This Place Is Empty

The day was hazy as many before have been, and many beyond this I’m sure will be. I’m in a different place, and even here my life, this moment, feels the same; hazy.

The air is hot, no wind to cool the skin, not fresh enough to enjoy, nor to be active in, for its contents are as unnatural as the loneliness I find myself clutched by.

This place is empty. Not that others aren’t, just this one seems to fit the feeling. This day the same.

In the back seat of a taxi, driven by a man I only know a little of his language to communicate with, the conversation over before it had begun, we head North East towards something I want to see since I find myself close by.

I plan to spend the afternoon, most the day even, to explore this area, to witness its history first hand. I’m excited, sure, but I am also alone on this trip and I can’t seem to shake that awareness, much less the feeling I am attempting to describe.

Maybe it would be different if this had been my first extended time alone, but for reasons I am unaware of I have become quite familiar with this kind of loneliness. Again, I don’t know why. That’s just how it has worked out up to now.

Whether here or somewhere else I have traveled, somewhere else I have lived, I have often experienced deep feelings of isolation, deeper moments the same.

I have found I am able to go many places, be many places, live many places, alone, and yeah there’s some good in that, but there are moments when I battle with anxiety of being there by myself, with no one to help if needed, no one to experience it with.

These feelings have haunted the journey as well.

As irrational as this sounds, this can be felt deep within the explorations of a foreign country, or even down the street at a familiar coffee shop within my own hometown. It’s limits know no bounds. It’s creativity either.

It’s not that I am scared. It’s more that I am aware, overly aware maybe, of this feeling of empty, of alone. Aware to the point where it is sometimes hard to notice anything else. This isn’t always the case, but it still hurts at moments.

I’ve felt this in some of the worlds largest cities surrounded by a thriving populous.

I’ve felt this in the middle of a starry high-desert evening sitting alone reclined in the front seat of a rented truck.

I’ve felt this crosslegged on many coasts, staring out into the blue abyss of both ocean and sky.

I’ve felt this intwined within a shared embrace.

I’ve felt this almost everywhere.

Not all the time, but almost everywhere.

And I feel this now as I write about it, or else I wouldn’t be able to. This isn’t something you can conceive out of nothing. It’s describe very much so depends upon a well to pull from, no matter how empty it feels.

However, I hope none of you take my writing as a cry, but rather an attempt to add to our species collective desire and strive for a relatable human condition.

Notice, I didn’t say for an understanding of our human condition. I believe many people do not necessarily care for the answers to our questioning of why, nor do I believe they would benefit from them either.

Why us? Why here? Why now? Why all of this?

Forget that.

We fool ourselves with such romantic questioning at times, thinking that their answering will provide comfort. Well, we’d still be here even after their finding.

No, I believe many would benefit more from the understanding of our shared and relatable existence. Not why we are here, but rather a collective effort to help and to understand while we are here.

It doesn’t make sense to worry about things which we cannot control, things we cannot see. It makes much more sense to care for those that we can, those we are able to touch; each other, our world, ourselves.

This place is empty though, and at moments its able to make you feel the same. Again, as irrational as this sounds, I can be anywhere and this feeling of empty can overcome me, in many ways even.

Empty of mind, of conversation.

Empty of feeling, of sensation.

Sometimes of the very breath which by nature fills.

Sometimes I can’t feel it and it scares me.

I sometimes feel as though there is nothing there at all. Nothing but an empty container we find ourselves roaming about within the confines of its elaborate ruse.

I’ll stop there with the existentialism. That’s too easy. Too shallow. Too predictable. I don’t want this piece to run off the rails. I want it to lead somewhere. I want it to mean something.

I read a book recently.

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging‘ by Sebastian Junger.

It talks openly and bluntly about these feelings of empty, of lonely, of isolation. I’m glad I finally decided to pick up and to give it a read. It helped me understand these feelings deeper. It made me realize I’m at least not alone with them.

Read it if you’ve ever felt this way.

Read it even if you haven’t.

It might help you understand the struggles of another in this light.

It made me understand more of my own. It made me understand better those of other’s. I’ll read it again one day because I’m sure I’ll have to. I’m sure I’ll want to the same.

Anyways, there is a story shared amongst countless others within its pages that resonated with me at the time of my writing of this piece. It could have easily been another, but at that moment it was this one which really filled the gap. I won’t go into too much detail about it because I feel its words alone are enough. However, its setting is war, but its meaning translates to any degree of life you may be experiencing, at this time or at any other:

“I missed being that close to people, I missed being loved in that way,” she told me.

