Beginner’s Pen

I’ve redesigned my blog, simplified it a good deal. I’ve always been excited about the Internet, and I realized the other day I’ve been blogging and whatnot for something like more than 15 years now. The first time I really plugged myself into the World Wide Web was while I was working my second corporate gig, a job that had a boat load of inspiration for a satirical writer of comedies like Dilbert or The Office.

My manager at this gig was a control freak and a workaholic who frequently managed to stretch 40 hour weeks into 80 or 100 hours of work. I, on the other hand, had 15-20 hours of actual work that I had to stretch into a 40 hour work week. There were a few times where I told my manager that I had plenty of time to fill, and she was enthusiastic about giving me more work. “Right! Great. That’s just great. Okay….” Like most corporate gigs, the people who do the work have the least input on how things are managed, and the managers and executives who are most out of touch with the process are the people in charge of managing the workflow. But that was okay with me.

Remember how short my time is: wherefore hast thou made all men in vain? ~ Psalm 89

It worked for me because I filled the hours of my day on a theological message board. I was an aspiring theologian, passionate about theological debate, about ideas and philosophy, eager to engage critical thinking; and being in my twenties, I naturally had a sneaking suspicion that I had the answers, more or less. It was good times.

The theological message board kind of fizzled after a few years, and my interests changed. I changed. I became extremely critical of my evangelical context and conservative background. I took it out on my blog, The Theos Project, where, ironically, I attacked evangelicalism with the fever of a frontier evangelist. There was a good deal of discussion on the blog, and on other blogs that I frequented, but after a few years, I flamed out.

Really, what I was going through was a spiritual crisis, and the main issue was not theoretical but deeply personal. Eventually, I started a new blog to document this more personal phase, A Love Supreme. It never gained any traction. I’m a far more theoretical chap, more at home in the world of ideas than in my own feels. Last winter, however, I decided to become a writer, and I dedicated last year’s winter writing to probing the depths of my spiritual journey. Maybe I’ve learned a thing or two. Maybe not. In a certain sense, though, it doesn’t matter.

One of the most influential spiritual teachings for me is that of the beginner’s mind. It’s an idea that keeps cycling through my mind, dropping out for a few months, resurfacing from time to time as I realize that my mind is overly complicated or complexified. It’s the idea of “beginner’s mind.” It’s a Zen thing, one of the central themes of Shunryu Suzuki, one of the first Buddhist teachers to come to the U.S. from Asia last century. For the beginner, Suzuki said, there are many possibilities, for the expert there are few. That’s been a big part of my shift in the last 15 years, from seeking expertise to searching for simplicity.

The most recent incarnation of my Internet explorations is this Beginner’s Pen project, inspired by the idea of the Beginner’s Mind. For the next few months, I am doing a little free writing, with no particular idea in mind, just to write for the sake of writing, as a warm up for my daily work on my novel. This raw content, uncut footage, if you will, will be yours, dear reader. I will post it on this newly redesign and renamed blog, Beginner’s Pen. I’ll use a writing prompt, and usually that prompt will be a biblical quote of some sort. For better or worse, the Bible is the thing I know the most about, and I’ll take my daily passage from the one of the pre-determined readings that Episcopalians and other churches use. (I’ll likely also use the King James version, since it has many “yea’s” and “hath’s” and uses phrases like “he saddled his ass.” Also, I think that more of the poetry of rhetorical tricks of the Bible come through in the King James.)

In one way or another, we all begin again, each decade, each year, each month, each day. Every moment is new. It seems best to accept such realities.

Published by

Jonathan Erdman

Writer. In the summers, I live and work in the incredible state of Alaska, in the bush community of McCarthy, as the Executive Director of the Wrangell Mountain Center. When not in McCarthy, you'll typically find me in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, writing and working with local activists. My primary writing project right now is a novel set in remote bush Alaska, of the magical realism genre wherein an earnest and independent young woman finds a mysterious radio belonging to her grandmother, a device that has paranormal bandwidth and a disturbing ability to mess with one's mental stability.

3 thoughts on “Beginner’s Pen”

  1. “the Bible is the thing I know the most about”

    Doesn’t this make you something of an expert on the Bible, Mr. Erdman? In keeping with the spirit of your project, have you considered using prompt sources about which you remain a beginner?


  2. Hello commrade from a former virtual life. I’m happy to see you in the neighborhood for this post……You make a fair point. My only concern is that this would take the challenge out of it. If I write what I don’t know, then I am a beginner by default, without having to actually engage the process of becoming a beginner. For example, someone who has spent their life playing the guitar as a solo singer-songwriter might find themselves in a musical slump. They could seek the beginner’s mind by switching to the drums for a while and playing with a cover band at the local bars. But eventually said musician must go back to the eye of the storm, right? Face the core creative issue, i.e., his/her lack of inspiration……I don’t know if my issue is a lack of inspiration so let me toss in another analogy, the classic marriage slump. Someone who is in a troubled marriage has to choose whether they are best served leaving the marriage so as to be at their best, or they have to ask whether leaving is merely an escape from personal/ego issues that they need to work through within the marriage….For me the bad marriage analogy might be closer to my relationship with Christianity and faith. The main difference though seems to me to be the fact that I’m the only party in this relationship that’s got an ego. The other party, God, seems to only have a sense of humor about the whole thing. It’s a little like how I picture someone who is married to the Dalai Lama — you can’t really rattle him, so why even try? I’m sticking with the marriage, at least for now.


Consider this post an invitation, an invitation to comment and collaborate ~ In Solidarity, JE

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