December 15./ Figs and Lost Opportunities

Sylvia Plath’s poem “The Fig Tree” has haunted me for years. It speaks of a woman sitting at the foot of a giant fig tree. As she looks up, she sees a different life represented by each fig. In one fig, she’s a stay-at-home mother. In another she’s a CEO of a large company. She sees herself as a world traveler, a teacher, a lover. But she couldn’t pick which fig she wanted because if she picked one, it would mean that she would lose the others. Instead, she sits starving at this tree and watches as the fig shrivel and fall to the ground.

Sometimes I see myself sitting at the bottom of that fig tree. I gaze up at the different directions I could choose to go in life and, instead of choosing, watch the opportunities disappear.

There are so many things that I want to do in my life. I’d love to travel the world, study horticulture, live in Europe, work in the NPS – you know, the average bucket list. But unfortunately I don’t have a long enough life to do everything.

Last week, my co-worker was telling me about her little sister. She’s like 6 or 7 and Christmas is still a ~new~ holiday to her. Anyways, my co-worker was telling me how her little sister spends hours on YouTube watching toy reviews to see what she wants for Christmas. Instead of playing with toys that she has, she spends hours looking at new toys.

At first, it seemed a little strange. I never thought about toy reviews on YouTube. It seemed sad that kids would spend so much time watching reviews of toys, envisioning if they wanted that particular one.

But then I thought about myself and my own life. I haven’t been reading as much as I usually do. I’ve been spending a lot more time on Instagram and Amazon. Instead of going out and traveling, I’m living vicariously through famous Instragramers and travel blogs. Instead of going to the gym, I’ve been looking at gymspiration.

It’s so easy to fixate and obsess over a particular lifestyle or thing that you want. Lately, I’ve been guilty of buying things to support this mental fixation. I’ve bought gym equipment that tends to gather dust faster than I use it. I’ve bought extra kitchen supplies that are unnecessary because I’m enamored by what I could do with them. I even bought a zafu for meditating and it’s completely wonderful but I don’t meditate every day like I thought I would.

It takes little energy to lay around in bed and daydream. It takes effort to get outside and build the lifestyle that you want. It’s easy to stay inside and imagine these lives you could lead without actually pursing them. If you pursue them, you may have to give up other lifestyles that you want. If I pursue meditation, maybe I won’t have enough time for working out. Unfortunately there are only so many hours in each day.

This is a first world problem. Not really of much substance. But I think that it causes a lot of suffering. By imagining these lifestyles rather than leading them, we skip over the learning process. We skip all the failure on the way to greatness. So much of our lives is learning from mistakes and genuinely trying new things. We derive satisfaction from effort and overcoming difficulty.

I’m not trying to bash YouTube or Instagram but rather comment on how I’ve noticed my life change in the last few years. I work full time and only have a few hours when I get home each night. Instead of spending that time doing things that I love – mustering up the energy to get out there – I instead lay on my bed and watch others pursue things I’m interested in. I’m so fixated that I don’t notices all the figs falling around me.

Hey, Zen Pencils has a wonderful illustration of the poem I mentioned at the beginning of this post. I highly recommend that you check it out. Click this link to view it: Zen Pencils – The Fig Tree

 

Feb. 06/ Advice

Do not dull yourself for this world.

Be you. Let yourself be open. If you love, then love. If you feel happy, then feel happy. You are allowed to feel sad. You don’t need anyone’s permission to feel the way you do. Let yourself feel. This world is full of beautiful and horrible things, let yourself respond to them. You don’t have to conquer every emotion. Allow yourself enough room to really feel an emotion. Let the sads be sad and the happies be happy. Let them sink in.

Speak freely but kindly. Honest words are the best words, as long as they aren’t said to harm another person. What you say has physical reaction. Shouting at someone doesn’t solve the problem. Calling a person a name doesn’t fix the situation. Others will appreciate straightforwardness. Cutting through confusion is sometimes as simple as using less words.

This world is filled with billions of people, yet even a crowded subway can feel lonely. Make friends. Let people in. It’s better to go through life with others, they expand your views and add perspective. While we all crave closeness, often what we actually crave is ourselves. Others can’t fill your need to know yourself. Go out alone. Find when you make yourself happy, then bring that to others. Happiness is best shared. Always love, even when you’re broken. Find it in yourself to care, if not you, then who?

 

“Never Stop Creating”, a letter to my younger self

Dear Eric,

A lot of what you will create in the coming years will be ridiculous. You’ll break every ‘rule’ that you learned in your high school photography class. Most of your images will be blurry and cropped at awkward angles. Then, when you finally decide to start editing your pictures, you’ll over-saturate every one of them.

