the world beyond destiny’s island

The first Kingdom Hearts game is a story of three children who were born and raised on this island called Destiny’s Island. It was one of those games that defined my childhood, which in turn defines my longings in adulthood. Throughout the beginning of the first Kingdom Hearts, you play as this character who was preparing to leave the island and see the world outside of the island. Then, right before you depart on your own accord, you are thrown into the immensity of the universe and a constant need to run.

I was raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia, and then I went to college in the city of Philadelphia. I have traveled around the world here and there, but I have met so many people in college who have traveled from so far away to be in Philadelphia. Commuting twenty minutes from my college apartment to my home home during breaks, I cannot help but feel some sort of envy towards individuals who are able to feel so distant between school and home. I wish I had that sort of physical separation in my life.

I think there’s a lot about the Asian American experience that delves into the feeling of constant alienation deriving from a label of being other. There are many coping mechanisms for this. Some of my Asian friends do all in their power to emulate the epitome of whiteness. Some of my Asian friends delve into alternative communities that offer some semblance of acceptance. Some of my Asian friends insert themselves into Asian communities as a source of solidarity in an era of indifference.

For me, I like doing what I have done all my life: run away.

I often reflect on whether my glorification of running away is a coping mechanism for feeling profoundly unattached to my surroundings. If I could, I would have studied abroad every semester of college. People often say that relationships take time to form, but I wasn’t really capable of forming meaningful relationships even with time. If the only thing that holds people back from running away is attachment, the natural conclusion to my past is the realization that there is nothing holding me back from running away.

There are so little relationships to be formed in life, yet so much of life to see.

During my time as an undergraduate, I constantly attempted to understand what constitutes a relationship, as if understanding how relationships are formed would allow me to better understand how to insert myself into one. But, gradually, I realized that no amount of theory I learned could ever address the void of the practice of feeling loved. It reminds me of the conflict between ideology and practicality that occurred after Mao Zedong’s death between Hua Guofeng and Deng Xiaoping. Ultimately, Deng was able to convince the Communist Party that practical economic policy deserved more attention than the continuation of the revolution, and practicality is the name of the game in post-1978 China.

I think I have achieved a somewhat similar realization in my life. Sometimes, I adhere to these head-in-the-clouds-type theories that I wanted to govern how I lived my life. It is Ayn Rand that said that every philosophical system should be closed and that one philosophical system should be able to address all issues in metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, aesthetics, and political philosophy. But, specifically, in the field of metaethics, I was constantly searching and theorizing for this one philosophical system that would be able to address all of my questions regarding my relationships. But, I now realize, I should stop searching.

This philosophical system that would solve all of my questions regarding my relationships may or may not exist is the Moby Dick of my existence. I have spent all of my life searching for it and attempting to spear it. But, I think I am at the point in my life where it is probably to let it go and guide my life through practice.

There is a life out there that is going to be experienced, and I intend to experience that life. Regarding the relationships I wasn’t able to form — I have learned to take this fish I have raised all of my life and throw it back into the ocean where I could watch it swim away with me, along with the responsibility of ensuring the fish would grow. I could either continue to theorize about a philosophical system that in actuality has little practice in my life, or I could learn to let go of this false solution to a problem that is better left behind. I am letting go of a false fish. I choose to sail ahead.

On Destiny’s Island in Kingdom Hearts, there are a lot of comforts. There is community and friendship and safety, but it is also a world away from other worlds. For me, I never felt the comfort of Sora on Destiny’s Island, so it wasn’t that that kept me there. Instead, it was an attempt to make sense of my experience in Destiny’s Island in all of its alienation. But, during all the time I spent on Destiny’s Island to understand my experience in the first couple years of my life, the world beyond Destiny’s Island awaits. There is no amount of reflection that will allow me to understand why my experience in Destiny’s Island was the way it was. But, there are other worlds out there that could offer me what I have missed.

I understand now. As long as I continue running, there will eventually be a world that will allow me to have what I have left behind.

our bluest eyes

Sometimes, I think my childhood was pretty traumatizing. Then, I read some stories by Toni Morrison, or about Toni Morrison’s childhood in general, and I realize, maybe my childhood wasn’t the bad after all. But I find this way of thinking to be self-pitying and disturbing from a humanitarian point of view, especially when contrasted with the following indifference.

I’m not sure if this train of thought is considered productive. The thing with fantasizing about completion in your head is that it provides a source of temporary catharsis to otherwise obsessive thoughts. Yet, at the same time, the fantasy only reinforces itself in the face of the injustice of reality. So often, we turn our eyes away from reality into the world of fantasy to hide from how cruel reality can actually be.

The thing I realize about life is that so often, it does not work in the same arcs that follow novels. There is no “redemptive arc” of the protagonist where the events later on in life somehow justify the events that happened earlier on in life. Yet, we constantly search for these arcs because we have been conditioned by literature to do so. I could even venture to say that it is a part of human nature to search for arcs that make good literature.

