letters to lana del rey (42)

Dear Lana,

In many ways, wish-fulfillment is a zero-sum game. The fulfillment of one person’s wish is the antihalation of another’s. Even all those years ago, I distinctly understood that getting into Penn meant that someone else did not get into Penn. Getting an offer after your superday means someone didn’t get their’s. Accomplishment for one necessitates failure for another. Lame.

Last weekend, I was helping my parents build a deck in the backyard. Then, I #rekt my back and haven’t been able to get out of my bed for a week. I was pretty proud of myself when I didn’t have to pee in a takeout container anymore. For most of the week I was thinking how if I lost function in the lower half of my body that would suck. Everyone likes talking about freedom, but the freedom to move is one of those things that everyone takes for granted. You can only exert control over your external reality through movement. Lame.

Neon Genesis Evangelion honestly would have been such a life-changing anime if I watched it in middle school, you know, when it was relevant. Alas, I just went through middle school without some angsty TV show to channel my personality. Probably for the best. Probably would’ve kickstarted my psychedelic art career or plummeted my personality into some misinterpretation of Schopenhauer’s idea of representation. Now, I’m just a post-angst college graduate living in my parent’s house giving off sadboi vibes for the irony of it all. Lame.

Ugh, I just want to eat Mexican food again. Lame.

letters to lana del rey (41)

Dear Lana,

What happens when we get older? At the end of our life, which gives out first — or body or or soul?

I remember when in my positive psychology class, I learned that people’s life satisfaction generally improves as they age. I certainly hope that’s true, although I can’t really imagine why that would be the case. As a young professional straight out of undergrad, a lot of my energy is developed into furthering my career. The return on investment in education is greatest when you have the most amount of time to gain from it, and this is particularly true when access to learning is almost unlimited given the internet.

In Chinese culture, children usually take their parents in when they get older. I have no idea what non-Chinese-Americans do, but I find it quite tragic that there could be a world where parents and children don’t enter a permanent arrangement for life.

Is fulfilment attained in retrospect? How could we possibly know how fulfilled we will be in the long run? We can only access the past through our memories. Yet, this past is subject to our selective perception. I was thinking how St. Augustine characterized time as being only present, how the past and future are just our minds making sense of our memories and expectations. I also recall from the time I used to go to church, a pastor once said that regret is sin because it detracts our attention from worshipping the Lord. I don’t think I ever found that justification compelling. I’m still not sure how to evaluate the ethics of reminiscing. My therapist said that regret-orientation was a symptom of depression, but I’m not sure that it’s the same thing as feeling nostalgia.

You truly are young only once. I used to think I wasted my youth, but I realize now that I was just being too hard on myself. I consider my life before college characterized by a lack of free will, and my time during college to cultivate a desire for free will. In the true Sartrean sense, I convinced myself I did not have free will to subdue responsibility from my life that does have free will. I am still convinced to a certain extent that all life is necessitarianly deterministic, but it’s a thought that I have shelved for now until I find an argument for free will that I am truly convinced of. In the meantime, I can accept that I do have control over my life.

When I think of my life in these buckets, that’s what I imagine “coming to age” feels like. There were a lot of realizations I had in the past couple of years. I no longer idealize the image of sadness, I no longer shy away from having responsibility. I no longer feel the need to be social beyond beyond what I want at the moment. Through these realizations, I see the past couple years of my life as formative. I’m not sure what my life would be like if those years didn’t happen, but I don’t see the need either. The present is now, and there is only the present. The future does not exist. The past does not exist. Except in the mind.

letters to lana del rey (40)

Dear Lana,

Call me edgy or alt, but I think monogamous sexual relationships are the key to fulfillment in adult life.

There are two ways of getting people to listen to you: have something to say, or be famous. Since I don’t have anything to say, it’s probably the move to be famous. It has been a childhood dream of mine to become a c-list k-pop star.

