On to the Next Chapter

THE ROOFTOP OF MY APARTMENT IS A FINE PLACE TO SAVOR DAWN AND DUSK and the company of the people I love. It’s a beautiful place to think.

Right now, Los Angeles is my home.

Over the past several months I’ve made my way up and down the state, taking weekends to backpack through the mountains or pursue my latest personal endeavors.

Through it all, I’ve been with my best friends.

They provide a constant connection and fill my heart with joy. I know I’m never alone, no matter where I go. I hope they know how much they mean to me.

From the rooftop looking down, the natural flow of time provides no shortage of inspiration. I bring a book up here to read; I take my notebook to hold, and perhaps as I am now, I’ll jot down some notes of what I notice out there, and within.

With my natural eye, I notice how incredibly luminous the moon appears. From here, it looks as if it’s a part of our world, set against the dark blue depths of the solar system.

Our perception of the transitioning sky is an iridescent display of light based on the earth’s ellipse. A piece of the moon is missing, turned from the rays of the sun. There’s still so much we’re unable to see.

The city lights, an outward show of life, dim the stars. It’s when we leave the cities that we can truly see what’s out there. Even then, what we see is no more.

With our orbit through the dark, I can’t wait for colder days.

Flannels and sweatshirts, a beanie and a scarf wrapped around my chin, good hearty laughter and stories, books and movies that never grow old.

The lights fade from above; the colors change and reach their limit; a plane crosses the path of the moon.

It’s faint, but I see a red light flash on the wing, a sign that it’s there, gliding through space with living beings on board. This planet never sleeps.

We’re always up somewhere, moving, existing, living. There’s nothing to fear.

I hope to divulge my thoughts honestly on this page without constraint. I won’t be able to come on this roof much longer and watch the palm trees blow or the planes go by or the sun slowly set and dissolve.

I’ll be somewhere else soon; life goes on.

Through the stories I read, both fiction and nonfiction, the souls who wrote these books lived in this world — they breathed our air, they gazed at the same celestial beings.

They lived in another era, but they were human, striving to find their place as I am now.

I believe there’s a natural energy guiding me on this course. Not only to be a writer, but somebody who loves to write and share my experiences with the world.

That’s what I’m going to continue to do, no matter what happens. That’s why Gregory Russell Benedikt and I created the Dare to Dream Publication.

We know it’s not easy to find a place to share our dreams and who we are, deep down in our hearts and souls.

Life has been nothing short of a blessing. Now, on to the next chapter.

The inspiration to think on the page derives from the book To Show and To Tell, by Phillip Lopate.

Lopate explores the techniques and style of writing creative nonfiction; it’s brilliant in its simplicity and, in a way, seems to go against everything taught in high school and the fundamental writing classes of college.

Lopate explores the work of one of my heroes of history, Michel de Montaigne, the French Renaissance thinker known for his style of thinking on the page.

“What is unique about Montaigne is the great mental freedom he exhibited, which allowed him to chase his mind from subject to digression,” Lopate writes.

“He is the Jackson Pollack of essayists, employing an all-over style that covers every inch of the composition with equal emphasis, rather than obeying the laws of literary perspective. Though organized around a topic — they [his essays] are likely to skitter everywhere, from the ancient world to current events, meantime conflating the personal with the historical and biological.”

Montaigne’s Essays are imbued with everything he thought without much reserved. He was writing for himself because he was curious about what it means to be a human being.

He took that curiosity and infused it with stories and lessons from his reading as well as what was taking place in his historical epoch, a period in history where the French Wars of Religion were ravaging his home country.

He wasn’t seeking perfection in his writing; the only thing he strove to find was a semblance of his soul through the words he set down in ink.

I often wonder what I’d do if I stopped writing.

When I’m stressed or overwhelmed, these thoughts arise. When I feel like I’m writing for the reason I argue against in many of my stories, to appear a certain way in others’ eyes, I question my sincerity.

When writing feels more like a job than my passion, I know I must change my thinking.

I want to hide, escape the pressure I put on myself to keep up with social media, churn out consistent quality stories, follow other writers, and maintain a constant dialogue.

I put the pressure on myself because my inner voice says you must be strong; you must continue pushing because that’s who you are. I wonder what people would think if I stopped; if I gave up.

Why do we feel this way at times? Like we must maintain the strength to push on? As if that matters more than doing nothing if nothing’s what we feel like doing.

These thoughts are natural. To want a break is human. I know I won’t stop writing because putting pen to paper is what I want to do to work through these problems.

When I wake up in the middle of the night and write what’s on my mind; when I think about how lucky I am to have a bed, be healthy, and have a roof over my head, I know nothing else matters.

I know I won’t stop writing because it’s the best way to ask myself these questions in the first place, a respite for my tangled thoughts, a place to say what I need to say. I won’t stop writing because I love it.

If one day I’d decided I was done then so be it. Life changes and so do we. But for now, I’m going to keep on going.

Putting my thoughts on the page makes me free.

It’s inspiring to read To Show and To Tell. It feels like the author Phillip Lopate is a friend, one whom many writers need. I enjoy writing stories of history and fiction, ingrained with lessons I’ve learned and satisfying endings (or so I hope).

Yet, this writing style is the most liberating of all, the style that clarifies what my spirit wants to say, and that is I’m not perfect. Nobody is. Nor should our writing attempt to be.

Above all, I strive to be honest about my imperfections, just as Montaigne was with himself and the blank page.

“Stop beating up on yourself, Montaigne says in this essay [Of Experience]: ‘the most barbarous of our maladies is to despise our being,’” writes Lopate.

“About purists or perfectionists, he remarks, ‘they want to get out of themselves and escape from the man. That is madness: instead of changing into angels, they change into beasts; instead of raising themselves, they lower themselves. These transcendental humors frighten me.’”

It takes courage to be honest about our imperfections. But when we are, we can live unburdened without the weight of the world holding us down.

I was initially drawn to the life of Michel de Montaigne when I read the Biography of Montaigne by one of my favorite writers, Stefan Zweig.

This philosopher seemed so human, so real, even light-hearted while caught amongst the brutal 16th-century. Montaigne continued to search for the good in the world.

I’m not alone in my reverence for the father of the modern essay. The 19th-century American essayist, poet, and transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson was inspired by Montaigne and his endless pursuit of self-exploration.

In his Journals Emerson wrote, “In Roxbury, in 1825, I read Cotton’s translation of Montaigne. It seemed to me as if I had written the book myself in some former life, so sincerely it spoke to my thought and experience. No book before or since was ever so much to me as that.”

Emerson’s journals are “an archive of reflections, not a shaped work of art,” Lopate writes in To Show and To Tell. It’s fascinating to read the journals of writers like Emerson.

Their journals give insight into their writing process, but more relatable, we see their method of living.

They prove to me that nobody is too great or too underserving to write. Nobody is unworthy of pursuing whatever is in their heart; it only takes being honest about what that is.

I connected with Montaigne’s pursuit of personal curiosity at the onset of my passion for reading. While I felt an increasing joy in reading and writing, I still had questions about who I was inside.

Of course, I still do, and that will never end. But Montaigne taught me it’s not only okay, but crucial, to ask ourselves these questions throughout our lives.

Through his essays, he asked questions of the world; through my writing, I hope to do the same. What significantly influenced my outlook on reading is Montaigne’s approach to books, so different from how we’re taught to read in school.

He taught me to read for fun, in a way more congruent with my twelve-year-old mind than my college-level one. In doing so, I reconnected with the kid in me.

In school, we’re asked in vain to read in search of names to cling onto, facts to remember, scenes and motifs impossible for a ninth-grader to grasp in their full profundity.

We’re asked to read for the wrong reasons. At least that’s how I see it now as somebody who began loving to read for pleasure again once I graduated. There are students who love English class and the joy of careful reading.

This notion seemed to have slipped my mind until, this morning actually, I read this passage in Reading Like a Writer, by Francine Prose:

“We all begin as close readers. Even before we learn to read, the process of being read aloud to, and of listening, is one in which we are taking in one word after another, one phrase at a time, in which we are paying attention to whatever each word or phrase is transmitting.”

