Lessons I Never Seem To Learn

  1. There is no such thing as a “bad texter.” There are only people who choose not to prioritize your feelings over their own selfish needs.
  2. No response is a response. In the day and age of mass-condoned cowardice, where lack of words and literacy is better, “edgier” than using them, people say “fuck no” by saying nothing.
  3. Anger is not a useless emotion. I can’t get behind Buddhist idealism that we can just stop being angry and life will be good. Anger allows us to reconfigure our perspective to reality. Reality is that no matter how zen you are, you will get hurt. That’s what life is.

Precendence

Contrary to what every news outlet and politician says, I don’t think these are necessarily “unprecedented times.”

The moment I received the email declaring that students would be sent home, I was sitting in the lecture hall taking my midterm exam in Epidemiology 101. I had the strange coincidence of choosing this course for my final semester to fulfill a graduation requirement.

As soon as I finished calculating my last odds ratio, without even bothering to scrupulously look over my answers as I’m prone to do, I shut the test booklet and dropped it off in front of the room. I left the building to see other students milling about, all on their phones with their parents.

It felt a bit like the Wednesday after the election in 2016. A gray day on campus. Eerily quiet. One of my close friends, also a senior, came stumbling out of the building after me, tears streaming down her cheeks. We embraced. It felt like the end. This was the first moment I felt a sense of déjà vu.

When I went home, equipped with enthusiasm for scientific journals thanks to Epidemiology 101, I induced my own anxieties for the past 6 months. This is also a pattern I was familiar with – excessively reading things on the internet that would plague me in my sleep. And now, I’d spend hours everyday flipping through The Lancet, Nature, and dozens of scientific preprint servers. I’d be glued to my computer screen, reading accounts of suffering in The New York Times, on Reddit, on random local news outlets. I’d read about it all. The nurses in the ICU. Patients choking down oxygen from a plastic tube snaking through their throats.

The story that shook me the most, however, was the death of an alumna from my school. A 32 year-old black woman, a beloved school teacher in the Bronx. Initially refused treatment – even a test – from the hospital despite that she was wheezing for breath. And only admitted when it was far, far too late. She was on a ventilator for nearly a month. Thanks to the power of social media and the extensive alumna network at my school, her case was brought to the attention of a politician, who asked that she be transferred to a better-equipped hospital. She was, and there was a spark of hope that she would live. But when she left that hospital, she died shortly after.

But this, too, was even something I felt I had already seen. In 2015, when BLM first started, I remember reading about men and women on the streets, holding signs in protest of the hatred. In protest of the under- and un-employment that disproportionately affected them, the rejection of their dignity as human beings when being refused the same standard of care as other races, the callousness.

And finally, this summer, one of my favorite internet personalities posted an artsy montage of her pandemic experience, which incited scathing comments from les internautes. They accused her of romanticizing her experience, of being out of touch with reality. In a sense, I do agree – she made flippant remarks about social distancing and featured maskless gatherings with her friends. Her privilege, as they say, is apparent. But in another sense, I disagree. She just wanted to cope. Many people of all social classes and races are just fundamentally feeling lonely. Yet it isn’t even an unprecedented loneliness. Who hasn’t felt isolated as a 20 something year-old in the digital age?

Being “all in this together” and hoping that “you are safe and well” is not unprecedented. The loneliness epidemic and isolation is not unprecedented. Virulent racism is not unprecedented, and toxic media bombardment is not unprecedented. The pandemic itself isn’t even that unprecedented – we knew from Nipah, Ebola, SARS, West Nile, Zika, EEE, and more that something was coming. Perhaps we have all been “caught off guard” by the “uncertainty” because we never want to face the fact that we have always lived “in troubling times.” Is there a vaccine for turning a blind eye to things?

There’s A Lot I Need To Say

Hey blog, it’s been a while.

I hope you’ve been doing well, although also, if you haven’t, then there’s no need to lie and say that you have. Because I know how it is right now.

There’s a lot I have to catch you up on. For starters, I’m no longer in the United States, but in Europe. Moving in the middle of a pandemic was probably a reckless choice. I’ve been criticized for it multiple times, and I’ve also had my own concerns/doubts as to whether this was even really what I wanted. I’ve come to the conclusion that it was, though. Right now, it feels nowhere near as isolating as when I was back in undergrad.

