Five Years.

When I first picked up a copy of Sartre’s La Nausée (in a Danish translation), it was nothing more to me than an odd book by this recognisable-name author. The first few pages, setting up the premise: a collection of diary notes put together by an editor, almost had me putting the book away, thinking that it seemed overly concerned with itself. But I read on, while putting on Tame Impala’s InnerSpeaker, and found myself getting slowly immersed in the fragmentary narrative. The story of this French man trying to understand what went on in his mind, after one day being hit by a sudden feeling of nausea (nausée) while sitting in the park, got to me, and the short chapters/diary notes kept me moving forward at a time where I was yet to become the avid reader that I am now. The book opened up for me, and in return I was opened up by it.

Looking back, I can make all sorts of stories about how my life has unfolded. The choices I’ve made, the chances I’ve taken or missed. But few things are as clear to me as the influence this book has had on me. This book not just opened itself up to me, but it opened a new world: Philosophy.

This was the first time I had tried tackling one of the great minds of philosophy. Mind you, before this I hadn’t even given philosophy a thought. It wasn’t on my radar. I’ve never been a fan of larger theoretical frameworks, of drawn out thinking, of the complex. I like to think that I’m able to grasp the complex, but mostly I’m a person who likes things to come about quickly. I write poems, not novels. Even if I attempt a new novel each month, I can never get past the initial chapters. I lose interest with the stories I’m trying to tell, because I’m not going deep enough in it. I’ve yet to crack the code on the complex narrative, the multiple storylines, the character gallery.

And like the missing novel, I never thought of myself as someone who’d be into serious academia like philosophy and psychology and sociology. I always envisioned myself as a journalist, churning out articles and features, never staying in one topic too long. But reading La Nausée, I found myself immersed in the world of philosophy as this whole new thing that I’d never experienced before. Philosophy as a novel. Deep thinking disguised between common words and everyday observations.

It’s in all manners a strange book. It’s slow, it’s jumping from here to there. It’s dealing with subjects still largely unknown to me. But more than anything, it’s an interesting read, and one that I keep coming back to, either as a reading experience, picking up the book at the library whenever I come across it, or just as a fleeting thought in my mind, about this book that once started all of this for me.

Because it truly is on the legs of La Nausée that I ended up applying for the philosophy major at university, and it was my only truly serious point I could make in my application: I’ve read Sartre — let me in.

They heard my banging on the door, and they opened up. Allowing me to apply despite a highly failed high school career where I’d ended up getting grades too bad to post here. But university was a new deal, a fresh deal. This was all subjects I cared about. Human understanding in epistemology. Views of life and being in metaphysics. The power structures of political philosophy, and the question of moral right in ethics.

The only tragicomic thing, of course, was that my university almost didn’t touch upon Sartre or others who had used the novel as a vehicle for philosophy, and so, even though I’ve been taken by my studies through all five years until now having graduated as an MA, I’ve always been left wishing more. Wishing philosophy would get back to what I originally experienced it as.

My hope now, post-academics, is that I can get back to enjoying philosophy as I did back when I first picked La Nausée from the shelf. And I recently got a sign telling me that that’s exactly what will happen. The book is criminally hard to find in Denmark, and even more criminally overpriced at second-hand book stores. But then, a week ago, walking my dog, I come by a tiny little private book auction outside of a house, and lo and behold, just a month after my graduation, I find in all its wonder La Nausée being sold there for a mere 10 DKK.

I felt a rush of joy, adrenaline, longing, all at once, and I grabbed it and immediately transferred the money to the seller, and off I was with the book that started these last five years of my life.

It seems a perfect ending to a chapter gone by, that it’s bookended by the same book. During my time in philosophy, especially the first years, I’ve most definitely experienced the nausea of the book in myself, and I’ve been reminded continuously of Sartre’s words, almost working as a comforter for me, when I’ve felt philosophy might not be for me.

