this is how it's been

“Unemployment” hasn’t really panned out as I thought it would. That’s not a completely accurate statement, as I had no foresight—or plan—as to how this particular time of my life would develop. But I am working everyday—harder than I did at my last job, probably because I don’t have the privilege of a false structure I can cling to—going into an office, getting paid a regular salary, employment by a known company—when I am passing minutes mindlessly.

There was no particular thing I wanted to happen, except to live by the day, as long as I could with the means I have, in pursuit of what I believe is good and meaningful: faith, knowledge, community, relationships.

I spent two weeks in Asia—first in Taiwan, and then in Hong Kong, celebrating the birthdays of both my grandmothers. They are paragons of elegant aging.

All my life, both oceans and languages have separated me from my grandparents. I have always had the sense that I do not really know them, and they do not really know me. All I know of them is their love for me, a kind of blind and ridiculous love that I will not understand until I am a grandparent, perhaps. I hear about my grandparents from my parents, mostly. For the majority of my life, they have been abstract ideas, with temporary stints of embodiment when I visit them, or when they used to visit me. A person incarnate, after so much time as an idea, is mostly distressing, incongruous—this is the bane of an active imagination, I suppose, or a mind biased towards perfection. Mostly, I was saddened by the diminishing of time, the realization of Shakespearean tropes—minutes hastening to their end, Time’s scythe mowing everything down, swift and ravaging—mere poetry until manifest IRL, which is blindness, deafness, exhaustion, old skin, wrinkles, inertia, pain, diminishing appetites. A week after I waved goodbye to my grandmother at the airport—a moment that surprised me with its pain and gravitas—, she was knocked over by a reckless and truculent man. She fell down and broke her clavicle. I saw her on Facetime last night, her voice hoarse, her neck swathed in gauze.

After that short trip to Asia, I came back here, to the States, glad to return to a place where I feel a deep sense of belonging, but was also wary of that sense, which I’ve believed, by experience, can be a mirage. I constantly carry with me the doom of impending loss. I stayed for a short while, and then I drove down south, down highway 1, and sojourned at a monastery for a few nights. Quiet beauty. Silence I craved. A taste of what it is like to feel, not lonely, but alone—a distinction I am still fleshing out. A woman in the wilderness feels a sense of danger—paranoia caused by abrupt and creeping noises—with which a man will never truly be able to empathize—unless you live in a war zone, maybe, or Fruitvale (I kid).

These days, I am traveling up and down the coast—to Bolinas, Pt. Reyes, Inverness—interviewing people, writing their stories. In talking with artists and makers, I have garnered a sense that, while the economics and circumstances of life may often be difficult, the pursuit of art—not its desired outcomes or its profits, but the tumbling after—has been straightforward. A choice backed up by repetitive acts, commitments made to oneself that are enacted everyday, every week, every month. The repetition lurches you forward. 

The endeavor to create is no fruitful task—it is first and foremost an endeavor, not an accomplishment. The accomplishment seems to be a byproduct, sometimes a turn of luck—recognition by people with a certain authority and acclaim, serendipity, the collision of fortunate circumstances. But I am more convinced than ever, that we, a people, were created to do work, and to work hard at what we do, whatever that is. Work looks different for everyone, but idleness and recreation, which are so glorified, in our idealization of rogues and wild men and hippies, the itinerant, the world traveler, the pilgrim who walks El Camino and then across Siberia (perhaps these are forms of work too, I know not, and will not assume they are not, but these occupations are idealized because we believe them to be the antitheses of work) seem to me, to be robbing ourselves of our own endowments: of talents, of gifts, of the ways we could possibly give ourselves back to this world. Dolce far niente­—the sweetness of doing nothing—doesn’t make sense to me, unless it’s in the context of resting, a Sabbath. Call me a Puritan—I am of the America founded on a Protestant work ethic—and I’ll tell you that I can hardly live up to that Puritanism, because working hard is not easy—most days I want to give up. 

Philip Lopate wrote a remarkable and highly memorable essay called “Against Joie De Vivre”—which I love for its grumpy truth—we suffer the same kind of nervous discontent, I think—and in it, he makes a point about the fundamental nature of humans—which is to be constantly hungry—at least he is, and I am—and that precludes an idealism that would find perfect richness in every present moment. Keep busy, he says, which I interpret, by way of his passage on depressives that follows, to avoid self-pity, to accept the imperfect distress and anxiety that occasionally riddle our lives—some more than others—, and to swallow the disappointments (I say, mourn them, move on as best as you can). Every day since I’ve quit my last job, I’ve battled idealism and nihilism, both the idolization of joie de vivre and the realization of its frequent senselessness. And after I’ve thought about all this for a moment, I return to where I was—which is, in the middle of some action, some forward motion. I keep walking, keep praying.

More later.

 “You write about yourself because in the long run all man’s problems are the same, his human needs of sustenance and love.”
-Dorothy Day


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