aesthetic capital

In college, I had no money and no friends. Now that I have graduated and have a full-time job, I find myself having money but still no friends.

They say that money doesn’t buy happiness. I agree. But at least with money, I can glamously aestheticize my sadness. If I didn’t have money, instead of smoking cigarettes on the windowsill of my Manhattan high-rise apartment gazing into the skyline, I would have to smoke in some ground-floor apartment in Queens next to a laser tag arena, which is not as aesthetic.

I never thought that money would bring me happiness. That being sad, I think the only thing that could bring me happiness are friends, but friends are often in short supply nowadays. There were a couple moments in my life when I felt like I had friends, but those moments come and go quickly. After reflecting for the past couple of years, I realized there’s not much I can do to form friendships beyond the opportunities that are naturally presented to me. Friends, after all, cannot be forced, and I don’t enjoy the process of making friends from scratch. I choose to forgo that effort in my life. But I can control how much money I make at a given time. Money can purchase aesthetics, which makes my life less sad.

I can choose to take some jobs over other jobs that offer better compensation or advancement opportunities than other jobs. If I cannot get the jobs I want now, then there are immediate efforts I can pursue to get the jobs that I want in the future. I used to think that there was some unpredictable force in recruiting that arbitrarily favored some candidates over others. There is a force, but it’s far from arbitrary. It’s just competence, and we can control how competent we are by how much effort we put into achieving competence.

Making friends, on the other hand, does not follow the same laws of competence as interviewing for jobs. In fact I would argue the opposite. The more people we become acqainted with, the more selective we are in who we call friends and who we do not. The more experiences we have, the more unqiue we become as individuals. The more unique we become, the less we are able to connect with other human beings who do not exhibit our same flavor of uniqueness.

Since the inception of storytelling as a medium, people have been writing about stories of the rich (@ all of premodernist British literature). These stories sell well because people are interested in the lives of the rich. From the Bennets in Pride and Prejudice to the Kardashians, there’s never been a time in society in which being rich was not a popular point of public discourse. This is because money, although unable to buy happiness, can buy aesthetics. It is only the object of aesthetic that has changed. Back then, it was horsedrawn carriages and ball gowns. Nowadays, it’s sports cars and designer jackets. Although I cannot buy my way to happiness, I can sure as hell buy my way to beauty.

I can’t choose when I suffer, but at least I can choose to suffer beautifully.

sense and necessity

I finished reading Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning on a plane ride the other day. Although I agree with his understanding of the importance of love and work in constructing meaning, I don’t agree with his view on suffering. In particular, I don’t think that we need to make sense of our suffering in order to lead a fulfilling life. A couple of years ago, I used to think that suffering was necessary to understand the value of joy, but I no longer believe that anymore. In fact, my idea of a perfect life is one without suffering. I don’t think that suffering allows us to derive any more meaning from a life absent of suffering.

I think we tell ourselves a lot of things to make ourselves feel better when we are suffering. Whatever we tell ourselves — it helps — but that doesn’t make it true. Just because I wrote 120,000 words in college trying to understand my own suffering, doesn’t make it coherent. When I reflect on those experiences — the profound sense of loneliness and lostness I felt in elementary, middle, and high school and college — I no longer feel that those experiences have shaped me to be a larger person than I would have been without those experiences. Life is finite. Youth is finite. And those years felt like wasted time.

I used to embrace the amor fati attitude Nietzsche outlined about being grateful for all of your experiences, the good and the bad, for the way they have shaped you to become the person you are. Now, I think that he was just coping. We were all reading his coping thoughts as some divine truth, but in actuality Nietzsche was just an sad incel who wanted to feel less sad. I am not grateful for my past because there is so little to be cherished. Since I have graduated college and have developed better control over my consciousness, I have actively been purging these memories from my thoughts, and I think that’s made me happier.

It is unfortunate that suffering is inevitable. Life would be a lot better if there was no suffering. Alternatively, if everything was suffering, then there is also no suffering. But precisely because we have individuality, we have suffering. If everyone turned into the primordial human soup in Neon Genesis Evangelion, then we wouldn’t have to deal with all this consciousness crap that is the source of our suffering. If identity was collective, then individual wishes would not exist. The world would be at peace.

