Postscript (to “The Quest” by Randy Elrod)

(inspired by Umberto Eco)

The Titles and the Meaning

The title is meant to focus the reader’s attention on the idea of questions and adventure. The idea of calling the book The Quest came from my lifelong love of the Arthurian legend. What more noble calling can one have than to accept the challenge to embark upon the quest for a second life? It is a path few have taken in the broad scope of our world’s history. Why? Because only in the past one hundred years have humans lived long enough to dare entertain the prospect of a second half of life that could last forty or fifty years.

I like the title because the quest is a symbolic figure rich in meanings. Consider The Holy Grail, the Lord of the Rings, The Princess Bride, and Finding Nemo. A quest is a journey one takes to achieve a goal or complete an important task. The term comes from the Latin Questa, meaning “search” or “inquiry.” 

Quests are heroic; the would-be hero sets out on a journey to find a symbolic object or person and bring them back home. Quests have an extensive presence in medieval romance, folklore, and Greek and Roman mythology and have played an important role in fiction since the earliest examples of English literature. In this case, as we soon discover, the Holy Grail of The Quest is wholeness.

The subtitle rightly disorients the modern reader. To discover a way to enjoy life implies there are many ways. So with a thousand pardons to the Holy Bible, there is not just one way. I believe the ways to an enjoyable life are infinite. As varied as our human race. 

One soon realizes these myriad possibilities do not translate into a best-seller. Furthermore, unlike the Jordan Peterson’s and Stephen Covey’s of the world with their twelve rules and seven steps, I believe life is far more messy and complex than a finite number of ways to anything. However, many people prefer simplistic answers to complex issues. Think Twitter and Trump.

It soon dawned on me after five years of research and discovery that turned into five more and eventually into fifteen years that The Quest would not reach those readers. A serious author would be naive to think that simple (or small) humans read complex books, or for that matter, anything of substance. Thus, I crafted a subtitle that would disorient rather than regiment. Discover A way, not THE way. The prospective reader faces an ambiguous challenge, a QUESTion rather than an answer. 

Telling the Process

I was compelled not to give answers. Instead, the job was to ask universal questions that would aid the reader in discovering their unique answers and waypoints on The Quest journey. It is a tale of questions, or perhaps more specific, a meandering trail of questions. 

This stubborn refusal to succumb to the sequential seduction of a typical modern self-help book will hopefully generate as many ways to process as there are readers. That is why there are no numbered and ordered chapters, only random waypoints. Moreover, there is no single conclusion. The Holy Grail, in this case, wholeness, is like a fingerprint or a snowflake; it holds something different for everyone. 

Telling how one wrote something does not mean proving it is well told. However, I know that this book’s modest effects are because I meticulously pondered and crafted the processes. 

Naturally, the Mid-Life

I wrote this book because I was forced to do it. As far as I know, there is nothing like it. Furthermore, as an encourager, a shaman, I could not bear to know that others would be forced to endure the upheavals and transitions of second life that I faced, without a template, a map to help guide them—it was to help seekers realize countless others have gone before them. To help them discover universal answers to the unique and frenetic questions raised by the first life’s fragmented and broken symbols. 

I began writing The Quest in the sweltering tumult of the putrid summer of 2006. At the age of forty-eight, I painfully plunged into my search for identity, my mid-life crisis. I begged for advice from my elders, to no avail. Countless ones admitted (some embarrassed) that they had no idea how to help. They had either ignored or suppressed how they survived the transition to second life. Most were shocked to have outlived their mortality date by decades.

However, my search for identity and longing to finish life differently must have originated earlier. During my research, I found a journal entry dated late 1999 (at the cusp of a new millennium) that was permeated with restlessness. That year I reread Scott’s Ivanhoe with renewed curiosity. I felt a new affinity with Wilfred and his shaky relationship with his father. While reading this ancient text, I sensed the first longings of my soul for something more—a Holy Grail larger than the perfection and ascetics of religion. 

After all, I was a sensualist in hibernation. I published a book on sex, lies, and religion. My daily fantasy was the freedom to be sensual (to be who I really was). However, the institutions of my first life controlled, condemned, and censored my wholeness—my being. In a journal entry on August 10, 2006, I cried out: 

“Confused. My word. My world. My doubts. My fears. Confused…about life…about God…about me…about EVERYTHING. Why? Why? Why? What is going on inside me? Surreal. A Dream. A Nightmare. A new thing? A scary thing? A dangerous thing? Fly Away? to Montana…Colorado…anywhere…but here…Where is here? Me…Franklin…In my body, my mind, my heart? Which is right? Which is true? What is right? What is true? Why? A perfect storm? At this time…this juncture? This crossroads? Why? My new life? My dreams? 

