinction (aka difference) above all else. Judaism commands that I keep my speech holy and yet I want to keep it real. I need to connect to people to get the best material but to write it, I have to disconnect and risk my bonds. I’ve converted to Orthodox Judaism and yet I am naturally lazy and rebellious.