And just like that, we’re back from our long-planned adventure to Iceland.
Every part of the trip went about as well as it could have. We explored an incredible variety of landscapes, from seaside cliffs to sulfur-steaming volcanoes to glacial lakes to sheep-dotted grasslands to black-sand beaches to the charming urban streets of Reykjavik.
Each day was busy, but the combination of fresh air, exertion, and wild landscapes nourished me in a way I didn’t know I needed. We explored only a small fraction of the island (from the capitol city to Snaefellsness peninsula in the west, then to the south as far east as Vík). But after eight days, Iceland left us wanting more.
We will be back.
One of the goals of this website is to catalog all the various stuff I enjoy. TV shows, movies, music, and yes, books. In that spirit, I’ve decided to make dedicated pages for all the books that have meant a lot to me over the years, complete with a plot summary and totally subjective review. As a start, I chose Dies the Fire by S.M. Stirling, one of my favorite books and a really fun piece of post-apocalyptic speculative fiction. Read my review.
There’s a quote in the footer of this website from the conclusion of Walden by Henry David Thoreau:
There was an artist in the city of Kouroo who was disposed to strive after perfection. One day it came into his mind to make a staff. Having considered that in an imperfect work time is an ingredient, but into a perfect work time does not enter, he said to himself, It shall be perfect in all respects, though I should do nothing else in my life.
The story continues:
He proceeded instantly to the forest for wood, being resolved that it should not be made of unsuitable material; and as he searched for and rejected stick after stick, his friends gradually deserted him, for they grew old in their works and died, but he grew not older by a moment. His singleness of purpose and resolution, and his elevated piety, endowed him, without his knowledge, with perennial youth.
When I first read those words as a young lad of seventeen, devoting my life to making one single perfect thing was a very appealing prospect. Back then I was about to start my first year at college, and I was processing the implications of that new phase of life and all the choices it entailed: Choosing a concentration, choosing classes, choosing friends and social activities. Choosing a career. How would I spend my time? The answers I chose would have lasting effects.
Walden and Thoreau’s philosophy affected me deeply. I believed then, and still do, that we can be happier with less. Owning less, doing less. But until that point in my life, it had all been theoretical. I lived with my parents. I had only really worked for a few summers, without the pressure of earning a living. Still, I worried I was stepping into the rat race unwittingly. I enjoyed taking photos and writing and making little websites. Would those passions go by the wayside? Only if I let them.
College provided a few years to change course, and Walden was my touchstone the whole time. I read it every day. I would finish it, then immediately start over again, gleaning something new with each re-read. For a while I was the artist in the city of Kouroo. I tried to work on my writing single-mindedly. I tried to pare my life down to the essentials, although I had a lot of books. I became a really unhealthy vegetarian, then a really unhealthy vegan. But I still couldn’t manage to make time stand still.
You see, I was also dealing with crippling anxiety and depression. The Kouroo story, and by extension much of Thoreau’s philosophy, really did a number on my perfectionist and purist tendencies. I wanted to be a Boddhisatva, or, if that didn’t work out, at least a philosopher. But mental illness had other plans.
It’s been at least ten years since I’ve read or had the desire to read Walden. It informed a critical period of my life, and I would not be who I am without it. But at a certain point it became clear that it wasn’t a one-size-fits-all philosophy, at least not for me. I needed to do my own navigating.
So why do I still love that quote? Sentimental reasons, I guess. But I don’t take it quite so literally anymore. I will always “strive after perfection” — it’s in my nature. But now I see the passing of time as a beautiful thing. My depression has receded, my anxiety is in check, and I’m learning to cope with perfectionism. I want to make things that are pretty good, then let people judge for themselves.
At some point in the past couple years, the balance of my life shifted. It was only recently that I noticed I no longer had energy for the creative pursuits I used to enjoy. Of course part of that was the arrival of our first child early this year, and the learning curve of being a new parent. But another big part was work. My day job was demanding in an unhealthy way, and the boundary between my work and personal time wasn’t so much blurred as erased.
So I’m reclaiming my time. I got a new job, which I won’t start for a few weeks, but I’m hopeful I’ll be able to leave work at work and reserve my evenings and weekends for friends, family, and creative projects. My first project is this personal website (how quaint) to collect my thoughts and anythings else that seems interesting. There’s not much here yet, but check out the About and Vinyl pages to get a sense of what to expect in the future.