On the Passing of a Year

It’s the last day of 2011.

The last day of the year is always an anxious one for me. All the loose ends rear their unwelcome heads, threatening to clutter the purity of the new year ahead. For years, I dealt with this by using the Christmas holidays as a time to complete the year’s unfinished business. This ranged from things I’d failed to do to habits I’d failed to dispel. It was as if I had only two weeks to completely reboot my system: back up all files, remove all viruses, delete old programs and install new ones.

By force of habit, I tried to do the same thing again this year—only I didn’t quite seem to have the same appetite for it. (Given that 2011’s been a radically different year for me in more ways than I can enumerate at the moment, I shouldn’t have been surprised that the change extended itself all the way to the end.)

If I had to pinpoint the main source of the shift, I think the simplest way I can put it is that, for the first time in my life, peace of mind matters more to me than productivity. Being productive has always been immensely satisfying to me—a reliable engine for achievement and cheap fuel for gratification. It doesn’t matter if I’m at home, in school, at the gym, in the office, at the supermarket or out traveling—I always have an agenda, a program, an itinerary, a list. Life has been about methodically crossing things off my list (creating this blog and running it daily is captured in one of my innumerable lists), and 2011 pretty much started the same way.

It’s not quite ending the same way though, and like so many of this year’s changes, it’s had nothing to do with dramatic, life-altering events and everything to do with the staid, unobtrusive process of growing older and more…aware.  This Christmas, I looked at my list and I realized that the costs of my lists had long outstripped their benefits. Whatever gratification I got from their daily achievement had long been dulled by familiarity (it was normal that I got things done), while the stress I got from their occasional incompletion had disproportionately intensified. I was fighting a losing battle—and I’d been losing it for years.

So this Christmas, I just…let go. Not with a lot of grace, to be honest, given the tenacity of a decades-long habit, but I let the lists lie untouched and gave in to the first real vacation I’ve had in perhaps five years (because, yes, even my vacations have agendas). I ate, I slept, I read, I played games, I watched anime, I watched television and I stayed at the dinner table for long silly conversations with my family. I didn’t exercise, didn’t write, didn’t putter around and tidy up. And every time I started panicking (What am I doing? What am I not doing? I’m so going to end up paying for this break! I don’t deserve this break!), I took a deep breath and allowed the thoughts to play themselves out without trying to alleviate my discomfort or alter my situation. What I’m trusting is the slowly-growing conviction that periodic leisure does not translate to lifelong laziness, that occasional stillness is not sterile inactivity, and that life happens just as much in the pause as it does in the rush.

So as 2011 draws to a close, I’ll honor the passing of a beautiful year by sitting quietly at its bedside—not fretting, not worrying , not scurrying to and fro—just present to the singular miracle of an entire year’s worth of blessings.

Goodbye 2011—and thank you.

On the Redirection of Blogs

It’s been nearly a year since I put Peripateia up, and as 2011 winds to a close, I’ve been thinking more and more about where the blog should be going.

I first created Peripateia as a way of forcing myself to write. Being accountable to an audience (any audience) meant having to: (1) write regularly and (2) write well.

Although I haven’t consistently achieved both objectives this past year, the discipline did pay off: I now have a sizeable corpus of work that cuts across several genres, subjects and themes. Some of it is written very well, most of it is written well enough—the rest of it is filler of one sort or another (assorted lists, disjointed rambles, diary-like entries, the poetry of others).

All of this was well and good for the blog’s first year, given that the sole reason for its existence was to make its creator write. The appeal of that objective—the objective of just writing—has waned, however, in the same way that driving a car quickly loses its initial allure and has to be eventually motivated by the desire to reach a particular destination.

When I look back over the year’s worth of posts on this blog, it becomes clear to me that there’s no direct correlation between the quality of a piece I’ve written and the response it generates from readers. Entries that I thought were carefully and exceptionally written would be posted without much notice, while entries that I dashed off in half an hour would find themselves reposted and shared on other people’s Facebook walls. (On very rare and happy occasions, I’d write entries that married quality and acceptance—but this continues to be an exception rather than the rule.)

And if I look at what generates responses from readers, it tends to come (unsurprisingly) from the entries that cut uncomfortably close to home—entries on themes that I find myself returning to time and time again: my struggles between seizing the day and smelling the roses, between growing constantly and remaining content, between being determined and being detached, between living purposefully and letting go. I’ve contradicted myself many times on this blog, and I think it’s because life is lived as a tension between opposites and the task of every single moment is knowing where to find the middle ground.

