September 1, 2014.
It isn’t September quite yet but I would like to think I can see around the corner. When I sit to type, the letters on the keyboard feel like the keys of a piano: you don’t forget to play, even if you can’t play as well due to being out of practice. Sure, it doesn’t sound like a song, but there is music.
You don’t just want to make noise with an instrument.
If I decide to write as I listen to music then it all comes together without effort. My fingers take a life of their own. I like to see parts of the body rise to their own wisdom, beyond the one my mind has set aside. This used to happen with more ease due to a consistent yoga practice which now is down to only twice a week but that’s only for now. Now is so many months sometimes. But months pass.
I would like to invite my disbelief to have a seat at the Table of Questions and digest, without the Fork of Answers, how 2014 will be over in 4 months. What a tricky two years it has been!
If two years ago, on September 2, 2012 when I flew on a one-way ticket to California, someone had told me that I would be in California for two years, I would have laughed out loud at the absurdity of that statement. When I left my home in New York I knew I would be away from New York City indefinitely, dabbling in visits as frequently as possible, but I didn’t anticipate being in California this long.
How I feel now, as compared to when I first moved here and stopped writing about California altogether so as not to turn this space into a can where one spits the day like chew, can very easily be summed up in the words of John Steinbeck from his 1953 essay, “The Making of a New Yorker” in the New York Times.
“New York City is the only city I have ever lived in. I have lived in the country, in the small town, and in New York. It is true I have had apartments in San Francisco, Mexico City, Los Angeles, Paris, and have sometimes stayed for months, but that is a very different thing. As far as homes go, there is only a small California town and New York. This is a matter of feeling.”
However, it is important to keep the context of his words in mind. One can tirelessly go on about why people move to New York City and why they end up leaving or whether they should. Steinbeck left because he couldn’t write there given the circumstances, not just because the City is demanding, to say the least, for any individual of average means. Those who have “average” means sacrifice plenty—space to personal relationships sometimes—so as to be “in the City.”
Looking back on the last two years, regardless of the toll on my personal health and writing, I have gained more than I have lost. Moreover, these past two years will probably be instrumental for the next phase of my writing. I can understand that now even if I can’t yet articulate it. And finally, it has given me a new sense of compassion for wherever people are and will remain.
One of the most important lessons I have gained by living here is by observing how one becomes “old”. Old with anger. Old with a stubborn disposition. Old with holding on to the past. Old with flipping through old memories as if they are the now. Old with life. Old with a spirit that can neatly fit inside a shoe box made of explanations that make sense. Old because your happiness depends on your spouse. Old because your happiness depends on your children. Old because. Some old “because”. Old. Just old.
I feel as if Life has most of us categorized in three groups: 1) those who don’t know there is a rug yet; 2) those who are stumbling trying to hold onto the rug; 3) those who can see themselves, their place in the world, and the world at large when the rug gets pulled and it feels like they are falling.
The rug is our construct of who we think we are based on everything outside of ourselves. The yarns in the rug consist of our relating to where we live, what we do, and all our notions, some real and some not so real, about who we are.
I admire the people who appear forever young, content, satisfied, filled with joy, pursuing life sometimes like lightening and other times like a lightening bug. These people don’t always appear to have it “figured out” or whatever version of fill-in-the-blank success, but they are the ones who have learned to dance in the air, again and again, without that rug. Perhaps the rug is a necessary element to float through time and space in order to have this human experience, but I now understand why the rug gets pulled from under our feet. And you probably do too.
In this regard, the antidote to “getting old” is to really live, which sometimes means staring at yourself after the rug, made of your construct of an image of yourself, is pulled under you. It also means choosing new adventures and seeing the pit stops as adventures too. Most importantly, if in any shape or form your compassion has served others without the residue of self-indulgence, then you shall remain forever in sync with life’s cycles which aren’t necessarily determined by your planning nor the chronological years that pass too quickly and therefore will never feel “old”.
Reading this article, “Where are they now? The Kings of the 90’s Dot-Com Bubble” made me reflect what had these people really contributed to humanity. Yes, they made money, but other than Jeff Bezos (and the jury is still out on him), does anyone even recall who they are and what they did? And I thought about this not within the framework that if one has money then he or she ought to be a celebrity too, but in quite a literal sense. Often people with this kind of “lucky” wealth have an image of “serving others” but they lack a real vision and seldom are those visions altruistic. I find this quite distressful and it can all be very overwhelming.
But there is hope. There is always hope.
I happened to pick a print copy of the most recent Reader’s Digest issue and it took me back to the time when one could indeed trust an editor to curate the best articles, without having to read through people’s sloppy comments, “likes”, and all sorts of unnecessary noise that we now encounter while reading online; back to a time when you would cut and save an article because it was so good; back to a time when articles from the past remained forever connected to articles in the present, alongside “Life in the United States” and “All in a Day’s Work”. This recent issue reprinted (of course available online too) a response by E.B. White to a letter he received predicting a grim future for humanity. The letter, written in 1973, begins, “As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate. Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time.” Then it continues,
“It is quite obvious that the human race has made a queer mess of life on this planet. But as a people we probably harbor seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time waiting to sprout when the conditions are right. Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble. We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out.”
That was in 1973. I don’t know what E.B. White would have to say now. I do know what I have to say. The conditions are always right to allow the “seeds of goodness” to sprout.