This place could be beautiful

Shanghai Falling (Fuxing Lu Demolition) 2002, Greg Girard

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

— “Good Bones” by Maggie Smith in Waxwing via Hannah Rosefield

Photo: Shanghai Falling (Fuxing Lu Demolition) 2002, Greg Girard

No Hay Camino

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Caminante no hay Camino

Caminante, son tus huellas
el camino y nada más;
Caminante, no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar.
Al andar se hace el camino,
y al volver la vista atrás
se ve la senda que nunca
se ha de volver a pisar.
Caminante no hay camino
sino estelas en la mar.

Poem by Antonio Machado. Referenced in the novel Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi.

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You don’t have to explain your life

You don’t have to get a job that makes others feel comfortable about what they perceive as your success. You don’t have to explain what you plan to do with your life. You don’t have to justify your education by demonstrating its financial rewards. You don’t have to maintain an impeccable credit score. Anyone who expects you to do any of those things has no sense of history or economics or science or the arts.

You have to pay your own electric bill. You have to be kind. You have to give it all you got. You have to find people who love you truly and love them back with the same truth. But that’s all.

… I hope when people ask what you’re going to do with your English degree you’ll say: “Continue my bookish examination of the contradictions and complexities of human motivation and desire”; or maybe just: “Carry it with me, as I do everything that matters.”

–Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things

 

Cruel Optimism

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Cruel optimism exists when something you desire is actually an obstacle to your flourishing. People have remained attached to unachievable fantasies of the good life–with its promises of upward mobility, job security, political and social equality–despite evidence that liberal-capitalist societies can no longer be counted on to provide opportunities for individuals to make their lives ‘add up to something.'”

–Lauren Berlant, Cruel Optimism

Painting: Paul Klee

Skyboxification and Democracy

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“It’s no longer true that when it rains everyone gets wet. I call this skyboxification… Something similar has been happening in American life throughout American society throughout this last three decades. Against a background of rising inequality, putting a price on everything, commodifying every aspect of life, has the effect of driving people apart, leading the affluent and those of modest means to live increasingly separate lives… This isn’t good for democracy, it’s a corrosive effect, this relentless commodification and inequality, together are corrosive of the sense that we are all in this together. Democracy doesn’t require perfect equality. It does require that people from different social backgrounds, different walks of life, encounter one another in common spaces of everyday life. This is what teaches us to negotiate and abide our differences. This is how we come to care for the common good, to feel that we’re all in this together. So in this subtle but cumulative way, the relentless commodification of life, together with rising inequality, have undermined the social solidarity, the commonality, that democracy in the end requires. This is one of the dangers of the unquestioned embrace of market thinking and of market logic.”

–Michael Sandel via The Partially Examined Life #98

Photo by Andrew Thomas (via)

Language of Locality

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 “I’m not a national at all. How could I come from a nation? How can a human being come from a concept? … Histories are real, cultures are real, but countries were invented. … All experience is local. All identity is experience. I’m not a local. I’m multi-localMy experience is where I’m from. What if we asked, instead of ‘Where are you from?’–‘Where are you a local?‘ This would tell us so much more about who and how similar we are.”

— Taiye Selasi, “Don’t ask where I’m from, ask where I’m a local

To be clear, nation-states (countries) are just as “real” as cultures and histories. Culture, histories, and nations are all social constructs. All are “invented concepts” that are real in their effects and consequences. A nation may be newer, larger, or more abstract than a culture or a history, but fundamentally, nations and cultures are the same types of conceptual thing–all are social constructs based on shared cultural knowledge.

The crux of the matter, though, is this: given a wide range of social constructs at our disposal, which constructs more accurately reflect and describe our individual identities? Nationhood, as we all assume when we ask “Where are you from”? Or something like “locality”?

Amor fati: The anti-carpe diem

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My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it—all idealism is mendacity in the face of what is necessary—but love it.

—Friedrich Nietzsche, “Why I Am So Clever,” Ecce Homo (written 1888, published 1908)

Amor fati is all about living with no regrets, but not in the modern way. Carpe diem means making daring decisions, so as not to feel regret later on, whereas amor fati means (among other things) learning to love the choices you’ve already made, daring or not.

— Oliver Burkeman, “No Regrets? Why not?,” The Guardian (2015)

Love, Cynicism, and Cheese

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“Why do you use this word ‘cheese’? ‘You’re too cheesy?’ Do I have anything about cheese? When you say, oh, ‘he’s being too cheesy,’ when you manifest something that it is the most important thing that we have, we become very cynical. Probably this is is defensive. You know? … I’m going to tease you on this cheesy thing, because… I’m talking to you from Switzerland, and here cheese is something that’s considered one of the most important things, you know? …So I’m going to defend the cheese itself, not as a derogatory word, but something that it is positive.”

–Paulo Coelho, On Being