So, I start writing this column on a patio in Petaluma, listening to a set by the band “Fox & Woman” founded by friends I met through the 16th & Mission poetry scene. Also present is Evan Karp, Litseen editor and Quiet Lightning cofounder and Ransom Stephens, novelist. I am among artist friends. An artist among artists. Is that important to my creative work? Heavens, yes. (I’d say Hell, yes, but I just spent a week in a monastery, remember?)
After a week in retreat, chanting with the monks, I am ready for this more secular community. And yet, I realize that the communities are not that different when I think about it.
Separate out the dogma and superstition (assuming you’re a non-believer) and what is liturgy but art and community? The monks rise at 3:30 every morning to put on special costumes and make art together. Later they perform a dance. Sometimes they play musical instruments. At work, they create wines. Art. Contemplative monks and nuns have been doing it as a way of life for millenia. Are they on to something?
Leaving aside the question of religious belief (okay, the monks would object, I’m sure, but my points remain valid) there is a lot for an artist to learn from these gentle folk. It’s about balance and rhythm, a daily practice of predictable activity, a full round that includes labor and art and reflection in a never ending, predictable wheel. It is, quite literally, a time machine. It makes time.
2Maybe you don’t want to take off to a religious service every morning, or rise at three a.m. to chant psalms (although if this sounds like your cup of tea it has much to recommend it), but have you considered alternatives? I have one writer friend who resides in Bernal Heights who often makes time to head up the hill to watch the sunset or the early morning star show (gliddy glub gloopy nibby nabby noopy/ la la la). Another very energetic writer acquaintance attends a dance club every Monday night, religiously, so to speak. The point is to schedule such activities and honor them without fail. That’s how you build a time machine.
It is easy to imagine, from outside the cloister, that the life of a religious person is all about renunciation rather than affirmation. But it is also very much about what is gained: leisure, space, reflection, community. One famous book by a group of dog training monks is titled In The Spirit of Happiness. Another journal by Robert Hale, OSB (that’s Order of St. Benedict), my beloved friend and Prior of New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur is called “Love On The Mountain”. St. Benedict, the founder of Western monasticism, claimed to be offering a plan for a happy life, too. Of course, there is that little matter of celibacy, but like they say in those 12 step meetings: “take what you want and leave the rest.”
As far as personal practice (early morning mountain hikes? solo dance clubbing?) you’re on your own, but here are a few suggestions for community art practice you might find helpful:
And, of course, Quiet Lightning always welcomes volunteers. (You’ll find me there, for sure.)
Keep on storming, punks, but with finesse—yes? ‘Cause it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.
– Charles Kruger
The Storming Bohemian