Many people know Arthur Rimbaud’s famous declaration that life is elsewhere from its use as the title of Milan Kundera’s novel but do not know that the full quote is "What a life! True life is elsewhere. We are not in the world." This line has always resonated with me but this past week I have been particularly haunted by its continued relevance to my life.
Next Flight Out
There have been times in my life when things seemed out of balance, even upside down. It seemed that the people I spent the most time with were strangers with no values or tastes or drives in common with mine, while my best friends were in other cities or found in books through characters and authors from other centuries. Times when music understood me better and embraced me more warmly than any human being. Times when my past successes or future hopes were far more real to me than anything going on in my life at the present moment. I once thought this was my own fault, or the fault of the human condition, and that my task was not to correct, but accept this imbalance.
Vermont's Longest Covered Bridge
But instead these periods of imbalance have provoked first the desire and then an enacted plan for great change in my life, compelling me to examine why and how things had come to such a point and make a move either to bring meaning into my life, or bring myself to where the meaning could be found. When I left my job last summer, it was one of those moments of taking a huge risk to effect a change I hoped would restore balance to my life. It has been a long twelve months, with much progress in the right direction, but it has occurred to me this past week just how long and slow a journey I am on, and that while I am further away from the unacceptable life I left behind, I am still very far away from living the kind of life in which I can look around and feel that life is right where I am and not still elsewhere.
Eyes Wide Shut
There are those who might think I expect too much from life, that the majority of people never do find the right companions, living conditions or work. They merely become accustomed to a mild sense of disappointment and lack of fulfillment in their lives and in order to cope with it, find means of escape, distraction or rationalization to make it tolerable. I mean, who said life was about satisfaction? Who said dreams can come true and that the human condition can rise above regret and longing through action, instead of oblivion? Who said striving for meaning with no guaranteed results could be preferable to just making things stable and comfortable?
Dreamer in a Garden
I did, that’s who. I’ve been told I was born without a small piece of connective tissue in my right side. I have also come to understand that I was born without any concept of the urgent necessity and intrinsic value of money, material possessions, and impressive titles one can use in conversation to send people away secure in their knowledge of who you are with no need to inquire further. For as long as I can remember, all I wanted was to be that most elusive of things – happy. Numbers with dollar signs in front of them don’t make me happy. Watching someone’s eyes light up when I name the prestigious institution good enough to pay me for sitting around angry and frustrated all day doesn’t make me happy. A home so beautiful guests are afraid to touch anything, two shiny cars in the garage, and any item of clothing that costs more than a week’s worth of groceries also do not make me happy.
The day I arrived in the Boston area from New York, my new apartment was not yet ready for occupancy and I spent the night at my brother’s house with a moving van parked outside containing all my worldly possessions protected only by a small fragile combination lock. I remember thinking that if someone broke into the van and stole all its contents it wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Not one thing in there was unique or irreplaceable because they were -- things. The thought of this potential unburdening actually made me feel happy. And so it seems happiness for me is more about enjoying what I’m doing and who I am. I like beautiful places, and beautiful souls, and have been fortunate enough to be finding them lately. But not here. Always and again – elsewhere.
Table for One
Some of you have read of my longstanding love affairs with certain places like my native New York City and more recently Vermont. When I first moved here almost 10 years ago, it took a long time to make connections with people. I have found some good friends here finally, exceptional folks who are indeed the exception rather than the rule, but I never have felt tied to this place. I only managed to live here this long by enriching my life with the planning and taking of trips to other places. This past year thanks to Blogger I have met some of the best brightest and most sympathetic souls I have ever known, some of them in other cities, some halfway around the world, whose friendship will continue to sustain me wherever an Internet connection can be accessed. I always felt that leaving this place, my residence for nearly one fifth of my life thus far, would be easy, both practically and psychologically. I’ve never really felt I was HERE, so relocation would take effort, but no internal struggle as it does for so many people. From the day I arrived I was on a path to being elsewhere. It does seem that I am coming close to the end of this path, and I am full of hope but also sadness, not for the quitting of this place, but because it should be so easy, and will so quickly become a memory of an experience only important as a launching point to something else, for which I will always be grateful, but also always wonder – what took so long?
Missing the Friend - by Denise Scaramai
Please take a moment this week to visit the site of one of my dearest blogfriends Denise Scaramai, whose recent interpretation of one of my photographs you see above. I have never met this woman face to face but the strength of her great intelligence and heart carries across continents. I am better for her presence in my life, wherever she or I may be. I’d also like to draw your attention to a wonderful project sponsored by The Minneapolis Institute of Art whose exhibit "Facing the Lens : Portraits of Photographers" (http://artsmia.org/index.php?section_id=2&exh_id=4026) runs through August 2011 and features works by classic and contemporary photographers. They have established an accompanying Flickr group (http://www.flickr.com/groups/facingthelens/pool/) to which any photographer can upload their own self-portraits. The images will not only be viewable on Flickr, but will also be projected on a screen in the actual gallery space in Minneapolis for the duration of the show. Some of my images were recently accepted to the pool and I intend to add more. It thrills me to think that my images will appear in the same room as those by some of my favorite masters from past centuries, and that as I sit here at my desk, the eyes of strangers fall on my photographs, and indeed on my face. Perhaps through their sensing of the person behind the work, I will be in that room too. Life is elsewhere.
This post is dedicated to the pursuit of happiness and the wonderful places I hope you will all find along the way.