Shame runs in my blood. Maybe this comes from having been a Methodist preacher's son and growing up with a deep-seated suspicion that, despite his example of rectitude, I somehow harbored an ineradicable strain of original sin. Whatever the reason, I have always been--and remain today--ready to blame myself for any and all calamities that may beset me or, most especially, my loved ones. It follows that my lifelong pursuit of what I will dare to call my art has been as much a cause of self-loathing as it has been a source of satisfaction.
I have come to see that in my quest to become a writer I essentially defrauded a succession of employers. This was true of my very first job in 1961 all the way through to my last, which ended in 1991. In each position I held something back. I was incapable of full engagement because I was reserving for myself some substantial portion of my attention and dedication. Why? Because I believed my true destiny was to become a writer, not a 1) newspaper reporter; 2) urban planner; 3) management consultant; 4) environmental impact analyst; or 5) lobbyist. For me, those were just jobs that put bread on the table. Yes, I did well in all of them and was regarded by my employers as a productive staff member. But I knew the truth--that in me they were not getting what they paid for.
More importantly, while I can readily acknowledge having defrauded those who employed me in my different professional incarnations, I have not always been as willing to admit having defrauded those who depended on me as a provider. I realize the notion of the male as the exclusive provider is now somewhat antiquated, but after all I qualify as an antique myself and inevitably hold some of the societal beliefs of my generation even if I have also sabotaged them. My preoccupation with becoming a writer imposed costs on the two women who chose to share their lives with me. Both had professional aspirations of their own yet were forced to deal with many of the practical problems I preferred to ignore in favor of pursuing my supposed artistic destiny.
Perhaps I could have been excused my fixation on what I believed was that destiny were I as spectacularly gifted, and as justly acknowledged, as such self-obsessed artists as Mozart, Picasso and Mailer, whose behaviors we tend to forgive because of the largeness of their accomplishments. But my own accomplishments as a writer may have been far too modest to justify the costs I imposed on others in my single-minded pursuit. This reality is, I think, the source of my shame. Was my so-called art worth its cost? I don't know.
TO BE CONTINUED