When the discussions have run deep or broad, and I’ve felt myself unable to follow the topic, or when some have questioned a professor, and I’ve felt my mind drift back to the original thought of the topic, I’ve reminded myself that philosophy, as life in general, is different for all. And I’m still not a great large-scale theorist. I don’t think I ever will be. But I’m as sharp as they come when dealing with communicative efforts, weeding out the waste of political communication, getting right to the heart of an argument and not letting someone get away with an attack on decent morals for a personal gain.

Philosophy for me has evolved, and I’ve evolved with it.

And I don’t know what the true subject of this post is. It has evolved as well. But I know these last five years have been good to me in many ways. And I appreciate them.

And I’m ready now to take the next step into the open, out of the book.


I find a place I started from.

The thing about growing older is that we have a shared experience with our self. Each year I round the Sun I move an inch closer to knowing who I am; knowing how my mind and body work.

For years this knowing myself seems an integral part of being alive. I don’t recall having existential questions when I was in kindergarten, nor in the first years of elementary school. Everything I was back then seemed tight-knitted to everything I did. I was my actions, so to speak.

But during adolescence, part of the “I” gets split from the rest: the actions no longer seem as perfectly synchronized with who I envision myself as. Whereas I would lie in my bed and be an astronaut when I was a kid, I could no longer fathom the action in the same way as I left childhood. It was too obvious to me that my imagination was not action in the same sense that the real world considered events worthy of that description.

That marks the time when we begin to form who we are, based on how we react to the realisations of our loss of childhood. My primary reaction to most things has always been to draw back into myself, to hide away from the realisations, to procrastinate the answers. The less I knew, the more potential, was what I believed.

Nowadays I can feel the procrastinator in me in every sense of life. It’s a demon, but it’s also a saint. A saint when I manage to treat it right; to turn it benign. In the worst circumstances, it can be a downright paralyzing kind of procrastination, rendering me unable to perform even simple tasks such as getting out of bed. On days like those, where I find no answers, I end up huddled with a cup of cocoa, a movie I’ve seen a hundred times, and texting days worth of texts in 24 hours. The most painful in hindsight is that these are the days I ruin most for myself. The days where I cannot get myself to do anything are at the same time the days where I stay awake far into the night.

Whether that’s a sign of hunting for ideas, inspiration, or just plain stupidity, I don’t know. But I’m partial to the latter. It’s ignorance, mostly, I think. Leading me astray on days that were already sunk deep in the ocean from the get-go.

On other days, and pleasantly more often the last years, I’ve instead managed to perform the saintlike version of procrastination. Just as boredom is not always bad, procrastination is not always to be frowned upon, not always an evil spirit taking possession of the industrious mind. These procrastinating days are filled with substantial talk with my closest family and friends, and is guided by the reading of literature I have stored up, ready to offer me advice on various subjects and inspire me to get back on the task.

Currently I’m reading Draft No. 4 by John McPhee, taking it slowly, one chapter at a time. McPhee is one of my all-time greats. An extremely well-known name in non-fiction circles, he is less distributed in Denmark, and I consider myself lucky to have happened upon him. In Draft No. 4 he offers advice on writing, and though I’ve read most of the pieces already published on The New Yorker‘s website, it’s such a pleasure to hold the book in my hands, turn the pages, let the words sink in without rushing them.

There is so much of the advice in there that I can use. His chapter on structure alone would be enough to warrant my purchasing of the book, giving me new ideas on how to structure any of my own writings, from the fiction to the non-fiction, to the thesis. Even in genres with great differences there’s still an opening to play with the structure. Even in something as set-in-stone as a thesis, there’s the opportunity to use creative structure as a vehicle to create progression.

In this way I’m using my procrastination tendencies for good instead of evil. Taking time to learn from the best, to try to always better myself, learn new ways and new shades of this skill that I’ve always envisioned myself as possessing. The older I’m getting, the more acutely aware I am that writing is a skill that is never perfected. And so I shouldn’t be disheartened by reading greats like John McPhee, Ursula K. Le Guin, Henry Miller, for whom every word on the page seems so effortless and graceful.

