Monday, October 17, 2016


"Writing is wonderful when you talk about it. It's fun to contemplate. But writing as a daily physical activity is not agreeable. You put on weight, you strain your gut, you get gout and chilblains. You're alone, and every day you have to face a blank piece of paper."
-Norman Mailer, The Spooky Art

I love this quote. There are so many things that fall in this category. Growing up, I loved the idea of classical music and mastering a difficult piece and performing. Oh, but I hated practicing daily. For so many years, blogging also had that same sheen. On occasion, I'd have that perfectly formed idea, pre-packaged and ready for delivery. But most of the time, it was sitting down to an empty screen and forcing myself to write. Now, I'm taking a class on poetry writing, and it's the same thing all over again. Sitting around a table with other hopeful writers drinking tea and reading blank verse is really fun. There's a lot to explore, wonder, learn, and imitate. But then you go home and you sit with idle pen and blank slate. It becomes a narrative of captivity (rather than a captivating narrative) (a quote from a long-time friend of mine, Revati). The daily exercise of writing is a lonesome and individual activity, intimidating, grueling, and challenging. But it is also necessary to get better, to capture those fleeting moments of illumination, and to become more than a dilettante. In part, this is why I am simplifying my life and obligations, to focus on passions I would like to cultivate, and I think I want to give writing a go.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016


"There are no events but thoughts and the heart's hard turning, the heart's slow learning where to love and whom. The rest is merely gossip and tales for other times." - Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm.

"Life is not about writing great books, amassing great wealth, or achieving great power. It is about loving and being loved. It is about savoring the beauty of moments that don't last." - Sue Suter.

Love is perhaps life's greatest mystery. Where does it come from? Where does it go? What do we talk about when we talk about love? It seems so simple and yet so large both at once. It can be such an overwhelming life-force and at that same time curiously irrational. It feels so important, and somehow different from all the other things we think important.

Philosophers sometimes talk about "emergent" or "second-order" properties, things that characterize a system but cannot be found in the components of the system. A baseball player doesn't have "teamwork" per se, but when you group a bunch of them together, "teamwork" emerges. A single neuron may not think, but a network of them might have the novel and irreducible property of consciousness. I have not yet read a philosopher bold enough to tackle love as an emergent property, but that is what fascinates me most. We live in a physical, deterministic world. How does love fit in?

Poets and writers love to ponder the transience of love. The unrequited love, the love lost, the entreaty of love, the many masks of love - these inspire libraries of literature. We don't know what it is. We don't know why it exists. We vow to love endlessly. We decide to move on. "All things come to an end. / No, they go on forever." (Ruth Stone, "Train Ride"). We struggle with the feeling that love is so powerful, so irrefutable, and so out of our control. We try to reconcile the pure, perfect love from poetry, pop songs, and promises with the dingy sheen of practical love, love that fatigues and confuses and leaves us wanting.

I don't have a particular direction in this post. It comes from being at the most beautiful wedding this last weekend and also thinking about dear friends who may, someday, part. In seeing the many manifestations of love and thinking about its many faces in my life, I realize I know so little of it and want to know so much more. Love feels simultaneously mundane and magical, perfect and incomplete, ritual and personal story. We make ourselves vulnerable. We become gourds and vessels. We drink and thirst. We invite our friends to dance madly into the night. We invite our friends to hold vigil. There is no greater mystery.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016


“Our worst fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God: your playing small doesn't serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us. It is not just in some of us, it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” – Nelson Mandela (1994)

Should you settle? Should you settle for a job that doesn't maximize your full potential, a relationship that leaves you wanting, a meal that is lukewarm? Should you settle for getting three wood for your two sheep when you really want wheat? (Should you settle for a half-hearted pun when you know you could write better?)

It's so easy for us all to say do not settle. You have this one life, this limited set of opportunities, all heart and ambition, so carpe diem. Who wasn't inspired by "Dead Poets Society"? We all remember being teenagers and thinking we could achieve anything, everything. Isn't that the American Dream? Work hard enough and life will be "better and richer and fuller" (James Adams, 1931).

Does it ever scare you that we will chase dream after dream and find them ephemeral, fleeting? That we will never be satisfied (still listening to "Hamilton"), that we will keep following the rainbow but emerge empty handed. I can always dream bigger dreams. I can always imagine something that just might make me happier. We live in a society where we always want more: the bigger house, the spiffier car, the latest phone. We want to show off our relationships, our kids, our jobs, our diplomas, our connections. We are always looking for the next big thing, trying to trade up, pursuing the unknowable, unattainable, and yet unspeakably coveted.

I worry about this. I worry that I want too much, that I have passed or will pass over something perfect in pursuit of a mirage. That settling isn't bad. That being content is more important than being fulfilled if by our very nature, we cannot be fulfilled. There are no bounds to human want, no bounds to human curiosity. "I burn, I pine, I perish" ("10 Things"). It is our obligation to ourselves not to succumb to the hubris of Greek tragedy. It's not to say we should want no more, but to say that in some facets of life, we accept the cards we are dealt with gratitude and find happiness in what we have.

I worry about the opposite as well. A life without purpose is like motion without moving. I should not settle to live in a world with injustice, suffering, immorality. I should not settle to live a personal life plagued by injustice, suffering, immorality. Idealism, even if I know it cannot be fulfilled, has a place. Humans were meant to dream.

Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

(FYI, being post-call tends to draw these types of posts out of me)