How to bear solitude – how and when to love.

 

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How often has Rilke been quoted?  Letters to a young poet was written over a century ago when the poet was responding to a young soldier who had read his poetry and was having doubts about his chosen military career. The first letter was written in 1903 as a response to the young soldiers request to critique his own poems. Rilke refused that request but continued a correspondence which fortunately the young would-be poet had the presence of mind to keep.  The letters will continue to challenge, inspire and bring solace to anyone who chooses to dive in. Dive deep, float and re emerge refreshed and reinvigorated.  

I want to recommend these lines to my two young men sons, as they begin their individual journeys into adult life.  Somehow a recommendation from their mother doesn’t always get the reaction I most want, so sometimes I wait, I hold, there may be occasion when I need to draw upon this well of sagacity.

 

 

….And you should not let yourself be confused in your solitude by the fact that there is some thing in you that wants to move out of it. This very wish, if you use it calmly and prudently and like a tool, will help you spread out your solitude over a great distance. Most people have (with the help of conventions) turned their solutions toward what is easy and toward the easiest side of the easy; but it is clear that we must trust in what is difficult; everything alive trusts in it, everything, in Nature grows and defends itself any way it can and is spontaneously itself, tries to be itself at all costs and against all opposition. We know little, but that we must trust in what is difficult is a certainty that will never abandon us; it is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult; that something is difficult must be one more reason for us to do it.

It is also good to love: because love is difficult. For one human being to love another human being: that is perhaps the most difficult task that has been entrusted to us, the ultimate task, the final test and proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparation. That is why young people, who are beginners in everything, are not yet capable of love: it is something they must learn. With their whole being, with all their forces, gathered around their solitary, anxious, upward-beating heart, they must learn to love. But learning-time is always a long, secluded time, and therefore loving, for a long time ahead and far on into life, is: solitude, a heightened and deepened kind of aloneness for the person who loves. Loving does not at first mean merging, surrendering, and uniting with another person (for what would a union be of two people who are unclarified, unfinished, and still incoherent?), it is a high inducement for the individual to ripen, to become something in himself, to become world, to become world in himself for the sake of another person; it is a great, demanding claim on him, something that chooses him and calls him to vast distances. Only in this sense, as the task of working on themselves (“to hearken and to hammer day and night”), may young people use the love that is given to them. Merging and surrendering and every kind of communion is not for them (who must still, for a long, long time, save and gather themselves); it is the ultimate, is perhaps that for which human lives are as yet barely large enough.”

 

One more thing I would say to my lovely boys, which appears in the story Rilke proposed the young soldier read, ‘Mogens’ by Jens Peter Jacobsen, 

“you know in the darkness things often seem larger than they are.”

Unnoticed and necessary.

 

 

IMG_1530watercolour version

Purleigh, Essex.Anne Corr Digital watercolour.

 

Variations on the Word “Sleep”

 I would like to watch you sleeping,
 which may not happen.
 I would like to watch you,
 sleeping. I would like to sleep
 with you, to enter
 your sleep as its smooth dark wave
 slides over my head

 and walk with you through that lucent
 wavering forest of bluegreen leaves
 with its watery sun & three moons
 towards the cave where you must descend,
 towards your worst fear

 I would like to give you the silver
 branch, the small white flower, the one
 word that will protect you
 from the grief at the center
 of your dream, from the grief
 at the center. I would like to follow
 you up the long stairway
 again & become
 the boat that would row you back
 carefully, a flame
 in two cupped hands
 to where your body lies
 beside me, and you enter
 it as easily as breathing in

 I would like to be the air
 that inhabits you for a moment
 only. I would like to be that unnoticed
 & that necessary.

Margaret Atwood


How do I begin?

How does anyone begin – anything?  I have hit a wall of some resistance, and somehow I have to find a gate through, or a stile to climb it, or perhaps a big mallet to crush it.  I want to make , and I have a few ideas that meander across my consciousness, but everytime I cast my line to hook one, the line just sort of lies there and the bait isn’t attractive enough. The need nags, creating those ripples that endlessly reverberate , someone is knocking at the door but when I open it no-ones there. 

 

In the absence of focus I try to read – always in the past reading has been a refuge to retreat to, always offering sustenance, growth, and reassurance.  Today and for some previous I have picked up the same book and felt dim, unable to follow the diversions of Daniel Dennet’s arguments.  I can’t follow him at all; he has turned up to take me for a walk and I am legless. I turn to a novel instead, hoping for distraction , it is Artist of the Floating World. Kazuo Ishiguro is right for me – I have read this before and the sparseness of his writing mirrors my mood, the themes of malleability of  memory and the pain of ageing is strangely satisfying.  Nothing happens, and yet something changes.  

