It’s always a strange time in the run up to a book being published. Mostly, there’s a sense of excitement. But there’s also a degree of nervousness. Will people ‘get it’? Will people think it’s any good?
I was thinking about this the other day, and was reminded of Yeats’ poem The Cloths of Heaven:
Had I the heaven’s embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light;
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
The temptation as a writer is to whisper this as the first page is opened, to implore readers to tread softly, because so much time, energy and psychological graft has been invested in the craft.
With Getting High this is probably accentuated because – and people really do need to hear this – this is an intensely personal book. This is quite deliberate: I’d been concerned that so much writing in the area I’ve been working in had been quite abstract, and I’d wanted to write something that not only examined things from a historical, philosophical, cultural and sociological perspective, but was woven together in a personal narrative. So as well as the stuff I’ve mined from Apollo, from the LSD counterculture and stretching back through the French Revolution, Renaissance and beyond — essentially ‘how did we get to here’ — I’ve laid it all out: this is how I got to here, too. A boy from Yorkshire. 1977. A traumatic event that sent me flying. (Subtitle idea #307: Radical Theology – THIS TIME IT’S PERSONAL 😉 )
One of the touchstones of the book has been Thomas Merton’s superb and intimate memoir The Seven Storey Mountain, which I absolutely adored. It may be too much, but I hope Getting High might function in reverse, offering people a way not of ascending, but descending from on high, with the rooting in the personal hopefully similarly providing pathways towards new ways of being that aren’t located purely in academics and intellectual gymnastics, but in the grit of a life lived.
Hence the nervousness as publication approaches. Hence the temptation to ask people to tread softly.
But the truth is, writers simply cannot demand that. Once the presses run, a book moves from a private manuscript to a public document. It has as little right to ask a reader to tread softly as a boxer entering the ring. To write is to discover the depths within the self; to publish is to offer that into the public domain, in the hope that it might be more widely helpful. If I have chosen to spread my dreams under your feet, it’s not for me to demand that you wear slippers.
No. Each word, each sentence, each page will have to fend for itself. So… bring it on. Can’t wait for people to get into the ring and wrestle with this one. It’s got – I hope – some moves that are different from the stuff that me and Pete Rollins et al. have put out before, and I’m really looking forward to engaging with people on it. Two weeks to go… get your pre-orders in 😉