Sunday, December 21, 2014

Sages, leave your contemplations.


A week ago,
I went to a thing
to hear my friend read
a piece of fiction he'd written.

And then other people
read things they'd written.

There was beautiful and strange
birth imagery,
a piece with too many metaphors,
one that tugged
at my anti-capitalist heartstrings.

I sat there listening,
thinking about
my days as a fiction writer.

When I was younger,
I wrote heinous stories
about thirteen-year-olds
falling in love
after knowing each other
for five minutes.

Then in high school,
I used to write bits of stories
with no plots,
with characters named
Corner and Root.

Like this:
If you really looked at them, clothes had a lot of unhappy wrinkles in them. They weren't just ugly; they were unhappy. That is, if you were the type of person who let himself get upset by wrinkles. Frame was that kind of person. She wished she could devote herself to ironing the world's clothes.

One day I realized
that all my characters were unhappy,
so I switched
to nonfiction.

But these people
in this room,
reading things they wrote,
made me think--
as I always do,
for just a minute--
"Maybe I could do that!"

There is always,
for me at least,
the drive
to be a writer.
Even when
writing feels pretentious
because every line break,
and every tired word
you choose,
and every interesting word
you choose instead,
and every strange name
given to an unhappy character
seems contrived
to some degree.

When I left,
I went to the library,
dropping those thoughts
one by one
on the pavement
as I walked.
I thought,
I do get to write.
I have to write a paper
about the Columbia explosion
for my Public Administration theory class.
That's the kind of writing
I get to do now.
.
.
.
The next day,
I spent hours straight
in the library
working on that paper.

It didn't have that magic sheen
that writing fiction does.
It was business as usual.
There was no need
to give characters strange names,
and it might not have even been worthwhile
to choose interesting words.

I put on Christmas music.
Christmas music
brings that magic sheen, after all.

In the middle of
Angels from the Realms of Glory,
some words caught my attention.

Sages, leave your contemplations,
Brighter visions beam afar;
Seek the great Desire of nations;
Ye have seen His natal star!

I can shed tears at the drop of a hat.
I shed tears then.

I pictured one of these sages,
with a long, brambled beard,
hunched over scrolls
in dim lighting,
puzzling over
the great questions of the ages.

St. Jerome in his Study, Caravaggio

And suddenly!
Something pulls at his heart.
When he looks up,
he remembers
the star he saw,
and it fills his whole body.

He gets up
to pack his bag,
to speak with
the others,
to plan the trip,
to take the coins
that have been
hidden under his mattress
for ages
and go to the sellers
to buy something
for the King--
perhaps a gemstone,
or some fine-twined linen,
or myrrh.

He had been looking
for the King to come.
All that dimly-lit puzzling he did
over those piles of scrolls
was worth it.
When that star rose,
he knew it,
even though it was a new star.
He knew it in his heart.

So there was nothing
more natural
than to call for the others,
to plan the trip,
to buy the myrrh.

What does it merit
to be a sage
if you do not leave your contemplations
when you discover the King of kings?

What does it merit
to be a writer
if you only write about
the administrative errors
that led to the Columbia explosion?

What does it merit
to be a writer
if you only write
little strings of words
about little melancholy characters?

All truth is Truth.
But there is one truth
that stands on the highest stair,
and all other truths bow
to worship it.

It lies at the heart
of all Truth,
and it lies in the hearts
of sages and writers,
willing to leave their contemplations
and to leave their pens.

And to take up their contemplations
and take up their pens
again
to consider
and write about
the glory
of the King.

The Crowning with Thorns

The Entombment of Christ 

The Incredulity of Thomas

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