Thursday, December 11, 2014

What does it mean to live fully, to you?

That is the lifelong question. I want to know your answer, because it will speak volumes about who you are. I think it changes every day, and every year, depending on what we know, and what is lacking in our lives.

In this particular context I was thinking about the struggle of the writer: do you spend your time observing and fashioning descriptions of life, or are you fully in the moment, present, living it? Do I throw myself into love; consequences, time constraints, and emotional vulnerabilities be damned? Or do I keep myself withdrawn and give myself the discipline and structure it takes to be a better artist? Can I do both?

But living fully for me in general means a few things right now:

Being loved, and loving. Improving the world using my skills, thoughts, and energy. Exploring the world in its multifaceted and dangerous splendor. Eating great food. Pushing myself, and getting stronger. Illuminating the darkness for those more fragile. Bearing witness to the end of days. Going down all roads in search of truths. Being uncompromising about truth, when I can see it, and thoughtful about it when I can't.

I am typically of one of two minds. For entertainment purposes, let's paint them in their extremes.

I either wake up in action, uncoiling like a spring, with a gasp, and I move. I want to boldly and uncompromisingly assess challenges and take them on, honing my mind into acuity in response to the twists and turns life throws me. I am strong, and virile, and laughing the triumphant laugh of a joyful and wrathful god, many headed. I want to dance and sing with the glory of living. I do not want to crush my enemies because I have no enemies, I only have challenges that make me stronger. Everything improves in my presence because I love everything and I am alive.

In this mindset, my purpose on this planet is to use my mind, my body, my charisma, and my determination to improve the world. This is the version of myself that wants to run the Bicycle Collective, that wants to write a best-selling young adult novel that shows kids to confront their fears and insecurities with joy and love for their allies. The version of me that smiles when talking to a homeless person because I have the capacity to love them and in that love is salvation for both of us.

Or I wake up slow. I want nothing better than to find refuge from the world, in someone's arms, in food, in distraction. By running away. I acknowledge the frailty of the world and my own frailty within it. At these times I feel things like thunderbolts, and the calamity of the human condition leaves me a cold vessel. My eyes no longer crackle, they become repositories of dread and sadness.

Here, I am meant to be a measure of what is real. I am meant to feel what can be felt, and decipher it into poetry. The hurt can hurt me, but I am protected from it in my role as a recorder. I loathe the damage that the teenager receives just by being surrounded by other broken people. The homeless person terrifies me because I might soon become them. And the sky's darkness is the harbinger of the future.

The compassion of the quiet me and the radiance of the bold me can serve two purposes.

They can be poured into another person, who absorbs them, learns from them, nurtures them, is emboldened by them, or maybe even is broken by them.

Or they can be poured into text like charged ions into batteries. Wrapped up into complicated emotional talismans to tell the human story, and hopefully, save the world.

Ideally they serve a combination of the two. Which is where I figure my shit out.

For you?

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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Letter to a friend: Embrace constant change

I love seeing this message. It's so hard to feel what you feel, to feel in the wrong place, in the wrong time, and I don't really have any answers for you. But I do have some thoughts.

One of the hardest and most rarified moments that I return to in my life occurred shortly after I was a freshman in college. I had just had a big goodbye dinner, spontaneously organized with about 15 of my freshmen friends from University. C_ was there, A_ was there, 3 dancer girls that I'd become crazy close, R_ and M_ and a few other people that made me happy but weren't terribly important. We broke into the Post theater and danced up on the stage after making a great pot-luck, I think I cooked for people a bit.

I was recalling this night, and the culmination of new relationships that it signified, as I boarded a plane to Cairo. I was planning on leaving everything I knew for a year, and up until that moment I felt fine about that. But as I looked at the neutral grey surreality that you always see at through airport windows, I felt my life was finite for the first time. I realized that the three dancer girls, who'd become incredibly important to me over the past year, would probably drift away. Not only was that shocking, but I realized that I'd probably never meet people just like them again, realizing in theory the difference between college friendships forged on exploration and the cooler networkings we create down the road. I stopped short in the terminal, looking out the window, almost crying. "Why am I running from that?" I wondered. "Why am I throwing that away?"

 I don't have a good answer to those two questions. The older we get, the more true the metaphor of a life with many doors becomes: Each opening reveals a thousand new portals and simultaneously closes off a thousand others. Those closed doors will always haunt you. But I do have a counter-story.

Later, on the same trip, I was in Siwa, a desert oasis on the Libyan border, a town made of sand built in 900AD, since which time it had rained precisely twice. The first rainstorm had cracked a foundation here and there, but life went on until the late 1800's when a second rainstorm rendered the impossibly ancient structures uninhabitable. At this point, two months into my trip, I'd seen and done a thousand things that I couldn't begin to articulate to myself. I could only feel that I had finally seen firsthand many of the huge nameless truths of the world that can only be experienced in the open-eyed passage between 1st and 3rd world, seeing the beauty and terror of both. I sat atop of the crumbling sandscape, alone, and bawled my eyes out.

My point, I think, is that I couldn't have learned that without letting go of my friends. Some of them, like A_ and C_, are still huge presences in my life, and I'm thankful for it. Some of them are not. The question you have to ask yourself is: When you look back on your life, and your decisions, are you glad you're not still the person you were in C_ with S_ and M_ and J_? Has the cumulative You, with those experiences and your later ones, grown to be enriching and satisfying in a variety of ways? There will always be loss, and always gain. Sometimes what we want most excludes what we also want.

I think you're right in being worried about your current place in life, and yearning for more. You can up and switch to living in a Cob-house, and I think you'd have an amazing time. But you'd lose things to do that. Maybe it makes sense to leave Seattle and move to Rio Mesa, but I'll remind you that none of the people you miss in this email are in Rio Mesa. You'd start from scratch there too, and maybe it's worth it. Leaving now would be different than leaving in 2 years, because a good life is never still, wherever it is. But it'd be worth it, either way.

The other thing about those people you love (and D_'s devotion to his friends reminds me of this): They won't hang around for you, either. As the things in their lives come up they'll move where they need to be, and you should too, rejoicing in the times that you have back together, and the chance occurrences that bring you to the same places.

I'm reminded of another platitude: "Change the things I cannot abide, abide the things I cannot change."

We're so lucky. So impossibly goddamn lucking it's impossible to overstate. Do you realize how much we can change? You and I live in a society (with —so— many other problems, lest we forget) where we can live in New York or a farm and kiss many people or one and be one gender or another and espouse any outlook and follow it to it's logical conclusion, and we live with the resources and lack of restraints that make any one of those options possible. Other people, in this place, in other places, have far fewer things at their option to change, and thus must abide. But they may be happier, because the choice is forced, and they don't have as large of a graveyard of closed doors behind them. They were never there to begin with.

So go on through, changing the things you can't abide and abiding the things you can't change. It's hard, and the things we exclude will hurt, but it's worth it.

Love you.
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