Back to Basics

Me - a million years ago when I was just a kid with the world at my fingertips
Me – a million years ago when I was just a kid with the world at my fingertips

Where to start but at the beginning of things which was always connected to the words plucked from my mind and scribbled onto an empty page. For as long as I can remember, the simplicity of this beginning, yet the complexity of sustaining it, has been my fascination and the source of my dreams.

It was always there, right beneath my skin. And even though I abandoned it for years, it never disappeared. It just lay quietly, solemnly waiting for that one day when it would once again have the opportunity to reappear.

Years ago when I was in my roaring 20s; a young and independent woman with a head full of dreams and places to go, I had a professor at the university who told me to read Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke. He emphasized it. It was somehow important. Still, it would take years before I actually came around to it.

As I read this book today for the 2nd time, I realize why it was so important. It speaks to me now in a way that it has never done before, and in a way that nothing really has ever spoken to me before.

Anyone who is or wants to be a writer (or any other kind of artist, really), not the kind that writes for applause or for financial gain, yet rather the kind that writes because it’s simply unstoppable; anyone who is like that should read this book.

If it speaks to you, then you will already know by the end of Rilke’s first letter to the young poet Herr Kappus. As he so eloquently puts it…

You ask if your verses are good. You ask me. You have previously asked others. You send them to journals. You compare them with other poems, and you are troubled when certain editors reject your efforts. Now (as you have permitted me to advise you) I beg you to give all that up. You are looking outwards, and of all things that is what you must now not do. Nobody can advise and help you, nobody. There is only one single means. Go inside yourself. Discover the motive that bids you write; examine whether it sends its roots down to the deepest places of your heart, confess to yourself whether you would have to die if writing were denied you. This before all: ask yourself in the quietest hour of your night: must I write? Dig down into yourself for a deep answer. And if this should be in the affirmative, if you may meet this solemn question with a strong and simple “I must”, then build your life according to this necessity; your life must, right to its most unimportant and insignificant hour, become a token and a witness of this impulse. (p. 11-12).

…and so it is.

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