The 2020s start here and now. Never satisfied, we must always move forward. Always engage with the realities and the beauty of life, the opportunities of change and growth that today and tomorrow offer us.
Welcome to 2020. Welcome to the 2020s. As with any other year, 2020 will bring a bewildering mix of fair and foul, darkness and light. At times, life will feel harder than it ever has before. This is no time to escape into the past. This is the time to move forward with a mission, with a sense of purpose. To find the beauty that life throws forward every day.
Beauty grows from the realities of life
“The quality that we call beauty must always grow from the realities of life.”
This is Japanese novelist Junichirō Tanizaki, from In Praise of Shadows*, his 1933 essay on aesthetics. For Tanizaki, beauty is not found solely in light, or solely in darkness. Rather, it arises from the interplay of the two:
“We find beauty not in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates. A phosphorescent jewel gives off its glow and colour in the dark and loses its beauty in the light of day. Were it not for shadows, there would be no beauty.”
Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows describes the culture clash experienced by Japan in the early decades of the 20th Century. He argues that these were times of jolting, shocking change for the Japanese eye. The quiet introspective subtleties of traditional Japanese design, art and architecture took on Western influences for the first time. Harsh electric light replaced the profound world of shadows that had existed previously. That world of shadows had been created and revealed by candlelight. Beauty had to seek other ways to manifest itself.
Yet Tanizaki did not want to turn back the clock. He writes of his reactions to an article he had read about the complaints of elderly women in England (remember, this was at the start of the 1930s):
“It struck me that old people everywhere have much the same complaints. The older we get the more we seem to think that everything was better in the past. Never has there been an age that people have been satisfied with. But in recent years the pace of progress has been so precipitous that conditions in our own country go somewhat beyond the ordinary.”
Change is also a choice. Nostalgia can work against this forward motion, this need to change. It can be so tempting to stay put, to look back instead of forward.
“Never has there been an age that people have been satisfied with.” Never were truer words written.
Never satisfied, we must always move forward. We must always change. We should always change.
In her excellent memoir Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, Carrie Brownstein argues that it is a dangerous illusion to believe things were better in the good old days. Nostalgia creates an illusion of serenity. Brownstein writes beautifully about the seductive allure of nostalgia:
“Nostalgia is so certain: the sense of familiarity it instils makes us feel like we know ourselves, like we’ve lived. Nostalgia is elating to bask in. Nostalgia is recall without the criticism of the present day, all the good parts, memory without the pain.”
Brownstein approaches life in the present day with a spirit of deliberate optimism:
“I love being a new onlooker, a convert. To become a fan of something, to open and change, is a move of deliberate optimism, curiosity, and enthusiasm.”
Deliberate optimism is something to cherish, to celebrate, to aspire to. A mission, a sense of purpose.
We are in the 2020s. No time to stop now. Keep moving forward.
Don’t bemoan what you don’t have. Celebrate all that has been gifted to you.
Don’t fixate on what was better in the past. Celebrate what is good in the present and what can and will be better in the future.
Always move forward and engage with the realities and the beauty of life, with the opportunities of change and growth that today and tomorrow offer you.
Gentle reader: May each day of 2020 – and each day of the 2020s – be nothing but kind to you and yours.
* I came across Junichirō Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows via a recommendation in Tony Fadell’s recent appearance on the Tim Ferriss podcast. This podcast is very highly recommended. Fadell generously shares a lifetime’s worth of wisdom, learning and insight, and all with truly inspiring energy and positivity. Download the MP3, or view on YouTube.
** Serendipity. While drafting this post on New Year’s Day, I saw a tweet from Jessica Ritchey, celebrating David Lynch’s 2017 televisual masterpiece Twin Peaks: The Return as “a rebuke of nostalgia.” Yes! I wrote about this incredible series in Twin Peaks, atom bombs, beautiful, beautiful stuff.
- Koi carp drawing by MJCarty.
- Koi photograph via Wikimedia Commons.
- Junichirō Tanizaki image via Wikimedia Commons.
- A Seated Woman with a Lacquer Candle Stand by Toyohara Chikanobu via Wikimedia Commons.
- Carrie Brownstein image via Wikimedia Commons.
- Koi watercolour by Simon Heath (reproduced here with the kind permission of Mr Heath. Thank you, sir).