Saturday, January 16, 2016

Embers in the Dark Tower

For, what with my whole world-wide wandering,
What with my search drawn out thro’ years, my hope 20
Dwindled into a ghost not fit to cope
With that obstreperous joy success would bring,—
I hardly tried now to rebuke the spring
My heart made, finding failure in its scope.

---From Robert Browning's Childe Roland To the Dark Tower Came

I was going through some of the poetry I studied and wrote about in college (Because really, what else does one do with one's time?) and stumbled across Rober Browning's Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came.

It resonated with me in a very strong way.

In the poem Childe Roland is on dedicated journey to a dark tower. The reasons for the journey are unclear. The results of the journey are not discussed. The poem is about the journey alone and how terrible and difficult it is.

Roland is tempted to turn aside by those who tell him the journey is impossible but he continues toward the tower, determined to finish what he started.

He travels through a barren wasteland void of hope and greenery. He grapples with the uselessness of the land and the uselessness of the journey itself. He questions his own intentions,

Finally, unable to endure the darkness that surrounds him he "shuts (his) eyes and turns them on (his) heart”.  Roland recalls his friends who began as noble, steadfast men but were ultimately disgraced and killed. At first these memories wash away the hope he had meant to gain but on further reflection his resolve to continue is strengthened. “Better this present” he decides “than a past like that:” He plunges through the dark land with a new vigor.

Roland  fords through a river crowded with monsters he can not see. He trecks through the remains of a battlefield, wondering what deep darkness could have caused such destruction.

Roland reaches the dark tower at last.

 When, in the very nick
of giving up, one time more, came a click
as when the trap shuts –you're inside the den!

Despite the fact that he has been striving for the tower all his life he compares the discovery to being caught.

I have begun to feel that my journey as a writer has become a bit like Roland's journey.

And I am wondering if maybe it is time to turn aside.

I work for minimum wage at a job that wants all my availability but won't give me any hours.

I live in a one bedroom apartment with my grown up brother and sister, my brother's cat, and sister's elderly, accident prone dog. Our neighborhood is not safe to walk in after dark.

This month I have literally been living off of ramen and rice and beans and oatmeal and the free meals I get at work.

I have spent all my extra money on trying to fix my car but it still barely runs and stalls on me on the freeway all the time. It could go out on me completely any day.

I know there are people who have it worst than me because at least I live with people who love me and at least I have a place to live and at least I have a job and at least I have a car. I have a computer to write on and a shelf full of books to read. I am an amazing cook so my rice and beans actually taste quite good and it doesn't cost anything to go for a nice long walk or have a great conversation with a friend.

I just can't help but wonder sometimes. I am smart. I had great grades throughout college. If I had studied accounting or business or something else more profitable than music and writing and philosophy, would I be struggling right now? Or would I have a comfortable, reliable job in an office somewhere and be able to afford a nice car, a place of my own, and the occasional theater ticket?

Would the exchange be worth it? I would have more time to write if I spent less time worrying about bills and cleaning up after other people and their pets.

But that wasn't the choice I made. I studied the things I most wanted to learn about because I believe that philosophy and music and storytelling are what make the world worth living in. Not nice cars and fancy food.

Ideas give us purpose and identity.

Music makes us feel alive --gives us permission to feel in a culture that so often expects us to hold back our emotions in the name of practicality.

And storytelling . . . stories give us an idea of how life could be. It shows us the changes we could make if we only tried. It helps us see each other for what we really are --individuals full of life and potential, not machines whose only value is in our ability to get things done and stay out of other people's way.

So I chased what made me feel alive instead of what told me I had to remain asleep. I chose to awaken.

And now I am heading toward the dark tower with no end in sight, screaming my Truths at a world that doesn't want to listen to them. Trying to stay alive. Holding on to my last embers of hope.

But even an ember can light a fire.


  1. Nice Taryn,

    Agree - "I believe that philosophy and music and storytelling are what make the world worth living in. Not nice cars and fancy food. Ideas give us purpose and identity..."

    Keep burning...keep speaking your truth to the darkness. Only the other day I was talking to others and I got to thinking "I want to leave a legacy of beauty behind, something that will last and mean something" - words are becoming part of that expression.

    Part of a poem I wrote back in April - A Savage and Burning Flute

    It is not a tunnel of darkness
    that sucks me violently ahead,
    its more like a whirlpool of words
    moving me rapidly towards
    a slippery centre of
    a magnificent obsession.


    1. Thank you Steve, that is a beautiful excerpt