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Monthly Archives: February 2010

I recently tweeted “Sometimes it’s difficult to strike a balance between seizing the day and strangling it.”

When I was younger, I always thought that if I ever got a tattoo, I’d get one on the bottom of my foot that said “CARPE DIEM” (I was a big fan of Dead Poets Society).

But what does carpe diem really mean? How do you seize a day?

One version of this saying is “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die!” It’s a great adage and all, but its daily application would quickly turn someone into an obese alcoholic, probably far less merry than originally intended. “Carpe diem”, though, is broader and more insistent. It somehow seems more universal and true than its diabetic counterpart.

Sudden tragedy and the looming possibility of more tragedy is all around us; last week alone, I found out a relative of mine may not stay alive until the next time I’m able to see her. I found out that someone I know has an unidentified mass that could be cancer or could be nothing. And I wallowed in bilious, helpless empathy for a high school classmate I barely know whose wheelchair-bound husband died from a strain of swine flu he caught on their honeymoon cruise.

It sounds like a fucking joke it’s so sad.

So here I am, with my own little set of things to bitch about. But really, I’m pretty lucky. I’m in decent health, I don’t have any truly debilitating quirks like my friend who has frequent kidney stones or my other friend with an adult-onset allergy to gluten or my other friend who has hard-to-diagnose pelvic pain for which hours and hours of physical therapy might help. I mean, being a bald asthmatic with bad knees isn’t magical, but it could be a lot worse. I’ve been lucky. No amount of knocking on wood, though, can guarantee how lucky I’ll be tomorrow or in 2011, or—God forbid—if I ever make it to 31. But maybe the fact that I’ve been this lucky so far is the reason why “seizing the day” is such an abstract and nebulous idea to me.

Should I live today as if it’s my last?

If I only had one day left to live, I would go right out and buy a pack of Marlboro Milds 100’s. But I presumably have many days left to live and I enjoy being able to walk up a flight of stairs without vomiting up one of my lungs, so I don’t smoke anymore. If I had one day left, I’d eat piles of okonomiyaki and McGriddles and Swiss rolls, but I probably have more time to live, so I try to eat well and preserve my girlish figure. If I had only a single day to live, I’d tell people what I really thought of them; all the things nobody says. I’d write them on post-it notes.

“You’re screwing up your child’s life by keeping him in a bubble. My best, Brent.”

“You have bad breath and everybody talks about it. There’s prescription stuff for that. My best, Brent.”

“I’m sorry I don’t like you back. You’re a very talented unicyclist. My best, Brent.”

But if I wrote all those notes today, I’d burn bridges, make friendships awkward and alienate most of the people I care about. Kind of a paradox, huh?

So how to seize the day without ruining tomorrow?

The other night I was hanging at a bar in the East Village with my friend Petros. The bartenders at this joint have an unusual practice where they shush the room whenever it gets too loud to talk normally; it’s weird, but that’s why I like this place. At one point, the bartender shushed the room and I decided to take advantage of the momentary quietness by spontaneously proposing a fictitious toast, telling everyone that Petros had gotten engaged that night. He proceeded to play along with me as we regaled a small group of cooing women and their frowning boyfriends about his incredibly romantic proposal, involving him playing an original song to his wife on guitar as all their friends looked on, singing a choral arrangement and holding candles.

Guess whose drinks were free that night?

I don’t mean to hold up a story about me lying elaborately to strangers as some kind of shining example of living in the moment, but hey, that day was pretty well-seized, right?

And then last night—in a stupor caused by approximately one pint of cheap tequila coursing through my veins—I tweeted “You know what? When life is good, it’s good. Breathe it in and embrace it because life is fleeting.”

And as sloppy poo-pants drunk as I was, I think maybe I was onto something.

In my very short life, I have gained very little lasting wisdom. I have a Teflon brain and I find myself re-learning the basic dos and don’ts over and over again. The smarter and more mature my friends get, the more I worry I’m being naïve every time I have a thought. No one solicited my perspective on how to seize the day, and nothing has warranted it. But nonetheless, having thought a lot this week about the life I have left—indeed, the time we all have left—here’s what I hope to do more of with the rest of my life:

Telling my loved ones I love them. Doing things I’ve been putting off. Occasionally inconveniencing the tomorrow version of myself for the fulfillment of the tonight version. Embracing and basking in things like the first snow of the winter or the satisfaction of a well-cooked meal. Hugging with my whole body. Loving with my whole heart. Puppies. Babies. Bacon. Each one of us has a finite and individual number of these experiences left before we run out; you take one off the rack, and who knows how many are in the back.

So now, with this tiny sliver of what might prove to be wisdom, I cross slowly and humbly—if you can believe it—over the threshold of the present into the dimly lit hall of the future. “Here I come,” I say,

“Prepare to be carpe’d.”