Thursday, December 26, 2013
Tear-Water Tea is Always Good, or Why I Write
This is a Catholic blog. But it's not a Catholic apologetics blog, or a Catholic-mommy blog, or even the kind of blog in which a charmingly self-deprecating, adorably-bumbling Catholic woman candidly reveals her missteps and foibles, only to show how, in the end, they reveal profound lessons of God's wisdom. I was chided once in the combox here (by a non-post-abortive woman, one of more than a few who have taken the opportunity, in the comboxes, to assure me that they would never do what I had done all those years ago) for setting a destructive example, with this blog, for other post-abortive women, presumably by not making it one of the blogs described above. And I've been advised by a respected friend that more people would read here if this blog didn't have its ethos of quietly-pervasive melancholy.
But that's okay with me. Unlike, I presume, most bloggers, I don't like to think that too many people are reading here; it makes me feel exposed. After one of my posts went bizarrely viral a couple of years ago, I canceled my occasional participation in a much more widely-read blog, because the attention was uncomfortable. I'm not interested in things like getting a book contract out of my writing here, which seems to be the logical next step for many of the Catholic bloggers I admire. I already have a book contract in real life, for a work based on my musicological research. But not only will few people who read this blog read that book (most of my readers don't know me by the name under which it will be published), but it's also likely that few people in the real world will read it. Again, that's okay with me. I want to finish writing the book in order to honor my commitment to the publisher, and also because I believe I have something original to say in my field that might be of use to other scholars. But there's more.
While I have neither any authority nor any ability as a theologian or apologist, nor as a mommy- or cute-hapless-chick-blogger, I'm an observer, a witness to the mundane life, a diarist of memory, and a noticer of beauty in unusual places. This blog is where I attempt to chronicle those things. My life has been, and is, very different from those of most of my blogger cohort, including those whom I consider my friends. Because of my background, my temperament, and in some measure my circumstances, I experience psychic pain, both chronic and acute, every day, and I don't really believe in neatly-tied-up endings, which makes this blog not only an anti-blogger-book-contract-getting kind of blog, but even, in some ways, exactly the kind of blog you don't want your search engine to turn up when you're looking for answers in the lonely middle of the night.
In Barbara Kingsolver's compelling novel The Lacuna, Harrison Shepherd, an aspiring writer working as a cook in the household of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in 1930s Mexico, states his greatest wish: "To make something beautiful, that people would find very moving." I share that wish. I suppose that the reason I continue to write here when I have time is that I want to make sense of things, of my life, and of the world around me, and to pull some beauty out of it in the hope of moving some anonymous reader's heart.
This is why I love the story "Tear-Water Tea" in the easy-reader book Owl at Home, by the legendary Arnold Lobel. In fact, it may be the perfect work of literature, because it describes what I think must be the true purpose of literature, and indeed of all the arts: to take what is mundane, sad, or even unbearable, and to make something consoling and useful out of it, if not something transcendent.
In the story, the childlike and solitary Owl, in his bathrobe and slippers, decides that it's the right sort of night for making tear-water tea. Aided by sad thoughts ("Spoons that have fallen behind the stove and are never seen again . . . . pencils that are too short to use"), he proceeds to weep into his tea-kettle. When the kettle is full, he boils it for tea, saying, "It tastes a little bit salty . . . but tear-water tea is always good."
There's something reminiscent of a sacrament, I think, in the idea of tear-water tea, which uses the commonest, plainest, most mundane and intimate substance -- a substance whose association with suffering is inescapable -- to make something else, something comforting and curative. All true works of art, I suppose, are reflections, however pale, of that divine confection, the sacrament of God's mercy, made from materials which are worked by human hands. In my own small, particular, faltering, and anonymous way, I would like to reflect God's mercy here, in the hopes that it might be useful to someone else. That's why I write.
Merry Christmas to all of you, dear readers. I wish you a very happy new year.