letters to lana del rey (46)

Dear Lana,

Do I trust myself?

With what?

I’m not sure. I’m currently studying for my certification examinations again. Spinning my pen around my three-subject notebook I also used to take notes during my senior spring, I was thinking about how uncertain the future is, how it splits the world into two types of people. You have people who take away their own freedom because they do not trust themselves to lead a life they want in the future. Then you have people who take on as much freedom as possible because they have faith that they will act in their own interests in the future.

So I ask myself again: Do I trust myself?

When do you think life starts, Lana? Is it at the moment when you are born?

I’ve been thinking lately of how little I lived when I was younger, especially when I was going through elementary, middle, and high school. There was so much to do, yet so little will to follow through. I remember I had interests, yet I wonder why I didn’t pursue any of them. There weren’t any questions that guided life, just action and reaction. Either I did not have freedom or did not want it. Simpler times. Would I consider that living? More importantly, is it something I would include in a memoir, if I ever wrote one?

I’m leaning towards no. If I wrote an essay on my life, I think I would start when I got into college. Everything that happened before seems quite irrelevant, and I choose not to remember it, negating its power to define my life. If freedom is the power to define life, isn’t writing the ultimate freedom? After all, you are creating your own universe, where everything exists as how you present it to be. It gives you the ability to suffer beautifully, if you choose to define yourself that way.

letters to lana del rey (45)

Dear Lana,

I’m convinced if God exists, he wouldn’t have separated humans from one another. Pain exists through separation. Realizing the existence of others requires the origination of solitude. The world at large is solace without differentiation. Unity through exaltation.

Isn’t it weird that the word “God” exists at all? It just seems to arbitrary how we assign concepts to word. The concept of “God” is supposedly infinite. The word “God” is a backwards dog.

I was thinking back to the movie Her — about how weird it would be for someone to date an AI in today’s society. If I told people I was dating Siri or Alexa, they would think that I finally lost my sanity. If Freud claimed that the two features of love were mutual overvaluation and exclusivity, then I don’t see how it is possible for an AI to fulfill the exclusivity part. There is the access that I have to Alexa, but anyone who has an Echo Dot can also access Alexa. The sheer volume of people accessing Alexa makes it very strange to date Alexa, knowing that you are one among many, when Alexa is one among none.

Lana, I was thinking about the future of my writing, whether it is worth trying to build a following. On one hand, you need to care a lot about what you are writing about in order to be convinced that you have something worth saying. I don’t particularly believe what I am writing about, and I have no reason to believe that others should take my writing seriously. It’s like that time I wrote an essay on how the indoctrination of price as a proxy of value in society undermines the possibility of achieving genuine love in absence of the pornographication of fantasy. I got an A on the paper, so I assumed I had something worth saying. It’s certainly an interesting thought to entertain. But I never truly believed for a second what I was writing about.

It’s about the same now, Lana. I live, I write. But writing seems more boring than ever. It’s just words on a page. Anyone could put words of a page. I used to believe that you would need to create some sort of following in order to convince people that you were a writer. The validation of those around you is how you convince yourself that you have something worth saying. I generally look down upon self-help books because they don’t actually add any value in society except convince people that they are improving their lives. As long as people buy into the self-help industry, it will always have its function. Obviously, people read a lot of self-help, so clearly they’re onto something. What does it take for people to believe what you write? Would it take convincing yourself of what you write?

letters to lana del rey (44)

Dear Lana,

I was reading this old Atlantic article by Ezekiel Emanuel about being content to die after age 75. It’s not really a thought that occurs to me. For one, I am young. For another, I’ve been quite okay with the possibility of my imminent death for awhile. There’s something in Heidegger that defines death as a point of completion for Dasein, and I think control over your own death as well represent the final act of freedom in life.

Things that I find extremely alluring: string lights, polaroids and scented candles. Where is this teenage girl phase that teenage girls allegedly go through that completely missed the mark on me? Honestly, if I was able to live out my teenage girl phase when I was a teenager, I probably wouldn’t have all these repressed problems that I have now. Lame.

Being beautiful is a license to suffer beautifully. Since creating art controls our sense of aesthetics, what better way to suffer beautifully than control what is beautiful?

