Tag Archives: life

One Year Later: Let’s Commence Again

As many have become aware over the past few weeks, it is graduation season. Commencement speech after commencement speech have appeared in articles and newsfeeds and have been short linked on all sorts of social media. But I have never found much solace or inspiration from these speeches. Many sound repetitive, filled with the same sorts of hackneyed phrases and messages. Very few are even memorable, save for the ones delivered by the very celebrated. I barely even remember the one that was given at my own graduation, being far too occupied by the stifling heat and self-inflicted high-heeled discomfort.

Though the entire blame cannot be placed on the speaker or the occasion itself. How many graduating seniors look back and think about the knowledge and wisdom imparted to them on graduation day? More likely, alumni-to-be are more focused on texting their parents about where to stand to get a good picture of their walk, already jaded by the numerous ceremonies the week of graduation puts them through. Some might be excited by visions of what their adult life is going to look like, how much of a difference they’re going to make. Others are still in a state of disbelief that it’s over, or fear that they still don’t have things figured out.

The whole occasion is no conducive to receiving advice, no matter how well phrased or well intentioned. In some senses we are simply too young and too inexperienced to appreciate the gravity of the wisdom that is being passed down. In others, the accomplished speakers are too removed from the very specific experience of newfound adulthood in today’s society to give concrete enough advice to make a difference.

Perhaps these words coming from me hold no authority. I was not someone who ‘made the most’ of their college years whether making the most of it meant partying a lot, or stacking up professional experiences on your resume, or majoring in something that would actually get a job. I majored in Comparative Literature, one of three students to in my year. I halted any extra curricular activities my junior year of college. I spent my summers waiting tables and binging Netflix. I graduated from a good university wondering what I had done for four years and asking myself whether or not I had done college right.

Those are no longer the questions that plague me one year out. I have long put them past me as things I cannot change and would do better not to regret. Instead, one year of being in the big, scary, ‘real’ world have given me a whole new set of concerns and questions.

How do I deal with a future rife with uncertainty, uncertainty that instills in me such fear as to make me second guess every decision I make from choosing a career to what I have for lunch?

It is not such an unusual question for a young person to ask themselves, thought it demands a very personal answer. And though I might not have made money, or held a job in the past year, or did anything outwardly productive to society to give me any sort of authority to give advice, I did come a little bit closer to my answer.

My answer lies in the fact that I don’t think I failed enough as a child. I think childhood was too easy for me.

It’s not that I was spoiled, and got whatever I want (though I was a bit of a daddy’s girl), or that I didn’t challenge myself, but more that I never wanted something enough for the failure of obtaining it to matter. In fact, I can only remember two times in my short 23-year old life where I failed enough, hard enough for it to matter.

The first time was in sixth grade at dance tryouts. As the youngest of three sisters, all who danced, I thought I was a shoe-in for getting in to what was perceived as the ‘cool hip-hop’ dance, despite the fact that I was in sixth grade and at the very bottom of the dance totem pole. I picked up the choreography well, I even knew the choreographer somewhat. I had it. I was so sure. Sure enough and eager enough that on the day that audition results were posted, I arrived at 7:30 in the morning, 45 minutes before classes started to see and celebrate my success. But my name was not on there. Of the list of 15 or so names, “Emily Lin” was not one of them.

I remember standing in that hallway, between the locker rooms and the dance studios, staring blankly at the bulletin board first in disbelief, then in disappointment, then in shame. I remember reading and re-reading the list before the reality dawned on me and brought tears to my eyes. I don’t know what I did for 45 minutes after that before school actually started. I don’t remember if I had told anybody about it, but I remember that that was the day I discovered I was not a great dancer.

That experience in sixth grade would go on to inform what I did with dance all through middle school, high school, and even college. I was forever the decent dancer. One of the only two seniors in the junior varsity dance team because I was good, but not good enough. And the dancer that was in the front for performances, but always on the side, not the center. That day, in sixth grad is when I learned not to want dance too hard, else risk failure and welcoming those feelings of disappointment and shame again.