That’s another thing. I know I’ve written on several occasions about college, about my hot-and-cold, love-hate relationship with it. Recently, I’ve come to terms with the fact that our college years have been hyped up by our parents from the 60s and 70s – perhaps even 80s – as these Hollywood films where all elements of your life have a certain confluence. Suddenly, you know what you want to do, you know how to study effectively to please all of your professors, you get your Sex and the City gang of besties, and you meet the love of your life. Needless to say, I’ve realized that none of the above are true for most people in my generation. College nowadays isn’t the glamor that they’ve hyped it up to be. I’m tired of saying things like “maybe that’s okay,” because honestly, it’s not okay when you’re paying so much money and getting yourself into debt, and it’s especially not okay when it all culminates in online school. But while it’s not okay, I’m slowly trying to learn to let myself accept my choices. To own what I did. And to realize that not all of it was just a plain mistake. As cliche as it is, some of it might’ve been a mistake but whatever it was, it was still also a lesson.

All of this to say that my doubts were compounded in a bit of an existential crisis. Where was I going? What was I going to do? Perhaps graduate school is a way to procrastinate on that a bit more. Maybe I’m pinning too much of my hopes on finding that specific niche that I, as an international relations student, should supposedly have.

But in any case, while I prepare for school to start and try to avoid getting caught up in another cycle of basing my worth in external forces (grades), I’ve been thinking about a lot of long term projects for the future. Things I want to do with my life. I want to write more on this blog again, kinda just let my brain mush be published. I want to write poetry everyday again. I want to draw again – maybe a comic about the realities of being in college in the US. I want to make videos of the time I’m spending here, and perhaps make a few about the time that I had in the USA, at college. It’s a bit self-indulgent, I know. But I think I need to take the time to look at who I am again. I figure this might be a good way.

But anyway, blog, thank you for being a good listener/reader. Life is hard but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. I hope that I’ll be able to see you more frequently from now on. Quarantine may be over but we still need to be careful nonetheless. Anyway, take care of yourself. We’ll be in touch.

Fingerprints

Whenever I’m sick or my emotions are out of whack, I sometimes envision myself talking to the cells that make up my body. Standing upright like a professor, I give them a lecture that this isn’t how it’s supposed to go.

“Look, it’s easy,” I say to them as I gesture to the healthy, smiling girl across the room. “Just be like that.”

But of course it isn’t easy. The New York Times recently published an article on how young adult mental illness such as depression is rapidly increasing and yet no one is doing anything about it.

But it’s because no one is willing to take the notion of isolation seriously, because most people who are vocal about it announce their illnesses like badges of honors, and because depression in of itself is not easily boxed into definitive, qualitative guidelines set by the DSM.

Depression is like a fingerprint. However it manifests from individual to individual will be different. And is it ever because of just one factor? It’s neither entirely environmental nor genetic. It’s neither entirely your fault nor entirely the world’s.

But one thing that isn’t unique about it is that the balance always tips when you realize that no one cares, and while most of the time you are able to rationalize it to feign indifference about others’ indifference, you can no longer pretend you don’t care that no one cares. The cells in your body are errant students.

To end this on a more hopeful note, perhaps taking a page from a teaching manual is what needs to happen. Learn every one of your errant students’ names. Figure out the ridges of your emotions. Maybe that’s called mindfulness. Recognize that for a professor, it’s easy to say it’s easy, but a student? They’re still learning. Maybe that’s called patience.

めぐる 優河 | “Going Around” by Yuga

Disclaimer: I’m definitely not a professional translator. A semi-interpretative translation of a beautiful indie-folk-pop song. Listen here.

As the seasons go past,

I wave my hand

And gaze at tomorrow, swaying in the wind

I am traveling somewhere far

And the words I recall

Echo with your voice.

Going around and around

In the heart of time,

If everything is to begin only now,

Then I will continue on.

Deep in my heart,

Tears will disappear into the sky

And I’ll embrace those cheeks grazing against tomorrow.

On this nostalgic road

The words that I remember

Shine in your dreams.

