“Love at first sight? I absolutely believe in it! You’ve got to keep the faith. Who doesn’t like the idea that you could see someone tomorrow and she could be the love of your life? It’s very romantic.”—Leonardo DiCaprio
“A spring bear?” Midori looked up again. “What’s that all about? A spring bear.”
“You’re walking through a field all by yourself one day in spring, and this sweet little bear cub with velvet fur and shiny little eyes comes walking along. And he says to you, “Hi, there, little lady. Want to tumble with me?’ So you and the bear cub spend the whole day in each other’s arms, tumbling down this clover-covered hill. Nice, huh?”
I wish that when I was younger I could have met my current self. We would have sat down at a coffee shop so that I could explain life to young me in terms that only we would understand. It would have saved me a lot of hardship.
You can listen to all the sage wisdom you want, but things only make sense when you can explain them to yourself in your own words. For instance, I’ve been told for three years that Breaking Bad is the best show on television, but only after I watched it was I able to tell myself exactly why everyone was right. Other truths I know now that I can explain them: that I’m not missing any crucial information and that poker really isn’t all that fun; that heartbreaks do fade but they take about a year longer than you expect and by the time they do you really don’t care about it enough to notice; and above all else, life is simpler than you think.
I used to think that life was an intricate series of levers and pulleys, buttons and switches, Mexican standoffs and hostage negotiations. As I get older I realize that life is more Netherlands minimalist than Jackson Pollock. The problems don’t get fewer, and in fact they grow in number, but the way I index them in the database is different. More problems get filed under fewer category headers.
Things are getting simpler, and it’s making life better. Here’s the cheat sheet:
People want to be liked. We all crave attention and affection and we all reject shame. When we get embarrassed we send a thug version of ourselves to the forefront to do our fighting for us. We’re at the top of the food chain just under fear. We don’t want to be in a relationship to hear the words “I love you,” we want to be in a relationship to say the words “I love you.” We want to feel needed, and exceptional and we hate feeling insignificant. We want to ace a hearing test. We are binary creatures; if we’re the plaintiff, we want to win every dollar. If we’re the defendant, we want guard every penny. We want to make more money than last year. We don’t want to get cancer or die in our cars and we want the same for our loved ones. We go out on weekends to try and have sex while trying not to get punched in the face. We drink so we can be ourselves and not mind it so much. We’re desperate to be understood. We want to know someone else has felt it, too. We hate being judged unfairly. We want to make the person we heard wasn’t all that into us change their minds and admit they had us wrong. We want sunny skies with a chance of killer tornadoes, just to keep music sounding good. We take hours upon hours to admit to self consciousness. We don’t know exactly how to pleasure each other. We just want love. In any and every form.
One of the more embarrassing and self-indulgent challenges of our time is the task of relearning how to concentrate. The past decade has seen an unparalleled assault on our capacity to fix our minds steadily on anything. To sit still and think, without succumbing to an anxious reach for a machine, has become almost impossible.
The obsession with current events is relentless. We are made to feel that at any point, somewhere on the globe, something may occur to sweep away old certainties—something that, if we failed to learn about it instantaneously, could leave us wholly unable to comprehend ourselves or our fellows. We are continuously challenged to discover new works of culture—and, in the process, we don’t allow any one of them to assume a weight in our minds. We leave a movie theater vowing to reconsider our lives in the light of a film’s values. Yet by the following evening, our experience is well on the way to dissolution, like so much of what once impressed us: the ruins of Ephesus, the view from Mount Sinai, the feelings after finishing Tolstoy’s Death of Ivan Ilyich.
A student pursuing a degree in the humanities can expect to run through 1,000 books before graduation day. A wealthy family in England in 1250 might have owned three books: a Bible, a collection of prayers, and a life of the saints—this modestly sized library nevertheless costing as much as a cottage. The painstaking craftsmanship of a pre-Gutenberg Bible was evidence of a society that could not afford to make room for an unlimited range of works but also welcomed restriction as the basis for proper engagement with a set of ideas.
The need to diet, which we know so well in relation to food, and which runs so contrary to our natural impulses, should be brought to bear on what we now have to relearn in relation to knowledge, people, and ideas. Our minds, no less than our bodies, require periods of fasting. — Alain de Botton