Rebecca Solnit appears in conversation with Michael Lerner on Sunday, June 30, at the New School at Commonweal (451 Mesa Road, Bolinas; 2pm; free with reservation; www.commonweal.org) and in a reading and discussion on Tuesday, July 2, at Copperfield's Books in Petaluma (140 Kentucky St., Petaluma; 7pm; free; 707.762.0563).
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"That piece [by Ann Chamberlain] is essentially at the exact center of the book," Solnit says. "The whole book could be conceived of as these islands of stories connected by threads." This is the world Solnit reminds us we all live in, the world of "waves and not particles."
"Maybe that's my form of mysticism, trying to see these complex patterns of influence, presence and possibility that we're embedded in—you know, this kind of nonseparation, even when we're supposed to be alone," she adds.
Though some have focused on the dysfunctional aspects of Solnit's relationship with her mother, as documented in the book, she'd rather not dwell in that space for long. Like the piles and pounds of apricots, picked from a tree after her mother's house is sold and then deposited in Solnit's living room, their relationship was one of decay and preservation.
"One of the things that's been really difficult is that I went through this really beautiful seven-year journey with my mother that ended with her death," Solnit says. "She was many people along the way, to whom I related in various ways, and everything that was difficult about the past was essentially shed in that process."
Just a couple of weeks ago, on her way home from speaking engagements in Europe, Solnit stopped in Reykjavík to visit her friend Frida and found herself repeating the phrase "difficult but not bad." "Easy" and "comfortable," she says, are things that Americans have grown not only to desire but to expect. But, as Solnit touches on throughout The Faraway Nearby, death, pain, illness, aging and suffering are not exceptions in life; they are the rule—for everyone, not just the unlucky. And they just might lead a person to her ultimate destiny. But it takes a healthy dose of empathy, acceptance and interconnectedness to weather and survive these unskirtable conditions—if we survive them—with grace and dignity.
"I'm not saying 'Go have a completely uncomfortable and hideous life,'" Solnit explains, "but sometimes you have to go through these things that aren't so encouraging or aren't so easy. Sometimes you have to climb the mountains, and not just walk in the flat places, because that's taking you to the view you need to see to know where you're going."