I wonder if Sylvia Plath would’ve liked EDM if she grew up in our generation. I wonder if she would’ve turned to poetry if music was more free. It reminds me of that scene in The Queen’s Gambit when Beth Harmon was drinking and dancing to some music on TV. Since everyone in the show, especially all of Beth’s friends, is at least two standard deviations hotter than the collective average in the world, we are supposed to treat her descent into alcoholism with sympathy and awe. Being beautiful means that you are able to do whatever you want, and people view your life in a positive light no matter how destructive it is.

I didn’t have a renewed desire to play chess again after finishing The Queen’s Gambit. I’ve been playing the London system transposed into the queen’s gambit declined for as long as I have been playing chess, but since finishing the show I started opening with e4 instead of d4. I watched the show because I play chess and it’s probably one of those anthropologically important shows in the chess community, but I actually consider it one of my least favorite shows I’ve ever watched. Even a couple weeks after finishing it, it still bothers me how much I dislike it.

I’m not really interesting in experiencing pain anymore. That’s so 2018. Honestly, hedonism is pretty close to the name of the game, except there’s nothing to spend money on right now. I spent $15 on a candle, and I consider that probably the most expensive personal item I’ve bought in the past couple of months. I would die for a shot right now. It feels like ages ago I had some crappy bottom-shelf vodka, but I honestly miss the taste so much.

More recently, I’ve come to realize that happiness is more within our grasp than I’ve previously thought. It is in the present. I realize recently that happiness occurs in absent of others but highly dependent on others. It closely resembles an act of absence rather than an act of selection. It comes and goes, and all we have to do is hold its hand.

letters to lana del rey (42)

Dear Lana,

In many ways, wish-fulfillment is a zero-sum game. The fulfillment of one person’s wish is the antihalation of another’s. Even all those years ago, I distinctly understood that getting into Penn meant that someone else did not get into Penn. Getting an offer after your superday means someone didn’t get their’s. Accomplishment for one necessitates failure for another. Lame.

Last weekend, I was helping my parents build a deck in the backyard. Then, I #rekt my back and haven’t been able to get out of my bed for a week. I was pretty proud of myself when I didn’t have to pee in a takeout container anymore. For most of the week I was thinking how if I lost function in the lower half of my body that would suck. Everyone likes talking about freedom, but the freedom to move is one of those things that everyone takes for granted. You can only exert control over your external reality through movement. Lame.

Neon Genesis Evangelion honestly would have been such a life-changing anime if I watched it in middle school, you know, when it was relevant. Alas, I just went through middle school without some angsty TV show to channel my personality. Probably for the best. Probably would’ve kickstarted my psychedelic art career or plummeted my personality into some misinterpretation of Schopenhauer’s idea of representation. Now, I’m just a post-angst college graduate living in my parent’s house giving off sadboi vibes for the irony of it all. Lame.

Ugh, I just want to eat Mexican food again. Lame.

letters to lana del rey (41)

Dear Lana,

What happens when we get older? At the end of our life, which gives out first — or body or or soul?

I remember when in my positive psychology class, I learned that people’s life satisfaction generally improves as they age. I certainly hope that’s true, although I can’t really imagine why that would be the case. As a young professional straight out of undergrad, a lot of my energy is developed into furthering my career. The return on investment in education is greatest when you have the most amount of time to gain from it, and this is particularly true when access to learning is almost unlimited given the internet.

In Chinese culture, children usually take their parents in when they get older. I have no idea what non-Chinese-Americans do, but I find it quite tragic that there could be a world where parents and children don’t enter a permanent arrangement for life.

Is fulfilment attained in retrospect? How could we possibly know how fulfilled we will be in the long run? We can only access the past through our memories. Yet, this past is subject to our selective perception. I was thinking how St. Augustine characterized time as being only present, how the past and future are just our minds making sense of our memories and expectations. I also recall from the time I used to go to church, a pastor once said that regret is sin because it detracts our attention from worshipping the Lord. I don’t think I ever found that justification compelling. I’m still not sure how to evaluate the ethics of reminiscing. My therapist said that regret-orientation was a symptom of depression, but I’m not sure that it’s the same thing as feeling nostalgia.

