On Writing P4

"Sheltering the Creative Spirit"

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Taos, New Mexico USA




     Excerpted from the Taos Review                              

By David Jongeward          


       Frank has been an important example for me of a man who knows about "work on one's self."  He manifests a high level of "being here now."  The sense of presence in the moment is a quality that permeates his writing, but it's also there when he tells a story or lights his pipe.

        It has been my great pleasure to watch Frank prepare breakfast.  I've watched him measure out the coffee for the percolator, carefully cut each section of the grapefruit half, prepare the bread for toasting in the oven broiler.  He's never in a hurry, never appears preoccupied with something else.  He seems to be a man who has worked on himself to the extent of being able to gather all his attention for the task at hand.

        I've often reread my notes and returned to them again when the editor of The Taos Review  asked me to interview Frank for the 1988 Premier Issue.  In one of my questions, I asked Frank to comment in general terms about his feelings regarding contemporary American novels.

        "Many current novels are well-written and carefully crafted," he said.  "But the novels are often photographic, pedestrian, horizontal, without a vertical dimension.  They lack the element which reminds us we are greater than what we think we are."

        Manners and morals, love and marriage, family breakdown, social or political satire, these are not favorite themes of Frank Waters.  His work follows long-standing literary traditions of writers who have worked with dream, myth, mysticism, human life rooted in the natural world.  I had often asked Frank what he thought good literature should accomplish.   This happened to be the subject of a paper he read in Winona, Minnesota, entitled "Visions of the Good -- What Literature Affirms and How."  For Frank's response published in the interview, I combined material from my journals with points from the paper.

        At one level we can say that literature tells a story; its purpose is to entertain.  But to give a complete answer we must first ask what we  mean by good.  I consider LITERATURE to be that form of narration whose meaning is timeless and universal, and which endures through  changing periods of mood and style.  I understand GOOD as something that reveals the purpose of our existence, gives us a vision of our potential creativity and helps us raise our level of consciousness.  I agree with Gurdjieff, Teilhard de Chardin, and others who conclude that the destiny of every being within the universe -- every cell, man, earth, planet, galaxy -- is to become more conscious.  Literature is not only a repository of the past, reminding us that we are living today without something we once had, but is also concerned with the continual process of becoming.  This glimpse of something beyond our temporal existence is the "Vision of the Good" I perceive in that body of literature which affirms or suggests that the world and man, matter and spirit, are one, that some strange power helps us direct the course of our lives. (The Taos Review, 1989, pp. 156-157.)

        Frank's writing is ruled by ideas and rooted in the Southwest.  Writing for him is a means of exploring the four corners of his consciousness, while always looking towards higher consciousness.  At the heart of his search is a feet-on-the-ground, dirt-in-the-fingernails awareness of a place and its people.  I have asked Frank if he sees his books as independent works, each with its own guiding principle or motive.  He told me he had never drawn a line between his fiction and non-fiction books.

        "My work represents a continued effort to write about what I've seen and felt and thought while living in the Southwest," he said.  "It's the product of an ongoing unified image of what I've been trying to learn as a whole."

        To use the narrative form as a means of giving expression to a lifelong search for unifying images is an enormous task for a writer to set himself.  But in so doing, Frank Waters invites his readers to join him in an effort of self-evaluation.  As a reader of Waters I am constantly being challenged to deepen my perceptions.  I am reminded often of the possibility of striving to move the whole sense of who I am to higher levels.

        Frank's writing relies to a great extent on his own experiences, but key influences have helped along the way.  These influences are documented by scholars and critics, and credited by Frank himself.  They include Carl Jung, for example, and the Tibetan Buddhism of Evans-Wentz.  The scholars often overlook the influence of the life and writings of Bhagavan Sri Maharsi, and also the work of Gurdjieff, which suffuses Waters' fiction and non-fiction alike.  The greatest influence, however, must be the earth itself, especially sacred mountains.

        Frank describes mountains as repositories of psychic energy from which humanity can draw.  When I asked him why some mountains are not considered sacred, or do not always remain sacred, he told me it was a matter of relationship between people and mountains, a question of the presence or absence of a developed sense of responsibility and care for the earth's vital centers.

        "As well as taking energy from the mountains, people must give energy back," Frank said.  "We must give our respect and reverence, otherwise the mountain tends to lose its power."

        Frank witnessed the process of a mountain losing its sanctity.  For centuries Pikes Peak in Colorado was revered by tribal people who visited it from all directions and bathed in the mountain's healing hot springs.  But now the mountain has been so thoroughly abused by mining interests and the American military, that Frank considers the peak to be little more than a heap of dead rock. In remarkable contrast, Taos Mountain retains its power.

        "We are so fortunate to have Taos Mountain under the care of Taos Pueblo," Frank said.  "Anyone who spends any time around Taos can't help but feel the mountain's beneficial effects.  And virtually every peak in northern New Mexico receives the same attention and reverence.  That's one good reason why this part of the world produces such high vibrations."
         Frank mentioned that someone had recently asked if there was something specifically in his books which did not satisfy him.  He had responded by saying that The Colorado was a good book, and he believed it would be read for a long time, especially by people who want to know about the Colorado when it really was a river.  But he wishes he hadn't written such a glowing chapter about Boulder Dam.

        "My sister and I used to go to Las Vegas every summer and we watched different phases of construction," Frank said.  "We thought that dam was really something.  But now the Colorado is nothing but a series of dams with its water diverted in all directions.  It's not a real river anymore and I'd like to rip that chapter out of my book."

        "Nevertheless, if you look at your work as a whole, you've communicated a working philosophy," I said.  "Not just a native American view of life, or a Gurdjieffian, or a Jungian, but a combining of all your thoughts and visions and experiences into a philosophy of your own making.  You've addressed big questions about the meaning of human life, about humanity's relationship to the earth and cosmos.  You must have a great deal of satisfaction about all that work."

        "I don't know," he said.  "It's hard to define a spiritual philosophy and I'm not sure I've really been able to do it."

        "I'll put it another way," I persisted.  "One of your greatest achievements is that you communicate a sense of the sacredness of life.  This is extremely rare, as you well know, yet you've done it."

        "I'm grateful to you for saying that," Frank said.  "One other person has made a point of telling me that -- Father Peter Powell, who did all that wonderful work with the Cheyenne Indians and Cheyenne religion.  He's also told me the same thing and I'm very grateful for it."

        Of course it's not just me or Father Peter Powell; it's everyone who has read Frank Waters and found in his writing those unique qualities which make his work so powerful.  He's a rare individual, a man who lives his life and writes his books communicating high levels of seismological sensitivity to the earth and its psychic effect upon people.  Like the sacred mountains from which he draws his mysterious energies, Frank Waters spreads beneficial vibrations in every direction.

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