Saturday, December 13, 2014

Getting Lost

I recently read of an author new to me, Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost. She writes of the unknown as our exploration in life and the engine for artists. And as the name of her book implies, she writes of getting lost. The word itself derives from Old Norse and means disbanding armies. We throw away our constraints, our strictures, our discipline of time and destination and let ourselves move into the unknown, perhaps as my mother does each day without choice as her memory flees. Never one to like change, the unknown, she is now thrust into it. My daily phone call is her map of the day.

Ironically it is through this process of losing ourselves and discovering what we don't know that we navigate life. This is particularly relevant to artists.Solnit writes," Certainly for artists of all stripes, the unknown, the idea or the form or the tale that has not yet arrived, is what must be found. It is the job of artists to open doors and invite in prophesies, the unknown, the unfamiliar; it’s where their work comes from, although its arrival signals the beginning of the long disciplined process of making it their own."

As an artist I am seeking to lose myself and as someone who values control, I often struggle against myself. I think about the relationship between what my mother describes as wilderness, the unknown she navigates daily, and my effort to let go of control and lose myself in an unknown that opens doors for expression. Perhaps the difference is that I can enter and leave at will.

My mother loved the unknown after it had become familiar, still carrying its gloss of newness, but no longer threatening. When we traveled together she used to dread the move from familiar to unknown. "Can't we stay here?" she would plaintively ask as we readied ourselves for a train ride to a new city. Soon the new city would be her favorite as her dread got transferred to the next. I was her touchstone, the constant that allowed her to make these changes that opened up worlds for her. I think of that now as I serve as a new sort of guide.

On a recent visit I took her to an apple orchard. She bought a sunflower, a fall ornament that I affixed over a picture frame. Each time she saw it she exclaimed at how much she liked it. Each time I reminded her of our visit, no longer in her memory. Even as she couldn't remember the facts of our visit she remembered how it made her feel. She tells me that she likes when I come in because we go out and do things together. Once I opened up the world to her. She seems to remember the exhilaration of the unknown that we once experienced together even as new facts are quickly shed. Remembering the feeling is enough.

Solnit draws a distinction between losing things and getting lost.

"Lost really has two disparate meanings. Losing things is about the familiar falling away, getting lost is about the unfamiliar appearing. There are objects and people that disappear from your sight or knowledge or possession; you lose a bracelet, a friend, the key. You still know where you are. Everything is familiar except that there is one item less, one missing element. Or you get lost, in which case the world has become larger than your knowledge of it. Either way, there is a loss of control. Imagine yourself streaming through time shedding gloves, umbrellas, wrenches, books, friends, homes, names. This is what the view looks like if you take a rear-facing seat on the train.

Looking forward you constantly acquire moments of arrival, moments of realization, moments of discovery. The wind blows your hair back and you are greeted by what you have never seen before. The material falls away in onrushing experience. It peels off like skin from a molting snake. Of course to forget the past is to lose the sense of loss that is also memory of an absent richness and a set of clues to navigate the present by; the art is not one of forgetting but letting go. And when everything else is gone, you can be rich in loss."

I picture my mother and I on a train. She facing back and me forward, as we share this journey.

No comments:

Post a Comment