A Long Path
It’s my annual post where I share the following Rilke quotation:
“Do not believe that the person who is trying to offer you solace lives his life effortlessly among the simple and quiet words that might occasionally comfort you. His life is filled with much hardship and sadness, and it remains far behind yours. But if it were otherwise, he could never have found these words.”
- Rainer Maria Rilke, from Letters on Life
I share this especially for those who are living the creative life, who are on that long path, and as a reminder that we travel down our own paths at our own pace. It is all ebb and flow. Some periods will feel quite desperate, and at other times we will feel light. There are times when you are completely unknown, maybe even to yourself. It’s generally, though, a life of obscurity, making art is. A few will seem like rockstars, but for most of us it’s a pleasant enough anonymity. I’m here to say that anonymity is a pretty glorious place from which to create.
The path is a long one, hopefully a lifelong one. There is time. And so this is why I recommend exercising, eating well, and remembering that you are in training for this lifelong task, whether it’s writing or painting or photographing. Take time out to meet with those in your milieu. To look deeply into the eyes of the ones you love and hug them and cup their beautiful faces. This is part of writing, too.
Hélène Cixous talks about the path for writers:
“But there is a path. It makes us go around the world to regain the second innocence. It’s a long path. Only at the end of the path can we regain the force of simplicity or of nudity. Only at the end of life, I believe, will we be able to understand life’s secret. One must have travelled a great deal to discover the obvious. One must have thoroughly rubbed and exhausted one’s eyes in order to get rid of the thousands of scales we start with from making up our eyes.”
“I call “poet” any writer, philosopher, author plays, dreamer producer of dreams, who uses life as a time of “approaching.””
Therefore, I call you a poet.
But know that you are not alone in having experienced sorrows, betrayals, adversity, loss. I’ve never met anyone who hadn’t been through a thing or two. I very often think about these lines from Clarice Lispector:
“For anything can happen and damage the most intimate life of a person. What will have been done to my soul next year? Will that soul have grown? and grown peacefully or through the pain of doubt?”
I wonder what other ways that the soul grows, what other pain and tribulations it passes through? I wonder how to protect my soul and to still have it grow? I wonder how to make it so my soul comes into contact with other souls peacefully, without causing anyone any harm.
All I know is that life is perfect, and it is completely imperfect. Sometimes you are magnificent. But also, you are not.
To believe you are magnificent. And gradually to discover that you are not magnificent. Enough labor for one human life.”
– Czesław Miłosz
Life can be unbearable. Later it will be bearable. And then again unbearable. At times it will be filled with an incredible light. Terrible things will happen and wonderful things will happen. People you love will die, or take their lives, and babies will be born. Sometimes you will sleep and then for years, there will be insomnia. Some years will be so filled with worry you slouch so badly that your body becomes a hook. There are carefree times, too, maybe, let’s say, maybe.
This train of thought reminds me of the opening to the amazing book, Speedboat by Renata Adler:
“Nobody died that year. Nobody prospered. There were no births or marriages. Seventeen reverent satires were written — disrupting a cliche and, presumably, creating a genre. That was a dream, of course, but many of the most important things, I find, are the ones learned in your sleep. Speech, tennis, music, skiing, manners, love — you try them waking and perhaps balk at the jump, and then you’re over. You’ve caught the rhythm of them once and for all, in your sleep at night. The city, of course, can wreck it. So much insomnia. So many rhythms collide. The salesgirl, the landlord, the guests, the bystanders, sixteen varieties of social circumstance in a day. Everyone has the power to call your whole life into question here. Too many people have access to your state of mind. Some people are indifferent to dislike, even relish it. Hardly anyone I know.”
But here, you poets on your path, here, also from Adler:
“That “writers write” is meant to be self-evident. People like to say it. I find it is hardly ever true. Writers drink. Writers rant. Writers phone. Writers sleep. I have met very few writers who write at all.”
Sometimes when I can’t sleep I write entire movies in my head or on a slow night, an essay. Hardly ever poems. Of course later, the next day, or the next, when the fever of having written an entire movie in my head has dissipated, I know they’re not possible or good. But maybe they’re magnificent. I believe in always considering the opposite. What it is, though, is writing, it’s being on that path, as it is when your life is a bit like “sixteen varieties of social circumstance” every day (or 36 if you work at the library….).
The thing is, too, that “so many rhythms collide.” And they will continue to collide and you will continue to write and not write and write. Perhaps you, too will create a genre.
Sometimes you will write an entire blog post illustrated by a tea cup, with steam, on your back porch one early brisk morning last week, and not even mention it. That’s also cool. It’s all on the path, babies, all on that long, long path.