17 January 2016

Terra Incognita // English Class

My English class recently read an excerpt from Rebecca Solnit's book "A Field Guide to Getting Lost" and we were asked to respond. In her piece, Solnit's explores the concept of getting lost by offering examples and commentary of various manifestations of "being lost." She opens her piece by offering an anecdote about her first time getting drunk on Elijah's wine, then dives into being lost by reflecting on the Jewish tradition of opening the door to the unknown once a year at the Passover feast. She continues on to offer more theories on getting lost not only in the physical sense. She addresses Meno and Aristotle's questions about searching for the unknown and accepting it, as well as artists' tendencies to do the same.

Her discussion of negative capability, calculating the unforeseen and humans desire for transformation continue in the philosophical aspects of being lost. Solnit borrows various examples from other writers, for example Virginia Woolf, and philosophers to argue that getting lost is an innate need for humans if they are to truly find themselves. She ventures into physical loss as well to reinforce this idea, giving the example of being truly lost in a city as the best way to be present in said city. Solnit then uses the getting lost in the wilderness to offer the idea that acceptance of being lost generally ends better than resisting, seeing as humans naturally don't pay attention while confident and end up missing something important. She offers the etymology of the word "lost" to explain the idea of being lost as another way to express comfort and surrender with the unknown - and reinforces the strength that comes with that acceptance. She reminds readers that to rest in comfort too often equates to falling by the wayside in life , borrowing yet again from another author. In yet another approach to the same question, she suggests that losing oneself is different from losing an object because self-loss only truly comes when you find yourself in a situation greater than your understanding and requiring learning or transformation to overcome. I interpreted the piece as  a hearty endorsement of losing oneself on purpose, with the intent of truly finding oneself.

Terra incognita is where we find ourselves.

I've always been in love with the idea of adventures and getting nearly-lost , so Solnit's piece felt very real. While discussing it, I remembered this past summer where most of my best memories begin with the suggestion "Let's go adventuring." Whether with my best friend or my little sister, this phrase usually loosely translated to getting lost. I'd recently gotten the right to drive - combined with free time and an entire city to explore - and adventures became a regular occurrence. In the space of a few months I discovered an intense love for the city I'd been apathetic towards since my birth there. I realized how close I was with my little sister - and I am sure that had we not laughed our way through wrong turns into sketchy parts of town on the way to discover pie shops, our relationship would not be the same. Similarly, heading out with close friends to find food at bizarre hours and ending up somewhere completely different forged an entire new type of friendship. We all felt lost and uncertain sitting on the pavement that one night, while the cop lights flashed, but waking up the next morning and puzzling over the absurdity of being written up for walking a dog past curfew...that's when we found out what our friendship really could be.

My biggest example of "unknown" could easily be summed up in one word - France. I'd been essentially born into in, had talked to people, read books and prepare quite a bit before setting off ... but nonetheless I felt as though I was walking straight out of a door into some grand unknown as I walked through the metal detector in the Boston airport. Looking back, the speech from the director at the pre-departure meeting could not have been more correct - she said that this was the first year of our lives, not because of a birthday or an age, but due to one of our first immense choices. We were choosing to embark on our own journey, by ourselves - it wasn't anyone else choosing for us anymore, we were living for ourselves now. So, despite the immense unknown all seventy of us headed into we simultaneously took one of our first steps towards voluntary discomfort - the price we were (perhaps unknowingly) willing to pay to discover ourselves. More than halfway into the experience, I can look back and say all of this with confidence. It wasn't possible to create the truest version of me until I left my family, my friends, my streets, my candy bars and all of the other things - big and small - that I knew. I don't mean to say that I've lost the things that I left behind, quite the contrary. I have come to realize however that transplanting myself into an entire new environment has given me the opportunity to learn to be comfortably and confidently  uncomfortable , to prioritize my own life according to me , to realize who I am without the influences that had shaped me from birth until this past September. In the midst of some of the biggest transformation of my life, this piece has done nothing but remind me of the value and importance of seeking out uncertainty and learning to value being lost as an integral part of an adventure. I am quite literally currently finding myself in a terra incognita - France - and hope to be able to find other ways of getting lost no matter where I am in life and the best way to do so constantly is to become comfortable with the unknown. Truly, I agree with Solnit - you can only find yourself, be truly aware, when you are uncertain of your surroundings. Lost.

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