Negative Capability

Certainty Vanishing into the distance

My friend and mentor Linda Watanabe McFerrin read my last blog post and said, “Keats!”

“???” I replied.

It turns out the poet Keats (who died in 1821 at the tender age of 25) did a lot of deep thinking.

“Several things dovetailed in my mind, & at once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement especially in Literature & which Shakespeare possessed so enormously — I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason — Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half knowledge. This pursued through Volumes would perhaps take us no further than this, that with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration.”

So it turns out that what I am searching for, in this time before we are able to launch or road trip, in Negative Capability.  I like the idea — the ability to stand in uncertainty with mysteries and doubts swirling around.  It is a noble goal.  And, as most goals, easier in the discussing than in the actually doing.

I have been thinking a lot about this in the last few days.  My nerves have been jangled by the uncertainty, but then I hear a friend has had a near brush with death and one whose apartment has been flooded, and I realize that everything is uncertain.  In fact, it is certainty that is uncertain.  We go through our days with some sort of routine and order and think that everything will stay the same.  So I decided to go on a trip, which is dependent on us renting the apartment and I tap into the uncertainty that is in reality always there.  We never really know when we leave home that we will return.  We construct in our minds comfortable places for habits to form and for expectations and feel uncomfortable when those are exposed.  You think I’d have learned some of these lessons living with my husband’s declining health for 13 years.

But what I realized this morning while contemplating Keats (and admiring his  distain of Coleridge), was that the reason for my fear and stress is because Negative Capacity touches on the infinite, which is unnerving, especially if one is not specifically expecting the experience.  So my new idea is this:  wallow in the uncertainty and doubt, which contain mystery.  Accept the uncertainty as part of the process.  Keep working and writing.  Expect nothing and hope for the best.

You know, I love a good mystery.

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