I often talk about forgetting the past as a solution to all of my problems, and I believe that strongly. But, since I literally cannot forget my past but it is physiologically impossible, I am stuck with the memories that I have.

Why is it when I read about Pecola and Polly in The Bluest Eye that I feel a sense of comfort? I can’t tell if it’s a recognition of solitary between my experience and her experience or a sense of gratitude stemming from a realization that my life is not as bad as I thought it was.

To some extent, I feel that a lot of minorities growing up in predominantly white neighborhoods feel an acute awareness but also contempt for their own race. After all, it is the phenotypical markers of race that are the source of derision among children who cannot help but internalize societal understandings of aesthetics in accordance with western beauty standards. And, since we lack understandings of racial dynamics to blame society when we are children, we typically internalize the blame to ourselves and hate ourselves. Even when I could not articulate it at the same, I felt the same sense of unattractiveness originating from a sense of difference.

For me at least, I never wanted to have blue eyes as a child, but I did want to have a different nose. I also wanted to have double eyelids. For most Asians, I feel the acceptance of identity comes from the acceptance of your eyes and nose. In some supplementary readings I read for a class, Sui Sin Far postulated that the origins of discrimination against Asians come from accented phenotypical differences in the process of assimilation. Since humans tend to identify with themselves, these observable differences become formulations of identity as we age. It just so happens children are especially vocal with their observations.

Physical beauty. Probably the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought. Both originated in envy, thrived in insecurity, and ended in disillusion.

Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye

Unlike Pecola, no one killed a cat in front of me when I was a child. But, nevertheless, I still have my fair share of experiences that still occupy some space in my head despite my alleged temporal distance from them. And, just like I am doing right now, I try to do whatever I can in order to free myself from those reflections of the past.

Similarly, there are a lot of things that happen in life that are pretty bad. There is a lot that shouldn’t happen, and there are so many injustices that exist in the world at every given moment that even attempting to list them would do an injustice to the sheer magnitude of its existence. Things happen to people, and we turn to art, literature, and music as a means to understand the experiences that happen to us. For people who don’t understand the negativity of these experience, they will label it as other and associate it with negativity they do not understand without realizing that it is just an attempt to move on in any way they can.

To me, the role of art has never been a means of communication for others to understand. Communication does come, of course, as a byproduct. But, at the end of the day, it is mostly a means for us to understand our own experiences in all of its disillusionment.

Pecola does obtain blue eyes by the end of The Bluest Eye. But, this realization of this desire comes at the price of her sanity. We may all want to have peaceful pasts that wouldn’t consume our thoughts, but the reality is that it is one of those rare lives, like having blue eyes, that is out of reach for most people. For most people, I’d imagine, there will always be some sort of trauma that persists from the past to the present. But, resolving the lack of something through the possession of something does not necessarily solve our trauma. It certainly did not work for Pecola.

We all do what we do in order to make sense of what has happened to us. There is always a set of blue eyes we will never have, an absence that has caused us a lot of pain in the past. We all can do what we can to move on because moving on, and not holding on, is how we can truly live a fruitful life unencumbered by the past. There are always things we wished we did when we were younger. But, acquiring or doing those things, won’t solve the gap their absence left behind. Life, lived for the good life, can only go forward into a different future, a future seperate from the past.

metaclarity

This year, when I applied at the beginning of September, my proposal for a creative writing thesis was rejected.

I think back to the summer, around this time, when I met with a creative writing professor to prepare my thesis application. We discussed some ideas here and there and then I left for New York to start my summer internship. Although the creative writing thesis had been the reason I wanted to be an English major in the first place, which subsequently defined my collegiate academic experience accordingly, it was the last thing on my mind that summer.

When I got off work that summer, I did not work on revisions of my thesis proposal. Instead, I studied finance and industrial organization until I promptly went to sleep at 11 PM. On weekends, I would do more readings on finance and do practice cases with some people. By the end of that summer, I read numerous textbooks and finished more than 60 practice cases. Although I have spent the near the entirety of my time as an undergraduate longing for love, this was a summer where none of it mattered.

The philosophy goes: love comes and goes, but full-time recruiting only happens once in a lifetime. Besides, there’s not really any point in longing for love when longing for love doesn’t make it any more real.

The thing is — this is not something I regret. This was one of the clearest points of my time as an undergraduate. I had a distinct purpose — prioritize my professional interests and don’t fuck up full-time recruiting — and I recognize what I was willing to sacrifice to achieve those goals — my social and artistic pursuits. It was a moment of clarity when I looked at previous moments of clarity and rejected them. Even though I thought a lot about my employment prospects throughout my time as an undergraduate, so much of it was just stress and anxiety over a topic in which I knew nothing about. I claimed to have clarity under states of duress, but there can be no clarity in states of duress. That summer, I had enough security to recognize what mattered most and understand what was necessary to consecrate those objectives. Bridging those disconnects equates to one of the fundamental challenges to achieve clarity of clarity.

At the end of the day, I feel that what matters in life most of all is clarity — recognizing among what you consider to be clarity, which is the clearest. Unfortunately, clarity is something I did not have for a lot of my life.