“In Bosnia—as it is now—we don’t trust each other anymore; we became really bad people. We didn’t learn the lesson of the war, which is how important it is to share everything you have with human beings close to you. The best way to explain it is that the war makes you an animal. We were animals. It’s insane—but that’s the basic human instinct, to help another human being who is sitting or standing or lying close to you.”

I asked Ahmetašević if people had ultimately been happier during the war. “We were the happiest,” Ahmetašević said. Then she added: “And we laughed more.”

And that’s what I am trying to get at. I’m not blaming my feelings of alone, of empty, of isolation on anyone other than myself, ourselves; your’s too. Collectively we all can do better. Collectively we all are designed to do better.

To help one another.

To talk to one another.

To listen to one another.

To acknowledge one another.

Simply, to be there for one another during our time within this labyrinth named life, because it’s really the only thing that makes any damn sense anyways. The only thing that really leads anywhere. The only thing that really means something.

What else are you going to do?

Sit and ponder the heavens, and waste every second we’re allotted, instead of embracing and engaging with the place, the moment, the people of which also we ourselves are embedded? Of which we ourselves come from? Of which we ourselves will one day soon leave?

Yeah, this place feels empty sometimes, and I do too, and I’m sure you reading this can relate, but that emptiness, it falls on myself, ourselves.

The day was hazy, but I chose to ignore that. I had felt empty, but I decided to fill that with life, which was all around. I met a stranger, who shortly thereafter became a friend, even if only for the day. We experienced the place together, and we both felt better for having done so.

Stuck In The Amber

Here we are, such as we are; and whether or not we are pleased with this moment, we have no other choice than in accepting it.

“All time is all time. It does not lend itself to warning or explanations. It simply is. Take it moment by moment, and you will find that we are all, as I’ve said before, bugs in amber.”


I’m currently on a train, traveling through mainland china, enroute to a new city, a new experience. At this very moment, I am leaning against a cushioned human shelf up against the window, among a chattering crowd in the dining cart section, a small elevated table in front of me where my keyboard now rests as I bug it with type. To my right, the kitchen dishing out a foreign menu, both by flavor and script; I’m hungry, so I’ll try it. “Nǐhǎo. Menu?!” “Ah, xièxie!” To my left, the crowd, filled with wide smiling faces, made up of families, friends, associates and strangers, I’m guessing, and a little girl barfing into a plastic bag, being helped by her un-phased, “been-here-before”, loving parents; no one minds, they are busy enjoying the scene, though a few pair of curious eyes are caught by the bald “Měiguórén” (American) lone and curious himself in the corner.


Here I am, such as I am.

The moment in time with which we are given, the one we currently find ourselves encompassed by, embedded with rather, this is where we are, and to the best of our understanding, this is what we are; people, stuck in this spec of existence, alive.


“The flat car sometimes crept, sometimes went extremely fast, often stopped — went up hill, downhill, around curves, along straightaways. Whatever poor Billy saw through the pipe, he had no choice but to say to himself, “That’s life.”

This is life. I’m surrounded by it. A part of it even. I am life, and so is everything and everyone else around me, far beyond me, beyond this place, even more. Yes, this is a moment, and though we are limited in sight, sometimes in mind, to only our little pipe hole view of it, this moment is massive. It encompasses everything and everyone you know, and for that matter, don’t.

You are only a part of it.


I return to my seat, only a short time later to again return to the dining cart, due mainly to restlessness, part also out of angst; I’ve never been one to rest easy during travel. I’m too curious. I’m too wound up. I have too much on the mind. I wonder where everyone is heading? And if they’re heading there, where ever there is, by choice or by have to? I’m heading now by choice, on return by have to. No one from the looks of it seems concerned, at least on the outside. What about the inside? There are a few dull expressions filling this cart now, whether by idleness, worry, contemplation, or something else of this sort, as we maintain impressive speed, hurling with grace and subtle rocking through farming lands along the route. The younger crowd is still playing. Some drawing, some eating or attempting to eat, others yanking the fake flowers out of their waterless wicker vases placed on each table and examining them, then quickly reaching to yank out another. There’s another little girl twirling about, table to table as she ignores the call of I’m guessing her father. She might need to throw up too later on due to the dizziness she’s playfully tumbling into. She’s having fun though. All the younger crowd is. I don’t know about the more-aged crowd anymore. Some are eating or attempting to eat, others are poking around on their phones or laptops, one man is putting pen to paper, maybe he’s drawing, and some are examining the fake flowers shoved into their waterless wicker vases, not yanking them out, though. They’d probably like to yank them out. They seem preoccupied this time, though. Aren’t we all? I wonder if by choice or by have to? Either way, we’re all heading there; somewhere.


