Thoughts on Failure

An old friend calls me up for advice. What do you think, he asks, of me moving to Germany, to work? He tells me he’s unhappy where he is, an office where the people a nice enough but stuck in their ways. Nothing is challenging, nothing’s invigorating. I imagine the place and see a monotone of grey and dull eyes, a vacant meeting room and sticky notes. Cubicles. Beige and black computers towers. He talks of taking the chance to go abroad, to find something that is challenging, raw, and interesting, to find a place where he can thrive. What should I do? He asks me.
The answer is obvious to me: go, do it, be free, be wild and industrious. The thing I am always incredulous about is the fact that someone, anyone, might consider not trying at all. Why wouldn’t someone ever try to chase the thing they wanted most or if not, why not try to work towards it as best as one can? Why wouldn’t you do it? The alternative seems always to be, in its essential form, safety. Safety in the mundane, the expected. It’s understandable, though I feel almost no sympathy for it. There is safety in settling for the ordinary job for the median income for the average downpayment for the standard mortgage, all at some central cost to the self.
I am cynical and it is unfair. And it’s obvious to anyone that I am projecting my own fears. I know this. Maybe people are happy enough with all of these accomodations, perhaps they are okay with every little sacrifice. And despite all the lofty rhetoric, necessity bears heavily on the necks of many.
Though for me, the question remains: if there is potential to do so, why wouldn’t you try? Is it fear? Fear of failure. Fear that, in pursuing that greatest ideal, that true love of yours, you’ll stumble, falling in the dark and upon hitting the floor you imagine calling out in pain as lights shine on you from above and a chorus of laughter falls on you like a bucket of slime, that you’ll look around and see, know, that you have failed and that the thing you wanted most cannot be yours.

You fear knowing. Yet knowing that you failed is the same as knowing that you tried.

I’ve begun to think it takes a certain kind of courage to pursue the thing you really want, in spite of expectations. Throughout one’s life there is a constant throb in the ear, a constant prodding that tells you it is unwise to pursue the unlikely, and to even shame you for doing so by way of disparagement, of the constant and judging eye. But it is honourable, I think, to take the step towards the unlikely.
Another friend of mind has only recently decided that he will take this step. For years it has been a tinkering around the edges, flirting with the idea. The fear of failure, he tells me, is so much to contend with. The possible costs are high. There is no guarantee, despite the obvious talent, that success stands as the outcome.
But of course, if you don’t try, failure is the guarantee. In fact, it is worse than that. Failure implies an attempt. To not try at all is even less than a failure. It’s fundamentally more frightening than knowing. It is the opposite. It is without body, taste, or sight. It is nothing. It is not knowing. It’s quite the thing to picture yourself at some distant point in your life, in a swell of grief at realising it is too late, that the time for setting out on your ever-dreamt-of endeavour is gone, dust to time. Imagine the hollow and unedifying feeling of never knowing what could’ve been, your dream no better than an apparition.

~

I can see in my friend’s eye a feeling of emancipation. Finally he is setting out for something good, something that has potential for greatness. ‘Maybe I will fail,’ he supposes, ‘but the idea of never knowing if I don’t try—it’s terrible.’
You might think it unsafe, stepping into the dark. No one can pretend it is. Yet no one can pretend they did not wonder what lay in the dark and beyond. It’s like walking barefoot with only a candle in your hand, wind howling in your face, your hand shielding the naked flame. You are frightened in this moment, but so too you feel excitement and awe. You feel the way forward and you are alive in pursuit. And among all the uncertainties and anxieties that are likely to follow there is, suddenly, the possibility of success. 