Some people come into college with a somewhat good understanding of what they want out of the experience. Some of my friends are extremely purpose-driven. They had a good idea how what they wanted to do coming into college, and they continue to have a good idea of what they want to do as they graduate. I had a friend who knew she wanted to be a doctor since middle school (like me! except not at all). She received all A’s throughout her entire time as an undergraduate and graduated with a 4.0 GPA. She still has the same goal now that she did at the beginning of college. I had another friend who knew she wanted to become an investment banker the moment she stepped foot on Locust Walk. Four years later, after two different investment banking internships in two different product groups in two different banks, she continues to pursue her passions in investment banking.

I wish I didn’t to college wanting to study medicine because this short blip in clarity resulted in confusion for the next three years. I have another friend who transferred from another school to Penn who wished she knew more about what kind of school she wanted to go to before she committed to a college. During my time in college, I wished I questioned myself more — and I mean, genuinely questioning my values, as opposed to questioning myself to the bare minimum when I thought I was questioning myself without questioning what was truly worth questioning. In terms of those moments lacking clarity, it is so easy to ascribe another reality in which things were more clear. Because, among the realities that we occupy, we can only find clarity within the reality we currently occupy. How easy would life be without navigating that reality disconnect.

And so, even though I had little idea of what I valued throughout my experience in college, I have found a new clarity through comparing my existing clarities with one another. It is only through comparison can there be an understanding of additional purity in clarity. As an extension of Levinasian metaethics, we can only understand ourselves through our understanding of others. Within our inner world, we can only understand our thoughts relative to other thoughts. From the sheer magnitude of the emotional spectrum, we can discover a new reality within the context of a different permutation of thoughts and emotions. Living equates to experiencing multiple realities given these permutations of thought and emotion given external context. Within the different clarities we have obtained from the different realities we occupy, we can understand which clarity is the clearest through accessing all of the other clarities we have discovered. This comparative study amounts to metaclarity.

Surely, my vision isn’t as clear as those individuals who have known their interests for most of their lives and who have utilized the past four years to strengthen their resolve in those goals. But, I learned from them — the people who understand their interests and values with the discipline to follow through on those interests and values. Recognizing what truly constitutes clarity amounts to the fundamental goal of existence. Attempting to parallel this difference equates to a Sisyphysian task. But that, of course, is the đź‘Źmeaning đź‘Ź of đź‘Ź life.

the invincible summer

In the Wharton graduation, I heard from my girlfriend that one speaker ended her speech with a quote by Camus: “In the midst of winter, I found there was, [within me], an invincible summer.”

She forgot to say “within me,” which I would say is probably the most important part of the quote. At first, I got annoyed because one of my biggest pet peeves is people in business misquoting literature for the #clout. She was talking about finding things to do or about yourself that make quarantine not as bad as it was. I considered this a misinterpretation of the quote. My girlfriend did not.

I read most of Camus’ works during my semester abroad and am fairly familiar with his philosophical system. I think I understand why he thinks Sisyphus is happy. As for this quote, it comes from one of his shorter essays titled “Return to Tipasa”, which details the memory of a young man in his time at Tipasa as a child. The invincible summer, in this story, refers to the childhood memory that cannot be taken away. It is a way of viewing the world that transcends whatever happens following this period in life.

I have experienced a fair share of sadness throughout my life. Yet, I don’t think it is this sadness that has allowed me to become more resilient. It isn’t the amount of misery that I have experienced in my life that allows me to understand what constitutes a happy life. In fact, I would argue that the sadness I have experienced in the past makes it even more difficult to experience happiness in the future. But, on the other hand, I would also argue the absence of sadness in the past makes it impossible to understand happiness at all. Happiness can become real regardless of experiences past.

In One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Ivan Denisovich is condemned to live in a Russian gulag. The story details his day-to-day life in prison.

When devising psychological torture, there is a lot of literature discussing how shoveling gravel is one of the worst forms of punishment because it takes away an individual’s sense of purpose. After all, when you shovel gravel from one place to another only to shovel the gravel back to its original location, there is very little purpose involved. This was what Ivan Denisovich did all day. Yet, he approached the task as Sisyphus would in Camus’ interpretation. Even though every part of his life was designed to be as unpleasant as possible, he refused to approach life with this mentality.

There was one scene where he was eating mushy rice or something. The rice is, well, mushy, and bland, just as it had been since he arrived. Yet, he ate each bowl of rice as if he were eating a Popeyes spicy chicken sandwich for the first time ever. Despite his hellish external world, the world he ultimately experiences is internal. Diverging from the objectivist way of thinking, the world that an individual experiences is ultimately their creation. While there is a lot of influence of the external world on the internal world, at the end of the day, the phenomenological experience created by the internal world is something that the external world cannot dictate.

When I concluded high school, I thought I found an invincible summer because of the sheer amount of sadness I have experienced since the beginning of my life. But, obviously, I have also experienced a lot of sadness in college as well. The sadness I feel, I would imagine, is a function of my internal world. Despite a seemingly average experience in college, I always found room to find sadness, which is quite the opposite experience as Ivan Denisovich. While Ivan Denisovich finds positivity even in the most wretched moments, I find sadness in even the most comfortable moments.