I just finished Queen’s Gambit on Netflix. I suppose the series was an examination into the solitude and burden of achievement amplified by unaddressed past trauma. I didn’t find that part too interesting. The part I found interesting was the assumed understanding of what constitutes deserved success. I didn’t find (spoiler) her win at the end of the series to be particularly cathartic. She was the protagonist, and protagonists get what they want. The scene that was most powerful to me was when she revisited her deceased school custodian’s office back in her orphanage. On the wall was a collection of newspaper clippings of her wins throughout the series. Her orphanage’s custodian taught her how to play chess, and he sent her the $5 she needed to enter her first chess tournament. He died wanting her to be successful, with a part of his attention devoted to her every day.

I have met plenty of people in my life. Most likely, some of them will achieve great things. It’s not that this thought bothers me — I never considered myself a footnote to someone else’s life — but I’ve always thought about how seemingly random it is for success to originate.

Beth in Queen’s Gambit met plenty of chess players in her life. Yet, not one of them rose to her level of success. All of her friends were people she beat or eventually beat. All of them wanted to be successful, but they were not destined to be so. Beth was. She was able to accomplish what she set out to accomplish even with substance abuse issues. I found that part to be uncompelling. Of course, this is a TV series, but it seemed almost that from the beginning the Netflix gods outlined would be successful and who wouldn’t. Real life doesn’t have these structures set in place, and things only make sense in retrospect. Specifically, when we are dead.

The more I grow up, the more I am convinced that hard work doesn’t matter in life. A couple weeks ago, I watched an interview of Jamie Diamond talking about how every successful person in life worked hard to get where they are. It is phrased as a motivational quote to encourage people to work harder, and I’m not sure I am convinced that working harder would make life better. I don’t believe I work particularly hard. I don’t believe that I don’t work hard either. I fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, working hard when I need to and letting other moments pass by undisrupted. I believe that successful people work hard. I also believe that plenty of people who are not successful work hard too. To me, I don’t see a particularly strong correlation between people who work hard and people who are successful. Naturally, my response is to not believe in the merit of working hard.

I keep on going back to this idea of meritocracy. More specifically, a meritocracy of hard work. I don’t think it exists, but not because the world is unequal from a socioeconomic or identity point of view. It is, but that’s not not why I believe meritocracy doesn’t exist. It seems to random how individuals are sorted out in this world. There are people who are successful who have worked hard, but then behind those people are countless people who have not been able to achieve the same level of success, who have worked hard if not harder to achieve less.

In the face of this, I find it hard to devote my energy into working as hard as I could when I have this ingrained notion that the world is not designed to be meritocratic. I find my ideology aligned more with Epicureanism than any Aristotelian sense of duty or virtue. The world is the way it is. It is one that does not measure hard work accurately and does not value hard work accordingly. Why must I fight a world designed as such?

letters to lana del rey (39)

Dear Lana,

I consider myself a fairly career-driven person. When I am working, I am fairly content with my life. When I am not working, my life seems a bit strange.

I started playing Among Us the other day. I say it’s for anthropological reasons, but realistically I just needed a new game to play when I am taking a shit. Chess has become so boring nowadays. It seems a bit dystopian — entertainment, or more sinisterly, the world at large where entertainment is a necessity to escape the world in which we live. It takes up time, allowing us to forget how bored we are on a regular basis. When we are entertained by media or music or whatever, it puts something into the otherwise empty container of our lives. For a time, we become more filled with substance, but that doesn’t strike down the fact that we were empty to begin with.

I’ve been pretty tired lately. I used to think that there was such thing called artistic value, that there was something in the world beyond the monotony of every day living. I’m not convinced of anything anymore — convincing myself allows me to justify whatever I want to myself, which is dangerous — and I am especially not convinced there is value to art outside of its entertainment value.

Do artists believe they are doing something meaningful? Well, everyone believes they are doing something meaningful; that’s how people get through the day. Everyone from every aspect of life has to be convinced they are doing something meaningful, or else the boredom of everyday living will come out from behind and pull you into your shadow.

