Perhaps the real difficulty was that life was far too short. Just as one generation learned their lessons, they died; and the next generation had to step forward and start again from scratch with nothing to work from but those anonymous deep-coded atavistic imperatives, the secret commands of the genes, and whatever few cogent guidelines they had managed to rescue from the minute-by-minute demonstration of human contradiction, confusion and hypocrisy that was their parents. Or guardians. Childhood: it was like trying to chart an entire continent by the brief flare of a firework. Except you had no idea that this was your only chance to explore for free, and instead you spent the five seconds of precious light gawping at the sky, stuffing treacle into your mouth. And then it went dark again.
I’ve wanted to be flexible — to touch my toes, even — for years. It’s not something you’d know, but being tall can come with a bunch of downsides: back pain, bad posture, inflexibility, and even dirty feet (because who can stretch down to clean them in a tiny shower cubicle).
This year, as part of my Sessions training, I’ve resolved to try to get a handle on the inflexibility. (Next year I’ll work on my posture.) I’ve never been much of a yoga fan, in part because of the practicalities of being in one place for a long stretch of time for classes, and apps on the iPhone never worked much for me in the past either.
Given my rigidity, it’s been hard keeping to the programme. At first I wanted to stretch every day, but now I think I’ll be content just to do a 15-minute series of movements/exercises five days per week.
I’m using Beeminder to keep me honest. I’ve only been going a little over a week or two, but I’m already starting to feel some give in my hips and hamstrings.
Let’s hope the progress continues!
Late is never better than never.
Why? Why does what was beautiful suddenly shatter in hindsight because it concealed dark truths? Why does the memory of years of happy marriage turn to gall when our partner is revealed to have had a lover all those years? Because such a situation makes it impossible to be happy? But we were happy! Sometimes the memory of happiness cannot stay true because it ended unhappily. Because happiness is only real if it lasts forever? Because things always end painfully if they contained pain, conscious or unconscious, all along? But what is unconscious, unrecognized pain? […] Is this what sadness is all about? Is it what comes over us when beautiful memories shatter in hindsight because the remembered happiness fed not just on actual circumstances but on a promise that was not kept?
Those who travel to mountain tops are half in love with themselves, and half in love with oblivion.
“The ultimate path in front of us appears to be the total extinction of everything,” she said. But she was laughing when she said that too, and when I pointed that out, she shot back, “Well, because what else are you going to do?” I was relieved not to find yet another crabby and wounded ex-environmentalist, and I asked her how she was managing to live in a world that she found so discouraging. The answer wasn’t reassuring. She told me about the Taoists in ancient China. “They looked around and saw they were facing the same situation, a world that was disintegrating around them. And they realized the best thing to do is do as little as possible. Don’t feed any new energy into a system that’s falling apart, because you don’t know what that energy will wind up being spit back as.” Rather than try to change society, it’s better to retreat. “You try to stay virtuous in your immediate life, you try to be correct—because you only feed the monster if you interfere too much.” That was why she’d disappeared after the Mendocino Ridge, she said. She was done interfering.
climate change, by warming up the Arctic, is allowing grizzlies to range farther north, where they and polar bears have started interbreeding. Eventually, the polar bear may go extinct only after being absorbed into a new and unrecognizable hybrid species, which scientists, for the time being, can’t decide whether to call pizzlies or grolars.
As her divorce plodded on and the legal documents piled up, Jana felt herself clinging to the Palos Verdes blue, identifying with it in a richly personal way that many scientists might not admit to—as two kindred underdogs, spurned but battling their way out of a corner. She wasn’t just anthropomorphizing the butterfly; you could say she was Oprah-pomorphizing it. The butterfly was becoming her avatar, a gauge of her ability to reinvent and empower herself as a scientist and single mother. Resuscitating the Palos Verdes blue became both a literal test of her abilities and a metaphor for her own resilience. “That was me redefining myself,” she told me. The symbolism was almost too easy. Butterflies have always been symbols of rebirth and renewal, and the closer Jana got, the more levels of metaphor she saw. A larva, for example, doesn’t just develop into a butterfly inside the pupa; it first breaks down completely into an amorphous goop, then re-forms. Mattoni called it “the soup stage.” “You’re not what you were before,” Jana told me, “but neither are you what you’re going to be. The soup stage really sucks, but you just have to embrace being soup for a while.”
Nature can seem this pure and honorable only once we’re no longer afraid of it. We seem to be forever oscillating between demonizing and eradicating certain animals, and then, having beaten those creatures back, empathizing with them as underdogs and wanting to show them compassion. We exert our power, but are then unsettled by how powerful we are.