Don’t kill the kitten

Whiskeyjack is an admirable, if somewhat ambiguous, army commander in Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen. In Memories of Ice, the third of ten volumes in the series, he admonishes himself for trying to squeeze more from an unlikely-but-wonderful relationship than he should: “Do not embrace this wonder so tightly you crush the life from it.” Underlying Whiskeyjack’s words are the realisation that attempts to capture a moment, instead of preserving it, can kill it.

On a similar note, due to an act of unexpected generosity, I’ve been able to compartmentalise my digital life. Now, I use my laptop as my writing machine, and I use my tablet for everything else—reading blogs and newsletters, correspondence, social media, impulsive browsing. Initially, I thought, “Yes! Now I can implement a workflow which allows me to read online like I read a book offline. I’ll be able to take notes, save fragments, and add ideas I find online to my commons.” But soon after, Whiskeyjack’s words came to mind: “Do not embrace this wonder so tightly you crush the life from it.” So I chose to deliberately not capture what I read online: “All those wondrous passages from BrainPickings? All these interesting ideas from Ribbonfarm? All those fascinating stories and profound insights I stumble across via Twitter and Reddit? Enjoy them. Let them wash over you. Don’t ruin them by trying to preserve them. Instead, listen and allow yourself to be transformed.”

This is a particular instance of a general policy I’ve implemented. I’ve deliberately chosen to limit what I capture in my life because I now realise that capturing life is not the same as living it. Having thoughts is not the same as recording them. Think of a bubble. We can look at it, watch it as it falls reluctantly to the earth, but we cannot hold it. As soon as we touch it, it bursts. Or consider the vista from a hillside. We can be still, inhaling the wonder of the view and feeling the breath of the breeze. But as soon as we pull out a smartphone, take a snap and post it to Instagram, the moment is ruined. Instead of being where we are, experiencing the view, we’re transported back into an environment rife with comparisons, hierarchies and posturing. 

Imagine holding a kitten. You support it for a time, stroke its head, let its paws try to catch your wiggling finger, then release it, letting it wonder and explore all by itself. You don’t hold onto it, squeeze it so hard that you crush its tiny skeleton and impede its breath. Do the same with the moments of your life, the significant and the seemingly insignificant. Experience them, enjoy them, then let them go.