‘In small doses melancholy, alienation, and introspection
are among life’s most refined pleasures.’
by Rebecca Solnit
by Rebecca Solnit
After Bunty died, days slid into one another like the colours in a sunset. Whole afternoons passed as Christabel drank tea in the kitchen … If there was a book in front of her, she would look away frequently and forget to turn its pages — she no longer read in the old, urgent way. The taste for reading had started to withdraw from her; she felt it pulling gently away, like a tide. Books contained hard truths, waiting like splinters in their pages. Over the years, many had lodged in her unnoticed. Little anticipations of life’s awfulness, they might have served as a defence against it but pierced instead with knowledge of damage, error, waste.
From ‘The Life to Come’
by Michelle de Kretser
CS Lewis once wrote that we read fiction and literature to seek an enlargement of our being; we read because [w]e want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own. I don’t subscribe to Lewis’s Christian practices and beliefs, but I do — oh, I do — subscribe to his views on reading.
And so Michelle de Kretser’s words in the passage above affected me deeply. I cannot imagine a life in which [t]he taste for reading had started to withdraw from me; the thought that the truths I treasure finding within a book’s pages might begin to feel like splinters horrifies me.
Reading for me is an activity that provides solace. The solace comes most strongly from finding kinship within the pages of the books I read: kinship with the book’s characters, and, vicariously, with the book’s writer, who created the characters. That’s not quite what Lewis is saying, but it’s part of it, I think: it’s hidden in his words. When de Kretser’s character Christabel finds herself losing the taste for reading, losing the urgency that was inherent for her in the act, what she is really experiencing is loss. Loneliness. Desolation.
If I was a praying person, as Lewis certainly was, I would offer up a prayer here, in response to de Kretser’s words. I would pray: Please don’t let me ever experience this particular form of loss.
I would pray: Please don’t let me lose the companionship of books.
I would pray: Please don’t let the tide go out.
Paul had read somewhere that a landscape itself has no meaning. That it was more a mirror and anything you saw in it or felt were your own thoughts or feelings being reflected back at you.
From ‘The Windy Season‘
by Sam Carmody
I’ve heard it said that a person’s eyes are like mirrors to the soul, but I’ve honestly not heard landscape described before in this way. And yet it makes instant sense to me.
I’ve written before about how, when I first moved to the area of Aldinga Beach, what I saw, all I saw, was the coast. That’s partly because the line of coast is stunning around the Aldinga and Port Willunga area, with its rugged, crumbling limestone cliffs and wide white sands and deep blue seas. It’s partly also because my partner is a surfer and so our life together has been, right from the start, about the sea rather than the bush.
But partly, I think — mostly, in fact — it’s because I didn’t know what else to look for, back then. I came to Aldinga with my own particular thoughts and feelings and expectations, and what I expected to see was reflected right back at me.
The first time I strayed from the beach to wander through Aldinga Scrub I did so more out of curiosity than anything else, knowing nothing more than that it was a small, much-squabbled-over, highly politicised piece of bushland close to home. Then, later, I turned to the Scrub again, seeking solace. I was trying to encourage myself to find an external landscape to wander through, rather than the internal landscape I seemed, neverendingly, to be pushing through.
And I found what I’d been seeking, although I had to teach myself at first.
Take grass trees, for example, which seemed to me at first ugly, prickly, alien things with strange spear-like growths protruding awkwardly from their crowns. Now I see how there are delicate white flowers clustered on those spears at certain time of the year; I hear how insects and skinks scuttle, hidden, protected, beneath their prickly leaves; and I notice how, at every turn of the sandy path in the Scrub, there is a grass tree in a different stage of growth, from the early clusters of stalky green grass to the grey thickets of rotting bark that mark decay and death.
Or take a midsummer day in the Scrub, like the recent one on which I took all the photos in today’s post: the kind of day when the only flowers in evidence are the last clusters of common everlasting, those scraggly, tough little flowers that look like ragged, paper-petalled daisies. In the high, midsummer sun, those petals are the brightest, purest white I’ve ever seen in the bush. I didn’t see that in the early days, either.
So, yes, the landscape of the Scrub I see now is different from the one I saw ten years ago, and in that sense, it is a mirror: it always has been.
Will you forgive me if I use the term ‘meaning-making’ here? I am neither an academic nor a scholar, and in any case, I am thinking of making meanings, in this context, in a psychological rather than a semiotic sense. For me, what I’ve just described above is a process of meaning-making that is both deliberate and joyful: it deepens my life.