The second was in college. My freshman year was probably like many other peoples’ freshman years at a prestigious university. Used to being a big fish, used to being the smartest and most capable in the room, I vastly underestimated the college scene. That was made abundantly clear when, on the same day, two papers were returned to me bearing C marks. I am Asian. I had never gotten a C in my life.

Unlike with the first instance, I remember quite clearly what happened after the fact. I cried on some steps in a back alley on campus. I cried, and I thought myself a failure, and I seriously considered transferring schools. This is not a story people are unfamiliar with.

What I did next was go to the bookstore and buy a bunch of university merchandise which, in my mind, solidified my commitment to the university because, how embarrassing would it have to be to explain why I had so many t-shirts, shorts, and a blanket from a school I didn’t graduate from.

It was a wake up call for me. It told me that if I would have to try harder and take things more seriously than I did in high school if I was to succeed. But the thing is, I didn’t want to succeed for myself. Not that I didn’t want to do well in school, only that the thought of not doing well in school was never an option. Doing well in school merely represented the baseline of what was asked of me, not something that I wanted to do for myself.

So I did well in school. I graduated with honors and an award and a fancy diploma larger than the average size and written entirely in latin. I graduated and then the world asked me what I wanted out of life. For the past year, I have had no answer. Or perhaps, I had an answer but didn’t want to let myself want it enough.

Because wanting something is hard. Wanting something introduces the possibility that you won’t get it. And the more you want it, the more devastating it will be when/if it doesn’t happen. But wanting something, wanting something for yourself is a certainty that you can hold on to in the face of uncertain future.

Unlucky for me, I had so internalized the failure of sixth grade that I have kept the question of what I wanted at bay out of fear of failure. So I say I haven’t failed enough, not as a child, not as a young adult, and not as whatever it is you want to call me now at 23. I say I haven’t failed enough because I am scared, practically paralyzed by fear of uncertainty and of failure to actually pursue what it is that I know I want. I say I haven’t failed enough because it took me a full year of feeling like a failure to finally accept wanting something and all the possibilities it brings with it.

More lenient interpretations of my life post-grad will say that I am being too harsh on myself, that the first year out of college and in ‘adulthood’ is almost always a shit show of uncertainty and fear and learning how to “adult” for the first time. It would optimistically tell me that I still learned and grew a lot not only in this time but also throughout the journey besides those two times; it would tell me that I am now not just older but also wiser, etc etc.

I concede that, yes, the first year out of college does have a tendency of being a shit show. If anything that is one of the most important things to keep in mind as eager wide-eyed graduates step off campuses this summer. And that, yes, I have learned and grown despite not contributing anything. However, I still maintain that more failure earlier on in my life would have given me a better constitution for dealing with life and its demands. I want to think that it would have given me better self-assurance to tackle these questions without right answers.

I cannot speak for anyone but myself when I say that the thing that I would have wanted to hear, one year ago on my graduation day is not that I should be fearless, or that I should go ‘set the world on fire,’ persevere through struggle, or about how fortunate I was to have completed my studies. Rather it is this:

Want something, invite failure, and through doing so, make progress.

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The Consistency of Life: II

Once more with feeling

He stumbled through the front door, wearily leaning against its aged frame as he set his massive hammer down in the dent it had created over the years. The apartment was dark except for the faint whispers of light that slipped past his large figure only to be plunged into the dark interior. His hand absentmindedly felt for the light switch and having flicked them on, the large man settled down in the entranceway, undoing the numerous buckles on his person, slowly peeling himself away from his job.

Long day at the office?”

There are whispers of an old life in this apartment. Whispers that haunt him but it’s a haunting with good intentions and he can’t bear to part with it.

Finally removing the last piece of armor from his body, he gathered the pieces in his arms and entered the body of the apartment.  The armor is dumped into a large basin for polishing and he contemplated just not doing it. An instant meal is thrown haphazardly into the microwave. He contemplated just not waking up tomorrow. Staring into the dull yellow light of the outdated machine heating his food, he contemplated not waking up to a basin full of armor to don, and hammer to wield.  He contemplated the state of modern society; how much it’s changed, how much it’s changed him.

