Postcards                                                       The English translation has been completed

“People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.” James Baldwin

“The present rearranges the past. We never tell the story whole because a life isn’t a story; it’s a whole Milky Way of events and we are forever picking out constellations from it to fit who and where we are.” From The Faraway Nearby Rebecca Solnit

Today’s post includes references to and suggestions for two books I’ve been reading, an article on how some of Hans Christian Andersen’s19th century fairy tales raised environmental concerns during an age of rapid industrialization, and nine drawing-collage pieces I’ve made recently.


A. The first book, A History of Art In 21 Cats by Nia Gould. The Greek edition, that I purchased was published in 2023. This book introduces us to 21 art movements through illustrated cats, each cultured in the style of a particular period or art master. We travel from ancient Egyptian and Byzantine art to The Renaissance. We are introduced to Rococo, Impressionism, Surrealism, Fauvism, Cubism, Symbolism, Magic Realism, Art Deco, Abstract and Pop Art, The Cobra Group and The Young British Artists, and more. Gould has combined her love for cats and art to create a book featuring cats posing as famous artists and figures in famous works of art. The book is both for adults and children, and I think it would be a great tool to introduce key themes and artists of the various art movements to older school children. It could serve as a workbook of sorts, where students could use animals, objects and human figures to experiment with each style. The book will probably also delight cat lovers.


B. The second book O Κήπος της Αμαλίας / Amalia’s Garden, written by Karolina Mermiga and published in 2023, is very different. It is a historical novel about the life of the first queen of Greece, Amalia, intertwined with the events of the first decades of the independent Greek state, from 1837, when the nineteen-year-old German queen arrives in Athens as the wife of the also young Otto, till 1862, when the royal couple is forced to leave Greece.

As I reflected on the two languages in which I live and communicate, it occurred to me that I have not spoken English since 2011. On the other hand I listen to, write in and read English almost every day. And while I communicate orally in Greek, I read much less now, and I write very little if I exclude the frequent translations of the texts I write for this website. This situation is not the result of choice. It’s just the way things are now. But in a way, both are losses. So with these thoughts on my mind I decided, perhaps as a sort of return. to start watching Greek shows and podcasts on art and books. And that’s how I came across this book.

So among the things I watched and listened to was a presentation of Karolina Mermiga’s book. I chose the book for several reasons. In general, the historical novel is more enjoyable and faster to read than history books. Also, the title conjured personal associations. My mother’s name was Amalia and she always had a small garden in the flats and houses she lived in. She also planted the first flowers in my own garden. I also remembered that when I was little I once asked her why she didn’t have a name day like most people I knew. She told me that she probably got her name from a queen who lived in Greece a long time ago and bore that name. Much later, in high school, I first came into contact with the history of Modern Greece and the reign of Otto.

Mermiga,  taps into historical events and  facts as she weaves the story of a woman charged with the duty of giving birth to an heir in order to start a new royal dynasty. But Otto and Amalia were not destined to become parents. Their childlessness, and especially Amalia’s reproductive capacity, and the truths, speculations, superstitions and beliefs surrounding this issue, will become a socio-political issue, and part of a game played by the great powers: England, France and Russia. As I was looking at various articles somewhere it is mentioned that many took part in this game, from Metternich and advisors and courtiers to court doctors and those who advised that the queen ingest things such as cicadas or gunpowder from the king’s guns. Everyone expected a successor baptized in the Orthodox faith to establish the throne in Greece with Orthodox descendants. “A crown prince acts as a hypnotic for revolutions, a royal newborn has the power to lull an entire nation” writes Zacharias Papantoniou (LIFO magazine).

The childlessness of the royal couple was surrounded by rumours, superstitions, press comments and caricature sketches, since the birth of an heir  meant political stability. It was also one of many other events in their reign that eventually led to the rise of popular discontent with the monarchy, culminating in the intense anti-royal struggle that resulted in Otto’s abdication in 1862. In the book’s ear it is stated that Amalia “endures physical torture for her childlessness and resists insults, but she also resists the exciting new currents of democracy that are blowing all around her.

