The Sunday Salon: Falling Through Space

I’m not really falling through space. In fact, I’m sitting at my desk watching the eastern sky turn all kinds of rosy pink as the sun begins to rise on this chilly fall morning. Awake at 5 am today, I surrendered to the mental monkeys tumbling around in my head and got out of bed, pulled on a sweater and made a beeline for the coffeepot. First cup firmly in hand, I curled up on the couch to finish reading Falling Through Space, a slim paperback volume I uncovered on my bookshelf while packing up books for our move.

Subtitled “the journals of Ellen Gilchrist,” the book (published in 1987) is really more of an extended essay, a slightly stream of consciousness rambling about life and writing and being a woman. I can’t recall if I’ve ever read any of Gilchrist’s books – one novel and three collections of short stories are mentioned on the back cover – but I’m always keen to read the thoughts of women who write, especially Southern women who write.

I like Gilchrist’s easygoing, meandering style in this book, which she divides into three sections: Origins, Influences, and Work. Clearly a woman of spirit and spunk, Gilchrist was born on the bayou, and deeply influenced by it’s history and natural rhythms. Yet she has “moved around” all her life, she says, “going to different schools, living in different houses, shedding old roles, assuming new ones.” Picking up and moving, “tearing up a perfectly nice comfortable life and going off to live somewhere else… is as natural to me as staying in one place is to other people.”

Well, that couldn’t be more different from my experience, as I am certainly one of those people to whom staying in one place is “natural.”

But here is a thought – “nothing in the long history of our species has prepared us to be comfortable,” Gilchrist says. “When life becomes comfortable for an artist the energy stops. Being comfortable is so boring it makes us drink and take drugs and bet on football games. Anything for a little excitement.”

It seems to me there are many levels of “comfort,” and for each of us – artist or not – we need to find the one that suits us best. Long ago I accepted the fact that in order to live I needed the safety of routine, that taken too far out of my familiar environment, out of my “comfort zone,” I was uneasy. All my energy then went toward keeping the fear at bay, rather than to the work that needed doing. I don’t need to go searching for excitement because so often I find it in the pages of a book, in the poignancy of a Chopin nocturne, the depths of a Monet painting.

The rosy glow of the eastern sky early on a crisp autumn morn.

I’m feeling pretty comfortable this morning, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all.

How about you?

The Sunday


3 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon: Falling Through Space

  1. i think Gilchrist is missing something – all that moving around, all that change, all those roles, are precisely what makes her comfortable! She has her very own needs for comfort, just as we all do. It’s just that the conditions which give her comfort are different.

    She’s defined comfort in one way, and then condemned it as boring. All the while, she’s committed to another kind of comfort – but gives it another name! That’s ok by me. But I’m not willing to accept her premise that “comfortable” means boredom, or lack of excitement. 😉

  2. In the 60s and the 70s, I moved around…a lot. I cannot imagine why I thought it was a good thing, back then. But for many years now I’ve lived in the same city, albeit with a 13 year detour into the nearby foothills. I need the stability for comfort. Then I can “stretch my wings and fly.” And the flying is all in my mind….


  3. I’m not much of a short story reader, but I enjoy Ellen Gilchrist in small doses and maybe especially in her essays. Her book, The Writing Life, was wonderfully inspiring; I’m glad to know she has another one out there.

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