I don’t really understand New Year’s, but I do understand that there’s something in the switching of the calendar year that gives people hope, and maybe that’s why I do this every year.
There’s a shading technique artists use called chiaroscuro. It’s a blending of light to dark that gives two dimensional objects a three dimensional appearance. The word “chiaroscuro” has been in my head lately, and I’ve been thinking about the way things blend into each other.
Sadness into joy. Fear into hope. Light into dark.
The longer I live, the more I understand that life, the world, our relationships—it’s all a blending. Of people and ideas and life and values and things. My goal has always been to understand everything in the entire universe, which is silly, I know, but sometimes I do understand everything in the entire universe, which is also silly. But I do.
I set a goal for myself every year. This past year it was to not be anything other than who I am, and I’ve been doing that, I think. Being ridiculously open with people, honest about how I see myself, acknowledging my faults. And what I’ve noticed is that (other than when I’m being too self-deprecating) people are receptive to it, appreciative even, and I’m finding that the ability to self-reflect isn’t the curse I sometimes think it is.
My goal this coming year is to let my words out. Even when I think I don’t have them and when I don’t like them, because that’s all I want to do. I want to share my ideas and my stories, because I value these things in other people. I want people to read my words and maybe feel something from them. Ultimately, I just want people to think. About anything, and if I can even remotely be a catalyst for that, well, that’s something.
My problem is also my salvation—it’s always words. I don’t have the right ones when I need them, and most people don’t understand them. I don’t play and toy with the English language the way Dr. Seuss and Lewis Carroll could do so masterfully. I’m not precise with my language the way academic philosophers are “supposed” to be. I fling it carelessly when I shouldn’t. I used bad words, the wrong words, cold words, but they’re all I have.
I don’t know how creativity works. I just know that I like creative people. I like clever people. I like witty people. I like people who know that at its heart, art is important but it’s also absolutely not important. Because it’s not languid turns of words and abstract expressions and obscure B-sides that make something art. Creative expression is creative expression and love is love and the more people that touch it, the better.
It’s why being at a concert or in a packed movie theater on opening night or a minor league baseball game that no one really cares about is so magical to me, even still. Because everyone is there just to be there and to maybe appreciate something in common without agenda.
I want to get my words out, because everything I want to do, that I think I can do, is tied up in them. There are all these things I could have done, and I haven’t. You’ve probably all heard me lament about wishing I had stuck with ballet, or art, or engineering, or (on rare occasion) law. I’ve given up on a lot of my dreams.
There’s a line in Third Star that resonates with me, where Benedict Cumberbatch’s character says, “Have we forgotten that moment when we realized we would never play the World Cup Final or be the first man on Mars and, all those daydreams become fantasies rather than possibilities…”
The truth is, I never actually do anything. Most of us don’t. We’re all sitting on good ideas and intentions that we never follow through on. But this year I actually want to try. I’ve always been defensive and self-deprecating and I got more rejections this past year, from jobs, conferences, publishers, etc., that I think maybe I can take on that fear now. And I don’t know if I’ll succeed in the way I want, it’s more likely than not that I won’t. But I have to try, because words matter to me. And fiction matters. And ideas matter. And I don’t know where I stand philosophically on the creation of the new, but I want it to exist as a possibility.
I’m not a religious person. At the beginning of Life of Pi, Pi tells the writer he’s talking to that his story will make the writer (a skeptic) believe in God. At the end (spoiler alert), he gives a second version of his story, and he asks the writer which story he liked better.
The writer says, “The one with the tiger.”
Pi replies, “And so with God.”
And that’s true, isn’t it? We do seem to like science and we like “facts” and we like statistics and we like empirical data and we like things to “make sense.”
But whimsy, fiction, exaggeration, irreverence, music, irony, magic, (even prayer and hope), these are the things that make life worth living. These are the things we believe in, that we feel, that we live. We don’t live statistics. We don’t live demonstrative truth. Knowing everything in the universe requires not knowing everything in the universe. That is, knowing in the sense of evidence driven, measurable data. Because God isn’t measurable. And neither is infinity. And neither is magic. And neither is love.
And it’s all the same.
And so I have to try.
Title taken from Lewis Carroll – “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”