An experiment

by Andrea Elizabeth

If one is not to be addicted to change and entertainment, but to learn stillness, how does that affect one’s writing? How does one stay in one place while moving across the page? One could write 1000 times, “Lord have mercy”, or “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet, No His Blood Never Failed Me Yet, Only this I know, For He loves me so.” Or recite any Orthodox Prayer in the Prayer Book. Are we to be a repetition of the cycles of prayer? That’s what they do in Monasteries. If one eliminates gossip, tantalization, and exploration then that is what one is left with. The presence of God. Isn’t God to be explored? Yes, but for some reason, the description of such defies letters on a page.

But doesn’t a person’s life experiences count? Yes, but when describing them one usually falls into judgment and gossip. It seems that I’ve talked myself into silence. I believe I will continue to write, however. It is a relatively silent endeavor, though typing clicks can wake another person from sleep. Peaceful words are comforting. Dickens’ wordiness can calm an anxious mind. I hear he was paid by the word. I try not to judge the sometimes repetitious statements on that account. I judge myself for having a short, impatient, attention span. I am used to movies painting 1000 words per frame. I read much slower than that. I have a written copy of Bleak House, but since I sometimes listen in the car, I don’t want to lose my place on the audio version. And I wonder if it’s good to train my ear. When in the choir, I followed along on paper to the responses, which makes it easier to pay attention with the added visual to the audio. But often during the Epistle or the Gospel my mind wanders. I think it’s good to try to pay attention with only auditory stimuli.

The other issue with silence is the fear of boredom. But boredom itself can also be a fearful reaction. Sometimes dwelling on one thing reveals unpleasant things, and the locked door to these things is called Boredom. One has to break it down pretty violently sometimes. Like now, I’ve been tempted to end this several times before moving to the next revelatory sentence. I don’t know why I writing feels like revelation to me. Sometimes it may reveal what I don’t usually deal with as it adds a third stimuli to keep me fastened, touch and fourth, movement. I am more fully engaged. I wonder if the silence that is necessary for me to focus on writing still counts as a stimuli in addition to visualizing the words as they advance across this little box. So writing can reveal what’s going on inside, or sometimes, I hope, Truth that is everywhere present and filling all things.

Seems like one cannot follow that with more words about silence, but I’ll endeavor to keep going. There have been some walks that felt like no progress was being made. Where every footstep proved the algebra that one can keep dividing the distance between two points in half to infinity without ever arriving at the other point. Yet here I am at the end of many of those hikes. But isn’t the end of one hike, just the beginning of another? The changing vistas can be very motivating, but what about the desert where all is flat and monotone and one cannot measure one’s progress. The sun, however refuses to stand still. One’s shadow keeps moving, although imperceptibly except through memory. Even a gray, shadowless cloudcover will eventually grow dark when there is no sun at all to illumine it. Yet this happens if one is walking or not. I think walking can be compared to prostrations. Yet one does a limited number of those. Potentially, one’s still times far outweigh one’s prostration time. But no one stands still. They keep moving. They keep repeating. Step after step, breath after breath, Lord have mercy after Lord have mercy. If we didn’t we would die. That’s what I feel about reading and writing sometimes. They keep me alive. If I stop, I’ll die. I’ll not die now. “Just keep swimming” as Dori the surgeon fish, as my daughter informs me, says, The same daughter who loved every word of Bleak House. They helped her enter into the story. She doesn’t mind being totally immersed and under the control of the author. I’ve talked about how I lost faith in literature and am usually aware of every page turn. I was like that in school too. Counting the days till each year was over. It gets harder and harder for me to let myself be lead, as Rich Mullins says. I do in the Church services though. They seem to get shorter and shorter. I’ve grown more picky. I don’t trust Charles Dickens, except with Lady Dedlock, as I’ve said. When he exaggerates I get anxious about marginalization. Does he feel united to that person in a common humanity? If he does, then he could be being hard on himself. But I don’t feel like being that hard on myself these days. Oh, how unorthodox! I can participate in the harsh self-condemnations sometimes. But for now I’m laying those aside. They are most likely true enough, and I almost indulged in caricaturizing someone, but then I thought, what if someone thinks that of me? Lord have mercy. Time to move on to more pleasant subjects. The next Get Smart or Mystery Science Theatre door in the hall has blocked my way. Time for the secret knock. The Wizard of Oz and Princess Bride little door within a door opens. Time for the secret code. “Speak, Friend, and Enter”. “Friend”. Not, “Say Goodnight, Gracie.” It opens. Calm stillness. Will I wake up? Shh. The kids activities go on in the background. OK, you can make Harry Potter jewelry because you love them and you don’t want to be a witch and they are very skillfully and artfully done which is a fine discipline. Yes, you can watch youtube videos because you avoid the raunchy ones and with a torn ACL and a summer with 2 surgeries is a bummer and I know what it’s like to be a laid up kid who will go crazy or more likely despondent without a screened diversion. Maybe later you can learn that imposed stillness can lead to voluntary stillness, but not for a cheerleading gymnast. I don’t know what the other three are doing. And sometimes I have to turn off my care. They have to learn by their own mistakes. But I believe I will eventually find out as I have prayed to. May all their issues be dealt with before they leave home! Which the second and third are preparing to do. One with a career, and two in the midst of school. Enough about the empty nest. I’m still fine. 1154 words. How many does Stephen King say to write a day? Maybe 1000. I’m sure you’re not supposed to stop just because you reached it. That count is to keep you going in case you’re having trouble. Don’t be self-critical on the first draft. Self-criticism stymies some people, but eludes others. I wish I didn’t have to be so selective of the latter group. Their liberty is my anxiety. Not that I’m judging them. I think stifled “good” people need to get over fear before they can advanced to true goodness. To pick virtue for its own merits instead of fear of punishment is a step in maturation. I have nothing to say about virtue. I prefer a certain apophaticism on that account. Good is good. It is not bad. Badness is warped goodness, not the opposite of it. Good people see good in everything. I see materials. I believe God is in them, but do I see Him? In icons it’s easier. Nature can be very beautiful. I’m glad there are wildflowers on the imported highway slopes just as I am glad they make old quarries into English gardens, but once I am aware, I mainly see the butchering of the land. Valleys forged by rivers can even be seen as violent acts. Wikipedia describes caldera’s as “cauldron-like volcanic features”. Yikes. Yet the forms and colors are pleasing. Repentance and door busting is violent as is labor. They are the tools since the fall. Door busting, then, level steps. And steps and steps. Can you learn to like nothing when there is no perceptible change? Can you learn to like the movement without thinking about resting? Can the movement become restful? Like the chest of a sleeping baby? Slow down. Things wont disintegrate if you don’t hurry. There have been “Stat!” moments, but now is not one of them. The clothes in the dryer do need to be removed immediately once the timer goes off or else they will wrinkle. Then you’ll have to iron them. So quickness will avoid more work. That is not a good enough motivation but I don’t want to talk about efficiency or wear and tear or the environment right now. One can slowly progress to the dryer and calmly remove the clothes in a timely manner. Don’t panic. Things are to be done in proper order and with due attention and diligence, but not angrily and hastily. Just keep moving. You aren’t advanced enough for total silence. You still have people to remember and tasks to do. Your kids need you to stay present with them. Ok. I’ll calmly go to them now.