Around the time I graduated from college, happy but worn down with frantic overwork, David Levy at the University of Washington wrote a paper titled "No Time To Think: Reflections on Information Technology and Contemplative Scholarship." It's a nice paper to read while sitting on the couch in a patch of sunlight and resting your hands between proposal-typing spurts.
The quote that struck me most was from Josef Pieper, a German theologian who drew on St. Thomas Aquinas to make sense of how to turn a devastated world towards "meaningful" work in the wake of WWII.
"Leisure is a form of that stillness that is the necessary preparation for accepting reality; only the person who is still can hear, and whoever is not still, cannot hear. Such stillness as this is not mere soundlessness or a dead muteness; it means, rather, that the soul's power... has not yet descended into words. Leisure is the disposition of receptive understanding, of contemplative beholding, and immersion - in the real."
How are you with silence? Solitude? Feelings? Discipline? I was asked all these questions at the start of the school year by different people, and answered them all with nervous laughter as I buckled down on each one. When I look at how I write about the future, I can see I need this sort of living contemplation to spring forth into the action where I also feel alive.
"A cozy home, a life intertwined with the community and with scholarly colleagues. Big kitchen with a window with a view, good food to feed the brains and hearts and hands tumbling through tough ideas at the table, wrestling out research and life together. Sleep, food, and faith. Friends. Music, movement. Sunlight. Writing. Tea and satisfaction." (December 2013)
"A sort of worn-in comfort; cozy-looking gates and windows, an absently roaming garden jammed with flowers, grasses, and a plethora of charmingly mismatched lawn doohickeys... a fireplace, a lounging couch with laptop power cords winding towards it, shelves and shelves and shelves stuffed full with books, desks stacked happily with papers and coffee stains. Everything in a sort of happy flow, absentminded of the cooling mulled cider because of an intense, expansive mental presence in a problem space, dogs and cats and spouse and kids tumbling in and out of a researcher’s field of vision. The night grows crisp, and the tea kettle runs out and is rinsed with hot water and placed upended on a towel to dry..." (October 2011)
I do not often find that balance. I am still learning to become myself. But yesterday, I woke up early, read and studied, wrote several solid pages, danced, and ran leaping down the sidewalk in a light drizzle, Hug Panda around my neck, shouting gleefully as I passed bewildered friends. "Happy Easter, Mark! WheeeeeI'mgonnaparkthecar!" "Look look look Abbee, squirrels!" ("Mel! The walk sign!" "BUT BUT SQUIRREL, ABBEE!") And then scrambling into a meeting: "Hi Megan! Brandon! Everyone! Oh right! I need... a... BOOK!" -- my continuous sprint into the room turned into a vault-over-tables to get to the bookshelf (with efficiency!), whereupon I turned around to realize the whole group was falling over with laughter at my acrobatic entry.
Working hypothesis: I'm called to a multifacted hospitality (more on that someday) as well as a punctuated contemplation in the world; my actions bubble up, spring forth, from silence and stillness and rest and a making of home-ness for both myself and others.
But I don't know, and that's okay. Before I sleep at night these days, I lie in bed quietly stretching out my shoulders and my ankles, nuzzling into the nest of comforter and pillows, grateful for being in the world, wondering whether I did it right. It's not an anxious wonder, it's a curious and hopeful one. And then I tumble into sleep. And then I wake and stretch again and start with leisure: showers and tea and (now that Lent is over) eggs. (Eggs!) And then I work, and contemplation is my work, and being Mel is also my work, and sometimes I write papers and things while being-Mel...
Not sure why I am writing this. Thoughts half-formed. This post is a half-chipped block of marble; lots of mess, a ton of extra stuff, a tangle. But. Nice moment, sunny day; good break from "real" work, and now... I go back into it to write a chapter on poststructuralism for my proposal. Hello, Barthes. How are you? (I am a Mel. Let's go!)