I have been in desperate need of a jolt.
God knows that monotony and I seldom see eye to eye.
I feel him creeping up behind me and I take off in a frenetic sprint darting in and out of perceptions and expectations. When I feel his breath along my neck, I shiver. I shiver and turn to blast right through him. He is gone.
The next thing is calling my name. Actually, it’s not quite calling. It’s screaming out sporadically from a crowd of competing energies smothered by deafening noise and maddening silence. And in that annoying manner that fails to concretely say anything of easily understood substance, it taunts. It taunts and I turn to confront it head on. It is gone.
Patience and confident perseverance are weaving along beside me. Sometimes, it drives me crazy that they flirt in and out, pulling me back and forth. But, the small voice inside reminds me that they are necessary. I glance back at them from time to time. Other times I trip over them as I run headfirst as fast as I can towards anything and everything.
As monotony and the next thing engage in a deliberate battle of wills where the end is more than a simple routine game of chance and circumstance, patience and perseverance temper the overworked exhaustion and serve as fascinating reminders that tomorrow is today.
Soundtrack: Antlers and Lana del Ray battling it out. What can I say?
“The noble soul has reverence for itself.” Nietzsche
“…it is a confirmation of the spirit of youth, proclaiming man’s glory, showing how much is possible.” Rand
In high school, I stumbled upon The Fountainhead – a book that has profoundly influenced the way I choose to live my life and interact with the world around me. I remember the black letters of its title staring at me from an alphabetized list of “The 100 [insert appropriate adjective] Books [insert appropriate time frame].
It was next.
I knew nothing of it but found it hiding beneath a sterile heavy duty green book cover; its title spelled out with that now beautiful library type that seems to be going the way of libraries. It was just another book on just another shelf.
I skipped the introduction and read the first sentence. I sat on the step stool and read the first chapter. I flipped back to the introduction and had tears in my eyes by the end. And here we go…
I’ve been reluctant to write about this book. In fact, to say that I am hesitant to speak on Rand, her writings and philosophy is a great understatement. They are deeply personal to me and not something I generally want to debate. I am not sure that I would have liked Rand in person. From what I know of her, I don’t know that she actually personified everything that she wrote and purportedly believed. But the recent election and the simultaneous praise and vilification on all sides of the political spectrum of her mindset have prompted me to do so. Many people seem to have an opinion on either the book or its author…often both. At times an informed one but, there are those times when I find myself asking my conversationalist to come back when they’ve actually read it (for starters) or read a little more of the author’s work in order to engage in an actual conversation.
“So, you work in architecture. Have you read The Fountainhead?” When I hear these words, I typically cringe and pause a moment to observe from where they came. “Yes.” I realize that I probably reply slightly stilted but, at this point in my life, I am never quite sure of the motivation behind the question. “It’s not about architecture,” I often inevitably can’t help responding. And at some point in the ensuing conversation, I will undoubtedly reveal that I first began designing houses when I was seven…long before I could handle a 700 page philosophically based tome.
Regardless, from the moment I read the first line this book overtook me. I could not put it down. And when it was not around, my thoughts were consumed by it. For the first time in my life, I was reading what I believed. Someone had put on paper everything that I knew to be true. Everything that I believed but did not know the words to express. Here it was.
I understand that there is much criticism of this book and its philosophical counterpart. And, my answer remains the same that it is for most critiques on philosophies and religions: people perverse philosophies…people perverse religions.
I feel very strongly that politicians of all sides, among others, have manipulated the philosophy behind Rand’s work without truly understanding it simply to justify their own agenda. And this post could be a discussion of the economic and political principles Rand introduces in The Fountainhead and explores further in Atlas Shrugged. Nearly everyone I know assigns all meaning of these books to those concepts. Does Rand have strong views on economics and politics? Undoubtedly.
However, at its core this book addresses what it means to be human. What it means to live with full understanding and commitment. Through this book, I realized the importance of actualizing. And in actualizing, I saw the importance of being honest and true.
In this book, I read that life has meaning. That living has meaning. That choosing this way or that way has meaning. That believing and doing are inherently intertwined … and have meaning.
I began to understand choice. I started to realize that everything in my life is based on how I choose to interpret the events around me. It became clear to me that I assign the meaning…that nothing is what I don’t make it to be.
I am who I am because I have made that choice.
I could go on and on but I think I’ll stop now. There is the part of me that simply says it is what it is…a is a.
Soundtrack: The National
There is something so incredibly satisfying about unabashedly surrendering yourself to music. Just letting yourself melt into movement in such a way that, before you know it, you will forget everything else around you and it will just be you…the music…and you. The you, who you really are.
I remember when I realized I couldn’t dance. I was fourteen. In a new school with a bunch of kids who had known each other for years. I was in the community musical and…I just couldn’t dance. No matter how hard I tried, it just wasn’t working. I looked like a clutz and natural ease and grace were simply nonexistent.
But over the next couple of years, I learned how to dance. Rather, I realized that I always knew how…that I simply had to let myself remember that I knew.
