Looking to minimize the amount of physical hoarded objects in my life, I stumbled upon a book I created in 1997.
It appears I was pretentious enough in the 8th grade to name my version of our major autobiographical project for Mrs. McCue’s class as “The Wisdom of Phil Le.” Because, didn’t you know? I was full of wisdom by age 13.
But really, my intentions were innocuous. I can recall the influence in producing such a name, a book I picked up while on the big field trip we took to Washington DC that year. It was in the Smithsonian bookstore that I fell upon a collection hidden in the far left hand corner of the golden lit room. “The Wisdom Of” series. From this series I purchased “The Wisdom of Zen.”
In picking that book, a collection koans Marc De Smedt felt appropriate to represent Zen, “The Wisdom of Zen” became the model for my self-made book: a collection of short narratives and inspiring excerpts from a myriad of sources I thought valuable to a future self in the coming years. If I would find this a daunting endeavor today, looking at this hardbound time capsule, there is no indication this was the case then. But here I am 17 years later flipping through pages of dot-matrixed type and poorly written words. With each turn I can hear the aged glue crinkle knowing giggles at what it must feel like to jump back in time to your own adolescent brain.
“Kind, sensitive, smart; who fears fear, who wishes for peace and love.”
–like the 140 character autobiographies seen on Twitter
The book does not hide my deep Christian upbringing. As a matter of fact, I currated portions of the book with resonating quotes from the Bible. These sections share verses on faith, love, good work and good deeds. They also demonstrate my past fears of sin and punishment in an imperfect of the world. In contrast, other sections reflect my exposure to other world religions, the writings of Albert Camus and, believe it or not, Bruce Lee (he was quite philosophical when not on screen kicking bad guys and flexing muscles.) This amateur work is anthropological evidence for the existential quest, my search for meaning in 1997 (unfortunately for my 13-year-old-self, I wouldn’t stumble upon Victor Frankl’s work for another decade and a half.)
I wrote about hope, hope for myself and for those around me. “Everyone has hope, whether it be for the family you love or the friends you meet each day. Hope is very important to people like us. Without out it, what would we be?” Apparently I questioned things like “Why am I here?” and hoped that in simply asking the question, we had purpose.
In one section was a copy of a favorite Zen parable of mine which involved a rooster trained for fighting. After many stages of conflict it was when the rooster didn’t mind its opponents anymore, not out of a lack of fear, but out of a lack of self, was he deemed ready by the king and the sage to fight. By then, the rooster wasn’t interested in fighting his fellow roost any longer. How simple that sounded then and how hard it is to try to learn that now.
This collection, this “Wisdom of Phil Le” was one of those teenage amalgamations of knowledge, an example of a youth who wanted to understand his world and so in regurgitating thoughts that came before him, thinks he does. It’s funny to read through it now as I see a lot of influences still with me today. As a matter of fact, some things haven’t changed. Other things, well, they’ve changed quite a bit.
My favorite out of this collection is a personal piece I wrote entitled “Childhood Memory.” It appears nostalgia held true then as it does now.
“Childhood is the best of times. It is a time when innocence is in the heart and fun is all you understand. Some of my best childhood memories are spending time with my two friends, Dan Alburger and Caleb Sebra. Though we are not as close now as we once were, we had great times together and they stay with me now. One of our favorite things to do was to sit and write together. We would meet up and just write.
Dan and I still have our stories from when we were younger. The stories were not done as well as to the ones we try to write now, but of course, we were much younger then.
Caleb and I grew up interested in the martial arts for as long as I can remember. Caleb is now in Bushi Karate and I hope to study different martial arts one day. I can only learn about them through books right now.
The three of us, we are each in our separate worlds doing different things these days, but in my heart they are still the best of friends. Together, we were great. I hope that as time goes on, we stay that way, as far apart as we may be.”
I reread those words a younger version of myself wrote and I feel as though they could have existed in a recent incarnation. Out of the entire book, this page is unadorned (save for the terrible italic serif font I chose.) In its description, it poses a question, looks to the future and holds on with hope. It shares the great value friendship had for me then and gives reference to why friendships are dear to me now.
Looking back on the entire analogue-would-be-Tumblr I created for myself, I find future me (well, I guess it’s present me now) asking the same questions posed within this book. I am wondering a lot of the same things. And in that wondering I am still using words, art and imagery to explore the questions that arise through daily living. The wisdom imparted from the book, if I can call it that, isn’t what I explicitly wrote then; the wisdom is in the process in which I chose to make meaning of things that were on my mind.
No one but my teacher at the time and my English teacher from the year before read this book. Outside of them, this was a book on self reflection, on preserving important memories, on recording honest feelings. I suppose it’s not very different from the collection of sketchbooks I keep to this day. And it’s a reminder to keep asking, to try answering and to keep creating. Because, “Running water never grows stale. So, baby, you just have to keep on flowing.”*