Friday, January 28, 2011

The Solitude We Are

"To speak again of solitude, it becomes ever clearer that in truth there is nothing we can choose or avoid. We are solitary. We can delude ourselves and act as if this were not so. That is all we can do. How much better to realize it from the start that is what we are, and to proceed from there. It can, of course, make us dizzy, for everything our eyes rest upon will be taken from us, no longer is anything near, and what is far is endlessly far."
- Rilke (Jan 27 selection from "A Year with Rilke")

I miss Italy. I was there for ten days last spring after deciding that I would fly from London to Pisa all by myself, so that I could get on a bus to Siena to visit a young woman who is probably my oldest friend. It was, at times, very unsettling and nerve wracking to travel to a country on your own without speaking a lick of Italian. But I miss the long hours when I would wander around the city alone, poking down side streets, stumbling upon gardens, wandering into churches ... my friend was preoccupied with classes most afternoons, so I would go for hours without speaking to anyone (aside from feeble attempts to buy gelato in Italian). I've never gone that long in silence. I would sit in the Piazza del Campo when I was tired and I would sketch and people watch. I don't think I've ever written so profusely in my life. When I was alone I turned to my journal. My solitude felt intense and overwhelming and deeply uncomfortable, but perhaps that was the value of it. I wrote pages upon pages every day, in the afternoon in the piazza and at night before I went to bed. The came Florence; I spent an entire afternoon alone in the Uffizi gallery and a full half hour in the Botticelli room. I climbed to the top of Brunelleschi's dome. I practically meditated over the glory of my meals. The funny thing is that I both hated and loved the days spent alone ... in some moments I wanted any way out, anyone to talk to, just so that I wouldn't have to feel so alone. Other moments, I savored the feeling.

I don't quite recall the point of all this, except to remind myself that it happened, to let out that longing for anywhere-but-here and a longing to be in a place where I was always present. Perhaps I feel this way because this week I've not had a minute to myself. I always wonder if, by searching for something beyond the daily grind, I am romanticizing silence, solitude, God, whatever. Maybe I'm inventing what I'm searching for.

On the other hand, does it matter? Is it okay to just buy into something if it makes you feel more sane, and more compassionate?

Saturday, January 8, 2011


Ah. Once again, the first week of January is marked by impatience. Impatience to be away, to be back at school, to be done with the break. However, I've also enjoyed my time at home quite a bit during this break - much more so than last winter. I am learning to settle into what I'm doing a bit better. Of course, a year ago I was impatient to leave for England. Now, I think wistfully back to those magical months abroad. I think, though, that my deep impatience this year is for the rest of my life to start. That sounds dramatic ... more so than I intended. I merely mean that I am impatient for a change of pace. I'm researching grad schools still, but a year off to work is what I want right now. I want to give all these transitions the time they need. I am ready for new challenges, despite their sometimes harsh reality. I can't stay an undergrad forever and I don't want to. I also don't want to go right to grad school because it would feel as if I decided to go just because I was scared and wanted to prolong the structure that's defined my life for so many years. I want to go to grad school because I really, really want it. And after a year or so of work, I don't doubt that I'll be more than ready to dive back into school (I'll always love it, really). I guess what I'm looking for is a sense of balance and a sense that everything will happen on its own time. In which case, I suppose I should train myself for more patience ...
And so, I'm enjoying my last day at home. I get to be the overprotective older sister for the day, hopefully with some measure of coolness mixed in. Then, I'm off to start my last semester at Guilford! Whew.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

I Begin

Generally I write a post just before the new year. This year, I've chosen (well, waited) to post after the beginning of the new year. This is partially because I was busy tying up some loose ends, (although in reality nothing is ever that final) by having some tough but fruitful discussions that needed to take place. However, it all works out because this year I'd like to focus on beginnings, however arbitrary they may be, rather than endings. Honestly, there's not much that just ends with the turning of the year anyway. Yes, 2010 was a full year with many challenges and unexpected joys (five months abroad remains a highlight) but isn't every year full of both? Our cares and pleasures stay with us no matter what the date.

I have decided that I am very much opposed to making lists. At least for myself, anyway. I am an obsessive list maker when it comes to my daily tasks, it is true. New year's lists are seductive in their promise of a shiny new routine, a new improved you ... in my experience the over ambitious list always leads to failure because we aim to remake ourselves when we shouldn't feel the need to. At any rate, I've admitted to myself that I cannot follow through on ambitious lists of new year's resolutions and I've decided to save myself the disappointment. This is similar to my realization that I simply need to take a yoga class (one in which I am expected to show up in front of others) in order to set up a regular exercise regime. So, regular yoga is not on a list because I have already built it into my schedule for next semester.

In a similar vein, my approach to lists of books to be read also informs my feelings on new year's lists as well. I generally reject reading lists in favor of the spontaneous find, and whatever whim may take me when doing leisure reading. This winter break I had expected to read "T.S. Spivet." However, I've found myself engrossed in needlework and reading "How to Eat' by Nigella Lawson. It may seem odd to sit a read through a cookbook as if it were an engrossing novel, but Nigella is unique. Her cookbook is largely narrative based, the story of her cooking process and her intense, sensual love of eating and therefore cooking. It's inspirational because I can't stop thinking about how I will shop and cook differently this semester - for example, it's high time that I roasted a chicken on my own. I like to give myself the freedom to indulge in unexpected reading finds, and I feel the same way about the new year. I like to leave lots of room for the unexpected.

A little structure is always a good thing, though. A few simple things to keep you centered never hurts. This is why my one commitment of the new year is to read "A Year with Rilke" translated and edited by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows. I've given in wholeheartedly to Rilke and I hope that he will inspire more blogging this coming year. But mostly these daily readings will me for me and for me alone as I navigate 2011. What with graduation and the many decisions that come with that turning point, I'm sure I'll need it.

However, this is only one thing and therefore does not count as a list in my eyes. And thus, I welcome the new year. I'll let Rilke have the last (or first) word:

"I love all beginnings, despite their anxiousness and their uncertainty, which belong to every commencement. If I have earned a pleasure or a reward, or if I wish that something had not happened; if I doubt the worth of an experience and remain in my past – then I choose to begin at this very second. Begin what? I begin. I have already thus begun a thousand lives."

-- Rilke (early journals), entry one from "A Year with Rilke."