It doesn’t sound like you’re a good photographer, and honestly, to most people, you won’t be. You have an affinity for laying out in swamps and taking pictures without your shirt. For some reason you think it looks natural to take photos in snow barefoot. You really are strange and I don’t know what you were thinking.

But I know that you love what you do.

You feel a connection to your camera and the woods that you take pictures in. You will learn every inch of those woods. Over the years you’ll drag every friend you can through nettle plants and around beehives, just to show them how beautiful the woods are. One day you’ll even step on a nail because you decided to walk through the snow barefoot. That was foolish but luckily it will heal quickly and you’ll be back outside the next day, back to the crime scene for more photos.

Somewhere along the line you’ll attempt a 365 project. Taking a picture everyday will be difficult. You will fail your first time. And your second. And your third. I won’t tell you how many times you fail because I know that you will keep trying. That’s what makes me proud of you.

It will take you many years before others start to hire you. You’ll take a lot of pictures, most of them will be in your woods, but eventually you’ll take pictures around the world. I don’t want to give any spoilers though. I promise the adventure will be fun but it will also be difficult and full of self-doubt. Just keep creating art anyways. When you lose your best friend, create art. When you feel alone, create art. When nobody understands you, when you don’t even understand yourself, go out into the woods and create art.

I’m writing you today because I want you to know that I appreciate you. You have a lot of courage. In the beginning, your pictures look sloppy and poorly composed. Yet you post them online anyways. Wherever you go, you meet people and photograph them. You encourage others to create art and to express themselves. It’s funny to look back and say that you inspire me but you do. You struggle with self-confidence but you post anyways, that takes a lot.

It will be a long road, life isn’t always easy. You’ll encounter difficulties but you’ll grow from them. You’ll have friendships that come and go but pictures that you can look back on for a lifetime. I also want to let you know that it all works out in the end, there’s nothing to worry about. Life will seem like it’s falling apart but it won’t. You’ll carry on the next day and the day after that.

Also, your pictures matter to me. Take as many of them as you possibly can. Don’t worry about why you’re creating or who you’re taking the pictures for. You can answer those questions later. For now, just stay passionate and do what you love most.

 

Stay goofy and I’ll see you in a few years,

Eric Albee

 

Advice and Idleness

Lately I’ve been thinking about life decisions. I find myself reflecting back to when I first arrived here. On the flight between Atlanta and Charleston, I had a long conversation with another passenger. As our conversation ended, I asked for an opinion. I said, “if you could give advice to a younger person, or younger version of yourself, what would you tell them?”. She said:

“…it’s best to keep many opportunities open when you’re younger. Try to keep many possibilities in your life. She also said that even if you’ve gone a long way in your journey, sometimes you find that you’re on the wrong path. It’s okay to restart or go a different direction. […]

The last words roll around in my head, “it’s okay to restart or go a different direction”. She spoke with regret for cornering herself, and although she didn’t specify what it was, I knew that didn’t want to feel the same way.

Those thoughts have returned and I question if I’m taking the right path. Maura O’Halloran gave up her life in Boston to move to a monastery in Japan. She did this back in the 1980s when her only communication with family or friends was through snail mail or brief long-distance calls. I cannot imagine the amount of courage it took for her to leave everything she knew.

David (AWOL) Miller quit his stable job as an engineer to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. The hike is 2,100 miles long and takes between 4-6 months. While this journey happened in 2003, he didn’t carry a cell phone or have regular connection with his family. It was his first major hike and he didn’t know what would happen. He had faith that it was something he wanted to do and that it would bring him happiness.

Robert M. Pirsig took his motorcycle across the country from Minnesota into California in the 1970s. Hunter S. Thompson hitchhiked through South America in the 1950s. Twyla Tharp moved across the country to escape her family and to eventually start choreography. Bryan Benson and his girlfriend rode their bikes between the Midwest and the West Coast. How can I see these figures sacrificing so much for a dream, while I sit here and idle?

Internally I return to the advice I received on the plane… “it’s okay to restart or go a different direction”… Maybe this path wasn’t the correct one. Perhaps now is the only time to change it. I read letters from last year when I had the same thoughts. So is it time to cut the line and change paths?

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P.S. The Danish song “Tomgang” by Shaka Loveless is stuck in my head. Why isn’t this genre popular here?!

 

“Be as you wish to seem”

“Be as you wish to seem”
Socrates

Each of wants the world to see us in a certain way. We want others to see us as adventurous or fun but we fail to see the bigger picture. If you want to be seen in a certain way, you must become that way. The traits we wish for others to see are often characteristics that we wish we had within ourselves.

