(Started last week, finishing this now.)
The title is a title of a book by Marcel Proust. I believe I first heard of it while reading something by Nassim Taleb – probably The Black Swan. Apparently it was a very influential novel, published in France in the 1910s and 1920s. I haven’t read the book, but I have read what others have written about it. It seems to be a book about a narrator reflecting on the passage of time, on the nature of memory. Virginia Woolf was a fan. I find myself thinking of Christopher Nolan, who I think is a modern-day version of someone who contemplates such issues and perspectives.
I’m talking about this I think because I feel like I’m getting older and like I don’t have a lot to show for it. Isn’t this the age where you’re supposed to be partying, supposed to be adventuring and so on? I experience a sort of wistful longing for the life that I’ve not led. I try to talk to other people who’ve led alternate lives, and I do find that basically everybody feels the same way. Everybody wonders if they’re on the right path. Everybody worries about the mistakes they might be making. Well not everybody, but everybody that I care about and relate to, for sure.
A colleague has mentioned to me a couple of times over the years that 27 tends to be the year that you really wisen up and go “oh shit, I’m a full adult, I’m responsible for myself and my life, I can’t be a drifter any more”. I’m 3 months away from being 27. I recall writing similar-ish blogposts about myself at ages 16, 18, 20, 21, 25 – every year is a year where you’re supposed to grow up a little, be more mature, be kinder, more gracious, more responsible, more competent, more of a genuine gift to the world. I refuse to be a person who turns 30 and is still listless, lost and confused about life. Of course, you don’t want to have a fake sort of confidence – that’s exactly what leads to a terrible midlife crisis. If I contemplate my life strategy so far, it might be fair to say that I’ve basically been elaborately trying to avoid running into a mid-life crisis. Which I think happens when you’ve been buying into a certain narrative that you’re sold – you assume certain things about how life is going to be, what is going to make you happy or fulfilled – and then after 20 years or so of that, you’ve been so invested in something, and you start to worry that it wasn’t quite right for you… and so you start to freak out and try to make some sort of drastic change at that point. Get divorced, quit your job, buy a sports car…
Yeah. So I’ve always been very skeptical of the straight path that most people seem to accept quite naturally. I don’t know if it’s because I’m some sort of ‘natural misfit’ that could just never do it, or if it was the way I was raised, or if it was the books that I read… probably some weird loop of all of the above, feeding on itself. I still remember being incredibly uncomfortable in Junior College. I’m probably misremembering it somehow that I’m older, but it seems to me now that it seemed to me then to be quite the farce. I think I had a snowball’s hope of getting into law (3-5%), and hoped to get into media (mass comm) or political science (NUS or SMU). It didn’t really occur to me that you could do really well, get a scholarship and study abroad. On retrospect, if I could live my life over, maybe that’s something I’d have aspired towards. I didn’t personally have any close family or friends who advocated for that, most seem to set their sights on local Uni. But again I might be misremembering all of this.
Where was I going with this?
At the highest level I just wanted to reflect on the passage of time, and how things change, and how things are so fragmented and multi-layered and multi-faceted, and how we remember remembering things, and we misremember things as we go. Sometimes I get the thought that I’m not going to live very long; like I’m going to get cancer or some other weird disease and die at 40 or something. I’d like to make it to at least 110 so I can live to see the year 110. But every day is a privilege, every moment is a miracle and I don’t want to take any of it for granted.
I find myself reflecting on my youth more and more these days. What was I trying to do as a kid, as a pre-teen, as a teenager, as a young adult? Where am I going with everything? What is my mind trying to wrap around, if it is at all? How are things going to change, how am I going to see things differently? What is going to surprise me? I think the big looming spectre is “parenthood” – do I want to be a dad? I actually feel like I’d be quite okay with it either way. If I don’t end up spawning my own little humans, I think I’d still find ways to get involved and help out with younger people’s lives – maybe foster kids at some point. At the same time, I have been feeling antsy about the fact that I haven’t done much travelling in my life. I’ve been mostly busy trying to stay employed. I don’t think I regret that. But I think I want more out of my life moving forward, and so I have to be a lot more deliberate about how I do whatever I do.
I wonder how I’ll feel reading this stuff a decade or two from now. I wonder if this project will be something I just lock away in the digital attic, or if it’s something I’ll revisit. I think I’ll enjoy hitting ‘random post’ from time to time.