I’d like to present to you an experiment for you to try the next time you pick up a book to read. It stems from a combination of two trains of thought.
First, in the movie “Bright Star” (about the love of English poet John Keats for Fanny Brawne), in one scene Keats tries to explain how to experience poetry to Fanny.
“Fanny: I still don’t know how to work out a poem.
Keats: A poem needs understanding through the senses. The point of diving in a lake is not immediately to swim to the shore but to be in the Lake, to luxuriate in the sensation of water.
You do not work the lake out. It is an experience beyond thought. Poetry soothes and emboldens the soul to accept mystery.”
Secondly, there is my favorite writer – Mikhail Epstein. In his wonderful book, “The Transformative Humanities” he discusses how the blankness on a page has as much meaning as the text itself. “The white that makes the text visible has to be made visible by the text: both exposed and concealed, it is a double gesture of gratitude and reverence.” The non-text is unpronounceable, indefinable. You can think of it as unexpressed thoughts. Just as when we go about our daily lives there are countless times when we have both conscious and unconscious trains of thought – most of which may not be articulated either vocally or in written form. They are nonetheless running parallel with our expressed utterances at all times and therefore no less a part of us.
So lets tie it all together. The next time you pick up a book (and seriously make it a good one, not just a beach read bodice ripper) look at it this way: The left blank margin is the shore of the lake (aka “the text”). Think of your expectations as you are getting ready to enter the lake. Then read the line. Not just once – read it in whole or in part as many times as it takes to truly comprehend and experience the essence of it. As you exit the lake on the right side take the time to reflect on what you have just read. How did it make you feel? Did you consider its meaning from multiple perspective – both surface and hidden meanings? If you were to write that line, how might you have worded it differently, based on your own background and unique way of expressing yourself? Of course, it takes time to consider all of these questions with the time and energy to which they are entitled. So, allow your eye to walk the length of the blank right margin all the way to the bottom of the page. Then cross the bottom moving to your left and back up again until you reach the shore of the next line. Basically, take a thoughtful stroll between passages. By the end of the entire page hopefully you will feel like you have not just been informed or entertained, but that you have had an experience upon which you will reflect back on in the future because it was a meaningful memory worth revisiting.
Give it a try. Feel free to share your experiences with me as a comment to this post, I would be interested in hearing your thoughts about this approach.
Don’t you miss the days when you could take a vacation, go visit an oracle and come home knowing exactly what the future held? Yes we have daily horoscopes now, but it feels terribly impersonal doesn’t it? If I’m one of millions of say Scorpios. Libras, or Pieces etc. am I really to believe we are all going down exactly the same track? It just doesn’t have that individually tailored feel to it. I like to think my future is mine and mine alone and that I’m so incredibly unique that no one’s path is going to mirror mine – just as no one has the same fingerprint as mine and never shall no matter how mind blowing technology gets in the future.
Yes, I know many will say it is all about having faith. But wishing for something doesn’t make it so and there is a hollowness and sense of futility in looking at the sky and essentially talking to yourself. Nothing ever talks back to you and you’re keenly well aware of it whether or not you choose to admit it.
Things may or may not get better. It’s about as certain and confidence inspiring as tossing a coin in the air and guessing what side it will land on. What if the coin falls in the grass or down the gutter upon descent? That would really be a conundrum. You neither win nor lose. You’ll just never know what might have been.
I think it was Yehuda Amichai who had a poem once about how children had it so easy. When they played hide and seek they knew exactly what they were looking for and knew for certain that of all the trees in the playground, their goal was behind one of them. There was zero possibility of missing the mark. That’s probably why once we’re old we all wish we could toss the future in the rubbish and just hang around in the playground for all eternity where things seemed far simpler.
There seems to be a veritable obsession these days of people going around proclaiming what characteristics they lack – or as I like to call it “label tossing.” How many people say, “I am not a racist, I am not homophobic, I am not xenophobic etc.” Yet when you ask these same people to express what they are they whip out plagiarized slogans like, “I’m for liberty and justice for all.” Ok fabulous – so what does that mean exactly? If you are the true embodiment of these ideals then they must be at the forefront of your conscious – yes? Then as a champion for all that is right in the world, would not a majority of your time be spent ensuring that the passion of which you claim to fully embody as an identifiable quality – not less than, but rather equal to or greater than your entire self – be the obsession whose singular aim would be your pursuit at every possible opportunity? After all, it is wholly and quintessentially “you”, right? You said so yourself. So, if it isn’t really all of “you” since you don’t spend every minute of every day reveling in or pursuing topping up the glass with that one singular element that you identified as your essence, then what is the rest of “you”? It’s stunning how many people can’t answer that question because they’ve never really given any thought to why they are here and what makes their presence on earth unique – for better or for worse. It’s a hard thing to figure out, but if you don’t really know who you are – how can you pursue anything in your life with conviction?
I am an absolute devotee to the concept that each soul is like a snowflake – each one is completely unique and incapable of being cloned. I’m not a strong proponent of the reverse logic theory of proving what something isn’t in order to discover what it is. Isn’t it more interesting to discover than to eliminate?
It reminds me of when I was a little girl and they told us in school to write an outline before we wrote a story. We were to have roman numerals of each paragraph and a brief synopsis under each of what that paragraph would be about. Well in my opinion the muse was bored and either wandered off or died by the time I got through categorizing everything. So, I wrote the story first and then went back and did the outline to match it to satisfy those logic fanatics who wanted to see the scaffolding instead of the outer treasure.
Know who you are. Who care what you aren’t, it’s irrelevant. You are a complex, multi-faceted being that cannot and should not be capable of being defined by the rhetoric or slogans of popular society. You wouldn’t let others slap a label on your breast – don’t do it yourself. Explore your own soul, understand it intimately, and share of it what you wish, when you wish it.
From a very early age most of us can recall a love one cooking for us in the kitchen. They always made it look so easy. A dash here, a dollop there and all was good in the world because you were satisfied and not hungry for more. A picture perfect definition of the word “contentment” and all that it implies.
So what happens when you decide that either you have ceased being satisfied with the status quo or that it is simply time for a change? You have watched all the goings on all these years, so surely you can just step into place and it will all come together, right? Who needs hands on experience if you have been a keen observer? Of course it depends how you define keen. Even the most humble among us frequently overestimate our powers of observation.
So you’re standing at the stove and you manage to get things started. The fire is at a manageable level. You have picked out the best ingredients from the cupboards. Maybe you’re bold and will throw it all together without a recipe – just guess at the quantities. Let instinct rule the day.
Maybe you’ll create a heretofore unknown sensation in the mouths of your intended recipients that they will expound upon in the history books for centuries to come. Or maybe you’ll make them ill. They’ll still talk about you quite a bit, but the tone will be quite different than what you intended.
The biggest danger is that the flame will grow and become misdirected when you are otherwise occupied, or that those premium ingredients may in effect be beyond their expiration dates – impotent when it comes to satisfying current demands. By brashly discarding a recipe or sound advice from those with hands on experience you may mix the wrong amounts together. Without taking an interest in your recipients needs, you may unintentionally serve them something they are violently allergic to – with serious and sometimes fatal consequences for all involved.