I clicked the blue publish button. Closed the laptop. Walked down the foggy street to that little bar in Rosario, Argentina, right by the Paraná River. Søren Kierkegaard was still there, jotting down notes on a napkin.
Note: This is a work of fiction/philosophy. For this post to make more sense, I recommend starting with the first one: "Kierkegaard Intermission"
"Back already?" he asked. "Get your article done?"
"Yeah," I said, taking a seat. "Barely, though. And I didn't get in everything I wanted to say. There were these great stories about the Di Sapio family throwing backyard BBQs on the 4th of July. And other holidays. Even when their restaurants are closed, they're still grilling up steaks. And then Paulo makes these trips down to Argentina to taste the different wines. And I didn't tie in the Argentina basketball team either."
"True, but you finished a project," Kierkegaard said. "There'll always be more things to write. You picked one and got it done."
"Yeah, at least this thing has a finish line."
"What do you mean?"
"This whole Coronavirus chapter. We don't know when it will end. One report says things will be opened up by June. Back to normal by fall. Another says we'll be in masks for the next couple of years. Another says we may never see a return to the old normal. Which one is it? If we could just have one finish line to strive for, I feel like it'd be a lot easier to get through."
"Ah, but life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced," Kierkegaard said.
"Yeah, but what happens when the reality sucks?"
Kierkegaard set down his drink. He looked at the bar for a second and did that move where you tap one finger at a time, pinky, ring, middle, index, and repeated this a few times.
"Well, it's interesting," Kierkegaard finally said, breaking the silence. "Because there are two separate realities going on simultaneously. There are those who've gotten the virus, or lost someone to the virus, or the healthcare workers fighting it. That is the most brutal reality. And the other reality, what the majority of people are experiencing, is sheltering at home. Not seeing our friends. Worrying about what could happen or just being frustrated by the whole thing."
"Right and I feel like the second reality is much easier. I feel a little guilty wanting a day off because I'm thinking what's so hard about my job? I'm on Zoom meetings. I look at a computer screen. That's nothing compared to the healthcare workers. Or losing a job. Or losing a--"
"Ah, but the mistake people make is thinking the expression, 'Things could be worse,' is supposed to be comforting," Kierkegaard interrupted. "That idea just introduces more possibilities. And, as I said before, anxiety is the dizziness of freedom. For people sheltering at home, not only are they imagining all the ways things could be worse, but they've also lost their normal barriers. The clarity of going into an office. 'This is where I work.' Home: This is where I play. School: This is where the kids go. All of that has merged together into one space and it's like having a bunch of tabs open on your computer. Which one should you focus on?"
"And somehow it feels like there's still not enough time in the day to get everything done."
"Exactly. The American belief has always been there's not enough time in the day. And so the answer, seemingly, would be to add more time to the day. And that's exactly what happened with the stay at home orders. We have plenty of time now. But with time grew all the possibilities of things to get done and with those new possibilities always comes anxiety. We've got too many tabs open. You're in the grocery store without a list, overwhelmed by all of the options."
"Then what can we do?"
"Exactly what you did with the last article. Focus on one thing at a time. Give yourself to a hobby. Sit down and say, 'I'm working on this and this only' because, for those few hours, there's a sense of order to the universe. Or when you're with family, that's family time. Work while you work and for the love of God, close the laptop when you're eating lunch. You see, it's interesting, the more barriers you start setting up, the more freedom you'll have. There's a peace in having a set list at the grocery store. Then repeat that a few times. Repetition is the reality and the seriousness of life."
I looked down at the bar, understanding maybe 60 percent of what he just said. But I thought about the last two Argentina blog posts. I reached over and picked up that random photo of my Dad shaking hands with the president of Argentina.
"Here's another thing I was trying to work into the story," I said, holding up the photo.
I flipped the photo over. On the back written in faint pencil was a poem. I shook my head a little as I read it over.
"What's up?" Kierkegaard asked.
"When I was a kid, my Dad used to read stories from this book called the 'Book of Virtues.' If I were to draw things back, why I love stories, and philosophy, and thinking about what stories can be, I'd tie it all back to hearing those stories at bedtime. There was this one poem in there."
I pointed to the writing on the back of the photo.
Work while you work
Play while you play.
One thing each time,
That is the way.
All that you do,
Do with your might.
Things done by halves
Are not done right.
"We already have most of the answers in life, we just forget we already learned 'em," Kierkegaard said. "We pretend to be unable to understand because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly. So we pretend our hobbies aren't incredibly important. That writing needs to be about something else. It needs to lead to a full-time career, or you need to hit a number of pageviews, or it needs to be building toward something to be worth doing. It seems too small to say, 'You know, writing is worth doing just for the sake of doing it.' Doing it with all your might."
I could still feel all the uncertainty around me, but it felt further away. Outside the bar, lost in the fog. There were still no answers to the Coronavirus questions. When will things go back to normal? What is the new normal? When will Chicago be down to zero cases per day?
The questions were drifting further to the Paraná River. Will anyone in my family get it? Will I get it? What will our jobs look like in five months? In five weeks. When can we travel again to see family? As I wrote, I felt the sense of peace I thought could only come once I had answers to all of the unanswerable questions. I was lost in my hobby. It's like that moment when Peter was walking on water, everything was working until he looked down and thought, "Woah, what if I fall?"
My only answers: I'm finishing this blog post. I'll read it over. Make a few edits. Click the blue publish button. Close the laptop. Leave the bar in Rosario, Argentina. I'll make some breakfast and then I'll log on for work.
Tomorrow morning there'll be a new idea, a new story to tell. I'll be walking Crash, taking a shower, sitting at my laptop, and something will just click. Oh! What if I wrote about this!
And, for those next few hours, I'll be lost in the hobby. Writing a new story.
This 4-part Argentina series, I think, works best read in order. So if you're new to this series or want to look back at how it all ties together, here are the previous posts:
- Chicago, Argentina (Part 1)
- Chicago, Argentina (Kierkegaard intermission)
- Chicago, Argentina (Part 2: The Family Behind Tango Sur)
Despite the name, Medium Rare isn't normally a food blog. But for the next several weeks, I'll be featuring great local restaurants around the Lakeview neighborhood in hopes that readers support these spots with pickup & delivery orders now and go in-person later this year. Other posts include:
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