Apr. 28, 2020
The trees here are much taller than I am, probably by a factor of five or six. In New York, the buildings are taller still, and they surround you, much like a New Hampshire forest.
But buildings are all built by people. There's a certain reason for their existence, a clear purpose. Someone has lived there. Someone has worked there.
All words are a corruption of pure thought, and no words will break the circumstances we are in, but at the same time we must try. Much as a spoken word cannot substitute for the meaning of an eternal ideal, so too is New York unfulfilling. There is no essential New York experience; there is only a multitude. My story is but a small part.
New York demands that you compare yourself to other people; in fact, that's just about all you can do there. It gets exhausting. When I was a freshman, newly exposed to philosophy through Liberal Studies courses, I was drawn to the Stoics—Aurelius, Seneca, Epictetus.
Yet in eagerness to place blame for my discontent, I boiled down their arguments into a simple, trite phrase: "Comparison is the thief of joy." I regarded myself as unique and alone, and I took an aggressive inward focus. I aspired to be nothing in particular, because to name an aspiration was to compare myself to something external, something that couldn't exist as me.
Over time I became more comfortable comparing myself to others. There are certain circumstances when it's quite helpful. For one, it can helpful to surround oneself with people who are really good at things—the kinds of people who are not only jaw-droppingly competent but also have truly admirable ways of asking questions, generating consensus, and making connections across disciplines. These kinds of people make me feel like an idiot, but in a good way. Where I once felt jealousy, I found people to emulate. New York is a harsh teacher, but she makes you learn.
Now I'd give anything to be around people again, whether I admire them or despise them. I miss coffee chats and running into friends on the way to class. I miss the excited, jittery feeling of waiting outside a club on a busy night.
You probably have your own New York-isms that you look back on with bittersweet nostalgia. But we are individuals. We can't cure COVID in a day and we can't turn back the clock.
If you can, surround yourself with nature. There is so much to be learned by observing the accomplishments of a force we just barely understand. Religion gives many names to this nameless force; science measures it and classifies it to a relentless degree. Whatever you call it, there is something profound in its resilience. On the scale of decades, trees burst from the ground as easily as mushrooms do overnight.
In these woods, the trees are only a hundred years old or so; their ancestors were chopped down to clear the area for farmland. There must have been a particular human reason for the farmers in this region to set aside their plows and let the woods run their course.
There are probably a dozen books on the subject. But there is no particular reason for this tree, on this corner of Old Long Island Road, Moultonborough, New Hampshire, to exist. Yet it does, and that is beautiful.
In other news, I just launched Tunestack, a social network for sharing music reviews. I’m personally donating $5 to the NYC COVID Relief Fund for each new user that signs up & downloads the app.