January 21st, 2015

A good friend of mine started a literary magazine called The And. It is not necessarily a literary magazine for my college, New Saint Andrews, but it is made exclusively by students who go there. I am excited for it a lot. I have wanted to start something like this for awhile (previously working on a project called Fermentations, but the mind that initially fomented it said The And is the new Fermentations).

We want to do a monthly issue but not restrict each one to a theme. When you do that, it…restricts. But the theme of this first issue (January 31st) is coming together to be something like cynicism. It is one big response to cynicism. It is going to be short–six to ten pages–but you can pack a big punch in that. It will be strictly physical copies. There will be no accompanying blog or nothing! This is the most exciting thing about it to me. A blog is an accessible output, but for all of the convenience the internet seems to provide, it does not provide a high level of accessibility to the sustained thought of others. The best we get–the best I get–is bookmarking something someone wrote and putting it in a bookmark folder I have just up there for months. And I never read it. But it would be so easy to read it. It is right there. But sustained thoughts and computer screens can be bad combinations; this is coming from the guy who doesn’t have a blog, but a depository.

A physical copy is a difficult output for writers, but it’s an easy input for readers. If we have a physical copy of The And sitting on a table next to a waiting chair, that thing is going to get read. And so we aren’t concerned about The And being read, but we do want to ensure high quality “content” (a bulky and formulable word).

A lot of projects like this, made by people who believe in making, end up existing for the sake of existing. People who feel the weight of “needing to make” need to make something. But these people do not often feel the equal weight of certain ideas that their consciences beckon them to communicate. So you get writing groups that exist and no one ever brings writing (but they do bring the idea of productivity along and, therefore, a feeling of performance and alleged identity). They go, because they know they should make (who ever put this into their heads, by the way? Since when did anyone ever have to make something if they did not first start with something they wanted to make?).

I have had a week-long hiatus of not writing. I hate it when that happens. I think hiati are supposed to be planned, but they never are for me. I will get intense for two weeks, then be drained for two weeks, then go again. I would love consistency. Besides, consistency is more monastic. And that is what this is all about, being monastic.

Monasticism doesn’t occupy a lot of my thinking “these days” (when I think of this phrase and how the people that usually utter it are seventeen or eighteen, I laugh and remember Jackson Browne). It keeps happening to me, though. What I hate so much about flirting with monasticism or appreciating it as an idea is that both are exactly what monasticism is not. Monasticism is consistency, it is a life of prayer and silence, it is a life of work and singleness, it is a life of communal living. And to be “like” a monk, to be monkish, to be vaguely ascetic, is nothing I ever want to be. I want to either be full monk, devote myself to a monastery, or live my life free of self-inflicted guilt. There is no between with monasticism.

But like before, you want to know about my life. You want to picture who I am, where I am, what I do, not these days I always come back to. Why do I think that because this blog is a space of words, that it is also just a space for ideas? Why isn’t it also a mirror of my very physical life? Yes, yes, these are not mutually exclusive, but they are different emphases. It is so much harder to come to my writing as a mirror than as a different space. I like to imagine, when I don’t have to actually perform, that my writing is the leaves of a tree and the tree is not just me, not just my life, but everything that is my experience–that is our experience.

But ideas really aren’t so bad. I love ideas. I love them. They are the blood of pleasure. Pleasure for me cannot exist without idea, without projections, without visions and images of gorges of beauty of the world of what I see. We fall with the cavalcade and float in that frothy white under the forceful arm of a collapsing river. We sort of fall into our imaginations, we fall into them like the leaves grow on a tree. These metaphors are opposed, but the branches and roots of a tree are not.

5 comments

  • You say: “And to be “like” a monk, to be monkish, to be vaguely ascetic, is nothing I ever want to be. I want to either be full monk, devote myself to a monastery, or live my life free of self-inflicted guilt. There is no between with monasticism.”
    This seems to reject the good and anciently established practice of third-order monasticism–lay men and women who feel a genuine calling to participation in the monastic charism, yet cannot (either by desire or circumstances in life) be what you call a “full monk”. While I would certainly agree that being “monkish and vaguely ascetic” is certainly a fault of the so-called “new monasticism” etc., I would also (unless I’m misunderstanding you) object to the idea that monastic principles of life and conduct must not extend outside the monastery.

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    • Ah! No one else would call me out on anything like this, but you. Thank you, though, I appreciate it.
      You probably know more about third-order monasticism than I do (and oblates). So I want to be careful with what I say about it. On principle, I would reject it only because it doesn’t seem to make sense with my conception of monasticism (does it need to grow?): this is a calling for some, for few, and specifically for their all-consuming devotion to prayer, singleness, silence, and a certain labor. Basically, monasticism seems to be all about passing over distractions (even if they are good and, in fact, the best choice for some people), so that single people can devote themselves singly to single things. I don’t see how a partial dedication to an all-consuming calling could be possible.
      What I could see possible is monks and laymen being friends (of course) and influencing each other’s views on prayer and lifestyle, etc.
      Am I being coherent?

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      • I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to reply.

        Yes, you are certainly being coherent. I suppose I was drawing a distinction between “monasticism” (as a conception of life, as a spirit, as general principles) and “the monastic vocation” (the calling itself). Given the way you speak of monasticism, I would agree with your conclusions.

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  • “…float in that frothy white under the forceful arm of a collapsing river.” Beautifully turned phrase.

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