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.

letters to lana del rey (36)

Dear Lana,

I remember when I was reading Free Food for Millionaires by Min Jin Lee earlier this summer, I thought to myself: I hate this protagonist. I hate this protagonist. I hate this protagonist.

I thought it would be like The Catcher in the Rye, where I hated the protagonist on my first read only to realize a couple years later that Holden Caufield was really espousing some universal themes I found profoundly relatable later on in life. With Casey Han in Free Food for Millionaires, she was supposed to be relatable since we are both young Asian Americans working in finance, but I found everything about her existence just profoundly annoying. I’m still waiting for the day when I realize that she had a point to her life after all. At the moment, I don’t sympathize with her at all — for her infidelity, for her inability to ask for her help, at her complete lack of will to take responsibility in her own life.

Somewhere along the line, I thought to myself: Maybe I should write some autofiction with a profoundly unrelatable protagonist. I’m sure most people wouldn’t give a shit about my life.

I was thinking how we truly are the narrators of our own story. We tell stories in our point of view, and it is supposedly justified because we tell it so. There isn’t such thing as perspective when engaging with our life life because we can only have access to one narrative. Even our attempt in viewing ourselves through another set of eyes is merely a perception based on our own life. We go into other people’s lives, but we continue to act as we have in our own life. Our actions in this regard are still constricted to our own experiences.

I started reading In the Existentialist Cafe today, and I got to say I found Sarah Bakewell as a narrator to be quite humorous. Her quips are quite on point. I personally appreciate her writing style. It digests a the most pretentious set of topics in the world — philosophy — and makes it digestible to people who don’t want to pour 8 years of their lives reconciling all of Heidegger’s contradictions later on in his life with his early works. God, Heidegger really needs to figure his shit out. It has the tone of Melissa Broder’s So Sad Today, which honestly is probably one of the most descriptive books about living when at the time I read it. Where are the Melissa Broder’s of the world to narrate life? Instead I’m stuck with Casey fucking Han for however long it took me to finish Free Food for Millionaires.

Personally, I’ve been shitposting for so long in my life, I don’t even think I could act genuinely anymore. Don’t blame me; blame the internet. Etched in every sentence is a tinge of sarcasm, and I don’t think I am capable of writing without some hint of irony or cynicism. On that note, now that I have finished my English major, I don’t even think I am capable of reading literature that is not oozing with sarcasm. It amazes me how rare sarcasm is in some older writing. I remember throughout the entirety of reading Jane Eyre, I kept on thinking: Wow, I can’t believe this girl takes herself seriously. It’s hard nowadays to take your emotions seriously because there are so many levels of irony and references laced with any experience. There is so much meme value in our own experiences that all of my experiences correspond to a specific meme and can be categorized as such. Jane Eyre is just so… extra. Of course, Jane Eyre seeps into the Anglican cultural consciousness, but that didn’t stop the drama to be any less over-the-top. Maybe that’s why I liked Becky so much from Vanity Fair. She was just so… cynical. She was a 21st century figure crashing into a 18th century story. She had a good grasp over her own emotions, and she played with the other characters like dolls. She was an evil puppet master pulling strings in a world that had not yet discovered cynicism. Poor Amelia, who had the misfortune of befriending Becky. Amelia was as baby who had not discovered how the world works. She had not discovered irony yet. The world is pre-ironic. What a world that would be.

letters to lana del rey (35)

Dear Lana,

I was thinking back to this time around 5 years ago, when I was writing my Common App essays for the first time. I borrowed some misinterpreted Nietzschean ideas to describe my desire for freedom from my Asian American identity, at least from the gaze under which I perceived my Asian American identity. Although I now see how cringey my Common App essay had been in retrospect, I do think I was onto something back then. It was a desire to shape the life that I wanted. Coming from a upbringing that was largely defined by a desire to win affection from my parents, it was initially challenging to pinpoint this desire for freedom. It was a counterintuitive principle, and it wasn’t until college, when I had significant time by myself to mull over how my past shaped me, that I was able to realize the contradictory desire to have freedom but also to not have freedom.

I wouldn’t characterize it like trauma, as Freud would, but there is a certain element of permanence that childhood experiences have on adulthood. Navigating these challenges, I have come to realize, amounts to a call for freedom. We want to escape our past because we want to be the force that shapes our future.

