specialness

Sometimes I think that living with me is like being stuck in Groundhog Day because I’m so repetitively excited about things. It’s been snowing multiple days a week lately, but I’m still amazed every time I look outside—can you believe it’s snowing?? Well, yes you can. Holidays produce the same effect: despite Valentine’s Day and Halloween and Christmas being a regular fixture of my life for as long as I’ve been conscious, I’m delighted every year by each commercial holiday rolling around. Even though I read a third of a book pretty much every day, I remain enthusiastic about reading. This doesn’t mean I’m never annoyed or unappreciative or discouraged, but in general I’d say that I find a lot of things special, and their specialness isn’t dimmed by proximity.

When I was a kid I was constantly appalled by how dismal people seemed to find life. Like all the adults who tell you you should enjoy yourself now because when you grow up life will be miserable (??). I was like, wait. You can literally drive to the grocery store and buy Pop-Tarts at 3 AM and you’re telling me my life is good? My parents signed me up for summer gymnastics camp and now I have to fail to do somersaults on a beam!! I have to learn about mitochondria and get bullied by dumb kids because I’m a nine-year-old with no social skills. What is wrong with you. Basically for the entirety of elementary school I was like, okay, I’m going to be grateful when I grow up.

I never really liked being a kid—the tedium of suburbia, the cutting things with scissors (it seems to me that until you’re 12 or 13 you’re constantly being forced to use gluesticks and scissors for all sorts of inane educational reasons)—but I did love children’s fiction. Books yanked me out of it: Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, Ramona and Beezus, Ms. Frizzle and The Magic School Bus, The Berenstain Bears. And obviously LOTR, Harry Potter, Eragon, and Redwall. They made us read the Lois Lowry books and I liked those: The Giver, A Summer to Die. Even now I still love school-themed adventures: Little Witch Academia, My Hero Academia, magic and whimsy and fighting spirit. It seemed to be that the people who were writing books for children and young adults actually did think life was special: they didn’t treat it like an endless chore they had to trudge through. They were paying attention to the good things and the bad things, the elation and the disappointment and the injustice and the humiliation of growing up, and transforming it into a story. They were practicing alchemy. I wanted to do the same.

When I was reading I was seeing the world through someone else’s eyes and I actually liked what I saw. It reassured me hugely that there was people who didn’t want a single slice of summer light in the living room to go unnoticed, who wanted to transcribe every beautiful moment that happened to them. I thought, how good it must have felt to have made this. How good it must be to see the world this way.

But I fell out of that when I got older. I wanted the world to give me specific things and I refused to love it if it withheld them. Adulthood seemed doomed to be sad because there were so many ways that life could disappoint you, and seemingly only one or two where it wouldn’t. The kids I knew became teenagers and were fixated on getting into the right college. Then they became adults and were fixated on getting the right internships and the right jobs and the right apartment and the right partner. There were so many opportunities for disappointment if a single thing turned out different from how you planned.

I didn’t even realize how much my perspective had shifted until I read Murakami’s book on running, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. Many people had recommended it to me after I started jogging regularly. I loved reading Murakami when I was a teenager and was enthralled by The Windup Bird Chronicle, but stopped reading his novels for a few years after I was disappointed by 1Q84. But I found his book on running deeply charming. It was obvious from the book that Murakami was a very pragmatic person, which interested me because his novels are famously surreal. He wrote very matter-of-factly about running a jazz bar called Peter Cat (he loves cats and jazz) between 1974 and 1981, which was quite successful despite no one thinking that it would be, and then one day deciding out of the blue to become an author while lying in the grass at a baseball stadium (he loves baseball). Within six months or so he had finished the draft of his first book. He started running around the same time he became an author because he was no longer working a job that required him to spend all day on his feet and he didn’t want to get fat. He describes himself as not a fast runner but a strong runner—he’s never been injured. He’s run well over 20 marathons. I was impressed by the fact that despite not being an enormously gifted runner, Murakami has consistently made it part of his everyday routine (if I remember correctly he runs between 4 and 8 miles daily, depending on the year or what he’s training for). There have been times when he’s been sick of running or discouraged by certain marathon performances, but he’s always kept going. I loved the thought that someone could do an activity every single day just because he liked it and still enjoy it enough 20 years later to write very good book about it. Murakami saw the specialness in running a few miles each morning even though he had repeated the experience thousands of times. I thought that perhaps that ability to see something worthwhile in something ordinary was what charged his books with an energy that was hard to explain but clearly moved many people. Reading What I Talk About When I Talk About Running made me want to be grateful for very ordinary things again.

I think life is more fun when you enjoy a lot of different things. I like living in Utah because I’m easily pleased by nature. In the summer I enjoyed biking up Armstrong trail, which is 10 minutes away from the apartment I live in, three times a week. It’s about 40 minutes up and 20 minutes down, so I can be back home in around an hour and 15 minutes. I also liked running on the path that begins next to the apartment complex and snakes along the side of the road, gently rising and falling, for about 7 miles. Often I would run in the afternoon and the sky would be Warhol blue, nearly neon. I could run the whole way and Uber back, or run only a mile. Though I’m not particularly good at running or biking, I’m sturdy enough to enjoy exercise and I like putting the work to get better. I like the idea that the dailiness of these activities makes them more special instead of less special to me. Maybe to you something like this isn’t worth getting excited over, but I find that people who tend to reserve specialness for very particular things tend to be disappointed by those things anyway. I’d rather be easily excited by everything I like.

I think the same philosophy can apply to relationships: your day-to-day exposure to the other person is what makes them special. We tend to appreciate this more in friendships, since our idea of romantic love is so bound up in passion. Since we culturally fetishize the first six months period of mania when we’re having sex all the time and staying up for hours rereading text messages, we’re often disappointed when that phase is replaced by something more calm. But I love the idea of having someone keep me company for decades. I like that S knows me thoroughly—I’m definitely not a mystery to him anymore and he’s very used to my presence—but he still treats me with tenderness and care. I don’t think there’s anything more comforting than spending a Saturday morning with someone I know extremely well, both of us witnesses to the everyday with its little poppyseed muffins, flakey buttered croissant, steam rising in whorls off the water and ice-soaked sky.

Sometimes I think that’s all there is to life, a learned constant appreciation: writing seven times a week and still enjoying every sentence. Patiently interrogating ugliness, labor, anxiety and paranoia, the bizarre and the delightful. God is just the fact that a cluster of tulips can sprout from a handful of seeds. Love is less fear and more curiosity, actively trying to see the special in the mundane.