I’ve been struggling with something lately, and while this may come as no real surprise because A) it’s the end of January 2018, and B) it has been snowing on and off for the last few weeks, I’ve still managed to transition to a lesser version of myself: someone who sleeps half the day, then spends her nights lying awake staring at the ceiling. While the winter blues narrative has become moot at this point, and frankly a bit overdone, still the days pass with slow succession, my mood reflective of the now greying skies. A patterned case of seasonal depression attributed to the lack of sunlight and the it’s too cold to go anywhere or do anything mentality has brought up some old habits, and most suddenly, new grievances about myself. I too would hate to simply push these feelings aside just because they are circumstantial to the weather.
There are three things that I’ve been doing a lot of recently in an attempt to keep myself busy: watching movies, working on a novella length narrative, and reading. I created a Good Reads account (a new addiction somehow), hoping that setting a book goal would motivate me to get back into reading, which to my surprise has actually worked. I originally set my goal at thirty books for the year, but have already read five (currently working on the sixth, which I’m about halfway through) since the start of the new year.* My friend also gave me a list of films to watch due to my illiteracy in Asian cinema; which of course has also included some of the Oscar nominated films my friend back home has deemed worthy of watching (this has included Call Me By Your Name, Ladybird, and the incredibly well-directed The Shape of Water). I signed up for Korean classes t00 in the hopes of grounding myself in a more productive schedule, and I started writing, like, seriously writing. My wall has pins in papers, outlines, research, and character sketches drawn up upon it now. I even ordered some groceries off iHerb in an effort to eat healthier alternatives. I’m trying. I’m really trying.
Yet, I’m not sleeping. I spend most of my nights, like my protagonist, sitting in a chair bathed in the dim yellow lighting of a broken lamp, reading until my alarm goes off. Night is a lonely place, and it has been limited in its kindness to me. For now though, I am immersed in the pages of different voices and different worlds, so the solitude I share with my quiet room wanes at times, but there are moments when I look up from my book and wonder what I’m even doing. The truth found between pages is addictive, and perhaps the intensity of my interest in them lies in uncovering the source of my own disappointment and melancholy. I reminisce about earlier days, when things felt simple. Memory I’ve found colours things in different hues depending on the situation, depending on one’s place in the world, and for me the fondness on which I look back on my earlier years has grown to a sort of timid appreciation rather than disdain.
I’m reading Americanah right now by the Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, and the narrator in the novel makes these great observations, touching on the nuances of not just American characteristics (“They never said “I don’t know.” They said, instead “I’m not sure,” which did not give any information but still suggested the possibility of knowledge”), but human behaviours in general. There’s a short scene where the main character, Ifemelu, points out how ridiculous her employers sister is when giving her child too many choices of toys to play with in order to calm her down. “Just give her one, Ifemelu thought. To overwhelm a child of four with choices, to lay on her the burden of making a decision, was to deprive her of the bliss of childhood. Adult-hood, after all, already loomed, where she would have to make grimmer and grimmer decisions.” The weight of such decisions is always relative, and though there is a touch of pessimism in that statement, it still rings true. One thought I always retreat to during my nights without sleep is my longing to go back to a time in my life where my decisions were not saturated in the idea of the total responsibility of my independence. Out from the blanket of my cushioned undergraduate life, each decision feels wrought with complications, full of consequences and the unknown.
This has lead me to become more acquainted with my relationship with control. It seems that as I get older, it becomes harder to hold onto the supposed reign that I once had over it. I feel as if I no longer have command over such things, and I lash out in destructive ways in order to preserve what’s left (see: over-exercising for more information).
As I’ve touched on before, and, oh yes here we go again, there’s a limbo you fall into post graduation. For someone like myself, who excessively plans things out, including and not limited to, life goals, this has been the hardest adjustment for me. I am without a path at this point in my life. Rather than standing at the fork between two roads I find myself in the midst of a busy intersection, roads jutting out every direction I turn; even if I look up, I find a rusted ladder, or below me, maybe one of those green tunnels Mario goes down that leads to bonus coin rooms – there’s too many options. Every option has turned into a faded question mark. I look around and ask others their thoughts, and am met with the same tired response of “Well, whatever you think is going to make you happy.” What is that supposed to mean? I want to grab them by their collars and scream that that is the problem: I don’t know what makes me happy. Some of you may stop me and say something like, “That is just not true! There are lots of things that probably make you hap-” No. There’s a difference between the things that make you happy and the things that make you happy that are worthy of a career. Hobby happiness vs. Job happiness. There are different pieces you have to take into consideration.