On the first page of the book the author includes a quote by James Baldwin: “People are trapped in History and History is trapped in them.” So Amalia lived as the time and her place within it dictated, The same applies to all of us, our capacity for self-determination, expression and agency are determined, limited or influenced for better or worse by many factors as I have often mentioned, as well as by the contexts in which we move in, but also from the larger framework, such as History. So just as our ancestral family history touches us in one way or another, History with a capital H also defines or influences our lives.

The echo of the events and the protagonists of history reaches us. In this case, many works of architecture, urban planning, fiscal policy, the character of the birth and development of the newly established state at the time, even attitudes and prejudices of the 19th century, touch us collectively as a nation and a country, but also each of us in discreet personal ways, even today . In 2011, one of Amalia’s legacies became a defining part of my own life.

From Amalia’s letters and other sources we know that she loved Greece, a country full of contradictions that was searching for its identity after the revolution of 1821 and the civil wars, even though when she arrived she saw a country she did not expect and a desolate and devastated Athens. She loved the people, the landscape and the climate. She loved horse riding and swimming, which she was often deprived of, as it was thought that they contributed to infertility. This love of hers was also expressed in projects she engaged with. Among other things, she left an important imprint on the collective memory of the Greeks, mainly with the “Amalia costume”: the urban costume of the Peloponnese that was also common in Athens, and which, as I learned, played an important role in the evolution of Greek costume history. But she was mainly interested in agriculture, importing plants and trees from other places, beautifying Athens by planting trees  in squares, hills and sidewalks of the capital, where she also created her famous garden, now known as the National Garden. She also developed  charitable activity. It was through her efforts that the then pioneering insurance institution for sailors was founded, the “Ophthalmiatreio” (1843), the “Amalieio Orphanage” (1855), etc. A hundred and fifty six years later. in this last institution, I did a part of my internship of a master’s program in clinical psychology in 2011.

I’ll end this piece with a short extract from the book:

“And if I had read Greek mythology better, what would I change? Strange winds blow here, so different from those of Oldenburg. Here they carry sea salt, which sticks to the lips, and divine wrath – wrath of gods who for centuries have hidden under the foam of the waves, but have not perished. Because very few things are truly lost in this land, most remain hidden and waiting until the time comes for them to burst into the foam, joyfully or vengefully.”

C. My artwork led to re reading some of Hans Christian Andersen’s stories and to the article I mentioned above:  How 19th century fairy tales expressed anxieties about ecological devastation at:

The article explores how some of Hans Christian Andersen’s tales, like: A Drop of Water, The Daisy and the Flax, The Fir Tree and The Great Serpent, raised environmental concerns during an age of rapid industrialization. In the article it is suggested that by exploring the repercussions of an industrialised landscape, Andersen’s tales provided commentary on the threat to the English landscape and its population.

In Andersen’s tale, A Drop of Water, which is included in the collage part of my drawings today, according to the article, a sorcerer named Creep-and-Crawl examines an extract of ditch water, in which he has added a drop of blood from a witch, using a microscopic lens. He notices organisms that “hopped and jumped about, pulled one another and pecked one another”. Seeing the organism’s violent and seemingly bloody activity a colleague of his assumes that the creatures must be living in a capital city.

Laura Hood, the writer, comments that the Victorian public was equally horrified by the organisms that were hidden in its contaminated drinking water. This fear of water was well founded since “an antiquated sewage system directed London’s cesspools to the Thames, which was the capital’s water reserve. Chemicals from factories were also released into the river, spreading waterborne diseases such as typhoid, cholera, and dysentery.”

She concludes that “Today, with the steady rise of dystopian literature, eco fiction and climate change fiction (otherwise known as “cli fi”), we see similar artistic responses to environmental change which steer readers away from complacency. As authors seek to express the gravity and severity of ecological crises, their literature holds the potential to inspire radical change.”













