A Field Guide to Getting Lost
We live in a world that refuses us the possibility of getting lost. Or at least its getting harder, and the undercurrents of our daily lives suggest that getting or being lost is a condition, a hazard, that modern technology can wipe out. Sort of like eradicating polio or smallpox. Witness the prevalence of GPS apps on our smart phones – like Google Maps – that guide us, talk to us, offer us street views, and will even show us where to buy coffee along any imagined journey from Point A to Point B. Can you remember the last time you referred to, or actually depended upon, something so primative as your wits or even a paper map?
Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark. That’s where the most important things come from, where you yourself came from, and where you will go. – Rebecca Solnit
Our educational system, the infamous era of No Child Left Behind and relentless “teaching to the test”, instills the believe in our children that every problem has an answer that can be distilled into a multiple choice question; only a few possibilities, only one correct answer, only one way of being right. Our interstate highway system is lined with the same food chains, with the same menus, with the same familiar signage and architecture. As if the purpose of travel is not really to leave home, but to take home with us. Sameness everywhere – not difference – is the apparent measure of having had a ‘good trip’.
We live most of our lives in a cultural and technological bubble that serves to buffer us from the inconveniences and insecurities of being confronted with ambiguity.
While this may be good for all of us some of the time, and for some of us all the time, its a deadly state of affairs for those in serious pursuit of any kind of creative practice.
Art and art making is the antithesis of this deadly certainty. The most fearless artists are always edging themselves further out, into that place that seems risky and unknown. It can be difficult to find that further ledge, and it can be harder still to hold and stay put.
Rebecca Solnit’s book A Field Guide to Getting Lost is an inspiring meditation on this tension between the known and the unknown.
Never to get lost is not to live, not to know how to get lost brings you to destruction, and somewhere in the terra incognita in between lies a life of discovery. – Rebecca Solnit
Solnit is a cultural historian, but also more than that. She is a philosopher, a wise storyteller, with the voice of a poet. Most of the chapters in the book (four of the nine are all titled “The Blue of Distance”) interweave historical narrative with fragments of Solnit’s autobiography. These are compelling and beautiful, but the first chapter, “Open Door”, reads almost like a manifesto for anyone interested in artmaking as a form of exploration – a must-read.
In talking about getting lost, what Solnit is really pointing to is wonder and transformation. If we think of our lives, or our creative process, as a journey, then she reminds us that all authentic journeys involve risk and uncertainty – that this is the beating heart of discovery. And she encourages us to accept the invitation of the unkown, at least if we’re serious about finding what we seek.
image credit: New Old Stock