The Unexplored

Finding Everyday Inspiration, Day 17 — Map as your muse


Sometimes, when I look at the world map, or the map of the continental United States, even when I look at the wide spaces of the metropolitan area I live within — I am struck with something like existential regret.

Let me try to explain. When I step back and consider how big the world really is, how many subsets of communities there are of interrelationships similar to the unique one I inhabit, how many people are out there with passions and complexities and loveliness that I can never know — there is an unfounded and decidedly irrational regret within me concerning how much is going un-experienced. In everything that cannot be, concerning my personal position in this world, there is an acute sorrow. Consider how much ground we will never cover, simply given the time allotted. There’s so much of the world, in all its beauty and wonder, its minuteness and grandiosity, that will go necessarily unexplored by a single individual. Of course, cognitive dissonance takes care of all this almost out of hand, easily. We simply don’t have the energy to really engage with this. I’m not saying I do this on a regular basis. I know I only have one life to live, I can only be in the one place at any given time. But it’s a rumination that has surfaced more often than it probably should, and the map of our planet and its multitude of nations is capable of setting me on a wild train of thought.

Knowing myself, given immortality, would I have this burning desire to travel to every possible corner of the world, spend meaningful time in each pocket, get to know every person that I am capable of interacting with? With unlimited time, I would certainly try to explore as much as I could. Truthfully though, this would be incredibly challenging, especially for someone like me. With these musings, I am more concerned with the knowledge of these limitations and what it means for us. This is all well in hand: ‘you are going to die one day, you only have so much time on your hands.’ We have to face up with what we are consciously (or unconsciously) choosing to do. Why am I writing this when I could be in Prague right now? What am I doing here, and not on some beach with a person I love, engaged in a real, life-changing experience? Why am I still here, in this specific environment, when I could’ve gone elsewhere? I am living with my choices right now, moment by moment. And knowing there is so much you don’t have time for makes every decision impactful. With so many important, final, and finite decisions being made in rapid succession, decision fatigue sets in. You feel your mortality settling onto your bosom, its weight slowly damning you into immobilization.

Unless it doesn’t. Unless you don’t see things this way. Not everyone does. The finitude our lives here means we are compelled to live life to the fullest. I know this is aspirational, but it’s how we should be trying to operate. Make decisions with conviction and move on. We are giving up much to exist right here and right now. And this should make it all the more special, no matter your choice. A part of me knows this is why I write, and why I try to sincerely write fiction — it’s a battle against my own lack of mobility and my own impermanence. But that is another post, for another day.

~

Now this concept I have outlined above is something I have mulled on and written about in previous years within my journal. And lo and behold, the ingenious and spellbinding Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows (one of my favorite things there is) has captured my kindred malady dutifully and with artful profundity. John Koenig is able to convey this sentiment just about perfectly — with the word “Onism.”