The unnecessarily loud ding! of the microwave shook him out of his reverie.  Picking up his decidedly unsatisfactory looking meal he sat and ate.

The superhero business is not what it used to be. Glory days of tights, spandex and underwear worn not so under were long over. To right the wrongs of the 21st century a superhero only needed the ability to make things go boom backed by an unyielding sense of justice or righteousness or…something. He didn’t know; he only knew that he certainly didn’t have it. Explosions and showmanship, saved damsels and monuments erected in one’s honor; superheroes were always in the right. Their novelty meant their means weren’t questioned. What they stood for, that something he so clearly lacked, meant they were beacons of hope, a fleeting glimpse into the vast potentials of the future.

When he looks down at his overly massive hands, “vast potential of the future” was not something he saw. Hope was not something he felt he represented. At the end of the day, he would catch the bad guy because it’s your duty. It’s the right thing to do. But his success would be met with more glares than applause. As he would walk the criminal to the holding station, he would walk through the damage of his latest arrest. Craters blown in sidewalks, windows shattered, homes destroyed all for this one criminal.

But you’re helping. Every bit matters for the future—for our future.

He doesn’t want to but he remembers.

“Long day at the office?” he remembers her asking jokingly after a long day’s work. He remembers the way her voice sounded, soft and light and melodious.

“You can’t shirk your responsibilities like that! What about the rest of us normal people? It’s your job to stick up for us, to protect us!” Her stubbornness, a trait he lacked that she had in abundance. He would like to think some of it rubbed off on him, “Catch the bad guy, it’s simple and it’s the right thing to do.”

She was born normal in a world where normal was second class and to a first class family. He was born a hundred years too late to decide his future. Born after the establishment of the S-Class Workforce Agency, he was registered as a superhero not thirty minutes after his birth. Registered, meaning it was decided he would spend his lifetime fighting crime and smiling for pictures, answering to the government who called him by a name of their choosing. He was to join the ranks of previous heroes, uphold the standard and use his powers for good, never otherwise, never for himself. The power he was born with determined his identity and gave him an identity that he could never really claim as his own.

He was a machine working for the Agency that told him who to arrest but never why. They said the man was “bad” and should be imprisoned for the benefit of society but not how. She, when she came into his life, she taught him both.

He could almost feel her small hand on his cheek as he dozed off on the couch, could almost hear her voice, “You cantankerous bastard, the world will still need you to save it and bust crime tomorrow, I can’t lose you now…”

——————————————————————————————————————-

The alarm clock in the bedroom woke him up from his place on the couch. It was 5:30am and the sun itself only peeked over the horizon, not yet ready to begin the day.

He rolled over on the couch and shifted his position to face the sunrise eyes blinking rapidly in adjustment to the light. She would say it was a beautiful day. She would laugh and pull the curtains open with gusto, embracing the light, feeling the warmth. The sun didn’t have the same effect on him. Standing by the window, sun shining on his large figure, he felt numb. Dragging his feet over to the basin to begin polishing his armor, he felt empty.

“Oh come on! You get to go beat people up! Better than being stuck behind a desk all day.”  Her words, said long ago, echoed in the room, bouncing off him and sending shudders up his arms. “Yea, I get to chase after cars I have no hope of catching up to, and destroy valuable property in the process. I’m so happy.” He responded to the air, not unkindly; he would never be unkind to her. Putting on his armor, a routine process, took him no time and soon he was at the door, smiling ruefully at the now fully awake sun.

He remembered, on that last day, how she smiled at him when he would say things like that, kissing him on the cheek and patting his helmeted head, “Now say you’re happy, once more, with feeling.”

The door closed softly behind him, as he slipped his hammer into its holster and his eyes hardened and set in determination, telling himself just once more…

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The Consistency of Life: I

“To die would be an awfully big adventure”

She was tired; it had been a long day. Comparatively speaking, the day had gone by as many others had, quickly in retrospect and slowly in the present. There was nothing particularly special about this day, in fact most of the details trailed out of her mind as she walked up the stairs, little wisps of moment floating away unbeknownst to her. She was too lost in the mind numbing fatigue the day had left her with, moving slowly as if weighted up the stairs.  Going home of all things shouldn’t be this torturous but  the only thing waiting for her at home is a microwavable meal, some paperwork, and the cheapest Ikea bed she could find.

