My own sort of conversion

The act of believing is a selfish one, I muttered, as I would like to have muttered to Sarah, no matter that it was far too late to talk to her. I wanted to be a writer and in order to do this I’d had to renounce everything else; I’d made a deal with God – a deal that I had worked so it was entirely beneficial to my interests; it was weighted towards me (I have to face this, I told myself – just keep remembering your self-justifications, and you might have a chance of facing this) – because I’d said to this God: I will believe in You so long as You make me a great, a famous writer, which surely only You have in Your power to confer – and so, of course, it suited me to keep to this deal, to hold up, to hold on to the conversion that everybody, to their greatest joy, as they had told me, witnessed that evening at the house party – the news of my religious conversion rippling outwards in the fellowship as glad and joyous tidings (oh Lord we really give you thanks that you have really shown Jenny who You are and that she has opened up her heart to You in Jesus’ name Amen). This was all that this grand belief was to me, Sarah, I muttered now, as I would like to have said to my one-time friend – this ridiculous situation of my brain, this scrambling of thoughts into the word belief, into this clichéd approximation of a conversion that was, in fact, my own sort of conversion, both the cliché and my selfish misreading becoming one large dreadful occasion – the celebrated conversion of Jenny at the house party – even as the offering of these thoughts to the impossible figment of a resurrected Sarah is just an excuse, I told myself as I walked away from the brewery site, this Park that wasn’t yet a park: this imagining that I might even be able to excuse myself from all those years that I had ignored (and in fact avoided) Sarah, even though I also remember the relief that I’d felt, after the house party – the relief of being shielded from the intensity of tedious Sarah, as I had once put it to a schoolfriend – shielded from Sarah, I was thinking as I continued walking away from the Park and towards the icing-covered building, by the luxury of this grand and noble conversion that gave me a reason for a time, so long as I held on to the terms of the conversion, to keep away from unbelievers for the sake of fellowship with God, my renunciation being little more than what I might have done, I thought as I ran across Regent Street while a single small blue car seemed to burn up the lane towards me, if I had emptied all my worldly possessions onto the Black Jack table at the casino that was yet to be built in Sydney, hoping to win not only the triple of my bet that evening but also the sure demeanour of the glamorous men and women who would be dealing out the cards – their collective glamorous demeanour. Believing in this kind of belief, I could have said to my old friend Sarah – believing in this kind of belief is also an indulgence in vertigo: the belief as a sugary giving-in to the melodrama of a fall, a jump into the idea of jumping into nothing (but only the nothing that someone else has already described). All right, I could well have said to her, I then mumbled as I passed the small shop that sold bus tickets and articulated umbrella guards, I had been lured into the thrall of a grand belief – and it was a mind-spinning headiness, a wide, smug feeling of falling into a fragrant void – a breathlessness, a readiness for something great that I’d always wanted and always hoped could be mine – and this is the ambience that you have evoked for me in that manuscript you wrote and left behind you, Panthers and the Museum of Fire, because there is something in it, something, which must have reminded me on Saturday, if not of the grand belief itself, which was remote then, unbelievable even – and confined to a time that has long ago passed – but of the moments that immediately followed it: that sweet, sweet falling into something large.

— Jen Craig, Panthers & the Museum of Fire

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