Every Character Has an Idol

Every character has an idol–morphine, romance, money. My books are about idolatry. My life is about it too.  Idols are interesting and different and not usually little sculptures made of wood. They’re insidious and lurk in the shadows of our consciousness.

Dear Mr. Frith was cheating on his wife when he painted this.
Dear Mr. Frith was cheating on his wife when he painted this.

Here’s the list of idols I’ve worshiped over the years: Perfection, thinness, my children’s success, my husband’s perfection, teaching success, 100% non-toxic food and at the moment a “successful” writing career.

Maybe you worship youth and beauty?
Maybe you worship youth and beauty?

How do I know these are idols and not just good old fun passions? It’s easy because at some point they fail. They don’t do that thing I expect of them. They actually have no power to bring lasting satisfaction or joy. Have you ever noticed how short the time is between a good review and worrying about the next good review? Have you noticed that after a long day of shelling organic almonds to make the perfect almond milk for the tofu dinner your family will hate robs you of the joy of even having a family? Has it bothered you to find out that after all those years eating soy that it’s the most pesticide ridden crop in the US?

Are you a slave to your art?
Are you a slave to your art?

Here’s some of my characters’ idols: morphine, family, approval, money and beauty. Nothing wrong with that list of things. I love money, but it’s one of the few idols I don’t have. I’ve learned to live with it and without it. But take away my writing! Watch me turn ugly. Writing is great. The excitement, the passion and even the fear in it brings me real happiness–until I let it become my idol.

Instead of having fun writing about people stumbling towards something higher I fret over not getting enough time with my idol. I feel extremely pissed when someone I haven’t seen in ages wants to have a chat. I stay up all night designing covers for a book, but have no time for anyone else. I snap at people, I annoy them with my despair, I impatiently wait for them to get done talking so I can relate their words to my writing. I turn inward (it’s very dark in there, by the way).

Do your passions eat you alive?
Do your passions eat you alive?

As David Foster Wallace once said (and boy, did people get pissed) everyone worships something. What do you worship? Does it give you what you need? Just curious.

“Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship — be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.” David Foster Wallace

23 thoughts on “Every Character Has an Idol

  1. Loving this post. “Everybody worships” indeed. Something I often think about in my moments of quiet. And then I have to check myself, that I am where I need to be as far as the most important thing I will ever do for my soul.

    Like

  2. Very thought provoking. I tried to convince myself I had no idols, until I tried to do without social media…my computer had issues about three months ago and I would not let my husband rest until he got it fixed. Even now, when I am supposed to be on a social media hiatus and writing…I am checking on my wordpress colleagues and reading this post…perhaps allowing my idol define me….perhaps just being social. I don’t know, but it is a part of me.

    Like

  3. Great DFW quote. Infinite Jest is the next novel on my To Read list. I think of it as required reading, as my publisher insisted on adding a DFW comparison to my novel’s book jacket synopsis.

    Like

    • I love how this quote was considered controversial.

      It’s always nice to have your work compared to someone well respected 🙂

      I’ll admit that I haven’t read his stuff, but I always enjoy watching him in interviews. Too bad he’s dead.

      All the best with your book!
      Adrienne

      Like

      • Good question.
        Been alive too long to have idols as such but there are people that I admire. People who do wonderful things despite being flawed. I believe that it is possible to ‘cherry pick’ a persons achievements [that sounds strange when I write it down].
        I’m having a rough time at the moment so don’t take this too seriously but……… people let you down, it’s in their nature, so we have to take the good with the bad. [Watching two seasons of ‘House of Cards’ mixed with one of my longer runs of depression does not make for ‘positive comments’……. I am smiling as I type this].
        Who is your fourth favourite ‘idol’?
        Terry

        Like

      • As I’ve gotten older I make a really strong effort to NOT watch stuff that makes me miserable–no matter how critically acclaimed. 🙂 I know how easily I can let outside things bring me to despair and I wonder if sometimes that’s the point of shows– to make us feel less hopeful.

        I like what you said about the wonderful things flawed people can do. One of my favorite books is Twelve Ordinary Men about the apostles and how they were used to do great things despite their human frailty.

        If we really considered that every encounter can be used to in some small way bring a little happiness or hope, we might live our lives differently, but I know from personal experience that depression makes that hard sometimes.

        I can say that every time I see your dog pictures you brighten my day. When you spent the time explaining the stock market to me I felt real gratitude. It touched me that someone who didn’t even know me would do that. Even in your depression you bring joy to people you don’t even know.

        I’ll say a prayer that your depression lightens, Terry.

        With much gratitude~
        Adrienne

        Like

      • Thank you….. that was lovely. Prayers are always appreciated. I don’t always let on when things get bad but this one has gone on way too long so I guess it slipped out. I do not fear dying but I do fear not being me. I’ve been having so much fun over the past year with my writing that I do not want anything to get in its way. One wonderful lady reminded me that I have always come out of previous episodes and I’ll come out of this one just like then. I tell my friends that but I forgot it for myself. My dogs are amazing creatures and I know how Diogenes felt when he was called a dog…….. I too would be proud to be compared with such a wonderful creature.
        You words warmed me considerably. Thank you.
        Be well and don’t forget to be awesome.
        Terry

        Like

  4. Very nicely said. My life is filled with looking for ego satisfaction and it is never enough. One brief high and then a deep down period awaiting the next high. I have everything I need to be happy and satisfied and yet I continue this sad cycle. I even took up yoga to try to become selfless in my interactions with others but all I got out of it was increased flexibility. It is a rare individual who doesn’t ride the roller coaster and is satisfied with what he/she has and whose happiness is not derived from others but rather from within. Ok I have gotten carried away with seriousness. Who wrote that “great song” “Looking for love in all the wrong places”?

    Like

    • NOOOOO! Now I’ll have that song in my head all night! Thanks!

      I did yoga for a while (before I had farm work). It was kind of fun. (I used a dvd in my living room). Namaste 🙂

      What changed things for me was a sudden unexpected interest in the Bible and a realization that I had no boundaries. My moods and feelings were totally dependent on the moods and feelings of the people around me. I thought that was normal. It was really just draining.

      Once I learned a few simple ways to be grateful and at peace even when others were losing it, my life settled down a lot.

      Okay enough seriousness–how’s the little doggie doing?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well I have had better days, years, decades but I think you are talking about Lucky. That doggie is acting a bit funny. Howling at times for no apparent reason. I think he is feeling unappreciated and not getting enough attention. I told him to get in line and then I rubbed his belly.

        Like

  5. Very true! I’m trying to figure out what the central character in my current WIP worships. I didn’t realize it until I read this post but that’s what the central question in my tinkering in her head is all about. What is it she worships?

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s