“You must write throughout the whole of your intellectual life.
In the first place one writes for oneself, to see clearly
into one’s personal position and problems, to give definition to one’s thoughts, to keep up and stimulate attention which sometimes flags
if not kept on the alert by activity- to make a beginning on lines of investigation which prove to be necessary as one writes,
to encourage oneself in an effort that would be wearisome
in the absence of some visible result, lastly to form one’s style
and acquire that possession which puts the seal on all the others,
the writer’s art.”
~ A.G. Sertillanges, The Intellectual Life, p.199.
After considering the draw of physical pilgrimage, inward lettered paths provide the complement. By this I refer to the rewards of reading pursuits. Imagine the roads, air lanes, and waterways finding equivalents among library aisles, pages, and sketched images. Learning is implicit to discovery. Seeking to find is essentially a venturing forth to comprehend. Foraging through written words, books, conversations, even active listening, can mark paths to our own written words. As with geographic travel, voyages through ideas and words must be purposefully sought. In my experience, the lure of promising landscapes is akin to the drive for insight. The latter is a continuing search for practical knowledge and perspective, so that I can take to the trails more skillfully.
During a meandering walk, I noticed how thoughts naturally distill into ideas. In their own intangible ways, untethered musings become fruitful. Though not visibly productive, an adventure is in progress. Words, images, and aspirations are forming with each step. Consequently, thirsting for wisdom and insight proceeds as a continuing pursuit. One might not consider such studies necessary, but I’ve found learning to be vital, satisfying, and useful. As pilgrimage travels are beyond the perfunctory, so contemplative reading is far too compelling to be burdensome. Essentially, the whole of life’s advancement comprises different forms of research. Enjoyable reading and inquiry generates momentum, and I am able to find the narrow passages through thinly-sliced schedules. Such pilgrimage is a worthwhile continuum of construction and refinement.
Reflective reading and writing permit for the recording and charting of journeys past and upcoming. When ideas are in short supply, it generally means I’m not reading or observing enough. Inspiring written words, along with landscapes and skies, bring souls to pose questions. If not for inquiries into worlds of knowledge and Spirit, I’d be pulled into whirlpools turbid with time’s undertow. Yet indeed, the research passion is discreet by nature; thought processes not for their own sakes, but with hopes for application.
Ordinarily, elementary and secondary school experiences enforce study specifically toward the goals of passing exams. With fear and hope as tandem motivating factors, the shame of failure combines with the drive for timely completion. Between Chaucerian “fear fled with fury,” and Coleridge’s “work without hope draws nectar in a sieve,” potential joys in studies suffocate. Then, in the post-survival, comes the challenge of finding one’s own delight in learning that will last beyond time. For me, the steadily sweeter tastes evolved alongside my increased abilities to choose my own coursework- especially in graduate school.
A decade on since thesis-writing, the momentum remains, even intensifying with each exploration. I still recall how in my solitary jubilation at completing the heavy, source-cited, footnoted, field-tested document, I took that printed pack of paper out for a steak dinner. Raising a toast to the achievement was simultaneously a celebration of more freedom to read anything I want. And freedom to do more writing (albeit with less free time). That mixture of gratitude and exhilaration has not died away. It is surely reignited during sojourns in extraordinary libraries such as the Boston Athenaeum.
As a thirsting pilgrim, I seek the words of experienced narratives from times other than my own. For such forays, I’m “reading with a pencil,” slowly savoring turns of phrases and making notes. Often these notations become indexes for subsequent references which I’m able to use and share. Stored wisdom, like a cupboard’s ingredients, can find value in its uses. These mined gems are in themselves good reads. Not unlike journaling, the indexes are written and referred to, for memory and future navigation. The assembling of thoughts and words can be as gratifying as active reading. Maps drawn during one journey can inform explorations that follow.
(Below: How I've indexed Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's Citadelle.)
Recently, I attended a lecture given by a social commentator. It was entertaining, and I could see how the speaker draws remuneration from these sorts of presentations. About midway though the talk, it became obvious to me (and perhaps to others) how the speaker was far more an observer than a practitioner. There are significant differences between speaking about expressive processes evidently as an outside observer, compared to providing a practitioner’s experience while describing creative processes. Spectators that also participate on the playing field can attest to the ways both reading and writing complete a nourishing cycle of absorption and manifestation. The twin endeavors of reading and writing intertwine, being ways of inquiry and understanding.
The speaker’s words stumbled whenever it came to describing materials and processes, despite the implication that we were all to believe the speaker knew these things from the inside out. With respect, I hope there are chances for future projects that will bring the presenter into personal pursuits of applied process. Sertillanges once advised that:
“We must always be more than we are;
the philosopher must be something of a poet, the poet
something of a philosopher; the craftsman must be poet
and philosopher on occasion,
and the people recognize this fact.”
Perhaps the great “published work” is a self that develops an improving sense of perspective and of the sacred. Thus, reading, studying, and writing are components in a construction project. Aspiring to be at once observer and practitioner causes us to “be more than we are.” An invaluable pursuit, at many levels, and the type of path worthy of plotting, mapping, and travelling.