For some time now, I’ve wanted to get an overall perspective of what has happened to me, or what I’ve lived through in my life. I started writing seriously just before I turned thirty, but I never produced anything of any real value, or completed anything other than some poetry until I was forty-six. My wife left me just before I turned forty, and as Murray Stein would say, that threw me into a state of liminality in which I drifted and my life threatened to become totally unhinged. Ever since I left the Air Force in 1971, we’d lived in Boulder Colorado. But after a number of years there, my wife grew dissatisfied there, had an emotional breakdown, and we moved to Phoenix Arizona so she’d have a warmer climate and better prospects for employment. Not only did I have to give up the home and location I loved, but I also had to take a miserable job in Phoenix, and soon my wife of eighteen years left me. We got divorced, I remarried, got re-divorced, and left for another, much better job in San Diego. I’d lost my home, my family, my job, my friends, and was on my own for the first time in my life. I was totally adrift. Then, after the Challenger disaster, I left my engineering job in San Diego and moved back to Boulder where I planned to pursue a second undergraduate degree in English, and to get serious about writing, which I’d done for many years, generating several abandoned novels, and see if I could take one of my writing projects to completion. I enrolled in Renate Wood’s creative writing course, learned that my writing was good enough to get published, and after her encouragment, attended the Aspen Writers Conference in Aspen. Shortly after that, a poem I had written in Renate’s class appeared in The Paris Review.
The night I returned from Aspen, I went out carousing and met a young woman, actually not so very young but a few years younger than me, who was the crazy person I mentioned in these pages a week or so ago. She’d been in therapy for decades, and since our relationship was so difficult and contentious, she advised me to enter therapy, even recommended a psychiatrist, since she had apparently conducted a survey of those in the area.
I’d started a novel that had its origin in Renate’s creative writing class, and I formed a writing group with a couple of women that I’d met locally. During the next five years I wrote my first complete novel, one I just published through Tragedy’s Workshop, The Escape of Bobby Ray Hammer. It’s a coming of age novel, which most first novels are.
Now that I look back on it, and with Jung’s belief that our lives come in two parts, I can see that the first half of my life was over at that point, and that I was trying to make the transition to the second half, a process known as midlife. Or midlife crisis. I was in therapy for almost five years, the same length of time it took for me to write the coming-of-age novel. Just as I was finishing my novel, my psychiatrist also left the area, and I felt that I’d had enough therapy. I also got laid off from my engineering job in Boulder, so I moved into a small apartment to cut expenses and planned a trip to Greece. Nine months later, I spent ten weeks traveling about Greece and the western coast of Turkey in search of what I called a personal mythology. I wrote over 100,000 words while on the road. When I returned from Greece, instead of finding another engineering job, I spent the next two years turning my travel journal into a travel book I titled Oedipus on a Pale Horse. In it I dumped all my troubles growing up, especially my problems with my father, but also the disappearance of my daughter, and mingled it all with Greek mythology. That book seemed to bring to a close the first half of my life. It constituted my look back over my life, and prepared me for the second half of my life. I then loaded all my belongings in a U-Haul, pulled my car in a trailer hitched to the back, and headed south to an old home my grandfather had built with his own hands in Carlsbad, New Mexico. While there during the next two years, I researched and wrote The Mysteries, A novel of Ancient Eleusis. Then I went to work at the local branch of the New Mexico State University and taught part time. I wrote what came to be my take on how to write a novel, Novelsmithing. I also taught a course in Greek mythology which is currently on the Internet at greek-myth.com. I also started what might well be the culmination of my life’s work in a non-fiction book I call Tales of the Mythic World, which may well take me another five years to complete.
The point I’m trying to make with all this is that my life seems to have unfolded in classic Jungian fashion. And here I am now in my later years getting involved in Active Imagination and trying to probe deep into my own psyche, hoping that it will also lead me into the spiritual world so that my life might some years into the future come to terms with the Afterlife.
It is a strange life we lead. Particularly those of us who care to delve into the forces that control it and mold it. When I was a kid, I thought I was a nobody, that I’d never amount to anything. We lived on a small farm three miles from a small town out in the middle of nowhere in central California. I’m still a nobody, but now I’m rather proud of that. The years I spent in engineering, I worked on the Space Shuttle, worked with astronauts, and missions to the outer planets. For a couple of years, I was one of NASA’s Solar System Ambassadors. I gave it all up for a life, an existence, outside the real world, essentially. I’ve found that my life is of most importance to me, and I’ve learned to live it for myself and for those I care about, and not devote my life to serving the purposes of high aspirations and status, in service of the ego. This is the perspective attained through a successful midlife transition. And now my goals, and the direction of my life, are all wrapped up in Active Imagination.
Life seems to be a process. On a physical level, we’re little more than a sophisticated carrot. We grow up to achieve a fully developed physical form, and then we wither and sink back into the earth. The first half of life we spend in service to the ego, but the second half in service of spirituality. And psychically, we undergo an amazing process that guides our lives through a spiritual development that seems to prepare us for something beyond death. Real or figment of the imagination, Active imagination, it’s a path worth traveling.