Thu, 29 Nov 2012 02:02:30 +0000

I find it delightful that people hum tunes while washing the dishes, write poems while waiting for the train, or doodle in their lab notebook during a bio class. I find it amazing that cavemen and women, who were virtually living to survive, found it necessary to scribble drawings on a wall instead of going outside to hunt or gather food.

So I am occassionally saddened by how much of our lives we spend doing things that allow for so little self-expression. I’m one of the lucky ones, I suppose, but so many days I drive home with a pen full of ink ready to furiously explode onto canvas. It’s one thing to have our heartstrings plucked and pulled by something else in this world; it’s another thing for the vibrations of our heartstring to find a vessel in which to resonate — to sing, as they were meant to sing.

When I was 12, I was flipping through one of my dad’s graph notebooks. He’s an engineer — the kind of person who writes in all caps for maximum legibility. There were formulas and charts, expressions and tables. But halfway through the notebook, there was a doodle of a knight in steel armor. Most of the lines were precise and calculated, almost like a blueprint. But the feathers on the knight’s helmet looked as if they were brushed on; they were just so expressive. It was as if a part of my dad had burst through the pen onto those two-dozen strokes.

So much of our lives is about reacting to, and surviving in, the world. But self-expression steps outside that; it is an active output; it requires investment and vulnerability, which is evident when you realize how nervous you are humming a song on a first date. It is one of the few things in life we don’t have to do, yet we feel like we need to do.

It makes us brave; it forces us to think about our output; it encourages us to be empathetic.

There are days when that goes away, and those days can become weeks and sometimes years. Each night, our eyelids get heavy and it’s easier to sleep than to stay up and extra few hours and write an essay about self-expression that you’ve been meaning to write for the past several weeks.

Driving home today I saw a man, in a silver Ford Focus, singing. His window was cracked, as was mine, so I heard it when he belted out the first note to an opera song. When the traffic moved, he’d scooch forward, break and then push out a few more notes.

We spend most of our lives sleeping, eating, working and passively consuming the world; all of it is necessary, perhaps more so than self-expression, if you ask Maslow. But I’m discovering cracks in our lives — before the train arrives; while stuck in traffic; between engineering calculations — where we can escape for a moment to Neverland.