“If on a sunny day you climb the steep path leading up from the little wooden bridge still referred to around here as ‘the Bridge of Hesitation’, you will not have to walk far before the roof of my house becomes visible between the tops of two gingko trees.”

 

 

It is fiction then, that is able to steer me quietly to somewhere where I can find some ease.  The philosophy of mind will wait, and so must I . I must remember to put my tools down sometimes and renew.  Renew. 

nightingale

 

 

Art imitating Life

Art imitating LifeI loved collaging this together – I couldn’t get out of my mind the conundrum of art imitating life, or life imitating art, which is the right way round?    So off I went and mashed together a lovely lady from William van Kooi’s ‘The Love Letter’, with a room from Jacobus Cornet, added a side table and a pot of flowers (Manet).  I made the lady in the room less lifelike than the portrait of her on the wall, just to underline the point!

All the originals can be viewed in their full glory at the Rijks, but my digital collage is viewable on the Society 6 site.

 

At the broken places

Untitled-3How does a man live well?  That is the question that I think Ernest Hemingway considered, and it is his tragedy that he never lived up to his vision of what makes a man good.  Hemingway’s father committed suicide, as he would do himself after suffering ill health and depression.  The legacy of suicide is a cruel one, and Ernest’s son Gregory would take his own life too, continuing the impression that life is not always worth living or struggling through.

After much reading, and there is plenty out there, I come away feeling a pathos toward the writer, a sort of kinship in the confusion of what being human means.  He is a glorious mixture of different impetuses, just as we all are.  He wrote about it and he wanted you to read that.  He loved Shakespeare and Tolstoy, admiring their acuity in reading human motivations  and characteristics. Shakespeare was his ‘undisputed champion’ and in the New Yorker’s profile of Hemingway, he is reported to have said I started out very quiet and I beat Mr. Turgenev. Then I trained hard and I beat Mr. de Maupassant. I’ve fought two draws with Mr. Stendhal, and I think I had an edge in the last one. But nobody’s going to get me in any ring with Mr. Tolstoy unless I’m crazy or I keep getting better.

The man was complex and although he lived a brash life in many ways, hunting, fighting, fishing – in actual fact his impulse was to write, and his personality was far more introverted than may appear to the casual reader.  I believe this tension in living differently to his nature provoked much of his later problems with alcohol and depression.  He wrote with intensity and authenticity, and it is these that promote his work into the ‘greats’.  I get the feeling that he despised much about himself, having a self awareness without that accompanying level of delusion that saves most of us.  

For a more thorough life story , look to the biographers, of which there have been plenty, but for the man, look to his writing.  You will find him there, not always in the obvious, but in the characters he draws there are pointers.  

I leave you with some excerpts – pages from the latest hand made book I am making to commission, but if you are interested, please get in touch.  page four reverse page five (2) page five reverse page six

So, what do you do?

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What do I do all day? – I was asked this the other day, and thought about it – how do I  spend the majority of my time, once the domestic chores are completed, or more likely ignored?  I have to admit to the privilege of being able to dictate how I spend the majority of my time once I have discharged the responsibilities of housekeeper, wife, mother and dog walker.  And I love it. I love the space of being allowed to meander amongst the various pathways of my  mind and the plethora of material available on the internet – a real benefit for a curious mind.  I love the opportunity to create my versions of hand made books and to sometimes have the privilege of collaboration with a commission.

Once upon a time I felt somewhat guilty for not having a more productive endeavour, but no longer. Now I revel in the opportunity to sometimes spend time doing what I like, how I want to.

Time – its the most precious commodity we have,  so watch where you invest yours.  And when someone asks me now, I tell them how it is, without apology.  Took me a while, but I got there.

If you want to see more of my creative endeavours, then pop in to my Etsy shop or my Society 6 store page.  I would love to have your feedback too.

Enjoy your day, your week, your life.

The Poetry of Architecture, and the reason you don’t want to become a brand.

 

St Marks

St Marks

Boy are you in for a treat today!!!  Recently I have been researching some Pre Raphaelite art as a favour to a fellow crafter, and in pursuing said research , I was distracted by a fabulous volume written by the critic John Ruskin, ‘Stones of Venice’ in which he praises the achievements of the massive numbers of common workers who laboured with skill, patience, and reverence on the great Gothic structures of medieval Europe. This treatise on architecture has been described not simply in terms of scholarship, but also as a work of art in itself.

