Month: October 2015

Friday Freewrite

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What’s Friday Freewrite? Find out here.

He’d left his old life behind1. Old habits, old places, old faces. He’d moved on, gone to somewhere far away, never to return again.

But even though he’d moved on, ghosts from his past would still visit him, haunting, asking him why he’d given them up for something new.

He’d reasoned with them, told them that nothing lasts forever, that to stagnate is to die. They’d left him, sad and doleful, but would come from time to time, hoping he’d finally return to them.


Young people are always arrogant2. They don’t mean to be. They just don’t have enough life experience to know how to live any other way.


Everything is in motion. Even when you choose to stand still, you’re hurtling through space and time. You can accept this and be happy, or you can dig your heels in and be miserable. Either way, death comes to us all3.


Footnotes

1. My life has passed through many phases. I’ve found that who I was in the past is constantly dying so that my future self might find new life. It’s the constant tug of war between the two, the loss of the past and the uncertainty of the future, that fuels much of my writing.

2. No offense to the young 🙂 When I speak of youth, I speak only of personal experience.

3. I think about death a lot. It haunts me.

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What is Time?

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For the first few years of childhood, we exist in a bubble. Inside this bubble, the world is in stasis. We know our place in the universe, and consequently the universe doesn’t seem to be all that scary a place. Then something curious happens.

The world begins to change.

At first, it only seems to change in small ways. We notice the cycles in the sky. We begin to track the passing of the seasons. But the things that really matter, the people we love and the security we find in the bosom of the familiar, they remain fixed, and so we regard these discoveries with only a passing curiosity. Then something uncomfortable happens.

The world changes some more.

The warm inviting cocoon that we were born into begins to break down. We graduate from school. Get a job. The people we love move on. Important landmarks are torn down to make way for shopping malls and apartments. One by one, everything we loved is either rewritten or lost forever.

Before too long, we’re surrounded by a hostile alien world. We start to feel the ravages of age, creeping up on us like deadly vines, and we realize it’s only a matter of time before this cruel existence of ours comes to an unpredictable end. We gaze about, exiles in our own backyard, and we can’t help but wonder, “What is time?”

Time is currency.

Each of us has a fixed balance, deposited at the moment of conception, and everything we do is accompanied by a corresponding withdrawal. Like money, we can choose to spend it wisely, doing worthwhile activities that enrich ourselves and others, or we can fritter it away on wasted hours, sitting around on the couch or laying in bed because we have nothing better to do. We would do well to make the most of what we have, lest we spend our deathbed hours as beggars, scrounging in the gutter for chronological crumbs in our haste to make up for a lifetime of regret.

Time is a veil.

A cosmic curtain, time keeps the past, the present and the future neatly partitioned, allowing us to experience life in manageable bite-sized chunks. Usually this veil is opaque. But every so often, especially as we advance in age, it begins to stretch and pull like taffy, made thin and partially transparent so that in moments of intense reflection, we feel that if only we peer a bit closer, we might yet sight those spectres of the past we’d thought lost years ago.

Time is an ocean.

A vast expanse of cause and effect stretching all the way back to the Big Bang, we navigate its treacherous waters like sailors, attempting to stay afloat for as long as possible while we map the uncharted regions of the future.

Time is motion.

Like a river it flows, sweeping us away in its implacable current, making vagrants of us all. Those who stop and turn back to mourn the increasingly hazy past are dragged by their feet kicking and screaming, torn away from everything and everyone they ever loved.

Time is a fire.

It blazes across the universe, burning everything in its path, reducing the cosmos to ash. Not a one of us escapes its ageless and insatiable maw. It strips us to our souls, consuming the rest in a brilliant infernal flash. As Delmore Schwartz puts it in Calmly We Walk Through This April’s Day, “time is the fire in which we burn.”

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How Can I Rejoice In Failure?

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Oh, boy. You’ve done it now. You’ve failed. Absolutely spectacularly failed. You want to die.

How will you go on? You’re afraid. You might make another mistake. You might be misunderstood. People might even laugh at you. There’s no point. You should give up, cut your losses now while you still have some face left to save.

Sound familiar? Anyone who’s failed at something (in other words, all of us) has gone through a similar thought process. We imagine failure to be the worst possible outcome. We strive for excellence, and instead we nose dive on the opposite end of the spectrum. We ask ourselves how we could have been so bad. We’re embarrassed because others are watching. Sometimes, we conclude that it’s best to just move on, that we should forget we ever tried. Why bother, we think, if we’re just going to screw up again?

We think failure is a negative thing. If I were to tell you it’s actually the opposite, that you should be grateful for and even delight in your mistakes, you might understandably ask, “How can I rejoice in failure?”

Failure is your greatest teacher.

We humans have this peculiar belief that we should be good at something on our first attempt. It’s as if we expect to be infused with the whole of human knowledge and experience from birth. But the reality is that any time we try something new, we’re babies all over again, stumbling around with stubborn and incapable limbs.

You weren’t born knowing how to read. You had to struggle with the alphabet, had to painstakingly memorize each symbol along with the sound it represents. You then had to follow along in countless picture books, sounding out the syllables in simple words, stuttering as you stumbled over sentences that might as well have been written in a foreign language. Only through years of trial and error did you eventually achieve fluency.

As the old cliché goes, you have to learn to crawl before you can learn to walk. Each mistake you make is a rung on the ladder of success, another object lesson that will refine your process over time. Your mistakes are precisely what teach you to excel at what you do.

Failure encourages you to be better.

Often, you catch yourself in a mistake and look backwards. “Why do I keep failing?” you ask. “When am I ever going to get this right?” But the problem is not that you’ve made a mistake, but that you’ve used it to gaze in the wrong direction.

Failure should inspire you to look forward. It should not be seen as a roadblock, keeping you penned in to an inferior mode of existence, but as a stepping stone on the way toward something better. Failure should be a source of hope, a way for you to gauge your success over time.

The person who avoids mistakes stagnates. He never grows because he refuses to push forward. Mistakes indicate that you’ve entered uncharted territory, that like the world’s greatest explorers, you have an opportunity to navigate something that was hitherto unknown.

Failure makes you humble.

It’s easy to be arrogant when you’re good at what you do. You’re often tempted to look down your nose at others who haven’t progressed as far as you, to regard with disdain the works of your “inferiors.”

How humbling it is then when you’re forced to confront your own mistakes. They ground you. They remind you where you came from, that you’re human and that you’re no better than anybody else.

Failure makes it easier to relate to others.

The more you embrace your mistakes, the more you realize you’re like everybody else. And the more you realize you’re like everybody else, the easier it is to relate to everybody else. You begin to realize you’re only part of the whole, a single cell in the collective organism of humanity. The more you identify with others, the more you can operate in sync with them. This makes the world better, for how much more perfect is a body when all of its parts strive for the benefit of the whole?

Don’t fear failure. Revel in it!

Failure is a prize. It is our mentor and our encourager. It is the journey by which we can achieve everything we’ve ever dreamed of, limited only by how much time we’re given and how far we’re willing to travel.

Embrace failure. Revel in it. Make mistakes and make them often. Your future self will thank you.

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