I keep on wondering: What is this invincible summer that Camus speaks of? I understand now that what the within me” part means. The invincible summer is something that truly can only be found within. But, as for how to find it, I’m still figuring that out myself.

But I know that the invincible summer is not an object. I am not going to one day find a thought that will solve all my problems with sadness. It’s close to something that I build — a framework of thinking that is resilient to all of my external circumstances. Compared to where I was four years ago, I am, for sure, closer to seeing its completion than before; at least now I know what I am constructing. But, until the moment where I become truly resilient to all the winters that life can throw at me, in all of its coldness, I still have ways to go.

stochastic processes

When I was recruiting during fall semester of senior year, I met this first-year associate at one of my information sessions who was willing to schedule a 15-minute phone conversation after the information session was over. I asked her a couple of questions, and she responded with some very insightful answers. This was a position in finance, and considering how little exposure I have in finance in my life, I asked her for advice on how to navigate the finance recruitment process when I have not had any prior experience in finance. Then, she ended the phone call with some questions that touched upon what I wanted for myself in my career.

I wrote a cover letter and sent in my resume to its link in Handshake. I did not expect to hear back because, well, why would anyone want me? But a couple of weeks later, I received a first-round interview for the position. I had a pretty good idea of the culture and responsibilities. Yet, no matter how many practice interviews I did with my friends, it seemed that it was to no avail because I absolutely bombed that interview.

But, clearly, something was working because I got an invitation to a Superday a couple of days later. I never attended a Superday in my life before, so I sent another email to the first-year associate I met at the information session, and she gave me some more advice on how to navigate Superdays. In particular, she told me that it was composed of many interviews, so it’s okay if I shit myself in one of them as long as I do well in the rest of them. Low and behold, I shat myself in the first interview but kept my head held high because I knew I still had four more interviews to go. I exited the interview feeling conflicted. But, clearly her advice paid off because I received an offer a couple days later.

I am always amazed how how random our lives are. In the professional world, it is a seemingly set of random people in our lives that completely shape our understanding of what we want from ourselves. I originally had studied up on finance purely because I wanted a better shot at consulting — knowing how valuation works really helps with private equity cases.

I was fascinated with finance, but I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to recruit for finance at all in the beginning of the semester. Unlike individuals who have studied finance in college, the entirety of my knowledge of finance came from background knowledge from studying for consulting. But it was through my meeting with her, and countless others, that convinced me that I should pursue this interesting regardless of my background.

It got me thinking about the tone of my remembrances.

So often, I always think about what didn’t happen to me — the communities I have never formed in college that would have given me something to miss when I left college. This process is random. Yet, it is precisely its randomness that results in the separation of individual experiences. Some people meet certain people that causes them to think about the world in one way; some people meet other people that causes them to think about the world in another way. It doesn’t have to be close friends; every person we interact with changes how we think about the world one way or another, no matter how small the impact.

Yet, at the same time, so much of our live is also how we act in reaction to those interactions.

The nature of stochastic proccesses is that random variables behave, well, randomly. The same could be said about seemingly random events and people that come into our life. So often, I feel resentment towards life for not working out in the way that I wanted it to. There were so many experiences I have never had and so much life that I felt as if I wasted. But, I now realize, there isn’t really any point in living life being angry at a random variable.

So much of my life, I feel, has been waiting around for the outputs from a random variable that I could not control. I would be continuously running a rnorm function in R, and I would be blankly watching the outputs hoping that the results would somehow change without changing the mean and variance.

But, at the end of the day, a random variable still acts in accordance with the parameters you specify for it. A random variable is defined, and its function will not change unless someone changes its definition.

I reflect on my life for the past semester and wonder why it has been so much happier than all of the semesters that preceded it. Sure, I got all A’s this semester and have a girlfriend now. But, I’ve had these things in the past. There were moments in the past where I seemed to have everything I wanted, so why is the happiness I feel now so special?

I realize — more important the meeting a potential romantic partner is following up on the encounter. More important than finding someone who loves you is actually allowing yourself to be loved at all. More important than the things that happen to us is how we react to them.

college graduation

My mom asked me if I wanted to tune into the graduation ceremony happening right now. I said, “Not really.”

At 7 PM today, the college graduation ceremony began. Most of my friends described their graduation ceremonies as bittersweet. I think graduation ceremonies are tedious. Thankfully, vritual attendance at mine is optional.

It is an ending, I suppose. I called a friend today, and he felt as if a large chapter in his life had ended. I nodded along, but I don’t really share his sentiment. In A Sense of An Ending by Julian Barnes, a retired man reflects on a college friendship and felt regretful about some actions he took while in a state of anger. I don’t find this relatable at all. I don’t ever remember being really angry during college. All I remember was feeling very sad and empty. That was most of what the past four years were to me.