Most people are against Noziak’s experience machine, but isn’t that the world in which we occupy already? We consume literature and movies and whatnot because we want to escape from the reality in which we occupy. Our current reality is dull, so we seek a better reality. But there isn’t a better reality. There are less real realities we can create in our own reality marbles, and then there is the world at large that is supreme.

letters to lana del rey (38)

Dear Lana,

I was thinking today about how capitalism was built around this idea of progress — more specifically, the dissatisfaction that breeds progress. I think a lot of utopic communitarianism, in turn, was built around the idea that what we have is enough.

Today, I learned that Blackpink’s Jisoo’s favorite English phrase is, “That’s a pity.” I find that to be hilarious.

Things that are rare in life: accurate portrayals of behavioral interviews in fiction. Looking at you Free Food for Millionaires. Who the fuck tells their interviewer that they are interested in a job because it would be “good experience for b-school?” Disgusting. Yeah, we get it, Casey Han — the only success in recruiting you had was because you had an internal referral from a family member; I wonder why. Good experience for b-school my ass.

I’ve been getting more and more into celebrity culture lately. Growing up, there was always this separation between actors and characters in shows. In a way, I perceived it as one does characters in a novel. They exist within the story and no where else. Now, of course, I am able to recognize that actors are frequently celebrities outside of their existence within a story. There are names to characters, but then there are also the names of the actors who play them. It’s weird that I’ve only recently realized that.

I rewatched some scenes from Scrubs today, and I realized I definitely had a crush on Christa Miller when I was watching the show. She’s the actress that plays the character Jordan; didn’t even know her name until today. She was funny and sarcastic, and I was not. It’s still an personality trait that I very much value, It’s funny how we are initially drawn to things we do not have. But we are also drawn to things we believe we do have.

Today, I tried to change font color in Excel with alt + h + f + c but accidentally moved my fingers too quickly so you type alt + f + c, which force quits Excel. Well, that’s life innit.

letters to lana del rey (37)

Dear Lana,

It’s funny how you can perceive something so different from the way it actually unfolds.

The funny thing about photos is that they carry a timestamp. It was taken in a specific moment in time, and just as important as the contents of the photo itself is the digital imprint of the context of the photo. Recording the past in this way is an easy to way to tap into memories that you have otherwise forgotten. You can access your own memories through a different lens, as if you are Dumbledore taking the plunge in his own Pensieve.

I’ve come to realize that a lot of my memories are a function of selective perception. Once we creative a narrative of how we believed our lives were in the past, we continue to keep memories that reinforce this narrative while discarding the ones that do not. Now that I have achieved some semblance of peace in my life, my life is not nearly as hectic as I remembered it to be. Was this what Romantic subjectivism meant?

There was a time when I viewed Romantic art as my favorite artistic movement. The emphasis on nature through a vivid palette captured the turbulence in which I saw the world unfolding in my adolescent eyes. I wrote a lot during this period — at least, by my standards then — and a lot of it was about the toxicity in which I saw the world.

Now that I reflect back on this period, it doesn’t seem as hectic. Aristotle may have said we are what we repeatedly do, but I think more accurately we are we we repeatedly notice. There is the world around us, but it is not the world we claim it to be. In this regard, I think it’s appropriate to acknowledge in the artist in us that constructs our own world. It is not the world of others because we do not notice what others observe. It is our world because we created it with our minds and our own perceptions. With that comes great power.

letters to lana del rey (36)

Dear Lana,

I remember when I was reading Free Food for Millionaires by Min Jin Lee earlier this summer, I thought to myself: I hate this protagonist. I hate this protagonist. I hate this protagonist.

I thought it would be like The Catcher in the Rye, where I hated the protagonist on my first read only to realize a couple years later that Holden Caufield was really espousing some universal themes I found profoundly relatable later on in life. With Casey Han in Free Food for Millionaires, she was supposed to be relatable since we are both young Asian Americans working in finance, but I found everything about her existence just profoundly annoying. I’m still waiting for the day when I realize that she had a point to her life after all. At the moment, I don’t sympathize with her at all — for her infidelity, for her inability to ask for her help, at her complete lack of will to take responsibility in her own life.

