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Look at trees—look at rocks—look at birds and grass and leaves. Step out briefly from the human world into the world where “I” exists, like a figure in a Chinese landscape painting, as a small point in the periphery.

In the human world I don’t know where I belong, and worry too much about it. In nature there is no question of belonging. It is clear I am just a creature in a world of creatures. In the human world I worry about the sins of humans. I get paralyzed thinking I should be doing something about the sins of humans instead of writing. Something useful, unlike writing.

Is writing useless? Is art useless? Is uselessness, in a human world oriented towards use-extraction, the actual use of art?

In nature I worry less about being useful. I know I am no different from the robin collecting twigs for her nest. The robin will keep collecting twigs for her nest until the flood takes her, or fire, or a predator, or disease, without wondering if a different nest might prevent the flood or fire or predator or disease that is certainly coming. When I step briefly out of the human world, this is how I feel about writing, and the words come happily.
—Meng Jin, author of Self-Portrait With Ghost (Mariner, 2022)  

Photo credit: Andria Lo