My therapist said that he doesn’t remember what his college experience was like, and I hope it will be the same for me. For some reason, I am doubtful. I still remember details from when I was less than two years old. In fact, I have an abundance of those memories. In that sense, my memory is quite good at remembering details about my life. Sometimes, this is good. I am able to recall random details from conversations I had years ago. But, most of the time, this means I am stuck wallowing in negative memories, wishing my memory wasn’t as good as it was. I heard heavy drinking is good at erasing memories. Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to do that in college.

I hope in a year or two, I’ll forget all about what happened in the past four years. At least, that’s what I hope. It is the only thing that’ll allow me to move forward with my life. I’ll remember it all at once in the next month or two when I am writing down my memories to redeem my college experiences, and then I’ll try to forget about it for the rest of my life.

Gratitude. A lot of people are feeling it. But the things is, I don’t feel the same gratitude that they do. They feel grateful for their experiences in college. They feel grateful for the friends that they have made and the conversations they have had and the memories they will cherish. I feel a different gratitude. I feel grateful for college to be cut so short. I feel grateful that I didn’t have to spend the last couple months of college trying to fit in the experiences I did not have for the past four years. I know that I probably won’t be able to finish college strongly, so it’s more peaceful for me not to even have that opportunity. As people lament about all the experiences that they didn’t have in college, I am grateful that I will never have the opportunity to know.

My friend described it as “leaving everything in the race.” College is like a 5k run, and COVID-19 is like stopping the race when you are 100 meters from the finish line.

I remember when I did cross-country in high school, that last couple of meters was the stretch where I could no longer control my legs. They seemed to move on their own, and the only thing that constrained me was my balance and breathing. But this is different. I am not into this race. I do not care about winning or finishing for that matter. I just want to stop running. I have wanted to stop running for a long time.

It was fairly late in my college experience where I made this realization. I entered college with a sprint, as everyone else does at the beginning of long-distance running. I went in with the mentality that I wanted to accomplish as much as possible while redeeming the shitty experience I’ve had in middle and high schools with a vibrant social life. Yet, even in the beginning, everyone raced ahead of me. It wasn’t that I got left behind; it was I entered a race in which I did not know how to run. And, similar to going to a party where you don’t know anyone, it becomes abundantly clear in the first couple of minutes whether you will thrive or not. If you make good conversation, then the rest of the night will be good. If you do not, then all are doing is waiting for the first opportunity to quietly. exit. Guess whether or not I enjoyed this party.

When I ascertain the value of my college experience, I can’t help but genuinely believe that it was not a good experience.

In The Geneology of Morals, Nietzsche assigned value as a function of comparison. When I think about my college experience, I compare it to the college experiences of others. And, when I am constantly exposed to others who have had great college experiences — who did not want college to end the way they did — I cannot help but value my college experiences as lesser than theirs. I simply did not generate the same vitality out of it. Their experiences are full of happiness and novelty. Their experiences were true to themselves. Mine was not.

For sure, I tend to surround myself with friends who have had good college experiences. I don’t know why I do that. I tend to date a lot of sad people, so maybe I just end up dating everyone sad I meet. The happy people are just people I enjoy spending time with but don’t really relate to. But, with these happy friends, they always talk about how they are going to miss the people they have met and the communities they have formed. I nod along because I am not dumb enough to contradict them and let loose my negative feelings. But, inside, I feel profoundly alienated from this sentiment. Unlike them, I have nothing to leave behind. At any point in my undergraduate experience, I could have died, and I wouldn’t think too much about it.

Once, in the past, my friend told me that he thought a lot about death and time. When I asked them why he thought about that, he told me that he found it fascinating how in one moment you can be in existence, and then in anothe rmoment you can be out of existence.

It is a cool thought. I never thought that much about death. Even though a lot of philosophers think about death, I think it’s the one concept that I have actually dedicated no thought towards understanding. It does not scare me that at any moment, I can get a brain aneurysm and fall out of existence. I spent most of my life fantasizing about my death. Falling out of existence is basically all that I want to do in life. I just want to disappear and never come back. I mean that quite literally. I think it was the worst in high school, when I would devise methods (for fun) of how to commit suicide. But, since I have life instincts as well, it takes the fun out of dying. You can’thave sex when you are dead.

I’m sure this will be the last reminder of my college experience in quite a while. There are no graduations left in the future that will remind me of my time as an undergraduate. Assuming there aren’t any reminders that I cannot filter out with my defense mechanisms, this is probably the last time I’ll be sad about my lackluster college experience. I hope that’s true.

Guess I’ll die.

happy memories as causation and possession

I forgot what it felt like when I got into Penn all those years ago. When I opened my acceptance letter for the first time ever with the music of “The Red and Blue” playing on my phone, I was overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude. I had made a lot of mistakes in my life, especially in high school, and I was grateful that Penn took a chance on me despite my shortcomings.

Now, as my time in college is coming to an end, I frequently lament about not having the experiences that I wanted to have in college. I no longer remember that gratitude I once felt for accepting a student who probably did not belong in that school. The admissions office took a chance on me, and I seem to have forgotten that. My experiences in college did not live up to the expectations that I had, so how could I forget about the circumstances that led me there in the first place?