Teddy Bear

The hills are the green-blue they ought to be and it’s my favourite season, Autumn. The drive is beautiful. Greg lives in Christmas Hills, close to the Yarra Glen township. He’s going to be our sound engineer, recommended to us by our manager. The road up to his property is steep and vertiginous, casting a lovely view on the surrounds. His home and studio, two seperate buildings, have a rustic, homely feel, a lot of it built by Greg himself. Greg is tall, mild mannered, and looks like a mix of Daniel Day Lewis and Peter Capaldi. He likes to listen intently, sprinkling his attention with lots of nods and hums as he concurs.
There’s a lot depending on this new EP, titled Teddy Bear. I’m either making the mistake or wise decision of banking big on the whole drumming thing. It’s hard, requires some dumb luck, but I think it’s possible. When we start tracking I have trouble on the first track, ‘Save Yourself’. I’ve practiced these songs to death, both with Olivia and on my own, but I’m rushing the triple kick strokes at 100bpm—not good enough. I manage to calm my giddy right calf after a few takes and get it done. We lose half the day trying to sort out backing tracks and Logic projects so we only have time for one more song, ‘Wake Up’. I do three good takes and I’m finished, the last of them being the best. It’s my favourite song, over seven minutes long and, not to boast but I am rather proud, I designed it’s finally-decided-on structure. At the end of the day Greg shows me some rough EQs and plugins on the drums and they’re sounding good already.
I drive up with Liv a day later for the next three tracks. ‘Broken’ doesn’t give me much trouble, neither does ‘Distance’, all of them done in a few takes with a couple of small parts redone for clarity. We swap out my Spaun 14×6.5″ steel snare for a Ludwig Black Beauty for the last track, ‘Where I’d Rather Be’ (I prefer it’s original name along with all its warm and friendly associations, ‘Beach House’). At a lower tuning it has a fatter sound that fits the vibe. With Liv working on the guitars and synth at home and with drums finished, vocals are next.
We’re playing our next show on July 1st as a kind of retrospective launch for our First EP. We have to admit, ‘Finally’ still sounds good to our ears and to lesser extent ‘Flare’ too (I still love the long outro in ‘Funky’, but the rest of the song feels a little careless). That said, we’re over it. Anyone in attendance will hear the earlier material but also the new stuff, still being mixed as I write. I like the idea of Liv not even mentioning that a song about to be played will appear on the next EP, that she might only say ‘this is new’ before we step off and into the water that the music often feels like.
Liv knocks the vocals out in one day, despite the big room we recorded in being too cold that day for comfort. Greg takes some footage of Liv singing. He did the same for me when I tracked the drums. We might put something together one day, using this footage and much more. I like the idea of many different clips playing in small cuts, all mixed up: Liv and I playing, hanging out, laughing, our friends, the sky, the woods, the clouds, night lights, parties. Moments and times, glimpses and flashes, of where you’d rather be.

Drums

I’m in my 25th year and I haven’t much to show for myself. Thus the hopes pinned to this endeavour—will I finally be proud of something? I guess the odds are that I’ll feel as I do now when our investments and strains are met with a vacuum—deflated and blue. I keep thinking that I’m the only sane one around, that for anyone else to think that anything less than all of my energy and time being dedicated to the thing I love is childish or ill-wrought are those merely despondent and forlorn in their own long-ago-abandoned ideal; that anyone closer who doubts me can only see time enough to only flirt with the ideal. Where are my fellow martyrs to the cause? Maybe that’s the problem. Perhaps I am too keen. I suppose the odds are that I’ll be one more leaf floating down the draft without anything much happening at all along the way. What are the odds? Where is my Numbers Man? Punch in the data, give me an answer and I’ll act accordingly—wouldn’t I?

Cracks in the glass from fires sweeping past the studio some years ago

I sometimes wonder if drums on their own can produce narrative. If, on their own, they can deliver real emotional cues in some order. I think it’s possible. Drums are what you first hear when the Fellowship realises Pippin’s mistake, signalling the coming forth of some grisly menace from the depths. Drums are what you first hear in Whiplash, twisting and snapping in a solitary space—loneliness. There is something in particular rhythms, along with their architecture—their tones, echoes, pitches— that denote emotion, perhaps because it echoes the natural rhythms of our world. I can think of the first there ever has been—your heart: Ka-thump, ka-thump, ka-thump; da-dum, da-dum, da-dum. There’s more. The sound in your step as you descend the stair, the rumbling of engines on the highway. And does not the feel of jazz resemble the flutter of speech, the feel of ambient deep thinking? Are there not rhythms that feel like actual thoughts, following the same internal highs and lows, crescendos, accents.  The crash of the cymbals sounds like waves breaking and bass drum is always the heart.
I think it’s possible. I’d like to try.

