After last year’s parade of horrors, I began this year hopefully. In spite of the world’s wild entropy, this would be a year of calm flourishing. I made my usual list: more yoga, more vegetables, more beauty. I might still reach for my phone as soon as my eyes opened, but I would read poetry, not politics.
But the bad news centrifuge is strong, and so are the outcry and uproar that hourly spout from the internet’s blowhole. Before it was a month old, this year seemed worse than the one before. Calm flourishing seemed quixotic.
Of course, outcry is the right response when civil society suddenly descends to the eighth circle of hell. And yes, Danish coziness is probably insidious. But the lie of life online is that it resembles life at all; that you can sustain the rage it makes room for, or be sustained by it. Being immersed in the stream, the feed, is not the same as being engaged. It's at best a distraction; at worst, it's outrage as recreation.
If I sound insular, it’s because last year I felt as though the walls around my inner life were too thin. So much of what I consumed was not nourishing. So much of what consumed me was gone within a week, sometimes less. This year, I wanted to resist that lure. I wanted to spend time in places of restorative quiet and beauty, and on things that will still matter a year, or a hundred years, from now. I believe that's a way to flourish, but it's also a way to see the stream, the feed, for what they are - to see how small they are.
A month in, I haven't kept those resolutions. But the year is young. There's still time to find those quiet bowers beauty keeps for us.
A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
Of all the unhealthy and o’er-darkened ways
Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
From our dark spirits. Such the sun, the moon,
Trees old and young, sprouting a shady boon
For simple sheep; and such are daffodils
With the green world they live in; and clear rills
That for themselves a cooling covert make
’Gainst the hot season; the mid forest brake,
Rich with a sprinkling of fair musk-rose blooms:
And such too is the grandeur of the dooms
We have imagined for the mighty dead;
All lovely tales that we have heard or read:
An endless fountain of immortal drink,
Pouring unto us from the heaven’s brink.
Keats, from Endymion (1818).