If the goal all along was for freedom, what constitutes achieving that freedom? There is an industry out there to making us feel like we have more freedom than we actually do. From mindfulness practitioners, self-help authors, and motivational speakers, there is so much in society created from this desire to feel like we have this freedom we don’t actually have, although I would question how little freedom we claim we have or don’t have.

So what constitutes achieving that freedom we claim to want but do not have? What is the actual will to live a free life? Is it “being water” like Laozi would want us to do, or is it some other Aristotelian virtues that are able to guide us to a good life?

I think there are two consistencies in my life that act as opposing forces: my interest in finance and my interest in writing. In Chinese dualism, these forces would be be diametrically opposite. Unlike Laozi, however, I don’t considered these forces within individuals to be necessary opposite and causing of each other. They are caused by external events that propel me in one direction or the other. I used to believe that I would have to choose one or the other eventually in my life; I could stay in finance all my life and try to become a portfolio manager, or I could risk it for the biscuit and shoot my shot as a writer. I think I now realize that there really isn’t a necessary conclusion to this dilemma. They can exist in harmony. Even more, it is probably necessary to have these forces acting in opposition to each other my life. First there was one, and then there was two.

letters to lana del rey (34)

Dear Lana,

I checked my insurance plan today. I have $3000 left in deductibles before my insurance carrier starts covering any services. I miss college when cognitive behavioral therapy used to be free. I could use some free ass therapy right now.

The Socratic method reminds me a bit of particle physics. You are repeatedly smashing two forces against each other until you find something useful in the wreckage. It works in particle physics, and it seems to also work in philosophy. So, it would seem that the answers to all questions in the universe can be obtained by smashing things together.

I was thinking about what Aristotle considered to be a good life today, and I was thinking where our comparisons of ourselves with others comes into play. I wonder if a live well-lived is a life far away from others — somewhere secluded, where the only human interaction you could ever want is from the checkout line in the grocery store… but even that’s fading out of fashion nowadays. It is true that we go into solitary confinement for long periods of time, we would go insane, but I question how much suffering human interaction creates at all.

I think social media in many ways resembles Plato’s conception of beauty. Rather than create connection, which is virtuous, social media creates the image of connection, which is not necessarily virtuous. At the end of the day, it boils down to how you want to be presented to others as opposed to how you actually are. There is an element of selection, and the individual choice supposedly brings us closer towards individuality, but it is also homogenous. It appears as we want to appear, which is individual, but it is also inauthentic because it preys on images of things we supposedly want to resemble as opposed to things we actually are.

I don’t know, Lana. I’m not sure if there’s a point to thinking about these things anymore.

I was thinking today about the function of being likeable — whether that satisfies Aristotle’s definition of a life well-lived. Does being likeable mean a happier life on aggregate. I used to angst over not being likeable in interviews a lot, but then somewhere down the life I got over myself and somehow became more likeable in interviews. It certainly has made my life easier. I would like an easy life. Is that something worth pursuing?

Something I found comforting about Aristotle was that he recognized that life can only be defined through the aggregate. The strength of virtue depends on its repeated manifestation throughout time. It’s unfortunate in human existence we can only perceive ourselves up to a certain point. Sometimes, it is very difficult to understand why we are acting in certain ways, whether there is a purpose behind the ways we are acting, whether it would make sense when we look back at our lives in retrospect.

Lana, I listened to your new song that dropped today, “Let Me Love You Like a Woman”. I liked the production and the lyrics, but I probably won’t listen to it on repeat. I was thinking why I decided to address this entire letter collection to you since I don’t particularly listen to your music that much anymore. In truth, it’s because you hold a lot of sentimental value to me. I listened to you in high school and my first couple years in college, and those were very formative times for me. In that sense, writing to you is almost writing to my past self that is captured in the essence of your music, particularly Paradise and Ultraviolence.

I’m bit confused again in my life, Lana. I fantasize about running away into Van Gogh’s Wheatfield with Crows. It seems so serene there, far away from those other dreadful parts of the world. I like dark skies, feeling the stalks blow irregularly at my feet, wondering if it is possible to be carried up into the winds, into the clouds, and float away into the stratosphere.

letters to lana del rey (33)

Dear Lana,

I was thinking about how our own experiences with suffering makes us more numb to the suffering of others, how Angela Duckworth may be the next coming of the Messiah, how the sounds of insects could be commoditized to the sound of feeling beautiful.