When I arrived at Penn, I was not prepared to thrive at Penn, even after completing the module titled, “Thrive at Penn”. I was shy, idealistic. I had such big goals that I wanted to accomplish yet was so incapable of functioning as a normal human being much less accomplishing those goals. That was the state I was in when I came college, but it’s not the state I have as I leave college. Even though I entered unknowing the goals I wanted to achieve or how to achieve those goals, I exit with a sense of confidence in my understanding of myself. For that, I am grateful.

I have an okay idea of what I want to do with my life, at least as okay of an idea as any 22-year-old could have. I am a lot more sure of a person leaving college than I was coming into college, so my college experience has done its part in forming the better person that I eventually become. If I am formed by my environment, then Penn and the community surrounding it is that environment that formed me. So much of what I understand now as pillars of my personality was formed in this environment. It is the environment that let me in despite my not being ready to enter.

As for my first couple years in college, it wasn’t a function of who I could’ve met or what I could’ve done that would have fundamentally changed my college experience. It wasn’t my surroundings that have caused me my sadness; I’m sure if I went to any other college, I would have had the exact same experiences as I did in this one. Rather, my inability to have the college experience that I wanted to was an issue with me, which is the product of the 12 years of education that came before college.

I wish things were different, but things aren’t that bad. People change in college, for sure, but I wish I had changed in a different direction. Sometimes, I meet so many people who have changed for the better, and sometimes, I wish that was me. It isn’t that I haven’t changed for the better, but I wish I had a set of experiences that gave me a more optimistic view of the world, instead of whatever pessimistic outlook I have now. I may have not been the person I wanted to be coming out of college, but I’m closer to the person I want to be now, and I don’t know if this is a good thing or not. It is the same logic the used to plague me in the summer after high school. I wish I had been a different person in high school, just like I wish I had been a different person in middle school, just like the time before that.

From a metaphysical perspective, I think this situation offers some interesting commentary on the nature of self. I am the person I was because of the experiences I have had over the past couple of years. If I did not have the experiences I’ve had over the past couple of years, then I would not be the person I am right now. I do have a reason to be upset for not being who I am now all of those years ago, but it is the same sentiment of envy that defines my want for other material things. I could pull some of that good Nietzsche’s Amor Fati shit and think about how this life is mine and I should love it, but I don’t really Amor my Fati. I don’t love the freedom that I had to live a different life than I did. Freedom is the cause of regret.

I often wonder why I resonate with the Orwellian phrase: Freedom is slavery, but I think I’m coming closer to getting. I have been guaranteed a lot of freedom in my life. Opportunities. And, from a young age, I was constantly reminded of this opportunity. Being the son of immigrants tends to serve as a good reminder. I have infinitely more opportunities than my parents, who grew up in China before modernization in the post-1978 era. Yet, this freedom also involves the constant state of regret because of the existence of opportunity cost.

The first thing I learned in ECON 001 was the concept of opportunity cost. I think I got a B- in that class, so I might not be an expert on this. But, the freedom I experienced as a child only translates into a sense of guilt as I grow older. I did not have that many friends growing up because I was not a great communicator. I am still not a great communicator, but I am significantly better at communicating now than I did in the past. My self-compassion would probably point to how English was my second language, and I’m sure that had something to do with it. But, the bottom line is: I have the opportunity to have a good life, yet why I wasn’t taking it?

I frequently talk about how I think life is deterministic, which is a way for me to redeem my lackluster past. I don’t think I have done any very bad things in the past, but there is a lot in my past I wish I could have done better. There is such a sharp discrepancy in information between now and the past, and I wish I knew back then what I do now then. If I did, then I would have a signficiantly different experience growing up. But, because I was not born in an environment with that type of knowledge, I could only accumulate knowledge as I grew up. Information, in that regard, is just like a material endowment in any other regard, and it was an endowment I was not born with.

Yet sometimes, I am convinced that information is just as much a choice as hard work. I did not know what finance was until junior year of college. Sure, I “knew” what it was,but I didn’t know what it was. My parents have regular, middle-class jobs. My extended family is filled with doctors. It is a piece of information I did not have. Even though I wish I recruited for finance sooner, how could I have possibly known to? It is an absence of information, yet I treat it in my head as a choice. Networking is a way to address information assymetries, but how do I do that when I didn’t know what networking is either? I did not have information, and I did not know how to get information.

Sometimes, I wish the universe happened to me differently than it did with other people. Some people found communities in college that have changed them and “opened their doors” or whatever. I wish the universe happened to me like that. I wish that I was able to find communities that happened to me that allowed me to pour my love and spirit somewhere. Because, the truth is: in college, I had so much affection to give but so little outlets to pour it into. I had so much spirit at the beginning of college.

All I wanted, especially in the beginning of college, was to give my love all away. I wish I had a community to pour my love into, but I didn’t, so I held onto my affection to myself, until one day, I stopped carrying onto it, so I set it down and moved on, where it withered, and died.

