Pride: An Exorcism
Pride is the primary source of all my troubles. From pride comes envy, self-righteousness, apathy, despair, solipsism, the burning fury that blackens my mood and distorts my perceptions.
Pride tells me I’m a failure because at forty-three I am not widely read, admired, rich, oft-quoted, sought after or esteemed. I am nothing. Less than nothing. Anonymous. Faceless. Without stature. Readers don’t wait in breathless anticipation for my next story, novel, poem or pronouncement. My existence is entirely without purpose. I am a non-entity.
Poor, poor pitiful me.
Pride causes me to shun the company of writers and artists, a community of peers. I belong to no guilds or professional organizations. While I correspond, occasionally, with other writers, few, if any, would call me friend or colleague. I am denied fellowship, a support system that might provide me with some sense of validation or, at the very least, a sympathetic forum to air my grievances.
I can understand why pride is considered a mortal sin. It has a corrosive effect on the spirit and insinuates itself into every aspect of your being. It makes one prone to slights, wounded feelings and absurd grudges. Collateral damage: prejudice, fatuousness, cruelty, paranoia and mistrust.
Pride is complex and paradoxical. It can make one, at once, haughty and thoroughly insecure. It gives the impression of great confidence while instilling a profound sense of vulnerability and self-loathing. The egotist lives in terror of exposure. The extrovert conceals an inner coward.
I regret that I’ve never been able to cultivate modesty, that my failures and defeats haven’t made me a humbler person. Instead, over the years I’ve become hard, vicious, prickly, difficult. Fifteen hundred rejection letters haven’t improved my character—the opposite, in fact. I told a close friend recently that if success, in some form, doesn’t comes soon, I risk becoming a truly rotten individual, unrelentingly bitter and hostile to even those closest to me. That possibility is my deepest, most insistent fear (the first among many).
The recent setbacks with my novel So Dark the Night have been difficult to bear with equanimity. I can no longer shrug off form letters from editors who, even now, after I’ve spent two decades in dedicated service to the printed word, still don’t know me from Adam. Of the 50+ publishers I contacted, fewer than five asked to see an excerpt of the novel I spent three long, hard years piecing together. I had even worse luck with agents.
So I’ve become even more angry, more prideful. My disdain and contempt for the publishing racket increases in magnitude and intensity. I swear to wreak my vengeance if I’m ever given the opportunity, pledge myself to the destruction of my foes, those who dare thwart my rightful destiny (though few have been granted names). The sheer ardor of my hatred frightens me at times—it’s so powerful and enticing and it feeds on itself, refusing to be channeled or contained.
I have real concerns for my sanity…and I worry about the state of my soul. Losing myself to that all-consuming rage. These fears are addressed in some of the darkest poems in my Redbook collection. Check them out, you’ll see the ones I mean.
I try to tell myself that there is a purpose to my suffering, that this struggle is forging a better, stronger person. But then pride defeats my weak and nascent faith, insisting that I am conspired against by stupid editors, stupid readers, stupid people tabloided and soundbitten to dull-wittedness.
Or…maybe I’m not good enough. I don’t deserve the same level of acclaim accorded my literary heroes. And as for those writers who clearly aren’t as good as me but still working on their fifth or sixth published book—well, they simply work harder than me or play the game more effectively. I need to develop and cultivate a persona, hang out at conventions, shmooze, suck up to people. Enroll in a creative writing program, follow the rules for a change.
No, another voice intercedes, what I really need to do is forge on regardless, screw all those people who won’t give me the time of day, it’s their loss if they deny themselves the fruits of my genius. Start a blog, stop submitting to magazines that will be obsolete in two years anyway. By-pass asshole editors and self-publish, refuse to grant anyone a position of power or influence over my great work. Better, after all, to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven…
It’s hard to speak rationally of these things, put words to emotions, the inner thoughts that loop and spiral endlessly through my conscious mind and infiltrate my dreams.
Yes, my dreams. Recurring nightmares where I’m under siege, threatened by creatures who, like the zombies in a Romero film, burst through barred windows and locked doors, forcing me to retreat to some cramped room or a trapdoor in the ceiling, holding my breath as they scratch and scrabble on the other side.
I’ve read that our dreams are manifestations of ourselves so these nightmares of mine are easily interpreted. Were I to actually confront these monsters (mercifully I always wake up before I do) their faces, distorted by hate, would still be recognizably mine. And in the midst of my dreams there’s always a realization that they don’t intend to kill me. No. Instead, they will take my place, somehow absorb my essence and become me. And then, in their madness and fury they will turn on those I love, destroying them or, at the very least, driving them away.
For their/my heinous crimes, may these creatures be cast into the yawning, depthless Pit, where they rightfully belong. Denied hope or redemption, consigned there for eternity by the venal sin of pride, the “never-failing vice of fools” (Pope).
“The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n.”
-John Milton, Paradise Lost (Book I)