I watched a special on Eugene O’Neil recently. It was good to see. It was serendipitous. I don’t think I had read one of his plays since I was 20 years old, but revisiting his books was special. You forget sometimes how much influence an author has on your life. And I never got into knowing his personal biography- maybe his works seemed so biographical, I thought I didn’t need to. But what a hard life- it’s one of those lives so difficult in its very inception that you’re surprised he amounted to anything at all. But what really struck me was how many of the details of the plays I’d forgotten- I couldn’t quote a line, recall a character’s name or give anything more than the vaguest of plot descriptions- and how familiar it seemed nonetheless. I read nearly every one of his plays probably in a year. And as the commentators and actors were going over his works, the “truth” of what he was saying then, hit me now: That death is a relief from life; that we live a life of illusion to hide from reality. That if we didn’t have our “pipe dreams” the banality of our existence would be crushing.
But more than that- and I didn’t get this then, I missed it completely- is that he continued to produce, work after work, play after play, even though his inner psyche was screaming “all of this is worthless, all of this means nothing”. I love that, I love the fact that writers live with a duality that, to me, is never contradictory. It’s because they know they believe even when they write that they don’t. I don’t know if its god they believe in; I don’t know if their belief in life is that explicit- I do know they are writing about something greater, bigger than themselves. So they deny god, they deny meaning; they deny permanence, when the works themselves to prove the very things they are in the midst of denying. I suppose when you’re as damaged psychically as Eugene O’Neill, you may miss that point.
He had a good quote in there too- Once a Catholic, Always a Catholic. I believe that- as a lapsed Catholic, it left a permanent mark. The religion’s too strong, too steeped in tradition, too mystical for a writer, especially, to shrug off. I can’t consider myself a “catholic”- there are too many illogical, crazy requirements and rules for someone like me to follow. I always sat in church with a sense of conflict- whether I believed (and I don’t even know if I do or don’t), why am I here? If I’m not truly “rejecting Satan” and “Accepting of one holy and Apostolic Church”, isn’t sitting here hypocritical? And should I enjoy the experience of church at all (which I often do) if I don’t believe? All of these very adolescent meanderings and ruminations run through my mind.
But then I realized that the church is like a worthy adversary, or a forgotten friend. It is unique; it has powerful, if sometimes maddening, opinions that it will never shake. And, if you’re a person like me, who loves a good story, it has intrigue, conflict, overwrought symbolism and paradoxes locked within contradictions. It preaches humility and practices arrogance with seamless ease.