Living

 

On Living

 
 

A small part of me still believes that to be the person in the room with the most feelings is to be the best person. I know it’s not wise or fashionable to say so, but it is one way of having maximum life. —Susie Boyt [#]

 

There is almost nothing outside of you that will help in any kind of lasting way, unless you're waiting for an organ. You can't buy, achieve or date serenity and peace of mind. This is the most horrible truth, and I so resent it. But it's an inside job, and we can't arrange peace or lasting improvement for the people we love most in the world. They have to find their own ways, their own answers. [...] And if it's someone else's problem, you probably don't have the answer, anyway. Our help is usually not very helpful. Our help is often toxic. And help is the sunny side of control. Stop helping so much. Don't get your help and goodness all over everybody. —Anne Lamott [#]

 

It depends what you’re trying to do with your life. I could have a stronger portfolio by showing one thing, but I didn’t want to set myself up for that so I intentionally figured out a way to have flexibility. If the goal is just success, then maybe it’s consistency. If the goal is an interesting life, it’s flexibility. —Alec Soth [#]

 

BILLY KNAPP: Uncertainty… that is appropriate for matters of this world. Only regarding the next are we vouchsafed certainty. I believe, certainty regarding that which we can see and touch, it is seldom justified, if ever. Down the ages, from our remote past, what certainties survive? And yet we hurry to fashion new ones. Wanting their comfort.
ALICE LONGABAUGH: Straight is the gate…
BILLY KNAPP: And narrow the way.
The Coen Brothers’ The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

 

When we’re aspiring, inarticulateness isn’t a sign of unreasonableness or incapacity. In fact, the opposite may be true. [...] If we couldn’t aspire to changes that we struggle to describe, we’d be trapped within the ideas that we already have. Our inability to explain our reasons is a measure of how far we wish to travel. It’s only after an aspirant has reached her destination, Callard writes, that “she will say, ‘This was why.’ ” —Joshua Rothman [#]

 

It is important to clarify here that the ideal self is not a counterpoint to the real self in the sense of being inauthentic. Unlike the seeming self, which springs from our impulse for self-display and which serves as a kind of deliberate mask, the ideal self arises from our authentic values and ideals. Although it represents an aspirational personhood, who we wish to be is invariably part of who we are—even if we aren’t always able to enact those ideals. In this sense, the gap between the ideal self and the real self is not one of insincerity but of human fallibility. The friend is one who embraces both and has generous patience for the rift between the two. A true friend holds us lovingly accountable to our own ideals, but is also able to forgive, over and over, the ways in which we fall short of them and can assure us that we are more than our stumbles, that we are shaped by them but not defined by them, that we will survive them with our personhood and the friendship intact. —Maria Popova [#]

 

I liked to imagine the objection as a Borgesian fabulation: consider a person standing before the Book of Ages, the chronicle that records every event, past and future. Even though the text has been photoreduced from the full-sized edition, the volume is enormous. With magnifier in hand, she flips through the tissue-thin leaves until she locates the story of her life. She finds the passage that describes her flipping through the Book of Ages, and she skips to the next column, where it details what she'll be doing later in the day: acting on information she's read in the Book, she'll bet $100 on the racehorse Devil May Care and win twenty times that much. The thought of doing just that had crossed her mind, but being a contrary sort, she now resolves to refrain from betting on the ponies altogether.
There's the rub. The Book of Ages cannot be wrong; this scenario is based on the premise that a person is given knowledge of the actual future, not of some possible future. If this were Greek myth, circumstances would conspire to make her enact her fate despite her best efforts, but prophecies in myth are notoriously vague; the Book of Ages is quite specific, and there's no way she can be forced to bet on a racehorse in the manner specified. The result is a contradiction: the Book of Ages must be right, by definition; yet no matter what the Book says she'll do, she can choose to do otherwise. How can these two facts be reconciled? —Ted Chiang, “Story of Your Life” (adapted into Arrival)