by Peter Clothier

The gift of another insight today. Well, it’s not exactly new, but it arrives with good timing and particular focus.

A peculiar set of circumstances led me this morning to a video interview on Living Smart with the Jungian scholar, therapist and writer James Hollis, who — among a great many other useful thoughts — challenged me with this question: What did I internalize from my parents’ lives?

My mind went immediately to my father and this mantra, which he repeated often enough out loud for it to stick in a prominent place in my skull: “What do I know? I’m just a simple country priest.”

My father allowed this mantra to define his life — and to limit it. Beyond being a “simple country priest,” he was also an extraordinarily insightful man when it came to human behavior. From his constant reading as well as from his studies at Cambridge, he had a solid understanding of psychology and its various proponents, especially Jung and Freud and Adler.

My father’s intellectual capacity raised him far above the level of the “simple country priest” he chose to remain. He was gifted and qualified enough to rise in the ecclesiastical hierarchy much further than he ever did.

He also had the intuitive power of the healer and believed fervently in the healing potential of the “laying on of hands.” He himself had the gift, but practiced it with timidity and reservation.

What I internalized from my father was the underestimation of my own gifts, the reticence that holds me back from realizing the full extent of my potential as a man.

In some all-too often unconscious place in the mind, I repeat my version of his mantra: “I’m just a little writer on the fringes of the real action.” I not only repeat it, I believe it, and in this way it gets to be the truth.

The insight comes on the eve of the publication of what I think of, timidly, as my new “little book,” Persist. The insight comes at precisely the moment when I need to learn the lesson that the book itself explores, which is that there is no success of any kind — whether internal or commercial — without persistence.

Persistence requires a fundamental and unswerving belief in the task at hand. We teach, as I have reiterated many times, only what we need ourselves to learn.

For me, this is one of the meanings of manhood.


peterclothier Peter Clothier has published include two novels, two books of poetry, a monograph on the British artist David Hockney, and scores of art and book reviews in national journals. This essay is adapted from his new book, Persist: In Praise of the Creative Spirit in a World Gone Mad With Commerce, due out in January 2010. For info, visit