And that is the kind of mirror I’ll always be happy to look into.
Nick didn’t call me that morning, or that night. He didn’t call me the next day, or the day after that. Nobody did. Gradually the waiting began to feel less like waiting and more like this was simply what life was: the distracting tasks undertaken while the thing you are waiting for continues not to happen. I applied for jobs and turned up for seminars. Things went on.
From ‘Conversations with Friends‘
by Sally Rooney
I hadn’t planned to write this post. I thought that I would be — I planned to be — too busy to post anything between now and next week. I had family celebrations planned, after all, and a holiday trip away with a dear friend, and even a couple of shifts at work.
But I haven’t been well this Christmas, and so most of my plans for the holiday period so far haven’t eventuated.
Christmas is a tricky time, isn’t it? For some reason, I often get sick around this time of the year (and at other times of celebration). Like Sally Rooney’s narrator, Frances, in the passage above, I keep waiting for this to change, but the thing I am waiting for — not to get sick at Christmas, not to feel sad about getting sick at Christmas — continue[s] not to happen.
So why am I writing a post now, after all? Partly, I’m writing because I have unexpected time on my hands. Mostly, though, I’m writing because I wanted to reach out to other people who might also be feeling sad — whether unexpectedly or otherwise — this Christmas.
I don’t have any advice. I wish I did. The only thing I can find to do at times like this is to wait them out — which is ironic, given Rooney’s words above.
Still, whoever you are, wherever you are, if you are feeling sad right now, know this: you are not alone. Sadness is part and parcel of the deal.
And it passes.
Like the weather, like the tide, like footsteps in the sand, like all those hackneyed things — like Christmas, even — sadness, too, passes.
Gerry sat down in an empty seat by the window and Stella went to the counter. Coffee places were so noisy. This one sounded like they were making the ‘Titanic’ rather than cups of coffee — the grinder going at maximum volume, screaming on and on — making enough coffee grounds for the whole of Europe while another guy was shooting steam through milk with supersonic hissing. A girl unpacked a dishwasher, clacking plates and saucers into piles. A third barista was banging the metal coffee-holder against the rim of the stainless steel bar to empty it — but doing it with such venom and volume that Gerry jumped at every strike. Talking was impossible. It was so bad he couldn’t even hear if there was muzak or not. And still the grinder went on and on trying to reduce a vessel of brown-black beans to dust. Stella had to yell her order.
Gerry looked out on to the square. Pigeons pecked and waddled after crumbs in between the green café tables and chairs. Stella eventually came to the table.
‘In the coffee shops of heaven they will not grind coffee beans,’ she said. ‘But coffee will be available.’
from ‘Midwinter Break’
by Bernard MacLaverty
Do you know the kind of coffee shop Bernard MacLaverty describes in the passage above? I do. I had to smile when I read his words.
I took the picture below on my birthday a couple of months ago, after I’d taken myself off for a bike ride to my favourite bakery in Aldinga, a place somewhat unlike the one in the description above. I sat down on one of the stools on the verandah and sipped at a cup of tea. It was a dull, cold, end-of-winter day, but the coffee beans ground away quietly in the background, and the customers’ laughter was genuine, and the tea was (weak, but) hot.
So when I read MacLaverty’s words, I found myself thinking that in the coffee shops of my heaven …
In my heaven, there will be tea shops, not coffee shops. They will sell loaves of sourdough, and slices of homemade everyday cake, and pots of tea made with malty assam tea leaves, left to brew so long that the tea turns toffee-brown.
And the baristas will pour the milk into my cup before they pour in the tea.
And fresh pots of tea will always be available.
And I’ll be able to drink cup after endless cup, because caffeine won’t have any effect on me …
by Rebecca Solnit
I nipped down to our house in Aldinga for a couple of days recently, and just had time for a quick cycle to the bakery on my bike for fresh ciabatta and then for a brisk walk the following day.
Cycling home past the supermarket, I noticed that the field of gazanias was out in bloom again.
As I remarked around the same time last year, gazanias are noxious weeds in our parts …
… but they never fail to lift my spirits.
From ‘Teaching a Stone to Talk’
by Annie Dillard
Sometimes when I’m walking on the beach I close my eyes and listen to the sea as I keep walking. It’s a way of shutting out the beauty of the visual world, in order to concentrate on the other kinds of beauty accessible to me at that moment, in that particular space.
The sea murmurs.
Like Dillard, the language of the sea is one I can’t make out …
… although unlike her I’m not sure that I want to try.
I’m happy just to keep listening.