Highly Personal Musings Inspired by Rebecca Solnit’s Essay Woolf’s Darkness: Embracing the Inexplicable, Part II

On the slow closing of my mind OR How I always need to be doing something for fear of the darkness 

Quote from Solnit’s essay:

“Most people are afraid of the dark. Literally, when it comes to children, while many adults fear, above all, the darkness that is the unknown, the unseeable, the obscure. And yet the night in which distinctions cannot be readily made is the same night in which love is made, in which things merge, change, become enchanted, aroused, impregnated, possessed, released, renewed.”

Since beginning this odyssey of introspection, I have done a couple of things that I never do. First of all, I have marked up my copy of Solnit’s book. As a librarian and one who has been known to treat books with a reverence akin to holy relics, this felt both terrifying and absurdly satisfying. I am an avaricious reader. I barrel through books like a contestant goes through pies in a pie eating contest: I get it in me, but don’t stop to savour. Marking up my copy of Men Explain Things to me is my first step on a different path: a different kind of reading. I want to slow down. Get to know a text. Re-read and take notes. Then I want to go back and see the passages I underlined. The notes I wrote. I want to add to them until their meaning is seeded within me.

On a related note, before I left work (which happens to be a library full of books that I have not read. It tortures me) I cleared the shelf beside my desk which held all the books I want to read but haven’t gotten around to yet. They have been sitting there staring at me in accusation – why have you not read me yet? Get to it, you lazy sod!

Even my reading has turned against me.

But what has that to do with our topic of the day?


Just bear with me.

I used to get a lot of joy from the meandering read. You know. You read one book and it has a thought/mood/era/ reference that naturally leads to another book. In this kind of reading, you don’t know what you are going to read next until you finish the first book and need to continue thinking about that /thought/mood/era or know more deeply what the reference was about. It leads you to the next book, which leads you in a completely different direction. It is an organic process, a natural progression of ideas that heighten your understanding of the first book and deepen whatever was conveyed.

I am doing that right now, actually. Reading the Solnit essay gave me an urgent desire to read Virginia Woolf’s Room of One’s Own (and in fact, re-immerse myself in her writing. I realize now that I have only read two of her books – Mrs. Dalloway, which I loved so much I read twice, and To the Lighthouse, which I read at a time when I was too young to really grasp it).

But in the last few years, partly due to professional obligations, partly due to my need to always know what I am going to be reading next for fear of that dark place between stories, I have been piling up my to-read list to the point where it hovers over me like a black cloud. It has turned into a chore. Another thing I am not doing fast enough, well enough.

I was at a dinner party the other night (how grown up that sounds – yes, I am an adult. I attend dinner parties.) It is an annual thing where we get together and make resolutions for the next year. Some are funny, but most people do make one serious statement about what they would like to change in their lives, a goal they have set for themselves. One of the attendees said as his resolution that he would like to get better at doing nothing (I am paraphrasing now- that might now be quite right, but that is the sense I got). For many reasons I will not go in to here, I was in a vicious, combative mood and I scoffed at him. Why would you want to do nothing? Nothing is nothing. There is everything to do. Time’s a wastin’. Living means working your ass off to get stuff done and I have no time for that kind of doing nothing hippie bullshit.

As I say. I was having a bad night.

But his declaration and my over the top reaction has haunted me. I have known for some time that my over-scheduling, that my gluttonous reading, is because I am terrified of that darkness that occurs exactly when you are doing nothing, when you let whatever is going to happen unfold. I am terrified of those in-between moments in life. Of the waiting for buses, or people to get ready. My eyes start darting around the room, and my mind starts racing. What can I do now that will fill the time? Anything but take a minute to sit and think.


Because I am afraid of what I will find. I am afraid of that darkness, of that state of unknowing. I realize that that is not exactly what Solnit is saying, but it is related. I have closed my mind to any possibility that does not fit in to what I have come to realize is a very narrow view of myself. I do not want to explore those hidden depths for fear of what I might find and thus close my mind, trap myself within myself (a comforting cage of routine and schedules) and shut out anything that might threaten that small crack in the wall through which I have come to view my life.

Hopefully by thinking these thoughts and writing them down, in practicing to be less rigid, I hope to fumble through the door and contemplate a wider expanse. I hope to meet all that lingers in the dark head on.

Which will bring me to my next installment:

 On My Pathological Need to Know Exactly What is Going to Happen All the Time

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