Marcel Proust wrote: “the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” Although this was my high school yearbook quote, I didn’t truly grasp the meaning until years later. That’s because at age 18, I was hungry for actual new landscapes – any landscape, in fact, that wasn’t connected to the suburban Long Island highway I called home. I had gotten my first taste of living abroad just one year before and sensed it had changed my worldview forever. I knew Proust wasn’t encouraging literal travel with his words, but I chose the quote anyway. It was French and poetic… and not a Phish or Grateful Dead lyric. It was perfect.
But I hadn’t thought about the quote again until the other day, when I was riding in a New York taxi down Spring and Hudson streets, just one block from my office building. Halted at a stoplight, I look out the window and saw a mural of a buoyant dancer floating down the entire side of a 7-floor building, as if rolled up in cloth and tossed off the roof like a yoyo. A lifelong ballet enthusiast, I snapped a pic for instagram and later showed it to my friend, who immediately named the artist and work. Apparently this piece of public work, by artist jr, had been there for over two months and I had never once seen it. That’s when I finally understood what Proust meant – in a very visceral way.
I’d like to think this oversight was partly due to my annual “NYC winter hibernation mode” – when I scurry from one warm location to the next, head down to shield the piercing wind – but the more likely explanation is that I’m not a naturally observant person. It’s not that I’m not curious about the world or don’t appreciate its beauty; I just tend to live in my head. This predisposition has its advantages. For instance, I think a lot about how other people feel or how they might react to different situations, which I hope deepens my capacity for empathy. But it also means I don’t fully see the natural world around me – a world that’s real and true in a way that thoughts and feelings, which are mere interpretations of that world, simply are not.
I just celebrated my 35th birthday and have become acutely aware that time continues to roll on, like that dancer tossed down the side of an endless skyscraper. And I don’t want to miss out on any more of the world around me. That’s why for the next year, I want to challenge myself to see something new in my surroundings every week (or two, depending on my day job!), whether I’m at home in NYC or away. Although I’ll always be more comfortable with words than pictures, I hope these visual cues will give me “new eyes” to travel in ways I never knew possible. And maybe if I’m lucky, even the Long Island Expressway will one day feel like an epic adventure.
Welcome to my #eyelogue.