A month living in a room in the sky and hanging up hundreds of our most private thoughts in the gallery 54 floors below can make you contemplative. Over the last year I felt everything from joy to despair and I see it on these confession walls too. So much longing and regret and fear and wonder. It’s not our experiences that define us but what we make of our experiences that defines us as we grow and change. The meaning of life is the meaning we make of it. We each choose how our experiences affect us and what consumes our hearts.
Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico, Mexico City. Photo by Kristina Kassem
The beginning of a series about one of my favorite things: reading in solitude in hotels.
“So complete is each neighborhood, and so strong the sense of neighborhood, that many a New Yorker spends a lifetime within the confines of an area smaller than a country village.” - E.B. White, Here is New York, 1949
After seven months, the original Before I Die wall in my neighborhood in New Orleans has come to an end. The house will become a home again thanks to new owners. We painted over the wall and stenciled one last thing – something Wendell Pierce said a few months ago that has stayed with me since: “Our thoughts are to the individual as our art is to the community.” It was ready to go but from the ashes come more.
“To a greater or lesser extent there goes on in every person a struggle between two forces: the longing for privacy and the urge to go places: the introversion, interest directed within oneself toward one’s own inner life of vigorous thought and fancy; and extroversion, interest directed outward, toward the external world of people and tangible values.” – Vladimir Nabokov
“This was taken on July 18, 1968, when I waved goodbye to Father at Songshan Airport to board my very first flight and start my medical internship at Mount Sinai Hospital in Chicago. That day, on the way to the airport in a taxi, realizing I did not have a wristwatch, he took his Shiseko off his wrist and gave it to me. At the gate, he held my hand so tight it hurt.” - my Dad, about his father, who just passed away
“I looked at her face and looked so deeply that I felt I was behind her eyes and all at once I found myself saying, as tears flowed, ‘That’s Me. That’s Me!’ And those simple words brought back many thoughts that I had had before, about the fusion of our souls into one higher-level entity, about the fact that at the core of both our souls lay our identical hopes and dreams for our children, about the notion that those hopes were not separate or distinct hopes but were just one hope, one clear thing that defined us both, that wielded us into a unit, the kind of unit I had but dimly imagined before being married and having children. I realized that though Carol had died, that core piece of her had not died at all, but that it had lived on very determinedly in my brain.” – Douglas Hofstadter, I Am A Strange Loop, quoted by David Brooks
On any beach where the water feels good, sit in that space where the waves tap the shore, and lie down, hands behind your head, so the ocean gushes softly past your feet, your waist, and sometimes your head.
“My aim was always to write a story about how love and friendship fitted into people’s lives, particularly as they started to realize time was short and mortality was a fact… I was never interested in looking at that story of brave slaves who rebelled and escaped. I’m fascinated by the extent to which people don’t run away, and I think if you look around us that is the remarkable fact – how much we accept what fate has given us. Sometimes it’s just passivity; sometimes it’s just simply perspective – we don’t have the perspective to think about running away. And ultimately I was looking for a metaphor for how we face mortality. We can’t escape from the fact that we only have a limited amount of time.” - Kazuo Ishiguro, talking about his book Never Let Me Go
“He was… feeling a little impatient with academic writing, having waded through so much of it in the course of his studies, and was convinced that it should be perfectly possible to explain most things to an intelligent child without jargon or pompous language.” – preface of A Little History of the World by E.H. Gombrich, 1935
The Blue Mosque glows, a vendor serves tea from his portable canister, a group of old men start singing, and a man crouches on the ground to take the perfect photograph of his ladyfriend. The evening is cooler. They sit down and talk about the future. He listens. She laughs. They could rest and enjoy the place slowly and freely, and they could sit as near or as far from the grumpy lady as they so desired.
Drive across America and you’ll see the sweep and carnage of urban history: cities that grew and shrank because of ports, then trains, then roads, then highways. And now every state has old downtowns lined with empty little storefronts for little rent. Dignified buildings wait. Someday they will be loved again.
“Men and women alive in the world, in all their brave variety, with all their quirks and greatness and folly, surrounded by beauty and harshness, moved by wonder and selfishness and love, aware of splendid ghosts in all their yesterdays, fearful or confident about tomorrow even while they dare, themselves, to shape it.” – The World of Mankind, 1962