We Were Just Getting to the Good Part: On My Personal Favorites, Teenagers, Kintsugi, and Waterfalls
Good morning from [usually] sunny San Diego. I’ve been here since last Thursday. It’s been raining off-and-on for most of my stay. I’m here visiting a friend who is recovering from a recent hospitalization.
A few weeks ago, she sent me a text message with five words:
“At the hospital, I’m okay.”
She later told me the details:
She had been experiencing difficulty breathing for a few days. At first, she attributed it to the Santa Ana winds which typically carry large amounts of dust, spores, and other allergens.
But her condition continued to worsen.
Her breathing became more and more labored as the days wore on.
Eventually, she called 9-1-1.
A firetruck arrived shortly after. She told the firemen she was having difficulty going up and down stairs because of how labored her breathing had become. She was hooked up to oxygen within minutes. A few short minutes later she was in the back of an ambulance on her way to the hospital.
Once there, doctors discovered she had a blood clot in her lungs.
They told her she wouldn’t have survived had she waited much longer. Her blood oxygen levels had gotten dangerously low.
“We’re glad you called.”
They put her on blood thinners and a few days later, she was home.
While standing in line at a grocery on a sunny San Diego day shortly after being released from the hospital, it hit her.
“I almost died,” she said.
“I’m glad you didn't,” I responded in a playful, but still serious, tone. “We were just getting to the good part.”
I received messages in sporadic bursts over the next few days. Each message was an expression of immense gratitude for things that, even now during a pandemic, where levels of appreciation, awareness and a craving for normalcy are heightened, I still take for granted.
Going up and down the stairs without having to stop to catch your breath.
Buying yourself groceries.
Going for a walk.
Small, mundane things elevated to the sacred in the midst of death.
I’ve found myself pausing from time to time since then to breathe a bit more deeply than usual, like yesterday, when we were sitting by the bay and I took a deep inhale of salty air.
I let the warm air of a sunny San Diego afternoon fill my lungs.
Breathe deep, friends.
Make it an amazing week.
Here’s what I have for you this week.
👍🏻My Personal Favorites
I’m putting the finishing touches on my Yearly Review. I’ve been publishing bits and pieces of it over the past two weeks as I’ve finished them.
Fran Lebowitz is a quick-witted cultural critic, author, and speaker. She is perhaps as famous for a decade long bout with writer’s block as she is for her actual writing.
Despite her writer’s block, Lebowitz has managed to become a mainstay in American popular culture.
She recently partnered with Martin Scorsese for a Netflix limited series titled Pretend It’s A City, which takes it name from an answer Lebowitz’ gave to the question, “What advice do you have for people who stop in the middle of the sidewalk?”
The rest of the series is cuts of a conversation between Lebowitz and Scorsese interspersed with clips of Lebowitz on various speaking tours and late night shows.
I got curious about one of the pieces they discussed.
The piece is titled Scream, Shout, and Bite - Tips for Teens. In it, she dispenses advice for young adults coming into their teenage years.
Here are a few of my favorite bullet points:
Wearing dark glasses at the breakfast table is socially acceptable only if you are legally blind or partaking of your morning meal out of doors during a total eclipse of the sun.
Should your political opinions be at extreme variance with those of your parents, keep in mind that while it is indeed your constitutional right to express these sentiments verbally, it is unseemly to do so with your mouth full–particularly when it is full of the oppressor’s standing rib roast.
Think before you speak. Read before you think. This will give you something to think about that you didn’t make up yourself–a wise move at any age, but most especially at seventeen, when you are in the greatest danger of coming to annoying conclusions.
Kintsugi (“golden joinery”), also known as kintsukuroi (“golden repair”), is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery. The broken areas are mended with a powdered gold, silver, or platinum. Philosophically, it views the breakage as part of the history of an object rather than end or something to hide.
Japanese aesthetics value the wear as signs of use of an object. They do not try and hide objects after they have been broken. Instead, they mend them with gold and display them, seeing the breakage as part of the innate beauty of the object, as part of its history.
From Flickwerk: The Aesthetics of Mended Japanese Ceramics:
Not only is there no attempt to hide the damage, but the repair is literally illuminated... a kind of physical expression of the spirit of mushin....Mushin is often literally translated as "no mind," but carries connotations of fully existing within the moment, of non-attachment, of equanimity amid changing conditions. ...The vicissitudes of existence over time, to which all humans are susceptible, could not be clearer than in the breaks, the knocks, and the shattering to which ceramic ware too is subject. This poignancy or aesthetic of existence has been known in Japan as mono no aware, a compassionate sensitivity, or perhaps identification with, [things] outside oneself.
The philosophy of kintsugi sees the breakage as elevating, not diminishing, the beauty of an object. Kintsugi allows us to transform a “negative” (a breakage) into a “positive” (a new, beautiful object).
Furthermore the bowl stood as talismanic proof that imagination and language had the power to make ill fortune good. Instead of the altered physical appearance of the bowl diminishing its appeal, a new sense of its vitality and resilience raised appreciation to even greater heights.
The application of this philosophy extends well beyond the Japanese art of tea.
Death Cab for Cutie has been one of my favorite bands since I first heard their album Transatlanticism. I listen to in its entirety once every few months.
They recently released a new EP which begins with a cover of TLC’s Waterfall. Ben Gibbard’s vocals paired with their instrumentation do a great job reinterpreting this classic from the 90s.
Listen to their cover:
That’s all I have for you this week.
Until next time,