in which I think about tiredness, with the aid of Terrence Malick
I want to come back to something I touched on in writing about The Liturgy of the Ordinary - time and rest, and the desire to take more time to rest. I was at a reflective day recently, one that was exploring balance and stress, and the person leading the session commnted that, ‘Exhaustion is the norm in the west.’ It was probably the thought that has stuck with me most, after the day.
It reminded me of a line in Terrence Malick’s Song to Song, which I had recently been to see for I am one of the still standing Malick fans:
Faye: [voice over] We thought we could just roll and tumble, live from song to song, kiss to kiss.
Song to Song is a story, essentially, about a young woman discovering that life is not just a series of moments and experiences. It’s flighty and disjointed - but so is Faye (Rooney Mara), who is the centre of the piece. She can say, ‘Slower, it’s a love story’ about a song, but not about her own life. Until the end of the film, which suggests she has found the importance of that slowness. I really liked Song to Song, far more than I did Knight of Cups, Malick’s previous, which I appreciated but found hard work - but which shares themes with Song to Song, particularly a meditation on the shallows and depths of feeling and experience and how they distract or ground a life.
Della: You don’t want love, you want a love experience
However, I am not, nor will I ever be, a middle-aged man in the grip of a mid-life crisis, and so while I found Knight of Cups illuminating, I didn’t find it existentially relevant. I have, however, been a twenty-something young woman just trying to work it out, and Song to Song connected with me. For I am a busy person who tends to be doing, even if that doing is reading, and tens to seek out experiences - particularly in cultural activities - that provoke my emotions or help my brain understand and articulate my feelings (including Terrence Malick films). I am rarely still, body and brain, especially when I’m in London.
But what is it to not-live from moment to moment? And what is rest?
I’ve been musing on the second question a lot, over the last few months, as I had to do a piece of work that looked at Leviticus 25 and the idea of the year of jubilee. When I started, I just thought: man if only I could have a year off work and busyness that would be great. For a start, I’d catch up on all of my unread books.
The end of Song to Song suggests that the alternative way of life involves home and relationship: BV (Ryan Gosling’s character) going back home to his family, and Faye making a peace with hers and following him.
Faye: Mercy was just a word. I never thought I needed it. Not as much as other people do.
And it involves a reconnection with manual work and land: BV’s labour is as valuable as his earlier musical creativity, while the fields at the end of the film are agricultural, not meadow.
The more time I’ve spent working with the idea of jubilee, the more I’ve realised that the rest of reading my large TBR pile and maybe getting to go on an extended trip isn’t the rest that it’s about. And the more time I spend moving from diary entry to diary entry, and even book to book without stopping to breathe the more I wonder if that is what my down-time is primarily for. Tiredness and dissatisfaction still niggle.
If the jubilee year was about having time to put back together things that have been separated: people from their families, their homes, their identity as free people, God - then some of my down-time needs to be about this too. It doesn't seem particularly restful. It's certainly not leisurely. But it requires resting from busy-work things (and busy-leisure things, today) to have the time to give to these things. And like with many things, the pain might just just be worth it.