“You sound to me as if you don’t believe in free will,” said Billy Pilgrim.

“If I hadn’t spent so much time studying Earthlings,” said the Tralfamadorian, “I wouldn’t have any idea what was meant by “free will.” I’ve visited thirty one inhabited planets in the universe, and I have studied reports on one hundred more. Only on Earth is there any talk of free will.”

Here we are, such as we are.

And, this thing we call time has no care or concern of our wants or our desires anyhow. It doesn’t work for or against us in any way, though we’ve played it up to do that, for us or against us, romanticizing our lives for needed substance, I’m guessing. Hell, time isn’t even a real thing, Einstein said it, I think. Anyway, it’s as if we needed something to fill the spaces between this and that, the spaces between until this turned into that, the spaces until this became that, or the ones found pointing us to do this first and then that next. Time we’ll call it, and we will tie to this thing now known as time all of our most important things this life can, not must, contain. But, this can we will turn into must, so now this life must contain them. And we will spend our time making sure those things happen. And to make those things happen, time will need to be spent. So we will make things worth more time then they really should take, increasing in mind the value of this time, because the big things now take and demand the most of it, and applying it in pursuit towards things which take more time to acquire, demands thus more time for you to give, and you willingly will, and more and more time for it to take, and it gladly will. Give the time, give them time, give the time, only to have it taken. And then, no time left. Where is there free will in this? I guess you can choose how you fill said time, but following the form of times design, do you choose, or is it chosen for you? I think I’ll order a coffee. “Nǐhǎo. Hēi kāfēi?” Yeah, I’m in the mood for one.


“Why me?

That is a very Earthling question to ask Mr. Pilgrim. Why you? Why us for that matter? Why anything? Because this moment simply is. Have you ever seen bugs trapped in amber?

Yes.

Well, here we are, Mr. Pilgrim, trapped in the amber of this moment. There is no why.”

Take me back to the amber. No. Let me realize it myself. Wait. I’m already here.

I’m ready now.


Back in the dining cart again I find myself. It’s full this time, again with families and friends, associates and strangers; people. The aroma of the foreign cuisine fills the space as my hunger again toys with the thought of succumbing to its warmth, to its welcome, as others have already decided to do so and have delved in, face first, enjoying the innate pleasantries of its simple yet meaningful serving; there are three plastic microwaveable options to choose from; one with chicken, one with the beef, and the other a vegetable option I believe, but damn do they hit the spot when hunger finds us. A baby awakens and begins to cry, but is quickly eased down by the loving caress of her mothers embrace; she’s now sleeping again. Another mother watches as her young boy devours the plastic container of food in front of him; she’s concerned and hopeful he finishes it all; you can tell by her look, she’s a mother. A dad of two catching some much needed sleep either before the trip begins or now after its end; you can tell by his look; he doesn’t have one; eyes closed, body limp, the arm he’s slumped upon without doubt asleep as well. Others are still poking away at their phones, maybe texting a loved one, maybe reading an article, perhaps playing some video game, or maybe doing whatever it is that makes them happy; it doesn’t matter, let them enjoy it if they do. Some are conversing amongst each other as we continue our trek through this massive stretch of farm land, still hurling by, still subtly rocking; their conversations remaining as foreign to me as the menu, but their presence shares a commonplace; their warmth, their welcome; it doesn’t matter what they are talking about, it’s human connection and thats a wonderful thing. Another little girl, standing between her fathers legs, head barely clearing the table, appearing to be eating a bowl of noodles for the first time, excessively and forcefully attempting to blow away the heat of the bite, only to find that her efforts are spent having not cooled the spoonful; she’s not concerned, shes hungry. She takes a swig of water from a bottle which dwarfs her little hands to wash away the sting of the scalding noodles, coughs because the sip must have gone down the wrong pipe, then hurries back to begin again with another round of excessively and forcefully attempting to blow away the heat of the next scoop; she’s enjoying those noodles and she finishes the whole bowl of them in this manner; still unconcerned, tongue slightly burnt, I’m guessing, but fed and happy to be so. Stewardesses carefully toeing around, hurried taking orders and taming the nerves of the crowd as they serve out not only plates and snacks and drink, but more effectively and appealing, attention; they are great at what they do and impressively patient; also, a sight for sore eyes I’m unashamed to admit, or admire. Farm land has turned into outskirts of towns, still rural, but in its own ways charming; I could spend sometime here; only a short while though. And I, the bald lone “Měiguórén”, again in the corner, looking around and typing away, taking it all in, and realizing the richness of this amber, of this moment I’m a part of; all of this, and much more my capacity of attention missed, in this one moment, the only one either one of us here can see, but rich enough none the less, no need for anything more.


