When I’m jetlagged all I want to do is drink soups and stay curled up inside — even as the cold sunlight streams bright through the shutters. I take a walk instead. I forgot how much I love the sweeping view of SF from the top of Pac Heights, an azure blue leaking through the clouds.
I’ve been away too long. I snap a picture of new building developments on my street and text a friend ironically: why do things always change the minute you look away? I rack my brain to figure out what was there before but can’t recall.
Isn’t that strange? You can love a city or a person but they’re never stagnant from one day to the next. As I read somewhere, “you’ll never find the same person twice, not even in the same person.” Time passes and things morph: we strain ourselves through the sieve of daily life. Paperwork, Target runs, haircuts, getting coffee and dinners with old friends on chilly nights, blurry and warmed indoors.
Coming back to a place after a while of being away feels like the relief and suddenness of waking up after a long hibernation. You track what endures, what gets left behind. You keep up.
A friend tells me that everyone feels behind in one specific area. Some really successful, intelligent people feel behind on relationships, intimacy. Some really stable and rational people feel behind on experiencing pleasure, experimentation. Some people only look upwards, lengthening and reaching for things beyond their reach — and feel dwarfed by their enormous goals, growing day by day. Everyone asks themselves: why haven’t I experienced having this yet? Will I ever?
‘Feeling behind’ is an act of pure comparison.
Our arenas of life are drastically different. Yet we attempt to compare them on the same scale. In one, a professional life. In the other, relationships. Health. Meaning. The battles we fight in each one are not synonymous with the others. For example, I know many ways people advance their professional realm and ruin the personal. When you compare your speed in one realm to someone else’s you never fully understand the sacrifices devoted to that pace.
When I leave San Francisco, even the US, I realize it’s such a bubble. We desire acquisition of things at an unnatural pace. Optimization kills discovery. Some part of me is seduced by that speed, that ability to accelerate and to tolerate rapid change. But more recently I’m more careful with what I worship. Glorifying speed means you need to, like Alice in Wonderland, keep running faster just to stay in the same place. And it’s too easy to feel left behind.
Sometimes we do feel far behind. With illness, circumstance, loss. All I can say is that healing, too, is growing faster in one area of your life than others: your capacity for self-repair, reflection, and gratitude. These are not small things. They carry you through life with more grace. More perspective.
Murakami: Everything in the world has its reasons for doing what it does… all we can do is go with those things. As we take them in, we survive, and deepen.
We feel less anxious about the timing of our lives when we surrender control to a timeline that is intimately our own. If we’re too rigid, afraid to honor the ebbs and flows of existence, we miss a sweet and integral part of life: the reception of the unknown, from which beauty and surprise emerges.
Life has its own rhythm and you cannot impose your own structure upon it, you have to listen to what it tells you. It’s not earth that you move with a tractor...life is not like that. Life is more like earth that you learn about and plant seeds in… It’s something you have to have a relationship with in order to experience. You can’t mold it, you can’t control it.
Things being uncontrollable used to scare me so much. But everything is uncontrollable in the end.
I can’t force you to understand who I am, much less love me. I can’t make you want something your heart doesn’t already desire in some small way. Most of all, I can’t control my timeline down to the millisecond. I must listen to it instead. Nothing is permanent or still. It flows. The tea gets cold, and the food gets warmed, my friends’ laughing faces glowing and lit by candlelight. We stop brutalizing life by counting the minutes when we understand that beauty and meaning blooms through unquantifiable sensations, perceptions, experiences, far beyond our control.
Today I wake up in a white walled room, light slowly rising. I want a lot of things still — I want a reward for all my long effort. I want forgiveness, and for love to find me again. I want to be certain of what I want. Despite all this: I still revel in the miracle that the hem of the unknown is sewn through with sunlight, and the day is full of hours. For this precious moment I’m not ahead or behind. The days just begin again and again.
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PPS: You might like my other essays on time, transitions big and small or “am I wasting my 20s?”
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What I read this week (vaguely Valentine’s themed)
I’m sure you’ve heard the hype behind Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow. I’m here to say it is warranted. A gorgeous book about games, friendship, love in all its forms, and world-building.
Love is both a constant and a variable at the same time
and on the theme — Nora Ephron’s piece on moving on is one I return to again and again
The point I want to make is that love may or may not be homesickness, but homesickness is definitely love
Quote of the Week
You’ve got to be serious about what you do. And you’ve got to understand the price you pay for frivolity or just for greed...it’s a very high price, especially if you’re involved in this sacred material, which is about the human heart and human desire and human tragedy. If there isn’t some element of seriousness in the training of the artist or in the atmosphere that surrounds the enterprise, then this shabbiness grows and eventually overwhelms it. I think that’s what we’re in now.
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in (from his song Anthem)
Since like a month or so, I have begun eagerly looking forward to your writings and haven't been disappointed. thank you so much for writing. :)
beautifully written and extremely relatable. thank you for this.