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January 17th, 2024

Oh January, how I hate January. Something bad always happens to me in January. Moving to DC, homelessness -- the whole lot. I go back to real life on the 18th, which leaves about 13 days for something to go horribly, horribly wrong. Today’s the anniversary of when things started to get really fucked up for me last year. I don’t want to be affected by it so much, but memories like those raise a level of superstition. I think this is what fear feels like.

This winter break, I went to Hong Kong to visit my parents for a good bit. After that, my family decided to take an extended layover to go skiing in Japan. We’re staying at a lodge in Nagano that we used to go to when Claire and I were kids. My whole family skis except for me. I had a bit of a traumatic experience that led to a dislocated arm, so I've elected to express myself on the slopes via snowboard ever since. Aside from the aforementioned, my reasoning included the following: it looks cool.

I had one lesson when I was about 8 or 9 years old where I learned how to do a heel turn (left for normal-foots). We didn’t get to the toe turn. For the next 8 years, I didn’t get the toe turn and decided to, instead, just flip the board around whenever I wanted to turn right. This looked stupid, but the alternative (that was, leaning forward) presented the possibility of falling. Falling hurts. That’s scary.

It’s strange how this activity has been essentially dominated by fear-controlled decision-making -- an extreme that has been forcing me to consider its domination in all aspects of my life. Hell, I’ve only recently considered that I have the ability to be frightened. And it's January again. Oh, January.

Hong Kong has been interesting to return to. Of course, the city has changed some, but I’m more so referring to this selfish desire to rediscover some of my lost youth. I think I grew up too quickly. Somewhere in the depths of my mind, there’s this 17-year-old version of myself that I can’t find anymore. Not for lack of trying. I go to where he used to go. Talk about what he used to talk about. But I’m still my 20-year-old self. I’m scared the kid in me is gone.

Partially out of an effort to continue my search, I hung out with a few ex-close friends now resigned to be friends-as-close-as-you-can-get-8,000-miles-away. Met up with a few ex-lovers, too. I’m still quite unsure about the whole theory that you can be friends with your exes; seems like something I need proven first-hand. Still giving it a shot, having those semi-awkward lunches where you feel like you should say something that you don’t want to. I have this idea that my nostalgia always makes these old flames burn brighter in memory -- I have to make sure I keep in mind the reasons for the break-ups. What’s weird is when the nostalgia doesn’t mask them enough -- that they were actually just as fantastic and wonderful as you remember.

Regarding such meetings, I often think of Sylvia Plath’s famous Fig Tree analogy. Where, unable to know which fig I’d be satisfied with, end up watching them all rot away. I saw firsthand a few figs on the ground, only just too rotten for me to eat. They seemed like figs I would’ve enjoyed.

I think the greatest consequence of my upbringing has been my difficulty in connecting with people on a deeper level. It’s not that I think I’m unable to, it’s just that circumstance hasn’t allowed me the practice. It’s easier to keep others at arm's length. Lie about little things like my nonexistent color blindness to ensure that if they don’t like me, it’s not the real me. It’s colorblind Will who has a daughter in Arizona. Not the 20-year-old boy who still doesn’t know how to pose for a photograph.

So, when I reconsider my meetings with my exes, there’s this underlying tragedy involved that, even though they gave me a big part of them, I neglected to show them the full me. I was just too scared and, in my fear, I gave up on the potential for real love. That being said, I’m not sure if I can count any of these relationships as real, despite their officiality. And I’m worried this pattern will continue in my current romances. Am I more scared that I’ll be rejected or that I’ll never be loved? A bit deep, but it's something I don't know the answer to.

In an effort to escape the constant void nostalgia leaves me in, I’ve been doing a lot of reading. My recent mornings have been accompanied by a somewhat boring read of C.S. Lewis’s The Problem of Pain. There’s something about those highly educated British authors. Yeah, I get their jokes. Yeah, they have a lexicon of a studious SAT test subject. But reading that shit just makes me wanna fall asleep.

For nearly all of my conscious life (that is, starting at age 11), I’ve considered myself an atheist. At first, it was due to a more callous desire to prove that I was better and smarter than everyone at my private Catholic elementary school but, when private Catholic high school and acknowledgment of death rolled around, it became the starting point of the world’s most demotivating application of the Socratic method (i.e. why anything?). I would spend my after-school hours arguing with my religion teachers in an attempt to somehow convince the poor souls to ditch Jesus in favor of my cross-eyed, Gauloises-smoking, pseudo-idols (which, in retrospect, is somewhat of its own Sisyphean task -- especially in the world of Catholicism).

All of this, of course, was a more extreme version of the earlier motivation. Instead of being motivated by pure egoism, there was the underlying desire for comfort in the knowledge of how much more righteous and better I was than everyone else. That way I could prove that I was both “too mature” to have any friends my age and, at age sixteen, was the most qualified within my pool of non-nomadic, upper-class Northern Virginians to figure out the mysteries of the universe via regurgitating Camus. That I could get any less scared. And, having exhausted my absurdist intake (pending the results of the next world war) and having four direct close calls with death last year, I can’t say that the mysteries of the universe are really all that discoverable. Or that things really get less scary. Queue drugs.

