The Mexican monk that guards me
Writing is a solitary activity; it doesn’t allow for the stimulation and companionship that makes working with other people such a joy for me. Every morning I have to resist the pull of the world out there and sit at my computer so that the thoughts and images buried in my head can float to the surface.
But a recent trip to Mexico provided me with a totem to abate that loneliness.
Felipe and I found a small statue of a young monk in a brown, cord-knotted habit off a dusty road in San Miguel de Allende, a small colonial town about three-and-a-half hours north-west of Mexico City, where I studied creative writing in 1978 just before we met.
The statue is about thirty centimetres tall and made of light wood. His left arm is missing, as is part of his right hand, and the paint of his habit is peeling off. He has a rather coy smile on his scratched face, and the dots that represent his eyes look slightly cross-eyed in a sweet way.
Right away, I noticed the similarities between the monk and myself; because of a birth defect my right arm is cut off below the elbow and the fingers on my left hand are deformed. That might be the reason why I immediately felt a kind of kinship with him, a need to protect. When I picked up the statue, I saw stone under its pedestal. Perhaps the monk used to have a place in one of the many churches in San Miguel de Allende, though there were none around the road where we found him.
Was he damaged in the church and therefore discarded? Or was he discarded and therefore damaged? I imagined him out on the street exposed to the elements, the traffic and the boisterous kids who would have kicked him as if he were a soccer ball.
There was no way I could leave him there by the roadside, so I asked Felipe for his handkerchief. I carefully draped the handkerchief around the statue and put it in my bag, which I carried with me as we flew back to Barcelona so I’d be sure he wouldn’t get lost.
At home, I put the statue on my writing desk in the library next to the brown bowl given to us by two dear Korean artists we work with. They complement each other, the perfect, shiny Korean bowl and the damaged Mexican statue carved from cheap wood.
I greet him every day before I start writing, and that small ritual gives me the solace I need to focus on the work I have in front of me.
My Mexican monk guards me when I look at my screen or stare into the distance with narrow eyes, hoping to find inspiration there.
He’s not alone anymore, and I, too, have a quiet yet observant companion when writing.