People have been asking a lot lately about my new novel, The Caretaker.
It is very (hesitation) religious, they say.
As though I am not allowed (or perhaps, not qualified) to write about God, because usually I write about...other things: hard-men of repute, alcoholic brothers, paedophile priests, I create visceral theatre and challenging film where the social edit is spared and four letter words are used as terms of endearment.
People presume that you cannot find much of God in these dark places. Personally I find nothing but God here; in the cracks, in the vulnerabilities, in those delicious human fractures - that's where the light gets in.
As a writer, actually as a human being, people struggle to know where I fit.
I struggle to know where I fit.
I have no exact category. I write books, plays, films, articles, I teach, I direct, I mentor, and I skive quite a lot. I enjoy what Eric Fromme would call a spontaneous life. I love being me. Spontaneity makes living in the world enjoyable but, I have to say, it makes me very hard to sell in the market place. I am a nightmare for agents, PR people and television commissioners.
When people hear the word religion they automatically read dogma, they presume you are either socks-and-sandals, hiding from the world behind layers of old scripture, or you are a fundamentalist, a jihadist who wants to make war with the world; same scripture, different interpretation.
God is a hard sell.
The word religion comes from the Latin re-ligare, it means to re-align, man to man, man to his source.
From this perspective I am religious.
And Jihad derives from the Arabic, it means to struggle, the greater Jihad is the struggle with the self, where we go to war with false perception and limiting core beliefs.
It seems I am a jihadist too; perhaps a reluctant jihadist because like most people I don't want to suffer even though I innately know that there is no growth in comfort.
And that is the nature of this book, The Caretaker. It is a fable about a man that seeks strength without struggle; he flirts with power but takes no responsibility for the office of power.
The Caretaker is a book about me.
It is a book about me being bone-tired of listening to me and my own narcissistic whinging. I was going through a very selfish, self-pitying stage in my life, nothing came quickly enough, nothing seemed big enough or easy enough. I was constantly looking for wealth without work, growth without discomfort and skills without apprenticeship.
I didn't know how or where or why I had become so detached from my Logos, but purpose was lacking in my life, and as a consequence everything was an effort. I found myself complaining all the time about my lot and how, compared with others, it didn't seem like I had much.
It was not true of course, I had breath in my lungs, there was bread on the table and I had as much opportunity as the next man, but at the time I couldn't see it, I didn't know how blessed I was, just to be alive.
Embarrassed by my ingratitude, I decided to send an apology into the ether, a confession, a declaration of my many digressions. I asked (whoever was listening) please show me things as they are.
I was shown.
I have to say it was a shock.
It was jarring to look in the mirror and see the reflection of a fat, greedy, self-pitying man looking back at me. I couldn't believe how ungrateful I had become and how easily, especially when I was surrounded on all sides by such luxury, such love.
I was (am) married to the girl of my dreams, living in a house and making a living. I was the most blessed man I knew, and yet I still wanted more, without offering even a bead of sweat in exchange or word of thanks in return.
I was practically living in the lap of luxury (I had running water!) and bemoaning my lack. I felt ashamed at how narrow minded I'd become, and how...lazy.
How had I become so very lazy?
The answer landed in my mind as quickly as the question had been asked: I had fallen into (what the sages of old called) the forgetting.
If we don't remind ourselves on a regular basis of what we have, what we have will be taken from us, or at least hidden behind layers of false ego and twisted belief.
I realised in my moment of clarity that gratitude was a key, it opened the door to potential, and if gratitude was lacking, it locked the same door tightly shut.
So I wrote what became known as the enlightenment prayer, something I could read every day to remind myself not to forget how much I had and how blessed I was, and to stop asking for things that I was not ready for yet.
I was always asking for things that I was not ready for yet.
The prayer organically grew and became a short novel, written in parabolic form, and infused with the intuited wisdom of the ages.
The prayer began with the words:
Lord! God Almighty (The Universe)
A word if you don't mind.
A word about me.
Actually, more precisely, a word about me and my specious requests.
It is a muscular prayer. It demands that I take charge of my own life. It insists that the world cannot be changed, but I can, and in changing me, the world will change. It is a prayer that I read and listen to every time I lose my way; it kicks me up the backside when I fall into apathy or self-pity and forget to honour my suffering.
It reminds me that growth is in struggle.
Not the usual wrastle with outside forces, they are an easy distraction, rather the perennial struggle where I lean into the sharp edges and fight the only enemy worth my effort; myself.