Regulation, presence, and Thomas Merton

A few weeks ago, I discovered Thomas Merton. I picked up Contemplation in a World of Action from the library; I actually bought No Man is an Island a few days ago, because it was ridiculously cheap. It's like legible outsider art, reading him discussing problems that I will never have the leisure to have.

A few weeks ago, I also decided to commit to regular writing, which (reading back) I realized that I'd never actually defined. This is not the post for that definition (defined here), but it's as good a time as any to say why I wanted to write on schedule: most of the "regular writing" that I wanted to do was disciplinary.

I've never tried to write about specific things at specific times. I've done so - when I sit down I can, for instance, write sonnets without much prior thought - but I've never tried to do so. And that's a problem. Because part of the reason I read my favorite blogs is because they are regular writers: able to write something new consistently. (Charles Dickens was able to write serially. Achieving that kind of consistency is a long-term goal of mine.)

Looking back on it, though, I had a problem: I was writing at cross purposes.
Some of my regular writing was also intended as an exercise in presence (another term I've never defined, and will on Monday Tuesday.) When I comment on blogs, the commenting is to be there. Same with contributing to a forum or two. Same with long handwritten letters to the woman I love. Same with blogging here.

I write online; but I have to live off it.

That's why, when F. and H. had emergencies last week, I didn't bother to write here. In some cases, my presence is an option; in others, it's a luxury. For my nakama, it's a necessity. And I was needed, offline, now. My presence for them takes precedence.

After a few days of interruptions, I realized I was wrong: I was having rather Mertonian problems. My "regular writing" (and it's also worth saying now that I chose the word specifically for its monastic overtones) was becoming not a conscious work, but an escape from the conscious work of being present in the world. I want to do this, and I think it's a good goal for the sake of developing skills - but it's chaining my ass to a seat in the library, staring at a monitor. I need to be present offline, too.

Not just present to friends; present to the world. Present to fucking God. (How often do I have nothing to say at the end of the day?) And while I need to write, I need to expand my concept of "regulation," because regular writing is one thing: regular presence altogether another.

Contemplation is something I need to work on, but so is action.

1 comment:

Mary Ann Kulla said...

Writing as an escape from being present in your life - that is a profound realization! I wonder how much your Father's constant computer work was an escape from day to day life?