(…and what forms of transcendence are not these days?), enjoy.
(…and what forms of transcendence are not these days?), enjoy.
Warning: personal post–more so than usual, I think….
Following on the ragged, bourbon-stained, piss-soaked J. C. Penney’s coattails of my last post:
I think one of the most difficult acts to do for those who were raised to believe that every thought that issues forth from the human heart is nothing but evil continually (cf. Gen. 6:5) is learning to accept certain intuitions, especially if these intuitions find no easy accommodations in a penny catechism or the Summa Theologiae.
Granted, I am a minor master in post hoc justifications, but maybe, just maybe, one does not have to choose either God or the girl. (Okay, okay, okay, so cheesy and easy.) Or, God or a vocation as a writer of decidedly non-edifying fiction without any clear-cut Catholic prescriptions and proscriptions. Thank God and all His Saints for Flannery O’Connor, Graham Greene, Walker Percy, Evelyn Waugh, and Shusaku Endo. I could be grabbing the wrong bull by the horns, but most people lack the imaginative process to allow anyone to wear anything but a red cape.
I have always felt like an outsider and slightly adrift. Attribute that, if you will, to any of the following: mixed-racial descent; homeschooled (one word, bitches) antagonism; an agonizing stuttering problem as a teen (that I corrected without any help from speech therapy); having been raised by transplants in Southern California, the land of the unmoored and deracinated; a lack of interest in what most people find worthwhile; having converted to a faith foreign to your family and friends; my aristocrat of soul persona; etc. Thus, forging an individual path is no problem with me. I actually find a perverse energy in the derisive laughter of others, especially if it comes from students.
Disappointing those who want me to swipe right and find a ready and fertile womb and those who want me to acknowledge my romantic failures and devote myself to God, I plan to continue my work. Soon (enough) everyone will have a chance to judge whether I trod the right path.
One of my favorite stories about the Saints does not involve an act of heroic courage or gruesome self-denial but rather involves a starkly honest admission by St. Theresa of Avila directed to God after St. Theresa fell down into the mud on her way to her convent during a storm: “If this is how You treat your friends, no wonder You have so few of them!”
One element of Catholicism that keeps me tenuously hanging on (like four or five fingers) is the understanding that, pace those damn televangelists, living well does not guarantee an easy and blessed life. In fact, if history can be trusted, those who strive to live transcendentally are often the ones who suffer the worst. Hence, St. Theresa’s comment. However, suffering is never suffered as a brute fact; it always possesses the potential to be redemptive. I have found no other system of belief that can give suffering a place in the grand scheme of things. The flip side to this is the drama that attends what most people mindlessly amble into: vocational choice.
One of my priests recently called me back into the vestibule to ask me if I have ever considered religious orders. What Catholic guy has not at some point? I laughed (and so did he) as I said, “Oh, once or twice.” He then proceeded to ask me how old I am and remind me that I am not getting any younger. Well. Being one of the few people my age at the parish interested in the Latin Mass may make me a vocations target. Also, given that I am not already married, there must be something greater at play–as I was actually told by another priest.
I used to think about holy orders very often. Once, as I saw a man leaving confession with the most profound look of peace of his face, I said to myself: I want to bring peace like that to everyone person I meet–and I want to meet everyone. However, my heart grew cold and distracted, I suppose. Perhaps, as I heard it once put in a fiery trad homily on vocations, I literally kissed my vocation away.
Much weight is placed upon our vocational choice regarding happiness in this life and the next. Thus, not only are we expected to follow the exoteric rules, we are also expected to plumb divine secrets and figure out that specialized individual calling–or else.
Perhaps I should have been more open when I was younger to holy orders. I also understand the concern from priests and parents alike that I am remaining a bachelor simply because I find the lifestyle convenient. Perhaps, though, I am not married because I have not been financially secure enough to warrant my pursuit of marriage and family. A few of us chronically seem to avoid getting our shit together until later in life. I am getting to that point, though. Furthermore, I know now what I enjoy doing and must do–write. Yes, I know that writing and holy orders are not mutually exclusive, but I have no desire to write, as would probably be the case, religiously didactic material or bad Catholic fiction for Fatimists.
I would like to think that if a good person (I refuse to say “right,” as that smacks too much of the unsound notion of soulmate) came along, I would be open to self-sacrificial love and children. In fact, that is what I want, and I think that it has taken me this long to get to a point where that is now feasible. Even if that does not work out, is someone who may find himself single yet involved in the life of his family, friends, and community and working on literary pursuits only respectable to the degree that he is willing to consider either religious life or marriage?
I am sure that Protestants and unbelievers have their own respective sets of troubles, but Catholics have the monopoly on vocational anxiety.
Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture continues to prove itself one of the best written publications and, perhaps slightly better, one that always challenges me, showing that traditionalism possesses both a surprising fecundity of ideas as well as rigorous inner-consistency.
In the introductory editorial vignettes that precede the chief editorial, editor Chilton Williamson, Jr. writes in “The Job of Sex” regarding the autophagic nature of liberalism:
“[O]nly a member of the subspecies Homo sapiens liberalis could have supposed that introducing women into traditionally male workplaces would not result in sexual attention, welcome or unwelcome, paid to women by their male coworkers in a society tenderized by the hypersexuality induced by the liberal ideas of sexual freedom and choice, moral relativism, and the equality and even identity of the sexes, even as society was brutalized by the banishment of chivalry.”
How can we expect men and women to behave professionally when current cultural mores have sacralized licentiousness? More amusingly, though, this quotation reminds me of the following liberating pugnacious statement by Edward Abbey (interestingly enough, a favorite writer of Williamson): “How do I feel about The War Between The Sexes? I love it. I’m in favor of it. Women and men must share everything eventually, including a common fate; but meanwhile, it is the poignant difference between them which creates the tension and the delight. There is nothing that bores me so much as androgyny — manlike women and womanlike men.”
