On Intimations of Mortality

(THIRD-CLASS Carriage) Oil on canvas painting by Honoré Daumier.

(THIRD-CLASS Carriage) Oil on canvas painting by Honoré Daumier.

The long days are taking their toll.

Only two things can sever me from the world. The first is the life-long melancholy that occasionally manifests as outright winters of the soul. The second is the more recent exhaustion that typically culminates as wholesale abductions of my body-mind.

Right now, I’m here and not here. Right here, I’m now and not now. Fatigue keeps me from finishing my thoughts. So I gestate the same stillborn ideas again and again, with a tedious and frustrating sense of déjà vu.

In moments like these, I think: this is what  being old must feel like, and I shudder. To endure the disintegration of one’s body is one thing; to witness the dissolution of one’s mind is another.

(Yes, the exhaustion is the insidious gap through which the melancholy often slips.)

The long days are definitely taking their toll.

Still: better to have long days than none.


On the Utility of Compulsions

My weapon of choice.

My weapon of choice.

I used to travel a lotand not with the throw-caution-to-the-wind or let-the-winds-blow-me-where-they-will approach that’s wildly romanticized these days as the only, genuinely authentic way to see the world and be in the world.

No, when I traveled, I had agendas, and lists, and plans, and timetables (and yes, insurance).

(Which doesn’t mean that I traveled luxuriously. Far from it. I’d travel for weeks at a time with a JanSport backpackthe kind that college students use—and saved money by enduring day-long layovers in obscure and dingy airports and living off granola bars and coffee sachets. The heaviest and most valuable things I carried were a digital SLR with three different lenses and an ultra-portable laptop for writing and archiving all my photos. And I walked. A LOT.)

Anyway, my point is: I hyper-plan when I travel, and this has translated into Excel files of various sorts, my favorite of which is a checklist of things to pack. The checklist has two major categories: one for travels to temperate countries and the other one for trips to tropical climes. Each category is further divided into two lists: things to put in checked in baggage and things to pack in carry-on luggage.

Each category also has a wardrobe table that plots out what to wear for an entire week in order to optimize color combinations with a limited set of clothes. The last table is a daily meal plan that includes calorie counters for the most common food groups.

As pathologically obsessive as the above sounds, it’s made life on the road enormously simple and provides a welcome anchor in the turbulent and often disorienting waters of extended travel. Freed of the humdrum logistical questions of what to wear and what to eat, I’m then able to focus all my energies on the things that lure me away from home time and again, which are:

Seeing the world. Losing myself in it. Finding myself in it.

And making it my home.

On the Dislocations of Spacetime

(TIME Travel)

I saw two different sets of friends today: the first over brunch; the second over coffee. Both meet-ups exceeded their appointed hours in that charming (if somewhat discombobulating) way that good friendships have of demolishing one’s sense of time.

I’m still disoriented, to be honest. Like most post-moderns of my generation, almost all of my relationships are linked to particular settings and particular eras. So when I see old friends, the meetings conjure memories of specific behaviors, specific geographies and specific periods of my life, and the end result, more often than not, is a sensation of massive disorientationof being in two places and two times simultaneously, or, even more bewilderingly, of being two people at the same time.

And when I see different groups of friends in sequence: then, yes, the existential vertigo intensifies exponentially. In the past, I thought meditation would help ease the psychic dizziness, but if anything, the heightened self-awareness has just made the sense if disequilibrium more acute.

So now, I’m writing, because writing has always been my way of anchoring (and yes, also my way of retreating, because perspective requires distance in the same degree that it restores equanimity). Slowly, ever so slowly, I’m returning to the confines of my present reality (these claustrophobic yet oh-so-comforting confines).

It’s funny how I have to exert so much effort just to be here right now.

On the Plurality of Selves

(TAIWAN, Taipei) I wonder what I was thinking about then.

(TAIWAN, Taipei) I wonder what I was thinking about then.

In the process of resurrecting old and nearly forgotten selves, I retrieved not just their aspirations and possibilities, but also their loose ends and unfinished business.

This compulsion towards tying up loose ends and terminating unfinished business belongs to an old self as well.

Which was why today passed with the newly undead carrying out the affairs of the other newly undeadwhich robbed the present (and very much alive) self any possibility of rest and peace.

Is this the only brand of happiness we can find in this postmodern world? This musical chairs variety where a majority of selves win but always and only at the expense of a minority?

What a disquieting and disheartening thought.

On the Redefinition of Surrender

(NORWAY, Sognefjord)

(NORWAY, Sognefjord) Ah, the lure of flight; the lure of freedom. (Photo taken by the author.)

Yesterday’s epiphany: if you fight against life, life will win. If only by magnitude; if only through volume.

After all, what’s one life against life. One mind against history. One spirit against the vast current of energy that bears down on everything like a tidal wave.

I didn’t quite realize, until yesterday, that I’d been battling for as long as I can remember, and that what I’d come to believe was equanimity was a carefully concealed passive aggression.

Now, I have to renegotiate the terms of surrender; do the work of redefining what acceptance means. In my head (what a hilariously redundant phrase: for the most part, “in my head” is all there is), I understand that coming to terms with life is the only way to actually fully live. But something in me resists this logic, denounces it as defeatism, and would rather live a defiant and drawn-out death.

But something else in me resists this chronic hostility too: an uncanny, unfamiliar and undernourished self that’s probably been lying in wait all this time. It understands my fear, it understands my reluctance, and it understands my hostilitywhich is why it’s waited patiently all these years.

You don’t have to make your kingdom come, is what it says. What’s already here is much vaster and richer than anything you’ve ever conceived. But you can’t live in both worlds.

True to form, I recoil from its invitation with petulance (ah, Peter Pan’s attachment to Never Never Land).

But it can wait. It’s waited all this time; it can wait a little more.

After all, it’s got life on its side.

On the Vastness of Sky

(CHINA, Tibet) Stones below; skies above. (Photo taken by the author.)

(CHINA, Tibet) Stones below; skies above. (Photo taken by the author.)

All the meditation manuals will warn you: sitting will never rid you of your neuroses. If anything, you will feel them more intensely as a function of heightened awareness.

I don’t mind having neuroses. What I do mind is how…pedestrian they are. Everyday I sit and I watch the vultures in my head circle over the same corpses with an unflagging and almost affectionate absorption.

Vultures will be vultures, and I suppose anything counts as edible fare, really. Never mind if my ego would prefer vastly more profound dramas. But it’s the same middling concerns, the same trivial anxieties, the same mass of stuff that the German philosopher Martin Heidegger included under the label of Care (Sorge).

I’m not quite sure if the point of seeing all of it is to realize its minuteness and therefore achieve a wider and grander perspective, or

to realize its minuteness and cultivate a compassion for this tiny and constantly beleaguered sense of self, or—

to simply see it all, and surrender all sense of what’s minute and grand, what’s pedestrian and profound.

It could be all three. Which is possible, because along with the spectacle of the ever-circling vultures is a glimpse of the wide blue sky. Corpses below, vultures above, but the sky reigns supreme.

Let the vultures pick what they can.