Montpellier, France – June, 2017
To my daughter, la plus merveilleuse, whose age is no longer 9.
You’re leaving the time of life that’s unique.
After a certain age life seems to repeat:
Why did this happen to me?
What does X think of me?
How do I look?
Of course from your point of view turning 10 is a good thing:
Older, older, always older, until one day…
you wish you weren’t
Things I think about, and I hope you will too: academics, athletics, arts.
These all have some external requirement – a school, a pool, a brush.
These all have inner requirements – concentration, initiative, creativity, discipline.
I like schools and universities, lecture halls, and real libraries.
It’s hard and wonderful, and often feels pointless until it becomes galvanizing,
Anna Karenina, PV=nRT, the history of revolutions, photosynthesis, the ablative absolute.
Pursue this formally for as long and as best you can – it can open many doors.
the most important door being within,
and pursue learning informally all your life.
The true nature of sports is not physical –
there’s something else going on, something within.
When you swim you’ll come to a moment of intense purity and quiet
more profound than any moment you feel in a church or temple.
It’s also fun.
Find a sport you can do alone, perhaps with a minimum of gear.
Find a sport you can do with others,
Make sure at least one of these is outdoors,
Someplace where the human hand is little seen.
As soon as you can start sports you can do all your life
Appreciate, participate, study, create as you feel called
The solfege, ikebana, Nike of Samothrace, aperture priority, sketching a crow
Too often the arts are on the margins of life – they shouldn’t be
In some ways arts are close to academics and even athletics
Find one or two things, try to pursue these all your life,
If you must choose just one
Make it music
Above all else in life, do real things
Kneel and dirty your knees in the garden
Swim and chlorine your hair and skin in the pool
Draw and ink your hands from the paint brush
Still everything when reading in a sustained, undistracted manner
Seek out silences, a most previous resource
Also, prefer real books
These have qualities a digital book does not. It is a fuller experience. Your can touch a real book, smell it, hear the pages being flipped through. It is a piece of furniture, a work of art, a monitor stand, a paper weight, a door stop.You can write in it in your own handwriting
One of the most beautiful things is a woman reading a book.
If you give your time to the piano or books or sailboat or dance or the pool or whatever is right for you, these will give you back gifts that will stay with you, gifts that are real and lasting. All of these are places for the cure of your soul when life is hard, and a lot of life will be hard.
Understand the benefits of looking out the window of the train or car, of staring off into space, of watching the crowd go by. Be disciplined enough to let yourself be bored. Boredom, or perhaps the better word is idleness, is necessary to health. Resist the urge to look at a screen.
This will be hard – fewer and fewer people today understand this.
The screen narrows and make everything the same. Today many cannot bear to be away from the screen for a moment for fear of missing something. Quite right: they are missing the real world, they are missing life, and instead dwell in life’s dim, digital shadow.
The screen is only a tool, not a destination.
I’ve written mostly about what to do, not how to be.
But I think how you spend your time forms who you are,
and how you will be.