It’s so weird how our life hinges on the balance between present and future. For a long time in high school, I thought things would get better in college. For a long time in college, I thought things would get better after I graduated. It did, but not in the way I imagined it. I thought I would attain the things I wanted. That’s what “working out” meant to me. Instead, I’ve just become more resilient towards disappointment.

I suppose there’s not much of a difference. It straddles this conception of genuineness that doesn’t seem particularly attractive to me. Does it really matter if our lives turn out the way that we wanted, or is it sufficient to have a internal sense of control over how you react to your surroundings? I used to believe there was a difference between the two.

Lana, I’m feeling quite distant from you. You, in this form, are a construction of my projection of course, but I still feel less in tuned with you than I did before. I remember when I was listening to your music a couple of years ago, I found some meaning in your sad lyrics. You were always sad in your music, so I found comfort in that voice whenever I was sad. I don’t particularly feel that way anymore. Sure, I have my angsty days — like today — but on aggregate I’m quite different from the person who listened to Ultraviolence on repeat while studying econ in Perry World House.

I wonder if people are able to look at me in the same way I look at others. The funny thing about being inside yourself is that you aren’t able to view yourself with the same charity you view others. You tend to think other people live better lives than they actually do, yet you are always so consciously aware of your own life. I sometimes wonder where that speculation would take me; usually it takes me on loops that end in some rancid liquid I conjured up myself.

I typically find meaning in work. In Principles, Ray Dalio divided up his principles into work principles and life principles, but I typically find them to be one and the same. When all else in your life falls apart, you can always resort to work. It moves forward when the rest of your life does not. You can control your career for the most part, unlike the other uncertainties in your life. It is one of those things worth investing in; the rest of life is speculation.

My Billie Eilish merch arrived today. It’s a 2XL hoodie roughly the same color as my bath towel.

I used to think that life was meant to be fun. In Burning directed by Lee Chang-dong, the antagonist is someone who describes his profession as someone who plays. He was hinted to be (spoiler) a serial killer, but I thought his attitude was quite interesting. I now question why I thought the point of life was to have fun. Life hasn’t been “fun” in quite some time, yet there was a time when I thought the next phase in life was going to be more fun than the last. There was going to be an inflection point, when the tedium of life stops and the fun begins. Somewhere down the line, I stopped believing this inflection point existed at all. Sure life has been significantly more fun than it had been before, but it wasn’t like there was an activation switch that made it fun. Furthermore, now that my life reached a point where it is more fun than it was before, it only makes me realize that there isn’t much of a future to this fun. It is temporary, it is never enough; there is always another more fun moment that we have been waiting for, always lingering down the corner, its presence keeping us on edge.

letters to lana del rey (32)

Dear Lana,

If Parmenides believed that he was indistinguishable in essence from the world, then where did feelings of alienation came into existence? Is that part of the world too?

I’ve been thinking about the idea of unwinding today. It seems quite a core nature of modern living. You work, you go home, you unwind. The act of unwinding is to distance yourself from your work, knowing that you will return back to work in the morning. If you are not working you are not unwinding because there is nothing to unwind; you cannot unwind that is not wound in the first place. If you do not work, you are lounging. Unwinding can only come into existence through working, and it is through working that time unwinding is considered to be precious. If you do not work, then the value of unwinding is not apparent because all moment is considered to be a moment of unwinding. At a certain point, unwinding loses its value.

Lana, I’ve often heard that time speeds up when you grow up. Psychologists often assign the lack of additional new experiences to be the biggest contributor, but I also think it has a lot to do with this routine. Various acts of unwinding take our attention away from work, and when we work our attention is devoted to work. There is less to time do nothing because our free time can only exist in relation to our working time.

You remember in the beginning of Facebook when people used to play Flash games? There were popular games like Farmville and Mafia Wars and Backyard Monsters. I played all of these games quite a bit, but specifically I remember this game called Restaurant City. It was disbanded in 2013 when Playfish was acquired by Electronic Arts, but I remembered that I poured so much time into that game in middle school. It wasn’t like other restaurant games where you had to time yourself to create food. There wasn’t anything you needed to do per se to make your restaurant function. All you need to do is occasionally feed your staff and open your restaurant. I was coming out of my Flash games phase when the game was discontinued, so it didn’t affect me as if I were in the peak of my interest, but it was still sad at the time to have so many hours I put into my water-themed restaurant thrown away. Now, Facebook no longer supports Flash games, so all of these games including Farmville and Mafia Wars and Backyard Monsters are all going to be disbanded. What was it all for? When I played these games, I didn’t expect them to last around forever, but there’s some part of me that wished I had something to show for it. After all, it is me pouring my time into something. While I was playing these games, I had something to show for it. In Farmville, rice took 12 hours to grow, so I would log in the same time every day after school to harvest and replant my rice. Then, I could use the money I earned through farming rice on various decorations on my farm. I don’t even remember what my farm looked like, but it was sexy as fuck. I remember the game kept on asking me if I wanted to take a picture and share it. I would always click no, but now I wish that I had clicked yes, so I have something to show for all the work that I put in.

