A few years ago, I attended a weekend men’s retreat. In the woods, good food, well organized, interesting men of all ages—I left dissatisfied.
That was predictable, knowing me. If I hadn’t been a writer and stage director, I would have made a great dentist. My instinct is to go after every cavity with ferocious intent. I am perpetually critical of workshops, having conducted so many. It may be the satirist’s mind that attracts me to diverse groups but positions me always at the edge. Or it may just be shyness.
The broad intent of the gathering, as I understood it, was to help us define what it was to be a man in the present day; to heal; to open emotionally; to heal; to focus awareness of myth, of guilt, of grief, of friendship; and to heal. All good intents, and no question the world would be a better place if even a tiny bit of that could happen on a wider scale.
What incited my withdrawal? To some degree, probably, because I tend to protect my griefs, my sins, my wounds from public scrutiny: I write fictional characters, not self-expressive lyric. And to some degree because since childhood I’ve had an unfocused, instinctive fear ofmen. Casual friendship, yes. Professional friendship, yes. Deep and sharing friendship, never.
And perhaps I don’t really want to be healed. I want, first, to be kind. Second, to craft the muck into art.
I have created characters who are selfish, egocentric, self-pitying, and violent. Those are not only observed phenomena: they are part of me. I do my best in my actions not to be true to my inmost self: I greatly prefer to offer the world and my loved ones the kinder, gentler version. No less true: I believe our angels dance with our devils, and they all split the rent.
I admire the Christian experiment in its attempt to purge each individual soul of the kelp and barnacles clinging to it, aiming at something pure. But I fear I’ll always look at the barista’s shapely hips or the last piece of pumpkin pie with lust in my heart.
We are all, I believe, a multiplicity of selves. We’re persuadable to change our habits, our choices and our actions to conform to the standards we set for ourselves, but a much harder surgery to cast out the demons in our souls, even among receptive litters of swine (Matt. 8:28).
I still hunger for friendship and fellowship, and I celebrate those who find it. Meantime, I gravitate to the edge of parties.