Cathedral

building is smashing is building is smashing

When our daughter is in school, my wife and I walk up and down our flat shouting “hard hard hard” at the top of our lungs, just because it feels so good and you can do it in so many different voices. Sometimes, this turns into something else. Often it doesn’t, because, you know, life is hard.

Workers have dug up the street in front of our windows. They’re tough. I watch a drunk guy cross the line and wander into the tough guys’ zone. The drunk guy shouts something. The workers ignore him. What they don’t know is that he ignores them, too.

Today, I came across this quote by Ingmar Bergman:

“I want to be one of the artists in the cathedral on the great plain. I want to make a dragon’s head, an angel, a devil — or perhaps a saint — out of stone.”

I can see that “cathedral on the great plain.” It’s huge. I could never build anything like it. I can also see you sculpt away on your stone saint. Myself, I’d pick the dragon’s head because I come from a long line of semi-professional pagans and eccentrics: we’re fire-eaters.

Lately, I realised that both music and books, listening and reading, have seriously taken a back seat in the amphitheatre of my mind: I listen when I write now and I read now only to write better. I have also (almost) given up on opinions: they can really get in the way of a story. With every firm opinion, a character or a whole cast must be discarded. Often, the ones we don’t agree with are the most interesting types. That’s a pity.

Bad music and bad books are full of opinions, too. I used to be able to stand them a lot better and I can’t stand them at all when I write which is what I do all the time now.

Take that concert I’m listening to. I switch it off and a space opens. Begs to be filled. No, untrue. Could be left empty but then it’d be empty like an empty hand or like a missing piece in a rare collection. No more listening now. And I also drop the book that I’m reading: it engaged me, it worried me.

This is what happens: I hear a truck on the road. A crane turning. Snow slushing under wagon wheels. A shout, then another. Someone crying softly. The street’s a novel, now. My own breath, in, out, in. My heart beat. Tic Tac Toe. That worry is mine, it doesn’t belong to the book I just read. I want to do something with that worry, something different from the guy who wrote the other story. His is in, mine must out. In. Out.

I’ve begun to build a cathedral. The drunk guy waves at me and I wave back. He whistles: music to my ears. I can read it in his face: I’ve begun to smash a cathedral.


This was a December 2010 guest post on Sheldon Lee Compton’s amazing blog Bentcountry, an honest mixture of prayers, stories and writerly news. Go there and enjoy the attitude and the artistry of this talented writer who is going to be one of our next gastarbeiter — The meanderings of this piece helped me shape a number of thoughts and goals and benefitted my writing. For me, non-fiction and autobiographical writing tend to have that effect. Shel didn’t really want me to write about writing originally. He wanted me to write about music, anything but writing on writing. Instead, not listening to music became the starting point for “Cathedral”. The bridge to Carver via the Bergman quote is perhaps an accident, Sigmund would know all about that. Otherwise nothing here that I wouldn’t have told my shrink. Filed under Non-Fiction – My Guest Posts.

2 thoughts on “Cathedral

  1. Pingback: Cathedral | Nothing To Flawnt | Steve's Micro Blog

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