Credit: Mt. Saviour

What I’m Writing This Week

DeSean arrives at a monastery to rest for a few days after a grueling week-long writer’s retreat. Inspiration totally eludes him. He is desperate to find a compelling plot line for his novel. A dead monk helps him.

This week I share a story from the first person point of view. Honestly, I’m not comfortable writing with this POV. Not sure why. Maybe it requires a much deeper dive into a character’s psyche. I find it challenging.

I hope you enjoy it.

Torn and Shredded

Bob Gillen

As I pulled my backpack and duffle bag out of my dirt-streaked Toyota in the monastery parking lot, a robed figure approached me in the fading light.

“Hello, you must be DeSean. I’m Brother Lucien.”

I liked his firm handshake.

“We were concerned. Glad you made it.”

“A massive tie-up on the Thruway,” I said. “A couple of jack-knifed tractor trailers. Had me sitting in my car for hours. Sorry to be late.”

“You’re here now. Ease your mind.” He waved me forward.” Follow me.” Brother Lucien led me down several stone-walled corridors and motioned to a door. “This is your cell while you visit us. Are you hungry?”

“I got fast food when I got off the Thruway.”

“On the desk you’ll find the daily schedule the monks follow during the week. Visitors are welcome to join any of our services, early morning through evening.”


“Our first prayers are at 4:30 in the morning. You may find that too early. But the next is at seven, followed by breakfast.”

Brother Lucien turned back before leaving the room. “In your letter you said you were coming to us for a brief rest after a long writer’s retreat in Montreal. May I ask, how did that go?”

I shook my head. “Not well.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. I do hope you find peace while you’re here.”

“Thanks. I’ll see you in the morning.”

 A bed, a small dresser, a table and chair filled the tiny room. All wood, all austere. I tossed my bags under the desk, found a bathroom down the hall, and crawled into bed.

The silence crashing down on my little room didn’t reach my brain. I had anticipated this visit to be a rest after a productive writer’s retreat. Stress now oozed out of every one of my pores. The workshop had failed me. Or rather, I had failed. Failed to write anything of any consequence. I had an editor waiting for my manuscript. I was already a month late. All I had was several opening chapters, and the last chapter. Plot eluded me. Totally.

I woke to sun streaming in the single window, someone gently poking my shoulder. I blinked away the sleep. Brother Lucien stood over me. “Are you all right?” he asked.

I struggled to focus. “I think so, yes. What time is it?”

“Nine a.m. You missed services and breakfast.”

I shook the sleep from my head. “I thought it was optional.”

“Not mandatory, yes. Most of our guests do prefer to share our life while they are here.”

“I guess I needed my rest. Sorry you had to rouse me.”

Brother Lucien nodded. 

I stared at the sunlit window. “Looks like a good morning to walk, to clear my head. Are there any trails or paths here?”

Brother Lucien pointed to the desk. 

“There’s a map in the drawer. You will be able to find several quiet paths…Lunch will be at noon.”

I thanked him and he left.

After washing up, I stuck my laptop, a notebook, a pen in my backpack and followed the map to a path that looked promising.

I should have told Lucien I’m not a morning person.

I wandered along a path that took me deep into the woods surrounding the monastery buildings. Scuffing through the leaves on the path, I inhaled the aroma of both fresh and decaying vegetation. Within fifteen minutes I felt like I had disappeared off the face of the earth. Dense foliage, trees that arched over the path, no sunlight penetrating the cover. A profound silence punctuated only by bird calls.

I found a small shaded clearing after walking for another half hour. A bench sat in the center, wood slats set on stone pillars. The sun was not high enough as yet to shine straight down on the clearing. I sat, opened my notebook, and stared at the trees. Inspiration. It has to be here.

The trees offered no inspiration. Nor did the birdsong. Nor the blue sky above. I opened the laptop and read my first chapters. Nothing made sense. Where does the story go from here?

