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.

letters to lana del rey (33)

Dear Lana,

I was thinking about how our own experiences with suffering makes us more numb to the suffering of others, how Angela Duckworth may be the next coming of the Messiah, how the sounds of insects could be commoditized to the sound of feeling beautiful.

It’s so weird how our life hinges on the balance between present and future. For a long time in high school, I thought things would get better in college. For a long time in college, I thought things would get better after I graduated. It did, but not in the way I imagined it. I thought I would attain the things I wanted. That’s what “working out” meant to me. Instead, I’ve just become more resilient towards disappointment.

I suppose there’s not much of a difference. It straddles this conception of genuineness that doesn’t seem particularly attractive to me. Does it really matter if our lives turn out the way that we wanted, or is it sufficient to have a internal sense of control over how you react to your surroundings? I used to believe there was a difference between the two.

Lana, I’m feeling quite distant from you. You, in this form, are a construction of my projection of course, but I still feel less in tuned with you than I did before. I remember when I was listening to your music a couple of years ago, I found some meaning in your sad lyrics. You were always sad in your music, so I found comfort in that voice whenever I was sad. I don’t particularly feel that way anymore. Sure, I have my angsty days — like today — but on aggregate I’m quite different from the person who listened to Ultraviolence on repeat while studying econ in Perry World House.

I wonder if people are able to look at me in the same way I look at others. The funny thing about being inside yourself is that you aren’t able to view yourself with the same charity you view others. You tend to think other people live better lives than they actually do, yet you are always so consciously aware of your own life. I sometimes wonder where that speculation would take me; usually it takes me on loops that end in some rancid liquid I conjured up myself.

I typically find meaning in work. In Principles, Ray Dalio divided up his principles into work principles and life principles, but I typically find them to be one and the same. When all else in your life falls apart, you can always resort to work. It moves forward when the rest of your life does not. You can control your career for the most part, unlike the other uncertainties in your life. It is one of those things worth investing in; the rest of life is speculation.

My Billie Eilish merch arrived today. It’s a 2XL hoodie roughly the same color as my bath towel.

I used to think that life was meant to be fun. In Burning directed by Lee Chang-dong, the antagonist is someone who describes his profession as someone who plays. He was hinted to be (spoiler) a serial killer, but I thought his attitude was quite interesting. I now question why I thought the point of life was to have fun. Life hasn’t been “fun” in quite some time, yet there was a time when I thought the next phase in life was going to be more fun than the last. There was going to be an inflection point, when the tedium of life stops and the fun begins. Somewhere down the line, I stopped believing this inflection point existed at all. Sure life has been significantly more fun than it had been before, but it wasn’t like there was an activation switch that made it fun. Furthermore, now that my life reached a point where it is more fun than it was before, it only makes me realize that there isn’t much of a future to this fun. It is temporary, it is never enough; there is always another more fun moment that we have been waiting for, always lingering down the corner, its presence keeping us on edge.

letters to lana del rey (32)

Dear Lana,

If Parmenides believed that he was indistinguishable in essence from the world, then where did feelings of alienation came into existence? Is that part of the world too?

I’ve been thinking about the idea of unwinding today. It seems quite a core nature of modern living. You work, you go home, you unwind. The act of unwinding is to distance yourself from your work, knowing that you will return back to work in the morning. If you are not working you are not unwinding because there is nothing to unwind; you cannot unwind that is not wound in the first place. If you do not work, you are lounging. Unwinding can only come into existence through working, and it is through working that time unwinding is considered to be precious. If you do not work, then the value of unwinding is not apparent because all moment is considered to be a moment of unwinding. At a certain point, unwinding loses its value.

Lana, I’ve often heard that time speeds up when you grow up. Psychologists often assign the lack of additional new experiences to be the biggest contributor, but I also think it has a lot to do with this routine. Various acts of unwinding take our attention away from work, and when we work our attention is devoted to work. There is less to time do nothing because our free time can only exist in relation to our working time.

You remember in the beginning of Facebook when people used to play Flash games? There were popular games like Farmville and Mafia Wars and Backyard Monsters. I played all of these games quite a bit, but specifically I remember this game called Restaurant City. It was disbanded in 2013 when Playfish was acquired by Electronic Arts, but I remembered that I poured so much time into that game in middle school. It wasn’t like other restaurant games where you had to time yourself to create food. There wasn’t anything you needed to do per se to make your restaurant function. All you need to do is occasionally feed your staff and open your restaurant. I was coming out of my Flash games phase when the game was discontinued, so it didn’t affect me as if I were in the peak of my interest, but it was still sad at the time to have so many hours I put into my water-themed restaurant thrown away. Now, Facebook no longer supports Flash games, so all of these games including Farmville and Mafia Wars and Backyard Monsters are all going to be disbanded. What was it all for? When I played these games, I didn’t expect them to last around forever, but there’s some part of me that wished I had something to show for it. After all, it is me pouring my time into something. While I was playing these games, I had something to show for it. In Farmville, rice took 12 hours to grow, so I would log in the same time every day after school to harvest and replant my rice. Then, I could use the money I earned through farming rice on various decorations on my farm. I don’t even remember what my farm looked like, but it was sexy as fuck. I remember the game kept on asking me if I wanted to take a picture and share it. I would always click no, but now I wish that I had clicked yes, so I have something to show for all the work that I put in.