Going around and around

In the heart of time,

If everything is to begin only now,

I will continue on.

As the seasons go past,

I wave my hand

And go on gazing at tomorrow, swaying in the wind.

I like this song because it speaks to the circularity of nature and our ability to advance forward in spite of it all. The image of waving goodbye to a season is so poignant to me – it’s like saying goodbye to a past experience that you know will resurface in your life again and again. Though it will be different every time, even if it isn’t, every “now” has the potential to be a new starting point, and our only choice is to go on. Perhaps it’s another surviving relic of mono no aware, beauty in impermanence.

 

Top Global

I like to look at the “Top 50” Spotify playlists from time to time as a temperature gauge. To see what resonates with people these days, what messages people are being inundated with.

As of today, November 13, 2019 at 6:27pm, the number one song is “ROXANNE” by Arizona Zervas in the USA. I have never before heard this song in my life – is it from TiK ToK or a meme?

Whatever the case, I see the next lineup of songs – rap songs, “Lose You To Love Me,” “Circles,” “hot girl bummer,” “Memories,” it goes on and on.

What I see is a strange mix of hedonism with songs that praise a woman for “tak[ing a] pic when her ass out” (sic) and at the same time laud women for moving on from love. We have lots of songs about being “Good As Hell” after being jilted by a lover, but there seems to be considerably fewer songs that address the notion of love in its annoying, idealized form like we knew of even just two years ago.

It seems eerie that “hot girl bummer” should come out at a time that was particularly aligned with my current mood. But is it as really as eerie as that?

Maybe it’s a sign of things that are dying out. Long gone are the days of simple pleasure in song. Now it’s all about drugs, Instagram photos, and condoning hookups. We’re all suffering from disillusionment about the meaning of success – in finance, in love, in our very identities – and we are stuck in an endless feedback loop where we’re told it’s always going to be this way by the music we listen to.

On the other hand, to take this with a bit of fauvist positivity – perhaps it’s a sign that my generation is still capable of having a collective, empathetic, shared experience. Perhaps it’s indicative that others my age are having the same existential struggles, and we’re all turning to the same popular songs for a temporary bandaid until it heals and we move on to the next wound to lick.

(A few clarifications: I am aware that artists, industries, and political entities are gatekeepers to collective consciousness, and they could be the ones controlling our thoughts, in a way. However, I’d like to think we have a little bit of volition in our tastes, so I’m assuming that these charts are reflective of what people are feeling. Additionally, by “people,” I mean people of my generation who use Spotify heavily – perhaps aged 16 to late 30s.)

Never Forgive Your Ghosts

I’m back, and I’m hoping to revamp this blog a little bit.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of learning. As I hit my senior year of college, I’m overwhelmed with the fear that I’ve been fulfilled neither intellectually nor socially, leaving me unprepared for what’s next. I don’t remember any of the vocabulary lists, textbook questions, or research papers that I was forced to pore over the first three years of undergrad. Perhaps it’s just that I’m a standard victim of the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve, or maybe it’s that I’m an expert crammer. But if there’s anything that being abroad taught me, it was that the lessons we learn from the people we meet are usually indelible.

One lesson I learned as of late – in fact, one I’m learning right this second – is that the platitude “forgive but don’t forget” is terribly misguided. It should be “don’t forgive and don’t forget.”

When people hurt us, they usually first recede into the background of our everyday, like phantoms harassing us from the past. We often long to be liberated of these phantoms. Initially, we hope that they’ll somehow materialize into people once again and say all of the right things to redress the wounds. Over time, when we grow to accept that they might never come back into our lives again, we decide that the best solution is complacency. It’s easiest to just forgive them for their wrongdoings, “take the high road,” and move on, taking along the lessons they taught us.

But forgiving always begets forgetting. If we forgive our ghosts, we will forget them, and with them, all of those lessons.

Being unforgiving doesn’t mean being mean. It means holding people accountable. It means giving people the chance that they deserve and not going back on your word should they fail to meet the initial expectations – to protect both yourself, the other person, and others.

I pledge to be unforgiving and unforgetting, and with that, always learning, always keeping those lessons with me.

