Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Rules

How often I think of the convent of San Marco in Florence and the Fra Angelico frescoes painted on one wall of each cell. From that memory, on to that life, one so constricted yet so rich in detail.  A cloister with dripping fountains, a kitchen garden with espaliered pear trees against the confining walls,  and the Divine Office: Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, Compline. A wall beyond which lives a city, a town, a surrounding countryside, a world beyond reach, yet cared for through prayer.
I love the stories of wild women who became nuns so they might have freedom rather than marriage. The ecstacies and inventiveness, the intensity of the relationships, the mad midnight writings and recalibrations of sexuality, the teeth gritting obedience to the men who came along every so often to make sure the convents were shipshape.
Yet that is not the monasterial life I imagine. It is the Rule, the predictable passage of the body through time, the attempt to shape the mind. 
I am nearly finished cleaning up the room where I will write. It has taken all fall. The walls are grey, the shelves cherry, and the bed covered with an old postage stamp quilt. It's very small--only a couple of steps from one side to the other. I have a painting on the wall done by my mother, and a map of Mount Desert Island. A painting made for me by a friend, of the back of my head--the French braid I wore at my wedding.
When I lie in bed at night I often try to figure out how how many replications of my body it would take to fill the room. Even in such a tiny space, it is so many--thirty, at least. Maybe more.

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