I have edited the post, and also, finally managed to upload all three drawings (21/05/2024)

Life and art

“A window. How I love a window. A bird, whizzing by. Bumblebee. It’s always different. The whole of life. The whole of life already framed. Right there.“ Maud Lewis

Today’s post includes three bigger drawings-collages, I’ve been currently making, inspired by archetypes in films, stories and art, and ancient Greek models of the mind. I’ve also, read a very interesting analysis by Benjamin Haller of Chris Nolan’s somewhat complex, and with an ambiguous ending, film Inception, which I write about in today’s post. I found Haller’s piece interesting and worth reading, irrespectively of whether one has seen Inception or not. I also make a brief reference to another film I watched recently, Maudie, inspired by folk artist Maud Lewis. Both of the film themes or characters have found their way in my artwork.  The writing, the art making, the books and films, and the brief research on Jungian archetypes and the ancient Greek use of architecture as a metaphor for human consciousness and the mind, have in some sense all been one interrelated art-life process.

In his film Inception Chris Nolan, the director, explores the idea of people sharing a dream space, which gives one the ability to access somebody else’s unconscious mind, and also, how this could be used and abused. The majority of the film’s plot takes place in these interconnected dream worlds. Cobb the protagonist and his team seeming steal information from people’s dreams, which requires finding a safe within the dream that protects valuable information. Inception in the film represents a process of planting ideas in person’s mind without them being aware of it.

In his 2014 paper , The Labyrinth of Memory: Iphigeneia, Simonides, and Classical Models of Architecture as Mind in Chris Nolan’s film, Inception, Benjamin Haller  discusses how Chris Nolan’s film Inception uses architecture as a language to comment upon the relationship of the protagonist, Dom Cobb, with his deceased wife, Mal. He argues that the film draws upon three classical models that use architecture as a metaphor for mind: Homer’s tomb of Myrhine in the Iliad, Iphigeneia’s dream of the collapse of the House of Agamemnon in Euripides’s  work, Iphigeneia Among the Taurians, and Simonides’ Memory Palace mnemonic technique**.  He argues that Nolan’s film similarly to the Greco-Roman tradition use architecture as a metaphor for human consciousness in a manner that reminds one of the work of Carl Jung, who drew on Greek and Roman mythology in framing his psychological theories, the anima, the shadow, and Minotaur-mother archetypes.

** Simonides of Ceos was the inventor of the technique of loci or otherwise, called, memory palace and mind palace, which allows one to memorize vast amounts of information by envisioning a large physical space like a palace or a big house that one is extremely familiar with, and placing the information we want to memorize in various locations within the space. Then by mentally retracing one’s steps through the space one can recall each fact from the feature where it was placed.

The film Inception identifies each of its main characters: Dom, Mal and Ariadne with architectures and modes of cognition.  Mal in Dom’s dreams is identified as a force in his subconscious that Nolan associates with amorphous architectures and spaces like water, which Haller suggests represents the subconscious with all its perilous and salvific potential, and also, in Christian tradition, a symbol of redemption. Dom is the opposite of her and is identified with linear architectures like palaces and straight-line mazes. Ariadne is identified with circular mazes. She is the one who mediates between Dom and his memories of his deceased wife in order to help him overcome his guilt and grief, and also, to complete his greatest heist.

Haller argues that in the film Dom represents the analytical conscious mind, Ariadne the intuitive mind, and Mal the dangerous depths of the subconscious, and that Nolan draws on Jungian ideas about the relation between conscious and subconscious modes of cognition in order to critique gender norms often associated with male protagonists in detective  films and stories. Haller writes: “In Inception, Nolan identifies the architectures of the rectilinear palace or labyrinth, the circular maze, and the amorphous mutability of water as metaphors, respectively, for the conscious, intuitive, and subconscious mind. Nolan’s use of this metaphorical mental architecture is broadly Jungian, especially with respect to the two female leads of the film: Ariadne’s ability to thread psychological labyrinths for Dom recalls the Jungian anima and Mal’s function as part of Dom’s subconscious, which undermines his conscious enterprises, resembles Jung’s shadow and mother archetypes. ……  As Ariadne grows into her anima-like mythological role as threader of labyrinths to rescue Dom’s psyche from dissolution, an alternative narrative of Mal’s self-destruction emerges – one which differs significantly from that related by Dom.” It seems that Dom’s invasions of his wife’s internal architectures, which are embodied in her childhood home in the subconscious realm, and his insistence on linear rationality, have proved destructive.

