The Feeling of Being Stuck on Earth

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It’s hard not to look at the ground as you walk.

To set your sights low, and keep the world spinning, and try to stay grounded wherever you are.

But every so often you remember to look up, and imagine the possibilities.

Dreaming of what’s out there.

Before long, you find yourself grounded once again.

Grounded in the sense of being home bound. Stuck on the planet Earth.

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Astrophe

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The more you look to the sky, the more you find yourself back on Earth, confronting certain possibilities.

It’s possible there are other names for our planet, that we will never know.

That there are constellations that feature our sun, from an angle we’ll never get to see.

That there are many other civilizations hidden beyond the veil of time, too far away for their light to ever reach us.

We dream of other worlds, and name them after our old discarded gods, and they seem almost as distant-too far to be seen with the naked eye. Only ever in artist’s renditions. Or a scattering of pixels on a monitor, with the colors tweaked to add a bit of flair.

Even our own neighborhood is impossibly vast. We’re used to showing the planets nested together-because if we drew them to scale, they’d be so far apart, they wouldn’t fit on the same page.

And even our own moon, that seems to hang so close to Earth, but still so far away that all the other planets could fit in the space between them.

It’s possible our spacesuits won’t need treaded boots ever again. That one day soon we’ll tire of wandering and move back home for good.

And we’ll get used to watching our feet as we walk, occasionally stopping to hurl a single probe into the abyss, like a message in a bottle.

Maybe it shouldn’t matter if anyone ever finds it. If nobody’s there to know we once lived here on Earth.

Maybe it should be like skipping a stone across the surface of a lake. It doesn’t matter where it ends up, It just matters that we’re here on the shore. Just trying to have fun and pass the time, and see how far it goes.

 

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

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The Ambiguous Intensity of Eye Contact

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Opia

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So much can be said in a glance.

Such ambiguous intensity, both invasive and vulnerable—glittering black, bottomless and opaque.

The eye is a keyhole, through which the world pours in and a world spills out.

And for a few seconds, you can peek through into a vault, that contains everything they are.

Whether the eyes are the windows of the soul or the doors of perception, it doesn’t matter: you’re still standing on the outside of the house.

Eye contact isn’t really contact at all. It’s only ever a glance, a near miss, that you can only feel as it slips past you.

There’s so much we keep in the back room.

We offer up a sample of who we are, of what we think people want us to be. But so rarely do we stop to look inside, and let our eyes adjust, and see what’s really there.

Because you too are peering out from behind your own door.

You put yourself out there, trying to decide how much of the world to let in. It’s all too easy for others to size you up, and carry on their way.

They can see you more clearly than you ever could. Yours is the only vault you can’t see into, that you can’t size up in an instant.

So we’re all just exchanging glances, trying to tell each other who we are, trying to catch a glimpse of ourselves, feeling around in the darkness.

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

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The Awareness of How Little of the World You’ll Experience

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Onism

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You are here.

You were lost at first, but soon began sketching yourself a map of the world—plotting the contours of your life.

And like the first explorers, sooner or later you have to contend with the blank spaces on the map.

All the experiences you’ve never had. The part of you still aching to know what’s out there.

Eventually these questions take on a weight of their own, and begin looming over your everyday life.

All the billions of doors you had to close in order to take a single step forward.

All the things you haven’t done and may never get around to doing;

all the risks that may or may not have been real;

all the destinations you didn’t buy a ticket to;

all the lights you see in the distance that you can only wonder about;

all the alternate histories you narrowly avoided;

all the fantasies that stay dormant inside your head:

everything you’re giving up, to be where you are right now:

the questions that you wrongly assume are unanswerable.

It’s strange how little of the universe we actually get to see.

Strange how many assumptions we have to make just to get by, stuck in only one body, in only one place at a time.

Strange how many excuses we’ve invented to explain why so much of life belongs in the background.

Strange that any of us could ever feel at home on such an alien world.

We sketch monsters on the map because we find their presence comforting.

They guard the edges of the abyss, and force us to look away; so we can live comfortably in the known world, at least for a little while.

But if someone were to ask you on your deathbed what it was like to live here on Earth, perhaps the only honest answer would be,

“I don’t know. I passed through it once, but I’ve never really been there.”

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

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The Part of Your Identity That Doesn’t Fit Into Categories

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Lutalica.

You tell the world who you are
In a million different ways.
Some are subtle, some are not.

But it doesn’t seem to matter:
This world has already got you pegged.

When you were born they put you in a little box,
And slapped a label on it.
So they could keep things organized,
And not have to think about what’s inside.

Over time you learn to make yourself comfortable
Packaging your identity in different combinations
Until you feel like you belong,
And can wear your labels proudly.

But there’s a part of you that never found a home
Rattling around in categories that never really did you justice.

You look around at other people,
Trying to judge how loosely they fit in their own lives
Sensing a knot of confusion hidden beneath a name tag.

And you realize we’re still only strangers,
Who assume we already know what the other is going to say,
As if the only thing left to talk about is
Who belongs in what category
And which labels are offensive.

You have to wonder if these boxes are falling apart.
If we should be writing our identities by hand,
And speak only for ourselves, in our own words,
So we could take our chances out in the open
And meet each other as we are,
Asking: “What is it like being you?”

—And be brave enough to admit
That we don’t already know the answer.

Maybe it’ll mean that we’ve finally arrived,
Just “unpacking the boxes”
Making ourselves at home.

And maybe one day we’ll look back and wonder
How we managed to live together in the same house for so long,
And never stopped to introduce ourselves.

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

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