Nine thoughts before 9 a.m.
The cold draught from the open window steadily grazes my feet as I adjust my sleeping position. I take a deep breath of colonial air, only to realize that the uncapped red wine beside my bedframe had dominated the scentscape.
I come to a full state of attentiveness a few hours after I slept in my hotel in Barcelona. It was during one of my annual trips with my parents to their selection of western European countries with a history of colonialism. This year, my mom found cheap plane tickets to Spain, and my winter break plans were arranged accordingly, not that I am complaining. It was our tradition, as I am sure it is among the countless other middle-income Asian families who wish to understand the world by visiting various tourist attractions found in high-income western European countries.
Did I ever mention how I think traveling the world is not a hobby? On that note, how eating out and going to concerts are also not hobbies?
I now reflect on the period in my life where I would utilize social media to post pictures and videos of the food I eat or the concerts I attend. Although I now look at my past behavior with disdain, I wonder about the motivations that drove me to treat social media as another tool to compensate for my lack of personality. Did I do so to flex the money I did not earn to flex my excessive consumption habits? Did I do so out of instinct and nothing else?
I wonder where in the progression of my life I came to realize that no one’s personal history would justify excessive spending habits. Even the money that I have earned through the various part-time jobs that I have had over the years, the ability to spend money on luxuries implies the freedom not to spend money on necessities. How could anyone be comfortable with consuming luxuries when their ability to do so depends on factors that are outside of their own control, when they could have easily fallen into the category of countless other individuals who do not have said luxury?
My parents are talking about me in the bed next to mine, particularly regarding my inability to conceptualize the true meaning of hard work. I was, at first, quite frustrated, but soon enough, I realized that they were right; I could never replicate the difficulties they experienced growing up during the Cultural Revolution in China or the discrimination they faced when they grew up or when they immigrated to the United States. I am, after all, their child who grew up in suburban Philadelphia amongst the richest areas in Pennsylvania. Given the inherent limitations in my environment, I could never conceptualize hard work in the same way as they. My parents speak without restraints in volume, so either they are unaware of the possibility of me overhearing or, in their state of delirium, they view it with indifference.
They are disappointed with me, as per usual. Although I would normally pass off their speech as a quintessential experience of second-generation Asian American children, I could not help but to succumb to my lack of psychological defense mechanisms that exist in my current jetlagged state of being. I find sleep deprivation beautiful in that way where I am able to experience the unedited state of my stream of consciousness without my defense mechanisms suppressing certain thoughts in the name of reducing pain. I am affected by their words, and just because I have been acclimated to the experience of constantly being a disappointment, it does not mean that I will ever be free from their judgment.
I remember Alain de Botton discuss the concept of character flaws during a talk titled, On Love. Within various facets of connection, he claims, there does exist not an outlet where individuals would be vocal regarding our character flaws because it is never within their incentive structure to do so. It is one of a few points that I did not relate to, and I suppose that could be attributed to the difference in our upraising. Because of my socioeconomic status, I have not had a childhood or adolescence defined by financial uncertainty. I am quite privileged in that respect. But, unlike financial uncertainty, which can be addressed through financial means, emotional difficulties seem to only breed a set of different expectations for emotional relationships further down in life.
I can not recall a time in my life where I would have preferred a statement of affirmation to the truth; that is, only if the truth had been comprised of elements of criticism. My parents repeated a Chinese phrase throughout my childhood roughly translated as, “No one tells you the truth because they do not love you. We love you, and that is why we criticize you.”
For a long time, I never quite understood their role as a parent. From hearing accounts by my classmates, I have always imagined parents as figures of constant support who encouraged failure as a means to learn. My parents also encouraged learning — but not through failure. In terms of my relationship to my parents growing up, I have always viewed them as an “other” that I needed to outsmart through whatever means necessary. It had been quite a cyclical existence where, day-to-day, I would be trying to meet the sufficient expectation criteria to transition to the next day without any conflict. I suspect part of the reason I never really thought for myself is that I had been so preoccupied with outmaneuvering my parents that I never actually took a minute to look at the road.
And, for me, as well as countless other children of immigrants with a similar culture of criticism, the concept of truth had always been intertwined with a state of criticism. My concept of love, similarly, is also laced with with an understanding of criticism.
You don’t have to be a paid-up believer in psychotherapy of psychoanalysis to realize that the way we love as adults sits on top of our early childhood experiences, and in early childhood, the way that we learnt about love was not just via experiences of tenderness and kindness and generosity. The love that we will have tasted as children will also be bound up with experiences of being let down, being humiliated, maybe being with a parent who treated us very harshly, who scolded us who made us feel small in some way. In other words, quite a lot about our early experiences of love are bound up with various kinds of suffering.Alain de Botton, Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person
All effects have causes. All causes have effects. My current conception of love is the effect. I wonder if my turbulent emotional relationship with my parents growing up is an identifiable cause.
Is How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful by Florence and the Machine about the ocean? Both the song and the ocean are quite beautiful. Why did she make it here title track? If I could choose how I wanted to die, I would want to walk into the ocean away from all of my problems like Edna Pontellier in The Awakening. There was that one line about the astronaut falling from space, and I guess when individuals fall from space, they have earned themselves a good view of the ocean from above. Unless it was cloudy.
