Hallo, my dears!
I’ve been out of school for a whole two months now, and the time I’ve had free of homework and seminar papers and reading assignments and peer review has been especially glorious.
I finished the semester strong with two term papers, my favorite of which was an analysis of Kantian aesthetics in Hawthorne’s House of the Seven Gables.
What’s more, I’ve even chosen to leave my current MA program.
And I feel free.
This last semester was especially taxing, and I’ve only decided to take a mere hiatus from graduate school. I’ve reapplied to other programs for a spring 2023 return, and until then, I feel like my brain is recovering from the last year’s academics. My head still feels like it’s throbbing sometimes, and I had no realization of just how wound up I was.
Pictured: Emily’s mental state during the spring 2022 semester.
Being given a break from academia feels like I’m rediscovering who I am outside of the university. Academia is a still a substantial part of my life—and it always will be—but sometimes…stopping to breathe is something one must do.
And being left alone with myself—with school books put away—I’ve found time for the things that reignite my artistic inspiration.
So I practice Liszt’s consolations and Chopin’s nocturnes. I ride my bike around town listening to music and taking pictures of flowers and bees. I practice my German, write letters in cursive to my dear friends, read beautiful stories, cook poetic dishes (food can indeed be poetic, my dears), and do my best to make myself feel beautiful. Not to mention the time I’ve spent nestled in the mountains this last week losing myself in the beauty of the natural world.
In fact, I write to you today from a small creekside cabin in the forested Colorado mountains. It’s raining at present, and the deep, jolly voice of thunder echoes off the rock walls around me. One of Maurizio Pollini’s Chopin recordings plays in the little sitting room I’m in. When it isn’t raining, I spend my time hiking to hidden lakes, watching a mother moose lead her calf across a pond, and breathing in the crisp alpine air that can only be found in the alpine tundra: at twelve thousand feet above sea level.
I am quiet. I am still. I remember what it is to feel and breathe and taste and smell and lose myself in beautiful things.
It’s been glorious.
For those of you who have followed my adventures long enough, you’ll know how much the mountains mean to me. Having been raised in Colorado, I find myself in my home at nine thousand feet high. The mountains are something of my muse.
For me, this is the summer of beautiful things; the summer of remembering what it is to feel, to be alive, to walk barefoot through grassy fields and smell the wildflowers. It’s the summer of lovely.
I’ve found myself returning to those small, quiet, pretty things that reignite my passion for the lovely. I’ve returned to the place that quiets my mind. I’ve removed myself from considering the grand scheme and instead resolved to ponder the small, happy, special things that put my heart in that wholesome sphere of artful consideration.
Music, for one thing, has brought me such solace.
As I mentioned, I’m practicing Chopin’s Nocturne no.1 op.9 and Liszt’s Consolation no.1 s.172, both of which have a special place in my heart. Keeping my fingers light through cadenzas and successive triplets all while pretty sounds fill the air brings a sense of beauty to my existence and peppers my mind with musical daydreams.
And then of course, there have been the beautiful stories.
I read Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology and gave myself the permission to frolic in the world of viking gods and giants and spirits. I laughed at the silliness of Thor, the cunning of Loki, and the stupidity of the ogres and giants. Here in the wilderness, I can tell myself that the stars I see in the night sky are the eyes of Thiazi. The shimmering leaves of the aspen are not mere foliage, but the emeralds of Asgard. The thunderous afternoon monsoons come from the center of the earth, where Loki writhes under the serpent’s poison.
Then, I rewatched The Lord of the Rings trilogy and cried all the good tears, my heart cleaving to the beauty of the elves, the courage of hobbits, and the strength of men. The last hour of The Return of the King never fails to make me sob, starting with the Battle of Pelennor Fields all the way to the final “for Frodo!” charge at the Black Gate (oh, and be sure to always watch the extended editions, dear friends). I still worship Aragorn and Legolas, and every time Gandalf speaks, I linger on his every word, (natürlich) wishing earnestly that he were my grandfather.
