Pico Iyer is one of my favourite writers. He is a descriptive, rapid, but a sensitive story-teller. Though he over-intellectualizes at times, I feel the process sparks questions we should ask ourselves even if they do not necessarily lead to sane or real answers. We all grapple with our identity – who we are, where we come from, – to some level identity is given, and to others created, or some amalgam of the two. But the question of identity is becoming increasingly relevant and important in a world where you grow up in one country, study in another, and work in yet another. Even those who have not lived abroad, even they straddle between cultures – cultures of the contemporary, cultures of fashion, music, art, religion….the blend takes us on very confusing journeys. Sometimes we attempt to fit in, to define ourselves when we don’t really need to. The borders of identity, of home, of nationality, of race have become nebulous. And the funny thing is, we never had to choose a fit, in the first place. We are ever-changing, we flow like the Magdalena River.
I’m no Buddhist monk, and I can’t say I’m in love with renunciation in itself, or traveling an hour or more to print out an article I’ve written, or missing out on the N.B.A. Finals. But at some point, I decided that, for me at least, happiness arose out of all I didn’t want or need, not all I did. And it seemed quite useful to take a clear, hard look at what really led to peace of mind or absorption (the closest I’ve come to understanding happiness). Not having a car gives me volumes not to think or worry about, and makes walks around the neighborhood a daily adventure. Lacking a cell phone and high-speed Internet, I have time to play ping-pong every evening, to write long letters to old friends and to go shopping for my sweetheart (or to track down old baubles for two kids who are now out in the world).
When the phone does ring — once a week — I’m thrilled, as I never was when the phone rang in my overcrowded office in Rockefeller Center. And when I return to the United States every three months or so and pick up a newspaper, I find I haven’t missed much at all. While I’ve been rereading P.G. Wodehouse, or “Walden,” the crazily accelerating roller-coaster of the 24/7 news cycle has propelled people up and down and down and up and then left them pretty much where they started. “I call that man rich,” Henry James’s Ralph Touchett observes in “Portrait of a Lady,” “who can satisfy the requirements of his imagination.” Living in the future tense never did that for me.