letters to lana del rey (26)

Dear Lana,

I was thinking about the concept of virtue today. We do a lot of things because it is virtuous to do so, but how do we know what is virtuous and what is not virtuous?

A lot of our beliefs are grounded in virtue. But what is virtuous to me might be different from what is virtuous to someone else. I personally think diversity is a virtue; things that are diverse seem more aesthetically pleasing than things that aren’t diverse, but I recognize that not all people think this way. Some people don’t really care if diversity exists at all, and when we prioritize diversity, it is prioritizing one virtue over another.

Some people think chastity is virtue. I personally don’t care much for chastity because it is not in the list of virtues that I care about. If our society created laws that mandated chastity, I would be pretty pissed off. I’m not looking to be chaste. I don’t want there to be laws forcing me to be chaste. I guess that’s similar to how some people see diversity. It’s like being forced by society to believe something you do not believe.

That got me thinking, Lana – how do we know what is virtuous?

If someone does not believe diversity is a virtue, how do I convince them that it is? If someone wants to convince me that chastity is a virtue, how do they convince me that it is? It seems that virtue’s justification is deeply individual. I would posit to say it’s informed by past experience, but that’s just me shooting in the dark. Thus, it would seem almost impossible to convince someone that virtue exists if they have not experienced the set of experiences that deems it so.

letters to lana del rey (25)

Dear Lana,

I want a cigarette. Unfortunately, I don’t have any, and I’m too lazy to walk to the nearest convenient store to get one. So, here I am, writing as a substitute to smoking. Lame.

Lana, I went to my college again today to return some books. Normally, people would say such a trip would be nostalgic. I guessed the buildings seemed familiar. I personally thought it was traumatic. Each crevice of Locust Walk always reminded me of some memory I didn’t want to remember. That got me thinking: is trauma the opposite of nostalgia?

I studied English in college, so I guess that means I learned how to English. I’m not sure what I learned exactly. I wrote a 15-page paper on Romantic subjectivism or some shit in Jane Eyre that got an ‘A’ at one point, but I’m not sure what exactly happened in Jane Eyre. There was a character named Jane Eyre, right? Did they fall in love with Heathcliff, or was that in Wuthering Heights? Wait, was the love interest called Rochester, or is that just a college? I’m not sure, Lana. All the books just mesh together in my brain, and I’m not convinced that I actually read anything at all. In fact, I remember more about the Sparknotes I read forThe Kite Runner in high school than whatever happened in Jane Eyre.

Sorry, Lana. My thoughts are a bit scattered today. I’m not sure I understand the point of reading anything anymore if I just forget about it all. I read War and Peace for my Tolstoy class a couple of months ago. I’m pretty sure I understood what happened in the story, but I’m also convince that I’ll forget what happened a couple of months from now. After all, I don’t plan to be a Tolstoy scholar, and I will probably never read War and Peace again in my life. So, if I forget about reading it, what’s the point of reading it at all?

letters to lana del rey (24)

Dear Lana,

I’ve been thinking about how my sense of what constitutes intimacy have changed over the past couple of years and how this has fundamentally changed the way I interact with others.

I used to want to be surrounded by sad people. It made a lot of sense; I was sad, misery loves company, so I naturally gravitated towards other people who were sad.

My friend reminded me today of the central conflict between Bojack and Diane in Bojack Horseman. I’m not sure which character I identified more with — Bojack or Diane. Bojack was constantly causing problems in his life and refused to take responsibility for his own mistakes. Diane was unable to establish reasonable friendship boundaries and continued to help Bojack despite understanding its mental toll. Realistically, I had traits of both of these characters. I blamed others for my shortcomings, and I found it difficult to identify toxic friendships. But by the end of the show, Diane was able to realize that Bojack was not good for her and that she shouldn’t spend any more time with him. She did not regret befriending Bojack, but she understood that different people belong in different points in life. By the end of the show, she was able to have a healthy relationship. It was through her friendship with Bojack that she understood the limitations of what she was willing to put up with, and she was not willing to put up with Bojack’s shit any more.

