Book writing : inner alchemy and the art of book writing
An account of the beginnings of writing and being a writer,
and the inner alchemy and art which demands everything,
by British Columbia author Jack Haas.
A book excerpt from the spiritandflesh.com religion and spirituality online library.
In the few years that I came to inhabit the Hotel, I often found myself locked away in my cell in that moribund cloister, as I had done in my apartments years earlier, though now my room was amidst a condemned fraternity of other men, most of whom were twice my age- in wearied appearance if not in years- most of whom who had fallen away from life, who were unemployed, divorced or never married, drunks and junkies, oddballs, idlers, morons, and thieves, and also a large number who simply had no desire for the troubles of respectability and success required in the showboat world; such outward ostentations were superfluous divergences for which they had no need and yet which the world still proceeded to hold up to them as mirrors of condemnation and judgment everyday.
It was a domesticated pack of lone wolves in the Hotel, all seeking shelter from the unendurable rain, all under the same sorrowful roof, in rooms stained with a hundred years of blood, semen, urine, wine, and tears. A prideless pack of ugly ducklings, runts, scapegoats, hobbled stallions, and flightless eagles cursed to the ignominy of the crumbling perch.
All that most of these men wanted- and all they got, for that matter- was a cold beer before noon, a cigarette every hour, a hot meal at night, and the deathly silence of the halls and rooms of this outcast's priory, in which each in his own solitude could slowly, methodically recount, contemplate, and admit to the broken steps which they had chosen and which had led to their troubled and valueless lives.
The whole place was like a living morgue, where the undead cadavers moved about in sloth and melancholy, haunting their own rooms with a sentence placed upon them by no one but themselves.
Thus the many rooms I came to inhabit over the next few years became my inner-city castle and keep. It was within the protected confines of these cells that, locked away in the inner altar of the soul, the images and tribulations within me would ferment up and boil over, spilling out onto page after page as manic notes, taken like an incarcerated secretary receiving dictation from a verbose and brutal master. In short, I was becoming a writer, which is a simple way of saying- all hope was lost.
I say this because I was not born blessed with an affinity for the artist's finesse in life, but rather for its rough and wild side, and so instead of effortlessly penning artful sentences, eloquently delineating the subtler aspects of life, I had to learn to write as one with only a battleaxe for a quill, and his own blood for the ink.
As such, in the ominous bloodletting now underway, notebook after notebook was soon filled with the flotsam crashing onto the shores of my consciousness- a detritus which was more than likely exhumed, in part, because of the innumerable texts and treatises I was omnivorously devouring at the time, for I consumed anything and everything to fuel the fire: mystical Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Zen, abstract secularism, literary exegesis, poetry, psychoanalysis, philosophy, alchemy, esotericism, and all the rest of the extant tomes to be found by the perplexed and uncomfortable mind. I would devour one book and instantly be ravenous for another. Nothing could fill the void nor satisfy my hunger. As soon as I came to one realization- or what I erroneously thought at the time was a realization- I was instantly ready for another. The movement had to keep going, to wherever, and however, it didn't matter, as long as it didn't stop. I had forsaken the world, and it was only in between the covers of books where I sought comfort, company and inspiration, and the delirious effulgence's awaiting therein.
I was so easily transported into exalted contemplation during those days, insatiably attempting to gobble down the entire breadth of numinous writings from the past. It seemed that whatever I picked up at the library, or bought, or was loaned from a friend, inevitably contained precise and timely import into the current riddle I was facing inwardly. And if not, at least the book spawned another, deeper, more all-encompassing riddle which would swallow up its predecessor, as if saying- "Look here, you're not a bloody mystery, you're nothing but a puzzle waiting to be solved. Stand aside, for I come as a true enigma." And generally it was. As such I can honestly say, in all those years of reading and research, that instead of getting closer to understanding, I fell farther and farther away from it. And what a glorious and unexpected delight this turned out to be.
Early in the week I'd put on a large batch of homemade beer, wine, or port, buy a small supply of dope, and cook up a huge pot of curry, or chilli, or some such muck that would stick to the ribcage, and would last me the week, so that I could get on with the rest of it. Whatever that rest of it was.
I'd lock the door to my phrontistery, close the curtains, sit down, and begin the incessant reading, writing, drinking, smoking, thinking, eating, sleeping, wondering, going nuts, entering into euphoria, then meaninglessness, then bliss, on and on, as these multifarious aspects of my now wholly self-contained existence filled one singularly consecrated purpose- to figure things out. For months and then years on end I, in my own very imperfect way, chased down the disorienting conglomeration of antiquated, conceptual tunnels to which we are both the heirs and prisoners.
It was as if I was engaged in an internal inquisition, in which I was both prosecutor and defendant, where I sought and exposed the renegade phantoms, mute wise men, cowards, shadows, heroes, madmen, rebels, harlots, hags, and cherubim which populated my subconscious. I was unearthing myself with nothing but a pen to gouge out and excavate my insides, but I was doing it. Word by word, sentence-by-sentence, notebook-by-notebook, the endless array of thoughts and images came streaming out of me to expose the hobgoblins and therefore liberate them onto the page.
There is nothing so painfully delightful as being seized and overtaken by an art form when attempting to cleanse, divulge, and purify one's chaotic insides. Oh, perhaps art is merely a crude, and obsolete method, one which a little prayer and some sound humility might not accomplish in a tenth the time, and yet perhaps not, for when you get right down to the cesspool of the soul you find that you're dealing not only with your own imponderable universe, but with the entirety of history and humanity, perhaps even the interminable cosmos itself, and so to take the irreversible plunge within is not so simple after all.
The only person I saw during this time was a brilliant, lachrymose woman about my age who had recently lost the last member of her family, and therefore was floating unanchored, as far off of the earth as I was and not binding me in any way to the ground. We were quite a pair, a regular couple of disembodied phantoms with barely enough flesh between us to make a baloney sandwich. We were so far away from life that we could only meet in the unproblematic stratosphere where touching and sensuality have no jurisdiction. It was a purgatorial dimension up to which we effortlessly arose and commingled; an abstractedness from existence which felt not unlike a careless Nirvana compared to the complications of life we had both, in our own ways, fallen away from.
We would rejoice in a passionate, grace-filled, fleshless and platonic communion over a few joints and some wine and allow ourselves to forget all that had come before and all that was to follow, for there was little more either of us cared for, or could accommodate, than that.
(excerpted from In and Of: memoirs of a mystic journey, by Jack Haas)