The premise of this science fiction film is that Dom Cobb (Leonardo Di Caprio) and his wife, Mal (Marion Cotillard), are dream architects, who design and manipulate architectural spaces in dreams within their own and others’ minds, but this activity results in Mal preferring the world of dreams to that of reality. Dom’s plan of action to stop this results in her suicide, when Mal becomes convinced not only that the dream city which they have constructed together is unreal, but that the “real” world is also a dream. The memory of her, gets lodged in the depths of Dom’s subconscious, with disastrous results for his attempts to use his skills to earn money by stealing information from unsuspecting marks’ minds. So, Dom requires the help of someone, who can negotiate the different spaces of the mind in a different way from his own habitual way.  Haller writes: “Just as in Jung’s writings the mythological figure of Ariadne serves as a metaphor for the therapist, Dom’s new assistant, significantly named Ariadne, will fulfill an analogously therapeutic function for him vis-à-vis the architecture of the mind, designing mental labyrinths specifically tailored to thwart unwelcome intrusions by Mal into Dom’s dream palaces…”

Haller additionally discusses how “the architecture of Nolan’s dream world participates in a long tradition of gendering architecture: “feminine” architecture is identified with suppressed, subconscious, or forgotten discourses, and “masculine” architecture with a dominant voice of strident rationality and rhetorical deliberation whose inability to access these suppressed discourses proves its fatal weakness…” He refers to Iphigeneia’s dream, which also attaches gender to architectural spaces. The house is typically divided into male and female spaces, the gynaikonitis, where Iphigeneia sleeps.  Haller explains that the pillars are considered masculine: “the pillars of the home are masculine offspring  (στῦλοι γὰρ οἴκων παῖδές εἰσιν ἄρσενες),” and they have a voice, whereas the females are relegated to the passive female role of lamentation (κλαίουσα).

Haller points to similarities between this architecture and that of Inception. In the film the architecture in Mal’s interior life is encircled by a moat / water, which, he notes, could also suggest that Mal is protecting herself from Dom, who violates her childhood home to implant the idea of the illusory character of their city. Haller adds that Dom’s penetration of Mal’s interior world is represented as a violation of an interior space of her consciousness. Similarly, Iphigeneia’s dream at the start of the tragedy asserts the house of her father as a violated   interior mind space. In the dream this space is also surrounded by the Black Sea. The water both separates her from Greece and protects her.

I will end this piece with two lines from the movie:

“What’s the most resilient parasite? An idea. A single idea from the human mind can build cities. An idea can transform the world and rewrite all the rules.” Dom Cobb

“The seed that we plant in this man’s mind will grow into an idea. This idea will define him. It may come to change everything about him. The way he thinks, the way he acts. It may even come to define his entire worldview.” Dom Cobb

Additionally, I will briefly refer to a film I watched recently, Maudie, directed by Aisling Walsh, with a script by Sherry Whit, and which became part of my drawings. The film is not a biopic, but rather inspired by the life of Maud Lewis, a celebrated Canadian folk artist, who as a child battled with the juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (1901-1970). It focuses more on Lewis’ optimism, determination and perseverance with her art amidst extreme physical pain, hardship and unnecessary poverty. The leading actors’ performances are very impressive. In one review I read, the leading actors Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke are described as “a beautifully matched pair who open up two closed people, unleashing torrents of feeling.” Sally Hawkins’ performance, in particular, is impressive. It’s as if she transforms physically, as if she shrinks and twists into the role, as Maud ages and arthritis ravages her body.

