Category Archives: On My Mind

Untitled Poetry

I dreamed I couldn’t find you, even though I knew exactly where I’d left you and you told me where you’d be. 
I dreamed I couldn’t find you, even though I looked under every rock and behind every tree in all of those places, right where you should have been.

Sometimes I think you don’t want to be found, that you take a moment off alone just to be alone. 
I understand because I do that, too, or I take the road less travelled, the unbeaten path, just to see where it will go and to be away for a while.
Usually, I find, I haven’t been missed. 
I like the solitude of airplanes because I can step away without explanation.

It didn’t make sense in my dream that I couldn’t find you, and my dream self knew it. 
So I looked around, bemused.
You were there, somewhere, because you said you’d be.

Instead I closed my eyes and waited.

And when I opened them again,
you were right in front of me.

Old Ideas

In a tea shop the other day, which also sells feminist-leaning books on topics ranging from sex to career, I came across a postcard that read (in German but I’ve translated it to the original):

I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones. – John Cage

I bought the postcard and taped it up when I got home. The last time I had the feeling of Yes, this upon reading a quote, I bought the piece of art on which it was written and hung it near my bed, where it has stayed for three apartments and two countries. Sometimes something just speaks.

But the more I think about it, the more I recognize that I need to pay very close attention to that gut reaction.

I’ve been thinking a lot about old ideas over the past several months, thinking, writing, and talking with about the way we grapple with such ideas. Some ideas from a different time remain at the forefront of how we conduct our lives today, and in this case perhaps it is unfair to think of them as “old”. Perhaps the fact that they still serve for us has given them a new life, a new understanding. So maybe these are just “ideas”.

However, there are also ideas that we discard when they no longer help us, ideas that belong in a different time and, we’ve decided, should remain there. People have diverse opinions on which ideas fall into this category, which has been the focus of recent discussion. At what point should we let an old idea go, and when are we right to cling to it?

Let’s say a traditional idea clashes with a modern view on how people should behave, or treat others, or be part of a group or society. Let’s say this old idea fits well into certain environments but sticks out uncomfortably in others. Where does this idea rightfully belong? And if it doesn’t belong anymore, where should it go?

Cage writes of fearing ideas, and it is important to acknowledge that old ideas are not bad ideas and new ideas are not good ones. There is certainly danger in blindly following new ideas, but fearing them does not mean they won’t eventuate. Rather, fear often prevents seeking to understand and this is a different danger. A new idea needs to be opened, dissected, examined before we can pass judgement. And then, once we know, we can like or dislike, accept or reject. And yes, in the case of some old ideas, we can know them well enough to fear them. But we should not fear what we do not yet know.

If we handle new ideas with caution, careful examination, and thoughtfulness, perhaps old ideas should be given the same treatment. We need not hold onto something just because it has always been this way. This, I believe, many people find threatening. And when considering certain ideas of my own, this thought makes my heart feel heavy and I can feel tears prickling in the back of my throat and behind my eyes. This contradiction is called cognitive dissonance in the language of psychology, and we are already well-acquainted.

On seeing the postcard, my gut instinct spoke in a way that, upon reflection, asks a lot of me. And I bought the postcard to remind me. I am certainly not afraid of new ideas, because I don’t know them yet. On the other hand, there are old ideas that should absolutely be feared. But, as I asked, how do we define that line? And once we reach a decision, what does that mean for the way we live our lives?

I cannot yet draw a conclusion here. But I am indeed looking for one.

Berlin, Germany – December 2021

Saying Yes

When I moved to New York City, a friend who had been living there for some time told me that the key to enjoying New York is to say yes to things. “This is how you meet people,” she said. “This is how you learn how to do New York.”

The problem was that I was living in New York at a time in my life when it was a victory to do the simple things, like go for a walk, leave the apartment in the rain, or smile at someone in a coffee shop. It was a time when I didn’t want to be in my own company, much less impose it on someone else.

(For what it’s worth, I said yes to a few things and that was hard to do. But I was always, always glad that I’d done it.)

This was on my mind a week ago when a friend asked if I was interested in attending a party hosted by someone I have spent time with, though wouldn’t yet call a friend. I said yes because I knew that yes was the answer. And as I answered, I also knew that the real answer was NO in glowing red letters, and that the NO told me something interesting – but was wrong. I had no good reason to say no and much better reasons to say yes even if the gut instinct was no. So I said yes.

And in saying yes, I worked myself up to look forward to the opportunity. When the question later came up of whether I wanted to join my friends in spending the night camping in a converted VW bus beloved in my friend group, I also said yes. (It’s a good thing we’re having a heatwave.) It didn’t take long to grow excited about this, too.

There’s a lot to be said for listening to yourself, for listening to that little voice screaming NO. It knows some things. But this experience made me think about times when the right thing to do is to close the lid on the voice and let the rational part of the brain (Tversky and Kahneman’s logical system 2 rather than intuitive system 1) do the talking. Understanding the choice I made and why I made it while acknowledging what the little voice wanted me to know may sound like a contradiction, but is not. Rather, taking the time to listen to the gut response allowed me to quiet it down and put it to rest and then embrace the decision I had made.

I like trying new things and the only way to do that is to say yes when the opportunities arise. There are certainly times when a resounding no is appropriate, unquestioned, and the right answer. But there are also times when there’s no good reason for the no, and that means the no can become yes. In the end, at least I know I’ve tried and with all the possibilities life has to offer, I can’t do more than that.

And it’s true what they say – you don’t know until you try, and you have to say yes if you’re going to try.

Arco, Italy – April 2022