Now is the path
of leaving the path.
And we hear our own voice
demanding of ourselves
a faith in no-path,
when there is no faith at all.
–David Whyte, from “Millennium”
I sit in my favorite grey-green overstuffed chaise, a pillow at my back, a cat curled in a cat bed behind me on the back of the chair, my laptop on my lap with a slim volume of poetry by David Whyte titled Fire in the Earth next to my leg. A bookmark indicates the above passage. It’s a chilly, grey day. As I sit here the furnace hums and stops, hums and stops, keeping the temperature around 60 degrees. This house we bought in May has a brand-new propane hot water furnace, supposedly the most economical and efficient available. This week is the first time we’ve used it. What will propane cost this winter? Will electrical costs spike as much as predicted? Will it be a cold winter or a mild one?
Always, this question in my mind: “Will I be able to manage economically?”
Enlarging my own personal bubble, I ran errands this morning. A haircut from a friend, during which we talked about the coming winter, how costly it might be, how cold it might be, how effective foam and cloth barriers like rags and old blankets might be in chinks and cracks around doors and windows. How can we hold in the heat, keep out the icy fingers of cold reaching for our paychecks?
I went to the town dump with the recycling, plastic and cans. Does all this material really go for recycling, or is it quietly disposed of in earth or ocean somewhere out of sight? I try to have faith that is really is recycled. Eggs are cheaper when I buy 18 in a carton, but the carton is plastic. But the plastic is recyclable. Maybe. If they actually do it.
This is the kind of thing that preoccupies my mind. A lot.
The furnace clicks on again. How much would I save if I turned it down just 2 degrees?
After the dump, I went to the store. I bought a couple extra jars of salsa, a couple extra pounds of butter. I’ve read about the climate-change decimated tomato crop this year and to expect shortages. Ditto butter. I bought a turkey on sale. It’s early, but I’ve read turkeys will also be in short supply. Every time I go to the store, I’ll buy a tomato product for my pantry, a pound of butter for the freezer.
Enlarging my small city bubble, maybe the projected shortages aren’t real. Maybe it’s all hype, designed to keep people spending as recession fears rise and prices climb. Maybe we can’t believe anything we read or hear from anyone. It’s like standing on the beach in bare feet, feeling the waves pull the sand away from beneath my soles, the sand of common sense, the sand of objective reality, the comforting, warm sand of sanity and critical thinking. Maybe the tide is too powerful, the waves too forceful for most people to withstand. Maybe, by the end, we will really believe in … nothing. Our individuality will be erased. Art, science, and thought will be exterminated. Our lovely sexuality will be neutralized and sterilized. Our magnificent bodies will be surgically altered according to our whims or the dictates of the totalitarians in charge and, if possible, amputated altogether from our increasingly narcissistic and developmentally arrested minds.
From the bubble of my chair in this moment of solitude with my fingers on the keyboard to the world. It’s a grim journey.
I feel increasing pressure to bring in more money. More hours are not possible right now at my job. Another job? Two other jobs? I’ve sold everything I can. I budget every penny. How much of my anxiety is based in real conditions and how much is my longstanding fear of scarcity and tendency to catastrophize? Is it not a job I need, but to GET A GRIP?
I can’t tell. Ask me when heating season is over.
Of course I could get a side job. It’s what a normal person would do. Need more money? Find more work. But is that the right thing for me to do? (I do still claim the right to think for myself.) Would the extra money be worth the time, the energy, the fatigue? I don’t want to live to work and earn. I’ve never wanted that. I’m nearly 59 years old. If I don’t take care of my excellent health, I may not get it back. Is an extra couple of hundred dollars a month worth the strain?
I’d love to earn my living writing, but I believe it’s a less and less realistic dream. Traditional publishing is dying. Soaring costs and shortages, not the least of which is paper, are forcing change. Very few writers live by their writing alone. Very few. Many do earn some income from it, however.
I love books. I also love trees. If I must choose between a book in my hands and a tree, I’ll read on a digital device for the sake of the tree. Even now I never buy a new book, only used. I write – and people read what I write – on two digital platforms, this WordPress blog and Substack. Should I be monetizing those rather than searching for another job?
I’ve been having that internal conversation for years.
Would I rather avoid asking for donations or putting up a paywall and clean houses or something like that? Anyone can clean. No one but me can write what I write.
I recently picked up a couple of used books of David Whyte’s poetry. The first poem in the first book I opened contained the above excerpt. I was sitting outside in the weakening sun when I read it a couple of days ago. I put the book down and cried.
Oh, Mr. Robert Frost and his road not taken. The well-traveled roads. The less well-traveled roads. The once travelled but now overgrown roads. The paths we tread, following others, and directed by others. The faint game trails that peter out in the wilderness. The well-paved roads and paths that lead to Hell. And now Whyte asks if it’s time to leave the path altogether. Not only that, but to have faith when I have none. Faith in the no-path.
And aren’t we there, at the no-path? Civilizations have collapsed before, but not as the planet was undergoing its own collapse. Well, maybe that’s not right. Maybe in eons past it’s all happened before – relatively abrupt climate change, enormous die-off, cataclysmic geological and oceanic reshaping, and reemergence into a new normal, healthy, planetary system.
If there were paths humans could tread through all that, they’ve been lost.
But let’s make the bubble smaller again. I can’t choose your path, or anyone else’s. Is the right path for me the no-path? The money path is clear. Work more, spend less, have more money. We all know it. Most of us have walked it. It’s well-signed and well-traveled. There’s an equally well-signed and well-traveled path into theft, fraud, extortion, etc., but none of those are options for me, so let’s not complicate matters.
What’s the no-path? Oh, that would be the writing. Always. Whatever our creative work is, it takes us on to a no-path, because creativity is unique. We’re always breaking trail, one way or another. We may follow, for a time, the paths of others, or intersect their trails, but we’ll make our own unique track, worn by our footsteps as we go along, unrolling in front of our feet, existing only because we turned off the main road into a no-path … and made a path.
Faith in a no-path when there is no faith at all. What a strange, dream-like, impressionistic phrase, balancing on the edge of holy foolishness and divine wisdom. It would take a poet of Whyte’s caliber to – well, to take that path.
Right now I’m pausing, considering my options, thinking, feeling, reading and writing my way forward. I don’t have a map for these times. Does anyone? Perhaps faith isn’t necessary, just determination and choosing the next step.
Wherever we go
we can only take a step from here.
–David Whyte, from “Millennium”
It’s good to be reminded of the no-path. The six-lane highway we’ve been following has led to climate change, increasing political and social tensions, and worldwide social and economic instability. Who knows where a no-path might take me; it could hardly be much worse. At least it would be my own path, chosen by me. My feet would define it, my choices shape it. My sweat. My challenges. My journey. No guarantees, but no lies, either. Lonely, perhaps, but I’m no fan of doing what everyone else does, just for the sake of it.
Or maybe it’s not a question of travel at all, at least not all the time. Maybe it’s a question of standing still, like a mountain, like a tree. Standing still is an art we’re losing as a species. Maybe there’s nowhere to go and nothing to do; everything is just as it should be, no matter how uncomfortable or fearful. Maybe I have enough.
Maybe I am enough.
And standing still,
saying I, and the small vision I have
-is enough, becomes the hardest path of all.
–David Whyte, from “Millennium”
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