What is Vitality and Delight?
I am a huge fan of New Year’s resolutions. I choose one day during the last week of December to review the past twelve months and write down resolutions for the next. These resolutions are always structured around accomplishments, goals, and work—they’ve gotten me to where I am now. But next year, I want to try something new. I’m making a resolution to stay alive. Like, actually alive.
I know. What does that even mean? I guess, over the past year, I’ve been bad at staying alive. I haven’t taken care of my health, I’ve succumbed to the void more days than not, and I’ve strayed away from the people and things I love if they don’t directly feed into my level of output, because I thought I’d rather love the work.
I’ve been working too hard.
To be clear, I still love the art. The writing. I’m an artist before anything else. But being alive means not just being an artist. It means, like Namjoon raps, to “be a human first. Not to make art, but to have fun, savoring all the sorrows and joys of life.”
Unfortunately, I have a shit memory. I want to better savor my sorrows and joys. So—this newsletter.
The title, Vitality and Delight, is from a quote by Ingmar Bergman, who wrote and directed one of my favorite films, The Seventh Seal, where a disillusioned knight returns home from the ten-year Crusades only to encounter Death. The knight challenges Death to an extended chess match for his life, during which he sets off on a journey determined to evade Death long enough so he can achieve one act of great redemption while he still lives.
The knight makes friends during his journey. They come along with him, and in my favorite scene, they sit outside in the sunshine for snacks and jokes. Our knight appears happy for the first time. He says: “I shall remember this moment: the silence, the twilight, the bowl of strawberries, the bowl of milk. Your faces in the evening light. Mikael asleep, Jof with his lyre. I’ll try to remember what we spoke of and I shall carry this memory carefully in my hands as if it were a bowl brimming with fresh milk. And it will be an adequate sign—it will be enough for me.”
Then the knight smiles and takes a sip of his bowl of milk. He hands the bowl back to his friend. He gets up and walks away. And then Death, forever stalking, appears.
Death, in his black cloak, says: I’ve been waiting. And the knight says: Forgive me. I was detained.
(Detained from Death by spending time with friends!)
They return to their chess game.
As they play, Death asks him: Why are you pleased? And the knight says: That’s my secret.
Then Death asks: Did you trick me? And the knight says: Of course.
Then Death asks: Why do you laugh? And the knight says: Don’t worry about my laughter; save your king instead.
Of course, Death saves his king. Our knight loses the chess match. Death wins because Death always wins, but maybe, in a way, Death loses, because Death cannot fathom why we laugh.
Bergman says he made this film “under difficult circumstances in a surge of vitality and delight.” To be honest, every day feels like difficult circumstances. What gets me through are these random surges of vitality and delight: the art I can make, the love I can feel, the love I can give. And I want to remember them when the difficult circumstances become too much.
So this newsletter won’t really be a newsletter. It’ll just be a weekly list of five or so things that convinced me to stay alive that week. My strawberries, my bowls of fresh milk, my surges of vitality and delight. I hope, by the end of 2023, I’ll have 52 lovely lists of things that reminded me to feel alive. It’ll be a nice capsule of the year.
What will be on these lists? Maybe it’ll be cool things, like my debut novel release or my mother’s birthday. Or maybe it’ll be small things, like a lover and a dear friend both sending me, within the span of an hour, pictures of the used bookstores they had stumbled into during their travels, a serendipitous sweetness only used books could bring; maybe it’ll be a much-loved lyric from a new song, like SZA’s “I give a fuck, I just wanna fuck, eat, sleep, love, happy” in her just-released album SOS; maybe it’ll be a line from a book I finish, like Derrida’s The Politics of Friendship, in which he calls friendship being-friend, implying friendship a verb rather than a noun; maybe it’ll just be the back sweat during a good session of karaoke with friends. I call these things small, but by now I’ve learned these small things that keep me alive are not small at all. They are worthy, and necessary, and I should write them down, in case I need to read them again. In case you need to read them. Because staying alive isn’t so terrible after all—sometimes, I just need a reminder.
Hope you had a nice year. Hope you will have a nice year, again.
I’ll see you in 2023.
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