Grady was a simple man. He liked to hike, he liked his wife, and he liked his work. He merely tolerated their kids. Everyone had assured him that he’d eventually like them when they became little people instead of pink blobs, but they’d been wrong. He could be occasionally persuaded to do activities adjacent to hiking, such as rock climbing or camping, and did his best to avoid everything else.
It feels like a ringing in your ears
That is so quiet, so high-pitched,
You don’t notice until it’s gone.
The sudden lack of something
So much a part of you
That you take it for granted.
Like the movement of your lungs.
You don’t need to think for it to happen,
It just does.
Only when it stops do you think
Of the motion you never questioned.
There’s a lot to be said for doing new things. Almost every bit of life advice will include something along the lines of “expand your horizons” or “step outside of your comfort zone.” It is possible to grow if you stay focused on what you’re already good at or interested in, but you can’t really grow in new ways if you never push yourself in a new direction. If you want to meet new people, learn new things, and participate in new experiences, doing new things is your best bet.
There’s also a lot to be said for doing the same things. Only by constant practice can you even approach mastering something. You can’t really master the violin by playing the saxophone. Sure, playing other stringed instruments and listening to music will definitely help your understanding as a whole, but you’ve got to stay at least somewhat close to your chosen instrument if you want to master it. You need discipline and repetition if you want to find the peak of your abilities. If you want the highest level of recognition, mastery over your chosen field, and to transcend your limits, you need to stick to more or less the same thing.
That being said, doing nothing but new things isn’t going to let you really gain experience or enjoy something because you wouldn’t stick with it long enough to really experience it. Doing nothing but the same exact thing is stifling and will only hold you back because small variations and exploring new parts of the same concept or practice is what will eventually achieve a higher level of skill. A mixture of repetition in your new experiences allows you to really experience them on a deeper level and trying new things in your repetition lets you feel out the edges of your ability so you can focus on surpassing them. The key to both is to mix in a little bit of the other.
At least, that’s been my experience. Doing something new is great, but only by doing it a couple of times can I really get a feel for it. It’s like when you buy a new album and enjoy a few of the tracks at first, but grow to enjoy different ones (or more of them) as you listen to the album a few more times. As you listen to the individual songs multiple times, your understanding of the song grows and you notice things that you missed initially. If you only stick to doing the same thing, though, you blind yourself to what might be out there. If you only listen to the same album or the same artist, you’re going to miss out on the rest of the genre you’ve been enjoying.
The first time you do something, you’re so caught up in the newness of the experience that you don’t really have the opportunity to appreciate it. The second time, it is still very new, but you start to notice things beneath the surface. Every time after, you find something new you missed before or get another chance to appreciate something you might have only noticed in passing the first time. If you keep doing it, though, you start to lose appreciation for something you enjoyed. Whatever hidden things intrigued you so much initially become boring and plain. You stop looking for something new in the experience because you think you’ve found it all.
Right now, as I try to get my life back in order after its relatively recent upheaval, I find myself seesawing wildly from one side of the equation to the other. I want to lose myself in something new, to experience something so wholly new that I don’t have any ability to analyze it or to do anything but open myself to the experience, but I also want to lose myself in the comfortable repetition of familiar things that don’t require my participation. I want either nothing but new things or nothing but old things. I want to be able to ignore all thoughts of all the things in my life that have been repetitions of new things and new aspects of old things because they’re tied up with a lot of complex emotions that I can only feel right now. I can’t do anything to them but experience them and wait for them to pass. For someone who wants to be able to control every aspect of their life, it can be a little hard to swallow the fact that there isn’t always something proactive I can do about what I’m feeling.
So I anxiously pick it at in the back of my mind and I wait. Impatiently. Unfortunately, reclaiming my life for myself is easier said than done and it requires a good deal more repetition of new experiences that I anticipated. It is interesting to see just how much of my life changed over the past year. To see how much of it feels like it no longer belongs to me alone. How often I feel as if something important is missing as I do things that I never imagined would belong to anyone but me.
Most of my relationships before this one where in college and the one that wasn’t in college was immediately after college. I didn’t have a life the same way I do now, with little routines, habits, and a set of things I kind of just assume will be a part of my daily life. Back then, everything was fluid, apt to change, and exciting. Now, I struggle to find meaning in the routines and to find purpose in pushing myself out of my comfort zone. People entering and exiting my life felt so natural back then and I never did anything long enough to feel like it belonged to me or to anyone else. Now, I feel like there’s a giant hole in my life and no one has even left it, not really. We’re just different now and that little, enormous shift was enough to throw the orbit of my life out of balance.
I guess I don’t really know what I want my life to be. I don’t want it to be a series of days where I repeat everything in new ways until I achieve mastery of whatever I’m working on. I don’t think I want it to be casual repetition of a string of new things, either. I want to say it should be a mixture of both things, but that feels like a cop-out as I write this. I feel like there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for how I feel, hovering just on the edge of my ability to voice it, but I can’t quite get it to take the one last step I need to be able to put it to words.
I feel like being able to finally understand that thought, to be able to put it precisely to words, would answer a lot of the questions I’ve been asking myself for the past couple years. I don’t think it will solve my problems or fix anything, but I feel like it’s the key to figuring out how to solve some of my problems and fix some of the things that feel broken. Maybe, after enough new experiences and enough honing my craft, I’ll find the right thought and the right expression. Maybe.
Today was a nice day. Tomorrow marks three months with my girlfriend. That’s not a whole lot, objectively speaking, but it’s longer than most of my relationships have lasted so it feels nice to reach and mark it. Since we’re both busy tomorrow, we met up for a bit today to just spend some time together and we wound up spending most of it grocery shopping. We both love to cook, so it was preparation for both of us to spend the afternoon cooking. She was cooking meals for a friend who just had a baby. I was cooking because I wanted stew, my bean dip, and cider.
I, of course, had to clean the entire kitchen before I could start. It was too dirty and covered in dishes to cook, so I had to make some space and clean my surfaces. At the same time, it feels very good to get something visibly clean and I find it mentally refreshing. Part of cooking is, for me, imposing order on disorder. Taking several disparate things, my own knowledge and culinary senses, and bringing it all together to make something better than all the parts on their own.
Right now, my dip is made, my stew is simmering (to thicken), and my cider is delicious. It feels good to sit back and lent the scent of all of my creations wash over me as I watch the Overwatch League matches I missed during the day. I’ve got friends coming over to help eat the food I’ve made, and a nice warm house to enjoy during this cold weather. I’ve got no chores that need doing, no errands that need running, and no pressing business to attend to other than my writing and stirring the stew.
I catch myself thinking of the future a lot, of when I’ve finished paying off my student loans and finally settled down to live comfortably as I try to make ends meet as a novelist. I think about how quiet and peaceful my life could be, how idyllic my life would become. On days like today, I feel like I catch a glimpse of this future. Like I’ve gotten to look through a window into the eventual life I’d like to live. The problem with that idea, though, is that it does a disservice to my life right now. Sure, I have student loans and a good job that I don’t hate, but are those really reasons that I can’t build the life I want today?
There’s a reason we use words or phrases like that when we talk about the future. There isn’t one part that just magically makes it all come together, just like there isn’t a “right time” to start. We have to work on the life we want one step at a time, one thing at a time. I think I’m going to try to focus on that idea a little more often and let myself enjoy days like today as a solid step toward the life I want to lead.