Last week I stumbled upon an intriguing statement in Noah Lukeman's book The Plot Thickens. He wrote that family can be a giant distraction from profound journeys and provided the example of empty nesters who "must realize for the first time that they have used their kids as a distraction from their own inner lives."
Lukeman went even further to say that "Empty nesters will either find a new distraction, or they will look inside. For some, looking inside -- the thing they have been avoiding their entire lives -- is so unbearable that they choose instead to die." Provocative assertion, to be sure.
Many books deal with this transition, whether it is brought on by the empty nest or by other factors, and the difficulties people face when they must confront who they are and how the choices they've made have impacted their own lives and others'. I know the book I'm writing is very concerned with this journey.
But the reality of this situation was brought home to me a few days later when my sister and I discussed a mutual friend. The friend has filled his life with distractions and on some level is very aware that the distractions exist to take his mind off an unfulfilled life. His unhappiness is manifest in many of his actions and self-defeating choices.
However, this doesn't mean that he is, on the surface, a miserable person. On the contrary, people meeting him perceive an outgoing, friendly, upbeat guy. This apparent incongruence speaks to our ability to subjugate emotions, especially deep-seated fears, albeit to the detriment of our physical, mental and spiritual health.
I have a tremendous amount of empathy for this friend as I am immersed in writing about a similar character who lives and breathes for me. She has reached the point of looking inside, and her profound journey of self-realization brings to light some very dark truths.
On a deeper level, I'm also thinking about distractions in my own life. I sometimes grumble about my day job being a distraction from writing, but what if writing is a distraction from an inner journey? Many hobbies and vocations are both beloved pursuits as well as ways to pass time or put off doing the really hard work. (Procrastination is an art form for writers...this blog is an excellent example at the moment.)
Or maybe writing fiction is a method of taking that journey. Writers plumb the depths of their souls for their books. They confront their own fears, own up to their insecurities and translate their personal tragedies into fictional stories. Yet all of us, I think, have a few skeletons buried so deep in our psychic soil that it will take a life-altering event to trigger a profound journey of self-realization.
Last night I had a conversation about forgiveness, and these two concepts fused in my brain. I haven't quite figured out yet if my protagonist is the only one who will learn about the necessity of forgiveness through her journey of self-discovery. Perhaps she will teach me about forgiveness as I dig deep into my own experience to create a realistic emotional arc in her moment of crisis.
I'm reminded of the adage "Physician, heal thyself." In a sense, we are all the physicians and we must all come to realize the many distractions we cling to in order to avoid knowing ourselves.
"I'm simply trying to recover something of the totality of your life. Don't you want to possess it as a whole--the bad with the good?" Robertson Davies, Fifth Business