As much as everyone is gifted with different levels of raw talent, the best only ever become the best by working hard at their craft, perfecting a skill that can’t be perfected. I often have trouble getting even thoughts going, running the same two or three words over in my head numerous times before finally getting on with it, or moving on altogether. I ascribe that to a counter-productive sense of perfectionism, but it might be something else. I’m no expert in thought processes, and still only a young student of my own. But I’m getting tips on how to move on anytime I read an inspired piece of writing.

That’s the only true drawback about my newfound way of dealing with procrastination: I immediately get drawn so far into the pieces I’m reading, that I imagine myself doing that kind of writing, getting new dreams (sometimes reinvigorating old dreams) that I can see myself pursuing, when there’s still this last big chunk of accomplishment in front of me.

Reading pieces of David Foster Wallace’s writings on tennis, in the collection String Theory, I find myself longing back to the days when what I wanted more than anything was to be a sports writer or commentator. I can still easily see myself in that role. My love of sports is as strong as ever, always enjoying the competitive aspects, the narratives that show up when you look for them, the intense struggle against failure, often more so than a battle to win. Sports to me is the most tragic of all arenas, and yet the most beautiful. It’s where humankind tests itself against itself; sets clear rules and boundaries; wins or loses, devastatingly, but not fatally.

I’ve strayed far off the paths I once set out to walk on. Some of that was down to evolution, refining my ideas of myself, becoming more enlightened in a clouded world. But a lot of it happened because of neglect toward my younger self. Forgetting the dreams and ideals about what constitutes good in this life.

Getting older and learning more about oneself is also about re-learning things about oneself. I don’t know what I’ll make of this in half a year when my life as a university student is at its end. But I feel positive in knowing that I’m regaining my sense of wonder, finding more subjects interesting now than ever before.

I feel that the older I get, and the more I know of the world, the more I still want to know.

We come in peace, and we leave in pieces.

You tell me you’ve seen it all,
“Haven’t you seen it all?”
you ask me,

“Haven’t you seen it all dissolve?”

“Seen the stars of the night sky
burning up before your eyes,
reveal their flickering lights
as pure disguise?”

“Seen snow melt back in to rain
landing in puddles on the dirt,
understood how every new terrain
transforms into hurt?”

I always thought we were birds
high above the lands,

And you tell me I’m right to dream,
but wrong to wish wings instead of hands

That feathery features is a
fantastic fantasy,
but it’ll tear our skin apart
if we keep fighting our reality

‘Cause even the quickest kiss
might lead to fatality,
and not even broken hearts
escape the laws of mortality

“We come in peace,
and we leave in pieces,
like a fold-up sheet of paper,
cut along the creases.”

Meditation: On purpose.

It’s all a quest. It’s different paths; different mindsets getting you there. But it’s all a quest. It’s all questions asked or unasked, active or potential, and the hunt for answers, tracing their shadowy footprints through the dark, leaf-filled ground of the forests. It’s a life-long purpose, searching for identity in a world without, or a sudden hunch on a clear day, tumbling down from the sky to send your heart beating with wonder, to send your legs beating with wander, crisscrossing the infinite map of thoughts left behind and thoughts waving in front of you, always the naïve hope that this time we’ll make sense of it all, always realising, but never accepting, that the only sense we’re offered is the sense we make ourselves. Call it relativistic, call it a lack of universal belief. I see Evil because I call it so. I see Good because I call it so.

What I really see, is movement; is action; is things happening and things not happening. What I do is judge them. What I do, is try to answer the questions they ask me: Is this action fair? and is this a just war? and is any domestication permissible?

That is the role we’re offered, and the role we have to take. We’re part of the powerful action, but our true power lies in the moment we step out and open our eyes to the consequences. We cannot see the marks on the road when we’re at the wheel. We cannot see the hole in the hearts when we’re sat at the front of the bomb. We must listen to the begging voice, emanating from our minds, to comprehend, to cast new light on the world around us. To always answer the questions better. We must read, and make ourselves read by those who come after. We must listen to the answers already given so that we might learn from them. Mankind’s question has not changed. Only the answers do.