Somewhere along the line, I thought to myself: Maybe I should write some autofiction with a profoundly unrelatable protagonist. I’m sure most people wouldn’t give a shit about my life.

I was thinking how we truly are the narrators of our own story. We tell stories in our point of view, and it is supposedly justified because we tell it so. There isn’t such thing as perspective when engaging with our life life because we can only have access to one narrative. Even our attempt in viewing ourselves through another set of eyes is merely a perception based on our own life. We go into other people’s lives, but we continue to act as we have in our own life. Our actions in this regard are still constricted to our own experiences.

I started reading In the Existentialist Cafe today, and I got to say I found Sarah Bakewell as a narrator to be quite humorous. Her quips are quite on point. I personally appreciate her writing style. It digests a the most pretentious set of topics in the world — philosophy — and makes it digestible to people who don’t want to pour 8 years of their lives reconciling all of Heidegger’s contradictions later on in his life with his early works. God, Heidegger really needs to figure his shit out. It has the tone of Melissa Broder’s So Sad Today, which honestly is probably one of the most descriptive books about living when at the time I read it. Where are the Melissa Broder’s of the world to narrate life? Instead I’m stuck with Casey fucking Han for however long it took me to finish Free Food for Millionaires.

Personally, I’ve been shitposting for so long in my life, I don’t even think I could act genuinely anymore. Don’t blame me; blame the internet. Etched in every sentence is a tinge of sarcasm, and I don’t think I am capable of writing without some hint of irony or cynicism. On that note, now that I have finished my English major, I don’t even think I am capable of reading literature that is not oozing with sarcasm. It amazes me how rare sarcasm is in some older writing. I remember throughout the entirety of reading Jane Eyre, I kept on thinking: Wow, I can’t believe this girl takes herself seriously. It’s hard nowadays to take your emotions seriously because there are so many levels of irony and references laced with any experience. There is so much meme value in our own experiences that all of my experiences correspond to a specific meme and can be categorized as such. Jane Eyre is just so… extra. Of course, Jane Eyre seeps into the Anglican cultural consciousness, but that didn’t stop the drama to be any less over-the-top. Maybe that’s why I liked Becky so much from Vanity Fair. She was just so… cynical. She was a 21st century figure crashing into a 18th century story. She had a good grasp over her own emotions, and she played with the other characters like dolls. She was an evil puppet master pulling strings in a world that had not yet discovered cynicism. Poor Amelia, who had the misfortune of befriending Becky. Amelia was as baby who had not discovered how the world works. She had not discovered irony yet. The world is pre-ironic. What a world that would be.

letters to lana del rey (35)

Dear Lana,

I was thinking back to this time around 5 years ago, when I was writing my Common App essays for the first time. I borrowed some misinterpreted Nietzschean ideas to describe my desire for freedom from my Asian American identity, at least from the gaze under which I perceived my Asian American identity. Although I now see how cringey my Common App essay had been in retrospect, I do think I was onto something back then. It was a desire to shape the life that I wanted. Coming from a upbringing that was largely defined by a desire to win affection from my parents, it was initially challenging to pinpoint this desire for freedom. It was a counterintuitive principle, and it wasn’t until college, when I had significant time by myself to mull over how my past shaped me, that I was able to realize the contradictory desire to have freedom but also to not have freedom.

I wouldn’t characterize it like trauma, as Freud would, but there is a certain element of permanence that childhood experiences have on adulthood. Navigating these challenges, I have come to realize, amounts to a call for freedom. We want to escape our past because we want to be the force that shapes our future.

If the goal all along was for freedom, what constitutes achieving that freedom? There is an industry out there to making us feel like we have more freedom than we actually do. From mindfulness practitioners, self-help authors, and motivational speakers, there is so much in society created from this desire to feel like we have this freedom we don’t actually have, although I would question how little freedom we claim we have or don’t have.

