Finding My Way

Life beats on in Mons with hardly a second to reflect. The daily routine, though familiar and occasionally comforting, demands constant movement: I wake up to the early misty mornings, arrive at the bus stop at exactly the same time every day, see the barbed wire fences come into view atop the hill heading out of Mons, pass through security, and recite the daily catechism, "Bonjour. Merci. Bonne Journee." Another day has begun. Then there's coffee from a machine, a warm croissant, and a short walk from the cafeteria, past the bunker, to the office. Indeed, the routine is comforting because it creates its own customs, making life in a foreign place manageable and familiar. But the routine also robs me of the seemingly endless hours I once had to read and think and ponder and write.

There is an interesting world to be discovered at the workplace, no doubt. There are soldiers of varying ranks, a cadre of interns, and contractors from everywhere you can imagine. Stand in the copy room long enough and you'll meet everyone from janitors to generals, each with his (most likely not her) own pleasantries to exchange. Working in an international office is nice for all the reasons people usually say it is, and yet I miss the life of the mind that seems to be missing.

Writing this post right now is a luxury as there are groceries to be bought and papers to be organized and cleaning to be done. There is also sleep to be had. If there's anything I'm learning right now aside from managing people, assignments, and expectations, it's that I need to be patient with myself. Life beats on in Mons and I'm doing my best to balance everything while finding my way.


From Henry Miller:

"The art of living is based on rhythm — on give and take, ebb and flow, light and dark, life and death. By acceptance of all aspects of life, good and bad, right and wrong, yours and mine, the static, defensive life, which is what most people are cursed with, is converted into a dance, ‘the dance of life,’ metamorphosis. One can dance to sorrow or to joy; one can even dance abstractly. … But the point is that, by the mere act of dancing, the elements which compose it are transformed; the dance is an end in itself, just like life. The acceptance of the situation, any situation, brings about a flow, a rhythmic impulse towards self-expression. To relax is, of course, the first thing a dancer has to learn. It is also the first thing a patient has to learn when he confronts the analyst. It is the first thing any one has to learn in order to live. It is extremely difficult, because it means surrender, full surrender."

Townhouse Tribulations

This Wednesday I have a severe case of writer's block. I blame it on summer city stench, humidity, and preoccupation with my friends' weddings. These distractions, both welcome and unwelcome, make concentrating on something like foreign policy very difficult. I find myself on looking for summer party dresses instead of reading up on Clinton's grand strategy, and spend hours contemplating vegetarianism after reading articles like this one. Writer's block means I print lots of things to read -- as if collating and stapling is the same thing as being productive -- take frequent snack breaks, drink many glasses of wine, run my fingers crazily through my hair, watch Mad Men on repeat, rewrite over and over, and order Thai fried rice. I hope it ends soon.

Another case of distraction comes from the elephantine footsteps of my upstairs neighbor that came, unbeknownst to me, part and parcel with the idyllic charm of my 1920's townhouse apartment. The neighbor is about my age, medium build, Midwestern (or so he seems), and perfectly normal. He removes his shoes when he gets home and has carpet over 70% of his apartment floor (as stipulated in the lease). Aside from asking him not to walk in his apartment at all, there's not much I can do. I have, however, drafted a note that asks him politely to "please, walk more gently". I have a feeling it will find its way under his door very soon.

In an effort to clear my head, I took a train ride out to Queens and my old stomping grounds in the evening. Kew Gardens is home to a small independent cinema, a good friend from university, and some of the best pizza I've ever had in New York. I kept running into memories around every corner, and might have become unbearably nostalgic if not for the bizarre two hour film we decided to see. Most of the script is whispered to evoke drama and spirituality, and the whole film is shot as a choppy retrospective, giving the impression that the story is never getting underway. The strangest part was a nearly twenty minute segment in the middle of the film that is simultaneously the iTunes visualizer and a segment of National Geographic on earth, wind, and sky. As we watched the screen turn from pulsing, swooping, colorful graphics to a journey through the core of the earth, I leaned over to my friend and told her I'd have to be high to enjoy it. Clearly an account of creation, this New Yorker passage describes it more elegantly than it is portrayed in the film:

We see glimmers of unfathomable light, vast interstellar conflagrations, drifting throngs of stars, planets in their formless infancy, sun and moon occluded by dark storms, energizing jolts of lightning, gulping primordial pools, early plants, early creatures, slow-dancing jellyfish, hammerhead sharks, a dinosaur lounging on the shore, an embryo’s eye, and, last but not least, a child being born—to a white-clad mother who neither sweats nor shouts—in postwar suburban Texas. Now, you can call this entire passage overblown, or diversionary, but what it is not is incoherent or mad. It strikes me as a straightforward account of creation, Malick’s Genesis, ending in the Eden of Jack’s childhood; everything else in the film dramatizes the loss of that prelapsarian grace and the rare, Proustian instants at which it is remembered afresh.

If you see The Tree of Life, leave a comment. Maybe I cannot educate myself to his purposes, and that's why it looks like nonsense. (From the New Yorker article: “If we cannot educate ourselves to his purposes, then clearly his work will look like nonsense.” That is Malick, writing of Heidegger, and introducing his own translation of Heidegger’s “The Essence of Reasons,” in 1969. He refers to the philosopher’s “peculiar language,” and “The Tree of Life” is no less odd, yet its purposes are clear: it is a grief-powered movie, triggered by the revelation, near the start, that Jack’s brother R.L. died at the age of nineteen.)