Saturday, August 18, 2007

a silent wish spoken

The last time I was home I went to the inauguration of the Hope and Cope Center, a home designed by my father converted into a multi-purpose complex to help those with cancer lead full lives while dealing with their reality. At the end of the ceremony we were given a small triangular box. Within, there was a monarch butterfly, waiting to fly. A native american legend states that if you would like a wish to come true, all you have to do is whisper to a butterfly and let it fly. Since the winged messenger is silent, the secret can only be revealed to Him. Releasing the butterfly will allow the wish to rise to the heavens where it will be fulfilled.

It was such a special moment to open the little box and find a Monarch butterfly peacefully enclosed. Once opened, the red-and-orange beauties let their wings open and close, while listening to the wishes, before taking flight.

I was reminded of this moment this week; Monarch butterflies have been floating around Cambridge. I thought maybe my butterfly had returned to visit. Although I don't remember what I wished for, it felt as if the message had been delivered. These little harbingers of hope floating around, flapping their radiant wings in a silent and delicate language of flight and communication.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Where have you gone my reckless and irresponsible youth?

Did I forget to have it? Sometimes I feel like a 30-year-old waiting to happen. Others keep refraining how amazed they are that a 21-year-old is so self-reflective and so serious about schoolwork and life. I like to think that I am living a mindful and fulfilled life even at the age of 21. There is no reason that my life at this moment should be invalidated because I am just waiting to grow up. I am living.

That said, I maybe take things a little too seriously and should let loose more often. For sure. Taking more risks and having a little more fun couldn't hurt anyone as long as I am just mindful of it. The two can coexist for sure. By no means do I want to get drunk to the point where I don't remember anything; that has no appeal to me. But why not be the life of the party? While I am by no means a 9-to-5 drone, I could loosen up a little.

Now where did I put my dancing shoes?

Monday, August 13, 2007

elegy to a fallen season

Last week, while walking to work in my usual morning ritual, the air hung crisply, a chill running through it. Just as inexplicably as the summer's heat had set in, the forebear of autumn's sweater-necessary weather had invaded early August. With this sensation that a new season whispered its inevitable arrival, I have started thinking about endings.

Within a week and a half, Let's Go Italy, the book over which I have sacrificed my eyesight and into which I have poured a lot of memories and experience, will be finished and out of my hands until its November publication. Even though I have done the job before, this summer has been a new experience in teamwork, compromise, leadership, and balance. With a whole new team of editors and two researchers to take care of, I found myself readjusting to a job I thought I knew well; the pace of the job depends on those people working together and the success of adequate research on the careful attention shown for those on the road. It's amazing that Let's Go operates the way it does, with a near 100% turnover every year, however it continues to be a dynamic and exciting student-run organization and it continues to stick around. At the end of it all, I greet the looming final deadline with welcome arms, knowing that I've suffered at some points and thrived at others, clenching my teeth while staring at a computer screen and laughing at the anecdotes sent back from the road.

The hot summer months that took me away from dorm life and the frenetic Harvard pace brought me into a restful apartment space full of time for reflection. Seeing the evocative Edward Hopper show yesterday, its main themes resonated with me deeply. Solitary individuals dominate his urban canvases, whether they be alone or in company. Similarly, life in the 'real world' (away from the artificial bubble of college) can be exacting and isolating. Reaching out to close friends takes energy and time, making you vulnerable to others but, in so doing, open to a strong connection; in the end, your own strength of spirit carries you through. With the 'real world' looming less than a year away beyond graduation, plans for the future swirl along with ideal hopes. My friends remain dispersed a bit all over the place; being a quiet guy who loves sitting, absorbing conversations, and remaining slightly aloof, the friends I make tend to be a few special individuals—leaving me with strong friendships lived in a few unpredictable moments of connection and giving me a strength and independence of spirit. ... Hopper's poignant canvases, although somewhat heart-weighing in their anonymity and disconnect, for me reflected the emotional fabric of Internet-cellphone-21st century life.