So what constitutes achieving that freedom we claim to want but do not have? What is the actual will to live a free life? Is it “being water” like Laozi would want us to do, or is it some other Aristotelian virtues that are able to guide us to a good life?

I think there are two consistencies in my life that act as opposing forces: my interest in finance and my interest in writing. In Chinese dualism, these forces would be be diametrically opposite. Unlike Laozi, however, I don’t considered these forces within individuals to be necessary opposite and causing of each other. They are caused by external events that propel me in one direction or the other. I used to believe that I would have to choose one or the other eventually in my life; I could stay in finance all my life and try to become a portfolio manager, or I could risk it for the biscuit and shoot my shot as a writer. I think I now realize that there really isn’t a necessary conclusion to this dilemma. They can exist in harmony. Even more, it is probably necessary to have these forces acting in opposition to each other my life. First there was one, and then there was two.

letters to lana del rey (34)

Dear Lana,

I checked my insurance plan today. I have $3000 left in deductibles before my insurance carrier starts covering any services. I miss college when cognitive behavioral therapy used to be free. I could use some free ass therapy right now.

The Socratic method reminds me a bit of particle physics. You are repeatedly smashing two forces against each other until you find something useful in the wreckage. It works in particle physics, and it seems to also work in philosophy. So, it would seem that the answers to all questions in the universe can be obtained by smashing things together.

I was thinking about what Aristotle considered to be a good life today, and I was thinking where our comparisons of ourselves with others comes into play. I wonder if a live well-lived is a life far away from others — somewhere secluded, where the only human interaction you could ever want is from the checkout line in the grocery store… but even that’s fading out of fashion nowadays. It is true that we go into solitary confinement for long periods of time, we would go insane, but I question how much suffering human interaction creates at all.

I think social media in many ways resembles Plato’s conception of beauty. Rather than create connection, which is virtuous, social media creates the image of connection, which is not necessarily virtuous. At the end of the day, it boils down to how you want to be presented to others as opposed to how you actually are. There is an element of selection, and the individual choice supposedly brings us closer towards individuality, but it is also homogenous. It appears as we want to appear, which is individual, but it is also inauthentic because it preys on images of things we supposedly want to resemble as opposed to things we actually are.

I don’t know, Lana. I’m not sure if there’s a point to thinking about these things anymore.

I was thinking today about the function of being likeable — whether that satisfies Aristotle’s definition of a life well-lived. Does being likeable mean a happier life on aggregate. I used to angst over not being likeable in interviews a lot, but then somewhere down the life I got over myself and somehow became more likeable in interviews. It certainly has made my life easier. I would like an easy life. Is that something worth pursuing?

Something I found comforting about Aristotle was that he recognized that life can only be defined through the aggregate. The strength of virtue depends on its repeated manifestation throughout time. It’s unfortunate in human existence we can only perceive ourselves up to a certain point. Sometimes, it is very difficult to understand why we are acting in certain ways, whether there is a purpose behind the ways we are acting, whether it would make sense when we look back at our lives in retrospect.

Lana, I listened to your new song that dropped today, “Let Me Love You Like a Woman”. I liked the production and the lyrics, but I probably won’t listen to it on repeat. I was thinking why I decided to address this entire letter collection to you since I don’t particularly listen to your music that much anymore. In truth, it’s because you hold a lot of sentimental value to me. I listened to you in high school and my first couple years in college, and those were very formative times for me. In that sense, writing to you is almost writing to my past self that is captured in the essence of your music, particularly Paradise and Ultraviolence.

I’m bit confused again in my life, Lana. I fantasize about running away into Van Gogh’s Wheatfield with Crows. It seems so serene there, far away from those other dreadful parts of the world. I like dark skies, feeling the stalks blow irregularly at my feet, wondering if it is possible to be carried up into the winds, into the clouds, and float away into the stratosphere.