~

I’m obsessed with greatness—what it takes, what it is, who it is. If it is anything, it must be pure and utter devotion. There is time only for that one thing, that one pursuit or craft that you’ve chosen, or whatever has seemingly chosen you. It must also be terrible. Nature calls to the senses scenes so huge, so overwhelming and awe-inspiring that it is, and cannot otherwise be without, terror. The twisting storms, the fire, the tallest mountains, the smashing of stars, the distance between worlds, the majesty of the sky. Likewise, greatness.
I hope this doesn’t appear as a measure of conceit. I am only interested, I like thinking about it. Know that I hold my own life in small regard. I’ve done nothing so far. I am, on the kit and elsewhere, painfully average. My Numbers Man: you cannot escape the laws of means and averages, not easily.
Teddy Bear is in the mixing stage right now—a lot of back and forth, lots of waiting. Meanwhile we’re preparing for a show on July 1st. I’ve been worrying intensely about there being just the two of us: are there too many layers in the backing tracks? Will we look like a real band? Will it sound any good? My worries are settled by our manager, who can only use other peoples’ comments as measurement. We sound good, apparently. And it’s not the 90’s anymore, not nearly so many people look down on using backing track material in a live setting. Besides, the drums are on stage, he says. It looks good, sounds dynamic. And at this stage in the band’s life—in our fledgling nature—it’s passable.
It’s with all this in the back of my mind that I operate, doing ordinary things, trying crawl into some corner of progress. Time rolls on and everyone I know is moving forward in some way. Jobs, property, money. I feel often like a child, thinking idly about music, greatness, looking at the clouds from behind the car window, only I’m driving now.

In truth, I feel as if I don’t know what I’m doing, that I don’t know anything at all.

Glorious suburbia

Something changes in the air once Summer passes and Autumn falls. There’s a cool clarity in the way the sun shines through ambers and reds, the pale clouds. Something seems to change enough for my mind to wander about, floating through thoughts and ideas. Dreams. Falling through my hands. Watery.

I wish to take take more walks under pines and oaks. I take kindly to the cool afternoons and cold evenings.

Wanted:

’60 dollars’ I say. He hands me a bankcard through the reception window. We both wait in in silence as the eftpos works. ‘Receipt?’
‘Nah man,’ he says, ‘cheers.’ A door somewhere down the hall slams shut and it’s quickly followed by a guitar whirring into life. Big metal chords. Drums start up from another room somewhere, then singing, more guitar. When the studio rooms are all occupied the sound bleeds out into the corridor and mixes into one droning mash. Pulses, all mixed up and garbled. I listen to it in reception, flicking through band ads to kill the time.

Serious band looking for rock/metal drummer.
Alternative rock—looking for drummer and bassist to form a band.
Punk Rock, western suburbs. Green Day, Blink 182, The 1975, Paramore, Jimmy Eat World
Mature cover band looking for drummer

