Rebecca Solnit

The desire to go home that is a desire to be whole, to know where you are, to be the point of intersection of all the lines drawn through all the stars, to be the constellation-maker and the center of the world, that center called love. To awaken from sleep, to rest from awakening, to tame the animal, to let the soul go wild, to shelter in darkness and blaze with light, to cease to speak and be perfectly understood.

  • Storming the Gates of Paradise: Landscapes for Politics

The stars we are given. The constellations we make. That is to say, stars exist in the cosmos, but constellations are the imaginary lines we draw between them, the readings we give the sky, the stories we tell.”

  • Storming the Gates of Paradise: Landscapes for Politics

Worry is a way to pretend that you have knowledge or control over what you don’t–and it surprises me, even in myself, how much we prefer ugly scenarios to the pure unknown.

  • A Field Guide to Getting Lost

A path is a prior interpretation of the best way to traverse a landscape.

  • Wanderlust: A History of Walking

 

Writing is saying to no one and to everyone the things it is not possible to say to someone.

  • The Faraway Nearby

 

How will you go about finding that thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you?(Plato)

The things we want are transformative, and we don’t know or only think we know what is on the other side of that transformation. Love, wisdom, grace, inspiration- how do you go about finding these things that are in some ways about extending the boundaries of the self into unknown territory, about becoming someone else?

  • A Field Guide to Getting Lost

 

Despair is a form of certainty, certainty that the future will be a lot like the present or decline from it. Optimism is similarly confident about what will happen. Both are grounds for not acting. Hope can be the knowledge that reality doesn’t necessarily match our plans.

  • Men Explain Things to Me

To write is to carve a new path through the terrain of the imagination, or to point out new features on a familiar route. To read is to travel through that terrain with the author as a guide– a guide one might not always agree with or trust, but who can at least be counted on to take one somewhere.

  • Wanderlust: A History of Walking

But hope is not about what we expect. It is an embrace of the essential unknowability of the world, of the breaks with the present, the surprises. Or perhaps studying the record more carefully leads us to expect miracles – not when and where we expect them, but to expect to be astonished, to expect that we don’t know. And this is grounds to act.

  • Hope in the Dark

Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act. When you recognize uncertainty, you recognize that you may be able to influence the outcomes–you alone or you in concert with a few dozen or several million others. Hope is an embrace of the unknown and knowable, a alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists. Optimists think it will all be fine without our involvement; pessimists take the opposite position; both excuse themselves from acting. It’s the belief that what we do matters even though how and when it may matter, who and what is may impact, are not things we can know beforehand. We may not, in fact, know them afterward either, but they matter all the same, and history is full of people whose influence was most powerful after they were gone.

  • Hope in the Dark

If the boundaries of the self are defined by what we feel, then those who cannot feel even for themselves shrink within their own boundaries, while those who feel for others are enlarged, and those who feel compassion for all beings must be boundless. They are not separate, not alone, not lonely, not vulnerable in the same way as those of us stranded in the islands of ourselves, but they are vulnerable in other ways. Still, that sense of the dangers in feeling for others is so compelling that many withdraw, and develop elaborate stories to justify withdrawal, and then forget that they have shrunk. Most of us do, in one way or another.

 

  • The Faraway Nearby

 

The possibility of paradise hovers on the cusp of coming into being, so much so that it takes powerful forces to keep such a paradise at bay. If paradise now arises in hell, it’s because in the suspension of the usual order and the failure of most systems, we are free to live and act another way.

  • A Paradise Built in Hell

 

Paradise is not the place in which you arrive but the journey toward it. Sometimes I think victories must be temporary or incomplete; what kind of humanity would survive paradise? The industrialized world has tried to approximate paradise in its suburbs, with luxe, calme, volupté, cul-de-sacs, cable television and two-car garages, and it has produced a soft ennui that shades over into despair and a decay of the soul suggesting that Paradise is already a gulag. Countless desperate teenagers will tell you so. For paradise does not require of us courage, selflessness, creativity, passion: paradise in all accounts is passive, is sedative, and if you read carefully, soulless.

  • Hope in the Dark

Creation is always in the dark because you can only do the work of making by not quite knowing what you’re doing, by walking into darkness, not staying in the light.

  • The Faraway Nearby

 

Resistance is first of all a matter of principle and a way to live, to make yourself one small republic of unconquered spirit. You hope for results, but you don’t depend on them.

  • Hope in the Dark

 

He ceased to be lost not by returning but by turning into something else.

  • A Field Guide to Getting Lost

 

To dig deeper into the self, to go underground, is sometimes necessary, but so is the other route of getting out of yourself, into the larger world, into the openness in which you need not clutch your story and your troubles so tightly to your chest.

  • The Faraway Nearby

 

A labyrinth is an ancient device that compresses a journey into a small space, winds up a path like thread on a spool. It contains beginning, confusion, perseverance, arrival, and return. There at last the metaphysical journey of your life and your actual movements are one and the same. You may wander, may learn that in order to get to your destination you must turn away from it, become lost, spin about, and then only after the way has become overwhelming and absorbing, arrive, having gone the great journey without having gone far on the ground.

  • The Faraway Nearby

 

I wish that I could put up yesterday’s evening sky for all posterity, could preserve a night of love, the sound of a mountain stream, a realization as it sets my mind afire, a dance, a day of harmony, ten thousand glorious days of clouds that will instead vanish and never be seen again, line them up in jars where they might be admired in the interim and tasted again as needed.

  • The Faraway Nearby

 

What we dream of is already present in the world.

  • Hope in the Dark

 

Some portion of Woolf’s genius, it seems to me, is that having no notion, that negative capability. I once heard about a botanist in Hawaii with a knack for finding new species by getting lost in the jungle, by going beyond what he knew and how he knew, by letting experience be larger than his knowledge, by choosing reality rather than the plan. Woolf not only utilized but celebrated the unpredictable meander, on mind and foot. Her great essay Street Haunting: A London Adventure, from 1930, has the light breezy tone of many of her early essays, and yet voyages deep into the dark.

  • Men Explain Things to Me

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