The Nix - by Nathan Hill

This was happening a lot lately: He was feeling smaller than his body, as if his spirit had shrunk, always giving up his armrests on airplanes, always the one to move out of the way on sidewalks.

What other things didn’t he know about her? She had acres of secrets, it was obvious. He always felt there was something she wasn’t saying, something behind her bland partial attention. She often had that disassociated quality, like she was focusing on you with maybe one-third of herself, the rest devoted to whatever things she kept locked inside her head.

There seemed to be a not-rightness about him, a sense of disorder and exotic illness. His features were off in a way Samuel could not immediately put his finger on, like he suffered from some long-eradicated disease—scurvy, maybe.

Time heals many things because it sets us on trajectories that make the past seem impossible.

Bishop doesn’t even dream over here. One of the many surprises of war is how it has turned him into a sleeping savant. If he’s told he has twenty minutes for a nap, he will use all twenty minutes. He can tell the difference between sleeping two hours and sleeping two and a half. He can feel the contours of consciousness over here that he never felt back home. Back home, life was like driving a road at sixty miles per hour, every little bump and texture flattened into an indistinguishable buzz. War is like stopping and feeling the road with his bare fingers. A person’s awareness expands like that. War makes the present moment slow. He feels his mind and body in ways he never knew were possible.

She’d decided that about eighty percent of what you believe about yourself when you’re twenty turns out to be wrong. The problem is you don’t know what your small true part is until much later.

For Alice, the small true part of her was that she wanted something that deserved her faith and devotion. When she was young, she saw families retreat into their homes and ignore the greater problems of the world and she hated them: bourgeois cogs in the machine, unthinking sheeplike masses, selfish bastards who couldn’t see beyond their own property lines. Their souls, she thought, must have been small and shrunken things. But then she grew up and bought a house and found a lover and got some dogs and stewarded her land and tried to fill her home with love and life and she realized her earlier error: that these things did not make you small. In fact, these things seemed to enlarge her. That by choosing a few very private concerns and pouring herself into them, she had never felt so expanded. That, paradoxically, narrowing her concerns had made her more capable of love and generosity and empathy and, yes, even peace and justice. It was the difference between loving something out of duty—because the movement required it of you—and loving something you actually loved. Love—real, genuine, unasked-for love—made room for more of itself, it turned out. Love, when freely given, duplicates and multiplies.

How easily a simple façade can become your life, can become the truth of your life.

Sometimes what we avoid most is not pain but mystery.

When Samuel was a child reading a Choose Your Own Adventure novel, he’d keep a bookmark at the spot of a very hard decision, so that if the story turned out poorly, he could go back and try again. More than anything he wants life to behave this way.

Pwnage once told Samuel that the people in your life are either enemies, obstacles, puzzles, or traps. And for both Samuel and Faye, circa summer 2011, people were definitely enemies. Mostly what they wanted out of life was to be left alone. But you cannot endure this world alone, and the more Samuel’s written his book, the more he’s realized how wrong he was. Because if you see people as enemies or obstacles or traps, you will be at constant war with them and with yourself. Whereas if you choose to see people as puzzles, and if you see yourself as a puzzle, then you will be constantly delighted, because eventually, if you dig deep enough into anybody, if you really look under the hood of someone’s life, you will find something familiar. This is more work, of course, than believing they are enemies. Understanding is always harder than plain hatred. But it expands your life. You will feel less alone.

Sometimes we’re so wrapped up in our own story that we don’t see how we’re supporting characters in someone else’s.

Faye’s opinion is that sometimes a crisis is not really a crisis at all—just a new beginning. Because one thing she’s learned through all this is that if a new beginning is really new, it will feel like a crisis. Any real change should make you feel, at first, afraid. If you’re not afraid of it, then it’s not real change.