Sighing she stepped into her dark apartment, absentmindedly flicking the switch and throwing her shoes off. Her apartment was small but well-kept with hardwood floors and clean cream color walls. She hated it; the neutrality of the color scheme only reinforced how utterly bland she felt her life was. Closing her eyes she slumped into a chair, willing the world to change, willing her life to change so that she wouldn’t have to get up at seven to go to work, to have lunch with Kerry at twelve thirty, to take the train back with Brian tomorrow and the day after and the next day and the next…

Surely there was something she was missing, either in herself or in her life. How did everybody else deal with such monotonous routine on a daily basis? What made them so much more unsusceptible to the incredibly overbearing, suffocating consistency of life? Were they immune to this parasitic mundane repetitive existence people called living?

Frustrated she pulled out her planner and chucked it at the wall. Routines, schedules and plans used to be her pillar, the one thing she could count on in the fast paced modern world. She could trust those little boxed dates and time slots, inserting her plans into them to manage her life. But recently it felt the other way around, she was no longer in charge of what went when or who where. It was like she was a robot, blindly following the commands of the all mighty calendar gods and their scheduling minions.

She didn’t at all imagine her life would be like this.

Where was the adventure, the fulfillment and the happy that so permeated all of society’s billboards—the ones that demanded instantaneous satisfaction, otherwise definite loneliness? Where was life and the living of it? Surely this could not be it.

She reached down to pull out her phone and as a true product of the smartphone dependent times, she googled “define: living.” As the page loaded she smirked at the irony. She just googled ‘living’! Either her issues with life were too shallow or she had more problems than she thought. The page loaded and she frowned at the results.

Living—Noun

An income sufficient to live on or the means of earning it.
Living—Adjective

Alive: “living creatures”; “flowers were for the living”.

 

Poor definitions in her opinion. She had money enough to sustain the influx of oxygen and nutrients to her body, and the flow of wastes out but she would hardly call that living. To her, living was a verb and she was looking for instructions on how to do it. Instructions which,  the almighty Google could not provide.

A disdainful expression spread across her face, quickly fading into annoyance as she absentmindedly let her cellphone slip from her fingers and fall to the floor. It landed hard, barely a bounce as if to prove to her just how much worth she let fall to the ground, but she only walked passed it. Forgetting already or perhaps not caring at all to begin with about the tiny electronic gadget, she headed to her balcony. The humid early evening air greeted her warmly; coating her while the slight island breeze welcomed her, coaxing her to the very corner of the metal barrier.

The city skyline was dark against the setting sun. A lone figure stood out apart on its edges, a proud blemish on an otherwise postcard worthy image. The figure perched carelessly, dangerously on the edge of a balcony, hands waving in the wind, playing with the breeze, taunting and teasing it to blow stronger. It was graceful the way she flirted with each passing gust, her whole body a sly smile against the hard corners of the apartment building, a smile that said, ‘If I fall, won’t you catch me?’

As if answering her question, the wind turned violent, rising to the challenge. The lone figure was tense for just a moment before embracing freedom from the ledge. Her limbs splayed wide, displaying complete trust in her fickle companion despite obvious evidence to the contrary. She fell four floors.

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42

A lot of people joke and say that the meaning of life is 42. Thanks to Douglas Adams’ book “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” people who don’t want to think and want to have a quick and semi-witty answer to the question of the meaning of life now have an answer.

But I’ve had far too much time to think. Thinking is all I do nowadays and I’m beginning to think it’s unhealthy. So far, I have reached no conclusions. Rather, at the moment I’ve reached one conclusion and it is far from satisfactory.

Life is meaningless.

No doubt it’s just the state of mind that I’m in right now but it’s also the circumstances I find myself in. I’m alone over the summer, taking classes without a textbook and in an unstable relationship. In a word, I’m lonely.

My mother told me that I have to learn how to “be alone with yourself.” And I understand the value of this ‘skill’ but something like this can drive a person  mad. I suspect it’s driven her mad. (Sorry mom, I love you!)