As a writer, I now enjoy the pursuit of reading carefully, line by line with a pen in hand, pondering the author’s thought process.

I see myself in their seat now and find it interesting when Prose states: “Word by word is how we learn to hear and then read, which seems only fitting, because it is how the books we are reading were written in the first place.”

Everything we read, every word, was pondered, crossed out, and then re-included until the writer feels their work is ready to be released. Then it’s out of their hands to be skimmed over, disregarded, or just maybe, savored.

There is no right way to read, as I read critically at times, and at others, I’ll daydream as I make my way through a dense passage.

Both can be enjoyable as long as they leave you with something to think about.

Michel de Montaigne read not to appear intellectual in others’ eyes or to memorize facts.

“I seek, in the reading of books, only to please myself by an honest diversion; or, if I study,’ tis for no other science than what treats of the knowledge of myself, and instructs me how to die and how to live well,” he wrote in chapter X of his second book in the essay Of Books.

Montaigne read to change his perspective of the world. Through reading, he understood that we’d been here before, yet the human spirit preservers.

Furthermore, he read because he enjoyed to.

When I read now, it isn’t with tired eyes scanning for a word or a phrase that will help me pass a test.

I read with an open mind. I read with space to think about the words, with the freedom to let my mind wander and think about other things if that’s what naturally happens.

But then I’ll come across a line, a passage, a page that strikes a chord in me. Many of these moments have changed how I see the world; they’ll stay with me forever.

I came across one such passage in the book Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham. The book was completed by Maugham in 1915 and takes place around the same time.

Regardless of being fiction I find the story to be a connection to what the world was really like. In the passage, the main character Phillip has just heard that one of his only true friends had just died in the war.

I believe it captures the essence of the entire story: how our relationships shape who we are, how people come and go as we change, how the human spirit finds meaning in it all.

“He walked mechanically, not knowing where he went, and realized that he had sauntered along Shaftesbury Avenue. He made up his mind to go to the British Museum. He began to look upon the tombstones with which the room was lined. They were the work of Athenian stonemasons of the fourth and fifth centuries before Christ and they were very simple, work of no great talent, but of the exquisite spirit of Athens upon them; time had mellowed the marble to the color of honey.

There was one stone which was very beautiful, a bas relief of two young men holding each other’s hand; and the reticence of the line, the simplicity, made one like to think that they sculptor had been touched with a genuine emotion. It was an exquisite memorial to that than which the world offers but one thing more precious, to a friendship; and as Philip looked at it, he felt tears come to his eyes.

He thought of Hayward and his eager admiration for him when they first met, and how disillusion had come and then indifference, till nothing held them together but habit and old memories. It was one of the queer things in life, that you saw a person every day for months and were so intimate with him that you could not imagine existence without him; then separation came, and everything went in the same way, and the companion who seemed essential proved unneccessary.

Phillip cried out in his soul! What is the use of it? The bright hopes of youth had to be paid for at such a bitter price of disillusionment. Other men, with no more advantages than he succeeded, and others again, with many more, failed. It seemed pure chance. The rain fell alike upon the just and upon the unjust, and for nothing was there a why or wherefore.”

To come across one of these influential pieces of writing and be moved makes reading that book worth it altogether.

It’s hard to imagine that there is some supernatural reason for it all.

Still, I believe there is. The people we meet make our journey possible; but maybe, in the end, our soul is guided by something unknown to us, an energy which will never be revealed, a natural light which will never fade.

Maybe we’re guided by nothing more than our curiosity.

I know that as long as we’re honest with ourselves and who we are, when we ask what we truly want out of this world, there will always be a reason to keep moving forward, if only to keep asking.

The people in my life make me who I am, and I am infinitely grateful for that.

All I can hope is to have that same effect, to encourage in any way I can, to inspire by being me. And on the days when I just want to hide, open a book and fall into another world, that’s fine too.

This story was originally published on Medium.com in my publication, Dare to Dream. 
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