And finally, I will include an extract about art and life from Rebecca Solnit’s book: The Faraway Nearby

“Empathy is a journey you travel, if you pay attention, if you care, if you desire to do so. Up close you witness suffering directly………. Suffering far away reaches you through art, through images, recordings, and narratives; the information travels toward you and you meet it halfway, if you meet it………”, and later in the book  “….  that the whole world is a work of art; that we are parts of the work of art. The sudden appearance of the patterns of the world brings a sense of coherence and above all connection. In the old way of saying it, tales were spun; they were threads that tied things together and from them the fabric of the world was woven. In the strongest stories we see ourselves, connected to each other, woven into the pattern, see that we are ourselves stories, telling and being told. Stories like yours and worse than yours are all around, and your suffering won’t mark you out as special, though your response to it might.”

Art and Writing: Books and Portraits of Writers                              Edited 6/5/2024

“Why tell stories if they will only bring forth a new round of punishment or disparagement? Or if they will be ignored as if they meant nothing? This is how preemptive silencing works. To have a voice means not just the animal capacity to utter sounds but the ability to participate fully in the conversations that shape your society, your relations to others, and your own life. There are three key things that matter in having a voice: audibility, credibility, and consequence.” Rebecca Solnit

“I connected the dots, saw an epidemic, talked and wrote about the patterns I saw, waited three decades for it to become a public conversation…” Rebecca Solnit

“It’s often assumed that anger drives such work, but most activism is driven by love…”Rebecca Solnit

As I mentioned in the last post, one basic underlying thread or theme of Rebecca Solnit’s book, Recollections of My Non–Existence   /   Αναμνήσεις της ανυπαρξίας μου, is about who gets to tell stories, who listens to them, who gets discredited and silenced, whose stories are erased and disappeared, and the stories that are missing that we are not even aware of. Solnit situates herself  culturally, historically, geographically, and in doing so becomes part of all the women who have tried to find their way and a voice to tell stories that would otherwise have been muted. She writes: “… half the earth is paved over with women’s fear and pain, or rather with the denial of them, and until the stories that lie underneath see sunlight, this will not change.” Finally, even though her narratives are mostly embedded in a particular geographical space the insights and arguments in the book can resonate for many people, especially women, across many geographical and cultural contexts.

Of her younger years, Solnit writes:In those days, I was trying to disappear and to appear, trying to be safe and to be someone, and those agendas were often at odds with each other. And I was watching myself to see if I could read in the mirror what I could be and whether I was good enough and whether all the things I’d been told about myself were true. To be a young woman is to face your own annihilation in innumerable ways or to flee it or the knowledge of it, or all these things at once…….. I was trying not to be the subject of someone else’s poetry and not to get killed; I was trying to find a poetics of my own, with no maps, no guides, not much to go on. They might have been out there, but I hadn’t located them yet.”

Often in our youth we may be aware of the need to resist, but without clear realization of what we are defying or fighting against or what we are conforming to out of fears – named and unnamed. Our earlier years and the battles we won and the fights we lost, leave scars and define a lot of what is to come and of what we are to become. Solnit says: “I was often unaware of what and why I was resisting, and so my defiance was murky, incoherent, erratic. Those years of not succumbing, or of succumbing like someone sinking into a morass and then flailing to escape, again and again, come back to me now as I see young women around me fighting the same battles. The fight wasn’t just to survive bodily, though that could be intense enough, but to survive as a person possessed of rights, including the right to participation and dignity and a voice. More than survive, then: to live.”

This business of becoming an adult is complex and the path is often strewn with inner and outer obstacles of all kinds. In addition, it is implied that adulthood is a coherent and uniform category that one will enter simply by reaching a certain age or accomplishing certain things, which is far from the truth. For one, becoming an adult is a lengthy process and it may be a lifelong one. It may also look different for different people in different cultures, and it requires a lot of energy, creativity, knowledge, work and support. Solnit writes: “The word adult implies that all the people who’ve attained legal majority make up a coherent category, but we are travelers who change and traverse a changing country as we go. The road is tattered and elastic……   It’s not just that you’re an adolescent at the end of your teens, but that adulthood, a category into which we put everyone who is not a child, is a constantly changing condition………You are making something, a life, a self, and it is an intensely creative task as well as one at which it is more than possible to fail, a little, a lot, miserably, fatally. Youth is a high-risk business.”

