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POV: Presence.

POV ("point of view") is a series that addresses many of the same themes covered in my Equals Record column: growing up, saying yes to adventure, learning to embrace a quarter-life crisis. While my previous column focused largely on ideas, POV focuses on moments - glimpses, glances, tiny stories.

I tried acupuncture for the first time recently, spending an hour in a brightly-lit office, discussing sleep and stress levels and the color of my tongue; then, another 30 minutes on a bed in a dark room, my body a constellation of thread-thin needles. A tiny lamp, burning orange, shone on my toes.

As the pins went in, I recounted past needle encounters gone wrong, and my unfortunate tendency to faint post-puncture. “Meditate,” said the doctor, most certainly reading my mind. “Your thoughts may drift, but just remember to breathe.” An assistant switched off the foot warmer, draped me in a blanket, and shut the door.

Dutifully, I focused on my breath. But not a minute passed before I was trying to figure out what time it must be, picturing the clock on the door counting down the seconds. I thought about the 78-degree weather in the next day’s forecast and the final sentence of a freelance assignment due that week. I wondered whether paper invitations were a worthwhile wedding expense. I studied a vent in the corner of the ceiling and asked myself what would happen to the needles in my legs if I went to sleep and let them fall slack.

The assistant reappeared. “That was 30 minutes?” I asked. She told me that it had in fact been a little longer, then set to work removing the pins. The light was back on, buzzing.


One of my earliest memories is being picked up at nursery school, and telling my dad I hadn’t slept at naptime. “I was thinking instead,” I said. “What about?” he asked. “Wars,” I answered. “And hospitals.”

Later, when I was a little older, I remember going on field trips with my elementary school classes—sitting in plays, wandering museums, shuffling single-file through the kitchen of the local bagel shop—and using the time to daydream. If something didn’t hold my attention, there was a never-ending queue of other things to think about.

Many years later, my ability to focus has improved. But there are moments—regularly, every day—when I find I’ve tuned out what’s in front of me. A stranger at a dinner party may be talking and I’ll come to the terrifying realization that I haven’t heard a word they’ve said. Reading on the subway, I’ll reach the end of a news article having read the first line but skipped over everything else. Sometimes, still, I daydream through plays and movies, absorbing nothing of them.

Of course, there’s nothing special about this. Everyone gets distracted; it’s healthy—and healing—to daydream. But I notice these small daily allowances now more than ever—now, when it feels imperative to stay awake, to hear others, to read the words and understand the full story. It’s made me realize how easy it is to drop out of the present. To find a way out of engaging with what isn’t easy or immediately attention-grabbing. To miss things completely: strings of words, entire stories, precious opportunities to lie down and breathe deeply.



My fiance, Rob, and I took a trip to Aarhus, Denmark last year, arriving on a Sunday in mid-November. The day and a half prior had been frenzied. A nine-hour delay out of New York, a whirlwind stop in Oslo, and a mishmash of wintry weather made for a weekend that seemed to represent a microcosm of the year leading up to it—exhausting, full of joys and frustrations, and over in an instant. The first day, I barely left our hotel room. On the morning of the second, I went for a walk alone while Rob, a musician, rehearsed for a symphony performance at a nearby concert hall.

With no international phone plan, there were no calls to take, no texts to write, no breaking news to read. Instead I hobbled on cobblestones, drank three cups of coffee in three different coffee shops, and met the people who made them. I ate the world’s best lunch—crumbly, caramel-y cheese on the densest, stickiest bread imaginable—plucking the crusts from the plate as the waiter came to retrieve it: “Wait! I’ll take those with me.” I read a book. I thought of things to write about. (In fact, I planned to write this piece there, and then, as always, the time flew.)

Later in the afternoon, I slipped into the concert hall to watch the last hour of rehearsal. I felt a very particular kind of happy, awake to my senses and a little overwhelmed. I’d feel the same way months later in New Orleans, licking sugar off my fingers to the tune of a lone trumpet, and again, more recently, catching up with a crowd of familiar faces in the sunlight at a friend’s art opening. But in that moment, in Aarhus, none of this had happened yet. There was only this humming hall and its glowing, wood-paneled walls.

The symphony was playing sections of the same piece over and over with Rob conducting, standing on his toes in polka-dotted socks.

When I was younger, ignorant to the bliss of music without words, I might have daydreamed it all away. Now, alone in the audience, I was convinced I could hear every note.



You can find my previous POV entries, here. Thank you so much for reading.
 

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