I strongly believe that it is necessary to maintain a positive outlook on life, to treat other individuals compassionately, and to appreciate the little things in life just as much (if not more so) than the big things. I disagree with the frenetic pace our current society is trying to thrive upon, and for the longest time had “Festina Lente” (Make Haste Slowly) as my catch phrase for life. I believe all these things, and yet somewhere along the way, I seem to have lost sight of that, swept up in the currents of everyday life, and I’m not even sure when or where it happened.
So, let’s go back. Perhaps not to the beginning, but certainly to a point when I had solidly come to these conclusions on living a peaceful, happy life, and had not yet let myself become caught up in the rushing mentality. After all, it is only through identifying your problems that you can ever truly hope to combat them.
Seventh grade was a very, very good year for me. After hitting the proverbial “bottom rung” on the social ladder in sixth grade, I simply stopped caring about that, and instead dove into a broad spectrum of books (though primarily science fiction), reading about 90% of Robert A. Heinlein’s works, the entire Dune saga, and a wealth of pulp fiction by masters such as Robert Silverberg and Isaac Asimov. This reading trend continued into eighth grade, when I also read the Dragonriders of Pern series, and Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany (I’ll come back to this book in a moment). In addition to reading, I began pursuing my own education, studying statistics and basic chemistry on my own time. I’d begun to adopt the philosophy of “Never Hurry” from Stranger In A Strange Land by Robert Heinlein, a concept that appealed to me right from the start. After all, what is the point in rushing? That is not to say to not move quickly, but why rush? Why stress about the little things? Be aware of them, acknowledge them, and at the same time acknowledge what you are capable of affecting, and let the rest go. If we try to shoulder the burden of the world, all we end up with is a broken back.
Contrary to what it may seem like, that was NOT a recipe for laziness. I am not now, nor was I then saying you shouldn’t do anything. Rather, I’m saying take responsibility for yourself, do what YOU are capable of, and don’t worry about the rest. That worry is a little death that eats you away at your foundation until you finally just crumble.
This philosophy continued to grow and solidify as I read more, and experienced more situations which proved the validity of my budding outlook. A particularly influential book for me was Dhalgren, by Samuel R. Delany. The book explores the concept of amorality (vs morality or immorality) in a backdrop of a semi-post-apocalyptic city, a place choked with smoke and an erratic, shifting geography. I first read it in eighth grade, and I’ve continued to read it once a year ever since. I’ve never been able to fully explain why I read it every year, merely that it generates a certain mood that I find appealing. Not through any specific action that any character takes, nor any event in the story, so much as just the general demeanor of the book: there is a sense of presence and self awareness and letting go that is ultimately appealing, and generally succeeds in crossing over into my every day life.
It is worth noting that I haven’t had a chance to reread Dhalgren in the past two years, or really much recreational entertainment at all. Not for lack of desire, mind you, but through lack of finding the time necessary to get through the 800 page book. Thinking about it, I’ve felt burdened by a weight of “responsibility” (real or perceived), even when I’m consciously making the choice to go play a game, or read a book, or watch a movie. I can’t relax. So is my not having made time for my annual tradition a cause, or an effect of this? Perhaps a bit more digging is in order.
High school left me frustrated by my peers and in a state of depression. I would talk passionately and intensely about a wide variety of topics, but never with any luck in finding like-minded individuals. It left me disillusioned until I started to do theater, where at least they were passionate about SOMETHING (namely, melodrama, but that is unfortunately part and parcel with high school drama programs). I continued to work steadily with the theater program through the rest of school, which did a lot in terms of keeping me sane. The actors’ antics and melodramatic politics kept me distinctly aware of just how much those things really didn’t matter in the long run. Thinking about it, though, I avoided supervisory roles whenever possible while there (and later). Not because I couldn’t have done it, but because I didn’t want the additional responsibility.
Thinking about it, that may well be it. In the past two or three years, I have taken on additional responsibilities, perhaps some that I wasn’t necessarily ready for, but felt I had to do. Somewhere in the back of my head, something is screaming that I’m on the right track, so let’s continue. If I’ve been taking on new responsibilities over the past few years, and it is over the past few years that I have been feeling more and more rushed and restricted and otherwise not myself or who I want to be.
So I suppose the question to ask myself is, what do I want to do about it? It isn’t like I can just ignore my responsibilities, nor is saying “Well, I guess this is just going to have to be my new outlook,” an acceptable answer. I think identifying that I need to learn to cope with responsibility is a good first step. Now I need to act on it. I need to start doing what I can and genuinely letting go of the rest. I need to start affirming to myself that my passions ARE in fact a worthwhile pursuit of their own accord, and that now is a perfect time to work on those passions. I need to start thinking about what I want out of life, and stop worrying about what others want from me or think of me. I need find a new sanctuary that I can find my own pace in. I need to LET GO.
But mostly, I think I need to go reread Dhalgren.