letters to lana del rey (53)

Dear Lana,

I think my cynicism is getting really unhealthy. My friend introduced this concept of irony poisoning to me the other day, which is Urban Dictionary defined as “when one’s worldview is so dominated by irony and detachment-based-comedy, that the joke becomes real and you start to do things that are immoral or wrong from a place of deep nihilistic cynicism.”

I feel this. I really do.

If I was up to it, I could write a couple novels about these feelings and attempt to usher in a new age of existential postmodernism in the internet age, but that seems like too much work. Also, right now, I’m feeling too cynical to do anything about it. I’m trying to, as Sartre would want me to, to separate my existence from the essential properties associated with my existence, which is why I said I’m feeling cynical as opposed to I am cynical. Cynicism is a personality trait that can be added or removed with some discretion, so it is important not to associate my identity with a personality trait that is lesser than my existence.

What is real?
What is real?
What is real?
What is real?
What is real?
What is real?

I feel like I’ve been asking that for awhile now. I’ve asked it since I started to do writing on the big sad, and I haven’t really reached a conclusion that is particularly elucidating. The thing about reality is that everything seems so distanced from other things. Things happen in one sphere in the world, and then we respond to it in another sphere. There is this distinct feeling of detachment to the rest of the world that arises through perceiving this imagined barrier between things that happen and things that we perceive happening. The question that arises is: is this distinction existent? Well, it is existent now that I have pointed it out, but does it exist in any merit beyond my perception of it?

In response to this perceived disconnect, or the unsure recognition of its existence, we compensate with the ironic disposition to reject our reality and acknowledge the disconnect. At least, that’s what I think I’m doing. I have a very hard time figuring out what I am doing because even my own self-evaluation is tainted with irony. Through irony, we reject the reality we have been given and call ourselves to what we think is a higher reality but in reality a lesser reality when we do not want to address actual reality. I find it to be quite challenging to navigate because of its ontological self-reinforcement. If only there existed a world where we acted in our best interest. Wouldn’t that be a utopia?

I was thinking of applying a modified Pascal’s wager in this situation. At this point, there are to option: to live life authentically, or to live life ironically. They are both their own philosophical doctrines in their own right. Both are incompatible with the other, just life Christianity and athiesm back in the day. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter which one is more “real” — authenticity or irony. At the end of the day, only one thing matters in life, and that is to live a good life. In this regard, living authentically probably secures a better life down the line, regardless of whether or not it is a more “real” way to live lie, whatever “real” means (I’m starting to accept that I will never know what is “real” — moreover, that it doesn’t really matter what is more “real” than another).

Out of all the Hellenistic schools of thought, I probably find myself falling most in line with Epicureanism. There’s something distinctly transhumanistic about, and I think it ages well into the 21st century, which I claim to represent. I’ve already noted the toxic effects of cynicism on my life — it doesn’t allow me to enjoy life as much, it drains my energy away from doing things that I liked, it’s boring — I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to live in the future with this growing force of cynicism. I’m determined to let my cynicism die sometime in the next couple of years. Of course, since it is a parasite attached to me right now, it’ll take some time to shed. I’m sure, before long, I’ll find myself another personality trait to replace it. All in the name of living a better life.

letters to lana del rey (52)

Dear Lana,

Sometimes, I feel ashamed for wanting things. When you want things, you are reminded by what you don’t have. Schopenhauer probably say that it’s bad to have these natural desires, and Nietzsche would probably say to embrace them. What is more human, wanting or not wanting? More accurately, not wanting is just want of not wanting. It seems impossible to escape the spectrum of wanting, so it might be better off to embrace it instead, even though that might lead to unhappiness. Human existence is pretty unhappy. Why bother with anything else?

Marx kept on going off on how horrible being alienated from your labor is. I disagree; I think it’s pretty great. Who actually wants ownership in what they create? It seems like so much… accountability. Who wants accountability? That’s so much… counting.

I realized that if you don’t particularly believe in anything, not nothing particularly matters. Believe is the power of creating attachment. If you do not believe in anything, then you do not get attached in anything. Long lost are ideas like love and duty or whatever. That’s so 18th century. If anything I consider myself pretty representative of the 21st century.

I remember Nate Silver was a transfer pricing consultant at KPMG before he started FiveThirtyEight. After I read his book The Signal and the Noise, I also wanted to be a transfer pricing consultant because that seems like what all the cool kids did these days. He was just vibin’ and creating models in Excel. It seemed like the life I wanted. I would like to vibe.

letters to lana del rey (51)

Dear Lana,

I had a dream yesterday. Two of my friends and I were back at my high school graduation, but for some reason we were back in the first floor of my middle school talking in front of my 7th grade locker. I was trying to open the lock with my combination all those years ago — 35-28-9 — but then I realized they changed up the combination. One of my friends asked me what I wished for. I told her I wished things could’ve turned out the way I wanted them to. She asked to be real since that didn’t work out, so I told her that I wanted to better understand what I wanted.

