Backwards and forwards

We’re back in Amsterdam! Our holiday break in the U.S. was both relaxing and exhausting – who knew that spending time with family and friends (and at Target) would wipe us out so completely? Thankfully we had a weekend to recover before jumping back into the routine of commuting, working, and day-to-day life, and we’ve already survived the first week of the new year.

I’ve also survived the endless, annual parade of articles, lists, and listicles (whatever the hell those are) touting the “Best [Books/Films/Moments] of 2015″, or the “Year in Review”.  No sooner do I get through those stories than I’m on to, “What’s Hot in the New Year” or “Ones to Watch in 2016”.

The reality is that when it comes to books, news, films, and life in general, I’ll never be able to stay on top of what’s new and – more importantly – what’s good. And by “good” I really mean: what’s worth my time? What will challenge, trouble, motivate, console or enliven me?

I’ve become somewhat addicted to, a consistently inspiring and well-curated offering of poetry, art, and philosophy about things that matter: love, aging, work, dying. How to have a well-lived life. Most of what I’ve read this year I found thanks to that site. A few years ago, the author of the site, Maria Popova, started a “side project” pairing quotes from favorite books with songs. She calls it the Literary Jukebox, and it is worth your time.

Anyway, a while back, thanks to the Literary Jukebox, I found this quote from Debbie Millman, from her book Look Both Ways: Illustrated Essays on the Intersection of Life and Design.

…what keeps me up late at night, and constantly gives me reason to fret, is this: I don’t know what I don’t know. There are universes of things out there — ideas, philosophies, songs, subtleties, facts, emotions — that exist but of which I am totally and thoroughly unaware. This makes me very uncomfortable.

Amen, sister. For some reason, the start of a new year brings this fretting into sharper focus. It’s like I’m staring down this year and the universes – universes!! – of things I am ignorant of, and don’t know where to start.

But I have to start somewhere, right?  I look to some trusted sources.  And I look around. There’s no shortage of inspiration in Amsterdam. And there’s so much that I don’t understand: art, history, modern politics, language, cultural practices. With our first year in the Netherlands behind us, it feels like it’s time to get serious as we go forward. We’ve had a year to adapt, get our feet wet, learn a little. Now we need to dig deeper.  Figure out what we don’t know.  Look for guides to discovery, but also leave room for chance and inspiration.

Bold goals for the new year, especially for someone who doesn’t generally make resolutions. Turning back to Debbie Millman, we’re reminded that this – and “this” is, really, all of it, all of live – is an experiment.

Lives are shaped by chance encounters and by discovering things that we don’t know that we don’t know. The arc of a life is a circuitous one. … In the grand scheme of things, everything we do is an experiment, the outcome of which is unknown.

You never know when a typical life will be anything but, and you won’t know if you are rewriting history, or rewriting the future, until the writing is complete.

This, just this, I am comfortable not knowing.

So here’s a final new year’s toast to 2016: to all that is unknown, and all there is to discover. Cheers!



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