I close the browser and look out through the reception window. Two vending machines look back at me. Blank faces. There’s laughter down the hall from some band members. I’ve been looking for another project. Maybe I’ll start something completely new. Seattle Fix, the band I’ve been in for around three years now, can’t go full time, not yet (I have my hopes). I need something else to fill the time so that my time isn’t wasted. My 20s seem to be drifting by with nothing much to show for it. But it’s hard to find something interesting, something that isn’t a cliché.
I put the word out and I get a response every so often. I even watched one band read out loud the ad I put up at the studio where I work, not realising that ‘Drummer, 23’ was me, watching them from reception. ‘Bit young,’ they said, ‘ 13 years playing though!’
Bit old, I thought. They send me an email. I don’t answer. Another band gets in touch. They’ve got that big Violent Soho feel. Other side of the city. I’m tempted. They sound good, but too far. Too punk.
I’ve been thinking about music a lot. I can’t stop listening to Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool. It, and other albums, have recently made me think harder about the sound, to listen closely. I’m beginning to think of certain songs as real compositions as opposed to simple songs. Radiohead’s recent release is, unsurprisingly, a fine composition. It’s a favourite for when I’m alone on the train, alone in my room, alone, driving late at night. It’s that kind of album. It sings to you a kind of sadness, loneliness. Best enjoyed in solitude. But putting aside the album’s emotion, I listen closely to the details, to the layers and how they work—how they morph into one another, what kind of rhythm they have, their tone, how loud or soft.
I listen closely to a song like “Ful Stop”, the song building into a finely layered, up-beat movement. I count the different guitars as they come in. One, two, then three. There are, I think, five guitar layers working at its height, as well as two, maybe three vocal layers, all of them placed so deliberately, answering each other. It might sound obvious to say so, but realising a song’s deliberate mastering, with all its different parts, has an impression on me. The guitar layers drop off to just one, signalling the song’s imminent closure.
In other tracks I notice the tinier details. It was only the other day that I noticed a sound in “Daydreaming” that I hadn’t before. I was sitting on the train at the time. Was it the carriage I was hearing as it moved along the tracks, rocking back and forth? I turned the volume up and yes, it was there. A clicking. No, a ticking. When I got home I listened closer again, honing in on the sound. If you listen closely to something and begin to pick it apart, the sound you’re looking for will suddenly come through to you, as if you suddenly realise it—a detail in a painting, a remote figure in the landscape, yet now, to your eyes, so distinct. It’s the sound of a clock I can hear, gears working in the background. It’s there. Listen closely.
I’m obsessed with this track. There are odd sounding voices at the beginning and the ending sounds distinctly like a warped Thom Yorke saying ‘half of my life’, backwards. Tick, tock. Tock, tick. The last track, “True Love Awaits” I’ve played more than any other on the album. Even in a track as stripped as this, there are details. Is it the sound of the keys being pressed on the piano that I can hear? I listen for the length of the echo in Yorke’s voice. And there’s something about that stumbling set of keys playing alongside the main progression that perfects the melancholy.

but yeah let us know if you think it might be something  you’d be keen to—
Here’s the link to my latest band, an EP and—

Have a few things recorded here have a listen mostly acoustic stuff but—

Warpaint’s Heads Up—more layers, a lot of beautiful harmonies. The details I enjoy are often in the combined lyrical effort of the members. Echoing each other, harmonising; there are three, maybe even four voices sounding off at times, some subtle, some striking. I still hear small vocal licks I hadn’t heard before. Mastering the details in Synth Pop pays off. That one piano stroke in “Don’t Wanna” is the cream on a dreamy crop of interwoven words. Throughout the whole album I admire the composition of a myriad different percussion samples. Again, I play the isolation the game. To take note of that previously unnoticed synth-pad, that one scratch across the guitar strings, that one chord on the keys, is hearing the song for the first time. Details of a universe.
They certainly followed their sophomore effort with something to die for. It’s delicious, their art definitely improving. I wonder how long it takes to weave together all their voices. It’s not as if the lines are always long and simple. It’s a mix of lyric, moans, hums, harmonies, echoes. They’re another band that make me appreciate music as more composed. They also make me think how profitable it can be to go against the usual format of a band as a boys club. Whenever a woman walks through the door of the rehearsal studio, I’m almost always surprised.

Forums / Musicians Available / Drummers available
Forums / Musicians Wanted / Drummers wanted 

My thoughts on Heads Up are interrupted when I stumble across a 20 year old and his Soundcloud. He’s looking for a band and his Soundcloud account is full of gold—shredding on guitar, electronica, synth. There’s a crazy-fast disco/funk arrangement, a 15 minute ambient track titled “Financial Report 2016/2017”, an ‘experimental’ track that sounds like a guitar dreaming, a track called “New Spell Acquired” with vocal samples and a old-school hip-hop style percussion. Even a ‘psytrance’ track. Wants to be like Frank Zappa. He’s far far west of Melbourne. Too far. I keep looking.