It had one of those ephemeral qualities to it, as if it was a flashback in a movie to show a formative moment of a character. I could totally believe if that had actually happened in my life. It reminds of that entire sequence where Shirley was asking Kiritsugu what he wanted to be in the future in Fate Zero, which in turn served as a catalyst for the rest of Kiritsugu’s personality following her death. There are so little difference between dreams and memories.

In the next part of my dream, I found myself at the Gherkin in London. It was uncharacteristically cloudy, and the hallways were so barren from any people or things. I was just drifting in this hallway near the blueish gray elevator corridor, not sure what I was looking for. I’ve never been to the Gherkin before, so the interior looked close to the brutalist building I lived in Beijing during my freshman summer. I opened a door and found myself at the same office in my freshman internship. Someone asked me why I was there, and I told them I just wanted to look at the view.

Awhile back, one of my friends once brought up how the study of economics isn’t really about understanding the economics of our current world. It is closer to creating realities with certain sets of assumptions and studying how different the world is. I ended up studying English and economics in college. If you asked me why I studied what I did, I could talk about the parallels between the creation aspect between normative economics and literature. In both of these studies, the goal isn’t to describe the world in its reality but to highlight something about this world by creating another world altogether.

Immediately, after waking up, I searched up who were the tenants of the Gherkin, as if I had some divine calling to work in there. I’ve heard the Gherkin had power to melt cars by redirecting rays from the sun in a specific manner. If that is not divine, then what is?

letters to lana del rey (50)

Dear Lana,

I was thinking about life as trajectory. You set out, you are influenced, and you become.

I think there’s a lot about human nature that wants to make sense of things. When things happen to us, we try our best to make sense of what happened to us. This type of thinking also affects our future; we tend to seek a future that makes sense of our past.

There’s nothing more universal than having things happen to us. Although it seems quite contradictory, becoming requires occurrence. You cannot become anything if nothing happens to you. This, I’ve come to realize, is especially true during COVID. Nothing happens, and therefore I am not becoming anything. I am sufficiently isolated from the world around me. Everyone I interact with is sufficiently isolated from the world around them. Nothing happens to us. We do not become anything. Nothing happens. Nothing becomes.

I find myself asking myself, what constitutes resilience? It is supposedly a source of internal steadiness that grounds us in a turbulent external world, but what is it? How much of our lives is supposedly shaped around how resilient we are? Is resilience an image of an uncompromising internal world in the face of external forces? I wonder if there’s such thing as mental fortitude — not necessarily about enduring pain, but more about not letting the pain we experience lead to a need to make sense of that pain in our life.

If you ask someone how they became the way they are, they’re probably able to point to a couple experiences that pushed them one direction over another. They would say, “Oh yeah, XYZ affected me a lot” or “I wasn’t the same after XYZ.”

We construct meaning in our lives through the things that happen to us. Our identity is product, and personal history is cause. Do you ever feel that way, Lana? Did the things that happened to you lead to believe certain things about yourself, defining what you wanted for yourself for the rest of your life?

letters to lana del rey (49)

Dear Lana,





letters to lana del rey (48)

Dear Lana,

I was thinking about the fine line between inspiration and insecurity. If the self is derived through understanding others, then it certainly makes a lot of sense that we understand what we lack through observing what we are envious of in others.

I wonder when I felt like I truly gained control over my own life. It feels recent. A sense of incongruence defined other parts of my life, but now that incongruence has aligned itself. I wonder how my own willpower fits into that. Do we have control over our own willpower, or is that something determined at birth? What constitutes greatness? People who were great in history — did they know they destined to be great, or is it something they picked up on the way? Similarly, were we meant to be something, or is that something we pick up along the way?

Power defined by Locke is the ability to influence your external reality. That is something I feel I have lacked a lot of my life — the power to influence. Does power separate between internal and external power? Is control over your internal world considered to be power? Either way, I think I am reminded a lot of how little I feel like I have the ability to influence things around me. There’s definitely some unfounded concepts of masculinity that are working in the background as well. What does it mean to influence my external reality? My internal reality is already a mess, and external reality seems more foreign than commonplace for me. Why should I bother to touch it?