I think it’s quite unfortunate in human physiology that we require the company of others to feel not shitty. It’s probably the only thing that is preventing me from packing up my stuff and moving to hut next to some mountain in Utah, which is exactly what I’m doing right now (and it does not live up to my expectations). I’ve been reflecting a lot lately about what makes life meaningful, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I won’t be able to find meaning in my life unless my experiences were shared with others. Considering how reluctant I am being a member of society at all, this is probably the worst curse I could have.

I don’t like people, yet I need people to feel that life is worth living. The appeal of love, similar to the appeal of drugs, is the destruction of the ego. As much as we want to contain ourselves from other people, we also want to surrender ourselves in an attempt to relinquish our identity. The unforunate thing is that love and drugs are only temporary fixes. Love wears off. Drugs wear off. Then we’re back on square one, fully aware of our individual identity and in pursuit of another moment of forgetfulness in attempt to shatter all that makes us individual.

proof of life

I typically consider myself a risk-averse person, but I’ve noticed that life gets quite boring without risk. When I was in school, I was constantly on edge about my grades or my recruiting prospects. But now, I don’t have those fears anymore. Life today is more-or-less similar to how it was yesterday. I’m a bit worried about a solar storm that would wipe out all the computer servers that record what capital we own, which would result in the collapse of modern civilization, but that’s quite a distance fear for the moment.

Now, I have the need to manufacture risk beyond what is presented to me. This life that I have now, which I thought was the life I wanted a couple of years ago, is no longer the life I want anymore. I have a long-term vision of what I want in my life, and my current life is on the pathway to achieve my long-term goal, but I also have a desire to diverge from this path and live a life that leads me to stray from this long-term vision for myself.

I have the need to live beyond the life I have now, so I pursue things that don’t necessarily fit my long-term vision for myself but nevertheless things I want to do now to satisfy my short-term desires. I have the desire to live as full of a life as I can. I have the desire to prove that I can live whatever life I can, but living a well-rounded life can come at the cost of living a focused life. If I wanted to speed-run life, I would get married as soon as I could, but there are still a couple of things I want to accomplish before I get married.

What troubles me the most is the uncertainty of when I will die. I find it annoying that we could all die for the most random of reasons. I used to think living until old age until I die of cancer or something was a given, but lately I’ve become more acutely aware that it is not necessarily the case. For one, I could die of a brain aneurysm at any moment, and there’s not much I can do about it. There’s so much I want to do in life before that happens. I want to get married, have kids, move to a suburb in Greenwich, Connecticut and live out the rest of my life while forgetting the first 22 years of my life.

If I knew when I would die, I would be able to plan out my life accordingly. I would be able to evaluate whether moving to Greenwich to start a family is a feasible goal. If I don’t live long enough to realize my long-term goals, then I could just focus on my short-term goals. If anything, it makes my life quite easier. Since my short-term and long-term goals are often at odds with each other, it saves me the trouble of balancing my need for one over the other.

I want to shoot my shot at becoming a pop star. Unironically. I’m only allowing myself a couple of years to accomplish this goal, half-heartedly while still working full-time, because I still want to fulfill my vision for the subruban life I want for myself in my 30s. If attempting to be a popstar means that I can’t live in a Greenwich suburb and send my kids to prep school, then I don’t want to pursue it at all. But in the meantime, I still want to become a popstar.

There’s also risk-seeking behavior I engage in the present that actively distract me from attaining my surburban dreams. Everytime I go on a hike up a mountain, there’s a chance that I might slip and die. Everytime I travel to a foreign country, there’s a chance I might not make it back home. Why do I engage in these behaviors? Namely, it is because they make my peaceful reality seem more pleasurable in comparison. I hate thrill, but sometimes the intensity of thrill makes the dull moments of life all the more pleasurable.

