The Monk and the Lover
Bill Long 11/14/07
Two Pictures of My Life..in 2007
If you wanted to take the time to get to know me, you would learn that my life in late 2007 can largely be captured under two heads--those of monk and lover. Your first impression might be that they are incompatible at worst or in tension at best and, in a word, I think you are right. The purpose of these two essays is to lay out how both are true for me today in wonderfully alluring and painful ways. I have grown into both, and both are extremely precious to me. In order to understand how both of them are so vital today, I need to give some historical background...
Explanation # 1--Bill, The Extrovert
When I took the Myers-Briggs personality test for the first time about 30 years ago, I scored a strong "E"--denoting "extrovert"--in one of the test's four measures. Indeed, I think such a word rightly characterized me at the time. From my environment and from certain natural inclinations to get to know and understand people, I got the impression in my 20s that those who make "big impact" on life were those who are connected closely to people. Therefore, I tried very hard to develop a wide array of personal and professional connections. I was an avid networker before the word was really even invented.
In fact, I became quite obsessed or, in my word, focused on learning about people. I entered into the political arena in Oregon in 1985 and was elected to the Board of Directors of Portland (OR) Community College. The next year I decided, rather inadvisedly, to run for the Oregon State Legislature. The move was inadvised because I had just moved into the district, was running against a popular Republican incumbent, and the district was very strongly Republican. Yet, the way I went about the campaign was "people-oriented." I would go to meeting after meeting, reception after reception (averaging about two a day), learning names of people and memorizing trivia about them. I would get their business cards, write something interesting about them on the card that emerged in conversation, go home, commit to memory the person and item, file it away in a little file box, and then, upon meeting the person at a subsequent meeting, trot out the special detail I learned about them. I had to meet at least 10, and preferably 20, new people a day in order to feel as if the day was "worth it." I did this while I was a professor at Reed College and, during a sabbatical, while writing editorials for the Oregonian.
I thought that this "personal" method was a way to get people's support in an election. I learned that while some people were terribly impressed, others felt a bit harassed by my easily bringing up some obscure fact of their lives that they had casually let drop in conversation. Most of the people didn't remember me and didn't seem to care that I remembered them.
Well, the life of seeking elective office ended for me in 1990 when I moved to the Midwest. I decided at that time to invest myself deeper in study and writing, and the fact that I was teaching a new field for me (World History) meant that I had to spend a lot of time preparing new class presentations. I had not yet become a "monk," but I was beginning to explore more fully the life away from people. But I really didn't have much time for reflective thought because I was also the father of two young children and was, though I didn't realize it at the time, expending enormous emotional energy in trying unsuccessfully to patch up a marriage that was gradually disintegrating.
In those days (1990-96), I would churn out a book each summer before reluctantly return to the classroom in the Fall. In fact, when I went into the summer I knew exactly how many days I had in order to write the book. I would work backwards from the day I needed to "be present" at school, subtract three weeks from that for family vacations--visiting family on the West Coast--and then calculate the number of days from "today." For example, one year I finished teaching and grading exams on May 15, my birthday. I didn't have to return to the opening faculty meeting until August 24. My vacation began on August 3. I needed two days to "get ready" for vacation. Thus, I had from May 15 through July 31 to write. I would finish researching and write one book, of 200-250 pages, in that time. No question. I would just write it. I think the books turned out to be adequate--even though they are a bit "lightweight" to my 2007 mind.
But I really felt as if my life was seriously constrained. Multi-sourced demands made me feel that I was doing everything poorly or only adequately, and life showed no signs of "letting up." My "lowest" year was probably 1995, the year I decided to go to law school (I entered law school in 1996). The last years of the millennium are sort of a blur for me as I dutifully did excellently in law school (I was # 1 in the class of 1999--my class, but because I hung around for another term, and because I wrote a book during my last term, I "slipped" to #3 in the class of 2000) and got the primo job in BLF ("big law firm"). My marriage came to a crashing end in 2000-2001 and ended officially three weeks after 9/11. While America and NYC were cleaning up from our national tragedy I was trying to do the same in my own life.
Explanation # 2-- Discovering My "Inner Monk"
The dust didn't really settle until a few years after my divorce. Finally, in 2003-2004, it finally dawned on me that I needed to dig much deeper in learning. Though I had eight books to my credit (three of the nine were unpublished), with the ninth and tenth coming out in 2004, I felt as if most of the writing I had done was scattershot and rather paltry. I wanted to master several, rather than just one, field (Biblical studies); I wanted to write on classic texts in many fields; I wanted to get to the intellectual foundations, increasingly, of all fields and begin to expose these foundations for all to see.
Then it began to dawn on me in 2004 that if I really wanted to do what my heart was telling me to do, I had to get out of all situations that took away from this focus, and begin to delve deeply into things. I would have no teacher except for the material before me (though I would contact "experts" on things on occasion in order to get my thinking straight on what I was studying), and I would try to extract as much meaning from it as it would allow. As I began to explore things in depth, a subterranean world of enormous beauty began to open to me. It was as if under the surface of the earth there was a huge and wonderful society of life that was saying to me, "Bill, where have you been all these years? This is where you belong..." [Several friends noted to me that my email address in those years, email@example.com, signified that I would finally "b(e)long" at Willamette, where I taught law from 2003-2006, but that wasn't the case. I haven't found a "fit" between me and any organization on this earth].
I continued to teach law school while my inner or deep world was opening to me. But I looked forward to Dec. 31, 2006 (when I finished my law school teaching) with as much anticipation and pre-emptive gratitude as Nelson Mandela must have looked at his release from Robben Island prison. The year 2007, then, has been the first year of my monkish freedom. When not traveling I work at least 12 hours a day, thinking, researching, writing, memorizing. I have never been in a more pleasant world.
But I am the monk and the lover. How does the latter fit in? Well, not very well, as the next essay will show.