Austinite author Lawrence Wright has shaken the bestseller’s list with his new investigative tome, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & the Prison of Belief. Here, Texan author Elise Ballard, author of Epiphany: True Stories of Sudden Insight to Inspire, Encourage and Transform caught up with Wright to learn about his own epiphanies and his insight on becoming the person you want to be.
‘Take your place…the future is now…so take your place, make your mark, be the person you want to be in your family, in your community, in the world.’ – Lawrence Wright
Lawrence Wright is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of numerous books, including the recent Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & the Prison of Belief, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. He is also a journalist (staff writer for The New Yorker Magazine), screenwriter (The Siege and Noriega: God’s Favorite) and playwright (Sonny’s Last Shot). The one-man show he wrote and performs, My Trip to Al-Qaeda, has also been made into a documentary film and he also serves as the keyboard player in the Austin-based blues band, Who Do. A husband, father, and most recently, a grandfather, he lives in Austin, Texas
I will always be deeply grateful to Larry Wright. He adapted his screenplay about love, marriage and the craziness of the Texas Legislature, Sonny’s Last Shot, into a terrific, fun play that was a big success in Austin — and I played the lead female role. This role led directly to the epiphany that sparked this project. He was my very first interview for my book, and continues to be a supportive, smart, inspiring, role model and friend.
Lawrence Wright’s Greatest Epiphany in LIfe
Here is Lawrence Wright’s account of his epiphany in his own words…
In 1990, I was invited to go to the University of Cairo to make a speech. It was the 20th anniversary of our wedding, so my wife and I decided to have a second honeymoon. We had gotten married in Greece, so after the speech, that’s where we went – to the Peloponnese, my favorite region. We were in a little town called Epidaurus, which happens to be an ancient health spa. It also had the finest theatre in the ancient world. This theatre is still perfectly preserved, and it’s just a beautiful, beautiful place. Walking through that classical environment reminded me of all I’d learned about ancient Greece and republican Rome. It struck me afresh what a huge role the citizen played in these cultures, how their common citizens were so empowered. By contrast, so many of us nowadays seem so jaded about the roles we play in society. And what about me? Was I really, fully, living as the person I wanted to be? And then this phrase came to my mind. It wasn’t a voice but a very clear thought: “Take your place.” Those very words. Over and over… “Take your place. It’s time to take your place.”
“Take your place,” means become the person that you want to be. Don’t put it off. Be that person. Be the person you want to be in your family, your community, your job, your career. It’s not something that you evolve into. It’s something you decide: “I am that person.” I had made the mistake of thinking I would grow into that person eventually. I must have had a prolonged adolescence, because I didn’t really want to assume all the responsibility of being a full‑grown adult — a full‑fledged citizen, a responsible parent. Those things demand a lot of commitment. What I realized in Greece was that if I am ever going to become what I wish to be, the time is now. I have to take my place — in my family, in my community, in my career. Now is the time. There is no future. Or rather, the future is now. With those words, “Take your place,” a bell had rung for me, and my life was fundamentally changed. Suddenly I got a lot more focused about everything.
When I got back, I resolved to become a better father and a more central figure in my children’s lives. I got more involved with our family life. In my career, I realized that I couldn’t go on procrastinating: Now was the time. As soon as I got back, I applied for an NEA grant. I never had the kind of nerve to do that before. To my surprise, I got the grant, and then I got hired by The New Yorker. The highest aspiration I’d ever had as a writer was just to write for that magazine, and now suddenly I was working for them. Many of my “ultimate” career goals started becoming achievable.
Become More Active As A Citizen
I also decided I needed to become more active as a citizen, moving my community to reflect the core values that I stand for. Before then, I had never really been extremely civically or philanthropically inclined. None of the causes I’d encountered had deeply engaged me. But something about being in the ancient world, seeing the remnants of that great civilization in Greece, made me think that I needed to contribute something.
I love statues — the way that they organize public space, give dignity and occasion to environments that can otherwise go unnoticed, and call attention to values that a culture wants to enshrine. So one thing I did was start this little non-profit group called Capital Area Statues. Austin is a wonderful town, but it doesn’t have much in the way of public art. So with some friends I started raising money and commissioning artists, and we started putting up statues of local heroes around the city. It’s been a lot of fun, and has intensified my consideration of the contribution and importance that art — including my own art, my writing — can carry for people who, like me, are trying to find meaning in life. Some people discover meaning in politics and some people find it in religion, but many of us find it in art. It’s a commonality that stretches across all ethnic groups, all generations and genders. One piece of art can reach people in every sector of the community, and help them access a way of understanding the world.
I also started approaching life differently. I resolved that I was only going to do things that are really important or really fun. It’s hard to decide what you’re going to do with your life. Every opportunity comes with a cost. When you’re weighing the alternatives that life presents, on what basis are you making your choice? Money is usually the main one. I knew I didn’t have the time to waste obsessing over that. I wanted to use my life as fully as I could, achieving important goals, but I’m not Mother Theresa, and I didn’t want to sacrifice joy and fun. So those are the axes on which I plot my life. Is it important? Is it fun? If it’s really important but not fun, I’ll do it. I have to say that The Looming Tower was probably the most important thing I’ll ever do, but it wasn’t so much fun as deeply fulfilling. To give everything you have to a goal is pleasurable because you feel like you’re being used fully and correctly. But it was a lonely, sometimes dangerous, and a very long, complex project. On the other hand, I also play in a band and that is about as much fun as you can have. It is thrillingly fun. My band and music is not important in any big sense, but boy is it fun, and so it’s right up on the top of my axis of fun.
I’m not mystical. I don’t think you can simply adjust reality by changing your attitude. But you have to set your intentions. Things don’t just fall into your lap. You have to go out and get them. To do that, you must believe you deserve what you want out of life. And you have to truly believe that you’re ready.