Back then, I used these games to unwind. I’m not even sure if that was what is was because I did it more as a desire to game as opposed to a desire to escape the difficulties of school. The time that was put in them… where did it go? Sometimes, I find a bit absurd that you are able to put in so much time in something without anything to show for it. Back then, I used to angst over the impermanence of friendships and relationships. Now, I’m thinking about all the time I used to unwind — how there’s nothing to show for that too. I suspect that’s why I like creating things so much. You can point to something and say you did something. And with the advent of cloud technology, it could truly last longer than most things in life.

letters to lana del rey (31)

Dear Lana,

In the beginning of the summer, I was reading A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by Joyce. Even while reading it, I was pretty bored. I remembered it was a precursor to Ulysses, but that’s about it. If you asked me what happened in that book, I would have no idea.

My grandmother suffers from anterograde amnesia, and it is very hard for her to make new memories at this point in her life. I’ve told her that I graduated college at least a dozen time by now, but she cannot retain the information. At one point, I remember she was watching television, and she kept on watching the same episode over and over again. It was one of those family sitcoms that was filmed 30 years ago in China with characters that seem quite antiquated nowadays. She seemed entertained, and she kept watching.

I was thinking how we do a lot of things in our lives to relieve boredom. There is an entire entertainment industry out there built to create media that keeps us entertained. In many ways, I think this trait is the pitfall of humanity. Between people who create entertainment and people who consume entertainment, what is left for the rest of society when we eventually reach a state where work has become obsolete?

I used to think there was some sort of permanence to consuming art or literature or music or media. Once you consume it, you cannot unconsume it. What you consume becomes a part of you, and you should be able to draw upon it at will. I realize now that there is no permanence in consumption. Everything is momentary, even things that make an impression on us. Sooner or later, we forget what we consume. We forget what happens in movies quickly, and we forget what happens in books even quicker. Then, we are forced to consume it again and again until we remember. It is an endless cycle of consuming then forgetting and then consuming and forgetting again.

I was thinking back to my grandmother watching her Chinese sitcom, noticing the parallels between her cyclical viewing of her TV series and the human condition at large. It really is one episode after another episode and then back an episode because you forgot what happened in the previous episode. I remember I watched the last season of Sherlock twice — once this year, and once when it came out — because I completely forgot that I watched it at all. I didn’t remember the plot or the characters throughout the first two episodes; it was only until the last episode, during an especially cringey explosion scene, that I remembered I had watched it in the first place. I can’t help but wonder how much other media out there is privy to the same experience.

I guess it all boils down to a sense of confusion. If we eventually forget everything that we consume, what’s left of there in life? Just an attempt to escape boredom through entertainment, only to forget how we spent our time being entertained, followed by the same fear of boredom again. I wonder if there’s more to life than that.

letters to lana del rey (30)

Dear Lana,

There’s some weird satisfaction I get when I sit crisscrossed on my bed. It seems like something people do when they are young according to some indie films I’ve watched.

I was listening to Nina Nesbitt’s “Still Waiting to Start” again, and her reflections about the intense feelings she had in her youth seem more intense than ever. Drinking in the park really seemed liked the most wild experience I’ve had back then, and now it seems so far ago. In many ways, it echoes to this life I had but also did not have. It was a life I wished had more moments like that, but that part of life is already over. It was so temporary, and it is only at the end of that life I realized how to navigate that life. In so many ways, I feel like I’ve been waiting for life to start for me. I wanted to realize this aesthetic of what I wanted life to be, and I had come so close at one point in realizing it. Now, life has moved on, and it’s a different part of life that I navigate. I am still waiting for the last part of my life to start while waiting for this part of my life to end.

Things are familiar now. I arranged my room in a different fashion, but the world as a whole seems more familiar. I have faith in my ability to reside here. It is more welcoming than it once was. It’s less cold. It’s winter, but it’s less cold. It’s comfortable.

letters to lana del rey (29)

Dear Lana,

I realize that I’m not too attached to any idea of being young. I feel that a big source of anxiety for adults is losing their youth, but that’s something I don’t really care about.

Being inside most of the time, I notice that I started to gain some weight around my thighs. Normally, that would bother me, but there’s nobody left to impress. Gaining weight is also a natural part of aging. It is a lot easier to maintain weight when you are younger. There’s chronic pain that sprouts throughout my body nowadays. Sometimes, it bothers me when I am trying to do something productive. Most of the time I could shrug it away, but it is becoming progressively harder to nowadays. I guess this is also a part of aging — more pain. I don’t really like this part of aging.

Time genuinely flows faster. I am more capable of doing things in my life, but there is also less time to do it. There’s this weird paradox — I used to waste so much time when I was younger and feel like I have accomplished so much; I now am able to accomplish more than before, yet I feel like I have not done anything. In this way, I feel the universe is profoundly incongruent. There exists a disconnect between doing and feeling. You can either feel like you have done something, or you can actually do it and feel like it was never enough.

