“Deprived of full access to this living quality of being, the senses coarsen and the human spirit shrivels. Seeing only through the filters of our own mental processes, we live in the dark, blind and deaf in the middle of the desert, locked away in a prison where problems have no solution. Our experience is flat and mediocre; our spirit is parched and our minds are hungry. Yet we seem unable to offer them the simple nourishments of joy, beauty, and compassion. When understanding holds out the possibility that we can free our minds from the shadows of not-knowing, we cannot afford to ignore or deny it.” Revelations of Mind, Page 303.
I once asked my mother, who regularly read the stories I wrote (five of which were published in the Antigonish Review in the 1970’s), whether my father ever read them. She told me that he wondered why everything I wrote was always so negative.
Now that I have sons of my own, I can appreciate just wanting your kids to be happy in the world, to find a path for themselves, and to be spared their struggles with lack of confidence and foreboding. Alas, neither of my parents lived to see me find the more fulfilling life I now lead.
Even my fictions have become more hopeful, their narrative arcs swinging upwards as characters learn to accept that life is full of mysterious opportunities if they only look outside of themselves.
Looking at my early short stories, I can see that their protagonists are often propelled along paths that lead to disaster—not just circumstantially but in terms of the moral weaknesses that they never overcome. Their narrative arcs typically end on a downward trajectory. I told myself that this was a way of exploring how human problems don’t automatically fix themselves. But looking back I can appreciate why my father would have preferred something more upbeat as he watched his son not thriving in the world.
This tendency—to depict how human blindness can derail our individual and shared destinies–continued into my first novel, “Asleep at the Wheel of Time”, published in 2013. There I have a giant comet heading for Earth, which would have obliterated the last microbe left standing if it had collided head on with our planet. The author who lives in my body was not ready to give humanity a clean bill of moral health, and the efforts to divert this comet fall short. However, instead of completely eradicating life on Planet Earth, two fragments strike, sending humans and dolphins, who had finally begun to recognize their kinship in intelligence and heart, back into a dark age of lost opportunities.
I have to wonder at this attraction to envisioning a humanity that is unable to conclusively save themselves or their world.
I don’t believe that my stories are any drearier than the inertias we see in operation around us. It seems that we are all looking for a middle ground in which the misunderstandings embedded in our societies are not denied but also not allowed to create a sense that everything is hopeless.
In my second novel, “Falling on the Bright Side”, I reverse the tendency of my earlier fictions—which depicted the dismal consequences of unexamined misunderstandings–and instead explore how in places where residents don’t want to be, such as nursing homes and Medical Emergency Rooms, human caring for one another can lift the heart and restore the soul.
More than any of us would wish for our world in late 2016, there now seems a prophetic element in my early stories. Our society seems to be having trouble waking up, of appreciating the daily arrival of the Sun, and recognizing that the most important elements in our lives are a kind of grace we can share with one another—with other species, other races and other phases of this journey through life.
We are only fallen from Paradise if we fail to remember that we are meant to share the splendors that we had no role in creating.
We don’t have to be an astronomer on a mountain top, or a traveler groping his way on a dark country road, to realize that “being in the dark” is a good place from which to “see the light”.