There is no pro/con list here that can lead me to a definite answer. There is no solving this question like the benchmark of an exam; I can’t fill in the answer blanks and guess my way to a passing grade. This is my life and claiming ownership over something as broad and vague as that is a terrifying concept. Can’t I have co-ownership with someone? Maybe an adviser who somehow magically knows the answers to which career will lead to my own satisfaction with myself? Even a hint would be nice. I would settle for a hint. These thoughts have plagued me for the last month, as 2018 Monica still has high expectations of herself and Buzzfeed has informed me that based on my choices in random cultural items and media sources I will begin the path to securing my career this year – yes, some heavy stuff, I know. So, this all leaves me in the state I’m in now: not sleeping, vaguely stressed, tired-eyed, and generally confused about what I want to do with my life.
When I was watching Ladybird, there was this pivotal scene that stuck with me, consisting of an exchange of just a few lines of dialogue, yet, I found myself pausing the film and crying afterwards. Ladybird and her mother are in a thrift store picking out a dress for her to wear to her senior prom and her mother, exasperated and exhausted, tells Ladybird that she wants her to be the best version of herself. Ladybird replies, “What if this is the best version?” I think this touches on an idea that many of us, including myself, are terrified of knowing the answer to. This can be translated to fit the circumstances of whomever this touches, but for me, I heard: What if this is it for me? What if this is the best I can do? This is defeatist language, but a small part of me wonders this whenever I feel unsure about my place “in the world”. As my coworkers discuss their students and curriculum with passion I can’t help but be envious. For them, they have found something they care about so profoundly that I can only help but nod and commend them with a quiet cheers full of my own uncertainty. Tipsy, they lean towards me and tell me that I should become a teacher; There needs to be more teachers like you, c’mon, you would be great! But I meet their excitement with hesitation. I hate to think of myself as being yet another English major who couldn’t decide what to do, so they got their teaching certificate and said well, might as well…
I talk with one of my friends about this back home quite often, because both of us live in that in-between state of being relatively good at what we are currently doing, even considered by some to be dare I say, pretty damn good, yet there is a part of us that has settled into the fact that it’s not exactly enough. For those who know me, perhaps better than others, know that if there’s anything I love it’s learning. Learning to the point where if I had a chance to sit in class, take notes, discuss books, film, sociology, nutrition, etcetera, and write analytical essays and/or stories for the rest of my life, I would do it in a heartbeat. Back in college, this friend and I would regularly go to a cafe near campus for brunch and discuss the most seemingly pretentious and bougie topics that came to mind for a couple of hours before heading back to class. I’ve found that I’m someone who needs to be constantly intellectually stimulated and challenged or I fall into a state that borders on sleepwalking. I need debate, hearty discussions, tough introspective questions in order to feel satisfied. It’s the reason I read like a crazy person, it’s the reason I follow film blogs so dense in theoretical material it takes me a couple of hours to sift through and translate, it’s the reason I stay up late researching whatever comes to mind – or better yet, typing out long winded back and forth’s over Kakao debating topics that would probably be easier articulated in person. I have so many questions and interests in media with things that are better sourced in an academic paper for senior seminar before anything else – yet, I can’t retreat from this curiosity even when I am in a place where such randomised knowledge has no real aim.
There are a couple things that I take comfort in of course. The first is writing, my fall back forever, probably. Finding the motivation to push forward with projects sitting in drafts piled up on my computer has proven difficult, but sitting at the computer with a blank document open brings me a sense of clarity I’ve yet to find elsewhere. I also genuinely enjoy kids. They’ve yet to elevate my stress levels to unimaginable heights, and perhaps due to my age, or general demeanour around them, they don’t seem to hate me either. Now, someone blend the two together and tell me how those cooperate so I can begin the process of getting my —- together so I can begin doing things that have an end goal. Edit: end goal, long term.
People say to follow your passion, always follow what you’re passionate about in order to find some solace in this world. I was told this when I declared my major in college, when I graduated, and again recently by a coworker, yet, the more these words are said to me, the more often they pass through the lips of those who are older, seemingly wiser, and more settled than myself, a tiny part of me wants to say back, Yes, you say that, but sometimes I don’t think that’s enough.
*I’ve also been toying with the idea of starting to create book review/impression videos so I can more deeply discuss what I’ve been reading on my YouTube channel