We’re always trying to find ourselves; always learning to live with others; always creating meaning in a meaningless world. We’re taught that from the highest peak is the darkest abyss, and those who dare wander so high will someday fall into the void, devoid of all their gains. But those gains are never shy of worth, for the person who reaches them will be forever a better soul from it, and the persons learning about these gains will themselves be inspired to reach higher, to strive to see the world in a clearer light.

But these gains demand of us that we listen to the questions and put our life at stake when we try to answer them. No question is answered if you’re not willing to bet your life on it. And often we’re not. Most of the time we don’t know the answer so well. We’re rarely that intimate with truth. That’s why we need to get better. That’s the answer to why we need to keep looking.

Unshakable burden.

There’s pain in those eyes. The kind of pain that comes from too much experience, too much knowledge. The unshakable burden of having seen too much. The twitch in the left eye, regularly irregular in its sudden shifts. Flinching from the danger that will strike in half a second twenty years ago. Eyes like these make you realise that a map is just a map, when the same event is as present here as it was there, at the very far end of the map. We never have trouble leaving these places, but sometimes the places have trouble leaving us. They become part of us, always right under the surface, as a second home, an unchosen home, that we know like we know our own heartbeat: completely and not at all. These places are the lands of closed eyelids, and we can never close our eyes to them. What use is running when the thing we’re fleeing lives inside? What dreams do painful eyes like those have? What happens in the deep of night?

I know how this story ends.

What if I told you I have visions too.

That my dreams are not just dreams. That my memories are not of the past.

Would you believe me, or would you run away screaming? Thinking I was a madman; for telling you such nonsense; for keeping on living when I know what I know.

There are missing details to everything we see. I remember exactly how your lips felt against mine in our first kiss a year from now. I recall vividly how the blood stained the snow when I laid out in the woods, shot through the heart 13 years from now. But I never noticed where we were, when I touched your chin, looked into your eyes and kissed you with a smile. And though I spun my head around and around, I never saw who shot me down.

I have found that I am starting to remove myself from the world. Or, actually, redirect my attention to the world, might be a more precise phrasing. Since I found out what was going on: that my memories are yet to happen, I have been frustrated with all the things I don’t know about the future, rather than the things I do, and I have stopped looking at what’s in front of me; the glow in your eyes, the street lamps at night, the moving shadow as the train rides through the city at sunset. These things that used to be my entire world, these visions right in front of me, have lost their potency. I know what they will offer me, I know what they have to say.

The details. I have redirected my attention to all the details that usually go forgotten. Today I studied your windowsill instead of just glancing at it, and I learned that you’d rather have the things you want, than have things be the way you want them to be.

There has always been this feeling in my life that I never experienced anything new. But I just didn’t know where to look. Until now. The muddy details are where the truths are hidden, where understanding is possible. I have forever chased the things in front of me, when I should have looked sideways, should have smelled the air and asked a question about a common circumstance. I forgot to see when I looked, because I knew it all. I had seen it all before. It was just a rerun.

But the power of a rerun lies not in simple recognition, but in expansion of the already-known as we mix in our new impressions.

What was once a simple story becomes an atmosphere; an opportunity for action and telling – for being. It becomes a much larger medium for meaning. Whatever reason lies hidden in the details will open itself up when I look at it. It’s to the point where I can flip and turn the details, like sandy stones on a beach, and find the answers to my questions on their hidden undersides.

So when you kiss me, I will see you as clearly as ever, for your lips and your eyes, your hair, your fingers, the fragrance you always carry around in the wind, they have been imprinted in me since I first saw you in a dream.

But I will see so much more than that.

Too late, too far.

There are constraints. And there are imagined constraints. There are those relating to the physical world, and others that come into play with psychology.

I can only jump a metre off the ground. That’s a physical constraint. There’s gravity and my average physique.

I cannot just walk over to you. That’s an imagined constraint. That’s me putting up boundaries around what I can and cannot do. You’re not far away, not today. But I make sure we’re not in a position to run into each other, just like you make sure it won’t happen. It’s a symbiotically imagined constraint. It’s a very delicate thing, however foolish it is.

