Discover more from Aly Tadros
Finding Paradise in Chaos
How do you create calm amidst change?
The child in each of us
Paradise is home.
Home as it was
Or home as it should have been.
Paradise is one's own place,
One's own people,
One's own world,
Knowing and known,
Loving and loved.
Yet every child
Is cast from paradise-
Into growth and new community,
Into vast, ongoing
-Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower
Earlier this week, I was talking to a friend who spent a number of years in Italy, learning to carve and sculpt stone. He’d originally traveled there for a job teaching English, but then enrolled in a fine arts program and decided to stay. How did living there change you? I wanted to know.
He thought for some time. “I left with an appreciation a sacred care around time and food. Italians have a strong sense of working to live, and living fully,” he said. “It’s a sensual culture, with a romance for all things beautiful, almost to the point of corniness to an American sensibility. Italians find space for irreverence.”
Irreverence sounds just lovely while living in a picturesque villa off the Amalfi Coast. Me? I live in Central fucking Harlem. I work a 60 hour week on top of a full graduate course load and three pets who aren’t about to start vacuuming themselves. All week I pinball between Queens, Harlem, and Lower Manhattan, inhaling tuna salads while I pull off of the FDR Expressway. Time is short. As I stared down a mountain of day-jobbing, writing, and lesson planning I thought: I don’t have time for romance, buddy.
Midweek, my neighbor texted; she’d defended her dissertation:
Come out for a celebratory dinner on Friday night?
Then my friend Jeanie reached out:
Saturday hike in New Jersey?
And then my running buddy:
Sunday morning jog and donuts?
I hesitated. In martyrdom workerville, weekends are sacred. I’m in class or at my day for twelve hours Monday through Thursday, and I’d blocked off my whole weekend, intending to do nothing but work. Then, for whatever reason, I lit that plan on fire. I strapped on a pair of heels and a silk summer dress and rode the train to the West Village to toast my neighbor’s Ph.D. over club soda and charcuterie. Jeanie and I picnicked in Harriman State Park, dipping our fingertips in the cool lake water while my pup, Casino, catapulted herself into a nearby stream.
The work didn’t go anywhere—I paid the price for it Tuesday night, tweaking slides until 1 a.m., knowing full well my alarm would still come for me at 6. I hobbled my way through much of this week, sleepy but full.
I am nowhere near the point at which my life holds balance. It is totally out of whack. It will continue to be for some time—and I can live with that. But I cannot live without irreverence, if even in small moments.
I got through my first two weeks of teaching, made progress in my writing. And that’s great. But what stays with me were the tiny islands of decadence: Pausing before I dashed out the door to lather lotion on my freshly-shaven legs. Swinging into the corner store and nabbing a bouquet of bodega daisies for my neighbor. Standing at the Northeast corner of Central Park, sweaty as hell, and inhaling a mango chili donut.
This, my dear, is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
The capitalist machinery tells us we are our jobs. Our apartments. Our business. That this is how we extract significance. I spent much of my ten years on the road believing, on some level, that I was not worthwhile unless I was impressive. At the cost of my health, my friendships. I’m writing this as a way to remember, to try to do things a little bit different now.
I have more work today. But first, I wanted to write you. Tomorrow I’ll get back to the thesis, and then I’ll steal time for a bad movie, a late-night date. Because for all our striving, what I am learning is that to be with good people—and co-create that irreverence—is what makes all the work worthwhile.
Sometimes, we forget. And then sculptors remind us. Poetry reminds us.
You can’t always prevent chaos, and you certainly can’t stop change. But you can work from within it. So how will you do that?
How will you create paradise amidst chaos?