Madness and Rowing

Frank Chimero describes how, when in a weighty spot with work, turning to some new books brought some enjoyment back into his life, lightening that weighty position:

I was in a tough spot this past week. The Great Discontent magazine is consuming all of my working (waking) hours, and I’m grunting my way through the center half of the process where you can’t see the end or the beginning. I’m the guy on a raft with an oar in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. There’s water on all sides, and I’m rowing, rowing, hoping east is still east and that I am still supposed to be going east. I needed to finish something—anything—to not feel so helpless.

[… the whole post, wherein he explains the point that I only briefly and incompletely summarized …]

And now, ironically (and perhaps quixoticly?), I am precisely back to where I started. I am still mired in the middle of a big project, and wedged into the center of a very long book, but the views are good, I am laughing, and I am rowing.

This is an important point: when we feel the world is too dark, sometimes it just takes a step to the side—helped by good books, good friends, or some other good—to see it in a new light. The situation is the same, of course, but we are different.

Robert Frost’s “Dust of Snow” captures this well:

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued

(I’m a big fan of Frost generally, but I was recently reminded of this poem in reading an obituary of Ned Franks, Canadian political scientist and all-around good person.)

5:16 pm on December 19, 2018