And however foolish we are.

I don’t know why we keep telling ourselves lies. I don’t even know if we tell ourselves lies or just each other. Once again I feel the imagination trying to barge in. Lying, I think, is not the right word for what I do to myself. I don’t tell myself that I’m in love with you. That would be a lie. I’m not. But I imagine that I am. It’s so easy for me, I sometimes can’t help myself but do it.

Being in love with you was my status quo for three or four years. It was the one certain thing in my life. However quixotic it was, it gave me a sense of security. I knew there was something I dreamed of. Something that kept me going forward when the rest of me wanted to stop, go backwards, disappear. There was a light. There was you.

I’m in a better place now. A much better place. There’s a real purpose to the things I do. The book we’re about to publish. My decision to specialize in political philosophy where I finally feel like I’m back to the talented version of me; the version that works harder for praise, and thrives when he hears that he has done a good job, that he has made a unique assignment; the version that takes criticism as a way forward instead of as a hindrance and a reason to give up.

But even so, I still fall back on my imagination every now and then. I let it tell me what I want instead of following (what I can only tentatively call) my heart. I let your light of the past shine whenever I feel like I’m suddenly drowning in darkness. You’re my life jacket, but I’m afraid it’s no longer you keeping me up but me dragging you down.

I don’t know what good I do you. I don’t know what good you see in me, if you see anything. If I’m not just a memory of something to you as well.

It must be about a year and a month since I said goodbye. It was meant to be forever, but it lasted till January, or February. I don’t remember. My life moved on. I felt the weight of your world lift from me. I was sad, but no more sad than I could manage. And I breathed clean air. I fell in love, over and over again. I saw the blue in the sky. I saw stars. Man, I saw fireworks.

And then you came back.

I was hesitant. But not for long. You came back like a whirlwind, dragging up the past: all the things I had said goodbye to, all the reasons I had had to remove you from my thoughts. You brought it all up again. But this time you had left him. You were on your own. For once, for the first time since the first few months I knew you, you were on your own.

And here was I, seeing you win me back over, and hopeless against it. I let my ‘new life’ slip through my fingers with every text I sent you. I was certain that this was it. This was when it would all happen. This life with you. I was so ready for it, I never even felt to see if what I felt was something real, or something imagined. I just went with the flow and did my best to get things going.

But here we are. Here we are.

I felt some glimpses throughout the year of what I’m feeling now. I had doubts, but I never took them seriously. I figured it was just my undecided self playing tricks on me again. I figured I would come to my senses whenever I saw you.

But I never saw you. And for every text you sent me I felt my response growing colder. I began to feel like it was more of an act of duty than an act of will, of desire. I never got back to the feeling I had, when I would smile just by seeing your name on my phone. When the simplest “hi” would send my heart racing back and forth, jumping from my stomach to my throat until I had to do push ups and jumping jacks just to focus my energy on something else for a minute. Before picking up the phone again.

I never got back to loving you. And I never learned to love you like a friend.

So what to do. I can try to stop my imagination running amok. It’s the damnedest thing: I still get jealous. I don’t know why. Because someone else gets to live my fantasy? Even when I don’t want that. It’s horrible. It’s absolutely horrible of me. And I’m so sorry. Det må du virkelig undskylde. But, you see. I think this is what I felt a year ago. I saw this horrible side in me, and I saw it come up only when I let you wander around in my thoughts. And I tried to let you go, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t do it. Not as long as you could still reach me. I couldn’t let you go without letting you go. I couldn’t kill this thing inside of me, as long as I kept feeding it. And this past year has seen me wander right back into the kitchen of earthly delights and fill up on everything, taking extras when I was not allowed to. Breaking all the rules. For eating and for conversation. And I’m so sorry. But this is what my imagination does to me when you’re in my life.

I don’t think I can ever learn to love you like a friend.

And I don’t think I can ever love you like I loved you back then. And anything short of that original love is less than you deserve.

And I wish I had a more positive way to end this. But sometimes a sad post just has to be sad.