Un Peu de Français pour Les "Nouvelles" Années Folles
(Translation: A little French for the "new" roaring twenties)
Smiles from the threshold of the year to come,
Whispering 'it will be happier'...”
― Alfred Lord Tennyson, The Foresters: Robin Hood and Maid Marian
Above: Onward to 2021! | La Liberté guidant le peuple, painting by Eugène Delacroix commemorating the July Revolution of 1830.
Welcome to another edition of White Noise, a weekly(ish) missive on life, literature, and flâneury brought to you by me, Tom White.
If you are a new or recent arrival, here is an archive of past issues for you to peruse at your leisure.
As we turn the page on the tumultuous, volatile year that was, I have found myself lost in deep thought and reflection.
Though each and every moment—let alone year—serves as tremendous gift, 2020 resembled finding a sooty lump of coal under our collective tree.
Perhaps no dialogue better represents the tension between regret and gratitude than the below from J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring (H/T David Perell):
“I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo.
“So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
I picture the past year as a sort of broken mirror; a once-beautiful thing or idea shattered by the unexpected trials and tribulations of life lived. With this image in mind, I have devoted the few waking hours of 2021 reflecting on how to best collect these jagged shards, piece them together, and find meaning amidst the mess.
During this exercise, my mind—as it does—wandered far and wide. In time, it settled on a conversation I had in late 2018 at New York’s storied Minetta Tavern.
Over tender, Black Label Burgers and overpriced, full-bodied Merlot, my dear friend—the bespeckled fool, né Josh—and I thought of the years ahead. We discussed how we wanted to approach our lives as we matured both personally and professionally.
Theoretical conversation became practical exercise as we drew upon literature, theology, and philosophy to identify a few timeless words, phrases, expressions by which we could approach the art of living.
Perhaps it was the old world lighting fixtures or the sumptuous banquet laid down before us.
It may have been the ancient, leaded windows or the copious amounts of French, enamel-staining wine.
It may have been no more than pretentious delusions of grandeur harbored by two bombastic millennials.
Whatever the reason, we consistently drifted towards the mellifluous, dulcet tones of French.
What follows are a few choice codified axioms and attitudes from that memorable evening.
Savoir Faire — The ability to act or speak appropriately in social situations.
No matter the setting, the audience, the company, the environment, one must rise to the occasion. This applies not only with others, but also with the one person we can never be rid of: ourself.
No matter who’s in our bed each night, we sleep with ourselves. A good, honest man’s pillow is stuffed with nothing more than peace of mind.
Peace of mind derived from turning an “I would if I could” into “I can and I am.” From melding our identities, our desired conceptions of ourselves, into the verbs and adjectives to which we aspire:
Don’t run, be a runner.
Don’t lead, be a leader.
Don’t be friendly, be a friend.
Act as you are and so you shall be.
Carte Blanche — Complete freedom to act as one wishes or thinks best.
Though the events of the world remain outside our grasp, our thoughts, actions, and reactions are entirely within our control. There is tremendous liberty in realizing that one has the freedom to dictate and steer his/her perception.
With this knowledge, don’t hedge your bets. Go all in.
No matter where you are, give that place the justice, attention, and investment that it deserves.
No matter what you do, do it fully; both in service of those that you love and your purported values.
Turn that which is potential into the kinetic. Reject the poison found in standing water.
If loving, love unreservedly.
If working, work diligently.
If conversing, converse presently.
If living, live intentionally and joyfully.
When we truly latch onto the fact that we are going to die at some point in time, we have more presence in this one.
Disappointment has a way of cajoling and unlocking what fruitless anger cannot.
"Petit à petit l'oiseau fait son nid — “Little by little, the bird makes its nest.”
The bedrock of life is made up of patience and perseverance. As Alexandre Dumas sagely wrote, “All human wisdom is contained in these two words, 'Wait and Hope.’”
Have the patience to preserve your hard-won collection of truths, reflections, realizations.
Sit with and in them; let them seep from your intellect into your bones, soul, and instinct so that the anonymous becomes the intimate, the personal.
This takes commitment, time, and focus.
From there, have the courage to live these truths, to take them with you into the cacophonous arena of everyday life.
Adhere to them.
Use them to navigate the flowing, coursing, meandering river that is existence.
Bon voyage, 2020. Bonne chance, 2021 et au-delà. Qui vivra verra.
Leave with a Laugh
🇫🇷 Vive le bacon!
📚 An Esteemed Critic’s Scathing Review of Pride and Prejudice
🐦 Vain, Vain Vultures
😴 A Helluva ‘How To’ Book
🎭 McConaughey Contains Multitudes…
🌨️ 2020 in Seventy-Six Seconds
If you are reading this, you are responsible, in part, for changing my life this year.
Wishing serenity and many happy returns to you and yours as we plunge into the promise of 2021.
With sincere gratitude,
P.S. A New Year means new books! If, like me, you hope to read more regularly this year, pay a visit to my virtual bookshelf. On this spotless rack, you will find the top five percent of books that I have ever read. Whether philosophy, psychology, or even fantasy, there is ample writing for every reader.