29 December 2012


...love your solitude and bear with sweet-sounding lamentation the suffering it causes you. For those who are near you are far, you say, and that shows it is beginning to grow wide about you. And when what is near you is far, then your distance is already among the stars....
...your solitude will be a hold and home for you even amid very unfamiliar conditions and from there you will find all your ways. 

While living and working in Chile, I picked up a habit of reading several books at the same time. It was not something I was used to doing, so more than one book was one or more books too many, especially given my extremely short attention span. I can’t say that I accomplished anything by doing this; even worse, I can’t figure out why I did it in the first place. But I started with Edward St Aubyn’s series of Patrick Melrose novels, and it took forever to get to At Last. That’s because I was also reading Howards End and Bouvard et Pécuchet on my phone, and a random selection of essays by Cynthia Ozick on my computer, and The House of the Dead (a tattered copy of which I bought from Libros El Cid Campeador on Merced Street), and stories from Colm Tóibín’s Mothers and Sons collection, and, later on, after mi jefe C had given me a Kindle, Justin Halpern’s Sh*t My Dad Says. (Guess which one entertained the most.)

For my return flight to Manila I thus resolved to stick to one book, Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, from which the above passage comes. I like writing letters, and I love reading them even more. About four years ago I read the 700-plus-page Decca: The Letters of Jessica Mitford, which proved to be at once a hoot and treasure, and instantly made me want to be a more outstanding correspondent; the book was given to me by a friend in New York. The Rilke, meanwhile, was given by another friend, who told me about another passage (from the same collection of letters) that I agreed was pretty useful advice for writers. (Identification of this other passage upon request.) He added a Flavia Weedn quote as his dedication, and it is the exact same quote that was printed on a bedroom poster (of a bear) that I had when I was a kid. (Identification of quote also upon request.)

So anyway: I read the Rilke in the time that it took to get from Santiago to Manila. My stops were São Paulo, Dubai, and Kuala Lumpur. After several months in Chile of not hearing another human being speak Tagalog, I was relieved to hear and see Filipinos at the Dubai International Airport. But I never did move to speak to them. The book absorbed me completely, and even though I had not given Rilke’s poems a try, I was glad to have his letters, which made the forty-hour journey somehow shorter.

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