O Brave New World

O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in’t.

William ShakespeareThe Tempest, Act V, Scene I, ll. 203–206

This play and this particular line carry a lot of weight with me personally. Not only is The Tempest one of Shakespeare’s best plays, but it closely mirrors the events surrounding wreck of the Sea-Venture on Bermuda, an important event in the settling of the Americas and a fabulous microcosm of class struggle in the early modern Atlantic. Wrapped in all those layers of academic and literary goodness is this fantastic line, delivered by Prospero’s daughter Miranda upon seeing the shipwrecked sailors.

What is so deliciously ironic about this turn of phrase is that the sailors are not so beautiful after all, they simply appear so because Miranda only knows her aged father and the monster Caliban. The sailors are sodden, bedraggled, coarse, and duplicitous. The ‘brave new world’ being proclaimed is a lie.

This is precisely why Aldous Huxley used the line as the title for his eponymous dystopian novel. John’s encounter with his own brave new world ends tragically, despite his initial excitement and delight.

It is not an entirely cynical sentiment though, if read thoroughly. There were things that actually were ‘brave’ and ‘new’ about both those worlds, and they had great potential, though there were dangers as well.

You might be wondering what this has to do with the price of tea in China, or why you should care. Your patience will now be rewarded, dear reader, worry not.

If you don’t know me or haven’t been paying attention, you might not know that recently, I made a dramatic move from Portland to Houston. I moved for a lot of reasons, but one powerful motivating factor was the overwhelming malaise of joblessness and economic depression in Portland. Houston has far more jobs, far fewer hipsters, and practically no gluten-free beer. It’s also huge, crowded, fast-paced, conservative, dirty, and competitive. Since arriving, the one idea that keeps persisting at the edge of my memory were those last words: “O brave new world/That has such people in’t.”

Compared to the subdued, millennial ennui of Portland, Houston possesses a kind of vigorous, manic energy, an aggressive vibrancy that I found both exciting and overwhelming. I was immediately thrust into a bizarre, totally unexpected corner of Houston’s social scene, courtesy of my pushy but well-meaning family. The people were immediately different. Motivated, serious, powerful, impatient, always in motion, always making the next deal, constantly searching for advantage and weakness. Houston did not suffer the recession gladly — her champions of industry stuck it out, and now they bear the scars of battle and the pride of victory. I can see it on their faces.

I imagine that in some ways, this is what every kid who moves from a small town to the big city must feel — impressed, but terrified, excited, but harboring an unsettling feeling of foreboding — except I just moved from one city to another. It’s not like I’ve never been here before, but I spent so long in Portland that I forgot what the rest of America was like. I got used to a different pace of life, a different set of values, and a different overall aesthetic.

So here am I in one of the biggest cities in America, trying to avoid getting side-swiped by the fourth dude in a lamborghini today, cowering in the shadow of skyscrapers, and averting my eyes in shame when men in suits ask me what I do for a living. Despite my disorientation, I am excited. I will miss the safety and the comfort of Portland, but it is time I rejoined the world of the working. You can smell opportunity in a place like this. It smells like oil and asphalt and greed and sweat, but that is the smell of progress.

For better or worse, this is my brave new world.
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