GUILT

Since 18, I have replaced action with psychoanalysis or what actors call The Method, which is to say, I have replaced action with guilt. My guild expressed itself in my not having done enough or not having understood enough or undergone enough of the emotional experience sufficiently enough, deeply enough yet. Yet is the operative word.

The idea was that sometime in the future I’ll be a writer, an adult, or a complete healthy person, but not yet. To become ready, first I need to take another elective at the university, or confess my sins at church, or perhaps mix both impulses together by becoming a mentee, or perhaps volunteering for an unpaid internship. The guilt tells me that I’m not yet qualified and I need someone better than myself to give me permission to do what I want to do, or to tell me what I should want to do, as I’m not really sure myself. Guilt tells me an authority awaits me in my loving professor, my mentor, my disciplining pastor, or wealthy business executive.

I confront this guilt everyday when I rise to analyze myself, fresh coffee in hand, rather than take action. I contemplate why I have, as of yet, taken no action and why I am justified in not taking action because I’m not qualified yet. I sit and think about where I should go to prepare myself more to later take action. I dream about those marvelous future actions. Oh, it will be good; I’m ripe with my own potential, so much promise!

Let’s take a theater play as an example of the process: I asked myself about characters and structure, I draft journal entries about it. I sit in Starbucks for hours and I ask myself, “what is this play about?” Writing being half unconscious anyway, how could anyone answer such a question? I cannot; I fail to answer the question. I feel guilt. I’m not qualified. I cannot answer my question about what the play is about, and my guilt tells me I should know the answer and if I don’t know the answer then I’m not good enough yet. I must prepare more.

I drink booze. I then ask myself again later that night, “What is this play really about?” Booze fogs the mind in a wonderful mist; I enter that mist and search out the truth, the deep unconsciousness of whatever reason I have for writing this play. I awake at dawn without an answer, but I have bags under my eyes, so I must be working. I must be “doing important work.” Time progresses; another year passes by, and I morph the work into some newer work, and keep asking the same question, the same question that I cannot as yet answer.

So it is that asking the question has replaced action. I am neither in play rehearsal at a theater, nor at my computer drafting a new play. Instead, I’m on the analyst’s couch in a padded office, delving into myself, trying to assuage my guilt.

Feeling guilty becomes a species of work. It certainly doesn’t feel good. And, by not feeling good, because I’m such a good Protestant, my guilt excuses me from creating an actual play. My guilt validates me as a special, important person who is “doing interesting work.”

But the truth of it is this: my guilt work is really inaction. To really fix myself for all time I would have to change the question to this: “What do I want and what will I do to get it?” Such a question puts me on the street. How I got there is not important; rather, “what will I do about it now?”