Everyone looking at me…depending on me…Am I a hero? Are my shoulders broad enough? What am I feeling? Tired, Tired, Tired of people looking at me. Tired of people depending on me…Tired of being in control…Is this a good thing? I don’t know…because I’m confused… I’m scared… I’m dazed… I’m depressed… I’m not ready for tomorrow yet.”

At age forty-eight, the crisis of mid-life, my desperate search for identity, had shattered everything my ego and institutions had so guardedly and rigidly constructed in my first life. It took a seismic and painful fifteen years to break free of the myriad institutional chains. 

The Quest as Cosmological Event

What I mean is that to draw unique maps in good faith, you must first construct a universal world, illustrated as much as possible, with specific and recurring waypoints. If I were to construct an inner world, a universal self, I would need mnemonic devices—symbols. So I describe the self with four (a quaternity) unique and symbolic aspects—ego, persona, shadow, and gender. Then I could start writing, translating into words, how these aspects will probably function at mid-life and beyond—depending, of course, upon what happened to self during the first stages of life. 

What does a Questor do? He questions. These inquiries unleash a whole sequence of actions, more or less obligatory if one is a hero/heroine-in-waiting. Mr. Campbell and Ms. Murdock outline this universal sequence in their respective Journeys. And then what happens? Either the call to adventure is heeded, or it is not. 

If the call is answered, the Questor embarks upon the journey and discovers their unique way to the Holy Grail. Furthermore, in the process, they become a much larger person. It enriches their cosmology as the ego dies, permitting the relocation of the unconscious’s contents to the conscious. Thus, they transcend the limitations and fragmentations of the first life and integrate and cultivate wholeness for the second. 

The problem is to construct the world. Moreover, once I knew it was the inner world (not the external), the universal waypoints began to jump out at me. Rem tene, verba sequentur: grasp the subject, and the words will follow. 

The first five years of work were devoted to gathering books and finding universal waypoints. It was a series of progressions from Campbell to Murdock, Hollis to Jung, Nathanson to Tomkins, Harris to Pollan, Baumeister to Masterson to Wolf, Plath to Kaufman, Schachter-Shalomi to Zweig to Aronson, Bly to Chinen, Friday to Stoller to Monick, Ruiz to Walsh, Eliade to Scheff, Heidegger to Sartre, to name only a few. I had to discover as many universal waypoints as possible to narrow it down to an accessible ten. The reader did not need to know them all, but I had to know them. 

Constructing the Reader

The titles, the meaning, the telling, mid-life, and cosmology were for whom? For me? Yes. And for the reader. An empathic camaraderie. Eco says, while you are writing, you are thinking of a reader, as the painter, while he paints, is thinking of the viewer who will look at the picture. 

Eco continues that when a book is finished, a dialogue is established between the text and its readers. While a work is in progress, the dialogue is double: there is the dialogue between the text and all other previously written texts (mentioned earlier). Books like The Quest are made from the hard knocks of experience and from other books and around other books. And there is a dialogue between the author and his model reader. Writing means constructing through the text one’s model reader. 

What does it mean to imagine a reader able to overcome the obstacle of a daunting and meandering seventy-five thousand words in these days of 140 characters? It requires these four hundred pages to construct a courageous and curious reader for what comes afterward in second life. 

Perhaps I am destined to be an author who writes for only a handful of readers. The model seeker, I imagine, has a slight chance of being created in the flesh in large numbers. However, I write in the hope that the book itself will make, and in great quantity, many new adventurers encouraged and enlightened by the text. 

Unlike many books of our time, this is not a formulaic text. On the contrary, it is something new and thus demands a different kind of reader. I do not want to be the next self-help guru but rather a philosopher, a shaman, who senses the courageous cries of those who want to become who they truly are—to become whole. I want the many questions to reveal to the Questor the path they should travel, even if they do not yet know it. Finally, I want to reveal the reader to themself. 

If I had been thinking about the consumer’s wishes or seeking financial remuneration, I would have had the formula of the day handy—the self-help book—simple, concise, and sequential. Something like this:

“What if I told you there is a simple way to get rid of shame, fear, boredom, guilt, nightmares, decrease depression, reverse the aging process, extend life and make it more enjoyable? Would you be interested? And get this: The cost is absolutely free! Too good to be true? Not in the slightest! Welcome to the magical world of The Quest. This highly-researched and well-documented theory is blowing AWAY people everywhere with its power and ability to perform so many incredible functions and fixes while helping you stay young at heart. Life really does begin at forty!”

However, I am not writing to please the typical American consumer but to create a committed group who could not help embarking upon The Quest. So to my “twenty-five” readers, here’s looking at you. And what exactly do you look like? To be sure, a curious, perhaps desperate ally— one who longs to accept the call to adventure. I wanted to entice a reader who, once the ordeal (the inmost cave, descent into the ashes) was passed, would become an ally—or rather, the ally of the text—who would think they wanted everything the text was asking of them. Eco says a text is meant to be an experience of transformation for its reader.

