Quaero ergo sum

Book chapter

A short personal essay from the book Extending Ley Lines which I edited to run parallel to exhibited project, To A Line. A rendering of emotional experiences of landscape and the search for meaning.

I don’t know what I was looking for. Perhaps the St. Michael’s ley line was an excuse. An excuse to look. An excuse to find something else. Perhaps an excuse to pretend to look for something, something which can’t be found. Which isn’t there to be found. To delay the inevitable. Because as soon as you find something the hunt is over. “It’s always the last place you look”, the phrase always seemed odd to me. Why would you keep looking once it’s found? Once you reach the end.

Perhaps I was looking for something deeper. Outside of the search for a ley line, outside of the landscape. Inside of myself. By gazing outwards at the world the view is expansive and open, and yet also totally internal.

“We never stop adding to the Search, we never stop writing it. And no doubt that is what reading is: rewriting the text of the work within the text of our lives.” So Barthes wrote, but he could also have been writing about looking, because it too is an active undertaking and not passive consumption. The longer you look out to a landscape the more it is pulled inside. Drawn in, compressed, reshaped to the size and scale of a brain. It is at once out there and a part of you. Belonging to neither and both.

And still it keeph fallen on the ground — sucked in. The bird which fleets from left to right across our vision — now in your head. The flicker of leaves in the wind, the flattened fields to the middle distance, the rooftops after, the vastness beyond. The clouds. The sky. The endlessness. All pulled through the eyes and reshaped, existing both externally and internally.

And the more you look into it the more you own it. That version of it, the one you digested at that moment. The one which will never be the same again. You walk, and the more you tread the more it’s compressed. Compacting it into itself and into your mind.

Stay in one spot long enough and you become it. Stand still so pressure builds between feet and soil, and until your boughs also fall. You become it. You become the view and landscape, you become the land itself. At one. Until dust.

Looking at the tree. “We’re not that different, you and I. We have our scars, our marks. Cut us we bleed. We see things come and go. And go. Then, too, we go. We give, we take, we use and are used. We fall ill, we repair, we fall ill. We fall ill.”

Searching for something which can’t be seen is a funny kind of looking. Our culture is so dominated by sight — followed by the other four senses. But what of alternative modes of looking, of seeing, sensing and thinking? Intuition, feeling, emotion. All the other tools we subconsciously use as we grasp at understanding. At understanding that which belies being understood.

Looking for something internal, to understand it ahead of communicating it. Looking out at the landscape to contemplate the inscape, to externalise it.

But the thing inside, the emotion and feeling, is so intangible and personal. Though reasoned and explored it can’t help being transmogrified when turned into words. Packaged up into sentences of delivery, sent to explain.

And even then the words which left a mouth are not the same which pass through an ear. They undergo a personal translation, one which adds meaning. Twisting them in an effort to understand, searching for empathetic understanding within a sympathetic listening. To allow that sculpted meaning to fit into a new vessel, a new mind.

A futile task in a way, but an important process. They never fit, never quite lock into place for a true empathetic understanding.

And the silence. A silence which is not awkward. Silence as part of communication. The subtleties between, between everything and nothing, totality and absence, obliteration and transparency. I think of the glass plates in Watkins’ tanks of chemicals as images slowly appear on the fragile sheets sitting under the shallow liquids. When to remove and stop the image? Too soon and all is quiet, too long and it’s filled with noise. What is the moment information presents itself most honestly and usefully? Leave it too briefly and it can’t be read, valuable information will never be seen. Too long and the information begins to become consumed in everything else, burnt into the darkness, lost.

But somewhere between lies communication, using the solid and the transparent, and everything in the middle. What to push, what to emphasise, what to allow to disappear. Or never appear.

When I speak to my dad on the phone about his cancer he talks of ‘PSA numbers’ — whether they have gone up or down. “They’re at thirteen, which is bad because they’re up from last week’s readings. But four months ago they were at 130, so it’s down from there. So that’s good.”

I don’t really know if thirteen is good or bad. The numbers are so unrelated to anything I have experienced. The relationship between them so arbitrary. I don’t know if he understands either, but to cling to the hope of an ordered system, of a sense of clarity amongst the confusion, may help. It takes a doctor or scientist to really know what these numbers mean, the nuances and specificities.

My dad may be privy to some of that understanding through his appointments at hospital, but the meaning passes through the unavoidable filter of the layman. Then, later, on the phone that same information is translated and presented to me, pulling up kernels of understanding then attempting to articulate them to someone, me, who has even less understanding. And beneath the surface more is enfolded — a father talking to a son and the ongoing process of what to say. And how to say it.

This thing. This invisible and personal cancer, converted into data, returned as communication and translated by my dad, then mixed with fear, anxiety, feelings, emotion, hope and experience before being presented to me. How can I possibly understand?

— — — — — — — -

This piece is from a book I edited featuring 26 writers all exploring themes around landscape, the self and ley lines.