Dive today from the cliff of what you know into what you can't know. - Rumi.
I recently finished reading Kate Weinberg's debut novel The Truants. It's a book about a lot of things: love triangles, Agatha Christie, South African miner strikes, and the all-consuming, devouring nature of first loves, friendships, and losses.
A little more than halfway through the book, after an all time low that leaves her imploding with grief, Jess Walker runs away with her university professor and mentor, Lorna Clay, to stay on a remote Italian island.
Lorna's house is nestled into the island's cliffside. At first, the isolation, beauty, and possibility of the getaway are just what Jess needs to heal. But when a severe storm sets in, and other dangers both natural and psychological consume her days, Jess finds living on the edge to be an unsettling and ultimately ruinous situation.
The Truants' cliff is just as metaphorical as it is literal in this dark academia coming-of-age novel. Jess finds herself not just on the edge of Lorna's island, but the edge of her adolescence. The edge of her identity, which had once felt so clearly formed. The edge of all she knows - and she has to grapple with the fact that as much as she wants to jump, she can't expect to like what she finds when she lands.
The Truants is most definitely a book that captures Rumi's words about diving from the cliff of what you know into what you can't know. Echoing Donna Tartt's The Secret History and playing with the Christie novels its characters love, the book's dark twists and turns carry us toward a thesis positing that there is so much we can't really know - about ourselves, our loved ones, our reality - until it's too late. The question is, is the dive worth it?
So The Truants got me thinking about cliffs. About edges. About the feeling of being on a precipice and faced with a choice: dive or turn back.
The creative process feels like cliff diving. At least is does to me. Diving from what I know, as Rumi says, into what I can't know. That's what art is - an attempt to access the impossible. And that attempt, as much as literal cliff diving does, feels dangerous. Risky. Like there's a real chance I'll never come back from it.
I'm working on a novel-turned-screenplay right now about a woman who's convinced she can't make a move, can't change, can't grow until she understands what's on the other side of that change and growth. Until she's fully prepared for it. She's uncomfortable with not knowing - so you can only imagine the distress that comes when she realises that not only does she not know, but she can't know. And the truth, the bittersweet taste that the whole story leaves in my mouth, is that my heroine isn't wrong to think that when you're forced to encounter the unknowable, the growing pains that result from that confrontation can be heartbreaking.
Cliff diving, in other words, is no joke.
As important as it is to find our edges, to be willing to go beyond them, taking that risk can't ever be fully divorced from self-destruction. We run that risk, as artists. As humans. The risk of encountering a fall we can't come back from.
But then, maybe coming back isn't all it's cracked up to.
There's a tarot card we can look to when we need the courage to confront our cliffs, and the grit to dive from them.
The Fool is the first card in the deck, and it's numbered zero - not one. To me, that serves as a pretty clear reminder that diving is not the work of creativity - it's the PRE-work.
Like it or not, the Fool suggests that before we can even start to create, we have to leap. Diving from what we know into what we can't know is how we prepare our mental canvas to make things. It's how we become ourselves, and show up to our work. It's how we prove ourselves to ourselves. How we claim the bravery that's required to make art. Diving into what you can't know is the quintessential artist's rite of passage. And there's no promise of a soft landing, just the promise that the only way to find what we can't know - to access the impossible - is to leap. To hope. To dance, suspended in the air before we hit ground, and let that moment be beautiful enough to matter.
creative prompts & exercises
finish this story: “I didn't know, when I I drove out to Land's End this morning, that I was going to jump. I didn't know my parachute would fail. Didn't know that inches before I hit the ground, wings would sprout from my shoulder blades and carry me back up into the wind. Didn't know I could feel so terrified and so liberated and so powerful and beautiful and high all at once. Didn't know anything really. But that was this morning. Before I knew anything at all. This is tonight. And tonight, somehow, I know even less…”
What does a cliff look like in your unique style? Paint, scuplt, sketch, collage, or photograph your personal take on a cliff face. If you're sore for inspiration, look to the photos further down this letter to give you a head start, or check out this wealth of cliff art from the Saatchi collection.
When did you take the leap into running your own business? Consider this question, then ask yourself how you can bring value to your clients or customers by sharing your own personal journey of risk, freefall, and transformation this week.
Use the Rumi quote at the top of this mailer to inspire you to tell your own story of diving into the unknown to your social subscribers - whether that's through a post, an email, a reel/tiktok, story, or even woven into new product or live event.
Whether you're an artist, writer, entrepreneur, or all of the above, don't forget to take some time to look inward this week. Use the cliff theme to reflect on the following questions in your journal, or through mediation:
what do I know right now?
what do I not know, but need or want to know?
how can I make peace with what I can't know?
what support do I need in order to dive off the cliff of what I know, and into what I don't know?
Before you dive off, some final words on cliffs, from author Ray Bradbury:
"Living at risk is jumping off the cliff and building your wings on the way down.”
I asked earlier if diving was worth it. And if coming up was all it was cracked up to be. The answer to both is yes, if we take Ray at his words. The fall is worth it for the chance to build our own wings and rise up on them, knowing they're ours, knowing they saved us. Knowing we saved ourselves, because we were brave enough to jump and creative enough to build what we needed to best the fall.
Until we meet again, I hope you'll think about Ray's words. About how your own creative process is, in its way, building a pair of wings. About how there are no roads in the sky, no forced direction. About how a set of wings, like the creative process, is never one size fits all, or even one environment fits all. About how all that really matters is that the wings are yours, and they get you in the air, they keep you afloat, one way or the other.