After a fruitless few hours I felt the sun’s heat as it drew directly overhead and warmed the bench. I felt drowsy. Stretching out on the bench, I fell asleep. 

For the second time that day, I woke to someone poking my shoulder. This time a bit more insistently. 


“Oh, hi, Brother Lucien.”

I looked around to get my bearings. “It seems I overslept again.”

“You missed lunch.”

I shrugged. “Odd. I don’t feel hungry.”

“I sense peace is eluding you. Would you prefer to sit here for a while longer?”

“Yes, if you don’t mind. I’m at least catching up on my sleep at your monastery.”

“We are here to provide a respite from a busy world. It’s good you are finding rest.” He extended his arms. “I do worry that you will need to eat soon. To nourish yourself.”

I brushed my hand through my hair. “I’ll be back for afternoon services and supper.”

Brother Lucien nodded. “Rest, and let peace find you.” He walked off.

I sat up, grabbed the notebook. Waited for the words, the inspiration. Waited. Waited. Re-read the first chapters. I had no clue where to take the story.

As the sun moved on, and the clearing moved back into shade, I stood. I shook my head, trying to clear my brain fog. No inspiration here. I shuffled back along the path.

Singing floated from the chapel. I slipped in and sat, back against the wall, watching the monks sing their Gregorian chant. About twenty five of them lined both sides of the chapel. I leaned my head back against the wall, enjoying the chants. 

I dozed off.

Again, a poke in the shoulder. “Time for supper.”

I felt myself grow crimson as Brother Lucien stood over me. I nodded. Followed him into the dining hall.

I sat in silence at a table with several other visitors I had not seen until now. A monk served us large bowls of lentil soup, filled with vegetables. The warm aroma gnawed at my insides. Trays of fresh bread filled the center of the table. Crusty. Chewy. I ate. Ate like I had never tasted food before. 

Afterwards, I wandered back to my cell. I stretched out on the bed with my notebook and pen. Doodled a bit. Wrote a few words. All shit. I fell asleep clutching my open notebook. 

Credit: Confidata

I dreamed. An intense dream. Of a monk I had read about years ago. Thomas Merton. Dreamed about him dying by electrocution from a faulty fan. In my dream I saw Merton’s ghost, his spirit, float into my cell, write in my notebook. Music notes appeared to flow from his pen. The notes clung to my notebook pages, then were sucked into an old metal electric fan and shredded, the bits falling around the room like snowflakes. 

A chapel bell woke me early. I jolted upright, still dressed from last night. Surprised for a moment. I hadn’t heard the bell yesterday. As my eyes adjusted to the breaking dawn, I saw shreds of paper littered across the floor. My notebook was torn and lying on the desk. I stood, blinking at the unreal scene. The dream came back to me. 

I felt like all my thoughts, my feelings lay shredded on the floor. Like it was me shredded and scattered on the floor.

I scooped up the paper shreds, laid them across the desk. I thought I could reassemble the pieces, but they were too small, too erratically torn. 

I spied one page intact in the notebook. Written there: Be still, and know that I am God.

Not my handwriting. I shivered.

A slight tap on my door. Brother Lucien stepped in.

“Ah, I see you are awake. I came to invite you to morning services and to breakfast.”

Lucien looked at the shredded paper scattered across the desk top.

“You appear to have had a difficult night.”

I shuddered. “This is not my doing.”

Lucien’s eyes took in the writing in the open notebook.

“‘Be still’…aah.”

A smile crept across his face. I felt confused. “What is it?”

“Am I right in saying you dreamed of this last night?” He gestured to the mess of torn paper.

I nodded. 

“One of our spirits has reached out to you. This is good.”

I squinted. “Huh?”

“I am guessing you feel as torn as your battered notebook.”

I felt something release in my chest. My shoulders slumped. “Yes.”

“Your work lies in your peace. You must first be still.”

“But how…?” 

Lucien held up his palm. “Come now. Join us in common prayer and a nourishing morning meal.”

I clutched my broken notebook, followed him out the door.