Experience

I used to think that relationships were based on hard work and constant effort. That’s what everyone says, don’t they? “This takes so much work,” my old roommate used to complain after hanging up with her long-distance high school sweetheart.

And it made sense that an independent woman would go and get what she wants. I was always taught that hard work would always get me good results. Perhaps in the recesses of my mind I knew that wasn’t the case, yet it was only through experience that the lesson was finally beat into me.

The truth is, it’s not about effort. This myth propagates unhealthy attitudes towards relationships. We sometimes distort this “you have to put in work for your relationships” platitude into an ugly, humiliating one-sided pursuit – allegedly indicative of our worth if we succeed – that in spite of it all yields little to no results. But twisted values and twisted experiences are sustained by the belief that if the person we’re interested in doesn’t reciprocate, then we have to work harder to keep their interest.

Most people don’t care as much as you might when you were a young, wide-eyed idealist first starting out. The majority of them are selfish and view relationships solely on the basis of validation and self-aggrandizement, partially due to the media telling us that “love and romance are healing” and somehow fulfill our entire hierarchy of needs. People fall spectacularly short.

Take, for example, girl from the monkey bars who was supposed to be a friend for life and then disappeared, or guy with the jacket who was supposed to always know what to say but then ghosted.

And yet, once I had a fleeting encounter with a stranger who taught me that even though we all have our Monkey Bar Girl or Jacket Guy, real, meaningful relationships don’t take hard work, but simply take time. And with a little patience, they are worth it.

Of course, I am saying this after spending only 4 hours with him, but we met in front of the tram station by the city hall, and from there he walked me through why going through relationships is actually worth it.

Before, I wanted to give up on them because I felt like all I ever did was get too hopeful, get chided for “catching feelings,” and then left a cynical mess, feeling as though the person made me change myself into something strange that neither they nor I liked or wanted in the first place.

But the stranger reminded me – amidst our stroll in a city of music and the scent of spring – that love isn’t something you need to earn. We should never feel forced to change ourselves in order to earn someone’s love. But under an influence that is mutually positive, we can be inspired to change for the better.

Monkey Bar Girls and Jacket Boys exist, but so do strangers who show us that the real meaning of “relationships take effort” is that “relationships take trial and error, resilience, and a lot of patience, but in the end are worth it.” And we should not settle for any less than we deserve.

When the stranger and I parted, he asked if we should hug or kiss. I almost regret choosing to hug, but he seemed to understand, and perhaps that, too, is a part of what he was saying.

I wonder if we’ll by chance meet again. I should like to say thank you.

Faces

When we post on social media, of course there is the criticism that people curate their posts to paint happy falsehoods of their lives. However, I think the greatest issue of social media is not the glossing-over aspect in of itself, but rather that people don’t recognize that it is a creative process.

One of the things that my internship emphasizes is placing a “human face” to stories. But even that is a tenuous artistic license. It’s something we selectively plucked from the tree to display on the stand, arranged with a plethora of other items to weave the story to our liking.

At the prompting of certain relatives and friends, I posted on Facebook after a long time. But I’ve been trying to cleanse myself of social media, partly because I can hardly post anything without it sounding ironic and partly because I’ve done a lot of work weeding out certain people from my life. And excuse the grandiose statements, but that includes my old self. I don’t want to let them back in just like that.

I’ve always lamented being naïve. I’ve vied for a life where I was one of those cool edgy girls with a large social circle and wild adventures every night. And I, like the eager copycat artist, would try to use social media to make that real life. I guess if there’s any real takeaway I learned from a year out of the cloisters, it’s that social media is an art tool that everyone uses nowadays not necessarily out of malice, but simply to blur over the starkness of reality.

Social media is just paint. You can’t blame the medium for creating beautiful lies. And can you really blame the artist either for wanting to create in the first place?

That being said, there are better mediums of self-expression. And there are better mediums for appreciation. We turn to social media because the inner artist in us also seeks an audience, and social media provides the easiest access.

But I’ve decided that I do not mind obscurity. Let’s be like Mona Lisa before she was hung on a perpetual stage in the Louvre. If people truly want to know you, to appreciate you, they’ll seek other ways to do so.