The morning sun was overwhelming. “Too bright,” I mutter as I struggle to get out of bed. These late nights were starting to take a toll on my body. I was tired of writing. It seemed that all I ever did anymore was sit in front of the computer. Yesterday I didn’t go out at all. The same the day before. When was the last time I walked outside? I can’t remember anymore.

This week had been unusually rough. I have three chapters due to the university by the end of the month, and I’m woefully behind. Weeks of procrastination have finally caught up with me. And it’s not that I don’t want to write, I really do. I never used to have so much trouble writing, but lately I just can’t seem to get any words on the page. Hours of work to get a paragraph or two just doesn’t seem all that rewarding. Perhaps the real problem is that I’m not all that interested in my research anymore. Writing about French philosophers isn’t always the most conducive material for staying motivated. It’s my own fault, I chose to write about French social theory, and what seemed like a good idea five years ago has slowly turned into a nightmare. The only motivators I have left are graduation and the desire to not let the last half decade of my life be a waste, both of which instill a kind of existential terror about the past and the future. The fear of wasting either my past or wasting my future. And at this point I can’t really decide which of these fears is greater. At any rate, I’m on my last extension. So, it’s kind of a make or break moment for me this month.

I push these questions aside like I always do and make my way over to the kitchen. A pile of dishes in the sink reminds me that my dissertation isn’t the only thing that I’ve been procrastinating. The kitchen looks like a disaster. Last week’s dinners are scattered across the kitchen countertops and floor like an impromptu buffet. For a brief moment I seriously contemplate cleaning but decide I should probably have coffee first. “I’ll feel more like cleaning this up after a coffee.” Well, that’s what I tell myself at least. And like my dissertation, the kitchen seems destined to wait until a make or break moment forces me to do something about it.

There’s still some coffee left in the pot from yesterday morning. I swirl it around; nothing had crawled and died in it overnight. A positive start to the day. I decide to instead make some fresh coffee. I open the cabinet and look for the coffee filters. As I do so I begin to wonder about how long I’ve actually been inside. Has it really only been a few days? I start to think about what day it is. “Thursday,” I say to myself, “Yeah, it’s Thursday.” Strangely, I can’t remember much more than that. The coffee maker huffs and puffs as if it’s protesting the fact that it has to make coffee again. It eventually relents as the coffee begins to drip into the pot.

I search around the pantry for a bit of breakfast, cereal’s my usual choice, but I can’t find anything other than some instant oatmeal. I thought I had some pop tarts somewhere, but they seem to be gone too. I guess I’ll have to do some grocery shopping today too. When was the last time I went shopping? It seems like I’m out of most things. A quick check in the refrigerator confirms this hypothesis, it’s depressingly empty. A lone square of plastic wrapped American cheese is its only occupant. I guess I’m having coffee for breakfast.  

I pour coffee into my last clean mug and walk into the living room. Well, calling it a “living room” is a stretch, but it’s the space that’s not designated as the kitchen, bedroom, or bathroom—hence living room. I make my way through the stacks of books strewn across the floor. My apartment is full of dead French philosophers, some German ones too. A small leather love seat, worn and cracked, sits against the wall. Overcome by books and papers, its primary purpose as a seat has given way to its new role as a makeshift bookshelf. I walk past it, once again denying it of a chance to fulfill its function, and step toward my small desk. Upon it sits my computer, which waits patiently for my return. It happily hums, blissfully unaware of how much I loathe it because of what it represents—my inability to write and the fear of finishing.

I look again at the window. The morning sunshine continues to come through, but with less of the blinding intensity of a few moments ago. I hear the sounds of the city. Car noise and traffic, the whirr of buses starting and stopping, the indistinct chatter of those walking to-and-fro. The city’s morning routine is beginning. It calls me to take a look. I walk toward the window.

I open the window.

I feel a rush of air and sound as I swing open the casement window. Now uninhibited, the street fills my senses with an excess of sights and sounds. I pause and take it in, giving my senses a moment to adjust. I allow the city to grasp me, to take me into its presence. And yet, I’m only partially giving myself to it, stuck as I am within this in-between space of the window. Before me is the street below, behind me my tiny apartment. I stand at the junction between two worlds—one private, the other social. The two intermingle here for a bit, searching for a kind of harmony with one another. Eventually a balance is found as the city accepts and incorporates my small private world into itself. But it’s only a partial acceptance. Further within are spaces of resistance—the bedroom and bathroom, which still retain something of their privacy.

I place my coffee down on the window ledge and pull up my small wooden desk chair. As I begin to sit down, I notice an unusual book nearby on the floor. Rhythmanalysis by Henri Lefebvre. “How strange” I say to myself as I pick it off the floor. “When did I get this book?” I’ve only heard of Lefebvre, but never read any of his works. A professor of mine talked about him once in a lecture, but I don’t remember this book being mentioned.

The book is small, probably only a hundred pages or so. It feels and smells new, but I don’t remember purchasing it when I last went to the bookstore. I skim the back cover for any clues, but nothing about it jogs my memory. This isn’t necessarily unusual. I have a habit of buying more books than I can read. It’s likely I picked it up with a group of others without thinking about it. Who knows how long it’s been here, waiting for me to pick it up? I sit down, take a sip of my rapidly cooling coffee, and look out the window.

I open the book.