Happy memories in college — they’re a possession. it just so happens that these are not possessions that I have. But, on the other hand, I don’t own a Canada Goose jacket, nor did I have a skateboard growing up. For these material things, I have made my peace with it long ago. I don’t really want a Canada Goose jacket anymore even when I can afford one with my signing bonus, and I decided to buy a skateboard during my sophomore year of college. I have so thoroughly intuited the idea that I am not defined by what I have or do not have in terms of material possessions. I know who I am regardless of my possession of a skateboard or a Canada Goose jacket. These things are so insignificant to me. I can move on from these parts of my past. Yet, why do I still so care so much about the happy memories in college I was not born to have?

the function of study spaces in time

During freshman year of college, I spent a lot of time in this area on the second floor of Craig residential hall in Fisher Hassenfeld house called Craig library. Whenever I finished class, I would head there to study. And, chances where, there would be other people studying there. Originally, it served as a function of convenience. I find it very difficult to study inside my house, and Craig library was the closest common space I could find.

I made a lot of my freshman year friends in that room. If, by friend, you mean people you study with and occcasionally eat lunch with. There always seemed to be something going on in that room, so I thought.

But, starting sophomore year, I no longer have easy access to a common room right outside of my dorm. I didn’t live in the high rises like many of my friends, so there wasn’t really a common room could reach on a regular basis. I tried studying in Huntsman Hall for a bit, but I never felt comfortable there for some reason. Instead, I studied a lot in the Graduate School of Education building. It was right next to Huntsman and conveniently right across from the gym, so I could easily alternate between studying and working out.

In addition, it was also always filled with aspiring teachers, who are probably some of the most wholesome people I would ever meet, so I could easily leave my stuff behind without fear that someone would take it.

Some of the time I spent in GSE was incredibly lonely. Everyone studies in Huntsman, and no one seem to know about GSE. While the common room in GSE is pretty bustling during the day when classes were going on, it is surprisingly quiet at night when all the graduate students have gone home to wherever they were going to live. The common room was pretty big with many tables, designed to foster collaboration when the building was filled to the brim, but I mostly stayed there when it was empty.

You can imagine how this interior design shapes my mental health.

I remember during my sophomore years, the walk back home from GSE was the worst time in my life. First of all, I remember that year to be very cold. But, more than that, I felt that GSE took this space where I would be able to hide from the rest of my life. When I was home at 4045 Filbert St. it often felt as if I was still aware of my life. Time still passed with me. But, when I stayed in GSE, it seemed to pass around me. There was whatever happened outside, and then there was the emptiness of the common room whenever I would be there.

When I would leave this space, however, it seemed that I was returning back to the real world. It was worst on the weekends, when I could see drunk people living the life while I felt as if I never had that sort of pleasurable experience in college. It was nice and toasty inside, and I am always reminded of how cold everything was when I returned outside. It was one of those moments that made me feel comfortable being alone, when being alone and forgetting that other people exist was better than being alone and understanding that there is an alternative.

I knew the layout pretty well, so I knew the classroom on the bottom floor was always unlocked. This meant that I had a lot of sex in that classroom. During the school year, I did it because it was #edgy and #cool. But, during the summer, I did it because I didn’t have any other choice. It was one of those things I did in reaction to some sort of inadequacy. Since I didn’t have a place to myself during the summer, I had to improvise. Back when Tinder dates were still a thing.

During the weekends, I would spend a lot of my time at Green Line Cafe on 40th and Samson. I would go so often that the barista memorized my order, and on one occasion gave me a free drink. I was pretty unproductive whenever I was there, but it was a time when I did things for the aesthetic. There was once a Sofar concert there that I was emceeing for, and that was a predictable combination of both worlds.

During the summer of sophomore year, when I was doing research at Penn, I returned to GSE. It was a better experience with GSE, mostly because I showed my friends and they would come to GSE to work with me. It was also the summer I was taking ECON 104, which was the hardest economics class I have ever taken. Every Tuesday and Thursday, I would be back at GSE grinding away at my problem set. But, I had someone else to do it with me, which markedly improved my overall experience there. It was a good summer, yet I wonder why I regret it so much.

Every time I walk in, there would be a person at the desk asking me to see my Penn Card. It was just the policy of the school, and I would show my Penn Card every time I enter. At one point in the summer though, the security guard recognized me, and I no longer needed to show my Penn Card.

Today, I walked into GSE, and there was no one at the desk. Because there was no one at the desk, I didn’t need to show my Penn Card to anyone. It was an interesting change of events. I think someone called Penn Police on me, so I’ll probably be escorted out of here in a little bit, but it was nice to be here once again while I could.

a different world

Dear lil’ Grant,

I remember what you were like when you discovered you were admitted to Penn. It was the the weekend of PMEA Regions Orchestra. You opened the application portal at dinner with your orchestra friends. I think you were eating macaroni and cheese. Immediately, after reading the words “Congratulations!”, you slammed your phone down on the table because you were so happy and ran a couple laps around the host school in the freezing cold. At one point, you gave the janitor a hug. You called your mom, and she replied, “Are you sure?”

