Monday, September 26, 2005

Non-Connatural Habit

Several of you have inquired, at stops along the way of my blogging journey, into the nature of my relationship with writing. "I thought you weren't going to blog anymore?", “Why do you write?” and "Do you even like to write?"

I admit this is all very confusing, even to me. My comments about writing and the sum of this blog in general, are oxymoronic.

So let me try to explain one more time.

I'll start with a part of Thomas Merton's Seven Storey Mountain, which I am still reading:

He's talking about a kind of knowledge the Thomists called "connatural", which is:

"... a knowledge which comes about as it were by the identification of natures: in the way that a chaste man understands the nature of chastity because of the very fact that his soul is full of it- it is part of his own nature, since habit is second nature."

And the practice of chastity is a habit. Right. Good.

But Merton goes on to talk about an opposite kind of knowledge:

"Non-connatural knowledge of chastity would be that of a philosopher who...would be able to define it, but would not possess it."

The problem for me comes in that I'm scared to death that my life contains only this second kind of knowledge- which may enable me to write a few things now and then but is useless to save my soul. I'm also afraid that writing will only perpetuate this situation because it is inactive. Sometimes I think I shouldn't write at all but should devote my time and energy exclusively to training myself in good habit.

The other problem I have with blogging (but not, specifically, with writing) is that I am a moody and impetuous woman. Some days (the ones where I feel like a relatively normal person) I enjoy putting down my thoughts and imagining that somebody likes reading them. Other days (the psycho ones) I know that I am not anything resembling normal and that nobody loves me and I am all alone in a hostile or, at best, indifferent world. It is on these days that I want to delete my entire blog and all my email correspondence from the past ten years, burn all my letters from anyone-all the way back to high-school, lock my doors, pull my shades, and stay in bed for the rest of my life.

Thankfully, I don't (always) do this. Today, for example, is one of the bad days. Still, I took my boys to school, read books to Ethan, and let a neighbor lady in the door against my will. And I'm blogging.

So maybe this explains, in part, the schizophrenia of my blog. (And gives pause to anyone wondering at my choice of the word schizophrenia.)


Roo said...

Rachael, yours is some of the least inactive writing I know - this is why I struggle to understand why you say don't write for others. After the struggle, why would you go back except for the delight of showing others? I don't think I've appreciated before how one person's struggle can be worth, to anyone else, anything. And the difference I see here is a very indistinct line between struggle and wonder. That's an awful thought (mindful of the 'awe' connection, though perhaps that's just me).

I am glad you once said you enjoy my obscurity - you'll have to let me know if that changes :)

Rachael said...

Andrew: you and I have gone around and around on this. I'm sure it would be much easier over a pint at The Spread Eagle, but I think I begin to understand you.

I think I may have misled you with regard to the reason I write, at all. When I said I write more for myself than anyone else, I meant that, sometimes, I find some sort of personal clarity while I'm putting thoughts into words, that I didn't have before I started writing. Actually, most of my thoughts are only sucklings until I start to write about them. When I write them down they begin to think for themselves, and then they turn around and teach me something. And sometimes I find some degreee of healing in the process. I don't write *for* other people, in this sense: that if nobody likes it or cares about it or even reads it, it is still good for me to do. This doesn't mean that I don't write for others at all; I do. I hope that someone who reads what I've written will say, on occasion, "aha! Me, too!" and will find comfort or encouragement from that affinity. Or that I will be able to describe beauty in a way that will leave no question as to whether life is valuable or God is good. I guess where I feel uncomfortable with it is that I am not necessarily "going back" into my stuggles to talk about them. I'm still in them. So if I appear to have answers or helpful things to say, I feel hypocritical.

And yes, I do so enjoy your obscurity. But please expand on this "indistinct line between struggle and wonder". Do you mean me? My writing? My attitude toward writing? I'm not following.

Roo said...

It's always been nice to think that there is somehow a distinction between the wonder in the world, and the pain and struggle we experience. If there is a distinction, then we can have beauty at a bargain price, yours today, hurry while prices last.

It was tempting to put then 'wonder that we see in the world', but I realise that is remaining in the safe, at-a-distance, visual world. Look, but don't touch. Get your information in the most clinical way possible.

What I mean is that I'm starting to appreciate wonder and struggle as being irrevocably intertwinned. That the thought of a distinction is a marker pen line drawn round the belly of a beautiful creature, whom we then treat as two seperate animals, and think the schizophrenia is in the world.

Ah, I think I get it. Writing is a much more secondary activity for you than I had thought. It's a container, or vehicle, like reading about Alaska. I guess I have taken (with you and others) a 'love of words' too literally. Why would you read about Alaska unless you loved mountains? Would that perhaps be a reason to read about that particular subject - to 'clean out' your words? (Now there's a conjecture :)

Rachael said...

Barren Ground Caribou cows, in Northern Alaska, travel hundreds of miles each spring from their tree-line wintering grounds up into the uninhabited tundra, to calve. Toward winter’s end, when the cows are satisfied that their fat-stores are enough for long travel, they set off in large groups. When they reach these calving grounds the caribou will be tired, ragged, thin; but they
are safe from wolves here. The vegetation which grows, nourished by melt-water but stunted by fierce winds and frozen ground, provides whatever food the herds need.

These migrating groups leave hundreds of drowned, frozen, attacked or injured caribou along the way, the carnage a testament to a harsh, unkind journey.

There is wonder and even beauty in this: how do the cows know when it’s time to begin travel? How do they travel to the same calving ground year after year, generation after generation? Do they instinctively know that wolves won’t follow there or that food will be plentiful or that spring snowstorms are fewer and better protected against in the tundra?

And yet, the journey will weaken them: snowstorms descend on their path, wolves hunt them, black waters lie in wait below weak ice.

As human beings, we are the only creatures on earth who have developed the ability to live in a state of disconnect from the earth. We are also the only ones who seem to have no idea what to do with our lives. I have been confused for years about my purpose. I have no geographical map fused into my genes. But I do have an instinct: it’s rather like a memory, and it tells me that there is meaning to human life; that it isn’t meant to be directionless and wandering. Something isn’t right.

This is why I read about Alaska and why I write. Yes, the two are connected in some way and are, as you say, a vehicle: a vehicle for my personal migration. I don’t believe that suffering and beauty are equal or even that suffering is ontologically necessary for beauty. But I do believe that, in this world, they are intertwined. I want to make my trek to the tundra, into snowstorms, over broken ice, through packs of wolves- because these are the dangers lurking in the direction my internal compass is pointing. I can refuse to make the journey or pretend I’ve forgotten that ancient call- the whispering voice of God- but I will also never know what I was born to fulfill- a warm and magical new birth.

Michael Ciani said...

Honey, if you think you struggle with writing now, you ought to try getting a book deal. Misery. SHEER MISERY. I bemoan myself, my life, my talent, my lot in life, and most of all, my book that refuses to be born. Or the book that I refuse to birth.