I really don’t know writing at all (does anyone?) – shower thoughts

As someone with relatively few talents, I have tended to clutch to my heart the one or two that I possess, quietly and internally considering them an adequate raison d’être while outwardly feeling inadequate on a near constant basis.  It’s a problem.  The thing is, I have a hard time talking to people.  The thing is, if you put me in front of a keyboard, I suddenly feel capable of a greatness that I do not otherwise possess.  The thing is, what is important is not that I actually achieve any sort of greatness on a regular basis but that I am actually occasionally capable of it.  Or, at least, that’s what I tell myself.

Oh God, I’m being neurotic again.

Anyway.  A lot of my thoughts come to me in the shower.  I’m not sure what it is about the shower that makes it a great fermentation chamber for thought, but it works for me.  Steam, hot water, nice smelling soaps, time, that pitter-patter sound of water falling against the FRP siding in my ghetto shower all combine together to create a time and space in which thoughts can bounce around and sometimes coalesce in my otherwise scattered mind.  This morning, among various non-thought reflections (ugh, tired…. ugh, back hurts… ugh, morning… etc.), I thought about the process of writing, how I write, how other people write (how would I know?), and whether I can ever know that what I write is actually true.

I edit while I write, a simultaneous process.  I’ll start to write a sentence and then I’ll stop for a while, looking up and to the right, twitching my fingers about, tapping them lightly on the keyboard, perhaps creating a connection between the pitter-patter sound of the keyboard and the sound of water in my shower.  Who knows?  The process happens so quickly, so unconsciously, I suppose.  It’s slippery, like a well-used bar of soap.  Writing, to me, is a process of taking my often nebulous ideas about my self or my life and translating them into English, the only language I know.

It is definitely a matter of translation.  For example: when walking in the rain earlier this afternoon, I reflected on the singular pleasure I experience when rain falls with a light splat on my nose.  The transcript of that thought would read only “Hm! Nice!”  A film of that thought sequence would include a close up on my nose while the rain drop went SPLAT!  Then would follow a montage of other moments from my life when rain has fallen softly on my nose: SPLAT, SPLAT, SPLAT! ending with a lingering shot of me smiling slightly at the fond, wry memory.  The film would be a very accurate depiction of my actual thought patterns–they tend to be more visual than verbal–but I just don’t have a videographer following me around at every moment helping me to make sense of my thoughts.  When I write, I think back on those moments that are true, and I attempt to take them out of the realm of indistinct impressions and into the bright, definite, black and white world of written language.  I hope that these moments remain true throughout the translation process, but how can I know?

The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine – where to go when you want to feel insignificant (in a good way)

Entrance to St. John the Divine

That’s me standing outside the entrance to the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine after the 11:00 Mass on Sunday, March 11, 2012.  It wasn’t actually that cold outside, but I’m from California, so I wear my big black coat whenever the temperature dips below 60.  It was probably about 50 out when this picture was taken.  You can really get a feel for how enormous the cathedral is… I’m 6’2″, and I look tiny compared to that giant entryway that doesn’t even fit in the frame.

POV shot walking up the steps of the church

When you’re walking up the steps to enter the church, you really can’t see the whole facade.  I mean, sure, you could crane your neck and attempt to see it as you step closer and closer towards it, but those sorts of walking antics would cause me to fall backwards down the steps.  So when I say you can’t see the whole facade, I actually mean that you can’t see it and stay vertical or, more accurately, that I can’t.  You might be more amazing.  I took the above photo holding the camera at eye level and looking up slightly to demonstrate the sort of view available to a person walking up those steps.  Limited and skewed though it is, the view is still impressive.

I get distracted thinking about all the masons who worked on the facade, all those workers who carved the stone and applied the iron to the wood and dangled precariously off scaffolding in order to create this magnificent frontispiece to a truly remarkable building.  Did the artisans and workers feel a sense of personal pride or service (or both) in working on what was to be a House of Prayer for All People, or was it just a paycheck to them?  Did they believe they were working on something beautiful, or did all of that Gothic over-the-topness seem a bit much?

I took pictures only of the exterior.  I know there are plenty of photos out there of the interior, but it felt wrong, somehow, to take pictures with my lame camera phone.

The first thing I noticed when I walked inside was how big it was.  My church could probably fit in that cathedral twenty-four times (two wide, three high, four deep).  When you’re in a space that big, the very air is different.  Sounds carry differently in such a place, and I bet the scripture readers have to undergo a lot of training on dealing with the relay before they are unleashed at the microphone.  The Reverend Canon who delivered the homily spoke deliberately, using the size of the place and the relay of sound to add another layer of meaning and experience to her sermon.  Even though the liturgy was exactly the same, the experience was completely different because of all that space and stone.

Personally, I like my church a bit better.  Maybe it’s a big fish/small pond thing, but I felt uncomfortably insignificant standing in the cathedral.  It’s good to feel that insignificant once in a while (because surely we are), but I can’t imagine dealing with it every week.

The other thing that I noticed about the cathedral is that it’s much more pleasant to be fully high church in a spacious cathedral than in a relatively small parish church.  They had a jolly incense bearer swinging his incense all over the place, sending up these giant plumes of white, fragrant smoke.  When my Priest takes it into his head to be all sorts of high church, I cringe and cough and try to discretely cover my nose so I can breathe air untainted by all that smoke.  What seems noxious and awful at my church was absolutely endurable at the cathedral.  At my church, the incense, because it is so concentrated in the smaller space, smells–to me–like burning pee.  At the cathedral, the incense carried hints of that burning pee smell but, oddly, not in an unpleasant way.  It was clearly the same type of incense, but it wasn’t horrible.

So there you have it: the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine!  I definitely recommend a visit whenever you should find yourself in New York City, especially if you are already of the Episcopal persuasion (otherwise, perhaps take a guided tour rather than attend a mass… less confusing that way!).  I think I need to visit some of the cathedral churches in Los Angeles to see if a cathedral is a cathedral or if my impression that St. John the Divine is a very special place holds true.  After all, I’ve only been to one cathedral–maybe they’re all like that!