A manifesto for a more wondrous age.

Maybe it's just because I'm approaching the end of my twenties, but I've been thinking a lot about what it is I want to do in life lately. When I finished some of the visualizing exercises I worked through recently, I was slightly surprised to find most of the goals I wrote down hadn't really shifted from when I first started thinking about this, when I was 18 or so. The goals are mostly the same, but of course my thinking about them and the path I'm taking to get there has shifted. 

Something that I keep coming back to is my connection to life around me. I want to feel in-tune not only with my own thoughts and body, but with the world around me. In a phrase, I guess I'm just yearning for the examined life. I want to live thoughtfully, exploring the ideas that matter to me, in an attempt to get the most out of this journey. For me, that level of thoughtfulness comes through strongest with a deep connection to books; not only exploring my own thoughts and interests through writing, but reading widely for the connection to other writer's minds. But I find I'm best—happiest, and most productive—operating on my own pace. Following my disparate interests where they go; deepening one only to come back to another; balancing rest and productivity; finding the moment when the scattering of ideas I've been pondering come together in a new constellation. 

Of course, it's not so simple. As Don Draper says, life "drops a bunch of rules on us." We have to make enough money to pay rent, meet our societal obligations while still desperately carving out time for ourselves. It's something I feel I've improved at lately, but it's still frustrating. I was reading this Ed Yong piece on getting into birdwatching (should I get into birdwatching?...) and he wrote something I found poignant:

Of course, having the time to bird is an immense privilege. As a freelancer, I have total control over my hours and my ability to get out in the field. “Are you a retiree?” a fellow birder recently asked me. “You’re birding like a retiree.” I laughed, but the comment spoke to the idea that things like birding are what you do when you’re not working, not being productive.
I reject that. These recent years have taught me that I’m less when I’m not actively looking after myself, that I have value to my world and my community beyond ceaseless production and that pursuits like birding that foster joy, wonder and connection to place are not sidebars to a fulfilled life but their essence.

This brought me back to a scene in a manga / anime series called Houkago Insomnia ("Afterschool Insomniacs") that brought me to tears when I first saw it. The series follows a boy named Nakami and a girl named Magari, who bond over discovering they both suffer from insomnia. They get into astronomy, and of course, start to fall for one another. Eventually, they take a trip to do some astrophotography, and Nakami discusses with Magari how peaceful the trip has been:

Scene from Houkago Insomnia: "I wish things would stay like this forever. Like I don't have any anxiety. Every day I get to do the things I want. And nothing else gets in the way. I wake up in the morning and find you next to me. And it makes me feel really... at peace."
"I wish things would stay like this forever. Like I don't have any anxiety. Every day I get to do the things I want. And nothing else gets in the way. I wake up in the morning and find you next to me. And it makes me feel really... at peace."

Ugh! This still kills me. As a high-schooler, he's just getting a taste of the real world, and worse, finally found a place he's at peace—but it won't last. Soon they'll have to go back to school, go back to their lives. I think about a line from the infinitely wise podcast Relentless Picnic, where Erikk is talking about the extremely common phrase "Work-Life Balance," and says (paraphrased) "If you've got a chart, where one axis is 'life,' then the other axis is?..." One of my friends recently tweeted out, "What's a job where you make whatever kind of art you want whenever you want to?" 

I haven't found an answer yet. True enough, a bunch of rules get in the way. But as I think more about the frustrating degradation of the social agreement, I want to treat the lack of opportunity as opportunity. Last year, I had the chance to chat with Ken Baumann, a writer I deeply respect not only for his work but for his integrity, and he talked about how difficult it is to make any money as a writer right now. But if you're not going to make any money anyways, what's stopping you from pushing the bounds as far as you can go? How big can you dream? What's stopping you from doing that?

So it goes. I wish things were easier, and I'll continue to work towards making them so. But I'm not going to give up otherwise. Everything I want to do is within my grasp.

You’ve successfully subscribed to monochromatic
Welcome back! You’ve successfully signed in.
Great! You’ve successfully signed up.
Success! Your email is updated.
Your link has expired
Success! Check your email for magic link to sign-in.