You truly are young only once. I used to think I wasted my youth, but I realize now that I was just being too hard on myself. I consider my life before college characterized by a lack of free will, and my time during college to cultivate a desire for free will. In the true Sartrean sense, I convinced myself I did not have free will to subdue responsibility from my life that does have free will. I am still convinced to a certain extent that all life is necessitarianly deterministic, but it’s a thought that I have shelved for now until I find an argument for free will that I am truly convinced of. In the meantime, I can accept that I do have control over my life.

When I think of my life in these buckets, that’s what I imagine “coming to age” feels like. There were a lot of realizations I had in the past couple of years. I no longer idealize the image of sadness, I no longer shy away from having responsibility. I no longer feel the need to be social beyond beyond what I want at the moment. Through these realizations, I see the past couple years of my life as formative. I’m not sure what my life would be like if those years didn’t happen, but I don’t see the need either. The present is now, and there is only the present. The future does not exist. The past does not exist. Except in the mind.

letters to lana del rey (40)

Dear Lana,

Call me edgy or alt, but I think monogamous sexual relationships are the key to fulfillment in adult life.

There are two ways of getting people to listen to you: have something to say, or be famous. Since I don’t have anything to say, it’s probably the move to be famous. It has been a childhood dream of mine to become a c-list k-pop star.

I just finished Queen’s Gambit on Netflix. I suppose the series was an examination into the solitude and burden of achievement amplified by unaddressed past trauma. I didn’t find that part too interesting. The part I found interesting was the assumed understanding of what constitutes deserved success. I didn’t find (spoiler) her win at the end of the series to be particularly cathartic. She was the protagonist, and protagonists get what they want. The scene that was most powerful to me was when she revisited her deceased school custodian’s office back in her orphanage. On the wall was a collection of newspaper clippings of her wins throughout the series. Her orphanage’s custodian taught her how to play chess, and he sent her the $5 she needed to enter her first chess tournament. He died wanting her to be successful, with a part of his attention devoted to her every day.

I have met plenty of people in my life. Most likely, some of them will achieve great things. It’s not that this thought bothers me — I never considered myself a footnote to someone else’s life — but I’ve always thought about how seemingly random it is for success to originate.

Beth in Queen’s Gambit met plenty of chess players in her life. Yet, not one of them rose to her level of success. All of her friends were people she beat or eventually beat. All of them wanted to be successful, but they were not destined to be so. Beth was. She was able to accomplish what she set out to accomplish even with substance abuse issues. I found that part to be uncompelling. Of course, this is a TV series, but it seemed almost that from the beginning the Netflix gods outlined would be successful and who wouldn’t. Real life doesn’t have these structures set in place, and things only make sense in retrospect. Specifically, when we are dead.

The more I grow up, the more I am convinced that hard work doesn’t matter in life. A couple weeks ago, I watched an interview of Jamie Diamond talking about how every successful person in life worked hard to get where they are. It is phrased as a motivational quote to encourage people to work harder, and I’m not sure I am convinced that working harder would make life better. I don’t believe I work particularly hard. I don’t believe that I don’t work hard either. I fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, working hard when I need to and letting other moments pass by undisrupted. I believe that successful people work hard. I also believe that plenty of people who are not successful work hard too. To me, I don’t see a particularly strong correlation between people who work hard and people who are successful. Naturally, my response is to not believe in the merit of working hard.

I keep on going back to this idea of meritocracy. More specifically, a meritocracy of hard work. I don’t think it exists, but not because the world is unequal from a socioeconomic or identity point of view. It is, but that’s not not why I believe meritocracy doesn’t exist. It seems to random how individuals are sorted out in this world. There are people who are successful who have worked hard, but then behind those people are countless people who have not been able to achieve the same level of success, who have worked hard if not harder to achieve less.

In the face of this, I find it hard to devote my energy into working as hard as I could when I have this ingrained notion that the world is not designed to be meritocratic. I find my ideology aligned more with Epicureanism than any Aristotelian sense of duty or virtue. The world is the way it is. It is one that does not measure hard work accurately and does not value hard work accordingly. Why must I fight a world designed as such?

letters to lana del rey (39)

Dear Lana,

I consider myself a fairly career-driven person. When I am working, I am fairly content with my life. When I am not working, my life seems a bit strange.