I find it interesting that humans are given a choice when they crash land on Earth. You can either choose to remain at the crater in which you are born, or you can move around to find a better crater.

Everyone is given a place at birth; some are born far more fortunate than others. This disconnect is so ingrained in society that it seems antithetical that the world could have been designed like this. I feel that it is very easy to yearn for a life when you were born with everything that you do not have. It would make life easier, wouldn’t it? It seems human. It seems so far-fetched, like some promised land dangling in the corner of your eye. But when you turn around to look for it, you realize that it wasn’t there; it was just a construction of your mind wandering in the emptiness of the world, latching onto a thought that would allow you to get through one more day.

The more I grow up, the more I am convinced that life is nothing more than a set of physical sensations. I’ve tried to convince myself that there’s something more to life than about phenomena, but I’m not sure I can anymore. The world seems more alien beyond what is around me. I used to believe that this sensation would go away, but the more I think about it, the less I am convinced that it will. It is a feeling that breeds with adulthood, there is not a -hood after adulthood.

letters to lana del rey (28)

Dear Lana,

It’s harder to fall asleep than it once was. Did I drink too much tea? It might be time to whip out the decaf again.

I started flipping through your book of poetry, Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass. I’m feeling pretty delirious right now, so I don’t actually remember anything that I read.

I was reflecting on how I was able to sleep all those years ago in college when I had exams every other month. Drinking coffee at 9 PM was such a vibe, yet I still somehow managed to make it to bed by 2 AM. There’s no way in hell I could do that anymore. I shutter at the thought. My adult body wouldn’t be able to handle it. Lame. I like the routine of sleeping around midnight to wake up for work in the morning. I would listen to the latest episode of The Daily with Michael Barbaro, and then I would get along with my day. Any disruption to this pattern annoys me. I’m not particularly excited to have this habit taken away.

I was thinking — I’ll be moving to New York in a couple of months. Since I’ll be in New York in my twenties, I’ll be living in a cramped apartment once more. It’s New York, and it seems to almost invite the idea of “being young”. If this was freshman year of college, that might’ve excited me. Seeing as though this isn’t freshman year anymore, I just want to stay inside and do things that old people do. Lame.

I feel that at some point, I’ll probably feel some pressure to do things that young people do. Ugh, why? My body aches all over from doing nothing. People treat the fact that you only live once as a justification to do as much as possible during your youth. At one point, I think I subscribed to this idea. Nowadays, I don’t really care about what I miss out on. Being young is tiring, and I don’t like to be tired. I’m already as tired as it is, and I don’t want to do anything that would make me even more tired. Not having to worry about school is great. Adult life is so low stakes. All you do is work and chill. Sounds like the dream.

Lately, I don’t have energy to do anything. But it’s like in an anti-depression way. I’m too happy to feel the need to do anything to distract myself, so I’m just tired all the time. It’s like being in a state so blissful that I just constantly melt into a puddle all the time. I don’t really spend that much time internally anymore, so I just notice things like how tired I am or how my stomach hurts more than usual or how my thigh gap is been replaced for storage of Chinese takeout from these past couple of months. Thinking about the nature of existence and the metaphysics of love and sadness is so lame. It’s so… I don’t know, 2018? Either way, I can’t imagine myself ever touching those subjects again. I don’t know how I could have possible had interest in such lame topics at one point in my life.

Honestly, Lana. I just want to sleep and nap and drink red wine on my patio on Sundays. I have been obsessed with the idea of a covered patio lately, so that’s something I want to work towards in my life. That is my future — a covered patio.

letters to lana del rey (27)

Dear Lana,

Today, I was re-reading Freud’s Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality thinking about how often we associate events that are individual with theories that are universal. I personally find a lot of Freud’s writings on repression and sublimation to be quite relatable; the entire reason I started writing (I mean, genuinely writing) in the first place was because I was angsting over this girl who didn’t like me back some time ago, but it seemed that this habit has evolved quite a bit since then — but in the most predictable manner possible.

In Infantile Sexuality, Freud talks about how susceptible to impressions we are in our youth, which is simultaneously a time period about which we remember the least. Sublimation serves the role of addressing repression in a way that allows us to continue functioning in society. That got me thinking — if I was just more successfully socially or romantically or academically when I was growing up, would I still feel the same need to bridge the gap between repression and reality through writing and music and art? Maybe, instead of spending my evenings drafting these weird letters, I could actually spend time other than figuring out the source to all of my neuroses.

Maybe if I accomplished more socially or romantically or academically as a child I would feel less of a need to prove something to myself. It would be so easy just living life, consuming media and eating food and figuring out what “passion” to pursue next. It is living towards something as opposed to away from something. It is living without the need to compensate for something you missed out in the past, living with some sort of unpredictability that is only possible through living without the need to relegate neuroses. It would be a genuinely unpredictable life because it would be living without having a definitive causal relationship with your past. I wonder what it would be to live like that.