I find it unfortunate that we need to prove things to ourselves to make us feel like we are living. It would be a lot easier if we could just live in a state of being where everyday existence felt just as alive as the thrill of novelty. Perhaps there will one day be a life like that. It can be like that if we will it to be like that, but I’m not sure if I want my life to be like that. It’s hard to forget about the concept of opportunity cost after you learn about it. How can we live a life that everyone else can live when we already could live a life that only we can live?

all that glitters is not gold

What am I trying to do?

You know how there are some nights where you wake up, not completely sure of what’s waking you up or what is causing you to stay awake? More accurately, I am very well aware of what’s keeping me awake, but I choose not to think too much about it, which is causing me further stress and preventing me from sleeping. Either way, I’m not entirely sure what to do on those nights. I tried showering, but now I’m back on my bed, my hair now wet and not any closer to falling asleep. Looking out my window into the city streets doesn’t particularly help either. There is nothing worth watching 4 AM Tuesday morning (or Monday night? when does the threshold cross?)

I feel like a lot of my writing revolves around very abstract ideas in a way that hides how I actually feel about very real things that happen in my life. This supposedly saves me the trouble of reflecting on anything specific that happens in my life and allows me to just extrapolate my experiences as cross-cultural truths without actually trying to understand how my emotions implicitly filter into my thinking. It is also the only way I could communicate ideas without anyone actually knowing what I’m talking about. I thought I no longer pursued grand unifying theories about existence in an attempt to justify some part of my life, but it seems that I return to old habits when my old emotions settle in.

It’s been a couple of months since I last wrote anything for public consumption. The last time I’ve published anything online was in June. It is perhaps the longest break I’ve taken from writing since I started writing. I was happy in this time. When I am happy, I have no desire to write. Since I got my vaccine in May, I’ve been living my life filled with a constant string of events and trips with my friends. It was a summer like some other summers in my life, filled with a sense of togetherness and belonging with people I have met very recently and became close with very quickly, and I would rank it as the third happiest summer of my life.

But after every high, there is a low. I can tell a low is approaching because I feel the need to write, and I only write when I’m sad. My sense of belongingness and togetherness is slipping away. I don’t feel as comfortable anymore asking people to do things with me. When going out, I don’t feel as capable of enjoying the moment because I feel isolated from my surroundings. Everything around me seems so foreign, and I find it difficult to find security in the people around me. I am aware of the impermanence of what I am feeling. Intimacy is a sensation, and sensations can be taken away with simple shifts in neurochemistry.

I’ve just signed a lease to move to Manhattan for a November move-in. I feel sentimental leaving Philly although not in a regretful sense. I had an eventful summer. It’s unfortunate that this summer has to end. By nature all summers have to end. It’s just that I wish it had lasted longer, like other happy moments in my life. Although the summe ended pretty much as well as it could’ve, there’s still a part of me that wished I could have gained a sense of closure from all the relationships I have formed. More specifically, I wish I achieved the intimacy I wanted that would transcend whatever I am feeling at the moment. Alas, if life is composed of only wonderous moments, then we would never be able to perceive wonder at all. I accept this truth and brace myself for the contrast ahead.

I made a realization this summer. I realize that all my life, I’ve been chasing after this idea of intimacy without actually understand what intimacy means. I realize that what I’ve tried to accomplish through partying or sex or whatever was to emulate this misguided idea of intimacy I thought would bring me happiness. I thought that doing things with other people would give me a sense of belonging. There are substances you can take that make you feel closer to other people, but that’s not actual intimacy; it’s just the image of intimacy.

In college, I cannot count the number of times I thought I had made a friend at a frat party only for them to ignore me the next day when I walk past them on Locust. The same goes for friends that I made at concerts or pregames or any other activity involving substances. It’s not that the world of substances isn’t real — it’s just that it is unaccessible unless very specific conditions are met. More importantly, it is a temporary state of mind that depends on a feeling, and friendships that do not endure after the feeling of intimacy wears off weren’t intimate in the first place.

