Completion Is Vital

So good was I feeling about my decision to abort my wilderness sojourn that I hiked out this morning, packing along my first of many retreat loads. "Go to town, buy yourself a popsicle!" my inner voice told me.

On the ridge I stopped in on a friend, to tell her the good news. Mary is her name, and a small, primer pink and gray trailer is her home. She was working, in the buff, in her garden when I drove up. I reckon I surprised her, for a harmless toot from the Cranbrook's horn sent her scurrying for her trailer's door like a sinner for a Bible on Judgment Day. Much to her chagrin and embarrassment the door had somehow locked itself. Hence, Mary was forced to sit naked on her doorstep while I climbed through one of the trailer's windows and opened the door for her from the inside.

"Oh, hi, Mary," I said, opening her door. "C'mon in. Is that a new dress? You didn't happen to buy it at the emperor's garage sale, did you?"

Mary bore the humility admirably, kicked me out of the trailer, dressed, emerged with a pair of ice-cold Lucky Lager beers, then started the greeting anew:

"Good morning, Robert. What a surprise."

"Good morning, Mary."

The sky was a vast sea of blue salsa, with the sun simmering in the middle of it like a jalapeno pepper. We unfolded a couple chaise lounge chairs and set them beneath the shade of a behemoth fir.

A "chat" with Mary is like strapping into one of those carnival Tilt-O-Whirl rides. That is to say, her mind uses evolution to support theories on physics to support theories on religion to support theories on politics to support theories on National League expansion to support theories on creation . . . and so on. That is to say, her wit wanders wondrously.

In the midst of some profound subject, she handed me some sheets of her latest poetry. I read them, then asked:

"Now, is this good poetry or bad poetry? -- I can never tell with poetry."

"Oh, a notch above great," Mary averred.

"I nodded; fully trusting Mary's opinion on literary matters, if only because Ernest Hemingway once patted her mother's belly when she was pregnant with Mary. Reason enough.

"So, Robert, how's the year in the woods coming along?" Mary asked, out of the blue. The query took me aback.

"Er, great. In fact, I've finished it."

"Compressed twelve months' adventure into just twelve weeks? I'm confused."

"Think of it as parole for good behavior."

My statement shocked Mary. I dare say, it kicked her in the balls.

"You gave up?!"

"No, Mary, I wised up."

"And what about the book you were writing?"

"Suffice it to say, it ain't gonna happen."

If my decision to pull out of the canyon hadn't kicked Mary hard enough, my decision to give up writing the novel certainly did. The smile that rode so sweetly upon her lips just moments ago turned suddenly to a twisted frown. Veins, where no veins should be, began to throb across her brow. Her face began flipping through every shade of red like a fire captain through paint store samples. Steam spewed from her ears and flames from her nostrils. Her eyes glowed like the cores of nuclear reactors. And the Earth around us began to tremble. I held tightly to the chaise lounge's armrests, sensing I was in for a scolding.

"NO-O-O-O!!!" she cried, she wailed, she boomed.

"But, but, but --"

She bolted upright in her seat, "NO-O-O-O!!!"

"But, but, but --"

"For heavens sake, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO . . . !" she reiterated, now driving home her point with several stiff-fingered jabs to my sternum -- so stiff-fingered, in fact, that I felt she was close to jousting me over backwards in my chair. "NO, NO, NO!" she continued, "You have to finish your year in the wilderness! You have to finish your book! Completion is vital!"

"Geez, Mary, I don't see what the big deal is."

"That's obvious, for if you did you wouldn't be calling it quits!"

"I wouldn't?"

"Hell no, for two reasons; the first being the benefits it bestows upon society as a whole."

"Yeah, but --" I foolishly tried to interrupt, until Mary rolled over me:

"Our society is basically a cowering bunch of narrow-minded sissies, boiling with adventurous urges but lacking the courage to live them. Meanwhile, here -- all around them -- a universe, vast and boundless, is exploding into life; stars collapsing into themselves, nebulas growing at beyond the speed of light, a single cell evolving from slime, armies raping and pillaging, cultures and history, eternity, consciousness, infinity and God. All this, happening right this very second. But what are ninety-nine percent of us doing with the brief, one-in-a-trillion opportunity we call life? We're squandering it, that's what!"

"Yeah, but --"

"This is why when someone like you gets a wee bit brave and drags a tipi into the woods, or walks across the continent, or just stands out on the street corner handing out photocopies of doughnuts, it makes the rest of society a bit more free. It liberates us by prying, a wee bit wider, that narrow slit of acceptable behavior. This is why it's vital for you to complete your year in the woods!"

"Yeah, but --"

"Now I'm going to tell you why it's vital that you finish your book; i.e., the benefits that it brings to you and to you alone."

"Yeah, but --"

"Thought efficiency. You see, presently your mind is an amorphous sea sloshing to and fro, thoughts and theories swirling in chaotic eddies as if caught in the wake of a passing steamer -- an ocean of notions, notions of the absolute."

"Yeah, but --"

"But the process of writing forces you to toss a lasso around all those notions; to rewrite and rethink them, to discard faulty premises and to weave a tapestry of the sensible ones thereby whipping your brain into an ever more efficient thinking machine. Whether or not the book is ever published is beside the point for, ultimately, not a single erg spend writing is ever wasted!"

"Yeah, but --"

"On the other hand, should you abort the book and your endeavor -- tsk-tsk!" Mary paused to wag her finger at me.

"Then what, Mary?"

"Mush!"

"Mush?"

"Yes, gray matter mush: that's what will become of your mind. And all because you will forever look upon your decision to call it quits as a failure and, identifying with that failure, you will have no choice but to look upon yourself as a failure as well. Penultimately you'll blame the dreamer within you for the failure, since it was he who dragged you into the endeavor. Then ultimately, to protect yourself from future failures, you'll force yourself to stop dreaming altogether. Conformity. It will be at this point that your mind will become mush. And although the universe will still be exploding with awe-inspiring things all around you you will no longer possess the tool with which to ponder it. And so, like so many of us, you will have squandered your one-in-a-trillion opportunity."

"Yeah, but --"

"Yeah but what?"

I had to scratch my head . . . "I forget what I was going to say."

"See there -- mush! It's happening already! To then drive to heart her point, she renewed the attack on my sternum, punctuating each stiff-fingered joust with, "Completion is vital! Completion is vital! Completion is vital! . . ."

-- Robert Johnson, Thirteen Moons (Santa Barbara, CA: Capra Press, 2000), pp. 63-66.

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