It’s with some self-determination that I wrestled through Emerson’s Self-Reliance. I usually give books a fifty to a hundred-page snuff test to decipher whether the punishment is worthy. The problem is Emerson’s essay measures only twenty-one pages, but Keerrriiiist he can belabour a point.
In a nutshell, don’t go searching all over the world for answers when you’re right there in front of you. Nothing can bring you peace but yourself: you have the power to make your own answers. Do not lean (too much) on others: exercise self-trust, toss the laws, books, idolatries and customs out of the window. Insist on yourself; never imitate.
There, seems quite reasonable, doesn’t it? Some lines did pique my interest more than others ‘travel for art, study and benevolence . . . he who travels to be amused, or to get somewhat which he does not carry (i.e. searches for something he doesn’t already possess), travels away from himself. He carries ruins to ruins.’ This reminds me of the maxim that travellers are always searching for something or running away from something, and both appear equally valid and I’m undoubtedly culpable too.
When I think of travel I always think of landscapes, and perhaps this comes from my roots in the Welsh countryside. Mountains and lakes are art created over millennia, shaped and conjured by the weather, touching my very soul. I imagine someone would feel the same gazing at Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel or Van Gough’s wheat fields, which although compelling are bound to look no different in the seasons or passage of day. On the other hand, landscapes continually transform in the light and over time. Undoubtedly, I’ll end up an oil painter like my Grandad on a verdant outcrop in my older days, marvelling at the gigantic bloody maelstrom barrelling towards me and reckoning my metal easel and umbrella weren’t the best of ideas.
To give context to Self-Reliance, I think a fair amount of Ralf Waldo Emerson’s tome was also dedicated to throwing off the shackles of imperialism, of letting of go of the past to create a new future. In this case, one of a proud America that can stand on its own two feet. For Emerson, with god shining a light, albeit shining a light from within to fire your soul and self-belief. To leave on a quote from the great man as I head out for a walk, I think there is rarely better advice given than ‘live in the sunshine, swim in the sea, drink the wild air’. And paint no matter what, regardless of the thunderstorms you’re enduring.
As an addendum, this week is particularly poignant: an attack by a lunatic in Melbourne killing the owner of a restaurant (Pellegrini's) I’ve enjoyed for years, a lovely old Italian always quick to greet his loyal customers; a friend of the family passed away, a long term mate of my fathers from the Army and the first to ever encourage me to write based on some wholly unflattering and uncomplimentary letters about the French (I was a teenager on an a torrid exchange trip, to be fair!); and lastly as Remembrance Day approaches, to my dear Grandad, a war-hero, and my Grandmother, part of the incredible Women’s Land Army, as well as wonderful parents and grandparents. You are missed.
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