Critical Thought: Monks

The process of making something, anything—a story, an art piece, a video, this statement—is a fine and simple pleasure. This process, involving solving the problem of the thing, deciding where it wants to go and to what end, can be complex—bringing on research, trial and error, and failure—or it can be quick and effortless, yet the pleasure it genders is simple. There is the making of the thing and there is its result, just those two. Monks in some way I hope suggests that joy.

Joseph Young lives in Baltimore, where he writes and makes things. He was recently described by a friend as a “physical writer,” meaning that he enjoys making text concrete through collage, photocopy transfer, and other art techniques. The story Monks is from the pdf chapbook, Falls the Shadow, written and illustrated by Joseph and available for free download here.

Next post: Nov 21

Monks

A very tall monk sat on a mountain, eating a bowl of rice and looking at the valley below.


“They’re voting in record numbers,” said a shorter, fatter monk who took a seat beside him.


“I know. Look at the line.” He held out his wooden spoon and traced a zigzag from the door of the polling place, down and along the bank of the green river, into the pines, and out again across the hummocked pasture.


“Will you be voting?” asked the shorter monk, beads in his hands.


“Oh no. It’s against the rules of our order. We can’t become involved in the affairs of society.”


The fat monk sighed, smiling into the sun. “You’re so lucky then, sitting on your mountain and eating rice. Our order requires us to vote. Requires us to work in the town. To buy our own robes. Feed the poor.”


The tall monk watched as an ant traveled the strap of his sandal. He prayed that the ant would find its way to heaven, and then he laughed. “Yes, it is a nice life. It’s very pleasant here on our moun- tain, eating and praying for the ants and spiders and goats.”


At that, the short monk got to his feet. “I’d kick you,” he said, smil- ing again into the warm sunshine, “But it’s against our vows.”


“Then I am lucky,” said the other.


He sat and watched as the fat monk picked his way down the mountain, over the mossy boulders and across the streams. He prayed for the soul of the monk to find its way to heaven. A raven croaked from the top of a tree, and he prayed for its soul as well. He saw the long line of the voters snaking through the valley, and he prayed yet again. Finally, hand on his belly and legs stretched wide, he prayed for himself. “There,” he said, and closed his eyes. “Everything is done.”


by Joseph Young