0590 – continuing to grapple with adulthood

Commute starts. I ran after the bus and caught it, am so thankful for thoughtful, observant drivers. And sometimes passengers will stall drivers at the door so that a trailing person can make it. I’ve always enjoyed doing this for other people- it’s such a small gesture that costs nothing, yet gives another the gift of a few minutes.
I’ve been feeling something for years now and I still don’t feel like I’ve ever properly articulated it. I’m 26 years old now. My early twenties are over. What was that about? That went by in an awful hurry. What were the milestones? What was significant? I don’t know if I just have a really bad memory, but sometimes it feels like I took a nap and woke up 4 years later. It sometimes feels like a year or two ago that Obama became the first black President, like Lee Kuan Yew passed away a few months ago. It’s September 2016? What?
Time is really a strange bloody thing. I read a quote somewhere that said it takes 10 years to get used to being a certain age. And yeah I think I’m finally okay and done with being 16, 18, 20, 22. But what’s the difference between me and my 24 year old self? I have more responsibilities, I’m heavier, I’ve stopped smoking (again)… but my life is still this constant, repetitive pattern. I’m still doing this commute, over and over. And I guess I’m just worried that I’ll go to bed tonight and tomorrow I’ll be 30, next week I’ll be 45, and by the end of the year I’ll be dead.
What is this feeling?
When I was a teenager, I was always looking forward to being an adult. And in many ways it’s been great. Having your own place is incredible for your psychological well-being, and I think it’s rather tragic that so many Singaporeans are stuck living with their parents for so long. It’s also great to earn your own money and to spend it as you like. I live with less internal anxiety than I did then, I think. I was a sloppy mess trying to pretend everything was cool. I’m a lot less of a sloppy mess now, but I have many more responsibilities, and I’m no longer trying to pretend everything is cool.
I guess what I’m trying to say without saying outright is… this stuff is hard. Adulting. Growing up. Making progress means being kind to yourself without enabling the shitty sides of you. It means challenging yourself without being hurtful or self-destructive. That’s a tough balancing act, and I don’t think it’s possible for anybody to get it perfect. We inch towards something more equitable through trial and error, by getting burnt, making mistakes. I imagine some people tend to be chronically in one side or the other- kind but also too forgiving, or firm but also too harsh. And some of us have the delightful worst of both worlds- too tolerant of things we shouldn’t tolerate, and too harsh on ourselves for almost no reason. (I think there’s a theory somewhere that sometimes we just internalize the anger and frustration of our elders- we learn everything first by imitation, so their annoyed voiced become our internal self-taught. )
And I find it so weird that people don’t talk about it more. Do people only talk about it in private conversations behind closed doors? Is there some taboo against speaking about it out in the open? I suppose it comes across as attention-seeking, or needy.
It’s funny- to get the best possible help that you might really need, you might have to ask for it in a classy, non-needy, enlightened way. But if you were so enlightened and non-needy in the first place, did you even have a problem? It’s like an emotional version of the rich-get-richer problem. It must really suck to be hurting and not even be able to convey that you’re hurting in a way that people sympathize with you. I suppose that’s at the heart of a lot of ugliness in the world.
One of my favorite books was Lost Illusions by Balzac. I read it while I was in NS. It’s about this small town poet who’s pretty good. He falls in love with the most attractive lady in town,  who I think is married. They elope together to Paris, where he hoped to pursue his craft. There he discovers that she’s just average for a Parisian  (just like the NUSwhispers girl supposedly did). He discovers that there are many different groups of people who sell out in different ways. He encounters the allure of prestige and status, gets swept up in it, turns his back on his idealistic friends, gets burnt for it… and yet you root for him most of the time, because you see he’s just this naive kid who’s trying to pursue his dreams, sorta.
Isn’t that how it is? We have these naive expectations, sometimes fed to us by people who should’ve known better (but they were in turn…), and then we get just hammered by reality. And I’m not saying this as a vaguepost about some specific trouble I have – I mean it in the way Louis Ck does when he said that life is incredibly sad, just by us being in it. Life is a joke: our expectations are the setup, and reality is the punchline.
Everybody we see is taking a (usually) long and winding walk to their grave. The most we can do is to try enjoy the view, and the company. Right?

I posted this on Facebook, as a part of series that I’m doing, and I got a thoughtful response from an older friend who said that the way he measured his years is by the contributions he’s made beyond himself, and the projects he’s worked on. I think that makes a lot of sense. I think I need to clarify what my projects are, throw out whatever isn’t working, and revisit whatever is legit. Adding that to my todo list now.

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