My upbringing in Oklahoma and college life in New York City taught me a great deal about pseudo-intellectualism. On one hand, there are those who invent facts with which to craft whichever realities best suit their own ideologies. On the other–and this is the hand which I find most dangerous–are those who possess facts but who manipulate them to suit their own goals. These people mask their intentions behind flowery language that the average eye would never think to question. For example, what lies behind the sentence, “In this swift moment, at my true zenith, a symphony of opportunity, both harmonious and cacophonous, stretches before me in an expanse limited only by the line of the horizon”? It is beautiful; it is also wholly unnecessary. It is one jagged path to an idea that can be summed up in three words: “Everything is changing.”
My time in Ireland has taught me one thing–the magic within brevity and the constancy of impermanence.
I initially chose to study English and anthropology because I believed that words could weather the sands of time. Perhaps they would be covered, but coverage is not annihilation. Literature and ideas could always be exhumed and repurposed. So, if I wrote, I would survive, and if I studied how great things were written, I could exceed them and therefore possess more life.
I no longer believe this to be true. Who knows how many tales failed the transition to written language? Furthermore, how many stories were written and destroyed due to the subversity of their content? For so long, literary transmission was relegated only to a privileged few, but even then there are losses. Many books of Homer remain enigmatic, and there still remains the possibility that the ending to the Aeneid is untold. Just like all that remained of Ozymandias’ kingdom was a decaying statue marooned in a desert, so will even the greatest minds become whispers on the wind. Every tomb is a tomb.
These past few months have helped me reconcile my desire to experience life with my inevitable finality. I used to only want a claim to genius, just like some quest for prestige, believing that it guarantees a good life and moral character. Yet these pursuits only prevent you from noticing those small, discrete details which give our world and existence their richness. Every word possesses paragraphs worth of definition. And therefore every text presents thousands of opportunities for play and interpretation until it reaches its inevitable rest.
When my partner and I flew to visit his family in Ohio earlier this month, as I fell asleep on his shoulders, he squeezed my hand three times, our secret code for “I love you.” He used negative words, so his expression died with his last press against my palm. But this does not mean it was nothingness; its briefness only made it more precious.
Most of my life questions will remain unanswered and any answers I manage to reach will inevitably erode away or become obsolete. But that is okay. This semester I realized that accepting this is liberating.
When you have no expectation of perfection, you have nothing to lose.