I had vivid memories of dancing as a child. I remembered the music carrying me to places unknown and songs gleefully dancing up and down my body. I remembered the exhiliration of thrilling surrender and the soundtrack of laughter harmoniously joining in.
And then, for some silly reason, I let myself forget for a moment. I forgot the feeling. I forgot the freedom. I forgot the happiness that always comes with truly dancing.
By the time I entered my senior year of high school, I started to remember.
Knowing how to dance has led to one helluva ride. I shudder to think how my life might have turned out if I hadn’t.
Would I have had the courage to go “far away” to college though neighbors thought my parents and I had lost our minds? Would I have backed out of my dad’s driveway with an old car on its way out, $600 in cash, a newspaper clipping promising a room with a bed for $400 a month, and the unfailing belief that I’d have a job in no time? Would I have gone to architecture school, unable to name a single architect other than the ubiquitous Frank Lloyd Wright and knowing that the only thing I knew about architecture was that I loved designing houses? Would I have ventured to Brno just to see a house?
Would I have let myself see the world that I have seen? Would I have jumped on a plane to Korea where my life would be nothing like it was before…and nothing that I could imagine since?
Would I have listened to my brother when he said, “He’s only five.”? Would I have let myself love as deeply and as passionately as I have? Would I have made the friends, the unbelievable friends, that I will fight for til death do us part?
Would I have moved back to the insanity that is New York with no job, no money, and no place to live? Would I have had the unflinching knowledge that it would all be okay?
And now, years later, I am sitting in my apartment too exhausted at the moment but desperately needing a dance party. I cannot take it anymore; my body is simply not made to sit still. Some people are fine going through life suppressing every urge to move and stubbornly attempting to convince themselves that they just “don’t dance.”
I’m not one of them.
I’ve been wondering why some people forget how to dance. Or never let themselves learn. I suppose everyone has their reasons. Is the end result the same? I don’t know.
When I think of how unbelievably amazing it is to just let yourself go…when you realize that none of it matters…that the only thing that matters is you, in that moment, rocking out and living it up…
I am so ready for a dance party. Anyone with me?
Soundtrack: The Lumineers
Transitions can be a funny thing. Ideally, they flow smoothly. Thoughts move forward and relationships evolve.
As I get older, I think I get more set in my idealistic ways. I say that with a somewhat sad smile. As I get older, my understanding of people expands…while simultaneously contracting. It is what it is and my embracing of the rational world has long actually supported my ideals. I still truly believe that if – and it’s a very big if – people could step back from the emotions, life would be a million times clearer and better for us all…and this is coming from one insanely in touch with her emotions.
It’s time for a rock out.
Soundtrack: a medley of movement
It’s funny how something can happen to you in an instant…that might irrevocably affect you until that moment when you can let it go.
One moment everything is fine. The day is another day…as lovely, as insignificant, as meaningful as yesterday and tomorrow…presumably. And then you’re wondering what the hell just happened.
Shock, perhaps, settles a little too comfortably.
I am not much of a “why me-er.” So, in my case, that step along with self pity gets skipped. Anger though, anger takes over for a bit. And, I suppose disgust at the source of all the angst rears its ugly head.
Really, though, that all can only go on for so long.
Then, at some point, it has to be let go. What’s done is done and life…life goes on regardless of whether or not you decide to be present. That’s the part where I return again and again.
It doesn’t matter how hurt you might be. Moments of fragility and anxiety are just…moments. That part is hard to remember sometimes but it is true. They don’t actually have to be you. They can just be how you felt at a particular time…nothing defining. I’ve always believed that one never apologizes for feelings…only for what one chooses to do with said feelings. And, with that being the case…
Something can happen to you in an instant…and you are fine.
And then, time later you realize the extent of its effect or, rather, that it has affected you in ways not initially considered or realized. And, at some point, the emotions have to be let go because…in the scheme of everything, does it really matter?
The answer, ultimately, at the very end, is always no.
Something can happen to you in an instant…and you really are fine.
Soundtrack: Mumford & Sons with a little Antlers thrown in for good measure.
As I settle to write this post, I sip my hot tea and listen as Mumford & Sons flirt with the bangs of the heater. The result is lovely. A comfortable blending of sounds that remind you that you’re home. I finished dinner a short while ago; butternut squash ravioli in a nice parmesan sauce. I picked it up today on a little jaunt to the grocery store where I also bought some orange juice and Coke. I occasionally have a little craving for Coke…a craving that’s never shared with Pepsi. At Home Depot today I finally bought a couple curtain rods so I can quit inadvertently flashing the janitor across the way. Since my desk sits by a window, the curtains should help the heater keep me warm tonight as I write and the temperature continues to drop. My apartment is rather lovely right now. The lamps emit a nice glow and a warm cinnamon scent emanates from the candle flame dancing on my kitchen island. In the next hour or so, before I drift away to a comfortable sleep, I’ll probably do my second session of pilates for the day.
And in the background, as has been for the last couple of days, a running televised commentary will remind me that this is not just a lazy Saturday.
An article in The Atlantic noted how, for some of us in New York City right now, today has been amazingly normal. Very true.