I watched the entirety of the show some time in the fall, and I think the last season came out sometime in the spring. In many ways, I think this was quite an appropriate message to end my time in college. When I first came to college, I wanted to be as close as possible to as many people as possible. I mistakenly thought back then that sharing vulnerability was the equivalent of being closer to people. The logic goes: the more vulnerabilities you were willing to share between each other, the closer you were. I had my fair share of emotional baggage, and I wanted to hear all about other people’s emotional baggage as well. I thought that the more baggage you shared meant the more close you were, and I wanted to accumulate as much of other people’s baggage as possible.

It was an interesting time. I used to put a lot of emotional labor in ensuring that people felt less sad. I have a friend who says that she enjoys “fixing people,” but it really wasn’t about “fixing people.” I thought that listening to people would allow people to be less sad, and I wanted people to be less sad. This, as you can imagine, resulted in me being friends with a lot of sad people who wanted to talk about their sadness. I would listen because that’s what I thought intimacy looked like. I thought that intimacy was just being sad together. I thought that being sad together meant that we could both be less sad. I thought that sadness could cancel out each other like two negatives forming a positive.

I think I’m quite different now. I don’t really enjoy hearing about other people’s baggage anymore, especially when it is unsolicited. I tend to avoid sad people now instead of seeking them out. I understand why I sought out sad people in the past, but I am no longer that person who does. I am content with my life right now, and I’m not particularly interested in introducing any turbulence to it. I realized that sadness is one of those things that cannot be solved through solidarity or company, so why is there a point in sharing baggage when it does nothing but make the world slightly messier than before?

I think my life, in many ways, reflects the ending of Bojack Horseman. I am Bojack, who has become slightly better through living through the consequences of his actions. I am also Diane, who has lead a good life and wants to distance herself from relics of her past. I think back to all of those friendships I have made in the name of sadness, and I realized that it deserves to stay in the past. Being in those friendships were a necessary part of my development, but staying in those friendships would just be another couple seasons of Bojack Horseman with the same conflict that pervaded the six seasons of Bojack Horseman. There is a reason that the show ended after season six. It is because the story between Bojack and Diane ended there. The show captured just one chapter in their life. It was a sad chapter, but one that they shared. Now, it’s over, and their life goes on.

letters to lana del rey (23)

Dear Lana,

I wonder what constitutes a life worth living.

Right now, I feel myself slowly drifting out of existence. There seems to be less and less choice I have in regards to the rest of my life. My career is, more or less, set for the rest of my life. I could either fight it in an attempt to do something else fitting an idealized concept I have created in an alternate timeline, or I can just allow myself to drift out of existence. There’s not much of a desire for me to do anything other than to accept the drifting I feel nowadays. It’s so gentle. It’s kind. Why would I fight it?

I used to think my career wasn’t that important. I wonder when I changed my mind. I used to think it was okay to not be successful as long as I had art and literature to keep me tethered to some sort of redemptive reality. I no longer believe that anymore. Art and literature are lowkey kinda lame. Somewhere down the line, I realized that no matter how much art and literature I consume, it will not make me happy. It’s just drawing circles and circles around some idea that cannot be approached, like orbiting a star whose gravitational pull is not strong enough to pull you in. At the end of the day, I’m dawdling around something that cannot be approached, and what is the point of waiting if there is no possibility of entry?

Lana, I used to really like your song Gods and Monsters. The life in the song is a life quite unlike mine, of course, but listening to it allowed me to imagine this glamourous lifestyle where destruction is immortalized into desire. I thought it was a really cool concept, even if it was your interpretation of your reality at one point. It seems quite distant ago I was listening to that song in the shower, feeling the glory of the glistening water draped over my back like lava rolling down a volcano, as if I was in some contemporary and glamorous version of Hell. I was listening to it again today, and I don’t find the concept as appealing. It’s no longer the life I want anymore.

