Perhaps, being lost, one should get loster.
I have been reading a book that compares map making to writing. The book's author, Peter Turchi, writes about negative space, how what isn't on the page tells us as much as what is. Looking at it from this angle, negative space is actually positive. All of that white around my words is not empty, thoughtless space, but valuable space the reader will fill with his or her own imagery and emotion.
The author has made me reconsider my prose style, how writing in short bursts, much like writing poetry, is not asking too much of the reader. The reader will follow me as I leap from image to image, from scene to scene. Like a good relationship, one where words are not necessary, where silence is as full as any conversation, a well-written poem or book is intuited as much as read.
As writers, do we trust this white space, the blank page, the chapter that turns out to be a paragraph? When a poem looks odd on the page, when it looks like it belongs to someone else, do we allow it its voice or do we shape it into something familiar?
I may be wrong, but this seems to be about trust. Trust in ourselves, in our ability to communicate, not only as writer or cartographer, but as human animal. And trust in our readers who are willing and able to make the leaps, fill in the intentional or unintentional gaps, and follow us with full confidence.
The quote above, the totally terrifying idea of being lost and getting loster, gives us permission to follow our hearts, our peculiar ideologies, into the unknown. We want answers; we want things explained to us so we know what’s expected of us. We want that blank page covered with detailed instructions! We want, quite literally, a map. And when the map is not forthcoming, we become Saul Bellow's loster.
We frequently place our trust in something or in someone to show us valleys and mountain trails, to direct us to the drinking water, to ultimately be our Virgil. How surprising to find that we are alone in this; we are the map makers and our maps, no matter how hard we labor, no matter how beautiful they appear, are never complete. And in their incompleteness, is an almost incomprehensible freedom to create something never before imagined.
“Whoever reaches into a rosebush may seize a handful of flowers; but no matter how many one holds, it's only a small portion of the whole. Nevertheless, a handful is enough to experience the nature of the flowers. Only if we refuse to reach into the bush, because we can't possibly seize all the flowers at once, or if we spread out our handful of roses as if it were the whole of the bush itself -- only then does it bloom apart from us, unknown to us, and we are left alone.”
― Lou Andreas-Salomé
The Poetry of Rilke, translated and edited by Edward Snow, is one of the books I brought with me in my recent move from Eugene. We have a very tall storage unit in Eugene, where most of my books are currently stored in boxes.
As I packed those boxes, I considered the endless volumes of poetry, the Jungian psychology, and the hiking and nature books, and left most of them behind. What I brought was anything Asian-influenced, my haiku and haibun books, and a gift, The Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry. Another gift, Federico Garcia Lorca, Collected Poems, and The Poetry of Rilke. These two books, because no matter where I travel, I want Lorca and Rilke nearby. They are a particular comfort.
Rilke, no angel, is my idea of an adult that lived out his spiritual ambiguity with grace. At no point was he wanting to be pious, but in his honest questioning, he tapped into that place of wonder we begin burying as soon as we are embarrassed by our vulnerabilities. I think of it as layering, as intellectualizing, as creating a wall between what our hearts tell us we need and our minds and culture tell us we don't.
As we become responsible, mature adults, we learn how to fit in, we learn to compromise. And then eventually, if we're very fortunate, we begin to unlearn, to unravel. And maybe by the time we breathe our last breath, we are fully ourselves. Rilke was. Lorca was. Lou Andreas-Salome, Rilke's lover, definitely was.
I carry Rilke's works with me, because so often I choose to turn away, to close myself off. As Andreas-Salome wrote, . . . "a handful is enough to experience the nature of the flowers." If I can just open the book's cover, skim a few lines, read a few poems, I am gently brought back to myself.
To Lou Andreas-Salome
-by Rainer Maria Rilke
I held myself too open, I forgot
that outside not just things exist and animals
fully at ease in themselves, whose eyes
reach from their lives' roundedness no differently
than portraits do from frames; forgot that I
with all I did incessantly crammed
looks into myself; looks, opinion, curiosity.
Who knows: perhaps eyes form in space
and look on everywhere. Ah, only plunged toward you
does my face cease being on display, grows
into you and twines on darkly, endlessly,
into your sheltered heart.
As one puts a handkerchief before pent-in-breath-
no: as one presses it against a wound
out of which the whole of life, in a single gush,
wants to stream, I held you to me: I saw you
turn red from me. How could anyone express
what took place between us? We made up for everything
there was never time for. I matured strangely
in every impulse of unperformed youth,
and you, love, had wildest childhood over my heart.
Memory won't suffice here: from those moments
there must be layers of pure existence
on my being's floor, a precipitate
from that immensely overfilled solution.
For I don't think back; all that I am
stirs me because of you. I don't invent you
at sadly cooled-off places from which
you've gone away; even your not being there
is warm with you and more real and more
than a privation. Longing leads out too often
into vagueness. Why should I cast myself, when,
for all I know, your influence falls on me,
gently, like moonlight on a window seat.
Translated by A. Poulin
My writing often deals with the environment, my poetry filled with allusions to natural and man-made disasters. I have unlimited hope though; there is just too much wonder in this world to become a defeatist. To quote Margaret J. Wheatley, '"Hopelessness has surprised me with patience."