Know thyself; a memento mori

As my days inch forward and time spins in a centripetal manner, distance disassociates me from previous aspirations and leaves me floating in a vacuum of unguided will. Structure has completely broken down for me and the only asylum I have found is that in the hands of a most formidable colossus of a library, from which I run every day to the delicate antithesis of inspiring female hands. I am living in a strange reality that is sculpting me blindfolded with diamond chisels. 

Every hour is a reevaluation of the previous and confidence grows as trust in a mystical higher purpose grows. Or is it all just a psychosis of a mind searching for meaning?

Man’s search for meaning may arouse inner tension rather than inner equilibrium. However, precisely such tension is an indispensable prerequisite of mental health. There is nothing in the world, I venture to say, that so effectively helps one to survive even the worse conditions as the knowledge that there is a meaning in one’s life.
— Viktor Frankl

Inner tension wound taught....but there is comfort, or so enough for me, with these simple words. 

Last night conversation danced gently around Denmark's most esteemed thinker, Kierkegaard. Sitting with these international philosophy majors, I felt almost stagnant in comparison to their self-development. One was going on to pursue her masters while the other had notes of her thesis on the aforementioned Danish thinker scattered all over a nearby desk. I took pleasure in keeping up, but thoughts couldn't help but to focus on my own future, romanticizing traveling to Germany for intense study of Goethe's works, or perhaps even St. Petersburg to immerse myself in my native culture. Such disquiet these preoccupations can cause!

This morning I walked for the umpteenth time past Kierkegaard's statue in the library's courtyard. I decided to read a few passages of his journals to get a feel for this literary great. I was delighted to find a key quote of his existentialist views, and one that would relieve me profoundly. 

 

What I really need is to get clear about what I must do, not what I must know, except insofar as knowledge must precede every act. What matters is to find a purpose, to see what it really is that God wills that I shall do; the crucial thing is to find a truth which is truth for me, to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die.

One must first learn to know himself before knowing anything else. Not until a man has inwardly understood himself and then sees the course he is to take does his life gain peace and meaning; only then is he free of that irksome, sinister traveling companion — that irony of life, which manifests itself in the sphere of knowledge and invites true knowing to begin with a not-knowing (Socrates) just as God created the world from nothing. But in the waters of morality it is especially at home to those who still have not entered the tradewinds of virtue. Here it tumbles a person about in a horrible way, for a time lets him feel happy and content in his resolve to go ahead along the right path, then hurls him into the abyss of despair. Often it lulls a man to sleep with the thought, “After all, things cannot be otherwise,” only to awaken him suddenly to a rigorous interrogation. Frequently it seems to let a veil of forgetfulness fall over the past, only to make every single trifle appear in a strong light again. When he struggles along the right path, rejoicing in having overcome temptation’s power, there may come at almost the same time, right on the heels of perfect victory, an apparently insignificant external circumstance which pushes him down, like Sisyphus, from the height of the crag. Often when a person has concentrated on something, a minor external circumstance arises which destroys everything. (As in the case of a man who, weary of life, is about to throw himself into the Thames and at the crucial moment is halted by the sting of a mosquito.) Frequently a person feels his very best when the illness is the worst, as in tuberculosis. In vain he tries to resist it but he has not sufficient strength, and it is no help to him that he has gone through the same thing many times; the kind of practice acquired in this way does not apply here.
— Søren Kierkegaard's Journals & Papers IA Gilleleie, 1 August 1835
My man Soren!

My man Soren!

Instead of hastily finding pre-made track on which I can walk, I found the resolve to continue on my own path that I am creating day by day. Yes, I have to deal with nebulous abysses of despair but I do believe that there is some greater purpose to my zig-zag route. 


The crucial thing is to find a truth that is a truth for me. 

The ancient Greek Aphorism -  " know thyself "    - says: "the proverb is applied to those whose boasts exceed what they are", and that "know thyself" is a warning to pay no attention to the opinion of the multitude.

The ancient Greek Aphorism -  "know thyself"

- says: "the proverb is applied to those whose boasts exceed what they are", and that "know thyself" is a warning to pay no attention to the opinion of the multitude.

Consideration for continuing education was a serious one, and one that would surely open up opportunities that I wouldn't have exposure to otherwise. But now, as I sit in one of the most beautiful libraries in the world with the tomes of many a literary titan under my hand, would it be naive to discredit the education I am currently receiving? I believe the best curriculum I can set for myself now is to not lose focus and continue absorbing all of my doubts and utilizing them most effectively as stimuli for creation. 