Skimming here and there, turning a page or two, there’s nothing about it that particularly speaks to me. Seems like it might be interesting, but I already have plenty of “interesting” books that I’ll never get a chance to read (or ever want to read). Still passively reading, I encounter the following passage,     

He who walks down the street, over there, is immersed in the multiplicity of noises, murmurs, rhythms. By contrast, from the window, the noises distinguish themselves, the flows separate out, rhythms respond to one another.[1]

I sip my coffee. This passage is odd. I look at the chapter title, “Seen from the Window.” That’s funny. A book I’ve never heard of, didn’t know I had, and now I’m reading a chapter about observations from a window. I take another sip of coffee and look out.

My fifth-floor view provides me with a close (but not too close), far (but not too far) vantage point for observing. The city bustles with activity. People walk hurriedly up and down the street on their way to work. They shuffle and bounce, their whole bodies moving in a quicken pace, a kind of graceful walking dance as they move in-between and around others that are slower. Speaking of slow, you can always spot the tourists. They meander, their bodies moving in a rough stop/start manner. Look at this tall building here, take a picture, check the map, look around, point, decide where to go. Like those on their way to work, the tourists are also constantly moving, but with remarkably less grace and flair. It’s actually kind of exhausting to watch. Then there are those waiting, waiting for the bus or a taxi. Others wait to cross the street. But movement continues even in waiting. Bodies sway and feet swivel in anticipation, eagerly anticipating what’s next. For some, this movement is gentle, the way a tree moves in a light breeze. Others wait in protest, their bodies violently reacting with signs of annoyance or despair. I stop to take another sip of my now lukewarm coffee. I continue reading,    

Hard rhythms: alternations of silence and outburst, time both broken and accentuated, striking he who takes to listening from his window, which astonishes him more than the disparate movements of the crowds.[2]

Distracted, I again stop reading. My mind begins to wonder as I think about all the things I’m supposed to be doing. I should be doing the dishes, I should be shopping, I should be writing, I should be…

 I look out the window.

I’m completely unprepared for what I see. Swirls of energy and color radiate from every movement. Movements, small and large, bring forth magnificent and vibrant color. First red, then green, and now blue, colors…too many colors to describe, a symphony fills the street with every imaginable shade and hue. Every walk and gesture vibrate with color like ripples in a pond. With each step, a jogger sends waves of motion and color into the world. A man walks in and out of a bookstore, creating dizzying waves of unusual colors. From hailing a taxi to buying a coffee, all these moments contribute to a beautiful chorus of choral movement.

It’s rhythm, pure and simple and wonderful rhythm. I don’t want it to end. And in an instance, I forget all other concerns as I immerse myself, give myself, to this rhythmic spectacle. I suddenly realize how beautiful the world of movement and action is. How have I never seen this before? And then it hits me, the world hasn’t changed. The rhythms have always been here, emanating from us all. The world hasn’t changed, but I have. How amazing it is that people move to-and-fro, here, there, and everywhere! I decide that I must join it. Observing it from my window is no longer enough, I wish to plunge into its depths…    

I hear a whisper,

. . . those who look through the windows are dimmed, and the doors on the street are shut . . .[3]

I then look at the book.

Rhythms, Rhythms. They reveal and they hide.[4]

I look again at the street, everyone has disappeared. There’s no movement, no sound, all life and action have ceased. The street, once majestic in rhythmic color is now silent and empty. Parked cars and empty buses suggest that people were once there. Traffic signals continue to do their duty with clockwork precision, yet they signify only to the indifferent emptiness. “Don’t walk” flashes in the distance, pleading and begging to no one. The street continues to speak, its signs and messages, its architecture and sights, await their conversation partners. But they receive no reply. I realize that a street can only ever be one side of an ongoing conversation of movement, action, and response. It has no purpose without its other. The rhythms, the magnificent rhythms of human movements are no more. Only sadness remains.

I look to Lefebvre for answers. I turn the page and read,

Observation and mediation follow the lines of force that come from the past, from the present and from the possible, and which rejoin one another in the observer simultaneously centre and periphery.[5]

And for the first time, rather than looking out the window, I look behind me.

I’m watching my past. I see myself reading, typing, eating. I walk back and forth across the room, from the kitchen and to the desk, periodically entering and then emerging from the bedroom. Time moves quickly, light fills and then retreats from the room as the sun rises and falls. I never leave my apartment. Dishes pile up, food disappears, my books are scattered across the room, I have stopped writing. My movement carries a rhythm, but it’s faded and slight, lacking in both intensity and color. I pick up the book, and my past completes my present.    

I look out the window.

People have returned. The hustle and bustle of movement and action fill the street. Murmurs, noises, shuffles, and sways. A street full of moving legs and feet, arms and hands, all of which form a grand tapestry of gestures and twitches.

Rhythms: the music of the City . . .[6]

I step away from the window. I look around my apartment. My computer still happily hums, it waits for me to continue writing. And for the first time everything seems clear to me. The fear I once had is gone. I finally know what I have to do.

I turn off the computer.

[1] Henri Lefebvre, Rhythmanalysis: Space, Time and Everyday Life (London: Bloomsbury, 2004), 38.

[2] Lefebvre, 39.

[3] Ecclesiastes 12:3b-4a (ESV)

[4] Lefebvre, 45.

[5] Lefebvre, 46.

[6] Lefebvre, 45.

Featured Photo by Adrien Siami on Unsplash

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