I have a friend who often compares the act of sleeping to a temporary death. Similar to the death that concludes our lives, the moment we fall out of consciousness is the moment we relinquish any possibility of cognizing our state of being. The nature of being unconscious, by definition, is the absence of being conscious.
Yet, I feel as if our desire towards taking naps has been elevated towards an essential human experience, especially among college students, given the rise of meme culture. I wonder if such a desire towards a state of unconsciousness is a manifestation of Freud’s death drive, at least outside the lens of structuralized self-shattering. Perhaps our desire to sleep is just a desire to die, just for a bit.
It is quite late, although I know my inability to sleep would accumulate at most to some difficulty waking up in the morning. Ever since I have picked up a coffee habit during my junior year of high school, I have found it quite difficult to conceptualize sleep in terms of its role as a necessity. Sure, I would literally die if I deprive myself of sleep for prolonged periods of time, but other than the fear of an eventual death, the fatigue that comes with sleep has always been something that could be overcome given enough coffee stretched over a period of time, if I chose to sleep less than the recommended hours. For cases such as jet lag, I understand that if I taper my caffeine intake to around one cup of coffee every four hours after waking up, then I would need not worry about the prospect of experiencing suffering through fatigue.
It seems that the sleepiness that had limited various aspects of my life in high school or middle school had been my existence in the absence of caffeine, which I would posit to say had been a couple of the most unreal parts of my life. Perhaps the only reality that I can experience is within the confines of caffeine, although it seems contradictory that experiences of suffering induced through fatigue do not seem real because they are, after all, experiences of suffering, and I quite often equate suffering with reality. It seems, according to the progression of my thoughts, that I am suggesting that there exists multiple understandings of suffering — not all of them contributing to a sense of realness. The suffering induced through fatigue, to me, seems quite different from the suffering induced through universal experiences such as grief and heartbreak.
I vaguely constructed a framework:
Premise 1: The state of being sleepy implies a yearning for a state of being asleep.
Premise 2: The state of being asleep is a state of existence with not as much reality (defined through a charitable interpretation of Nietzsche’s doctrine of the Eternal Return, of which I cannot articulate given my current state of delirium) as the state of being waking.
Conclusion: The state of being sleepy implies a yearning for a state of existence less real than the state of being awake.
I remember two years ago, when I visited my childhood home once again during the summer before coming to college, I wrote about jet lag for the first time in my life. Although I have recently come to appreciate the beauty of being in a state of vulnerability around myself, I did not always share this sentiment. Two years ago, I described my experiences of jet lag as so:
Jet lag is like the sensation of pissing yourself at an amusement park. There’s nothing you can do about it in the immediate future, but you know it’s going to make your day a lot worse than it could have been.
The subject of my vulnerability, as I have come to realize, has changed over the years. Although some thoughts are deeply contextual, such as my fears of being unable to satisfy my parents through a conversation that I had heard recently, most of the insecurities have been compartmentalized given certain temporal markers.
Two years ago, the insecurities that I had were quite different from the insecurities that I have now. I had still never had my first kiss yet, and as the 18-year-old boy that I was, it had been a nerve ending I justified to myself and others through deflection and sublimation. I attempted to convince myself that I had been waiting for someone “right,” whatever that means. Subscribing myself to the romantic school of thought, I convinced myself that physical contact not limited to having sex is the ultimate manifestation of my teenage conception of love. As the insecure teenage boy I was, I refused to examine and accept my inadequacies and allowed my psychological defense mechanisms to cope with unfounded moral superiority.
Two years ago, I thought about sex quite a bit, which is quite ironic since I had not yet had sex at the time. I do not even remember what I thought about; I just remembered that it dominated my conscious thought for a vast majority of the day, which did not help by the fact that I experienced a constant and supreme state of boredom due to the absence of electricity in the apartment. I existed in an interesting state where I would be simultaneously convinced that I had elevated myself to some sort of divine entity free from sex while constantly fantasizing about my first sexual experience. Funny how a teenage boy’s sexual repression affects the mind.
Two years ago, I had been really into one of my friends. Back then, I had a weird ideological subscription to the friend zone, not that I felt as if I were entitled to anything because I was friends with this girl, but because I felt as if friendships given one-sided attractions were inherently incompatible and irreconcilable. In retrospect, as one of those formative moments derived from a lack of experience, it had been quite a cringey time in my life. Nevertheless, formative. To be honest, I find it quite difficult to reflect on this period of my life, mostly because I do not understand how to reconcile my interpretations of my thoughts and experiences with the closer-to-objective state of those thoughts and experiences.
Although individual truth is inherently subjective, I cannot give my own memories enough charity to create any sort of evaluation within this temporal block.
Jenny never loved Forrest. Perhaps, Forrest never loved Jenny either. Perhaps, Forrest just wanted to reclaim an artifact of his childhood. Perhaps, the nature of his love is possessive. Perhaps, Forrest could never understand the violent nature of true love.
This piece was written at 3 a.m. in my hotel room in Barcelona.