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    The New YorkerJoshua Rothman12/14/2023 min
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    The New Yorker
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    • Jessica4 months ago

      A man commits himself and draws his own portrait, outside of which there is nothing. No doubt this thought may seem harsh. . . . But on the other hand, it helps people to understand that reality alone counts, and that dreams, expectations, and hopes only serve to define a man as a broken dream, aborted hopes, and futile expectations.

      As Sartre says, we are who we are. But isn’t the negative space in a portrait part of that portrait? In the sense that our unled lives have been imagined by us, and are part of us, they are real; to know what someone isn’t—what she might have been, what she’s dreamed of being—this is to know someone intimately. When we first meet people, we know them as they are, but, with time, we perceive the auras of possibility that surround them. Miller describes the emotion this experience evokes as “beauty and heartbreak together.”

      • Karenz
        Scribe
        4 months ago

        This question of unlived lives really hit me in my later 40’s as a classic midlife crisis. I left my husband, rented a shabby cottage, and tried some “alternate” lives. When I returned home, I knew it was where I wanted to be. I don’t think I’d be as content as I am now married for almost 53 years if I hadn’t had that time to “be” someone else. I was lucky that my husband had gone down his own path and we both knew we wanted to recommit for life to each other. It was a grueling time for us and our 4 kids and I don’t know how we lived thru it but it made all the difference.

        • Jessica4 months ago

          Thank you for sharing, Karenz. It must have taken so much courage to try the alternate path that is the “could have been” in our heads.

          • Karenz
            Scribe
            4 months ago

            Thank you, Jessica. I didn’t want to live in fantasy and I’m grateful to my core to have had an authentic life.

        • bill
          Top reader of all timeScout
          4 months ago

          That's really beautiful. It takes guts to ask tough questions about your own life - especially when you're afraid of what you think the answer might be. But it's really important to create those forks in the road, even if you don't take them.

          So inspiring, Karenz, as always.

          • Karenz
            Scribe
            4 months ago

            Thank you, Bill. I was kind of afraid to write that because it can sound selfish and was so hard on our kids but once there’s an issue, kids know it and feel the tension whether you act on it or not. Our kids are fantastic people I’m happy to say and raising beautiful people of their own.

    • kellyalysia4 months ago

      Wow, heartbreaking and highly relatable. I have pondered and written on this topic many times but never had these two concepts occurred to me:

      1. That perhaps we are shaped and illuminated in the negative space — the unlived lives — as we are by the lived ones.

      and

      2.That the longing for lives unlived actually gives us a sense of purpose:

      Part of the work of being a modern person seems to be dreaming of alternate lives in which you don’t have to dream of alternate lives. We long to stop longing, but we also wring purpose from that desire.

      Indeed, it's easy to see how these two may be very related... We become more of who we are as we long deeply for all we could never be.

    • DellwoodBarker
      Top reader this weekReading streakScoutScribe
      4 months ago

      🎆 Phenomenal 🎆

      Part of the work of being a modern person seems to be dreaming of alternate lives in which you don’t have to dream of alternate lives. We long to stop longing, but we also wring purpose from that desire.

      An “unled” life sounds like one we might wish to lead—shoulda, coulda, woulda. But, while I’m conscious of my unlived lives, I don’t wish to have led one. In fact, as the father of a two-year-old, I find the prospect frightening. In “Midlife: A Philosophical Guide,” the philosopher Kieran Setiya points out that, thanks to the “butterfly effect,” even minor alterations to our pasts would likely have major effects on our presents. If I’d done things just a little bit differently, my son might not exist. Perhaps, in a different life, I’d have a different wife and child. But I love these particular people; I don’t want alternative ones.

      1. Update (5/30/2021):

        The first paragraph excerpt brings to mind Living In The Dream versus Dreaming the Dream. In other past lives when my sleep consisted of constant dreams and nightmares during sleep I didn’t consider sleep very restful nor restorative. At some point a shift happened and my sleep became almost dreamless, peaceful, calm in Deep, Restorative Fashion. Now as a result I find Waking Life an Integration of Dream Life and as a result Way More Satisfying. I do, on occasion have a night here or there with a dream and thus, each stands out more than in the past. As I type this I realize I may be creating a disruptive sleep state tonight. Ironies, as such, often surface in the wake of such definitive expressions. Curveballs which keep the toes activating.

        😉🧚🏽♾💓

      • bill
        Top reader of all timeScout
        4 months ago

        Beautiful highlights and beautiful update. Sleep well tonight. There's no reason not to have that Way More Satisfying Dream Life every single day.

        And even if you don't sleep well tonight, keep speaking truth and suffering the consequences. This is the best way to play the game we all play, the role we act, the life we live. Toes activated.

    • bill
      Top reader of all timeScout
      4 months ago

      Standing ovation! Just finished and I'm tempted to read the whole thing again. It's an 11.