The Art of Losing

Almost exactly 3 years ago, I wrote my 500th blog post here on “rose in midair.” The blog I  wrote on immediately before that was “,” which I took offline. I’ve since written about 500 more posts here.

Three years ago, I was living in the green hills of Pennsylvania. Falling in love with men who wrote me heartfelt letters. Dancing a lot. Pretty much my life on repeat.

I practice reading back on my paper journals and blog entries — to remember, to forget, to indulge in knowing that nothing lasts, to know that pain is temporary, and that despite the odds, I am still here (!)

Memories are a funny thing. My most recent TinyLetter was about the art of losing that which we love.

An example of the universe converging: the day after I sent that TinyLetter, I read Josh Wagner’s Instructions for Life addressed to his 18-year-old self. Wagner writes:

You thought you loved this thing but really you loved the arrows that burned around you. And now your entire focus becomes how do I get rid of what took me so long to achieve? Because it no longer feels like the end-all-be-all of your entire life. Now it feels like guilt and confusion and naturally you have to wonder if you’re completely broken as a human because aren’t we supposed to want something and then have it and then we’re happy? But what you’ve forgotten is you don’t actually have it. We never have anything.

Here’s the painful truth you already know. Nothing lasts. Everything ends. The only eternal element in life is change. We call phrases like this cliché and roll our eyes when we hear them because we hate it. We hate that we’re going to die. In the morning we’re pushed out of the airplane and by sunset we’ll be a memory on the sidewalk.

So what to do on the way down?

If something has an expiration date you can let it spoil or you can turn it into fuel. What you have now in your arms, what you’ve struggled so hard to achieve, is ready fuel. You know you can’t keep it so you have two options: you can put it in a landfill or you can set it on fire.

Don’t be afraid to love. But first make sure you don’t think you know how.

Stop putting all that work into agonizing over the imminent loss of everything you love. Simply love. While it’s still right there in front of you. Time not spent burning is draining, every bit of it trickling away at one second per second. Do you want a landfill piled up over your bones or do you want a trail of fire through the sky?

And when you do fall in love—and you will, again and again and again—don’t stop falling just because you hit the ground.

Recently, the thought of loss has followed me quietly. Maybe it’s the feeling of getting older. Maybe it’s my heart flexing, preparing for the inevitable. Maybe it’s the habit of having lost so many times before, and the desire to protect my heart from it again. A discussion about love not being a zero-sum game haunts me, because it’s difficult to accept grey in a world where binary definitions make things easier:

In game theory and economic theory, a zero-sum game is a mathematical representation of a situation in which each participant’s gain (or loss) of utility is exactly balanced by the losses (or gains) of the utility of the other participant(s).

I don’t know what compels me to continue writing similar stories two decades later.

Italo Calvino writes, “Memory’s images, once they are fixed in words, are erased. Perhaps I am afraid of losing Venice all at once, if I speak of it, or perhaps, speaking of other cities, I have already lost it, little by little.”

I did once think this, and I would sometimes stay silent for fear of losing the thing I wanted to speak of. It’s a particular kind of vulnerability, to speak of something out loud, to address it. But now, I don’t know if I agree — because maybe by speaking of cities, my capacity to keep them grows stronger. While speaking of other cities, New York City patiently awaits my faithful return.

Like those scenes in the movie Inception in which buildings come apart in dreams, I imagine my losses to be just as prevalent and devastating. Everything good in this life comes more slowly than we have patience for — our urgency makes every small step seem a catastrophe, because we haven’t yet arrived at the destination we are reaching for.

I guess this is still the age-old thought: let the journey fill your arms, you know. Let optimism startle you, even convince you a for a little while. This has been the theme. Write on. Love on, through the windy nights. Love on, through the stormy ones. Love on, for this can be our sunlight — our trail of fire through a constant sky.

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