I havn’t indulged to the degree of now being versed in the history or topography of archtitecture – I barely slipped over the surface- but the passages I have read can be understood as deeper messages than understanding that area of interest.  I will admit to having to overlook his many allusions to a Victorian God, but he was of his time and I am of mine.  Although I confess to a more agnostic outlook, I can see the virtue in believing in a connecting thread through time and space (albeit not Ruskins vision).

I hope you see value in the passages I have recorded below – ( a labour of love since I couldn’t copy and paste and had to type it out!)  It shouts loudly to me about ignoring the clarion call to give yourself a brand identity and express yourself in all endeavour simply with integrity, for the satisfaction that brings of itself.  Oh Ruskin!! I hear you!!!

…for it is necessary first to teach men to speak out, and say what they like, truly; and in the second place, to teach them which of their likings are ill set, and which justly. If a man is cold in his likings and dislikings, or if he will not tell you what he likes, you can make nothing of him. Only get him to feel quickly and to speak plainly, and you may set him right. And the fact is, that the great evil of all recent architectural effort has not been that men liked wrong things; but that they either cared nothing about any, or pretended to like what they did not. Do you suppose that any modern architect
likes what he builds or enjoys it? Not in the least. He builds it because he has been told that such and such things are fine, and that he should like them. He pretends to like them, and gives them a false relish of vanity. Do you seriously imagine, reader, that any living soul in London likes triglyphs? – or gets any hearty enjoyment out of pediments? You are much mistaken. Greeks did: English people never did,never will. …Very few faults of architecture are mistakes of honest choice; they are almost always hypocrisies.
So then the first thing we have to ask of the decoration is that it should indicate strong liking, and that honestly. It matters not so much what the thing is, as that the builder should really love it and enjoy it, and say so plainly. The architect of Bourges Cathedral liked hawthorns ; so he has covered his porch with hawthorn,- it is a perfect Niobe of May. Never was such hawthorn ; you would try
to gather it forthwith, but for fear of being pricked. The old Lombard architects liked hunting ; so they covered their work with horses and hounds, and men blowing trumpets two yards long. the base Renaissance architects of Venice liked masquing and fiddling ; so they covered their work with comic masks and musical instruments. Even that was better than our English way of liking nothing and professing to liking triglyphs….
..Half the evil in this world comes from people not knowing what they do like ; -not deliberately setting themselves to find out what the really enjoy. All people enjoy giving away money , for instance ‘ they don’t know that,they rather think they like keeping it; and they do keep it, under this false impression, often to their great discomfort. Everybody likes to do good, but not one in a hundred finds this out. Multitudes think they like to do evil ; yet no man ever really enjoyed doing evil since God made the world.

So in this lesser matter of ornament. It needs some little care to try experiments upon yourself; it needs deliberate question and upright answer. But there is no difficulty to be overcome, not abstruse  be gone into ; only a little watchfulness needed, and thoughtfulness, ans so much honesty as will enable you to confess to yourself, and to all men, that you enjoy things, though great authorities say you should not.

This looks somewhat like pride, but it is true humility, a trust that you have been so created as to enjoy what is fitting for you, and a willingness to be pleased, as it was intended you should be. It is the child’s spirit, which we are most happy when we most recover’ remaining wiser than children in our gratitude that we can still be pleased with a fair colour, or a dancing light. And, above all, do not try to make all these pleasures reasonable, not to connect the delight which you take in ornament witht hat which you take in construction or usefulness. They have no connection; and every effort that you make to reason from one to the other will blunt your sense of beauty, or confuse it with sensation altogether inferior to it. You were made for enjoyment, and the world was filled with things which you will enjoy, unless you are too proud to be pleased by them, or too grasping to care for what you cannot turn to other account than mere delight. Remember the most beautiful things in the world are the most useless; peacocks and lilies for instance….

We won’t be alone admiring it ; it became one of the most influential books of the 19th century, inspiring William Morriss to re publish the chapter ‘The Nature of Gothic’ and prompting the narrator of Marcel Proust’s ‘Recherce’ to visit Venice with his mother enthused with Ruskin like spirit.

 

“To banish imperfection is to destroy expression, to check exertion, to paralyze vitality.”

See the whole book here   http://ebook.lib.hku.hk/CADAL/B31390055V1/

 

Based on the original by John Ruskin in his architectural treatise, The Stones of Venice

Based on the original by John Ruskin in his architectural treatise, The Stones of Venice