I will admit—this is probably the 5th opening line to this letter I’ve tried. It’s a constant struggle, one that feels especially hard today. Writing is always hard work, in part because I hate half of what I write, but mostly because I can never remember which half I like. It seems every time I come back to the page, I’ve changed my mind, I want to bring back the bits I’ve scratched out, remove the bits I’ve added, and pretty soon, my page is back to blank.
Sure, the letters invariably end up being written, but each and every time it feels like some kind of miracle—a long trial of opposing feelings before getting to a point where I’m confident in what I have. And it’s not just writing that is like that—I have the same struggles in life. For like Bilbo Baggins, I know half of people half as well as I’d like and like half of them half as much as a should. Which person belongs in which half seems to depend largely on the mood I’m in when I meet them!
It’s those kind of moments—with the people I hold dearest, or creating some new piece of art or writing, that I realize just how much of life can be informed by our opinions. There are the big, bold facts of objective reality, yes—but then there’s how we feel about them. How we react. What memories and emotions they trigger. The less obvious but far scarier world of subjectivity, where our own reactions create our version of reality.
It’s why two people can experience the same thing and have such drastically different reactions, memories, and opinions of it. And it’s moments like that, when I realize just how much of my world is rooted not in facts but in opinions, that I think, as Florida Scott-Maxwell did in her book The Measure of My Days, “I judge [the half of life] I create, for it is my eyes and my tastes that make my world. It is my creation and concept that I have to inhabit. Here, just here, is the price of individuality.”
So yes, I might go back and rewrite the beginning of this letter. Or the middle. Or the whole thing. Because like life, there is much in my own thoughts that I find distasteful. But whenever I find the things in my life that are going wrong, and the anger and frustration that can bring, I stop, as the stoics did, to ask myself: if something is going objectively wrong, am I subjectively contributing to making it worse? Are my emotions, judgements, and feelings making this more difficult, or are they helping me find balance and shape a kinder version of reality?
Because the more I ask, the more I seek to understand the half of everything that doesn’t seem to make any sense—the more I tend to find things aren’t nearly going as bad as I originally thought. I mean I did finish this letter, right?
May the road rise up to meet you!