June was a terrible month for writing, but it turned out to be a great month for collecting experiences that would be good for writing later. At the beginning of the month I was spending my last day in Paris recovering from several days of non-stop record-setting walking around; at the end of it, I’ll be ending my third week at a brand-new job and collecting my first paycheck. This month I’ve done several things I’ve never done before, and it’s been wonderful sinking into the novelty. At the same time, I have to admit that it’s been really hard to incorporate all of these new experiences into the increasingly elaborate lattice of my self-concept.
My husband (the Dragon) and I started the month in Paris, where we were lazing about with one of our best friends in the world. He put us up while we were in town and had gamely agreed to be our guide while we were there. We had spent the past few days visiting the Louvre Museum, Notre Dame, and the university where he worked where a party had been thrown in his honor to celebrate his election to a new position that would take him across the country. It was a wonderful whirlwind, but by that time my legs were in open rebellion while my Fitbit was celebrating my consistent string of 20,000-step days.
That evening, we were on the train to London, where we would spend the next few days closing out our European trip. We took a riverboat tour of the Thames; visited Westminster Abbey; climbed the stairs of the Monument to the Great Fire of London; visited All Hallows-By-The-Tower; toured the Tower of London; saw works of art at the Tate Museum; and went to a LOT of pubs that served surprisingly weak beer and ales. But when all was said and done, I left Great Britain in love with the country. There was a surprising comfort with its history that felt somewhat lacking in France.
In Paris, almost all of the historical monuments were well-preserved and beautiful. The Luxembourg Gardens were carefully manicured, and the Louvre Museum kept its most prized artistic possessions behind a wide barrier. While the beauty is undeniable, the distance created from the history right in front of us made us feel unworthy of it; it created a strange longing to bridge the gulf between our own imperfect, chaotic, shallow times and the focused beauty that was capable only in centuries before. It felt like we were visiting the house of a relative with plastic on all the couches, where we could only see the good china behind glass and drank Kool-Aid in cheap cups.
London felt much more at home with its own history. Ancient rooms that housed the head of monastic orders were still in use in the present-day; alleys that existed in the times of Queen Victoria (or even ancient Rome) were marked by modern street signs. The fact that you could walk almost anywhere in the city and find doors, rooms, entire structures still in use after hundreds of years in London meant that you could feel a much more direct connection to the history of the city — the tragedy of the Great Fire wasn’t just that so much of history had been consumed forever; it was that so many of us visiting the city would never get to see it or use it.
Great Britain was a surprisingly relaxed country to visit, and I appreciated the cozy atmosphere that greeted me almost everywhere I went. Paris, on the other hand, is astonishingly pretty — but so much of it feels curiously distant, even when you’re walking down wide avenues marked by the obvious presence of the homeless and desperate. Paris feels like a place you’re desperate to belong to, but London feels like a place where you can always belong.
The plane back was long but fun; Ryan and I watched Game Night, Early Man, and Downsizing; I watched Peter Rabbit on my own. We learned about the stark difference between international customs at Heathrow and San Jose International the hard way, and then we collapsed at the Burrow, recuperating as best we could.
I started a new day job that next Monday. I’m working in roughly the same position — customer service — but in a very different space. Before I was working mainly with other businesses, but here I’m dealing directly with consumers. It’s a bit of an adjustment, speaking to laymen who don’t have at least a passing knowledge of the space we’re in, and I have to admit that it’s been surprisingly difficult to make it. We make assumptions about basic competence and comprehension that are just not true, and just when we think we have a handle on how little people understand about the things they sign up for we’re surprised at how deep that ignorance goes on a regular basis.
Still, it’s been an incredible experience. The company I work for is riding the wave of cutting-edge technology, and it’s been illuminating to learn about the considerations that come into play when no one has a playbook for the kinds of situations that come up. The questions that are raised by what we do are uncomfortable to contemplate, and it would be easy to feel bad about what we were doing if we didn’t have such transparency from the executives to make it clear that they genuinely care about doing the right thing. It’s so weird to me to belong to a company that I feel excited about joining, or to believe in the work we’re doing. I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid, but that’s not the worst thing. Maybe one day I’ll look back at these heady first days with a kind of disappointed bewilderment, but for now I’m really enjoying the experience.
Between being out of town, adjusting to my return, and rebuilding a daily routine from scratch, writing has been almost non-existent. However, I feel like I’m getting a better hang of how my days will go from here on out, which allows me to plan a lot better. This next month is about rebuilding a healthier routine that allows me to write, read, and exercise on a regular basis.
Currently I’m reading two books: Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach and Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse. Radical Acceptance is a book about learning how to embrace the present experience using both Buddhist spirituality and Western psychology. Steppenwolf is a novel about an older gentleman at war with himself learning to accept the aspirational, civilized part of himself as well as the vulgar, bestial nature that resides within all of us. Hesse has a wonderful way of distilling heady, esoteric philosophical struggle into everyday experience, and Steppenwolf even throws a furry-ish frame on it by having the main character refer to himself as a shabby old “wolf of the steppes”.
Both books are actually invitations to reflect on the constructs I use to filter my experience and examine whether or not they’re actually useful to me. What good does it really do me to think of myself as a fae-rabbit? Would I be better served with the realization that these constructs build a sense of separation between aspects of myself that would work better unified? How far do we take the dismantling of concepts as reasonable people? Can we simultaneously hold the concept of self as illusion while using it all the time with other people?
I have no answers here, but both of these books have given me a lot to think about. I’m grateful for that, the experience of loosening my perspective at a time where so many people seem to be resolutely fixed in theirs. I mean, I get it, and I don’t want to insinuate that it’s wrong to draw a line in the sand at this time. I absolutely have, and I won’t tolerate the crossing of it. At the same time, it’s important to hold in our heads the reality that it’s not people who are committing these abuses and atrocities, it’s people — and they could very well be you or me if not for the accident of our birth.
It’s really hard to hold that knowledge within us, to recognize that we have the same capacity for evil that the people working and supporting the current US Administration do. We don’t want to admit that to ourselves because it causes us pain, but the cure for that pain is within the pain itself (to quote Rumi). Recognizing the capacity for our own monstrous behavior gives us better insight into how the fears of others curdle into (at the very least) a tolerance for fascist rhetoric, and that can give us a better perspective to fight it from. When we’re asked to understand the Trump voter, I think it’s important to know we’re not being asked to excuse them; we’re being asked to frame our arguments in terms they’re more likely to understand.
This is a time where idealists on all sides of the political spectrum are speaking the loudest. The pragmatists, who try to deal with the world as it is instead of forcing the world into the shape we feel it should be, tend to villified as centrists or complacent. I think this is because most pragmatists have a terrible way with words; their valid points are shouted down by superior rhetoric, and that’s that.
So it goes, I suppose. Right now, the work for me is fighting against the worst of the administration in power while trying to realize I have the thing I’m fighting against within me. I know that my country needs to be changed, but the fight to do it shouldn’t change me, make me harder and more brittle. So it’s just as important that I figure out what my principles are and how I can best stick to them as it is to reject the principles that allow others to justify separating migrant families at the border, or to discriminate against others based on religious grounds. If we’re not fighting for something specific and known, we’re fighting for nothing at all.
All in all, June has been a fantastic month. I’ve learned a lot about myself and the world, and while it’s taking me some time to come to terms with everything that’s happened I feel nothing but gratitude for the work ahead of me.