November 30, 2014

First as normal, then as wistful

Acknowledging that you're taking things for granted is not taking things for granted.

At least, I assume this in good faith of others. That man who jaywalks across Whitehall to work is probably a good guy, despite his aggressive stride. And I excuse that person who wore a hoodie, jeans, and moccasins to dinner on the Viking cruise from Stockholm to Helsinki. I grant, even, that someone who lives in Malibu and avoids direct sunlight, if pale as a vampire, is not vampiric at heart.

No, no. I'm talking about three different people.

I suspect that someone who would do such things doesn't debase the Good as a sadist does; though perhaps satisfying his or her own need to stand out, this person is probably hiding his or her 'whelmed-ness at knowing such riches and is acclimating to having them.

For our brains exercise extraordinary plasticity across environments, and real life snaps our heads out of the clouds. In Elf, Buddy's childlike discovery of New York had to end for the film to have a plot, and even characters in Terrence Malick movies don't stay happy forever. C.S. Lewis does describe a life of unbroken and innocent delight in Perelandra, but that book is set on Venus.

I'm not fond of The Descendants, but Clooney's opening voice-over puts this better than I can:
"My friends on the mainland think just because I live in Hawaii, I live in paradise. Like a permanent vacation – we're all just out here sipping Mai Tais, shaking our hips and catching waves. Are they insane? Do they think we're immune to life? How can they possibly think our families are less screwed-up, our cancers less fatal, our heartaches less painful? Hell, I haven't been on a surfboard in 15 years. For the last 23 days, I've been living in a paradise of IVs and urine bags and tracheal tubes. Paradise? Paradise can f*** itself."
I hear a pensioner shouting: "Stop and smell the roses!" Indeed, sir, one must and should, but there's always stuff that needs doing elsewhere in the garden... I'll get off your lawn now.

You have a thesis draft and five newspaper articles to write by tomorrow.

Life's circumstances may fall into recession, of course, and we may fall into depression irrespective of circumstances. (There's that plastic brain for you again.) But when you have to tighten your belt—or, perhaps, loosen it in fattening shame—try to keep from escapism and regret.

Don't live in the past. We all saw how that messed up Cobb in Inception, wrecking his present and imperiling everyone around him. And don't kick your past self for all those hours you used to waste because, be real with yourself, you'd love to waste them again. You can enjoy anew what you used to float through. If you're sitting in the dark, sigh sweetly for the hours wasted when all things were shining.

Bottom line. I know I'm #soblessed where I am right now.1 Today's bounty of fruit might run out, but I could never squeeze it all dry before that happens.

That's all right. We enjoy years of plenty by living them as ordinary. If they pass, we can enjoy them nostalgically without resenting ourselves for that. First as normal, then as wistful, but always thankful.

1. Meta-first-world problem: trying to acceptably phrase humblebrag-sounding circumstances when answering, "What are you doing these days?"

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