As Abbey and Williamson would both stress–and I bet my greatest kiss, I do, we need to clarify our terms carefully. By “tension,” I doubt that Abbey means “drama.” As someone who works in field that is dominated by women and womanly men, there is nothing more dreadful to me than workplace drama. As if teaching in this dying age were not difficult enough, there is no need to create unnecessary aggravation by taking offense were none was meant or by exaggerating the severity of someone’s misguided but not necessarily destructive intentions. Tension between the sexes, however, is the sizzle of bacon grease in the cast iron skillet of the breakfast of life. If I am around an attractive woman, I want to flirt; it is written into my very carnal constitution, my declaration of concupiscence. The last thing I want to do is treat her as if she were another guy who simply had more alluring lips and softer skin and who wore cuter shoes. This type of physiological (and ontological) androgyny bores and kills what little joy most of us who lack the resources and drive to live large are afforded as the playthings of God.
The smirking innuendos, the electric back-and-forth, the passing-but-really-landing touch to hand or to knee, the purposefully rough gesture, the gaze that lingers a micro-moment, which translates into a casual eternity, too long: yes, these are the ingredients of tension that remind us of our differences but console us that, despite all the nature-denying propaganda to the contrary, the differences can fit together in a harmonious manner that reflects the celestial harmony of the spheres.
“Mornings are for regretting the things that you did when you should have been sleeping.” ~Arthur Byron
Once again, the Catholic Church has it correct, and we have it fucked up: January 1st is the solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. It is a day that we should spend in church, giving thanks for the blessings of the previous year and praying, while reflecting on the Four Last Things, for an increase in faith, hope, and charity for ourselves and for our loved ones for the coming year. However, like most people, I spent the evening and early morning in revelry at a party. Now, my lovelies, let us not misconstrue: I enjoy entertaining and being entertained. I had a grand time, even though a neighbor both slapped me and poured a glass of water on me. (After I returned the favor [I did not slap HER *said in a Tommy Wiseau’s imitation*], we called a truce.) I mean, what man would not enjoy an excuse to kiss every woman with impunity in his vicinity simply because because both hands on a clock are pointing toward 12? I sure as hell did. Still, I drank more than I should have; I said more than I should have; I touched, ahem, more than I should have.
Verily, verily, I am an anti-social introvert. [This is the volta to the prosaic sonnet that I have just typed.] I should have been a monk. The saint of my birthday is Saint Bruno, founder of the Carthusians, the most isolated and most private of all religious orders. For those who want to explore this order further, check out this magisterial documentary. Yet, for all my books and intellectual interests, I want to be surrounded by people. I could pray the rosary, or I could gaze at your breasts.
Edited: had to remove incriminating information. That is what happens when I post when drunk.
Sheesh, one of my informal resolution-esque resolutions was to stop drinking alone, for when I do, I give myself away.
He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy
He who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise
~”Eternity” William Blake
The contrast between the accepting the transient joys of life for what they are and opening oneself to the renewal of eternity functions as the key to unlocking this quatrain. However, most of us still fumble outside in the cold with the keys, always inserting the wrong one first. The paradox that unravels if we gently tease it out–no need to be boorish with the truth (it can speak for itself): to the degree that we can accept the everyday joys or the joys that completely catch us off guard, forcing us to deactivate our psychological home defense security systems–if for only a few hours over coffee, and then allow them to fly when ready, to this degree will we be open to what remains over the horizon, as illuminated by the sun.
If we try to hold onto them, though, we ground not only ourselves but all those we try to hold. As fireflies should not be stuffed in jars, winged life should be grounded but allowed to fulfill its ontological and mythical destiny: to fly with joy.
But, goddamn, this is much easier typed than done.
Sebastien-Roch-Nicolas Chamfort writes in his The Cynic’s Breviary (a title for which I might have been tempted to give a few months of my life in exchange for the privilege of having thought of it): “It is when their age of passions is past that great men produce their masterpieces, just as it is after volcanic eruptions that the soil is most fertile.”
To which I reply: How cruel of Nature to bring the Muses to a man only after he no longer cares to steal glances at their legs or fondle their breasts.
Yet, I am beginning to understand the experiential logic of this maxim. For me, Catholicism and age are now the two greatest reins to the reign of the passions. Per Catholicism, I paraphrase a comment made by the enviously gifted but extremely unpleasant Evelyn Waugh: If you think I am bad now, just imagine how worse I would be without Catholicism. If it were not for Catholicism, I would deliver myself completely to drinking, fucking, and pretending to read literature. Per age, this should be obvious. Even if I wanted to give myself utterly to my debased appetites, I no longer have the energy to pursue them like I once did. As it now stands, an early bedtime is much more tempting than fornication or keeping an all-night vigil with a fifth of bourbon.
Now is the time to pursue, without hesitation, with the energy that still lingers, my work. I dare not imply that it will be a masterpiece (or that I am a great man); rather, it will serve as my manifesto: a collection of short fiction, poetry, and essays. With this in mind and in heart, I must treat this blog as a more generous form of Twitter. I still plan to post regularly, but unless I am experimentally essaying a piece for publication, my posts will consist only of brief observations or quotations that have delighted me.
As far as I have been able to gather, my vocation is to write. Thus, I plan to treat my writing in the manner that a priest or religious would prayer: to submit oneself to a non-romantic, regularly-timed, and evenly-paced regimen, even if the inspiration is lacking. I offer this as my not-so divine office.