“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” -Pablo Picasso
For the length of time that I lived there, the town that I grew up in contained around 11,000 people. There was one mall and one main road that the same teenage cars would drive down over and over again, blasting their bass-heavy tunes as if, through repetition, the moment would be made eternal. I had my own moments of blasting music to terrify the locals, but those that I really held on to – when I was aware of my own sense of eternity – were the ones that I spent among books, in that largely imagined world that stems so much from small town life.
In the early teenage years, I would go to the library every Saturday to search for Sweet Valley Twins and Sweet Valley High books I hadn’t yet read; once I vaulted into high school, I would seek out the few books I was curious about that were available, novels by Ayn Rand and Kurt Vonnegut, Ernest Hemingway and Emily Bronte. There happened to be a line of windows at the back of the library that looked out on a patch of trees, a place where I was held among nature and books – a reverential solitude.
At the time, the minimal press of the outside world and Monday morning classes could be staved off with a book, a small silence maintained among the insularity of being teenaged. Time felt like something that moved as I did, not something that prodded me forward with its sense of urgency, as if I too must move in deference. It is easy to feel the pressing in as we get older, the sense of an outside influence that becomes more difficult to counter, but what constitutes solitude exists no less as we get older; it is simply our expectations of how our days should be filled that changes.
“The unexamined life is not worth living” is attributed to the philosopher Socrates, supposedly said during the trial where he was sentenced to death. While philosophy has existed as a field for questioning things as they are for thousands of years, what comprises the questions – for a culture – is always shifting along that current. The questions, and the ideal of self that remains beneath them, can only be discovered if we indulge them, but philosophy – like art – requires a turning inward. It is only through temporary removal from the world that we can reflect.
Instead of some semblance of balance, a synthesis of what is imagined and what is known, life consists largely of two warring halves. In a world that values swiftness and speed, the dexterity and agility of easy thought, there is a rush towards what can be most easily understood and monetized. The informal rites of adulthood are not something I regret, but sometimes I wake up to that lost other world where imagination presses in. It is still there, beating its quiet heart against the surface.