The writer Anne Carson composed a series of poems called The Life of Towns, collected in her book Plainwater, that fused the metaphor of travelogue and a staccato note-taking voice of travel writing with the question of what if ideas were places. And what if they were? To be visited and lived within, to be moved on from and left behind, to be wrapped hazy in nostalgia, to be forgotten until the rotten sweet from a garbage pile is smelled again?
One of these poems, titled The Town of Spring Once Again, I think best summarizes her project, packed tight, sentences hacked into phrases by end stops at each line:
“Spring is always like what it used to be.”
Said an old Chinese man.
Rain hissed down the windows.
Longings from a great distance.
Even the experience of newness and rebirth – the very centers of difference, of diversity, of exploration – even they are somehow always like what they used to be. Instead of moving from place to place, or maturing from who we were to who we are, perhaps we are circling the same concepts, perhaps we always do and always will.
Carson ends the poem with longing, a longing that we feel from far away, that even comes from far away. Sometimes we know it, sometimes we do not yet know it and only will know it, in time, with the new Spring or with a new house or with the return to everything we came from. There are longings we spend years defining, rotating about in the light, seeking keyholes in or distinguishing marks on. There are longings we know immediately and feel tied to as close as our souls.
The question, then, is if we too quickly cleave a difference between our longings and our ideas, or in other words, have I lived a life unconsciously and unhelpfully split into thought and feeling? Is there a coherent whole, a holistic self, that I am avoiding, and if so, why?
This blog is meant to circle my self and whatever few parts of the world and its ideas I visit, with the hope of continuing to circle, with the hope of extracting myself from the comprehensive, engulfing temptation to desire progress, as if I am really moving forward at all, and as if the phrase ‘moving forward’ has a sensible concept attached to it. This blog is meant to be critical, exultant, annoying, creative, arrogant, humorous, moody, pretentious, absurd, spiritual, and contradictory, and it is meant to hover over thoughts or problems for too long, and it is meant to be unapologetically uncertain (though I will take the time now, so I will not have to again, to apologize for lengths of posts that could very well span the great distances longings reach us from).
It would be well pointed out that the philosophy of circling is a bit naïve – isn’t there change, and aren’t there still notions of better and worse, of critique and judgment in our lives, even if we believe that the technical kind of progress stretching into our human selves is only a myth or an error? I still learn, and that learning is still the washing out of what I knew and the ushering in of what I know or am knowing. What I hope for is a process that moves less like a line, and more like a corkscrew, a process that maps onto the genetic makeup of life already in our DNA, a process that pauses over the same things again and again, and grows somehow, whatever that means, in a mysteriously upward spiral towards the best possible me. It means we travel through towns of ideas, but then turn around and go through the same ones again, each time knowing something different as each time we get a clearer picture on the parts, and on the whole, each affecting each.
It means I need help understanding the longings that reach me. It means that while I hope you enjoy reading, I hope too that you can help me understand.