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What's Your Essence? - Issue #2

Sunletter from Ondřej Bárta
What's Your Essence? - Issue #2
By Ondřej Bárta • Issue #2 • View online
Having your name in a history book or on a magazine cover might feel like an immense accomplishment. But what might be abstracted away from who you really are might make it not worth the desire. When the nature of a person has been dissolved into the past, you’re left with only a name, events, and dates.

Recently I’ve had on my mind a concept that I would describe in the word essence. In this context, it’s an intrinsic part of you that’s projected into every single thing you do. Life and your surroundings have brewed that deep into you. It’s when your friend tells you a story, and your instant response is, “That’s so like you!”. It’s when you meet someone you didn’t meet for years, and their entire lives have changed, but you can still see how it is still the exact same person you knew years ago.
The people who are best at manifesting their essence into the world are undoubtedly artists. And it’s easily noticeable with interpretative artists in particular. When musicians interpret a piece, they leave a part of themselves in it that makes that specific performance distinguishable from others. Playing an instrument fast may be impressive, but a display of your soul will leave a long-lasting impression on the audience because of its honesty.
One recording that I keep getting back to is Chopin Nocturne No. 20, performed by Władysław Szpilman. It’s one of the most moving interpretations of Chopin’s nocturnes. For more context about this performance, I sincerely recommend the movie The Pianist, which maps out what W. Szpilman went through during WWII as a Polish pianist.
Chopin Nocturne No. 20 perf. by Wladyslaw Szpilman - "The Pianist" - Original Recording
Chopin Nocturne No. 20 perf. by Wladyslaw Szpilman - "The Pianist" - Original Recording
In interpretative art, it’s simply unavoidable that you make the art you’re interpreting at least a bit your own. It’s not a flaw; it makes the endeavor charming, and it’s why any form of technology will never replace this. Even with the ability to record every piece that has ever been composed or with AI interpreting music on its own. Human nature makes us value the humanity of art above all.
When it comes to art that’s not interpretative but original, it can be challenging to capture the real essence of the author. It comes only with great skill. One has to master the medium before they can truly put themselves onto the canvas or the pages of a book. Leaving only a few that are able to do so masterfully.
Franz Kafka is one of my all-time favorite authors for that very reason. In his Metamorphosis, a book about a man who got transformed into a human-sized insect overnight, you get a true idea of how it might be to feel like a nuisance to your closest relatives. A very heavy burden to carry. One that Kafka experienced firsthand through his pernicious relationship with his father.
A quote from a letter that he wrote to his father describes this perfectly.
“My writing was all about you; all I did there, after all, was to bemoan what I could not bemoan upon your breast.” - Franz Kafka, Letter to His Father
You can say that Kafka was inspired by his life. But I think it’s something more. He was, remarkably, able to capture the reality of his life and transform it into many stories that map out what he, as a person, was about.
I see essence as a unique quality that everybody has. Even if you try to imitate someone else, your true nature has its way of soaking onto the surface. It can’t be gotten rid of. The only way is to embrace it. When you build or create something, it’s a good thing to make it your own. Truly your own.
A lot of people crave preserving something of themselves for the future. Even though there’s the possibility of preserving your essence through art, it’s far from the only option. There’s a more immediate way that might be underappreciated. It’s through your closest friends and family. They are the ones who’ll carry most of yourself into the future. So, even in a purely selfish sense, it makes the most sense to do well by the people closest to you.
I’ll leave you with a question. One that I asked myself repeatedly while writing this letter. And feel free to keep it for yourself or even respond to this email with an answer. What is your essence? If you compress yourself into the smallest possible thing, where you and others would still recognize yourself, what does that look like?
Have a wonderful week ahead!
PS: This is a topic that came up when I met friends that I haven’t seen in a long time. I found that the lives of those friends changed but what didn’t change was what I’d describe as their essence.
PSS: The initial reason I got thinking about this is actually quite funny. There’s lemonade in Czechia that’s called Mattoni Essence. It’s a carbonated drink with zero calories that has the essence of the flavors of fruits. The taste is subtle but recognizable enough to have a distinctive character.
Did you enjoy this issue?
Ondřej Bárta

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