I started playing Among Us the other day. I say it’s for anthropological reasons, but realistically I just needed a new game to play when I am taking a shit. Chess has become so boring nowadays. It seems a bit dystopian — entertainment, or more sinisterly, the world at large where entertainment is a necessity to escape the world in which we live. It takes up time, allowing us to forget how bored we are on a regular basis. When we are entertained by media or music or whatever, it puts something into the otherwise empty container of our lives. For a time, we become more filled with substance, but that doesn’t strike down the fact that we were empty to begin with.

I’ve been pretty tired lately. I used to think that there was such thing called artistic value, that there was something in the world beyond the monotony of every day living. I’m not convinced of anything anymore — convincing myself allows me to justify whatever I want to myself, which is dangerous — and I am especially not convinced there is value to art outside of its entertainment value.

Do artists believe they are doing something meaningful? Well, everyone believes they are doing something meaningful; that’s how people get through the day. Everyone from every aspect of life has to be convinced they are doing something meaningful, or else the boredom of everyday living will come out from behind and pull you into your shadow.

Most people are against Noziak’s experience machine, but isn’t that the world in which we occupy already? We consume literature and movies and whatnot because we want to escape from the reality in which we occupy. Our current reality is dull, so we seek a better reality. But there isn’t a better reality. There are less real realities we can create in our own reality marbles, and then there is the world at large that is supreme.

letters to lana del rey (38)

Dear Lana,

I was thinking today about how capitalism was built around this idea of progress — more specifically, the dissatisfaction that breeds progress. I think a lot of utopic communitarianism, in turn, was built around the idea that what we have is enough.

Today, I learned that Blackpink’s Jisoo’s favorite English phrase is, “That’s a pity.” I find that to be hilarious.

Things that are rare in life: accurate portrayals of behavioral interviews in fiction. Looking at you Free Food for Millionaires. Who the fuck tells their interviewer that they are interested in a job because it would be “good experience for b-school?” Disgusting. Yeah, we get it, Casey Han — the only success in recruiting you had was because you had an internal referral from a family member; I wonder why. Good experience for b-school my ass.

I’ve been getting more and more into celebrity culture lately. Growing up, there was always this separation between actors and characters in shows. In a way, I perceived it as one does characters in a novel. They exist within the story and no where else. Now, of course, I am able to recognize that actors are frequently celebrities outside of their existence within a story. There are names to characters, but then there are also the names of the actors who play them. It’s weird that I’ve only recently realized that.

I rewatched some scenes from Scrubs today, and I realized I definitely had a crush on Christa Miller when I was watching the show. She’s the actress that plays the character Jordan; didn’t even know her name until today. She was funny and sarcastic, and I was not. It’s still an personality trait that I very much value, It’s funny how we are initially drawn to things we do not have. But we are also drawn to things we believe we do have.

Today, I tried to change font color in Excel with alt + h + f + c but accidentally moved my fingers too quickly so you type alt + f + c, which force quits Excel. Well, that’s life innit.

letters to lana del rey (37)

Dear Lana,

It’s funny how you can perceive something so different from the way it actually unfolds.

The funny thing about photos is that they carry a timestamp. It was taken in a specific moment in time, and just as important as the contents of the photo itself is the digital imprint of the context of the photo. Recording the past in this way is an easy to way to tap into memories that you have otherwise forgotten. You can access your own memories through a different lens, as if you are Dumbledore taking the plunge in his own Pensieve.

I’ve come to realize that a lot of my memories are a function of selective perception. Once we creative a narrative of how we believed our lives were in the past, we continue to keep memories that reinforce this narrative while discarding the ones that do not. Now that I have achieved some semblance of peace in my life, my life is not nearly as hectic as I remembered it to be. Was this what Romantic subjectivism meant?

There was a time when I viewed Romantic art as my favorite artistic movement. The emphasis on nature through a vivid palette captured the turbulence in which I saw the world unfolding in my adolescent eyes. I wrote a lot during this period — at least, by my standards then — and a lot of it was about the toxicity in which I saw the world.

Now that I reflect back on this period, it doesn’t seem as hectic. Aristotle may have said we are what we repeatedly do, but I think more accurately we are we we repeatedly notice. There is the world around us, but it is not the world we claim it to be. In this regard, I think it’s appropriate to acknowledge in the artist in us that constructs our own world. It is not the world of others because we do not notice what others observe. It is our world because we created it with our minds and our own perceptions. With that comes great power.