Skip navigation

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.”

20 Comments

  1. Very profound and deep! Like the blog idea. Keep it up Floss Man!

  2. Very great post good sir! I too, just started a blog.

  3. Braf, you should blog more often. That was a great read.

    I think you may be more wise than you think.

    • Jeff "Norpser" Norman
    • Posted February 24, 2010 at 4:33 am
    • Permalink
    • Reply

    I tried to think of something witty and nice to say, but I couldn’t think of what. It was a good read though. Definitly gives people something to think about. I find its nice to write everything down once in a while. Gets things off your chest, less pressure of life. As I said, A good read and I anxiously await what else you might write.

    Jeff

  4. Wow, Brent. (I hope it’s ok to call you that here) I really liked this. Do this more often.

  5. You know? A friend of mine asked me the other day why we should bother to live at all. It was lame, a very college thing to ask, but I was game. If everything around me is tough as it is, and health, money, and the people around me dare to try and slow me down, why bother to be alive? This was my answer. “Because if I’m going to bother to live, I damn well better do my best to be good at it.” One of my instructors used to hold out a fist and glare into my eyes and tell me to “seize the moment.” That’s what I think we should do, and something you are talking about here Brent. I’m not going to waste my life making myself into a victim. If I’m going to live, I’m doing to do it well dammit!

  6. Fair warning…blogging becomes addicting Brent.

  7. See this is what twitter lacks, the ability to convey something with this kind of thought. Don’t get me wrong, twitter is a convenient way to stay updated with a lot of people. It’s just that it’s very limited and micro-blogging isn’t that interesting for the most part. I really do like your quirky posts on Twitter, but I think you should so this more often, it shows a different side to you.

    So anyway I liked where you went with that and I expect to see more of these blogs in the future.

  8. I needed that.

  9. You have learned much my friend. Life is a joke if you get the punchline, for I have one college diploma and no job and am going for another B.A. in which I will get in May of this year. But also this life is too short to take it so seriously, enjoy what we have no matter how shitty it is cause it may be the only time we have to fully enjoy it. It’s a Tuesday and I am drunk, but I regret nothing, for that is the thing about life, what do you regret? if the answer is nothing then you are truly living. Your show “I’ll be Damned” is showing in July and you are able to make rent, you are able to live. And you are able to bring joy to those who need a lift. Carpe Diem smiles upon YOU!

  10. That’s quite amazing, and not at all what I might’ve expected from a Brentalfloss blog.
    Despite what you said about not having a great deal of wisdom, this post quite strongly indicates that you have the capacity for a great deal of wisdom. People age in the same way, but growing up is different for everyone.

  11. I like it. Keep doing it. 🙂

  12. Wow, what an interesting read… Somehow I walk away dumbfounded.

  13. Wow. Great post, BrentalFloss. Personally, I find that a lot of people are wiser than they give themselves credit for. You, sir, seem to be one of those people.

    You managed to put in words something that I’ve often wondered about myself. Whenever I’m in doubt about something big, others often give the advice to ‘seize the day’ or ask me ‘what would you decide to do if you have one day/week/month/generic time-period left to live?’ but like you, I find that to be impractical. If I had one day left to live, my decision-making would be completely different! Maybe I’d throw away all the money I have earned and saved: maybe I’d spend it all that day on whatever I wanted or maybe I’d donate it all to charity. But if I then turn out NOT to die… Then I’ve got kind of a problem, don’t I?

    After all my ups and downs in life (which appears to be looking ‘up’ again after a lot of ‘down’-time), I’ve come to conclude the opposite: don’t worry about it too much. Whether you want to live a fast life and blow out all the happiness you could in one day or try and spread it over as many days as you can, that’s YOUR decision. It’s YOUR life, nobody else’s. The only thing that really matters is not to forget the things that matter the most to you: put those things in as many days as you can. Every day, if possible! Being honest with a friend without being a dick; appreciating the sunrise or sunset; being grateful to your family. Those kinds of things.

    For everything else: just try to enjoy your day and make the best of it. Nothing more, nothing less. To me, THAT is what ‘carpe diem’ really means.

    And as you so adequately put, “Future: prepare to be carpe’d!”

  14. Below the calm, cool surface beats the heart of a true writer.
    The tales of strife you shared are powerful, and in no way does anyone deserve any of those worlds of sadness..
    I like to think we have to share with each other in order to know we (ourselves) exist. For it’s too easy to forget who we are and pretend what were not.
    Of course thats rich from the guy who uses a ninja guise, but it’s befitting and I look pretty good in black. 😀

    Anyway, it was a great blurt of text and I feel I walk away with something.
    Just hang in there, soft rains will come!

  15. Absolutely amazing read Brent, and very inspiring. Looking forward to more of these 🙂

  16. brent,
    this is an excellent post. good choices. maybe you don’t need tao of pooh. (although i’m still planning to reread it.)
    sara

  17. I liked it!

  18. You worry about being naive every time you have a thought…so you post a thoughtful and well-reasoned blog?

    I’m thinking you’ve got nothing to worry about.

  19. Since I came across Zelda with Lyrics for the first time, I have admired and respected you for your musical ability, clever lyrics, singing voice, and unique humor. I listen to at least one of your songs every day, most of the time, multiple times in a row, as they bring me a hard to find joy in these times. And even with all the respect and admiration I have gained for you, your blog, (and especially this post, right here), has multiplied that by thousands.

    You are deep, profound, and wise in a way that people don’t seem to be anymore. You can look at a situation from any point of view, see the differences in those views, and back up your own opinion and words with the knowledge you just gained from them. You can bare your own, personal soul, and appeal to the souls of others. (I know, this is getting incredibly sappy. I do apologize. XD)

    And with what you have said here, you have struck me deep, moved me slightly to tears, and said the words I think I needed to hear. So this big long comment is simply just to say thank you. You are fantastic; never stop sharing your gifts with the world. We need them now, more than ever.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: