0551 – any issues?

A: I was asked if I have any issues.

B: Well, do you?

A: I don’t know. Doesn’t everybody? What is an issue?

B: Well, if it’s going to affect your life adversely, it’s an issue.

A: See, there are so many different things I could say here, and each one would lead to a totally different conversation, and each would give you a different impression of me. Continuing this conversation requires requires me to choose something, on the fly. I like to think that I’m good at improvising, but how do people do this?

B: Do what?

A: decide how to respond to other people.

B: *chuckles* yeah, I think you’ve got issues.

A: That is such a copout though. Don’t all the best things come from people who ask basic questions? Are we implying that anybody who asks ‘wrong’ or ‘inappropriate’ questions have issues?

B: I think you wouldn’t be surprised to find that quite a lot of those great people had issues. Of course, it’s not their maladjustment or miswiring that made them great, but what they did about it.

A: I think there’s a distinction between being maladjusted to your circumstances and fundamentally being a little miswired.

B: Sure. Issues is a vague term. People sometimew ask vague questions because they want to give you the freedom to make it more precise along the dimension that you choose. You get to decide if you want to elaborate or not.

A: Sometimes I find that freedom to be too much responsibility.

B: You think a little too highly of yourself. Nobody really cares that much. They just wanna know if you’re okay.

A: Well, are you okay?

B: Sure, yeah. I am. Thanks for asking.

A: How do you know that? How do you know that you’re okay?

B: Well, I could run down a checklist…

A: Please do.

B: Starts with the meatbag. Sleeping OK? Eating and drinking OK? Exercising OK? Yes. I’m OK. Then I move on to broader things. Money is OK? Relationships are OK? Work is OK? Am I doing things I like? Do I have things that I’m working towards, that I’m looking forward to? Am I making progress? These things don’t all have to be perfect, but as long as I’m not in catastrophic situations and as long as I’m making progress, I’m okay.

A: *snort* Okay.

B: What’s funny?

A: I was just thinking “and then you’re going to die and everyone and everything you love is going to decay into nothingness, but at least you’re okay” – but I realize that’s a very impolite and unhelpful thing to say, and it’s probably going to make you think that I have ‘issues’.

B: You’re not wrong, on either count.

A: Well, fuck me, yeah?

B: No. Don’t do that. That’s boring. I think you’ve had this conversation with yourself too many times in too many iterations to be satisfied with that sort of defeatist ending. It’s too easy. To which you might say “I like easy”, but you already know several times over that you don’t. You have the scars to show for it.

A: *sigh*

B: Hm?

A: Everything is hard and boring.

B: Yes, you’ve known that for some time now.

A: Knowing it still hasn’t taken the sting off. I write bitter, angry and depressing shit as a way of coping with the stinging fact that reality is hard and boring.

B: Does it help?

A: Seems a little early to tell, but my preliminary prognosis says “nope, not good”. I can’t linger in or revisit that state too much, or I’ll become an angry bitter old Kopitiam uncle, shaking his fist at the clouds and the Government and drinking himself silly.

B: I think you’re a little smarter than that.

A: Yeah.

B: So what’s the next step?

A: *in a rehearsed tone* Feel the sting and do it anyway. Sleep. Work out. Meditate. Focus. Stop reading stupid irrelevant shit. If there are problems, take steps to address them. There’ll be an ‘effort shock’ where you find that it requires much more of you than you anticipated. It’ll be tempting to groan and mope, because those things are easier to do than to address the issues.

B: *smiles* So you’re saying you have issues?

A: I have… challenges.

B: It’s nice that you talk like this when you’re with me. But I get the sense that you don’t talk like this when you’re alone with yourself.

A: I’m trying, man. I think I’ve gotten better at it over the years, with practice. It’s just not a pretty process, and it’s not a fast process. It’s not a native language for me.

B: Yeah, that’s probably true.

A: You don’t seem to be bitter or angry about anything, ever. How do you do it? Sometimes when I talk to other people, I get the sense that they maybe just have had better starting conditions or better circumstances or are wired better, or have a better propensity for change- you know, the typical list of excuses for why other people are better. But you’re inside my head. You’re me. How do you do it?

B: You want to know the secret ingredient? There is no secret ingredient.

A: I already watched Kung-fu Panda, thanks.

B: Both of us are just voices in the head of a guy typing on a screen while he’s in a train on the way to work. We’re obviously made up. But what’s not so obvious is that every other voice or thought is made up, too. Every interpretation is a sort of fiction. It might be more or less accurate, but it’s still fundamentally made up.

A: Uhuh.

B: You’re free to completely invent and alter your inner voice however you please. You can live your life as B rather than A. We literally come from the same mind.

A: I get the sense that it’s not so simple and that you’re just trying to lead this particular story towards some sort of profound or feel-good ending.

B: I get the sense that I’m just trying to help you out in whatever way I can. It’s probably a little more complicated than I’m making it out to be,  but I think it’s at least true that you have some mental patterns that you could bust yourself out of.

A: That’s part of why I want to write fiction. 500,000+ words in I’ve gotten tired of the sound of my own voice. I want to try on some different lenses. I’m too ingrained in my current configuration. And it’s like… all this childhood shit, right? Parents and school and whatnot. I’m tired of having that be my story, narrative, whatever.

B: Sounds good. But okay, after all of that, besides all of that, how are you doing really?

A: Aiyah. I’m fine lah. I went running. My calves got really sore. I had trouble sleeping. When I’m sleep deprived, I feel weak and powerless and get into a drama-mama state. Sometimes I write when I’m in that mood. Life is bleak but I’m one of the luckier ones, and there are still things to learn and laugh about. I’m good.

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