Today is the birthday of Thomas Merton. How appropriate to think of him as I pack for my trip to Mepkin Abbey this week-end. My spouse's stitches are out, and thus, he can drive, and thus he'll be OK alone, and so off I will go and leave him behind to hold down the homestead.
I usually go to Mepkin Abbey in the autumn, but this year, we had to postpone. I'm looking forward to seeing the grounds and the chapel at a different season. I'm looking forward to seeing my friends. I'm looking forward to working on my memoir manuscript.
I have every blog post that I've written on the subject of work-life-spiritual balance collected in one document. I'm turning them into essays. I have a vision of a book that can be dipped in and out of (read an essay or two now, read again in a month, read the Christmas material when one is at the Christmas season). I have 350 pages. I will shape it into something marketable. I will begin this week-end.
Or I will sleep. I have felt so incredibly drained and exhausted this week. I've done more laundry in a week (since my spouse can't bend, twist or lift, I've banned him from laundry duty) than I usually do in a month. But this will pass, and I am so grateful that my spouse is having such a remarkably good recovery.
It's been a tough work week, which brings the issue of the future into full focus. Tuesday we had a horrible meeting about 2014, when we consolidate into one building, and we lose half our classroom space, and the response is a shrug, and "You'll just have to make it work. We all have to sacrifice."
I'd love to have an escape plan in place, should I need it--or should I be ejected. My dream is a memoir about work-life-spiritual balance that takes off and opens new doors. We shall see.
But even if that doesn't happen, it's good to look at Merton's life and to realize that even a restricted life can lead to amazing creativity. Merton had to get permission from the Abbott to work on his writing and to have it published. He didn't have full freedom in his life.
The truth: most of us don't have full freedom, perhaps not even much freedom. And yet, even with cloisters and restrictions, we can do our essential work.
Today is also the birthday of Alan Lomax, another life that reminds us that our offbeat passions can be exactly what the world needs. Lomax travelled the country, recording all kinds of folk music. He's the reason we know about Lead Belly and other incredible musicians from the first half of the 20th century.
Maybe we'd have known about Woody Guthrie, Muddy Waters, and Jelly Roll Morton had Lomax not come along, but Lomax was one of the driving forces to have the various kinds of folk music that he recorded recognized as legitimate.
Now it seems obvious, but as the Alan Lomax and his father travelled the country, they couldn't have known how essential their work would be. Maybe they had glimmerings, but I suspect they were guided by enthusiasm, not certainty.
We, too, can follow our own stars and chart our own courses. During meetings where I'm told that I have no choice, I remind myself that I have plenty of choices, choices that may be only glimmers and yearning and hopes now.
Long ago, at a different school, I wrote this poem to remind myself of that fact. It was published The Julia Mango:
The Human Resources expert smirks as he explains,
“You don’t really have a choice.” As if I
am a captive brought to strange shores,
enslaved, slogging away my life
in this swamp of a school.
I may be paid the dole of a sweatshop slave,
but I am not without choices.
I can walk away, leave all this behind:
the surly students, the suspicious administration, the pittance
of a paycheck.
I am no indentured servant; I have made no
commitments. I know the language of this land.
I haven’t yet had my utopian daydreams beaten
out of me. My papers are in order, my wings
wait only for me to spread them.
The Summer of Reading
4 months ago