Perspective from the Plateau

If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself.  Tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for to the creator there is no poverty and no poor, indifferent place.
– Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

The advantage of living on a plateau is that you can see in all directions.  “Pleigne,” the name of the village where I have resided for the past two weeks, comes from the Latin word “plenoleum,” and means “little plain” or “little plateau.”  It is one of the highest villages in the Jura region, but there is a dual significance for me in this name.  I have here one of the rarest things in my possession: time.  My days stretch out before me in easy succession, like a series of blank canvasses waiting for color and light.  Order.  Composition.  Form.  Symmetry.   Balance.  Before you make a choice, all things are possible.  Or do they only seem possible?  When our work is finished around 1 or 2 in the afternoon, I have the rest of the day to myself, and can fill it with whatever pleases me.  From this plateau of space and time, I live a slower life and look about in all directions.

I learn French.  I write.  Disappear on my bike somewhere.  Bake something delightful.  I make my photographs and think about home and family and other things.  My life rarely takes such forms of ease.  I poke around in all the corners of my notebooks, my memories, my little packages of too-much, my dream boxes, and look for hints of what it is I’ve always wanted. What are the remains of the day?  What wisdom have I garnered for my children and grandchildren to come?  For my friends and dear ones?  Will I have a good word for them when they need it most?  Will I be sensitive to hear the lies they tell even themselves, and catch the hint of the secrets they long to unfold?  Do I know what I want and how to get it?  What’s next?  Where are the best stories hiding and how can I coax them out into my little books?  For this is what I love most to do.

I will be here for another two weeks.  Handfuls of time.  I will finish my French textbook.  I will write. I have already written much and only published a small portion of it.  I have more notes than I have time to work through, and it feels good to be surrounded with so much meaningful work.  I am very pleased with what I have written and was surprised to feel it come so easily.  I would like to write more short stories and many poems for children.  I love playful poetry that makes people laugh, with surprising topics and meter and rhythm.  I love writing about people I’ve known just as a painter would make a portrait of a beloved person or a landscape of an extraordinary place.  I’m getting a sense for my own style.  I have found that like polysyndeton and long sentences because they reflect my own delight in detail.  I spend a good deal of time just musing on my muses.   I know myself better and want to write more than ever; it’s just a matter of setting up the right circumstances so that I feel that I can take the time.  It takes a lot of time and experience to have something to say, to know who it’s for and how to write it well.
“Have patience with everything that remains unresolved in your heart.  Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language.  Do not look now for the answers.  They cannot now be given to you because you could not live in them.  It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question.  Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.”
– Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
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