“I regard monks and poets as the best degenerates in America. Both have a finely developed sense of the sacred potential in all things; both value image and symbol over utilitarian purpose or the bottom line; they recognize the transformative power hiding in the simplest things, and it leads them to commit absurd acts: the poem! the prayer! what nonsense! In a culture that excels at creating artificial, tightly controlled environments (shopping malls, amusement parks, chain motels), the art of monks and poets is useless, if not irresponsible, remaining out of commercial manipulation and ideological justification.”
The writing gene first emerged in about the fifth grade. It seemed easy and fun to get a rise out of Mrs. Meyer by writing outlandish short stories with “depth” and hilarity like “Attack of the Alligator People,” probably inspired by too much time watching Commander USA’s Groovy Movies. Unmotivated toward success and un-nurtured, I didn’t press the fun of writing. My creativity problem in school just manifested itself in a smart mouth and pranks on the “Valley Girls” and other people I liked.
I listened to music, the great comforter, and simply soaked up what would be only influences outside of Miss Nook and my Granddad Johnston.
I didn’t realize that all that Zeppelin was poetry flanked by guitars. Not until my third year of college, about a year and a half after I transitioned away from writing comedy to poetry, did I understand it fully. The best stuff I had written was very pissed off. Emotion, that delightful antagonist. Anything contrived sounded contrived. Anything angry seemed to have value. A Victorian literature course taught by Gervase Hittle helped me to connect Robert Browning and Samuel Taylor Coleridge to Bob Dylan and Axl Rose.
I began to write profusely and quit changing my major. I stuck with English, finally. I attended poetry readings and released my demons. But you don’t graduate from college and have a rosy cheeked fellow sit across from you and say, “You know, I could really use a good poet like you. Why don’t you start on Monday.”
You have to sort a real job until your lack of utilitarian purpose finds an audience or you crash and burn.
I can identify with the aforementioned quote from Kathleen Norris. We poets and monks live a life of folly. We see the world differently. Thank God. “The world doesn’t make sense,” said Pablo Picasso. “Why should I paint pictures that do?”
I “found God” in a ouija board in college. It’s not that I found him, exactly; it’s just that I realized a spirit world existed, freaked out and jumped on the good side. I then explored God, eventually becoming quite committed, having witnessed many amazing acts.
I’m no monk, but I like more about them than the beer they’re connected to. This weekend I asked myself, “What if we all went to six church services per day?” We’d either get very little done or find a significant shift in our priorities. One of the questions I pondered at the beginning of this project was, “Can one live as a monk in the world?”
Not literally. But can one maintain a deeper connection to the divine and still function in society? There are some committed Christians out there that are overbearing and useless, as well as a few that are downright backward. Can you function and be useful? I’m thinking that the answer is yes, but the path there is different for everybody. What was it that Flannery O’Connor said? “Most of us come to the church by a means that the church does not allow?”
“It is not too soon,” said Henry David Thoreau, “for an honest man to rebel.”
I’m convinced that we are all packed with sacred potential, so go out there and carve yourself a path. God might be there.