Back then, I used these games to unwind. I’m not even sure if that was what is was because I did it more as a desire to game as opposed to a desire to escape the difficulties of school. The time that was put in them… where did it go? Sometimes, I find a bit absurd that you are able to put in so much time in something without anything to show for it. Back then, I used to angst over the impermanence of friendships and relationships. Now, I’m thinking about all the time I used to unwind — how there’s nothing to show for that too. I suspect that’s why I like creating things so much. You can point to something and say you did something. And with the advent of cloud technology, it could truly last longer than most things in life.

letters to lana del rey (31)

Dear Lana,

In the beginning of the summer, I was reading A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by Joyce. Even while reading it, I was pretty bored. I remembered it was a precursor to Ulysses, but that’s about it. If you asked me what happened in that book, I would have no idea.

My grandmother suffers from anterograde amnesia, and it is very hard for her to make new memories at this point in her life. I’ve told her that I graduated college at least a dozen time by now, but she cannot retain the information. At one point, I remember she was watching television, and she kept on watching the same episode over and over again. It was one of those family sitcoms that was filmed 30 years ago in China with characters that seem quite antiquated nowadays. She seemed entertained, and she kept watching.

I was thinking how we do a lot of things in our lives to relieve boredom. There is an entire entertainment industry out there built to create media that keeps us entertained. In many ways, I think this trait is the pitfall of humanity. Between people who create entertainment and people who consume entertainment, what is left for the rest of society when we eventually reach a state where work has become obsolete?

I used to think there was some sort of permanence to consuming art or literature or music or media. Once you consume it, you cannot unconsume it. What you consume becomes a part of you, and you should be able to draw upon it at will. I realize now that there is no permanence in consumption. Everything is momentary, even things that make an impression on us. Sooner or later, we forget what we consume. We forget what happens in movies quickly, and we forget what happens in books even quicker. Then, we are forced to consume it again and again until we remember. It is an endless cycle of consuming then forgetting and then consuming and forgetting again.

I was thinking back to my grandmother watching her Chinese sitcom, noticing the parallels between her cyclical viewing of her TV series and the human condition at large. It really is one episode after another episode and then back an episode because you forgot what happened in the previous episode. I remember I watched the last season of Sherlock twice — once this year, and once when it came out — because I completely forgot that I watched it at all. I didn’t remember the plot or the characters throughout the first two episodes; it was only until the last episode, during an especially cringey explosion scene, that I remembered I had watched it in the first place. I can’t help but wonder how much other media out there is privy to the same experience.

I guess it all boils down to a sense of confusion. If we eventually forget everything that we consume, what’s left of there in life? Just an attempt to escape boredom through entertainment, only to forget how we spent our time being entertained, followed by the same fear of boredom again. I wonder if there’s more to life than that.

letters to lana del rey (30)

Dear Lana,

There’s some weird satisfaction I get when I sit crisscrossed on my bed. It seems like something people do when they are young according to some indie films I’ve watched.

I was listening to Nina Nesbitt’s “Still Waiting to Start” again, and her reflections about the intense feelings she had in her youth seem more intense than ever. Drinking in the park really seemed liked the most wild experience I’ve had back then, and now it seems so far ago. In many ways, it echoes to this life I had but also did not have. It was a life I wished had more moments like that, but that part of life is already over. It was so temporary, and it is only at the end of that life I realized how to navigate that life. In so many ways, I feel like I’ve been waiting for life to start for me. I wanted to realize this aesthetic of what I wanted life to be, and I had come so close at one point in realizing it. Now, life has moved on, and it’s a different part of life that I navigate. I am still waiting for the last part of my life to start while waiting for this part of my life to end.

Things are familiar now. I arranged my room in a different fashion, but the world as a whole seems more familiar. I have faith in my ability to reside here. It is more welcoming than it once was. It’s less cold. It’s winter, but it’s less cold. It’s comfortable.