A poem by David Friedlander
A hissing ear
Insisting on chance
Of the remarkable
I Sleep as
I’ve sat with fate,
Tugging his ear
Clouded with youth
A cherry-ripe morsel
I’ve yet to taste—
“I’ll come back” I say,
Is that sticky juice pulped
Is that chance unsquandered?
But I’ll dump all these promises
For one cold act.
Since possibility is death,
And thought’s a mine
With little grasp of time.
And for all the You’s—
The vague victimizers,
I won’t deliver promises
No future sighs for deeds undone
No untouched caches
Waiting to deploy.
Not for you, not for me.
When not to know
That all these chances
Blazing and bright
Not so infinite after all.
I ran across this poem last week while sifting through some files. I remember liking it when I wrote it and I like it still. I wrote it for a college writing workshop and I remember the professor saying how it was another one of those carpe diem poems, but that it still felt real and fresh. I read it today and it still feels real and fresh.
And yet today is about six years since I wrote it. While I’ve taken many chances in the meantime—I’ve started a business, started and ended a relationship, taken innumerable personal risks—to say that I live in this exalted state of existential urgency most of the time is not exactly accurate. Much of the time, I act as though I have plenty of time.
This poem, for me, really gets it. The title, “Just Gone”—for those of you who might be illiterate—is talking about the squandered moments of one’s life—of the many messages we receive to take a chance, to deviate from mechanistic forms of our lives. And it also highlights the folly of youth, which I seemed to understand when I had more possession of the stuff (youth, that is). Youth—which I often still suffer from—is often careless. It sees itself in the mirror and for some time, time seems to leave no visible scars. Aging and death are abstract and moments aren’t blown because there’ll be plenty more tomorrow.
And then there’s the “One cold act.” I’ll trade all possibility for one cold act. And there it is—the chances are not so infinite. In fact, it’s possible we only have one chance to live our lives and it is now.
Yesterday, I talked a bit about wave theory, Heisenberg and chilling-the-fuck-out in order to create a peaceful world through peaceful observation. To me, there’s room for discord between the premise of chilling out and the premise of seizing the moment. One is ostensibly non-action oriented—requiring its adherent to still him or herself in order to make his or her world a happy, peaceful place. And the other completely action oriented—beseeching its adherent to be a spiritual swashbuckler, taking chances wherever possible, confronting fears, living as though there will be no tomorrow.
For me, the tension between action and non-action is quickly dissolved when I actually set out to carpe diem. Let’s say my idea of seizing the day is to be a professional writer. Well, this is a nice idea. I feel I have a facility to write and many useful things to write about. Relating to what I wrote about yesterday, writing, to me, seems on my wavelength.
I’ve got this worthy conquest, but somewhere between the ideation and execution, something goes amiss. I have no difficulty getting psyched about the idea. I visualize what it’ll be like. I see myself signing books, getting laid, having a pretty sweet loft (I’ve designed the whole thing already) and all the various other accouterments of literary celebrity.
But when it’s time to plan, to write, to submit—to do all the things needed to manifest the idea, to seize this day and this goal—all I want to do is something else. I’ll surf the web, make countless espressos, stand up, sit down, shift in my chair, check my email, clip my fingernails, call a friend, answer a call or three, take a shower, read a magazine, read a book—I’ll write in my journal about how I should seize the day, crafting self-loving, self-rationalizing excuses and theorems as to why I’m not just performing that one cold act.
The plain truth is that I’m fucking scared and I don’t want to deal with my terror. I’m scared that if I actually seize the day, I’ll have to plan. I’m scared that if I plan, I’ll have to go through with it. I’m scared that if I start the plan, I’ll have to finish it. I’m scared that if I finish, I’ll have to show it to offer it to the world. I’m afraid that if I offer what I’ve made to the world, they won’t like it. I’m afraid that if they don’t like it, it’ll mean that I was right about what a fraud I am.
So instead of connecting these dots in order to seize the day and make something to behold, I generally add a bunch of little dots—the web-surfing, Facebook, eating, etc.—that have nothing to do with the my seizing the day. In fact, it’s all about letting go of the day.
What do I do in this situation?
I believe the answer is that I chill the fuck out.
The fear is there. Big deal. I can have these fears, but not heed them. Like Hemmingway said, courage is grace under fire. I’m seeing more and more that seizing the day has less to do with action than it does with inaction. If I just sit down and do what I set out to do—to the exception of all else—even when that “all else” seems like something other than fear (and it never is)—when I settle my body down and just do the thing I set out to do, I have the chance to seize the day.
This process is uncomfortable. Even now, I’m fighting the urge to stand up or get moving on the various other things in my day. I’d rather start something else than finish what I’m doing. Finishing suggests delivering, and what if no one will take delivery of what I’m sending?
And yet, all these chances/so blazing and bright/are perhaps/not so infinite after all. What if this is it? What if this is my chance? I might be a fraud, but I don’t want to be a fraud that lived a half-lived life. So for this promise, to take this blazing and bright chance, I’ll settle down, chill out and get into action.