In case anyone is wondering, this is my forty-second entry for the “Our Monk in Rome” project. Each week, for the past forty-two weeks, I have submitted an essay to my computer savvy brothers in New Mexico to post on our website. That kind of technicality is far beyond my capabilities, or as an Italian friend learning English likes to put it, “We are not in a position to…”, for example, post essays on websites!
I am grateful there are brothers that can do this, and I guess they are grateful I am submitting something to them each week so that they are not left high and dry when readers are looking for something new from yours truly.
I recently read an article in the New York Times about their obituaries, which I learned are often written long before the death of the person to whom tribute is being paid. In fact, strange as it may sound, the authors of obituaries sometimes are deceased (even long) before the person they have written about!
This makes for an unexpected turn of events, but in the publishing world it appears to be a necessary evil. You cannot always write overnight the entire obituary of a pope, a president or a queen. Therefore, the New York Times, and presumably other publications as well, need to “stockpile” their obituaries and put the final touches on them when the person being remembered actually dies. Truth is stranger than fiction.
Why do I bring this up? Because, as you may have guessed by now, I stockpile my “Our Monk in Rome” essays. I usually have two to four “in the hopper” as I call it, ready to go, already proofread, but not yet published online. This is in case I make a journey and need to forward more than one essay to the brothers who kindly try to post each Monday the essays I submit. Fortunately I have been able to maintain the stockpiling concept over these past forty-two weeks. I plan to continue doing so.
A bit of mania, prudence, overkill, or something else perhaps, but it has proved useful for keeping me from frantically composing an essay at the last minute, akin to trying to write an obituary for a famous person in a matter of minutes or hours. Oh, the challenges of being a writer, amateur that I am!
I am indebted to the existence of word processors, or whatever they are currently called, a far cry from a portable Remington typewriter, that monastic authors like Thomas Merton relied upon. I cannot imagine how Merton completed the corpus of writing that he did on a simple manual typewriter, not even an IBM Selectric typewriter that seemed to be the rage in the 1970s, when I was a young monk, though I understand the machines were first introduced in 1961.
Today the IBM Selectric is a dinosaur, but in its day it was state of the art and something every serious writer or student wanted or owned. Even the IBM Pavillion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair (remember those?) was an impressive structure designed to resemble a giant Selectric type element, what was frequently called a “typeball” or more informally a “golf ball.”
Those of a certain age will remember that the Selectric typeball was a rotating and pivoting metal orb that could be easily changed for different fonts in the same document. In addition, the IBM Selectric had a paper roller that stayed in position while the typeball and ribbon mechanism moved from side to side. It all sounds fascinating, but now completely obsolete, relegated to who knows where or nowhere at all. Once again, we are talking of a long extinct creature of another time and place.
All I can say is that I am thankful for the relatively simple procedure for cranking out my essays, getting them proofread thousands of miles away, then properly saved, stored in my computer, and finally sent to the brothers responsible for posting them, also thousands of miles away. I am also pondering the possibility of publishing the essays in book form sometime in the future.
It is an ambitious undertaking, all of it, but not so as daunting to accomplish as in ages past. Oh, the faith of our fathers and mothers, who knew nothing of the modern conveniences we call PCs and word processors, and yet they somehow survived!
Someone asked me how I find the topics that I have thus far covered in my weekly postings. I replied that for the most part the topics come to me, almost literally, in the form of daily walks, trips of one kind or another, persons I meet or shrines that I visit, assignments that I am given, in other words, what I see, hear, taste and smell, in the great and sometimes frustrating big city of Rome.
This summer someone, presumably a prankster, rang our front doorbell at 11:30 pm. Fast asleep, the horrific bell that can be heard throughout the house tore me from sleep, made me trip on the portable fan near my bed as I got up to see if there was actually a need to open the front door, and when I concluded there was no one, I had trouble falling back asleep.
Some of the brethren in the house did not even hear the late-night bell, but for me it was another wake up call, quite literally, that this city, with its beautiful as well as less than beautiful features, is what I currently call home and need to make the best of. It was something of a relief to learn that our neighbors had the “ring and run” experience the same night that we did, so no one was exclusively targeting us monks in the Eternal City. A small but real consolation.