I fell in love with The Lord of the Rings at the tender age of twelve, and that adoration has simply never left me. Each time I reread or rewatch the epic tale, my heart surges with a passion for a Tolkien’s world where heroes exist who fight for beauty and fellowship.
“There’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.”Samwise Gamgee
And it were these words that made the tears swell in my eyes. Because in the horrid bustle of the last semester, I lost sight of that: the good in the world! It’s true, it’s real, and it never left, even when I felt so alienated and frazzled and alone and destitute on my little island of grad school mania.
Here, in the mountains, with my studies on hold and my attention fixed on the glory of the natural world, I felt as though God tapped me on the shoulder and whispered: “look.”
Oh God, I’ve done more than look. I’ve observed, I’ve processed, and I’ve trembled at the beauty that still lives in these mountains; the beauty that still lives in the tales Tolkien wrote; the beauty that yet endures in my own soul.
I climbed a mountain and sat on the banks of an alpine lake. The wind whistled off the surrounding peaks, and a chill lifted off the crystal waters. I shivered at the grandeur of it all. It was—in every Kantian sense—sublime and terrifying and gorgeous.
For is it not true that we must purposefully re-immerse ourselves in the beautiful things?
We need, require, and beg for the lovely.
Artistically, I’m a realist. And yet…I’m also a romantic. Everyone is, really. We understand the cruelty and the despair and the depth of pain in this world. But in answer we fly hopelessly toward passion, love, beauty, and Divinity. Oh God, take us! Take us, eternal Father. Take our weary souls, for they are all we have to give.
And He holds them—possesses them. He reveals Himself in glimpses when we gaze upon something beautiful.
If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.Thorin Oakenshield
For do we not all wish to gaze upon something beautiful?
It reminds me of the Neoplatonists of the Renaissance. I suppose I’m something of a Neoplatonist myself. Neoplatonism was an art movement during the Renaissance that more or less revived a general interest in ancient Classicism. Artists of the Renaissance centered the Greek notion of beauty on God himself. Plato’s forms were integral to their philosophical restructuring of art, and Plato’s form of “the Good” became “God.” For the Renaissance Neoplatonists, when beauty is glimpsed in the human figure, in the lover, in the poem, in the natural world, it is in fact only a mirror through which we dimly make out the essence of God.
Now, there’s lots more I can say about the Neoplatonists, but for the sake of time, I’ll rein myself in here.
But is it not so? Do we not cling to the beauty we hear in stories, in nature, and in our own selves? For it is not beauty for its own sake, but it makes us feel something beyond ourselves. The tender hand of God lives in the gently blowing grass and in the delicate alpine flowers and in the harsh, jagged rock cliffs.
And so this summer I’ve run back into the arms of good, lovely things. I stand transfixed before Beauty, and I see in her the subtle gaze of God, who watches me delight in all He’s done.
I pray, dear loves, that you would let yourself bask in it and find peace. How are you chasing the Beautiful this summer? Where have you been found by Beauty?
Oh, and I must share one last thing before departing.
As part of my re-immersion into beautiful tales (and especially those of Middle-earth), I’ve joined Nicole Koehn’s literary society, The Wordstapas. The society’s name—The Wordstapas—Nicole derived from the Old English “stapa” which is generally understood to mean a walker, wanderer, or stepper. The group, then, is formed of “word-wanderers,” all eagerly learning and discussing works of Anglo-Saxon and Norse mythology, poetry, and (especially) the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien. This fall, we’ll be studying the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf together, and I’m thoroughly looking forward to reading it again with this newfound intellectual fellowship. You, too, can sign up to join The Wordstapas, at Nicole’s website Remembered Lore where a sign-up form is available. Nicole, I know, would be delighted to have you!
If you’ve any questions, feel free to reach out to her through her blog. She’s a lovely soul, and I’m thrilled to have formed a literary alliance with her.
Until we next meet, my friends: Farewell, and may the blessings of Elves and Men and all Free Folk go with you. May the stars shine upon your faces!
P.S. Do listen to my Middle-earth Spotify playlist…it makes me feel many things.