I want a suburban home. Ideally, it would have a covered patio facing a big backyard. I would want it to have at least two stores in a safe neighborhood. I would prefer a modernist design, but I am flexible on that. That’s just one idea. If New York end up cheaper and more spacious, I might consider living in a high rise too. 53W53 looks pretty appetizing this time of year. Although, I would imagine that deciding which home to live in is subject to a lot of compromise. There are family concerns. I’m not sure if I want my kids to grow up in a city. Growing up in a city increases the risk of being snobby, and I don’t like snobby kids. I don’t know, Lana. I just want to be somewhere quiet with no loud parties upstairs.

letters to lana del rey (22)

Dear Lana,

Sex and glamour used to be the shit. Sex and glamour seem so dull now.

Art has the power to recreate reality. For many years, I used to think the purpose of art was to recreate your own reality in as glamorously as possible. If art is, as Ayn Rand claimed, a function of selective perception, then what are the ethics of observing our own reality as glamorously as possible? Mundane moments can seem extraordinary with art, and the desire to be glamourous leads us to recreate our own mundane moments as glamorously as possible. In the face of experience, it seems almost necessary to glamourize our own experience to move past the past.

Unfortunately, I no longer subscribe to this frame of thought. I think I’m moving past the part of my life where I feel the need to glamourize my past in order to make sense of it. I used to want to construct every part of my past to generate some sort of glamour, but now I question why I ever did that in the first place. Life could be dull, and I’m okay with that.

Lana, I don’t know what it is, but I’m becoming more and more tired. At a certain point in life, I think there’s a point where you have to let go your dreams of glamour and be contented with what you have. No longer do I feel the need to create culture; I’m perfectly fine with just passively consuming it. Ideas of wanting to make “impact” on the world — it feels so distant that I genuinely believed I would actually make some sort of tangible change to the world. It seems like a product of undergrad, when the source of motivation to study was the idea that you could make an “impact” on the world. If anything, I think the idea of making an “impact” is a form of self-validation where you convince yourself that you have actually done something “meaningful” in your life. It is, above all, a phase.

More and more, I feel that the impact and glamour is not as important as I thought it would be. I am too tired and too unconvinced that attempting to do anything in life is something worth pursuing. I don’t want to become an award-winning writer or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. That would imply that you want to do something with your life, and I’m not too interested in doing anything with my life. I want to move as far away from society as possible — near a rocky beach ideally — and just passively learn about the world until I die. If I could just watch the sunrise and sunset each day and night with a glass of bottom-shelf wine, I’d be content with my life.

I used to think if we look deeply into ourselves, we can find not only the nature of ourselves but the nature of the universe itself. Glamour, by definition, exists on some form of separation. Through glamour, we distance ourselves from others by placing a pedestal between us and others. After all, glamour cannot exist without the mundane. The same could be said about impact. When we make an impact on anything, it implies that there was something that required impact to be made. The impact corrects the world to a greater equilibrium, and we have in effect corrected the world, validating our existence.

Nowadays, I’m not as convinced of these facets. Why would I care about learning about the nature of the universe? Why would I feel the need to separate myself from the mundane? I just want to drink White Claw and eat Funyuns.

letters to lana del rey (21)

Dear Lana,

I was thinking about how if I worked harder in undergrad, I would have been able to accomplish so much more now. Then, I am remined of the concept of brain fog today, and I remember when I wasn’t able to work as hard as I wanted to.

I notice that I have some trouble concentrating approximately two hours after I wake up. Most of the time, it extends until noon, perhaps returning sometime in the late afternoon. It takes the form of a mild lightheadedness and nausea, where I am hindered from fully utilizing my concentration capabilities. In the face of brain fog, I cannot do what I set out to do. I am unable to concentrate even for short periods of time because any information I intake would flow out of my head as if nothing had happened at all.