So even if I haven’t figured it out exactly (at least not yet), Peripateia in 2012 will be focusing a lot more on this search for the middle ground—on my wanderings (often circular, always peripatetic) around the things that concern me most. And it will take its inspiration and its motivation from these words by T.S. Eliot:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

So here’s to a new year ahead of exploring, of arriving—and of knowing places for the first time.

On the Trials of Conscientiousness

So the juice fast I attempted today failed rather spectacularly. From today until the end of 2011, I was supposed to detoxify my system by taking in nothing except copious amounts of apple juice. Midway through the morning, however, a splitting headache induced me to eat a banana—which was eventually joined by another banana, then a roll of bread, then some soup, then some milk, and then finally, a chaste dinner.

I’m notorious for these inappropriately-timed detoxification efforts. Twice in the last five years, I’ve done the first phase of the South Beach Diet during the holiday season to the bewilderment, disbelief and horror of family and friends alike. In all cases, it’s never really about being healthy (I teeter between being normal to underweight for my height), and all about attaining an ideal.

(I’ve sacrificed years of my life to these ideals and shed copious amounts of tears and blood. I completed a four-year rigorously mathematical college degree, a six-month bruising mountaineering boot camp, a week-long scuba diving crash course and a year-long salad diet—among other things—not because I needed these things or even remotely enjoyed them, but because they represented the attainment of some ideal.)

Of course, my masochistic tendencies in the foregoing can be largely explained by the fact that I’m highly “conscientious”—a major personality trait characterized by orderliness on the one hand and industriousness on the other. In other words, I have a deep-seated psychological inclination towards accomplishing things and towards accomplishing them methodically, ruthlessly and systematically—even if I end up punishing myself in the process. I don’t particularly regret being this way, and I certainly don’t regret the results I got in my teens and my twenties for being this way, but it’s starting to get just a little bit…tiring now that I’m in my fourth decade of existence.

Which is probably why when my fast-induced migraine started today, I obediently went to the dining room and got myself a piece of fruit. Few people will probably mark an act like that as a landmark event—but for me it was staggeringly momentous. To actually obey the dictates of my body over the dictates of my mind is an act of defiance that subverts two decades of conditioning.

Of course, it will probably take several months of struggling before I find a happy balance between being disciplined in my behavior (which does make me happy in a perverse kind of way) and being sensitive to my needs. And as with many other things I’ve discovered this year, I’ll trust that all it’ll take is a whole lot of practice.


On the Pleasures of Cummings (Part 4)

may my heart always be open to little
by ee cummings

may my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living
whatever they sing is better than to know
and if men should not hear them men are old

may my mind stroll about hungry
and fearless and thirsty and supple
and even if it’s sunday may i be wrong
for whenever men are right they are not young

and may myself do nothing usefully
and love yourself so more than truly
there’s never been quite such a fool who could fail
pulling all the sky over him with one smile)

On the Pleasures of Cummings (Part 3)

i am a little church(no great cathedral)
by ee cummings

i am a little church(no great cathedral)
far from the splendor and squalor of hurrying cities
-i do not worry if briefer days grow briefest,
i am not sorry when sun and rain make april

my life is the life of the reaper and the sower;
my prayers are prayers of earth’s own clumsily striving
(finding and losing and laughing and crying)children
whose any sadness or joy is my grief or my gladness

around me surges a miracle of unceasing
birth and glory and death and resurrection:
over my sleeping self float flaming symbols
of hope,and i wake to a perfect patience of mountains

i am a little church(far from the frantic
world with its rapture and anguish)at peace with nature
-i do not worry if longer nights grow longest;
i am not sorry when silence becomes singing

winter by spring,i lift my diminutive spire to
merciful Him Whose only now is forever:
standing erect in the deathless truth of His presence
(welcoming humbly His light and proudly His darkness)

On the Pleasures of Cummings (Part 2)

here’s to opening and upward, to leaf and to sap
by ee cummings

here’s to opening and upward, to leaf and to sap
and to your(in my arms flowering so new)
self whose eyes smell of the sound of rain

and here’s to silent certainly mountains;and to
a disappearing poet of always,snow
and to morning;and to morning’s beautiful friend
twilight(and a first dream called ocean)and

let must or if be damned with whomever’s afraid
down with ought with because with every brain
which thinks it thinks,nor dares to feel(but up
with joy;and up with laughing and drunkenness)

here’s to one undiscoverable guess
of whose mad skill each world of blood is made
(whose fatal songs are moving in the moon

On the Pleasures of Cummings (Part 1)

i thank You God for most this amazing
by ee cummings

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday;this is the birth
day of life and love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any-lifted from the no
of all nothing-human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)