the things that keep us are the things that we have kept
Anaïs Nin once wrote, “We do not see things are they are. We see things as we are.” And she’s right. Our experiences, point of view, and opinions color our perspective. It is the difference between denotative (the dictionary definition) and connotative (the emotional definition) of a word. A college professor once gave the example of a forest. He said that you talk about a forest, and most people picture green trees and a pleasant place. And that is true. But for him, the connotative meaning evoked an emotional response, because it made him think of a kid who he grew up with, a boy who hung himself from a tree in the woods. For him, that forest was never just a forest. It had ghosts, shadows, and a sense of foreboding.
There is, according to Jameson, no neutral word (blanking on his first name; I have to dig out my Norton lit theory book to reconfirm). And that is also true. Everything means something. But if we perceive the world as we are, I wonder how that changes our relationship to words. By most standards, an effective piece of writing usually makes us feel something. It evokes an emotional response. For instance, if I read a story about foxes, I think of Ted Hughes. Then I think of Sylvia Plath. From there, my thoughts harken back to their relationship, both romantically and in regard to their writing. I am a heap of my graduate school research sessions, soul-deep in philosophies, and most likely quoting from Birthday Letters. Most people would simply see the story itself, enjoy it as it is, and that is the end of it. (Note: my association between foxes and Ted Hughes means absolutely nothing in terms of story interpretation. Just wanted to make that clear.)
I think that one our greatest attributes is our ability to remember. Even, sometimes, in the instances that we’d most like to forget. Because remembering is a way of maintaining the act of being a witness. It’s holding something – a memory, an emotion, a piece of our past – and saying yes, that happened. There is power in that. And by seeing things as we are, by summoning up the words we used or heard, it is like holding on to a heartbeat. It is like taking a hand that is no longer there, feeling the fingers anyway.
We are all the words we’ve ever said, not the ones we’ve kept to ourselves. We are the dodgy moments, the cherished exhibitions, and all the things we’ve ever done for love. Nothing about any one of us is neutral, even when are actions are thus. Sometimes, it is a matter of biding our time. Sometimes, it is a matter of being still. Sometimes, it is a matter of holding on.
For me, the simplest things get me through the hard days: coffee, chocolate, music, good friends and family, and books. When all else fails, though, there is something to be said for recounting a conversation. It’s a few words and scattered sentences, snatches of emotions felt and evoked trailing after the memory. This act of playing through memories, almost like remembering the lines of a play, is a strange, unexpected comfort. Not simply for the memories themselves, but for what they mean to me. There’s nothing neutral about them. They are full Technicolor. It is, I think, a lot like the act of writing a poem, where meaning is found beneath the surface of things and where one thing often means another.
I suppose the point is that everything means something. We owe it to ourselves to try and to pay attention.Nothing about us, or life, is neutral. Perhaps that is a daunting idea: a reality so rife with meaning that it overwhelms. Instead, I’d like to think of it as rife with possibilities. Potential. Sure, that can also come in the form of challenges, but what’s easy is rarely what is desired. Otherwise, we’d all have perfect (possibly boring) lives. Waiting can be the answer to a question we’ve only started to ask. An answer can fall from the sky like a star. A promise can be given without prompting or pretense. Time yields all truths, whether or not we deign to see them. And nothing, absolutely nothing, is out of reach – if we dare to believe.
“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” ― Anaïs Nin
“I only believe in intoxication, in ecstasy, and when ordinary life shackles me, I escape, one way or another. No more walls.” ― Anaïs Nin
“To feel the love of people whom we love is a fire that feeds our life.”
― Pablo Neruda