Off Topic, Sometimes

It’s been a while since I wrote about not writing. I’ve been trying to break some tics and habits, but this one might be worth holding on to. Periodically I hit something of a wall. For those of you haven’t been reading me for very long, you should know that I don’t believe in writer’s block. I believe in writing when it doesn’t feel good, when inspiration is a deadline or a weird sort of fear that, if you don’t write, the magic, what little there is, will leave you with nothing.

I’ve been meaning to write about marriage again. I did some more homework, thanks to my growing tribe of useful commenters, and have all kinds of things to say about the matter. I have a dry report, all ready to go.

I have to finish a book chapter I agreed to write around this time last year for the first book on Slavoj Zizek and education. I’ve discarded about three or four chapters but the latest one I have is pretty good and a third of the way typed out. I promised the most patient editor to have it in by the end of the week. I’m not too worried about it, it’s really a question of finding time to get all the block quotes right and narrate the spaces in between.

Expository writing has never been my thing, but when I commit to it I think I do a pretty good job, all things considered. Typing phrases like “all things considered” really makes me wonder whether philosophy has ruined my ability to compose prose worth a dime.

I’ve been working like mad to finish this little book I’m self publishing: A Primer for Philosophy and Education. It’s just over seven thousand words, yet I’ve been working on it for a year and a half. It has nine wonderful illustrations that my talented youngest sister composed. The eldest of my three sisters delivered a healthy baby boy today. That’s really great. Our family is growing.

In case you can’t tell, I get sick of writing a “Catholic” blog sometimes. I’m not trying to complain about it. I just get tired of inflecting everything this or that way —  and nobody is forcing me. Sometimes, though, the theme makes me paranoid, becomes too much to handle. There is more important nonsense to describe. Spring is nowhere to be found, snow drifts stay put and refuse to go anywhere, and the weather permits it all to happen without the slightest sense of decency. A colleague at an absurd committee meeting said that summer may not come at all and that scared me. North Dakota is not for the faint of heart. Or Mexicans.

It might not be so bad since our apartment complex doesn’t have air conditioning. I grew up without air conditioning in the Rio Grande Valley and Reynosa, Mexico, so I’m not sure what I’m so worried about. The point remains that writing at a Catholic blog can put a certain pressure on one’s imagination sometimes. When I wrote that series on cubicles, I really liked it, and I got some choice compliments for it, but overall no one read it and several people made fun of the long paragraphs. Either way, I’ll stand by that as being my most Catholic post to date.

[Insert meditation on what makes something "Catholic" here.]

The wonderful point of writing is that this stuff all fits together for the right set of eyes if you try hard and practice and have a soul, somewhere, that whispers every once in a while.

Here’s an unedited e-mail note I sent to my friend about his work on correcting some very stupid misinterpretations of Emerson’s notion of “self-reliance”:

Very good, i think, but two things are missing: one stating the very simple truth of self-reliance from the beginning, without being so defensive. The simple fact is that Emerson’s “self” is an ensouled spiritual being, tethered to Creation and Divinity. An enchanted image of the self. The individialist self is a secular one, by strict necessity, much like the also secular self of the leftist communitarians. So the problem is simply that people assume that they understand what Emerson’s self is, when they in fact do not. Idiots. The second miss is that Emerson brilliantly contradicts himself and leaves us with a paradox: he is advocating for both freedom and reliance. Literally. His theory is one of reliance, not freedom. But through a particual sort of reliance we find ourselves free to do what we must, by the command of God. Not the gods of the Church or State or convention, the one true God who we have private access to in our heart.

Truth be told, I’m a little jealous that he’s gonna get to do this work before I get to it. But he’s done more homework than I have, even though I’m pretty sure that my reading of Emerson is dynamite. I teach Self-Reliance at least once a year.

Zizek just published yet another essay at ABC Religion and Ethics. I haven’t read it and I am getting a bit tired of keeping up with him. It started as a weird little hobby in grad school, and it was fun and enlightening then, but now that it’s become “work” I have less of a taste for what he’s cooking. I may live to regret this chapter, but I doubt it.

One of the nice things about writing a lot is that, if you don’t mind acting a little crazy, you can avoid getting pegged too easily or cheaply. Crazy isn’t so bad after all. But then those habits and tendencies ring all the more true; they shine through the rubble. And the overreaction to abandon them entirely is too tempting. It’s a balancing act, a circus.

The proper use of profanity.

I know Kafka looked down on it and I don’t want to start another discussion about it here, but I actually put a great deal of thought into the profanity that I do use. It may look out of control from the output side of the screen, but, from input end, I’m often amazed that I could live with only one or two or none of it. I guess it’s important to read between the lines. I wanted to say this in a comment box, but I worry that I always come off as hyper-defensive when I reply to comments.

Lots of stuff going on and so much more to write about. The point is to resist ending this thousand or so word post too cleverly, with the title I jotted down when I started.

Oh, by the way: there are some changes that are going to be happening in the comment boxes. I’m not sure what it is, but be on the lookout, I guess.

  • Bob

    Losing the little bit of writing magic you have left reminds me of “Kiki’s Delivery Service.”

    On being crazy in order to be ignored: a wild Irish-Italian-Lapsed-Catholic Doctor I know says he acts crazy mostly just so he won’t get invited to meetings.

    Finally, going to medical school and learning from power points without complete sentences is worse for your writing than studying philosophy. I am losing it fast.

  • Brian Killian

    I’ve been hitting a wall for years.


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