Loving the Questions

I settled into Virasana, tailbone sinking to the earth between my feet, wrists loose on folded thighs, spine straight, chest taking in more air than I’d breathed all day. I’d arrived to class several minutes early, unrolling my yoga mat in my favorite place before the west-facing window. After a long weekend of torrential rains and gusting winds, the day had been mild–warm really–for mid-October, and the early evening sun was an orb of burnished gold.


Suspended light wavered and caught hold of a web just outside the window, illuminating a gloriously fat spider at its center, her world shifting and shimmering in the soft breeze. She glided from the web’s bullseye to make slight adjustments to her woven marvel, returning to the center like a queen to her throne. For the next ninety minutes, as I rose and folded in salutation to the setting sun, I glanced at Spider when I could, until darkness descended in a blue curtain and I lost her to the night.


Spider’s commitment to her task, the faith she has in her own strength and purpose, the beauty and rightness of her creation, however temporary, moves me to my core.




My life is in flux, with strands as shivery and delicate as Spider’s web, but no less connected to the Universe and just as strong for the determination and resolve with which they were spun. Massive changes of heart and mind, changes I have not yet shared here for they are too raw and new, complicated and bittersweet, private and yet rippling with aftershocks into lives tied to my own.


At the heart of it, at the heart of me, are my words. I’ve turned inward these past months, writing very little for public viewing. Publishing and then promoting a novel sucked me dry and I’ve had little desire to offer more beyond what’s already out there, or the energy to do more than hone and polish the next novel to meet the next deadlines. But I’ve filled pages and notebooks with private thoughts, all in preparation for  . . . and I cannot complete this sentence. Or perhaps it is already complete. All in preparation. 


One of those notebooks, nearly full, ripe and bursting with hope and sorrow and wordswordswords, was tucked in the front pocket of a suitcase, a suitcase that was stolen from a train on one of the many stops between Marseille and Nice a month ago. As maddening as it was to lose everything but the clothes on my back at the start of a three-week journey, the things were all replaceable (and if one is going to lose all her clothing, one should be happy one is in France. Shopping.).


My words, however, are not. I mourn the loss of my journal. All that work, gone in an instant, like a cruel hand or a gust of wind ripping apart the strands of Spider’s web. How frustrated she must feel to see her handiwork, her livelihood, torn asunder. But she never fails to start anew. It’s what she does. Spin or die.


The occasion of the loss of those words led directly to writing retreat during which I wrote more than I have in a year, since the months leading up to and following the publication of In Another Life and the preparation of The Crows of Beara for its upcoming launch. And every word I wrote was shared with a group of magnificent writers. The writing, the sharing, brought me back to my writer, my storyteller, the center of my web.


In his turn-of-the-20th-century Letters to a Young Poet, Rilke implores his friend to stop searching for the answers, to love instead the questions. I realize, as I let go of my losses and look ahead to what I have left and what I have gained, that writing through my private thoughts is a search for the answers. Telling stories is a celebration of the questions. I’ll always dance between the two, but I think I’m ready to live the questions now. And living means writing.


I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

Rainier Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

10 thoughts on “Loving the Questions

  1. What a wonderful post, Julie. I have so missed your words! Though you haven’t been specific about your life circumstances here I get such a strong sense of what publication and promotion took out of you and how you have had to re-find yourself as a writer. I guess that’s one of the benefits of not being published – she says from her unpublished quagmire of despair!
    I’m sorry for the loss of your journal, that must be heartbreaking. But I know like Ms spider you will carry on building lovely things. x


  2. Oh – my heart goes out to you for that stolen notebook! Is there anything crueler? Yes, yes, of course, yes; life has a surprising capacity for cruelty. But oh, the heartbreak of thoughts and revelations stolen, and – even worse – likely casually discarded by the thief. And bravo for taking that loss as incitement to write, write and write more. May the ghost of Hemingway’s own stolen suitcase ride with your new work! (I have to say, France+trains+suitcases of unpublished writing does seem to be a pattern here).


    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, I remember this from A Moveable Feast- shuddering with horror. His loss was monumental. And yet I somehow found comfort in the shared experience.

      Thank you for sharing this adventure with me, Pablo. It’s so good to hear from you and I can’t wait until we connect again in PT!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I recently came to this conclusion – again – as well. Instead of hitting myself over the head with,”why can’t I figure out what I should do?” I realized that when the time was right, I would know. Wisdom. The upside of aging. But also, I’m worried about you given what you say, and don’t say, here. Big hug across the miles and know that I still smile when I imagine one of us sitting at the table signing and the other one sneaking through the line to stand in front of the other and say, “Hey there. It’s about time we met…” xoxo

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, my dearest Margaret. So many beautiful and profound things. I welcome your embrace and return it with my own. I feel like I’ve lost the touch and connection with so many who are precious to me these past month- just slowing gathering my wits and my words and extending my reach again. We will catch up. I love you!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. That Rilke quote is one of my favorites as well (surprise, surprise). Some things I learned this summer about spider webs that can extend your metaphor in a lovely way:
    • spiders are intuitive builders, and their bodies can produce up to 8 different types of strands as needed. Some silky, some strong, some sticky.
    • spinning a web comes at a great energy cost due to the proteins needed, and it is not uncommon for a spider to eat part of its web to recycle those proteins
    • when the goal is in sight (in this case, prey), the entire web will move toward the goal.
    They are pretty amazing. As are you. 🙂

    Liked by 5 people

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