The chill in the air has called me out of quiet reflection and brought me back to my senses, out from rabidly reading Harry Potter to tackling the thesis reading I said I would do simultaneously with GRE studies over the summer. The courses of instruction for the final year were posted online and once again I find myself disappointed with classes I hoped to take that I've discovered won't be offered until the fall of 2008: a ritual I've gone through every semester. And with that return to ritual, return to school, summer's end means a new beginning (a lesson I often forget, too enraptured in the finality of finish).

But as ambiguous as everything else in life, the transition has no set point and, before I arrive in new beginning, move in and start taking notes, I will need to put finishing touches on a travel guide, pack up an apartment, head home to prepare for a new year, celebrate my sister's wedding and escape for a week of research to Italy.

Too often I forget what a beautiful, mindful, and inspired life I lead.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

the solitariness of being

Today, I went to see the mega-blowout artshow showing fifty works by Edward Hopper. The show was sold out for all the half-hour entrance timeslots for the entire day so it's a good thing that I got my ticket online. Beyond my expectations, the collection of works was an emotional experience.

Working at a time where all brands of realism were bubbling to the surface, Hopper set himself apart. While he shares the desire to portray reality with the artists of the Ashcan school, he throws away the low-class grit to display something else entirely.

Aside from his completely humanless scenes by the sea, Hopper's depiction of urban life reflects the very anonymity of modern life. Buildings dominate a scene with a lone undecipherable woman sitting on a window sill, perhaps thinking and reflecting. Standing in front of Hopper's scene of a cafe with all its inhabitants either with their backs turned to the viewer or with their faces hidden, you can't help but feel that isolation. In the city, life is framed by structures, it doesn't exist freely. In their quietness, Hopper's scenes weigh down the heart. We've all felt it: knowing that we are the only ones living our entire lives.

While most of his canvases only display a lone figure, a few depict a few people in the same scene. A caption described it perfectly: the solitariness of the individual even when in the company of others. The iconic Nighthawks and Office at Night show at least two people but break any connection that brings them together. Their relationships seem like they are on two levels, ambiguous, unspoken, unheard. One of the last canvases showed a couple at the beach both staring out into space, together but somehow both alone. It seemed that Hopper struggled to bring this idea to the surface of his canvases, expressing a jarring subject in a simple way. Leaving the exhibit, seeing the final image of an empty room filled with the light of the setting sun, you can't help but feel heavy-hearted. But that is the mark of great art, that which can communicate a universal idea and capture a moment in times without words, just brushstrokes.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

A Yoga Life

Yesterday I had a bad day, the type of day that flips in your stomach and leaves your heart pounding, not fast, but hard and deliberately. It is one of the worst feelings in the world.

I woke up today wanting to cleanse my body of these negative emotions, so I went to yoga. I breathed deep and forcefully, it was not a peaceful routine. Regardless of the force with which I was breathing I was determined to pledge complete loyalty to the poses, having faith that my own strength would pull me through. "Just focus on breathing, inhaling and exhaling. That's all there is." With those words, I was brought up from a sea of negativity and gasped a breath of fresh air. I had realized that all there is to life is the inhale and the exhale, something so simple and so involuntary.

It was only when I kicked up into a handstand that I really let go of everything. So focused was I on my body and its smooth unfaltering line that I forgot about the energies coursing through my body.

I forgot about my own strength. I had reached a position in my emotional energies where I found myself leaning on other people, other people who weren't there. I felt alone and quite frustrated. I'd lost the self-reflexive beautiful spirit who is completely grounded, unfettered and strong. After class I spoke with my teacher, Amelia, a woman to whom I look up almost reverently. She is a beautiful spirit with crisp words that bring me back to self-awareness. "All you really need is a child's pose or a headstand, have that pressure on your head that brings you back." Too often we strangle our negative energies, fight them, try to suffocate them. And they only fight back. Leading a yoga life means embracing those energies in your body and never forgetting about your own strength. And often, all you need is a headstand.