I yet have poems to scribble, screenplays to develop, books to write, and philosophical labyrinths to navigate. I believe it to be more suspect if I was confident of any outcomes. 

My Barometric Memory

 

Midday, I saw a person enjoying a lager in an outdoor cafe and I told my companion that there was something inherently "right" about that scene. This struck me as strange because I can almost guarantee myself frowning upon such an action in New York, where I would then ponder the person’s other alcoholic tendencies. Why the in world did I find it appropriate in the former circumstance? 

This got me thinking... 

I've always been keen on scents as memory triggers, some bringing me back decades to moments I thought were long discarded from mental storage; a perfume of a previous love from Barcelona, the scent of the first days of winter preceding a season of snowballs and ski-trips to Vermont, a deodorant that colored an entire summer of country getaways and early morning hikes through rural Russia. These are all very specific triggers that correspond to equally specific times and places. But just until recently, I have thought of scents as being the single strongest memory throwback with even visual cues resulting in weaker reminders of my past.

Exiting the plane in Copenhagen and getting hit with the cool sun and powerfully crisp breeze lent itself to a pleasure that penetrated my core. At first I thought it was just a relief of getting out of the 100°F weather of Milan and not immediately sweating through layers of clothing. But then a strange nostalgia started to settle. With every deep inhale, an unidentifiable calm was emerging from an unusual space in my mind and I couldn't understand why. The following mornings were leaving me even more clueless with an unplaced happiness, novel wonder, and a sense of contentment that usually did not accompany my usual caffeine buzz. 

Then, after mechanically putting on a live-stream of a Russian radio station I used to listen to at my summer house outside of Moscow, I had the first inkling of a possible cause. The air was now becoming more familiar, the color temperature of the sun reminded me of the apartment I grew up in, and the air had the rejuvenating bouquet I once had the joy of smelling in Quebec. The nostalgia was becoming more clear and as memories of a road-trip to Canada, family vacation to London, ungoverned exploration of St. Petersburg, my first film premiere in Amsterdam, and most of my childhood in Moscow started to saturate with color, I realized that all of these places are more or less on the same latitudinal coordinates (the geographic coordinates that specify the north- south position of a point on the Earth's surface). Maybe I was off, but my memories all pointed to the very similar environmental indicators. 

I decided to look into the geographical placement of these recollections. 

Copenhagen - 55°

Moscow - 55°

Amsterdam - 52°

London - 51°

St. Petersburg - 50°

Quebec - 48°

(New York - 40° for comparison)

I even went a step farther to check out the Air Quality Indexes of places that were evoked in my memory due to a similar smell of the air. 

Copenhagen - 26

Moscow (outskirts) - 19 

Quebec - 29

Nice and fresh! Also very close in metrics. (Moscow, London, and St. Petersburg were excluded due to obvious air pollution) 

New York - 62 (!!!)

Since the previous were lining up, perhaps UV indexes would also show similarities? 

Measured at 10:00 am, when nostalgia was most apparent — 

Copenhagen - 3.4

Moscow - 3.8

Amsterdam - 3.0

London - 3.7

St. Petersburg - 3.1

Quebec - 3.3

These are all medium level registries. 

For comparison

10:00 AM New York - 5.2 High

11:00 AM - New York - 7.4 Very High

The data points confirmed my nostalgic suppositions. I was even a bit startled to connect all of these strangely unrelated occurrences with a verifiable geographical explanation. 

What is most interesting to note about this observation is how remarkably sensitive we are as human beings. My mind went as far as to cue memories based off tropospheric pressure (atmospheric pressure in relation to altitude), air quality, and UV metrics; not to mention the countless factors I may have not taken into account i.e. lunar position, pollen count, indigenous flora categorized by aroma profiles etc. These invisible factors were carefully labeled with distinct emotional cues that evoked feelings which I could not at first understand. 

That beer I saw being consumed was contextually perfect because it evoked my own memories of enjoying lagers in similar environments, usually in a vacation scenario. It's strange in NYC for me because I don't day drink; I'm always working. 

Memory is an astoundingly complex device that I am only starting to understand. But here’s to having a nice cold one and remembering all the others we had the pleasure to enjoy!