There’s a scene in the movie Psycho where Janet Leigh’s character makes small talk with Anthony Perkins. Perkins asks, Where are you going? I didn’t mean to pry, to which she responds, I’m looking for a private island. After a time, after the rain has receded and the parlor where they make this exchange is cold and damp, he says, You know what I think? I think that we’re all in our private traps, clamped in them, and none of us can ever get out. We scratch and, and claw, but only at the air, only at each other. And for all of it, we never budge an inch.
I think about this scene often. I think about Perkins’ eyes, wide and black, his face merely a mask, a ruse, obscuring something darker. A daguerreotype of a seething. In the film, he moves as we imagine a bird would — calculating, sharp and violent — and I think about how we are sometimes content in being comfortably uncomfortably. We accept our lot as it is; we leave comments on blog posts coveting the things we want, the things our eyes see. We have our excuses filed away and logged, pulled out like sheets of looseleaf paper at the ready. We say we have these obligations; we blame our fear of pursuing something other on time.
It seems to me that nobody ever has time.
Really? We have time watching and live-tweeting those television shows. We have all the time in the world anesthetizing ourselves over a meal we conveniently call brunch, but really it’s a means to mask getting drunk during the day. We make time for our disquiet because it’s familiar. We can navigate it. But imagine if we made time, if we made it our business to experience our own private island, albeit for a day.
Today I spent the day on an island the size of a New York City block. When we arrived, it took me all but five minutes to walk the perimeter of it — we were literally miles from civilization. Seven hours on an island without a book, a task, or something to occupy my time. It’s a strange thing, this time, how we try to make such efficient use of it. We’re machines that way, I think. And this puts me to thinking of the opening scene in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, and then I settle into the fact that it’s okay to be alone. It’s okay to settle with yourself, in your thoughts. It’s perfectly fine to be as you are.
So I passed the day sleeping under a hut fashioned out of coconut leaves and trees. I sampled local barbeque. I kayaked out into the ocean against some pretty rough current that had me scared for a bit, but then I returned to my breath and everything was set to rights. The shoreline came into view. I swam in salty water and made small talk with the two people who live on the island, and I envied them their quiet. Only for a minute. And then I suddenly became grateful because I’ve spent this year, perhaps so many years too late (!!!) making time. Trading in handbags never worn for experiences. Making less to feel more. Focusing on the content of my character rather than how my jeans fit.
Admittedly, this is hard as I live in New York, and it’s a city that isn’t always kind. I used to know a woman who said to me once (after I had gained a little weight), nothing tastes as good as skinny feels. I think about the woman now, and how she’s frightened of her own solitude. How she’s the master purveyor of things, and instead of thinking something negative (which is so very easy to do), I silently send her the strength that she will one day find her own private island.
This is the yoga, I think. Cultivating experience that you wish onto, and bring to, others. This is the work, and it’s constant.