The beauty of ennui

Why I’m (finally) writing

Is it the swigs of mini airplane wine, mood lighting on the flight, gradual acceptance that I am a vessel of constant contemplation — or all of the above, that’s got me feeling some type of way? Regardless, it’s about time I gave my writing some breathing room and stopped trying to cram my thoughts into the finite space of social media. There, people glimpse a photo with an unusually long caption and are wont to throw the pic a like and scroll onward with their day.

The thought has of course crossed my mind to write, and I’ve even attempted, only to leave behind forgotten, half-written drafts. Perhaps it was the fear of commitment — the length of time it would take a perfectionist to put pen to paper and do justice to her thoughts. Paired like a fine wine with the fear of rejection and an existence trivialized by those she barely knows, and this might be enough to stop anyone in their tracks.

Setting on a new path

Lately, however, I’ve been feeling inspired and a deep sense of peace. Amidst the biannual heartbreaks (and perhaps because of them), I’ve been experiencing a newfound feeling of stepping into my path, inching ever more closely to… not a life in which I’m happy, as that can be fleeting, but one that feels more aligned with who I understand myself to be.

Two sources of inspiration as of late:

  • The incredible book Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman
  • A brief stint in Puerto Escondido, a surfing town in Oaxaca, Mexico

Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals

Four Thousand Weeks aka the number of weeks in an 80-year life span prides itself on being an anti-time management book, and though I’ve advertised it as such, it is so much more. With a captivating mix of stoicism, empathy, and humor, the book takes you into its arms and breaks the news to you — you have limited time on this earth, you’ll never gain control of that time, and that’s actually liberating news, once the initial shock wears off.

Among many topics, Four Thousand Weeks delves into how to prioritize the meaningful things in life, the virtue of patience and letting things take the time they’ll take, and the importance of leisure and having experiences where the sole purpose is the experience itself.

A moment of peace in Puerto

Through a stroke of luck, I got to live out in real time the lessons Burkeman was distilling and experience the sense of acceptance that followed. In Puerto, we lay on the sand and watched the sun go down — the sky streaked a vibrant orange, before slumbering into a deep blue. I closed my eyes and felt the warm breeze nuzzle my skin, as I let myself sink into the sound of laughter trickling over. In that moment, I felt a profound sense of peace with who I was and what I was doing and felt no need to be anything more.

While in Mexico, I read a parable in Four Thousand Weeks that stuck with me regarding a Mexican fisherman and New York businessman (another uncanny juxtaposition given my residency in New York):

Best city in the world?

Capitalism seems to thrive off of our constant striving to justify our existence to others and ourselves. This idea seems perfectly encapsulated in New York — a city in which we’re so busy attending event after event and meeting person after person, that we can’t even wait at a stoplight; instead, we jaywalk after our dreams in the hopes that maybe with just one more career move, hobby, or event, our lives will mean something.

Looking back, I’ve never experienced a true sense of peace in this city. The last time I felt this was 1.5 years ago during a few months in Hawaii, after which I immediately moved to New York and experienced the same nagging sense I have now that something feels off.

But you know, it’s funny — had you asked me a few weeks ago for my thoughts on New York, I would have told you I was head over heels and fleetingly considering a long-term move to a more residential neighborhood here. “Best city in the world!” they proudly declare, and I along with them. After all, what other city offers this multi-dimensional, nonstop energy that sweeps you along, and a feeling in the air that anything is possible? But… the best city. That’s just it, isn’t it? The best damn, bustling, metropolitan city — if that’s what you’re looking for.

And it is (I think?). At least for now. I’m starting to realize that maybe I can be both a city and an island woman and that writing this piece is my attempt to come to terms with this.

Until then, the Big Apple continues to churn along, and I with it.

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Tiff Shieh

Tiff Shieh

musings of a(n easily amused) muse — seeking to make the implicit explicit ✨