Amelie (The Fabulous Destiny of Amelie Poulain) is one of the greatest movies I've ever seen. When I first heard of it, the creepy super pale girl on the poster kind of turned me off from the movie, but when I finally got around to watching it I absolutely loved it.
It is one of my favorite movies, and a big reason for that is just because the movie is very artistic- watching it gives me the same feeling I get when I visit an art gallery or read an elegant proof. I appreciate the lovely quotes and the colors and the composition and the acting and the filming and the dialogue and even the French that I can't understand. But what really cemented it as a movie that I really like is the scene near the end of the movie where the “glass man” who lives next to Amelie gives her advice via a recording. In a touching scene he tells Amelie that she does not have a glass body like his, and she ought to go talk to boys and try new things and enjoy her life instead of hiding behind the scenes and living a life of simple and small pleasures, lest her heart turn to glass. Convinced, she runs from her living room, burst open the door to find the guy waiting for her at her door, and the two of them ride off in a tandem bike in an excellently life affirming scene.
In my last two posts, You Suck / You Are Not Special and Romanticism Considered Harmful respectively, I talked about how people suck and why they don't realize it, as well as our tendency to romanticize things unfairly and why that's a big problem. Both of these posts discuss problems in trying new things and improving and bettering yourself, so I wrote this post as the final piece in my tri-blogy- my attempt to convince you to go out and live (whatever that means to you), to pursue more than just the simple pleasures cracking creme brûlées and dipping your hands in sacks of grain.
I find that many people struggle with questions of "what," and especially at our age (I am no exception), people have no clue what they like, what they are like, what they are interested in, what they want to do or be, what's important to them, and what makes them happy (and I suspect the same is true of most people at any age). When I was younger I focused so much on school (for reasons part family, part personal) I just didn't really do any sports or develop any hobbies. I mean, I played tennis (forced to), played piano (forced to), and made halfhearted attempts to be athletic or artistic before just going right back to doing "academic" stuff. I didn't really do much outside of school, and so one of the questions I hated being asked was "what hobbies do you have?" because I really had no clue, and I didn't want to be the disinterested contrarian with "sleep" and I didn't want to be the boring nerd with "reading." (I have actual hobbies now.)
On the other hand, I was lucky in that I always kinda knew what interested me academically. Even if math and CS were relatively recent interests, something was always interesting to me, and I always liked learning new things. But many others I knew suffered from the same problem I did in many different ways, shapes, and forms- hobbies, majors, careers, clubs, etc. In high school, when I was struggling with the tedium of going to school everyday and studying stuff I wasn't always interested in, not sure what I really liked, I asked a teacher for some advice, and he told me this (roughly paraphrased):
The goal is not necessarily to find what you love to do, because even though that would be nice, you would have to be pretty lucky to find that so early on in your life. The goal is to try many different things, and find out what you DON'T like, and go through your process of elimination until you find something you really feel passionate about.
It is ok to try things that you end up not liking, or trying something and absolutely sucking at it, or trying something you thought you would like but you didn't, or trying something you have no idea if you might like or not- because if you don't do that, it is unlikely that you'll actually try something that you do like.
I feel like there is a very similar problem in matters of romance as well. I talked a little bit about it in last years post The Ironic Distance when I discussed what I called the game of maintaining an "ironic distance," where you win by avoiding vulnerability. Ultimately, I think just like how Amelie was scared to try new things and live her life and preferred to hide behind the scenes and live vicariously through helping others, people are mostly held back by fear- fear of rejection, fear of vulnerability, fear of heartbreak. I really really really like this quote and this poster, and it is actually hanging in my room right now (to be technical its in storage, but it WILL be after this summer).
I really like that. To hide yourself in a coffin of simple pleasures and hobbies is definitely more comfortable than trying and venturing out on a limb, but to hide yourself in a coffin is to let your heart grow to glass and die a slow death in your coffin.
I am also a big fan of John Green, and one of my favorite books of his is Looking for Alaska. In it, a dorky teenager Miles (Pudge) goes to boarding school to seek his own "great perhaps", meets a new group of friends, falls in love with a stunning girl named Alaska, and grapples with Simon Bolivar's last words:
He shuffled through our exams, pulling one out from the pile before him. "I have here Alaska's final. You'll recall that you were asked what the most important question facing people is, and how the three traditions we're studying this year address that question. This was Alaska's question."
With a sigh, he grabbed hold of his chair and lifted himself out of it, then wrote on the blackboard: How will we ever get out of this labyrinth of suffering?—A. Y.
"I'm going to leave that up for the rest of the semester," he said.
"Because everybody who has ever lost their way in life has felt the nagging insistence of that question. At some point we all look up and realize we are lost in a maze, and I don't want us to forget Alaska, and I don't want to forget that even when the material we study seems boring, we're trying to understand how people have answered that question and the questions each of you posed in your papers—how different traditions have come to terms with what Chip, in his final, called 'people's rotten lots in life.'" - Looking For Alaska
Ultimately, I don’t think the way to escape the labyrinth is to hide from it or to carve yourself a safe corner of it, because in the end the labyrinth is there and present and inescapable, and no matter how scary or confusing it may be, closing your eyes and plugging your ears won't help you. But, you know, I understand the fear, I understand the indecision, and I understand that its always easy to give this advice from afar. I get that it's hard, I get that it's scary, that it's not always clear in the moment what to do and where to go and how to act, so I’m not doing some Shia Labeouf crap on you, where I encourage you to “Just DO It” by shouting at you in front of a green screen.
"Yesterday you said tomorrow” is bullshit and it’s a shitty slogan, because if we really were 100% sure what to do to make tomorrow better we would just do it. So I think rather than following your dreams linearly (because what the fuck are my dreams anyways?) it's more like a process of elimination- and that kind of sucks. Of course it would be nicer if we could just figure out what we want to do and who we like and who we are, but it doesn’t work that way. I like to think of it as something more like a Turing undecidable problem- it's a problem that might not have an effective solution, and it is possible that it won’t ever halt no matter how long you compute, but it sure as shit is impossible if you never try.
I think its easy to get cynical, and to begin to write off yourself and others and the world as being one way, to believe that there is no way you'll find something that interests you, there's nothing that you're good at, there isn't anyone out there for you, that it’ll be easier to just not try. But I think we will always be too young to be cynical, and it is always to early to be pessimistic. This Stephen Colbert quote comes to mind:
I think it is better to not be so sure about the world around you and even yourself, and instead, to respect the future and let it surprise you, to say yes as long as you have the strength to.
I would like to end this tri-blogy with a quote from John Cheese, Cracked.com author who gave me this advice back in high school: