A Field Guide to Getting Lost

Rebecca Solnit’s writing is wild, wandering, wondering, free, luminous and full of the bittersweet ache of nostalgia.  Her descriptions and stories in this book are fragile, intricate, and determined.

She talks about the feeling of being lost and says:

Lost really has two disparate meanings. Losing things is about the familiar falling away, getting lost is about the unfamiliar appearing….

While reading this work I found myself lost in her words and in the feelings they evoked within me.  She describes things in such a beautiful and nostalgic way, and her words pack a punch of feeling that made me ache.  I felt myself wandering through a harsh but beautiful word climate, much like the physical desert that Solnit describes so wonderfully in this book.

Perhaps it’s that you can’t go back in time, but you can return to the scenes of a love, of a crime, of happiness, and of a fatal decision; the places are what remain, are what you can possess, are what is immortal.  They become the tangible landscape of memory, the places that made you, and in some way you too become them.  They are what you can possess and what in the end possesses you.

Explorers, Native American captives, urban ruins, country music, Vertigo, desert landscapes, punk rock, drugs and endangered species are just some of the vast array of subjects that Solnit covers in this book, as well as the subject of her own life.  Thus, while being categorized as non-fiction, I would say this book is part memoir, part nature/travel writing, part history and part pop culture but always sincere and engagingly interwoven.

I thought it strange and enchanting how well Solnit was able to write about all the layers of loss and being lost that we experience as humans.  Becoming physically lost, becoming lost in a task or a person, or becoming spiritually or emotionally lost in memory, nostalgia, or grief.  She interweaves these layers so well that by the end of the book I began to feel loss as something that is natural to the human condition and even beautiful.  It can be transcendent, or one can also have the experience where  something is just lost and really that’s that.

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.

“The Blue of Distance” is the title of every other essay.  She speaks about the far off blue of which many painters have tried to capture in their art and also speaks of the pure blues of  longing, desire, and loss. Ethereal but calm; pain, nostalgia, memory and loss are subjects in this book that are presented as courses in our lives to be savored and then passed through.  This book is also about the places, both physically and mentally, that one can arrive at after being lost and the clarity and presence once can feel after the blues of regret at what has been shed.

We fly; we dream in darkness; we devour heaven in bites too small to be measured.


1 Comment

  1. Lyska said,

    May 2, 2011 at 8:40 pm

    Wow, in the writing you quoted… she seems to almost write in wandering prose. I usually get a little annoyed with that, but she doesn’t seem to wander away. It’s vivid, but to the point.. I want to read it!

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