I consider acedia to be the thorniest flower of the desert.
Acedia is, on the one hand, the midday loneliness the monks find burdensome.
There was Joan Didion—the Didion of those glorious California essays of the sixties.
Because she was from Sacramento and writing about the Central Valley when I first read her, it was she who taught me to imagine my own Sacramento as a literary landscape. There were voices in Saroyan, particularly the wondering boy in Fresno and the hungry writer’s voice in San Francisco, I have never forgotten.
When I told this to a neighbor, he supposed there must have been some sort of power surge in our part of the city.
Maybe because as a writer and journalist I live in a prosaic society, I long ago learned a certain discretion regarding mystery, one not enforced against poets like Auden.When a Mexican male nurse who looked strangely like me—of the same age and toothy smile—pushed my gurney into the surgery, he softly told me, his face upside down over my head, that he had survived the same operation, and that I must not worry. I smiled almost to laughter when I shook the lead surgeon’s hand. I appreciated your take on it as a somehow fertile place.I had come to associate it with boredom and acedia, the noonday demon, about which the desert monastics used to complain.Consider this: The Irish nun excused me from arithmetic class so that I could serve as an altar boy at a funeral mass. There was a fresh pile of soil piled high at the edge of the grave site, discreetly, if unsuccessfully, covered by an Astro Turf rug that was as unconvincing a denial of the hardness of time as a cheap toupee.Along with the priest and the other altar boy, I would welcome Death at the doors of the church. I wondered at the mourners’ faces—the melting grief, the hard stoicism. Were there certain writers that you looked to in forming your style? As a reader, I knew Auden the poet many years before I knew Auden the essayist.But it also opens the soul to a longing for the solitary God who yearns for us.I do not mean to imply a deterministic interpretation of religion, but I cannot write of the Abrahamic religions without writing of the desert. Do you have any advice for younger writers hoping for a career? You are asking me to live in an era other than the one that formed me., Rodriguez, who turned seventy in July, has had a wide-ranging career, and I wanted to discuss the shift of his work from cultural identity to religion. I had seen you referred to as a Mexican-American writer, a Californian writer, and a gay writer, but never, until recently, as a religious writer.But our schedules were tricky to coordinate, and then I lost my wallet. Have you always considered yourself a religious writer?For reasons of my own, I did not, for many years, imagine sex in my writing.I should mention two other influences crucial for my appreciation of the personal essay. I began with and I never let go of him—through the years of the Negro Civil Rights movement on our small black-and-white TV, then the many decades after.