Drummer wanted for Pop punk/melodic hardcore band.
CENTRAL VICTORIA – TECH DEATH
Wanted female musicians to jam with
Looking for a drummer who just gets it (cover band)

I’ve been getting drum lessons again. My new teacher is introducing me to linear drumming. The idea is that every stroke is separate, your hands and feet rarely striking at the same time. At first you might think this would slow you down but it actually means speed—you can roll the groove across the kit, learning it like a rudimental combination, pushing it out through muscle memory, fast and hectic. One of the two bands he is in just played at Strawberry Fields and his other, a metal outfit with a couple thousand likes on Facebook, rehearses at the studio. I’ve probably seen him around. He’s of a similar age to me. This makes me want to work harder, to get on with it.
Sometimes I think back to the moments that made me want to drum. It’s always the memory of my parents’ old records playing. Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, R.E.M. The DMA’s 2016 release, Hills End, reminds me of R.E.M. in a big way. I like to blast it out loud when I’m home alone, cleaning up the kitchen. It’s where those moments are in the archive of my brain. Dishes, meals, laughter, songs—that’s me in the corner… night swimming… this one goes out to the one I love

More wandering among the neurons in the shadow of my skull.

Same.

Natalie texts me, she’s just pulled up outside. ‘Here now burnsie!!’
‘Two shakes of my bottom,’ I reply. We’re on our way to a 21st, somewhere bayside. One of the hosts (it was a joint 21st) is James. He’s the one I bumped into in Budapest last year in the wee hours of the morning. ‘Is that Luke Burns?’ I remember him saying, his voice coming at me from shadows, a streetlight holding him aglow. Neither of us knew we were in Budapest, or in Europe.
It’s a good little story. Natalie and I try to remember when we each first met him. We can’t quite recall. We do know the party is going to be ‘hipster as fuck’ and this doesn’t surprise nor discourage us. It feels good to get to a house party again—something I always say when I arrive at one, pushing my way through a gate I’ve never touched before, sheepishly navigating my way through some garage or garden path.
The idea is a bit rubbish, that to turn 21 is the burgeoning of our adulthood. Boy oh boy, does it make me feel young. It’s the sound of young people, definitely no longer teenagers, but not quite adults, talking excitedly about life; it’s the site of people sitting on the grass, rolling cigarettes and drinking tinnies; it’s a fire; it’s music; it’s a fair evening, just cool enough for a jacket. The presence of a blue sky, friends, alcohol and even just the slight smell of tobacco on the air hauls me back in time. I take a deep breath and feel good.
The music is different to what I’m used to. What am I used to hearing being spun at 21st’s? The same boring suburban garbage. What I heard this evening was what I think of as a mix of House and Nu Disco. James and his friends take turns mixing vinyls. He’s tall, 6’1 or 6’2 maybe, and he looms over the decks in shorts and a massive, outstanding short-sleeved shirt that I wish I could pull off. Admittedly I know little about the music so I asked James later for some recommendations, for somewhere to get me started. Like the gentleman he is, he was happy to do so. In total he recommended five different labels.
The first is Dark Entries Records, working mostly with reissues from the 80’s and 90’s. They’re ‘bangers,’ James tells me, ‘that for whatever reason, never got huge.’ Recommended is Victrola and Severed Heads to start with. This stuff feels slightly like a novelty, but it’s still good. Next is Fit Sound, based in Detroit and headed by Aaron ‘fit’ Siegel. It’s House/Techno/Experimental, and I’m told to start with Siegel himself, A Drummer From Detroit, and Marcellus Pittman. I love Siegel’s “Carmine” straight off the bat—there’s always something about a soft, ambient synth moving in the background that gets me (and reminds me instantly of Aphex Twin). A Drummer From Detroit’s “Part One” seems like an obvious place to start and offers what you think: drums. It’s tribal, it’s groove and it’s sustained by the bongo loops, good percussion, accompanied by wailing guitars and strong keys. “Part Two” (same link) I like even better—good vocal samples, groovy bass line, and the keys are fun.
I have a feeling I’m going to be listening to a lot of Marcellus Pittman. At a glance he looks like a prolific producer and I’m won over immediately. Pittman also appears under Sound Signature, a label that I take to be rather iconic, having been around for about 20 years and headed by Theo Parish, a well-known producer known for his genre jumping. It’s ‘complex, gritty, dynamic, arty house and techno,’ James tells me. I come across a track titled “Lost Angel“. It has that simplistic build I like, minimalist and meditative. I quickly discover that Pittman and Parish have worked together to produce tracks like “Questions Comments”, part of a three-track 2002 vinyl release. I know Parish works with Jazz also. I’ll have to look into this.
There’s still more for me to explore. Mood Hut, springing out of Vancouver in 2012. Newer, and releasing stuff from a range of different genres. I’m told to start with Aquarian Foundation, Pender Street Steppers, and Jack J. And lastly, there’s Tusk Wax, a rather curious sounding label that, according to James, is run by ‘one bloke in Nottingham, limited to 4 track house/disco/edit compilations, no digital, no repress.’ That considered, I’m going to have to hunt down the tracks, previews of which are here (also, mixes). Tusk Gold, Tusk Wax 1, 19, and 20 are my recommended starting points.
But enough of that. Back at the party, the people are different, I do realise, from those I’ve happened to mix with. I feel more at home for some reason, more than I do farther out in the suburbs. Of course, I love the friends from my youth, from east-side. It’s the general difference, a feeling. There’s a staggering uniformity about the outer suburbs, facile and crude. The closer in you go, the greater difference you encounter.
I think this and I quickly inquire of myself, ‘is it just wealth you like the look of?’ Is it some kind of liberal bias associated with the coast and inner suburbs, the city? I don’t know. I’m not sure that I care. It does, however, make me yearn to move on from the burbs, the land of listless dreams. The land of the same.
Natalie drives me home. Free wine and beer has its way with me and I’m jolly and talkative. We carry on about the music and whatever else. It’s a 40 minute drive back home. We say goodbye and I step onto the street, my street. I walk down the drive, feel the crunch of the stones under my boots, hear the familiar sound. I dig my hand into my pocket, feel for the right key. I don’t turn on any lights. I tap the walls as I go, feeling my way through the same rooms—the same as ever in the dark.

