When I first started writing here, it was to create a counterbalance from within myself and for myself. The twin towers had just been destroyed, and from their ashes emerged both the feelings of empathy and kindness but also eventually a certain amount of hate. After the first shock settled, I watched good friends start to change their language, their perspectives. Attitudes seemed to be pulled toward a certain darkness. There was resentment and a need of revenge. And it was all around me.
I wanted to write to push these emotions as far away from myself as possible. They felt like poison to me, and one that was dangerous even in small doses. I was just one voice, and not a very loud one, but at least I was daring to speak and to describe beauty in even the tiniest things, not hate in the ones broadcast and spread.
Yes, there was a gaping hole in downtown Manhattan. But the sun rose bathed in spectacular colors. Nations were pushed into war over fabricated facts, but there was beauty in the eyes of a stranger crying on the train. People were dying because of the anger being ignited around them, but there was calmness and kindness and love in the world as well. And all I wanted was to find it for myself and to somehow put it in words. I was not a writer. But it felt like writing was the way to go.
It is easy to dismiss my attempt to keep kindness alive as something naïve and even childish. But it was that path which eventually has lead me towards more beauty and kindness and friendships and love. There were more of us, thinking in similar ways. There was a purpose for us. We connected in a way that allowed us to create something, despite of the furnace and the swirling ashes around us. I wanted to write as if there were the heart of a child in my chest. I understood it as a compliment when a friend in Beijing said that I was “a boy inside”. I have welcomed the world into myself. And the world has welcomed me.
Almost two decades later, that world seems to have taken a few turns. Good things happened and many ideas surfaced that inspired brilliant conversations and observations. My wish to see more of the beauty in the world has been answered. I traveled more than I could have ever hoped for. And it was soon that I gave up words and started to just document what I saw with my camera. Eventually I even ran out of time for that. So much to do. So many urgent conversations and projects and things.
Now a lot of the darkness I wrote against has become stronger. A lot of what not so long ago would have been seen as a brutal assault at the common sense has been pushed into the mainstream. Tools were developed to let many of us feel heard where there is in fact no one listening. The illusion of human connection has been crafted so meticulously well that many of us feel lonely and unheard in a crowd celebrating a non-existent party.
The distance between many of us has grown. It has become more difficult to connect to others, as many are protected and distracted by algorithms that provide them with comfort and the illusion of connectedness.
A commercial by Saatchi & Saatchi for Royal Mail, illustrating the way our privacy is taken away from us had to be taken off the air for being too frightening. But it should possibly be played ahead of the many times we mindlessly hand over our privacy for some pictures of our “friends” having a “good time”. These pictures and videos are selected by the algorithms optimized to keep our dopamine levels just high enough so we react positively and with trust to “sponsored content”.
We should probably watch that film before posting pictures of our children on sites designed to use them as marketing targets.
When I recently found the file hidden under the surface of Instagram that describes me to advertisers, I got bored reading it. It was such a detailed and long, long list.
The assault on us has been designed to look lovely. We are giving ourselves away. Our world is burning and yet we are dancing endlessly with our thumbs. The shiny music and the playful colors are here to distract us and to sell us.
And as soon as the little stars align for us, there is a happy burst of something and on and on we go. Autoplay is a default setting, and for a good reason.
I am a different person now than the me in 2001. But in some ways I am the same. I have been lucky enough to learn so much. Seeing the world and meeting friends everywhere has taught me a lot. More than I had expected.
I have tried to understand the beauty around me. But I could not stop to talk about it much. It feels that the time has come again to open myself and to again describe the little things I see and hear and feel. I have been so lucky to travel and experience and eventually to connect to a world that is a very fertile ground for beauty and life and love.
Every day now I can walk the same paths that Darwin took and Constable and Orwell, and Grimaldi and Moholy-Nagyand Breuer, and so many more. It is as if the universe decided to finally pull me to a place and told me to put down my phone and to listen and watch. Beauty is able to survive against the odds of hate and anger and distraction.
I wake up in the morning and look at the gardens behind our home and I watch the back of a fox disappear into the green growth. Then I can hear the panic of the birds. Is this violence? Is this beauty? That same fox often sunbathes in the middle of the lawn. I watch jays and ravens and birds I can’t even categorize. I have arrived at a place that is full of beauty, calmness and inspiration.
And so I feel inspired to write and draw. I feel inspired to act and at least attempt to make what I experience tangible to a future self or to the future versions of my children.
The world needs more kindness. The world needs dreamers and girls and boys who are able to see it for the first time again, even with eyes that are many decades old. I love walking out onto Hampstead Heath and to see trees for the first time. I love to look at the shapes of things, as banal as rocks. Love to fall in love with open spaces that were designed to fall in love with. The Henry Moore sculpture, the object pretending to be a bridge in the distance, the rabbit running over the meadow, the ducks, the geese, the people.
I feel like it is important again. Even if no person will read what I write. Even if all of the people I imagine are distracted and their thumbs sore from scrolling through the filtered versions of their “friends’” lives.
I am here. And I am open to the universe that has rewarded me in so many mysterious ways. Many of them are far from explored.