A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit

  • That passage from To the Lighthouse echoed something of Woolf’s I already knew, her essay about walking that declared, ‘As we step out of the house on a fine evening between four and six, we shed the self that our friends know us by and become part of that vast republican army of anonymous trampers, whose society is so agreeable after the solitude of one’s room…Into each of these lives one could penetrate a little way, far enough to give one the illusion that one is not tethered to a single mind, but can put on briefly for a few minutes the bodies and minds of others.’ For Woolf, getting lost was not a matter of geography so much as identity, a passionate desire, even an urgent need, to become no one and anyone, to shake off the shackles that remind you who you are, who others think you are.
  • …all enquiry and all learning is but recollection.
  • The colour of that distance is the colour of an emotion, the colour of solitude and of desire, the colour of there seen from here, the colour of where you are not.
  • But in this world we actually live in, distance ceases to be distance and to be blue when we arrive in it. The far becomes near, and they are not the same place.
  • Some things we have only as long as they remain lost, some things are not lost only so long as they are distant.
  • ‘Emptiness is the track on which the centered person moves,’ said a Tibetan sage six hundred years ago, and the book where I found this edict followed it was an explanation of the world ‘track’ in Tibetan: shul, ‘a mark that remains after that which made it has passed away – a footprint, for example. In other contexts, shul is used to describe the scarred hollow in the ground where a house once stood, the channel worn through rock where a river runs in flood, the indentation in the grass where an animal slept last night. All of these are shul: the impression of something that used to be there.
  • The process of transformation consists mostly of decay and then of this crisis when emergence from what came before must be total and abrupt.
  • Instar implies something both celestial and ingrown, something heavenly and disastrous, and perhaps change is commonly like that, a buried star, oscillating between near and far.
  • Writing is the most disembodied art, and reading and writing are largely private and solitary experiences, so music and dance have always enchanted me as arts in which the body of the performer communicates directly to the audience, welding a kind of communion writers rarely experience.
  • She had the nonchalance and style that mean so much to adolescents, who are urgently constructing a persona to meet the world, and this achievement is the antithesis of the openness that might make clear to self and others what one wants and needs. The currents of emotions that buffeted us were still invisible an unnamed.
  • We talked while the full moon mounted in the sky, words filling up the narrow space between us, as much a buffer as a link.
  • I wondered then and wonder now how I could give all this up for what cities and people have to offer, for it ought to be less terrible to be lonely than to have stepped out of this sense of a symbolic order that the world of animals and celestial light offers, but wiring is lonely enough, a confession to which there will be no immediate or commensurate answer, an opening statement in a conversation that falls silent or takes place long afterward without the author. But the best writing appears like those animals, sudden, self-possessed, telling everything and nothing, words approaching wordlessness. Maybe writing is its own desert, its own wilderness.
  • We fly; we dream in darkness; we devour heaven in bites too small to be measured.
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