Public Spaces is a personal and creative writing exercise for the remainder of my summer; I will practice writing, but not at my kitchen table or from the sofa. Each passage will only be written in places accessible to the public; I am attempting to implicitly examine the relationship between style, inspiration, and environment.
The first installment was written just outside of the Atrium Mall DMV at the table of a Sbarro pizza. Chicago.
For context: I opened my notebook to the first blank page I could find, and it just so happened that a page dated one year ago today was blank except for my favorite quote–ironically, a segment pulled from John Stuart Mill’s “Utilitarianism.” It reads as follows:
“The happiness which they meant was not a life of rapture, but moments of such, in an existence made up of few and transitory pains, many and varied pleasures, with a dedicated predominance of the active over the passive, and having as the foundation of the whole not to expect more from life than it is capable of bestowing. A life thus composed, to those who have been fortunate enough to obtain it, has always appeared worthy of the name of happiness.”
The other day, I read an article with a beautiful line or two in it; one of those lines talked about making memories in the world, and not for the world. I think this person was referring to the advent of social media as a primary means of expression and validation. Perhaps the easiest way to become dissatisfied with the perfectly good lives we are leading is to place priority on the memories we make for the world, while devaluing those that we simply make in the world.The ones we make in the world go unrecognized, unposted, and unshared with anyone save for those they were made with. These memories are bred from no intention but experience.
There is always a rewarding feeling of validation in sharing with someone–the point of sharing any experience in writing, in photos, and in words, is that you want the goodness of your own experience to be extended to those you share it with. I think this article was saying that where we have fallen off is where we begin to derive initial goodness of the experience from those it is being extended to. We have become creatures who value something only if we believe that others will tell us that it is valuable.
Perhaps we do this because we are hurt. I want you to know that I realized I loved you more than I thought I already did when I read the second beautiful line of that article. It said that we would know we had it good when we were able to walk the sidewalks and streets that we live on, and be able to find bits and pieces of us, dotting and lighting up the town, “like Christmas lights strung around the neighborhood.” I wish I would have thought of that line. If this is true, though, if “having it good” means seeing yourself and seeing us in the world we have found ourselves in, then this city is 5th Avenue at Christmastime.
That this passage is written exactly one year removed from thoughts of happiness and hope, gives me additional hope that while we evolve, somehow the parts of us that matter–the ones that make us write down quotes that we like, the parts that pick up a stranger’s dropped ballpoint pen to give back, even though it’s just a ballpoint pen, the parts that are slightly offended when the store clerk doesn’t smile back because all we want is to be smiled at–those parts don’t ever really change. At least I don’t think they do. But I can’t figure out exactly what does change.
I would hope that it’s the parts of us we’d rather not write about. The broken lightbulbs. The parts that avoid eye contact with the street peddler and put in headphones spilling no sound when we see someone asking for help. The quote I wrote down a year ago today is one that for a while I considered abbreviating and putting somewhere on my body. For who to see? Maybe just me. Maybe so I would just know, just remember, that the important parts of me–the parts that are happy that I wrote down a quote one year ago today, won’t really change.
Photo courtesy of Chris Jerke, Flickr Creative Commons.