You, the prospective reader, might think you want five or ten easy steps to surviving mid-life, a few tired cliches to post on Instagram and a pat answer for living happily ever after. Still, at the same time, you would be ashamed to admit you were reading Mid-Life for Dummies.

Instead, I will give you Jung, individuation, enantiodromia, meandering waypoints, and questions instead of answers. And then, if you, the reader, are genuinely insightful and curious and wise, somewhere around the Transitions waypoint, you will realize how I lured you into the meander of The Quest because I was foreshadowing complexity at every turn. I was warning you that this is not for the faint of heart. But the fine thing about quests is that when you accept the call and embark upon them, you are intuitively aware of the challenges. 

And since I wanted you to feel as pleasurable, the one thing that frightens us, metaphysical transcendence (i.e., death to the old self and first life, a journey into the inner world), I had only to choose (from among the many journeys) the most metaphysical and philosophical: the mythical quest.

The Quest Metaphysic

It is no accident that the book begins by asking you to identify your unique symbols and essentials by understanding the universals. Moreover, it continues questioning the curious reader until the end, so the ingenuous reader may not even realize that this is a quest in which very little is prescribed. And the conclusion is a series of questions. 

However, I believe people enjoy searching for treasure. The journey represents progress. After all, one of the fundamental questions of philosophy (like psychoanalysis) is the same: who am I? Every story of seeking or pursuing tells us something we have always been close to knowing (pseudo-Jungian reference). At this point, it should be clear why my basic premise (or theory) ramifies into so many other myths and stories, all universal in scope, all linked with the pursuit of being. 

An abstract model of The Quest journey is the meander. A meander (unlike the labyrinth) has many different branching paths that can be taken—it is a puzzle to be solved. There are many nuances to this model. For example, there is the new prospect of creating neural pathways in the brain. This process is called neuroplasticity, the ability of neural networks in the brain to change through growth and reorganization. It is when the brain is rewired to function in some way that differs from how it previously functioned. For example, perhaps we can say psychedelics help us meander through our minds and the collective consciousness.

Yet another model for our journey to wholeness or full consciousness is the rhizome. The rhizome is so constructed that every path can be connected with every other one. It has no center, periphery, or exit because it is potentially infinite. The Holy Grail is realized when we understand we are now living and experiencing being and consciousness in a rhizome structure. It happens when the reader understands that it is impossible for there to be only one story. Every story is universal, yet every story is unique. The discovery of the Holy Grail means we not only experience wholeness in ourselves but with our companions, community, and world.

Enjoyment

I wanted the reader to enjoy reading as much as I enjoyed writing the text. This goal is a significant point, which seems to conflict with the modern ideas we believe for a work of non-fiction. I wanted the reader to become a semblable (a counterpart, ally, companion). After the enjoyment of finding themselves in the text, I hope they somehow understand the possibility of something more—and become another person. In amusing themselves, somehow, they have learned. They have grown. The reader should know something about the first life, the second, or better, both. 

Now, the concept of enjoyment is multi-layered throughout The Quest. Ideally, the text (the journey) is enjoyable in its leisurely meanderings through the universal waypoints. It has been enlightening to hear from various readers, some of whom immediately began rereading it upon finishing the book. That makes one think the journey was enjoyable. Others have taken great delight in telling me the various waypoints that captured their attention, like a mirror of eureka insight. 

Ending

The oddity of a meander is that the entire journey is both the beginning, the middle, and the ending. One may begin reading at the last waypoint or one in the middle. It does not matter. If I have written well, every waypoint points and leads to the other. There is no end; there is only becoming. 

If one constructs a meander with the universal waypoints and all the possible combinations, one may discover that the Holy Grail, the ending of The Quest, is the reader. The treasure lies within. 

I received a note expressing a pang of sadness that the ending was so brief and full of questions—it did not contain a definitive answer or resolution. However, then, that person ruminated, “perhaps that was the point.” Ah, indeed. To paraphrase the immortal words of Yoda, “Your path you must decide. On many long journeys have I gone. And waited, too, for others to return from their journeys. Some return; some are broken; some come back so different that only their names remain. Pass on what you have learned, reader. There is… another… like you.” 

2 thoughts on “Postscript (to “The Quest” by Randy Elrod)

  1. I love the word you used to sum the whole- QUESTion!

    Young child, “Why Daddy? Why Mama?”
    Teenager, “Who am I? Where do I fit in?”
    Young adult, “What is my purpose?”
    Adult, ” What is this all about?”
    Older adult, “How did I get here? How do I truly want to live?”

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