Growing up, one of my favorite places was the back seat of my family’s minivan. It would probably still be one of my favorite places if it were around anymore. That seat meant familiarity even as the world flew by – I could fall asleep and wake up in a new state, and the seat was always there, my open backpack on one side and a Nintendo handheld and a couple books on the other.
The back seat wasn’t just a refuge; it was something I looked forward to. Uncertainty anchored to familiarity is exhilarating – it’s the promise of better things and of new adventures. Uncertainty by itself is exhausting. Airplane travel, for example, carries none of the fond memories or feelings of embrace that I associate with that minivan. I’ve never outgrown my fear of airplanes, hope as I might, and it always strikes me how different it feels from something so similar.
So I feel a little silly about the following paragraphs, given that their conclusion is something I knew as a twelve-year-old.
This post is about three powerful words, and not the ones every movie describes with that phrase. Kanye West and Kid Cudi released a collaboration under the name KIDS SEE GHOSTS recently, and one verse from this album full of great moments is still simmering near the surface of my brain. On the title track, Yasiin Bey (the artist formerly known as Mos Def, and the man who brought Ford Prefect to the big screen) calmly speaks the following:
Civilization without society
Power and wealth with nobility
Stability without stasis
Places and spaces
Stability without stasis. Hearing it for the first time felt like stumbling upon a long-lost secret. It’s a deceptively simple phrase that sounds like it might have been lifted from a grad student’s abstract, but those three words, spoken so calmly and precisely, hit me with an emotional weight.
One constant throughout my adult life has been my aversion to routine. Many times before now, I’ve tried to write a post about this and realized it was going nowhere, or that I couldn’t adequately describe the feeling. It’s something between cabin fever and a call of the void, and it takes hold when I least expect it. Often, it’s after a few days of work and of dinner at home, and simply trying a new restaurant will keep the feeling at bay. Sometimes, I’m in an unfamiliar place, but everything starts to remind me of places I’ve been: the smell of the air might remind me of one place, the buildings around me of another, the sounds of yet another, the clothes I’m wearing of another. And I feel immediately, urgently, and irrationally that I have to get out, that I’m not far enough away yet.
I’ve never trusted this feeling as legitimate, partly because I know that indulging it would be reckless. I dismiss this strange impulse as anxiety and generally try not to think about it. I know that nothing can be different forever, so the quest for something different never ends. I know this, but part of me still feels like a coward for ignoring the feeling. Maybe if only I’d jump, I’d learn how to fly.
“Stability without stasis” puts words to this feeling and offers a hint of the solution. I’m instinctively afraid of stagnation, and because of that, I’m suspicious of stability. It’s also a fear I’m not sure I want to outgrow. I don’t want to accept complacency, thinking that it’s maturity.
But it’s also never really occurred to me that stability and stasis aren’t the same thing. Sitting in the back seat of the van, I knew it – but I’d never formed a conscious thought around the idea until now. Uncertainty by itself just amplifies the desire to keep looking, but uncertainty amidst stability is vital.
Stability without stasis might not be attainable, and that might be what Yasiin Bey meant. His verse precedes the song’s refrain: “kids see ghosts sometimes.” Maybe his verse is meant to be a list of ghosts: things that don’t exist but which kids would believe in, longing for them right up until they disappear.
I hope not. I need to believe that this nameless feeling can be harnessed as a desire to keep moving forward without letting go of the rope. “Stability without stasis” is a useful and maybe necessary goal for adulthood, and it’s certainly going on my vision board.