constance: (The world is quiet here.)
Sometimes I'll read something that resonates strongly, and I'll say, you know, I will want to come back to this. I will want to remember how it affected me, I'll want to not lose sight of the things I think are important. I will want to remind myself, the way people make shopping lists and keep photo albums. And so I keep my online findings here, mostly, usually in private entries because who besides me cares, really?

Today's, though, is just so delightful I had to share it. Both the tone of the letter, and what Cary Tennis has to say. It's in response to someone who wrote in saying he wants a contemplative life but gets tired of being marginalized because of it.

Dear Diogenes,

Well, indeed, what?

There seem to be several interlocking questions lurking in your letter, but this is the one I like best: How does one live the contemplative life in America? It's not easy. For one thing, you simply cannot get the clothes. You go to Banana Republic and say you would like something for the contemplative lifestyle, and you get that look. They don't have anything for you. You go to an employment agency and say, I am looking for something in the field of contemplation. They've got no current openings. They'll call you if something comes up. Something never does. You tell a real estate agent, I'd like an apartment complex attractive to, you know, contemplative types -- with a 24-hour library, on-call Kierkegaard scholars, the works! They act like they don't know what you're talking about.

Contemplation is not on our national agenda. There's no plank in the Democratic Party or the Republican Party. We think there's something fishy about contemplation, frankly. What is its product? What do you get when you're done? The thought of a man spending all day reading offends us. If he must do that, at least, we say, he should produce books that can be sold at the airport.

The university and the church are your two best bets. But each institution has its loyalty oaths and its trials, and neither truly embraces pure contemplation. Each, in the American model, is a factory of sorts; scholars and ecclesiastics alike are essentially shoemakers and saloonkeepers. Produce, produce, produce! Serve us, serve us, serve us! Even contemplation must bear fruit! America commands you: Produce books! Harness yourself to the publishing machine and pull, pull, pull, you recalcitrant donkey, you solitary Don Quixote!

But face it: Being a contemplative sort is weird no matter what century, what continent. Even in Tibet or India, the classic destinations, you're on your own once you begin thinking, because you're in your own head, dude! Nobody can go there but you! No wonder it's weird!

As a contemplative person, you are truly in your element on the margins; you are truly alive when you are only half-alive, if you get my drift, peripherally speaking. You live in the interstices, down the alleys between the actual streets.

This is how we remind each other that however strange and isolated it may seem to be you, there is another person to whom life seems just as spectral and constrained, just as contingent: We write these letters to each other that say yes, I know, I too feel that if I could only sit in my window for a thousand days without speaking and without spending money I would finally be free! If only I could unmoor this hulking frame from the quotidian wheel! Yes, we are with you, or would like to be, if only your project were one that we could join (we're not sure it is; its very existence may be contingent on its being un-joinable)! Even in saying we are with you, we transgress, because you know and I know that none of us is with any of us! Camped together on the outskirts of town, we are still alone, each struggling to find a way to do this unnameable thing.

Strange to say, I think we like it that way. It just gets lonely sometimes, is all.

--Cary Tennis


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March 2012

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