But, since I’ve been to college, I’ve had the mature realization that crack cocaine is actually pretty bad for me. Thus, my recent desires to appreciate Christianity in both philosophy and culture have been what I consider a positive and empathetic development. I’m still absent in my belief (despite my best efforts), but, man, those Christians can be a happy bunch when they’re not torturing gay people. Maybe it’s born out of a sort’ve Frankl-esque desire for meaning. Christianity has probably been the most consistent culture that surrounded my youth. I get a special sort of comfort in Church music, in Vivaldi. A special sort of wisdom from the Gospels. Even if Jesus wasn’t a divine deity, he was one smart cookie.

The Problem of Pain is C.S. Lewis’s attempt to explain how evil can exist in a world with a good God. Of course, explaining and debating such a contradiction is only possible in a world where God is real, so he spends the introduction attempting to prove that he must be. To him, this is a difficult thing to accept, because the Christian ideas of God don’t necessarily fit with how we typically perceive the world. In other words, how can we believe in a good God if love fades, children die, and homes are lost? His key proof was brought about by a fascination with how, despite death and misery being present for all of human history, the Jews (arguably receiving a good brunt of the Universe’s cold force) were able to assert that there was a God that was fundamentally good and just. To Lewis, that type of reasoning doesn’t make sense. To me it does.

I think of Kafka who, after a lifetime of beration reception from his father and basically the whole world around him, came to the conclusion that he was good-for-nothing and that the manuscripts for some of his most famous novels should be burned. If Max Brod, a fellow human, hadn’t seen the good in him, it would’ve all gone to waste. I think of myself who, after a few decades of repeated failure, came to some conclusion that it was me, not anyone else, that was the problem. Of course, my reality is a simple combination of the two. Leonard Cohen: “It’s half my fault and half the atmosphere.”

Upon that realization -- my personal dispelling of Lewis’s proof of God -- I became rather sad. There’s a part of me that wants to believe. That sees happiness and goodness in believers. But that’s not me, really. No matter how hard I try to figure a way around it, that inevitable Kierkegaardian Leap of Faith is just too big for me. I want it to just be my ego not allowing myself to be wrong. But I don’t think it’s that. Something else, maybe.

More from Kierkegaard is the alternative: “the dizziness of freedom.” Without God, without a clear answer, there’s no innate right or wrong -- no reason to do anything, really. Well, besides that feeling you get when you’ve been lying in your room for too long. When you see the beers piling up in the apartment. When you realize you need to face the future to fill the void left by the unsatisfying past. Nostalgia wears thin. You start to feel more of the goneness of what is gone than the whatness. So you need to get out and start living more. But it’s January. God, I hate January.

I’m currently sitting in the bar of the lodge. It’s our last day here before I go back to the real life of New York. The ski lifts closed at 4 pm, so most people are winding down and warming up after a successful day out. This time around, mostly motivated by my being twenty, I took another snowboarding lesson to learn that dreaded toe turn. I got the hang of it pretty quickly, but my problem -- why I kept falling -- was that I was too scared of falling. The thing about snowboarding (especially with powdered Japanese snow) is that you have more control the faster you go. You lean forward when the board is pointed forward (more speed), you lean back only when you turn.

My lesson instructor told me that my upper body was so tense that I had my arms perched up like Godzilla. That I was thinking too hard. “Let your body take the lead,” she told me.

I started off today's slopes falling all over the place and working up so much of a sweat (in my repeated getting-up) that my helmet started steaming. I went in for lunch and was about ready to give up snowboarding for the season. Still went out anyway, mostly out of an obligation I have to not miss out on any opportunity. I elected to go down just one slope -- a black diamond full of powdered snow -- over and over again until I didn’t fall. I sucked -- no kidding tumbling down the side of the mountain. But I knew what I was doing wrong. Kept thinking. Kept worrying. Kept stopping. I started to realize that falling wasn’t so bad. That it was getting easier for me to get back up. And keep going. Became something I stopped worrying too much about.

I let my body take the lead. Simply thought about the wind in my face, the powdered snow erupting from underneath my board. The orange sky over the mountaintops, the sound of my breaths. God, I must’ve gone fast. The last few runs were essentially back-to-back. And I didn’t fall.

That fear -- of what’s gonna happen this January -- it still has reason for being. But I guess the bad stuff is gonna happen to me whether I worry about it or not. So what am I doing being scared? I always get back up, even when the snow seems too heavy. When death seems too close. If I keep thinking through a seemingly inevitable future despair, I’ll just fall on my own. Gotta let my body take the lead on this one. Falling isn’t so bad.

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1 Comment

Feb 28

For what it's worth, "friends-as-close-as-you-can-get-8,000-miles-away" is probably better than being someone who you actively hate seeing. Anyways I'm pretty sure Iowa is closer to New York than Hong Kong is. Let's get wings again soon.

-Zach R

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