in search of awe
“How are you? How are ya doing? What’s up?” I simultaneously hate and desperately need these questions. They leave all the work to the answerer. You have to decide how much space to take, how deep to delve into their fantasies, how much the asker truly cares. Answers can range from “fine” to “I’m on the verge of a breakdown” to “The day I turned 5... <insert anecdote> That’s how I knew I would find myself one day eating the best pastrami sandwich of my life from the deli down the street.” At the same time, they’re the most legible way to be curious about someone’s life and give them the permission to take space. They can be unassuming and generous gifts.
I’ve been trying to take more space, even be narcissistic, so I’ve resolved to answer these in excruciating detail to try an extreme from my normally short answers of “fine! still writing! still trying to enjoy life!” I want to answer the way I would write an intimate journal entry about the latest thing on my mind that has consumed my entire attention. Rather than shallow breadth, I’m aiming for intense depth.
But lately I’ve been struggling to answer how I really am. I’ve told people I’ve felt liminal having friends in various states of transition, whether switching jobs, changing cities, or diving into new relationships. All of this change makes a part of me wonder, should I be moving in more dramatic ways too?
Life has been feeling a little too stable. It certainly hasn’t been boring or static—every day I still wake up excited to live. What’s missing is that I haven’t felt like I need to fight for my life in a long time. In other words, I’ve felt safe and rooted in my routines of passions and people. I’ve been able to more fully embrace abundance lately than probably ever in my life.
One way to read all this is that I’ve won against scarcity and fear. All my past struggles and uncertainties have lead me to this moment of feeling steady on my feet, the world open and waiting before me. I spend my days steeping in and dancing with and making beauty, function, play, magic with people I admire and laugh with. My relationship with my career is one of craft, where I feel motivated to work for the joy of learning and creating meaningful work, rather than one of artificial political progress. I feel the agency to leave if the situation ever changes. I’m surrounded by loving friends and continue meeting more lovely people! And every day I feel more capable of expressing my honest feelings more directly, more openly. My poetry practice feels like it’s really blossoming. I can make a freakishly good 蛋餅. I took Chris Martin’s class the other day and actually survived?
Another interpretation is that I’ve become really good at hiding from the things that really scare me. I’m pushing myself in all the safe ways and I’ve forgotten the thrill that comes from uncertainty of survival. I convince myself that I’m flourishing when I’ve just lost the courage to risk losing. I’m staying in a safe job and growing my craft in the directions that I’ve already become familiar with. All the time I spend blossoming friendships are excuses for confronting why I haven’t been in a relationship in 3 years. My emotional and artistic practices are tip toes forward rather than leaps. Dancing is a crude hedge against the social anxiety I feel.
I’m reminded of the dauntlessness of Omar Sy, his uncanny capacity for diving in the deep end over and over. I’ve been hardening around the shape of feeling protected. I’m wary of pursuing growth for the sake of growth in the way that modern society has pressured us to become “entrepreneurs of the self.” I don’t like growth porn, and I’m skeptical of the effectiveness of blind leaps into dark pools for healthy growth compared to exercising uncomfortable rebellious acts in safe circumstances and teaching your muscles that these things, in fact, won’t kill you. And looking back I still can’t believe how much I’ve changed and at the same time, fundamentally remained unchanged from that kid who felt scared to interrupt class to use the bathroom. I can’t imagine myself not creating the space for me to go to the bathroom when I need to now, but I can definitely still call up the fear that comes from inconveniencing others on demand. Humans are built to change and adapt to new patterns of dancing. But maybe I’ve forgotten what the change feels like. I’m aching for more extreme tests of my discomfort. As much as I dread it, I also do kind of miss the rush of feeling like my body’s going to explode with anxiety and excitement. I miss the ache from stretching myself too hard, my fear-producing guards of propriety learning how to loosen. Perhaps this mental shift is precisely the sign of growth I’ve been searching for most of my life. The physiological shift to interpreting anxiety as excitement and vice versa.
I wouldn’t be true to myself if I tried to ignore growing altogether. I enjoy getting better at things, relish fruitful exploration. In high school, I spent all my waking moments outside of schoolwork churning through League of Legends matches. I drilled coding challenges until I didn’t feel like an imposter. Even if I enjoy moments, I’m never fully satisfied. The curious part of me always itches for more, to see the world through the eyes of mastery. It’s an obsession with competency.
I’ll never get tired of working to feel more. To fall even harder in love, to feel even more gratitude for the people who’ve gotten me to where I am, to yearn for more and more of the world to the point that it hurts. The times I’ve been the most depressed have all been periods where I’ve felt stagnant. Blocked from growing in the ways I want, from feeling more and more of the world. I’ll never be satisfied even as I enjoy every moment. I’ll keep asking for more of the world for more of life for every second to be suffused with the feeling of eternity. I’m obsessed with growth because I’m addicted to awe. I live for the moments where it feels like the world’s stopped, and your life feels like a made-up miracle in the dream of a children’s book. The moments where the most obvious things suddenly feel like feats of impossibility.
Sitting by a cliff on a clear night, a slice of the Milky Way unfolding her beautiful layers. Plants blooming. The ever-changing chorus of waves on a seashore. Being alive. How ice cream envelopes the tongue on a hot summer day. How much of a person’s life you can see just from their hands. How breath relaxes your body. How we can give so much love and take so much of it away.
I admit I’m hooked on growth and the awe you find in her seams. But it isn’t something that needs to be healed or fixed. I’m an addict, and I’m proud.