We may be bugs, stuck in the amber, but this amber is enough. There is everything we could ever need, here, now, in the amber which embodies us.


“That’s one things Earthlings might learn to do, if they tried hard enough: Ignore the awful times, and concentrate on the good ones.”

“Um,” said Billy Pilgrim.

Here we are, such as we are; and whether or not we are pleased with this moment, we have no other choice than in accepting it, and I believe we can do so by realizing and embracing the richness of the amber we find ourselves stuck in. Free will is found in the appreciation and the realization of the moment we are embedded; in our acceptance and in our contribution to such. This moment is all we are given, its richness derived from our acknowledgement, our autonomy actualized in our choice to partake, in our chance to just be.

Though a bug stuck in amber cannot choose to move freely, no matter its struggle to, at least that amber is rich, and in its richness it is sweet, it is warm, and it is golden. It’s not nothing. It’s very much something, indifferent to our neediness to know why me, why us, why anything.

It is something.

Here we are, such as we are.

You are only a part of it, yes, but you are, most definitely, a part of it.

A little bug, stuck in the amber of now, and its enough.

“So it goes…

Oh, wow! We’re already in Xi’an. “Zàijiàn”. “Bàibài”


***

This post was inspired by my reading of Kurt Vonnegut’s classic ‘Slaughterhouse-Five‘. I recommend highly your reading of this book as well.

download.jpg

If The Fates Allow

I am away.

Far away now from most of the things in this life I have come to love, to accept, to miss.

And that I do; I miss them all, deeply.

But this I chose, and this choice was hard, as most the greats tend to be.

Something inside of me though has always yearned for adventure, and that is where I currently find myself, both in terms of mind and of body.

This too happens to be something that I have come to love, to accept, to miss as well.

How couldn’t I?

Now you see where the contrast lies.

Life does that.

It never matches up.

Never offers everything at once.

Never allows you to find your stride in one without tripping you up with the other.

On one hand I want stable, I want unity, I want consistence.

On the other I want movement, I want differences, I want unexpected.

Currently I am experiencing the latter, and though I am enjoying it fully, currently I am yearning for the former.

So what to do?

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” – Viktor Frankl

So then,

I will begin to both allow and to challenge myself to find the two within the same.

Within those and thats that my life has formed into my stables, I will find the movement, the differences, the unexpected.

Rather, I will allow them their opportunity to flourish within my life.

No longer block them.

No longer believe them not to be.

And,

Within those and thats where my life has provided my movement, I will find the stable, the unity, the consistence.

Rather, I will allow them their opportunity to grow within my life.

No longer stunt them.

No longer doubt their strength, their purpose.

And,

If the fates allow,

I will do this with those and thats that I have come to love, to accept, to miss.

This I hope they do allow.

And,

Since I am still here, this they do.

So,

One final effort before the sun sets.

If, of course, the fates do allow.

How To Spend Our Lives: In The Moments, Of Course.

[bctt tweet=”How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. – Annie Dillard” username=”cityreadsnyc”]

Are you there yet? Are you where you want to be? Or, better yet, are you where you believe you should be? Are you doing whatever it is you would like to do? With whom you intended to do it with? No? Well, perhaps then it is now that we change the way we view our experience here before our uncertain lot of time chooses to depart from us.

For years — and I would wager for many the same — I had been working towards a destination, an end point, a place that I felt I needed to reach before I could fully enjoy this life. I was wrong and I am here now to share with you why. If I had not stumbled upon the commencement quote of this piece, who knows how much longer I were to have fallen for the promise of tomorrow without ever having realized the offering of today; more appropriately, the offering of now. Please, before moving on any further into this read, do your best to comprehend and to truly welcome into this moment the power and the defiance of this quote’s meaning, in alliance with its subtle plea:

[bctt tweet=”How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” username=”cityreadsnyc”]

There is no place of reach, not one destination that will provide any of us with our ideal environment nor peace of mind to feel and to do and to create, to live rather, however it is we would like to. Along with this, there is no other time but now to realize that the actions we take at this very moment, the priorities that we set for our current engagement, the tasks that we deem as worthy of our attention at this junction of time and of opportunity, and the people that we surround ourselves with this instant, either by nearest allocation or of distant admiration, do in fact provide the context of our lives; the context contained in the raw sensations of now rather then of later. In complete accordance with this, waiting for certain things to come to fruition, or for certain events to occur, we must realize that we do not have choice, for they currently are not and they may never be, and that is OK. This is not to take away the importance of future, for the acts of planning, of envisioning and of progressing still serve as healthy exercises, as long as we remain indifferent to their presence and engaged in the moment we are given. Instead, what’s important to understand is exactly what this quote is telling us:

[bctt tweet=”How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” username=”cityreadsnyc”]

Our lives are now. They are not tomorrow and they are no longer yesterday. So, whatever it is we aspire to, however it is we would like to spend our days, wherever it is we would like for this occur, and whomever it is we would like for it to be surrounded by, realize your life is only now, and now is the only time it can happen. A string of consciously engaged moments make a life, not a longing for our tomorrows, or a holding onto of our yesterdays. But, of equal to or of greater importance to understand along with this is that you are not the only one this moment encapsulates. We all have a now and they may not always match; not in wants, not in needs, not in location, not in ideals, and not in other countless facets of our instant; accept this and carry on. This moment is more precious than you think, so this indifference should not take us away from ours. It should only provide us with greater opportunity towards becoming more attuned with ourselves in the time we are allotted, in which case we can learn to appreciate and to be more grateful for our contemporary. Therefore, right now, let us all remind ourselves:

[bctt tweet=”How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” username=”cityreadsnyc”]

Live accordingly.

**Updated 8/1/2017**

At this very moment, while going back and reading underlined content from my most recent completed read, ‘The Stress of Life’ by Hans Selye, M.D., I came across a vigorously highlighted section which further supports the needed and demanded attention from us all for this moment, the one right now, the one you are choosing to use to read this, and the subsequent moments we may be granted; enjoy:

So many people work hard and intelligently for some immediate objective which promises leisure to enjoy life tomorrow; but tomorrow never becomes today. There is always another objective which promises even more leisure in exchange for just a little more work. Hence, very few people in the usual walks of life retain the ability to really enjoy themselves: that wonderful gift which they all possessed as children. But it hurts to be conscious of this defect, so adults dope themselves with more work (or other things) to divert attention from their loss. Some people nowadays even speak of “workaholism” for the behavior of those who work merely as a means of escape from a life which became stale.

The inspired painter, poet, composer, astronomer, or biologist never grows up in this respect; he does not tend to get the feeling of aimlessly drifting, no matter how poor or old he may be. He retains the childlike ability to enjoy the impractical by-products of his activity. Pleasures are always impractical, they can lead us to no reward. They are the reward. It is common place to say that money is no ultimate aim, but few people seem to live as though they understood this. The labors of the artist who succeeds in expressing some hidden aspect of his soul in painting, or of the physician who learns how a hitherto inexplicable disease develops, may have practical advantages for him — benefits which can be expressed in dollars — but this is not the kind of reward that can make his life a real success. The great financier must also seek his final compensation elsewhere. To find it he must stop worrying about the success of his enterprises, at least long enough to think of his own success. He must first find a way of life which can assure him the equanimity necessary for enjoyment, and then he must learn to distinguish between what can give him pleasure and what are only means to buy pleasure.

The most acquisitive person is so busy reinvesting that he never learns how to cash in. “Realistic people” who pursue “practical aims” are rarely as realistic and practical, in the long run of life, as the dreamers who pursue only their dreams.

Again, live accordingly.

 



For other perspectives on our moment, pair this reading with What is a Prospector? , Janis Joplin on the Urgency for Love, and Neil Young on one’s Fervent, Unyielding Search for the Fabled ‘Heart of Gold’.