It was a wild moment full of excitement and possibility. It had been your dream to go to Penn since sat underneath the Benjamin Franklin statue eating a beef and eggplant platter from King Wok, and this is the realization of your dream. I wish I could tell you that college lived up to your expectations—thrilling parties, heartwarming friends, and enriching conversations—but I can’t tell you what you want to hear.

Coming to Penn felt like an organ experiencing transplant rejection.

Most of my friends thought NSO was their best time at Penn. For me, NSO was, by far, my worst experience at Penn. It is the same with every other holiday. For some reason, my worst times at Penn were the times that I was supposed to be the happiest. It is only in those moments am I reminded of how much college did not live up to my expectations.

You had probably received the advice to be yourself. I think that being yourself is possibly the worst piece of advice you could receive as a freshman. If you don’t have an innate model of what kind of person you want to be, I think that being yourself is dangerous to have a life that you want. Even now, I still don’t have a good idea of what “myself” entails; I just know that it’s probably best not to think about it.

Your “Why Penn?” essay detailing how you wanted to make a contribution to psychiatrics as a pre-med would probably be surprised to discover that you ended up studying English. I would say this academic transition was unexpected, but in reality, you probably knew inside that you weren’t meant to be a doctor. For one, there is already another doctor with my name, and the universe wasn’t meant to have two of those.

I wish I could say that it gets better, but it doesn’t.

I searched so hard to find acceptance in some sort of community in college. Yet, the most defining part of my college experience was facing rejection from these same communities I extended my hand to. The reality is that not everyone finds a place to call home in college. I know I didn’t. In the end, I never found the communities that I believed would be an integral part of the college experience. In retrospect, there was a lot I could’ve don’t to be more friendly, more likable. But it was one of those experiences that make you ask, but how could I have known better?

For a long time, my inability to effectively assimilate into this college environment caused me a lot of unhappiness. But I learned that adhering to any idea of what things should be like is quite dangerous. It invites a tendency to compare yourself to unrealistic goals that are set by individuals who also idealize their own experience. There is no defining feature of the college experience, and believing there are certain experiences you should have at certain times in your life is just just a harmful thought to have.

My friend once showed me “The Opposite of Loneliness” written by some student at Yale. It talked about this student who felt so integrated within the Yale community that she felt what constituted the “opposite of loneliness”. My only reaction was: nothing written in this essay resonates with me at all.

I learned that happiness does not come from things that happen to you but rather from within.

Many of my friends have expressed immense sadness over how coronavirus has canceled the latter half of the spring semester. To a large extent, I can see where these people are coming from. No goodbyes to be said, no graduation to be had. They feel so sentimental about their college experience and believed it was cut short too soon. Perhaps they believe that they did not spend enough time with their friends. Perhaps they wanted to check off more things on their senior year checklist. Because college constitutes the “best four years of their life” they feel sentimental for having something to leave behind.

I don’t really share their experiences in this regard. When my friend graduated last semester, I wanted to graduate with her. There wouldn’t be much for me to leave behind. For me, this experience of social distancing had been my happiest at Penn. It is always the experiences that cause others the most sadness that causes me to feel the most at peace. Other than COVID-19, my other favorite moments at Penn where during recruiting season in the first couple months of fall. Attending information sessions for five hours a day — there’s nothing else I would rather do, and I say that with complete seriousness. At least there wouldn’t be anything for me to miss out on. It was an appropriate end to the past four years of my life: an ending without a goodbye.

There’s not much I remember about my first couple years of college, but I remember it was very cold. Late at night, when I walked back to the Quad during freshman year, I remember how cold it was to reach into my pocket and take out my Penn Card. During sophomore year, in those walks home from Van Pelt, I noticed how the frost would wrap around my hands when I would pull out my phone to skip a song. The album Awake by Illenium had just come out, and you would play “Needed You” on your walk home back from Van Pelt almost every night.

Something I noticed about isolation is that it plunges you into yourself. When I feel isolated, I tend to think less about the world around me and notice more about what I am perceiving at the moment. This type of thinking, I learned, is problematic in developing better mental health. For so long in college, I resented others for having a better life than I did — for having the community that I wanted but did not have. But, somewhere along the line, I learned that there’s no point in being resentful. At the end of the day, I was just playing myself. But there’s no point in me saying that. That’s something you have to learn for yourself.

In reflection of my college experience, I wish I could say that you should savor every moment that you had. That seems to be what everyone else is saying. But, if I were being honest, I think you should just live as if you were dreaming, as if you were going to forget about it.

 Remember when you read 1984 by George Orwell in the 10th grade? 

The words will come to make so much sense:

War is Peace
Freedom is Slavery
Ignorance is Strength

Sometimes, it’s better to have toxic friends than no friends at all.

Sometimes, it’s better to live life on fast forward, skipping ahead to the end of the story.

Sometimes, it’s better to forget about the life that you had.