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,

这几天我正想我现在的世界比我原来想的很不一样。有时候我会想我大学时候的人,发现我变成了一个很不一样的人。很多东西我们干的是我们想干的。我们一干就不想不干了。大学专业就是一个这样的模式。我最后学了经济和英语文学,但是在一个别的世界我肯定我学计算机学或者哲学或者数学。最后我在金融公司开始工作,我开始大学的时候想学医。

我觉得很复杂。但是在大学时,我们以为个别的人是我们的朋友。但是存在来说,大学才是一根很小部分我们的生命。大部分我们在大学找的朋友不会是我们的朋友大学毕业的时候。要是你只能去大学一次,你只可以有一些人影响你在大学时。过了大学你就是一个大人了。人不一样的方式地影响你。影响够了就不影响了。

有时候我想曾经用努力干事。我干事是用我所有的力气。但是这是小时候的事。这几天我想努力学唱歌但是我发现我没有小时候可以努力。我小时候学小提琴的时候是真的努力。真的是肯苦的时候额。我现在不知道我干什么呢。学怎么努力的意思是法相你现在永远没你以前可以努力了吗?学怎么努力使努力最难的吗?意思是以后永远有更多工可用?

我想这,什么时候会找到慰藉?

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?

letters to lana del rey (44)

Dear Lana,

I was reading this old Atlantic article by Ezekiel Emanuel about being content to die after age 75. It’s not really a thought that occurs to me. For one, I am young. For another, I’ve been quite okay with the possibility of my imminent death for awhile. There’s something in Heidegger that defines death as a point of completion for Dasein, and I think control over your own death as well represent the final act of freedom in life.

Things that I find extremely alluring: string lights, polaroids and scented candles. Where is this teenage girl phase that teenage girls allegedly go through that completely missed the mark on me? Honestly, if I was able to live out my teenage girl phase when I was a teenager, I probably wouldn’t have all these repressed problems that I have now. Lame.

Being beautiful is a license to suffer beautifully. Since creating art controls our sense of aesthetics, what better way to suffer beautifully than control what is beautiful?

I wonder if Sylvia Plath would’ve liked EDM if she grew up in our generation. I wonder if she would’ve turned to poetry if music was more free. It reminds me of that scene in The Queen’s Gambit when Beth Harmon was drinking and dancing to some music on TV. Since everyone in the show, especially all of Beth’s friends, is at least two standard deviations hotter than the collective average in the world, we are supposed to treat her descent into alcoholism with sympathy and awe. Being beautiful means that you are able to do whatever you want, and people view your life in a positive light no matter how destructive it is.

I didn’t have a renewed desire to play chess again after finishing The Queen’s Gambit. I’ve been playing the London system transposed into the queen’s gambit declined for as long as I have been playing chess, but since finishing the show I started opening with e4 instead of d4. I watched the show because I play chess and it’s probably one of those anthropologically important shows in the chess community, but I actually consider it one of my least favorite shows I’ve ever watched. Even a couple weeks after finishing it, it still bothers me how much I dislike it.

I’m not really interesting in experiencing pain anymore. That’s so 2018. Honestly, hedonism is pretty close to the name of the game, except there’s nothing to spend money on right now. I spent $15 on a candle, and I consider that probably the most expensive personal item I’ve bought in the past couple of months. I would die for a shot right now. It feels like ages ago I had some crappy bottom-shelf vodka, but I honestly miss the taste so much.

More recently, I’ve come to realize that happiness is more within our grasp than I’ve previously thought. It is in the present. I realize recently that happiness occurs in absent of others but highly dependent on others. It closely resembles an act of absence rather than an act of selection. It comes and goes, and all we have to do is hold its hand.

letters to lana del rey (43)

Dear Lana,

I think there are two types of exes; you have your “thank u, next” exes and you have your “I Wish I Never Met You” exes (Ariana Grande and Oh Wonder, respectively). I think most of my exes are “thank u, next” exes. Not sure I could say the same for myself.

I was thinking back to what I did in the last presidential election. I spent it in a dorm of a friend I don’t talk to anymore. I think I was studying for a chemistry exam that was in a couple of days. It must’ve been November — that’s when the election is, right? At the time, it seemed like a lot of time passed between the end of high school and then. If I was being really honest, it seemed like that period in time never ended. From first semester of college to now, it doesn’t seem like much time has passed. If we can contextualize our lives in chapters, it seems like everything has been the same chapter since then.

I was scrolling through Instagram today, and I found myself bewildered by how little I cared about what I saw. Instagram’s algorithm allegedly sorts content you see based off of what some asshole data scientist thinks you want to see, but even within the first couple of posts, I found myself unattached to the content I was consuming. It struck me that I don’t really care what’s going on in the world outside of what I can see and feel and touch.

I was thinking back to my friend describing the action of “submarining” — where you interact with your friends when it is mutually convenient to do so but distance yourself at all other times. That’s a vibe. It’s a vibe I feel quite a it right now. I am a submarine, bloated metal whale, wandering in the sea, far away from others.

Siddhartha Gautama was onto something when he said that suffering is inevitable in life, but I wonder if he said anything about boredom. Life is so boring. Was it this boring in the past? Did people not experience boredom until the 20th century?