Text me when you’re done: A Field Guide to Getting Lost
November 1st, 2023
djenneba drammeh looks at the horizon as a metaphor for yearning.
By the time Maya showed up to my moonlit rooftop with a copy of Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost, I had already had a day. My quasi-ex and I had gotten no more than four hours of sleep the night before, dizzy and bloated from a late night dinner in Williamsburg, and most of my day was spent uptown with family for an aunt’s funeral. Per traditional astrology, this was the first day of my “eighth house profection year,” a phrase which here means “a year of loss, debts, and other inauspicious matters,” or far more simply put, it was my 31st birthday. As an astrologer, it was eerie to me how neatly the day’s happenings mapped onto the most conspicuous signification of the eighth house: death. My community of astro-pals would call this convergence “astrologer good”—bad by normal, well-adjusted, human standards but something adjacent to good for the rest of us—if only because the astrology of the moment explicitly articulates the undesirable events at hand. Ushering in the year with a literal guide on loss was only fitting.
Casual readers will most readily recognize Rebecca Solnit for her essay collection Men Explain Things to Me, the Obama-years-era feminist text (a different time!) that inadvertently gave academia and Twitter girls alike the phrase “mansplaining,” admittedly a bit to Solnit’s own chagrin. But Solnit has been publishing since 1991 with over a couple dozen titles under her belt, the bulk of which are comparatively unsung. A Field Guide to Getting Lost is an entry that absolutely demonstrates her range: is it a musing on azure and sapphires like Maggie Nelson’s Bluets? Is it a memoir? Art criticism? Self help for the dislocated? Field Guide, packaged as a series of essays that run the gamut from personal to historical narratives interspersed with alternating chapters on “the blue of distance,” resists categorization. The book sets out to unpack what it even means to be lost anyway, and the merits of embracing molting in the unknown.
My favorite section of Field Guide, the first thirty pages or so, is one I first engaged with as screenshots on Instagram, flame emoji-ing them to high hell. It’s here that Solnit examines the faint blue edges found haloed around objects at the horizon as a metaphor for yearning, asking us to reconsider the virtues of ownership when we explore what it means, or could look like, to behold beauty. She affirms, through a distinctly queer and feminist lens, that desire and autonomy can not only coexist, but fundamentally enrich one another. That desire in motion is a journey to fullness even (and especially) when it leaves our hands empty. She writes “[i]f you could look across the distance without wanting to close it up, if you can own your own longing in the same way that you own the beauty of that blue that can never be possessed? For something of this longing will, like the blue of distance, only be relocated, not assuaged, by acquisition and arrival, just as the mountains cease to be blue when you arrive among them and the blue instead tints to the next beyond. […] Something is always far away.”
Did you even know horizons were gay before reading that?
As someone who has issues letting go, grappling with the notion of anti-possession both destabilized and validated my personhood. I knew I wanted more for myself—more wholeness, more reciprocity, more love—and spent weeks ruminating on whether my dogged pursuits had been functionally misguided. The more I retread the text, the more I hankered to baptize myself in blue, to become the thing that is light, that is love, that is free. To resist possession as a place to call home.
One night later on that summer, I sat cross-legged on my basement floor buzzing high on eleven years of staccato intimacy decompressing in my body, spilling out of me like fevered confetti. I read the passage aloud to the quiet man sitting across from me, the one I’d been breathlessly chasing since I was a teen. Delirious with metaphor as I looked up at him on the couch, I almost paused to wonder if I was granting him permission to maintain the gulf between us, trying to queer a bond that would only ever stand erect. I stopped myself from stopping. The silence kept; it’d be the last time I saw him.
Months later when my family learned my cousin died this spring, weeks after she’d been partially identified at the city morgue, I was already sea-deep in writing about blue tinged loss by way of the Saturn in Pisces transit, Field Guide of course by my side. I reached for it in panic and comfort. My cousin, named for a shade of blue, had been humming a tune at the horizon for years before she left us for good. For a time, we thought we could tighten the gap, bottle her up and make her stay, turn her blue into something less heavy, maybe ribbon it with gold—an alchemy worth believing in. But not all in this world is ours to grasp. Not all distances can be closed.
At her funeral, the priest invoked my cousin’s name and told us not to be blue. That blue is for melancholy, for facilitating pain, for wallowing past the point of return. He urged us to lean into almost any other color for our lost love. But azure is the color of the sky on a cloudless day. Azure is the reason those stained-glass windows could dazzle our grieving senses and inch us closer to divinity. What, pray tell, deserves our presence, our marvel, our longing, more than that blue that could never be possessed?