familiar, familiar, familiar.

A Poet’s Consolations

dark-clouds-487237_960_720

The artist’s struggle is real. And in the great war against cliché, this struggle comes up again and again—the poet in pains, the writer in melon collie, the painter in bipolar, the musician in addiction. In many ways it is true, and maybe the artist is in more pain than others, or at least a kind particular to their life and craft. Then again, any life, ordinary or peculiar, can cast a morbid shadow, can cause a schism in the heart and at times contain such lowliness as to be too much.
It was a couple of years ago when I picked up Letters to a Young Poet, a collection of letters written by Rainer Maria Rilke. I was in flux at the time. I wrote about it. I was feeling ‘melancholic and even forlorn and a series of questions and uncertainties have been pulling at me.’ It was indeed a result of uncertainty as well as idleness: no study, no work, just my own ideas and modest undertakings. ‘I’ve begun to seriously question what it is I ought to do with the years ahead of me and I’m far from certain…’ Since then I have studied more, have improved my drumming and writing and I’ve gone travelling. But here I am again, at a crossroads, knowing the things I want but not knowing quite how to go about it, or if any of it could ever work out. I had wondered back then, ‘am I wasting my young years?’

I did find some solace in Rilke’s words, and still do. In these letters, addressed to Mr Kappus—a young poet in need of advice—Rilke talked of solitude and how necessary it may be to the creative process. It’s easy to become lonesome and depressed with one’s own thoughts but Rilke suggests harnessing the solitude. ‘Therefore, dear sir,’ Rilke wrote, ‘love your solitude and try to sing out with the pain it causes you.’ Harness the pain, in other words, and furnish something good; use it to reach introspective depths; treat the solitude as something sincere and useful. I do think there’s a fine line between wallowing in one’s pain and learning from it like Rilke suggests. If anything, this takes practice, and I doubt there are any true experts.
Whatever the case, this is a return to basics. When despair sets in, maybe you’re better off facing the dark, to look into and learn from it, than to push it aside or to reel from it. Listen to it, and hear what it says to you.
These dispatches to Mr Kappus are as much a guide to art as they are to life—love, thinking, sex, society, creation. On the doubts that are bound to surface in one’s life, he again suggests the harnessing of them:

