How do you know if you really like something, or if the familiar feeling is simply comfortable to the piece of you that will always trust what it recognizes?
How do you separate the feeling of fear as a wise warning from the idea of fear as being precisely what you should embrace and chase after?
Life unfolds each and every day and it is a challenge to balance striving and surviving, learning and being comfortable. There is the imperative to carry onward and the feeling that carrying on without more reward is pointless. The things we know and trust and the pieces of us that have always felt melancholy inside an ill-fitting but well-oiled life.
Last night I was chopping garlic and ginger while a playoff baseball game played on my laptop. The sounds were familiar and comforting, a hazy nostalgic reminder of a time when My Team actually felt in some way connected to My Joy, a time when I could register my diaspora by donning the cap of an entertainment club named for a state I left on purpose.
It felt good to watch and to lose a bit of my self-aware self in the swirl of believing in something I have no control over. To admire the magic of individual determination and team chemistry, attributes which have enraptured humans for as long as we’ve lived in organized society. My brain flickered, wondering what I missed out on by caring so much back when I did, connecting the dots with organized religion and the bread and circuses of dead empires. We humans really do need a lot of totems to tolerate the weight of existence.
It is uncommon and even cringe to care about sports in the slices of society I mostly inhabit these days. You could say the same for participating in traditional organized religion. We all believe we have evolved beyond the need for simple explanations of good and evil, of pointless friendly competition as tribalistic faux participation.
I stared at the minced ginger, wondering where this non-organic produce was grown and why the chunks are triple the size of their organic counterparts. We have built quite a world, the groceries and TV shows and social media apps that both connect and divide us. The weight of it all in unadulterated contemplation is immense.
To acquire wisdom, you have to suffer, have to make mistakes that you can “learn from.” It is such a fine line between feeling motivated or defeated by this, of realizing that you mourn what you’ve lost or that you would do so many things differently. The passage of time is directional and relentless, there is no going back. You can only apply what you’ve learned in the future, if you can make it there.
Life is a roller coaster ride, each subsequent up and down an exhilarating or devastating feeling. Some of us sand down the pointiest bits with chemicals or exposure therapy. A beer to take the edge off the work day, a seventeenth first kiss to bury the endless tape reminding you nothing good lasts. It certainly won’t if you don’t believe it can. There was a time that sports teams had as much emotional might in my life as the things that now dominate it, when the fickle success or failure of a team of athletic entertainers could actually change my mood. I’m glad that’s not the case anymore, but I’m still trying to figure out how to not be ashamed of being entertained in a world that seems to demand endless austerity.
Everything sizzles in the pot, spices and vegetables mingling in the familiar smell of one of my very favorite dishes. I have made this meal so many times, in so many different places. Bought cheap rolling pins, used random mismatched cups from the cupboard. Another way to measure life, the myriad meals shared, the majority enjoyed solo, more leftovers for me.
There’s a commercial that plays ridiculously often on the streaming service I’m using to tune into the baseball game. The booming narrator says something like, YOU KNOW THAT TIME SAVED ISN’T MORE IMPORTANT THAN MEMORIES MADE. Maybe I’m making it more poetic than the way he says it. The fifth time I hear it with my back to the laptop, my ears perk up a bit. The opposite of exposure therapy. He has a point.
They’re talking about tortillas – homemade versus store bought. I’m folding homemade paratha bread, doing my best imitation of a food I didn’t even find out about until I was away in college. I think about all the times I’ve tried to save something for later instead of enjoying it for what it is now. It’s said to be a noble impulse, but it’s also a destructive one. As if you could kill time without injuring eternity. One of the legends of the game says during his commentary, AFTER TOMORROW, THERE IS NO TOMORROW. Everyone laughs and calls him the Dominican Shakespeare. He means it’s a win-or-go-home game. I could benefit a lot from playing this life like it’s win-or-go-home.
I’ve learned in my many years of living solo that the comforting din of humans talking helps a lot with the particular emptiness you feel eating every din alone in a temporary home. There are memes about eating dinner with YouTube playing, and now they all ring pretty true. It is funny where you find profundity in the yawning vacuum of a silent life, in beer commercials and playoff baseball jokes. The theoretical bane of an existence like mine. There’s comfort in the cacophony of America’s Pastime, just another part of the culture we were all raised in. Comfort is certainly not my primary motivator, but eventually the virtue of constant discomfort becomes a bit shaky when you can no longer get out of bed because of the rawness of the human experience.
Nostalgia is a hell of a drug. We miss the good times and forget the bad. We feel that woolen buzz of a strong drink or a cozy sweater, remembering a time that at least in hindsight feels like it was really good. There are certain human comforts which are worth remembering fondly, even if they are complicated and perhaps not as good as they seem in our rose-colored memory banks. Each time I learn something the hard way, I yearn for a time when things were easy and that lesson might’ve helped them stay that way. I implore others to do the things I didn’t, try with all my might to save them from the pain I’ve experienced as part of my meandering existence.
And I wonder, can we save anyone else from themselves, from their own painful and hard-won lessons?
It is a noble impulse, but perhaps a foolishly empathetic one. It is the point of art, not just being seen for exhibition’s sake, but making experiences matter. Compiling, one at a time, the setbacks of a given life to make the next one a bit better. To save future beings some time and heartache, so that they may enjoy their limited days more than we could. After all, life is short, unpredictable, and heartbreaking – it only makes sense that we might want other beings to not have to spend most of their best days learning things the hard way.
It is a bitter and immature impulse to want everyone else to suffer like we did, or to take away others’ joy just because we don’t have the same amount.