In the face of this phenomena, I noticed that it is best to just wait around for the brain fog to pass, when I am more capable of studying or doing work. It is quite a passive existence.

I wonder if brain fog is the phenomenon that separates relative achievement in people to their circumstances. I remember in a lecture that I attended, Angela Duckworth said something along the lines that if you work 80 hours a week at anything, you will be successful at what you do. I was thinking how much 80 hours a week was, and I realize that it’s a lot. I mean genuinely working 80 hours a week, as opposed to being required to sit around and passively exist for 80 hours a week. When was the last time I genuinely worked 80 hours on anything? Most of the time, I would get brain fog, and then I would stop working.

I remember last summer during this time, I spent so long studying on top of my internship. It was primarily motivated by stress, and I observed that in periods of stress I have very little brain fog. I would just go to work in the morning, and go home in the evenings. I would study when I had down time at work, and I would study when I got back home from work. I studied so much that summer, and I learned so much as a result. It was harder than I had studied for any class during undergrad. Yet, after OCR, I don’t think I ever studied that much ever again. There’s little stress to motivate me, and I’m just wallowing around in brain fog for most of my free time.

If I worked as hard right now as I worked that summer, I would be able to accomplish so much in my life. The problem is — I don’t really want to work as hard as I did that summer. Of course there is such thing as hard work, but I’m becoming more and more convinced that hard work is only possible in absence of brain fog. When you have brain fog, you cannot work as hard as you want to work. The attempt to challenge brain fog through working hard doesn’t actually accomplish anything. It’s not like a challenge like being tired is. You cannot work your way through brain fog. All you can do is observe it. I’m not particularly up for the challenge to overcome brain fog, so I just wait around for it to end before doing anything.

letters to lana del rey (20)

Dear Lana,

I was thinking about the concept of children today.

If you want children, it completely changes the way you live your life. I have always known that I wanted kids, and because I did from an early age, it affects how I approach every part of my life. I live life for the sake of living life, but I also live life for the prospect of having children in the future. The desire to have children is a force that drives my will to life itself. The mere opportunity of having children is enough to shape life for the goal of having children. Because the opportunity exists, there is an instinct to do it.

Lana, if the concept of having children did not exist, I would live my life very differently from how I am living my life right now. For one, achieving financial stability wouldn’t be nearly as important as it is for me right now. I would spend more time taking risks in other countries, as opposed to settling for covered opportunities to explore without taking risks. Realistically, I don’t need that much money to have a comfortable life. My hobbies include reading and writing, which is pretty much free given the advent of the internet. I also like listening to music, but I don’t really feel the need to spend $300 on Billie Eilish tickets. Life could be simple like that.

If the concept of children didn’t exist, I think I would be more comfortable dying whenever. I would take more risks skateboarding in traffic or buy a motorcycle. Instead of going into finance, I might’ve worked for the State Department in some far away territory, switching countries every couple of years. It all seems like a distant life — a life where the family unit did not exist, where I could live life without consideration for my future.

But alas, the possibility of having children exists, and I feel almost religiously obligated to do so. It is biological. It is cultural. It is an instinct, but it is also an instinct that seems more real than I am. Even if I perish, the instinct to progenate continues across species, across worlds. Eventually, my genetic line will end for sure. Whether it be the expansion of the sun or the heat death of the universe, everything comes to an end. But, in my life lifetime, I still feel like I have a duty to create a life for my children. It is one responsibility out of many.

letters to lana del rey (19)

Dear Lana,

I was thinking about how strange our lives our lives are. You learn as much as you can for the first third of your life in school, and then you work for the rest of your life until you die. You still learn, of course, but there is a sort of necessity that work has that education does not. You need to work to survive. If you stop working, you stop making money. When you stop making money, you cease to survive.