Solnit writes about places, houses and their interiors, how geography and dwellings become part of us and allow us to grow and become or stifle the process, and how we and places and dwellings grow into each other.  How places and spaces shape, define and colour our perception has always interested me, and I have often returned to it and to relevant literature, in more recent posts, as well.  Of an early apartment, which she inhabited for decades, which in some sense became tattooed on her psyche, she writes:  “I lived there so long the little apartment and I grew into each other….. When it was still my home, I dreamed many times about finding another room in it, another door. In some way it was me and I was it, and so these discoveries were, of course, other parts of myself.”

Solnit also talks about the freedom of inhabiting places and moving in them.  She writes about walking and inhabiting public spaces, detailing the obstacles that women face in walking out in the world, the subtle and not so subtle harassment, stalking or other unpleasant or threatening behaviours that young girls and women of all ages often face. She provides accounts of her own experience and those of others. Some seemed so familiar, almost identical with my own experiences even though I have inhabited different geographical spaces.  Her love for walking and being out in open spaces also resonated with me. I pondered a bit on whether to refer to some of my own experiences of stalking or harassment of varying degrees of intensity: on means of transport; in the street, in public spaces and buildings, and other contexts. The more I pondered on this the more instances came to my mind, the more of the book I read, the more incidents I was reminded of.

She writes:

“Walking was my freedom, my joy, my affordable transportation, my method of learning to understand places, my way of being in the world, my way of thinking through my life and my writing, my way of orienting myself. That it might be too unsafe to do was something I wasn’t willing to accept, though everyone else seemed more than willing to accept it on my behalf. Be a prisoner, they urged cheerfully; accept your immobility, wall yourself up like an anchorite” and later in the book…”and “….it seemed sometimes as though it was all meant to wall me up alone at home like a person prematurely in her coffin.”

And elsewhere, she writes: “One day when I was walking past a small park just east of the neighborhood, a passerby I’d never seen before spat full in my face without stopping. Even with other people around, I was alone: I was harassed more than once on the bus home while everyone pretended nothing was happening, perhaps because a man in a rage intimidated them too, perhaps because in those days people more often considered it none of their business or blamed the woman.” Once, after an incident I experienced on a bus, a school friend who had witnessed it, told me that things like that never happened to her, which was an effective means of silencing and of accepting that was the way things were. One soon learnt not to talk about certain things. Solnit comments: “We often say silenced, which presumes someone attempted to speak. In my case, it wasn’t a silencing because no speech was stopped; it never started, or it had been stopped so far back I don’t remember how it happened.”

Another time in my late teens a man, maybe in his thirties, followed me all the way home. At some point I asked him politely to leave me alone. He laughed it off and walked close behind me until my front door, and then held the front door open. He walked in behind me and into the elevator with me. I remember vividly that at some point my fear turned into astonishment at his unbelievable nerve.  Solnit writes:  ”It was culture, it was particular people and a system that gave them latitude, looked the other way……  Changing that culture and those conditions seemed to be the only adequate response. It still does.”

And the irony was that one felt that the only way to be safe or to avoid escalation is to keep quiet, to try to disappear, even physically, Solnit comments, on thinness and frailty and not taking up space. She writes:  “It’s no wonder I was thin, no wonder women were so praised for being thin, for taking up as little room as possible, for hovering on the brink of vanishing, no wonder some of us vanished through under-eating like a country ceding territory, an army retreating, until it ceased to exist.”

