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Downriver: The Solitude of Creating in the Flux

The river

Where you set

Your foot just now

Is gone —

Those waters

Giving way to this,

Now this.

— Heraclitus

All is in flux. That much is clear, even if the clarity is that of water rushing through an eddy, or the prismatic spray from a waterfall at dusk. Fluid dynamics is paradoxically one of the clearest metaphors for the nature of Time, even if it can never be grasped. The moment we step in the river, that river has passed, while the onslaught of present rivers pass through a pair of bare legs, legs no different than the stones they stand unsteadily upon. Thinking — no matter how deep or deranged — will never change this course of passing water. To dam up the river would kill more than the metaphor. It would leave a turbulent endpoint with no answers, with only the trickling failure finding another way down into puddle-dom. Perhaps the only choice is to dive headlong into the river, to let the current take us, leaving behind what came before. A writer finishes a book and that book is no longer theirs, if it ever was. To linger in the illusion of keeping that time and space that engendered that book is like grasping the river and calling it caught. The only way to remain in the turbulent current of creating is to forsake what came before. Whatever follows, follows…memories and friends, some will surface when the rapids subside, many won’t, since every journey has its placid interludes where losses are self-evident.

Smooth runs the water where the brook is deep.

— Shakespeare’s, Henry VI Part 2

Not unlike the nature of a placid brook — deep and reflective by nature — a false profundity can lie in delving into the same offshoot of the river, over and over again. A whole day could be spent exploring the depths of this tautological brook, while the dim lights of night allow for self-gratifying reflection and nothing more, before the sun rises and that reflection gives way to the same old descent, day after day, as months turn to years and the river(s) roars past. Intentions are mistaken for deeds, while tomorrow and subsequent tomorrows are reserved for what those intentions pretend to be, always on the horizon, but as distant and fleeting as a sunset. Feelings go unhurt, but nothing progresses, not as it could have. The flux of the river is risk, an ostensively mad course where nobody goes without going it alone. The artist’s life is notoriously a lonely one, a selfish existence, but the act of creating is more solipsistic, a state of being where the mind that perceives is all that exists, all that can exist in this flux. Paradoxically, this is also the flux where the self dissolves, giving way to the pull of the river’s current and becoming an attribute of that river. Familiar faces give way to the rush of water, while voices are drowned, leaving nothing but the ringing whoosh of that moment when the cold wisdom of the deep-dead brook is left behind, those still waters giving way to toxic algal blooms.

At times discreetly, at times disgustingly, I yielded to the most fatal temptation whenever I could no longer bear it: as a result of impatience, Orpheus lost Eurydice; as a result of impatience, I lost myself.

— Jean-Paul Sartre

The river where you let yourself be taken is a river of loss. Sleeplessness, ruined relationships, poverty, failure upon failure, even madness lies downstream, but so does beauty. There is no end to this river, only the loss of a solitary attribute, the artist, a solitude amongst all the other solitudes, making it all the more one’s self in this flux, alone. The way of the river is full of quagmires, the tortuous need to look back at ‘life’, while the power of the current — the act of creating — pulls at one’s entire being. To delve into this river is to be soaked, always. To stand outside this current is feel the brutal winds on that cold body, a self-saturated soul amongst dry ones, shivering in the empty flux of worldly responsibilities. We lose ourselves just as the river loses the water that constituted its present, now past, only a breath before. But there is no retaining oneself, here and now, since all is the river, even if so many spend their time outside of its current and pretend to hold on. To look back is an urge as natural as eating, just like the urge to dive into the calm waters of the familiar brook. All of us look back. But some choose to perceive what’s behind them, diminishing through the flux, until the river bends and the current takes away the sight, as surely as it carries on with you.

Hayden Moore

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