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on excellence: must i write?
the things i have put on ice are slowly defrosting | The Muse Letter No. 135
it’s 3 am and i lie awake in a bed that is not my own, in a city i occasionally visit. the cool late summer air is floating through the half-opened window, along with the sound of cars rolling on wet concrete.
next to me is a staple of german and english books, i want to read. the day before i took a photo of one of the pages and uploaded it to my story, underlining the question: why is having a boyfriend or a boss so much like having a personal villain, anyway?1
i have neither in my life at the moment, but still, i have trouble sleeping.
there’s still some kind of villain at play.
the things i have put on hold are slowly defrosting, building puddles outside my door, the longer i wait the harder it will be to wade through.
and september is the month of letting go after all:
Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr.
Wer jetzt allein ist, wird es lange bleiben,
wird wachen, lesen, lange Briefe schreiben
und wird in den Alleen hin und her
unruhig wandern, wenn die Blätter treiben.
Those who have no house, will not build one now.
Those who are alone will long remain so,
they will rise, and read, and write long letters
and through the avenues go here and there
restlessly wandering, with the leaves drifting down.
(Excerpt Rainer Maria Rilke, Herbsttag, poem, transl. by Paul Archer)
i want to start afresh, rebrand, renew. i know. it’s time. i know it in my bones, they’re aching for something else.
rilke again, but this time on lady gaga’s arm. an excerpt from one of his letters to a young poet, tattooed on her skin, it reads: In the deepest hour of the night, confess to yourself that you would die if you were forbidden to write. And look deep into your heart where it spreads its roots, the answer, and ask yourself, must I write?
it’s 3 am, the darkest hour of the night: must i write?
must i commit to a weekly practice?
must i put myself under the constraints of repetitiveness?
i’ve been thinking about excellence lately. what it means to create art, to produce work that you know reached its full potential. how excellence truly is the absence of outside pressures.
how excellence is not perfection; for what is perfection anyway but an illusion; yet excellence is real. i see it occasionally, i’m in awe of it.
the magnificent gut-wrenching wonder to see something reach completion.
when someone says: it needs more time.
for instance. or.
i need the best ingredients for this.
this is not exactly right. try again.
excellence can be annoying, it is not made cheap. it is not for everyone. its forces are strong yet i trust it to be my guide.
time on the other hand is arbitrary. just like a word count or any other measure that is used in order to call a text, an artwork finished.
i only want it to be excellence.
hanna engelmeier comments on rilke’s appeal to ask yourself “must i write?” in her beautiful essay collection trost (engl. consolation) that some of those words could do with quotation marks: “die” for instance. that perhaps “dying” is a bit melodramatic. that perhaps it is enough to be really keen to write.
i would not die if i could not write but i wouldn’t call it living either.
for all of my life, i have written thoughts down. urging, compulsive sentences that i needed to ban on paper. slower ones that took months perhaps years to fully form, too. but less so.
for the last three years compulsion and urge have had the upper hand, writing an essay every week. analysing, excited, curious, every week.
it was comforting, to fulfill the need of feeling less alone in the world.
must i write? that truly was never a question to me.
that question has been burning a hole in my brain for over a year now.
I must go back to the beginning, I think.
“We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.”2
one word keeps coming back to me, echoing from one corner to the other.
i crave it so much, yet i know it is only achieved if i allow myself the time to think.
one week is not enough.
you know that.
i’ve known it for so long, the things i wanted to write but didn’t get to. the external forces of SO MUCH CONTENT ALL THE TIME.
i owe it to you
in a media cycle that drives on attention it is scary to announce this but until further notice, the muse letter will come out irregularly from now on, to ensure that essays and ideas get the time they need to evolve. paid subscribers will receive a bonus muse letter at the beginning of each month (the first sunday) with a personal essay and the things i have loved list for that month.
i truly hope that you trust my creative and artistic decision and understand my reasoning.
the muse letter will change.
it will slowly transition.
it will drive on excellence.
it will grow.
it will find its path.
it will seek beauty.
In my end is my beginning.
Selfishness of Others: An Essay on the Fear of Narcissism, Dombek, Kristin, FSG Adult 2016
T.S. Eliot, “Four Quartets” Part II: East Coker
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