A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit is a series of meditations on what it means to be lost. Through a combination of her stunning writing, unreal bank of quotes from writers, philosophers and painters and stories about obscure historical figures, she writes a thoughtful and beautiful series of essays on our continuous fascination and fear of stepping into the unknown.
These essays are meandering, switching from rambling (in a good way) stories from history – how painters have recreated the horizon through the centuries, white settlers adopted into native American tribes, an artist determined to capture an image of the perfect leap – and anecdotes from Solnit’s life – love affairs with strange desert-dwelling men, the loss of her friend to a heroin overdose, her missing great-grandmother (I also have a vanished great-great-grandmother, so I particularly enjoyed this one).
Solnit’s writing has to be experienced. So, I figured, rather than a review I’d select a few choice quotes that best show why A Field Guide to Getting Lost is such a vital read. And not just because Solnit is probably one of the best writers alive today.
(She is though)
“To lose yourself: a voluptuous surrender, lost in your arms, lost to the world, utterly immersed in what is present so that its surroundings fade away… to be lost is to be fully present, and to be fully present is to be capable of being in uncertainty and mystery. And one does not get lost but loses oneself, with the implication that it is a conscious choice, a chosen surrender, a psychic state achievable through geography.”
“And some people travel far more than others. There are those who receive as a birth right an adequate or at least unquestioned sense of self and those who set out to reinvent themselves, for survival or for satisfaction, and travel far. Some people inherit values and practices as a house they inhabit; some of us have to burn down that house, find our own ground, build from scratch, even as a psychological metamorphosis.”
“But fear of making mistakes can itself become a huge mistake, one that prevents you from living, for life is risky and anything less is already loss.”
“A happy love is a single story, a disintegrating one is two or more competing, conflicting versions, and a disintegrated one lies at your feet like a shattered mirror, each shard reflecting a different story, that it was terrible, if only this had, if only that hadn’t. The stories don’t fit back together, and it’s the end of stories, those devices we carry like shells and shields and blinkers and occasionally maps and compasses.”
“When someone doesn’t show up, the people who wait sometimes tell stories about what might have happened and come to half believe the desertion, the abduction, the accident. 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.”
“Movies are made out of darkness as well as light; it is the surpassingly brief intervals of darkness between each luminous still image that make it possible to assemble the many images into one moving picture. Without the darkness, there would only be a blur.”
“That thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you is usually what you need to find, and finding it is a matter of getting lost.”