Solnit refers to the cultural reasons and societal factors that contribute to this reality, factors like race, class, financial status, gender, sexual orientation, disability, ethnicity, chronic violence and trauma, but also, conviction or faith in one’s self ….“Faith in yourself and your rights. Faith in your own versions and truth and in your own responses and needs. Faith that where you stand is your place. Faith that you matter.” She also refers to the undermining process of denying people their truth, denying the facts of their experiences. She writes: “One thing that makes people crazy is being told that the experiences they have did not actually happen, that the circumstances that hem them in are imaginary, that the problems are all in their head, and that if they are distressed it is a sign of their failure, when success would be to shut up or to cease to know what they know. “

The book contains many themes and threads of a bigger tapestry, and of course one is her love of books and reading. I think her ideas and insights may resonate and feel true to those who are attracted to books and reading or writing, at least to some extent or other. I used to have recurring versions of the same dream, in which all the books I had ever read were the building blocks of a house, sometimes the house was closing in on me and sometimes it was opening up to a beautiful vista. Solnit describes a book as both a brick and a bird: She writes: “Closed, a book is a rectangle, thin as a letter or thick and solid like a box or a brick. Open, it is two arcs of paper that, seen from the top or bottom when the book is wide open, like the wide V of birds in flight. I think about that and then about women who turn into birds and then about Philomela, who in the Greek myth is turned into a nightingale……” In describing the interior of her flat and her mind, in relation to the accumulating books, Solnit adds: “My birds flocked, and eventually a long row of shelves narrowed the hallway and half filled the main room and piled into unstable pillars on my desk and other surfaces. You furnish your mind with readings in somewhat the way you furnish a house with books, or rather the physical books enter your memory and become part of the equipment of your imagination.”

In relation to reading she talks about the suspension of one’s own time and place to travel into the writer’s, and through this engaging with the writer’s mind something arises between one’s own mind and the writer’s.  Solnit says: “You translate words into your own images, faces, places, light and shade and sound and emotion. A world arises in your head that you have built at the author’s behest, and when you’re present in that world you’re absent from your own. You’re a phantom in both worlds and a god of sorts in the world that is not exactly the one the author wrote but some hybrid of her imagination and yours. The words are instructions, the book a kit, the full existence of the book something immaterial, internal, an event rather than an object, and then an influence and a memory. It’s the reader who brings the book to life.”

The drawings accompanying today’s piece are portraits I’ve been making of writers whose books I have inhabited in the distant past, and more recently as I’ve been listening to some of their work while making their portraits.











As I’m currently reading another book by Solnit, The Faraway Nearby, I may be returning to her work in future posts. In this book she writes about loss and grief and about reading and books as portals and doors that open up to other worlds like in children’s books. Meanwhile, throughout the book presented here today she poses questions she has pondered on and written about and questions for the reader to consider and reflect upon:

In relation to aggression, violence and fear, she asks:

How much of this enters your consciousness before your consciousness is changed? What does it do to all the women who have a drop or a teaspoon or a river of blood in their thoughts? What if it’s one drop every day? What if you’re just waiting for clear water to turn red? What does it do to see people like you tortured? What vitality and tranquility or capacity to think about other things, let alone do them, is lost, and what would it feel like to have them back?

What’s yours? Where are you welcome, allowed? How much room is there for you; where do you get cut off, on the street or in the profession or the conversation?

Where do you stand? Where do you belong? Those are often questions about political stances or values, but sometimes the question is personal: Do you feel like you have ground to stand on? Is your existence justified in your own eyes, enough that you don’t have to retreat or attack? Do you have a right to be there, to participate, to take up space in the world, the room, the conversation, the historical record, the decision-making bodies, to have needs, wants,  rights? Do you feel obliged to justify or apologize or excuse yourself to others? Do you fear the ground being pulled out from under you, the door slammed in your face? Do you not stake a claim to begin with, because you’ve already been defeated or expect to be if you show up? Can you state what you want or need without its being regarded, by yourself or those you address, as aggression or imposition? What does it mean neither to advance, like a soldier waging a war, nor to retreat? What does it mean to own some space and feel that it’s yours all the way down to your deepest reflexes and emotions? What does it mean to not live in wartime, to not have to be ready for war?