The reports coming in are devastating. Much of lower Manhattan remains without power and I have friends not only entering their second night of darkness but also displaced by flooding. Like many in the city, I can’t return to work until the power is restored. And we have all seen the images coming in throughout the surrounding area.
I spent this day doing the only things that I knew to do. If I didn’t think too much on it, it was just another weekend. Literally blocks away from me the reality is so vastly different: it is clearly a displaced weekday struggling to regain its footing.
One thing that I thought a lot about today as I strolled through Duane Reade and watched traffic move along the Queensboro Bridge, is how easy it is for people to dismiss that which does not directly affect them. The worst things in the world can go on around you but, unless it actually punches you in the face, it can be astonishingly easy to simply keep on going.
Why is that? I know why…but, I don’t all the same.
A few years ago, the town of 9,500 people where I went to high school was overwhelmed when the nearby river flooded. For a few days, the town was an actual island. While I experienced flooding as a child, it had never reached this magnitude. Homes were destroyed, cars were underwater, pets were abandoned. This is an area of farmland. An area where the average yearly salary equals the monthly of some of my friends. Five years later, portions of the area still struggle to rebuild.
And none of my friends on the east coast knew anything about it. Sure, they saw the weather and the headlines but, understandably, nothing tied them to the area…nothing demanded anything more than a passing nod of sympathy. They couldn’t actually speak of it. And who’s to blame them.
More recently, Nashville was among the hardest hit when flash floods rocked the south. With the exception of hurricanes, it’s among the worst natural disasters to hit the US. I followed that story intensely from my Korean home and struggled to explain to my co-workers why this story was so upsetting for me. But, understandably, it wasn’t in their frame of reference. Google “We Are Nashville” for the blog post and videos. They are gut-wrenchingly beautiful and show the desolation of the city while also conveying the city’s resiliency.
We have all heard about Katrina and I’m sure it will be a lifetime at least before our memories of Sandy begin to fade. I spoke on the phone with a friend today who mentioned that, perhaps, given that this has happened in New York City, more serious attention will be given to climate change. Perhaps.
There is the part of me worrying about my friends, frantically sending out texts and messages when my mind stumbles upon someone else I’ve not heard from. I spent a lot of yesterday fretting over the homeless guy who spends the bulk of his time a couple blocks from my apartment; wondering if he made it somewhere else okay. And, of course, there is the part of me that cannot turn the television off…even though, luckily, the story has not changed much since last night.
And then, there is the part of me that falls back on it is what it is and life goes on. But, then again, it’s easy to say that while sitting in warmth, sipping tea and basking in the soft glow of a lamp after a nice shower.
Soundtrack: Pandora’s melodious blend interjected with ABCNews.
Why do we assign meaning to objects…events…words…people? Why do we solemnly hold onto things until death does, in fact, part us? Why do we feel the need to leave things to another? Why is the validation that all that brings so incredibly meaningful and necessary?
Lately, I have found myself conversing with a woman soon to be eighty. She knows that statistics say she will be dead in the next ten years. “Probably from cancer,” she states rather matter-of-factly as she bites down on a peach.
As she approaches this inevitability, she is packing up her life; shelving that which does not matter and sorting out that which does. It’s the process of assignation that I find quite moving.
The meaning we assign to life ultimately has nothing to do with anyone else. It truly is for our benefit and ours alone. We hold on to our memories and display our mementos so fervently that, sometimes, it’s rather easy to forget that they will one day fade and recycle into humanity’s fabric – becoming just another thread dancing its interwoven dance with another.
As I look at scrapbooks and photo albums nestled snugly in perfectly sized boxes under my kitchen island, I wonder who else might care about them. And will it matter if anyone else does? Not to be cynical; I cherish dearly what I have from family members both here and no longer but I don’t expect mine to matter to anyone but me.
I wrote my first will as a child. Nothing major, of course. Even then, I didn’t exactly own much of monetary value. Regardless, there was a sense of urgency that I made sure my life was in order. Certain mementos to certain people, naturally. I left orders for the grand party that I want as my funeral and instructions that all of my writings be burned. Photos and letters could be returned to the sender/taker if they so chose but, otherwise, burned.
And now, my tiny apartment is filled with meaning. Nearly every painting, book, photograph, utensil, even clothing, conjures up a memory…good, bad, they are all there. A great night in that dress, a beautiful line in that book, an irreplaceable experience captured in that photo…they all matter so much. But maybe it is because they matter that I know I have to – and will – let them go.
While I am not plagued with the memory of Luria’s mnemonist, I do remember life as one long film that I can start and stop at will. Conversations from childhood might have happened this morning and memories are so bright and vivid they might as well be paintings on my wall. My memory is cyclical and the way I see time…I see where my life started and one day I will see where it ends. And all the while, time and life dance through and beyond me.
I cherish my conversations with her. I’ve come to realize that every minute of our time together is quite lovely. And one day, for whatever reason, this experience will end. And while I don’t know what tangible element will remain, that the conversations and time spent have existed at all are, perhaps, all that matter.
Soundtrack: Of Monsters and Men…and can I just say, I’m totally digging that I’m hearing them everywhere now. Rock on.