Penn State

Helen P. O'Leary - professor of art, Penn State University Park

Book Title: A Field Guide to Getting Lost

Author: Rebecca Solnit

Book Description:

I have spent my life simultaneously anchored to places, countries, people, duties and equally, adrift, in the in-between spaces, between countries, languages, family and certainty.

I picked this book up on my way to the airport, as I relocated to Chicago, leaving the force field of the familiar, and all that was known and loved behind me. I simply laughed out loud as I read the first page. This trip was more of an emotional journey, without compass or road map, or any sense of knowing if it was a right decision. The only certainty was that it was a decision. Uncertainty, trust, loss, memory and desire clogged the compass in both my head and heart.

On a more recent trip to Ireland with three teenage girls, we spent most of the journey being unbelievably lost, but found some of the most memorable experiences because of the lack of road signs and our collective bad geographic compass. They were of course, indignant, at that age they wanted answers, tangibles, firm destinations, not unknowns and questions. I found myself driving with great determination, in side ways rain in the wrong direction, following hunches more than actual directions. I suspect, given the soul -searching nature of the trip, I didn't want to be found. I was looking for the start of a new chapter, a new book to photograph, and down small lanes and dead ends and red herrings, I found the beginnings of unexplored links that would take me to my next book.

In the studio, when faced with a new blank canvas, I have that rush of fear of not knowing what I will do, my painterly compass wavers momentarily and I gingerly try to forget what I already know. The exhilaration of not knowing how things will turn out forms a fragile thread with the known and remembered. Few books in my collection have as many coffee stains, boarding passes for book marks, questions, tears, notes in the margin, and a well worn dog eared look of having been carried around as this one. One day, I imagine, I will loose it, on a bus or a plane, waiting for it's new reader.


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