In Civilization and its Discontents, Freud marks the transition between hunter-gatherer societies to agrarian societies as being the point in time when we surrendered our happiness. In many ways, I disagree with this characterization. It’s not terrific to live in our current society. But it was also not great living in a hunter-gatherer society. Your life is still dependent on forces outside of yourself. If there was a hurricane in Philly, I still have a couple weeks of dried pasta and uncooked rice stored in my basement to sustain myself. If there was a hurricane in Philly and I were a hunter-gatherer, then I would be dead.

At every point in time, humans needed some means to sustain their existence. Staying still meant death, and people need to do things in order to continue their existence.

Since I don’t really like doing things, that naturally makes me unfit for society. In society, you still need to do things in order to lay claim on life. But, at the same time, it’s also not as if I particularly like not doing things either. Being bored is a pretty bad sensation, and I try to do things that prevent me from being bored. It seems that a lot of moving forward in life is a balance of between wanting to do things and wanting to not be bored. On balance, it seems that life is still best lived doing things, even though it is required that things are done in order to live.

The wheels on the bus go round and round. Until the bus crashes and the wheels stop. That’s death. I suppose that death doesn’t need to be that violent. Not every death is a brain aneurysm or a heart attack. There are slow deaths, like cancer or AIDS, more aptly described as a series of malfunctions that lead up to the bus stop working. One way or another, the bus stops moving, and the stoppage is eternal. There would be nothing to do anymore. You cannot do anything when you’re dead. Once we were alive, then we die, then it doesn’t matter if we want to do anything or if we are bored anymore.

letters to lana del rey (18)

Dear Lana,

I think the feeling of disassociation is an interesting one. Disassociation can only be felt when you’re in proximity to other people. You can only recognize the invalidity of your own existence when you exist in context to others. When you are in solitude, existence is certain.

I used to describe the feeling of disassociation as feeling like a fake memory. I still accept that characterization to a large extent. It is the feeling of fading out of existence, as if the moment others reflect on the validity of their memories means the demise of your experience. In many ways, I feel that this feeling is amplified with the advent of Zoom. Disassociation can exist in any group setting, but I feel that it is especially amplified with the assumption that your existence is only validated by a shot of your room captured by a hole in your computer. Otherwise, it does not exist at all.

If I had a car right now, I would drive to the supermarket to purchase a bottle of wine. I think alcohol emulates the psychological feeling of disassociation into a physical phenomenon. You are more-or-less fading out of existence, as a memory does. There is a tingling, but the tingling resembles a tingling when you slowly feel your fingers again after they have been soaked from throwing snowballs. It is restoring vitality, and it is through the matching of physical and psychological sensations that this balance is restore. I also haven’t had wine in awhile, and wine tastes really good.

It reminds me a bit of the ending of Book of Illusions by Paul Auster. When the narrator saw the unreleased film, a writer was working on his novel. There was a girl who was fading out of existence the more a writer wrote his novel. She was taking care of him as he worked on his piece. When he finished his novel, the girl was on the brink of death. He recognized that he valued the girl more than his writing, and he threw his manuscript into the fireplace. Only then the girl returned from fading. But, at the same time, the girl wanted to fade out of existence. It was a pretty clear example of the manic pixie dream trope, as the girl was literally the invention of the writer. He clinged onto an idea of associative infinity as opposed to accepting the ephemerality of emotional disserverance.

There was also that scene in the Wizards of Waverly Place movie, when Selena Gomez’s character was looking through her hand, still muddy from falling on the ground of the imaginary battlefield where her wizard battle took place, knowing if she couldn’t become the family wizard and force her dad and mom to fall in love that their lived were condemned to never have existed. There was also that scene in Back to the Future, when Marty observed himself falling out of existence when his dad and mom were drifting further apart. In an instinct to preserve his existence, he sought to end his dissociative state. But what if the instinct of preservation and the instinct to associate were divergent?

Now that I think about it, Marty’s mom literally had the hots for Marty. I’m sure my boy Sigmund would have something to say about that.