Too much time alone, leaves one with too much time to think, to mull over details, insignificant details. Ideally so long as you keep busy, you’ll be fine but, in the state I’m in I don’t want to keep busy. There’s just so much else occupying my mind. Nonetheless, I’m working on it. But being alone with yourself is different from being lonely. Alone time is good, but not to the extent that you’re lonely and perhaps maybe even depressed.

Looking back, I think I understand you more, mom. This is not easy.

I’ve been thinking (obviously) about the meaning of life (duh.) and find that at the moment I don’t know or don’t have something to live for. Greg Graffin, naturalist, would say that the value in life comes from interpersonal relationships. Well, living alone over the summer taking classes while your closest friends are either overseas and uncontactable or  busy with their schmancy internships and having you (for lack of better word) upset with me does not really predispose me for healthy interpersonal relationships. I’m missing companionship, someone to eat with me, smoke with me, and talk to me. Perhaps this is what drove me to do what I did, (a dumb). I don’t know and I don’t dwell on it (because like I said, it doesn’t matter, it happened…) but my sister coming down to visit me made me realize how much I missed conversation.

She had come down to comfort me and make sure I was okay with the whole you thing. And while I of course appreciated that, what I really enjoyed was her company, somebody to talk to about my thoughts. Which is why, the highlight of my day was my 30 minute conversation with you. If you’re reading this, I want you to know that I really appreciated you calling me.

On the complete opposite spectrum, Christian apologetics (and here I refer to C.S. Lewis because he’s the only one I’m really familiar with) would say that meaning in life comes from one’s relationship with God. Yea, but I’m not Christian. This is one of many times that I wish I was though. Not necessarily Christian, but Buddhist to be clear.

I guess I just need something outside of this material world, outside of things so close and tangible and abrupt. I need release from this physical realm. Or maybe escape is the better word, to feel like I’m not being left behind or forgotten (Lilo and Stitch anyone?).

Everyday is, for lack of better word, a blur. A very slow moving blur. Time passes slowly and unproductively. I don’t even know what I do everyday. Sit and mull? Check my phone too often, waiting for a text or call (mainly from you)? Especially here in DC over the summer, everybody’s got something to do. A job, an internship, more than one class that they’ve actually got the textbook for so can actually do the work for.

Compared to everything else that everybody else has going on, my life is just so stagnant. I even asked myself in the shower today, what the point of showering was. If nobody’s going to really interact with me, why bother? And when hygiene’s gone down the drain, you know something’s wrong.

The solution? I don’t know, I’ll let you know if I find one. At the moment, I’m in between what my friends and I call ‘zombie mode’ which is being super apathetic about everything and not facing the problem at all and being consumed with sadness and guilt. It’s mainly the latter. I spend all my time thinking and mulling that I just don’t care about anything else.

It’s just this goddamn guilt and self loathing that I have to get over. And I suppose the anticipation of your decision. The high possibility that things will be over for us looms above me every second of the day and I can’t focus on anything.

This to shall pass. Life goes on. Time moves forward with or without your mental state. I know that, I’m probably over reacting and that when I look back on this time I’ll think and remember how silly I was. How foolish, how deeply I was reading into insubstantial things.

For example, I ordered Chinese today and got a fortune cookie. The fortune read “You and your wife will have a happy life together (in bed?)” And because I thought of you before I opened the cookie and while I was eating it, and because I can be weirdly superstitious, especially in times like these I wondered if the ‘you’ was referring to you. And if so, I have no doubt that you and your wife would be very happy together. But it brought forward the not far question of who your wife would be. Then I thought, if it’s talking about me, what does that mean? On one hand, I’d be happy. On the other, it wouldn’t be with you. I was just…argh. Basically I was over thinking things. It’s a fortune cookie for goodness sake!

I wasn’t going to start a countdown until I got at least until my maximum number of countdown days was 15, but I’m going to start it anyway. Having numbers, I think, might help to just substantialize my days and maybe even something to look forward to.

THUS! Approximately 20 days until my sister comes to DC. 31 days until the alien arrives. And 77 days until I get to see you again.

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