maarmie's musings

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Dear maarmie #3

Dear maarmie,

Do you think people want to read about your crappy childhood? You're bringing people down. Focus on the positive.

Happy as a Lark
Elgin, Scotland, UK

Dear HAL (Coincidence? I think not!),

I'm not sure if people want to read about my crappy childhood or not. If they do, that's fine. If not, that's fine, too.

The post in question was inspired by actual events and my own troubled head, to be sure, but it was also inspired by something more positive - the notion of integrity, as written about by Erica Jong in her new book Seducing the Demon: Writing for My Life.

Right now (as of 8:54 a.m. EST Wednesday), I am on page 195 of said book after having yesterday read the part where the famous poet/novelist talks about integrity as it relates to writing and, among other things, Arthur Miller. She has this to say about the late playwright and a memorial service for him she attended at the Majestic Theater in New York:

I remembered that Inge (Morath) had once told me that when Arthur first asked her out, she was reluctant to go because he seemed to be in so much trouble. She believed in the maxim Never fuck anyone with more troubles than yourself. He was living at the Chelsea Hotel, post Marilyn Monroe, and was so depressed that Inge worried. She dated him against her better judgment and fell in love with "the integrity of his mind." It was easy to fall in love with. He was what he seemed. His writing and his self were not divided. Arthur's integrity was everywhere represented in his memorial service - and his friendships. Fame had not turned him into an asshole.

Some great writers are bastards. Some are towers of narcissism. Arthur had a gift for friendship that was born out of his fierce modesty. He was a carpenter as well as a playwright, and the two informed the other. Rebecca Miller read a poem of her father's that was both about playwriting and about carpentry. Arthur speaks of the wood he is fashioning into a useful object: "I endure even as I disappear" is the last line.

Tony Kushner pointed out that Arthur believed "when you speak, God is listening." Edward Albee remembered that Arthur thought writing was only worth pursuing if it had "relevance to human survival."

Memorial services are important to the living rather than the dead because they make us ask ourselves, Have we done everything we're supposed to do? Time is running out. We're next.

"I am sick and tired of old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in," George McGovern remembered Arthur saying. He said it while Vietnam raged, but it's even more relevant now. "Attention must be paid," as Arthur wrote in Death of a Salesman. For writers as well as other people, "integrity of mind" is the most important attribute.

We live in a time when the most exalted lie most blatantly and nobody seems to care. Integrity has become an old-fashioned word. Integrity of mind is not even sought by most writers. As William Sloane Coffin said of Arthur Miller, "his absence is everywhere present."

Poet Honor Moore quoted Arthur as saying, "When life disappointed me, I always had my writing."

I am no Arthur Miller, to be sure. But all of Jong's talk of integrity in people and in writing struck a chord and caused me to write my what-I-love-about-myself-and-how-it-relates-to-my-life-including-last-Friday-night post.

It would be great to see a public discourse on integrity here. What does "integrity" mean to you? What is it good for? What's it worth? And what kind of influence, if any, does it have on what you write and how you write it? What you read?

Any and all comments/criticisms are welcome.

Update (8:28 a.m. EST Thursday): I am sorry to see that no one wants to talk about integrity as it relates to the written word. Aren't we all here because we like to write? Doesn't anyone want to explore what, if anything, guides his/her writing?


Anonymous said...

I think of integrity as intellectual and emotional coherence. To have integrity one must live an outer life that coheres with ones inner life.

By this definition, at least, a horrible person could have integrity because he/she would be exactly as he/she seemed, inside and out. And most folks think of integrity as being about positive things. I do think that living wholly is an honorable thing - if you're thoughtless and selfish person, everyone (including you) owns that you're thoughtless and selfish and treats you appopriately. And if you're honest and clear and sensitive and trying to do (and feel) things that are positive for yourself and your world and you work to make your emotions and your intellect cohere - then that's a kind of positive integrity that others will recognize and respond to, hopefully, in kind.

maarmie said...

Thanks for the comment, anonymous.

According to the Merriam-Webster site, integrity does have the positive/negative meaning you describe. However, that meaning is listed third, with this as the primary meaning of the word:

1 : firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values : INCORRUPTIBILITY

I'm not sure which version I prefer or that I even need to pick one. I like the idea of integrity meaning honesty. My idealistic side wants the only right definition to be the positive one.

If people live according to their beliefs - even if those beliefs hurt themselves and/or others - can the person be described as having integrity? Interesting.

C'mon people! Let's have some discussion! (insert war cry here)What, are you at work or something? Don't let your workplace integrity stop you from taking time to post. HA!

gp said...

I think integrity is overrated and can easily lead to a life of carrying a load of limburger cheese in your pocket.

Life is short, and summer is upon us.

Chris said...

Do what you say and say what you do. And be quick about it, the bar is closing.

maarmie said...

So if I say "I love to kill faggots" and then I drag a gay guy behind my car til his head pops off, that's just me exhibiting my integrity? Clarification, please...

Chris said...

No, that's demonstrating "homocidal" rage or perhaps normal behaviour at a Henry Rollins concert.

Integrity implies living by a code, sticking to it. The code is, at its core, virtuous and morally complete.

maarmie said...

Ah, gotcha!

Speaking of Henry Rollins, he did a spoken word thing at Florida State when I was a student there. The rants were mostly politically oriented, and, boy, did he rant! He's a pretty scary dude when he's pissed.

Chris said...

You got me. My brevity often gets the better of me.

Henry is pretty scary when he's happy too. Probably because his mom named him Henry.

maarmie said...

You think his buddies call him Hank?

kerewin said...

Our everyday lives are so filled with the "public" us. It is when people reveal themselves in their blogs and I realize I am not so alone in my history and messed-up-edness. It truly gives me heart to see people who have obstacles to overcome (like I do) and move on about their days.

It means I can move about my day, also. We might have these issues just under the surface, but they are there and a part of our lives, however that doesn't mean we can't have something to add.

maarmie said...

In the immortal words of a Jewish woman from Poland who had been imprisoned in a concentration camp during WWII: "We are doing the best we can."