Think of psychological traits that you want in a mate. Do you want someone who is explorative, shy, loud, creative, unique, common or anything else? Chances are, whatever traits that you wish to find in others are traits that you wish to find in yourself. The difficulty is that you choose to seek it from other people rather than simply becoming it.

If you want a woman who is artistic, perhaps it’s a craving for you to become creative. Socrates said it simply; “be as you wish to seem”. To seem adventurous, you must go out into the world and be adventurous. No other person can make these traits appear in you, you have to find them in yourself.

Instead of waiting and finding someone who fulfills what you want to become, choose to find yourself. What do you want to become? How do you want to be seen? That is what you need to do with your life; become the person you want to seem like.

259/365

 

How Traveler’s Communicate

While reading “AWOL on the Appalachian Trail”, David Miller talks about how hikers communicate and their willingness to talk about their lives. The long days of walking with strangers, teamed up with a common goal (to finish the hike), cultivates a different sense of community. While living in the city, talking to a stranger may seem bizarre, it’s common for hikers to discuss their personal lives with equally unknown hikers.

AWOL (David Miller) write in his book that many days are spent hiking 10+ miles with somebody that you just met. In your office, it’s unlikely that you’d talk about your aspirations openly but on the trail people are receptive. You feel un-threatened because you’re likely to never meet this person again. Eventually it becomes natural to say where you’re from, what you were doing with your life, what you want to be doing instead, and about why you’re out on the trail.

Although I’ve never been long-distance hiking, I believe that traveling has shifted my communication in the same way. When I fly to another country, I often have meaningful conversations with the person I’m sitting next to on the plane. There have been businessmen from around the world giving me life advice simply because I ask them. When you’re traveling, your communication changes.

You realize that the person you’re talking to won’t be in your life forever. Rather than having small talk, you immediately go deep. It doesn’t really matter if a stranger knows where you’re from or what you dream of doing. You’ll probably never see them again and so what if you do.

After you open up many times, you realize that even when you aren’t traveling it doesn’t matter what you say. You can be open with more people in your daily life because you know that it really doesn’t matter if they know about your ambitions.

Another bi-product is that you begin to have less idle chatter. When you meet people for only a couple hours, you decide to skip the ten minute conversation about the weather. Instead you opt for talking about your passions in life.

Spending many months in foreign countries has changed how I talk with others. Sometimes people complain that I only have deep existential conversations. They also talk about how open I am to share my life. These are directly caused by traveling and meeting so many people for such a brief period. I dive deep into conversation because I want to know about your life. There’s no point in complaining about the Charleston heat, I want to know what you’ve done with your life and what you’ve learned.

Perhaps it’s a cursed traveler’s mark but AWOL had it right in his book: going to new places changes how you talk with others.

240/365

 

Life is in the Small Moments

space

When you stand in front of a huge space, your mind wanders. You realize that in the grand scheme, you’re tiny. Your purpose on Earth doesn’t matter in the long run. You’ll be dead in another 60 years, or before this century is over. The world you will leave won’t be very different from today’s world. At the very least, we will still have wars, a separation between the poor and rich, and oppressive or manipulative governments.

These moments that make you feel small, hold onto them. When you realize you’re not important, you’re suddenly free. The obligations that you hold yourself to are gone. Jack Kerouac wrote, “No matter what you do it’s bound to be a waste of time in the end so you might as well go mad.”

Your life is too short to hold back your passions. To others around me, I look like I’m running around in circles. I chase every whim of passion that I find. This week I like painting, so I find an easel and do what I love. Next week I may love writing, so I’ll chase that too. Photography was a whim that I stuck with for a long time. Passion will invigorate you and make you feel alive, so when you find it, hold onto it.

The purpose of life is to be alive. If you spend much time staring out at the world, you’ll miss out on what you could become. These grand gestures, they’re not the purpose of life. You can’t spend your entire life waiting for these feelings that make you feel alive, you have to find what makes you jump with joy and smile wider than your face can handle.

Then you put yourself completely into it: emotionally, physically, and psychologically. Do it as much as you can and until you can’t do it anymore. Push yourself into it. Tell others about it and fill your voice with passion. Smile with your eyes and let them know that you’re alive. Let yourself know that you’re alive.

When these great moments come, they make you feel small. They remind you that you’re human and mortal. We feel alive when we experience this because we know that our time is limited. When we grow appreciation for our passions, we feel small. We realize our short time on Earth and recognize that we don’t have much time to do everything.

That feeling you get when you have those grand moments can be experienced daily. Find the fire within yourself and throw coal on it. Cultivate what you love into your life and you will be fully alive. Life is in the small pleasures, not waiting on the grand moments to happen. Grab life by the foot and chase it down until the end, that’s really all we can do to become passionate and alive.

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