I spent my birthday, appropriately, in the Caffe Nero near the Euston railway station, quietly, sipping on a shot of espresso and reading The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus.
Marking another year’s observation of my experience within the deterministic timeline of the universe, I once wrote that I found my birthdays to be a deeply saddening. As a moment in time that almost invites reflection, I cannot help but to wonder about the countless identities I could not create within the past year. While reflection sometimes leads to epiphany, most of the time, acts of introspection tends to lead me to sadness. My birthday is no exception Because, to me, it is a countdown. Ever since I was born, every subsequent birthday marks another realization of all those possible futures I have crossed off in order to realize my current one. And, for someone who dislikes their personality as much as I do, the idea that I can only converge towards a more fine-tuned version of my personality disappoints me.
If I could construct the entirety of my life as a deterministic narrative, I would probably classify my life within the genre of a tragicomedy. Similar to Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, the first couple moments of my life were defined by a couple of minor altercations without forethought. Initially paralleling the structure of comedy, I had been convinced that the difficulties within my life would eventually lead to a moment of gratification, traditionally signified within Shakespeare’s works in the form of a wedding. Similar to the conception of the audience watching Romeo and Juliet for the first time, I expected the ending of my life to have a similar source of gratification because I had already classified the work following defined structure of Elizabethan comedy.
Only halfway through the play, however, does that audience of Romeo and Juliet realize the fault in their preconceptions. Within its temporal context, comedy did not contain elements of tragedy the same way tragedy did not contains elements of comedy. Mercutio, serving the role of the jester throughout the play, is slain by Tybalt. The event cascades to a series of other events that eventually lead to the suicides of Romeo and Juliet, warping the comedic themes of the play into a definitive tragedy. Reflecting back on my teachings of Romeo and Juliet, I wonder if I, too, have reached the epitasis of my life. I wonder if I have made enough wrong choices in my life where I can only observe my life culminating to my story’s ultimate catastrophe. Of course, such questions can never be answered.
The other week, my friend brought up the concept of “UCLA Grant.” It’s self-explanatory: it’s the version of me that would have gone to UCLA instead of Penn, a version of me that would have consecrated into existence given a different mood by an admissions officer. It is only a potential version of me that I can only imagine, and given the fundamental paradox in statistical learning, I can only speculate given my impressions of the environment that has shaped me to become the way I currently am. The decision goes back to senior year of high school when I had dedicated the past 18 years of my life in the hopes of getting into a prestigious university. My final decision had been between UCLA and Penn, but it wasn’t really a decision that required sacrifice. I did not care much for which college I attended as opposed to which college I had been accepted.
I wonder if I would have been happier. I wonder if I would have the same attitudes towards happiness that I have now. Certainly, much of my sadness had been accented by the malignant culture of Penn, but I have no way to ascertain how much influence my environment had over me. Even as I am studying at an entirely new university in London this semester, I still feel the same negative emotions that have defined my life. When I meditate upon the events of my life, I can recall so few times when I experienced a state peripheral to a constant submersion in sadness. Even if I take a deterministic lens, it almost seems as if my sadness remains the only facet of my existence that emerges immune to the environmental influences of the universe. To me, sadness is the only certainty I have come to know.
Perhaps, the nature of my sadness isn’t so much a regret over the events in my life happening in the way they did but a yearning for the potential timeline in my life where I imagine myself living joyfully my existence as opposed to the gloomy existence that has defined my life until now. My desires to live a life other than my own is no way indicative that I crave happiness; I find any emotion ungraced by sadness to be repulsively unreal. Even so, I wish sometimes to leave my existence behind, to enter a state of genuine loneliness and relinquish all that I have created over my tenure as an existent being contributing to an intangible universe. If the will to live is defined by a constant grasp of a piece of thread, then I just want to let go.
After reading the last paragraph of The Myth of Sisyphus, I could not help but to wonder how Sisyphus could smile in the face of the absurd.
I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus
I take comfort in thoughts regarding suicide, not that Sisyphus ever had the option to commit suicide. From my experiences, it seems that individuals attempt to avoid thoughts regarding suicide, but I never quite understood how some individuals could be so willing to discard such a defining feature of being human. After all, when is the last time we have seen an animal commit suicide? Thoughts of suicide exist regardless of whether or not we wish for them to exist. Similar to the act of loving, we can never suppress a thought so fundamentally human as suicide no matter how strong our mental fortitude. Even the mere attempt of suppressing thoughts of suicide can only bring stronger thoughts in return. To live without thinking about suicide — how would such a mundane existence qualify as living?
Because I have metaphysically caused my thoughts into existence, I have more power than my thoughts. It would follow that I exist on a higher tier of reality than my thoughts. As long as a continue to exercise power over my thoughts, then my ruminations would never tangibly affect my existence. It is as Camus phrased it: “Rarely is suicide committed through reflection.” I can reflect for as long as I wish, and my thoughts can exist within my reflection for as long as wish until, of course, I wish them to cease to exist. That is, assuming that I have control over my own thoughts, which often I do not. But, even if my life is dictated by those thoughts that pass through my consciousness, my thoughts will only continue to exist for as long as I decide to live. Such is the power dynamic between me and my thoughts.
It seems the more birthday I have, the more alien I feel relative to others. I remember my times in elementary school defined by my ability to become friends with anybody. There existed so little to cause friction within the inception of any friendship. I could become best friends with a complete stranger within minutes of acquaintance. I had not yet experienced the formative aspects of my life that have shaped my personality, and before those moments, all interactions seemed to be created equally. The idea of compatibility seemed limitless; who was I to dictate whether someone qualifies as my friend or not? Being an only child at home with clashing perspectives of intimacy, I just wanted to convince myself that I had friends.
It seems so long ago when I still made an effort to create friendships. It seems so long ago when friendships could be created without a thinning set of criteria mediating its progression towards eventual filtration. It seems that my rules for selecting individuals I willingly spend my time with become evermore strict, that I am constantly searching for reasons to end friendships when they do fit the paradigm I have created as a reflection of the perhaps unrealistic values I have for myself and others. Even the mere act of meeting new individuals invites me to taste the unrealized bitterness of my saliva. I can only conceptualize individuals relative to their perceived compatibility relative to me, and every year, it seems that I become less compatible with the world.
If I die, I wonder what happens to the remaining traces of me. My writing will disappear with me, as my blog is linked to my credit card, and I will no longer be here to pay for the bills that accumulate each month. So it goes, the impermanence. Even art, the most real aspect of my life, will disappear in a short amount of time after my death. And, without an extension of thought to metaphysically cause my existence, I will cease to exist. My life, defined through ebb and flow of hopelessness, will no longer be a part of the world. No tangible extension of my existence will continue to be a part of this world, which continuously feels less and less the world that I have come to know all of these years. This other world — I cannot imagine that it would ever feel familiar ever again.
I would used to wonder why my birthdays felt so saddening to experience. Growing up within a society with such a strong emphasis on birthdays as a day of happiness, how could I, as someone who has experienced so much privilege in my life, experience sadness when I have so much reason to be infinitely grateful? It would be difficult to convince myself of the same opinions nowadays. Given the formative experiences that have shaped my conception of the world, I wonder the opposite: how could individuals truly be happy on their birthdays? What reason could they possibly have to cherish their existence? It would almost feel as if they were glad to be alive.
What a feeling… to be glad to be alive.