Something I realize is that I generally am not as bold as I want to be in life. As much as I want to give off the aesthetic that I am beyond a state of craving validation, I realize that I still want to shape the world around me. Doing so, however, requires power, which is something that is amassed and cultivated. The opposite of power is weakness. When you are weak, you are unable to shape the world around you, unable to control your life. When you are weak, life happens around you, and your choices dwindle slowly in determining how you can shape your life.

When I think of my past, I generally characterize it by a feeling of powerlessness. The world happens around me, and I follow suit. There isn’t some radical claim to freedom to live the life I want; it’s happenstance, living the easy life, unquestioning. I did not have the power to influence my external reality in the way that I wanted it to, and my inability to do so shaped a desire to be better able to control my external reality.

I wonder when in your life you become content with how little power you have. By the time I reach middle age, I hope I’m not lamenting over my inability to have shaped my life perfectly to how I imagined it to be. I was thinking back to Nietzsche’s three metamorphoses in Thus Spoke Zarathustra. I thought I had moved on from the camel stage to the lion stage when I graduated high school, but there were a couple more years of camel-ness yet to come. I wonder if I have finally reached the lion stage now and if I’ll ever reach the child stage.

Nietzsche has quite a weird way of thinking about power — one of which separate from external reality but as internal fortitude. I’m not sure I would agree with his assessment because I think internal reality is inseparable from external reality. No matter how much we try to live separate from the world around us, it is still inevitable we our inner world exists as result of our participation our outer world.

letters to lana del rey (47)

Dear Lana,

I’m sitting crisscrossed in my bed again, two empty bottles of sparkling water on the wooden table besides my bed, frantically grasping onto the last remnants of sanity I have before before I drift into radical indifference in sleep again.

I’m listening to melancholic piano music again from a random Spotify playlist I found on my way downstairs today. Is it that time of the year? With brisk candle wisps dissipating after extinguishment, nostrils flaring from the lingering pine nut smell, my bed feels so hard against my injured back, and I can’t find a comfortable position to lay down except possibly on my side with my legs tucked against my pillow.

I was thinking how there are people you wished that were in your life. Since we are largely shaped by the people we interact with, I was wondering how differently life would be if I interacted with some people more during certain points in my life. What goes into the process of selecting who you interact with anyways? It seems so arbitrary, yet so profound. It could be motivated by a mutual sense of loneliness. Those friendships are important, but they don’t seem to last too long. I don’t think they have shaped me too much. I wonder if I would consider them formative at the end of my life.

I encountered a writer the other day that wrote about how they felt friendships were a substitute to the feelings gained in romantic relationships without the volatility and high probability of fallout. A lot of my friends seem to have that sentiment these days. It’s so contemporary — a challenge to Victorian sexuality — stepping foot into the frontier of a new conception to understand our relationships in our lives. It’s one of those things that makes me consider myself old-fashioned. Believing friendships operate as a substitute to romantic relationships requires faith that friendships outlast relationships. I suppose that is true in some cases. Do people approach friendships as if they are going last forever?

I was thinking about how some people still interact with you in your psyche long after they have left your life. You can control your own internal world, including where you source your personality. The aesthetic of others in your life still remains when everything else has left.

Resting my feet against my folded up comforter, I act in defiance against rigid passages of life, lamenting about the forward march of time. Why must life continue to press forwards as I’m trying to maintain whatever little foothold I have over my surroundings? It is a bit eerie, understanding how powerful change can be but also how insignificant it may seem. I was thinking back to our concept of identity through time. Do I feel my current self as being more authentic to the person I want to be compared to my past self? Do I feel like I still have control over my life, or am I diverging further and further from the life that I wanted? A couple months back, I think I really wanted to apply to the Fulbright scholarship. I’m not even considering that anymore. Is this being authentic to myself? My values have changed, or maybe, my values have adapted to the world I have been presented. Knowing the world is more dreary that I originally hoped, my internal world cannot help but be affected by my external world.

I haven’t been reading much lately. Mostly, I don’t really enjoy reading anymore. Besides, I forget what I read anyways, retaining only emotional fragments in my mind, soon to be swept away by the same passage of time that claimed my knowledge of its contents. Forgetfulness is an inevitability. What is the future without the past? I keep on going back to to the Augustinian idea that we only have the present. The past and future are only constructs for us to make sense of the passage of time, so why is so much of my attention devoted to abstracts ideas of past and future when there is so much in the present to be experienced?

I wonder if authenticity and control are on the same spectrum? When you are being authentic with yourself, does that give you more control over your own life? Or is it just the illusion of control, convincing yourself in bad faith that you have more control over your life than you actually do by drawing a false equivalency between will and honesty?

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?