And your doubts can become a good quality if you school them. They must grow to be knowledgeable, they must learn to be critical. As soon as they begin to spoil something for you ask them why a thing is ugly, demand hard evidence, test them, and you will perhaps find them at a loss and short of an answer, or perhaps mutinous. But do not give in, request arguments, and act with this kind of attentiveness and consistency every single time, and the day will come when instead of being demolishers they will become your best workers—perhaps the canniest of all those at work on the building of your life.

Shadowy doubts can be as constructive as they are destructive, it’s up to the individual to decide what they are.
And it’s clear, things aren’t always meant to be easy:

Of your life, Mr Kappus, which I am thinking of with so many hopes and wishes. Do you remember how this life of yours longed in childhood to belong to the ‘grown-ups’? I can see that it now longs to move on from them and is drawn to those who are greater yet. This is why it does not cease to be difficult, but also why it will not cease to grow.

The difficulties one faces might not represent a malaise or entropy. We might look at those who are comfortable and be envious, but should we feel this way? A comfortable life is as much that as it is static. Might they float down the same stream for years only to beach themselves and ultimately stale? On the other hand, those bearing the brunt of difficulties are only feeling the symptoms of improvement—they are the callas to your hands, the soreness in your feet, and the ache in your muscles. Difficulties are the sign of progress and life is hard.
The more intimate parts of our lives deserve, apparently, just as much scrutiny. ‘Sex is difficult, true…’ he writes. ‘But difficult things are what we were set to do, almost everything serious is difficult, and everything is serious.’ I don’t know if everything is serious or if everything should be considered as such all the time. Still, I can’t help but interpret Rilke’s views on sexuality as not only progressive but entirely helpful:

And perhaps the sexes are more closely related than we think, and the great renewal of the world will perhaps consist in man and woman, freed of all sense of error and disappointment, seeking one another out not as opposites but as brothers and sisters and neighbours, and they will join together as human beings, to share the heavy weight of sexuality that is laid upon them with simplicity, gravity and patience.

Our sexual lives can do without the societal demands and expectations that we know so intimately. It can be a simple coming to terms with our selves. To love one another as human beings, without being roped up and made to dance, is a good thing, to me at least.
The following words struck me hard when I read them. I had only recently put down Letters to a Young Poet when my grandfather died. I don’t believe there’s life after death, none of that stuff—there have been times when my Atheism has been firebrand and I believe the material is everything we can know. But Rilke’s words made me realise that death isn’t the total obliteration of the person, of the people we have known:

And yet they are in us, these people long since passed away, a disposition, as a load weighing on our destinies, as a murmur in the blood, and as a gesture that will rise up out of the depths of time.

I spoke those words in the eulogy I gave for his funeral the same week he died. The dead remain to touch us in other ways, as echoes and subconscious arrangements—the furniture of our minds—in objects, memories and stories, and as a part of our very selves: ‘…perhaps like the way the blood of our ancestors moves unceasingly within us,’ suggests Rilke, ‘and mingles with our own to make us the unique, not-to-be-repeated being that we are at every turn of our lives.’ Their remnants float around in us, clouds in our sky, never really going away.
I’ve strayed, but all of this bears the same relation. Even in doubt, loneliness and unhappiness, improvement is possible. Go back to basics. Reach into the heart of your anxieties and pull out something good. We’re placed down here out of no permission of our own, into a contract we had no part in signing. It cannot be annulled. So if you can, take your despair, look into it, ask why and light might be drawn. If not, do away with it—make the most of your time.

Letters to a Young Poet has been a source of encouragement for creatives for a long time. But there’s no need for exclusion. I cannot help but feel whilst reading the words of this dead poet that these humble letters of advice apply to many if not all, that the consultation of literature can be most helpful in the lowest of times. Maybe these, a poet’s consolations, can be a guide for all of us.