Similarly, sex feels intimate because it’s a very vulnerable act. At least, at first. It gets less novel and intense with each additional romantic partner and every additional instance. For most of college, I feel as if I used sex as a proxy for intimacy without actually attempting to genuinely create something intimate with my romantic partners. It was a very transactional sort of relationship. You have sex, you cuddle, you get your oxytocin, and then you leave. But it falls into the same problem as substances. At the end of the day, it’s a feeling, and feelings wear off. If there’s nothing truly intimate grounding a relationship beyond a string of feelings, then it was not intimate in the first place.

Life is not short, but the happy moments that make it meaningful are. Because of how I happy I was durings this period, there will be some activities I have enjoyed this summer that I will find difficult to enjoy in the near future. I can’t imagine I would be able to enjoy hanging out people for some time. I imagine there’s a grace period I would need to reflect on my experiences this summer — some sort of self-imposed isolation I would need to balance out the sheer activity I have had over the past couple of months.

Loneliness is the flip side of intimacy. It it only through loneliness can we appreciate how we felt intimacy at one point in our lives. I haven’t felt loneliness for some time, but I feel that my loneliness is returning. I feel that I’m feeling the last graces of sunlight before the storm sitting on the horizon encloses my surroundings. I have been in the sun for so long I’ve forgotten what the rain feels like, even if I like to joke that I was in the rain at one point in my life. Now that the rain has returned, I’m not sure what to think about it. It’s drizzling right now, and all I have are artistic coping mechanisms to deal with it all. I wish I could feel less, so I could feel less of this rain. Life, it seems, would be so good without the rain.

I guess I haven’t found the “invincible summer” I thought I did. I guess I overestimated how capable I was at generating my own happiness. I am still dependent on other people to feel happy, even though I wish I weren’t. I wish I could live alone, but I know I cannot.

It feels the last bits of my soul are being syphoned out. I’ve become capable of crying again about a year ago. In the last few weeks, I find myself crying a lot. Shower cries are nice because the warm water sets the mood well. 3 AM cries are also nice because you can sleep until the morning after. 10 PM cries aren’t as great because you might wake up at 3 AM to cry. As much as I hate the sensation of being lonely, I find that crying makes things better. I used to dislike crying because my parents used to yell at me whenever I cried. But now, I enjoy crying. Emotions without outlet is stressful, but crying is not stressful. Crying feels like the end of my sadness. When I cry, I feel the world becoming present in front of me again.

I mishead a lyric from the song “tomorrow tonight” today: Said that we needed space, we just got closer. Thought it said closure instead of closer. I guess that’s where I’m at, at the moment.

I feel like I do this a lot. Whenever I become uncomfortable in a friendship or relationship, I just… leave. It’s a lot easier to deal with the uncertainty of the future than the longing for the past. I just want to move away from this space serving as a reminder of how intimate I felt at one point in my life. Without contrast, we would never be able to be aware of how intimate we felt at one point in our life. That doesn’t seem like such a bad world to live in. I could use a break from my own memories. I want to live far away from this world in which I occupy. There is so little here that is still worth remembering. I just want to forget it all, along with all sense of belongingness I felt at one point in my life. I recognize that my return to a saddened state is inevitable. I wish I could do more about it instead of wishing that the past doesn’t exist.

I would hate to enter another phase in my life when I beleive that intimacy is dead. The last phase of my life in which I didn’t believe in love was pretty bad, and I would hate for the next couple years of my life to follow the same trajectory as the previous couple years of my life. I want, more than anything, for the next few years of my life to be happy. I have some idea of how to achieve that, but almost all my visions for my own happiness involves feeling intimate. I know if I am unable to feel intimate at this time for specific reasons. The future is a toss-up. If I could have some certainty of how intimate my future would be, then I would be okay. The sheer fact that I don’t, however, causes me stress. I want to be intimate. I don’t know if I am capable of being intimate.

More than anything, I’ve been trying achieve intimacy in my life. All I feel capable of doing, however, is chasing the mirage of what I thought intimacy meant. I’m not sure if this summer I was able to achieve intimacy after all. I’m not sure if what I felt was another mirage of intimacy, or whether I’ve been able to achieve true intimacy. I’m not sure whether intimacy would bring me the sense of fulfilment I want in life. I’m not sure if anything will bring me a sense of fuliment in life. I just don’t want to feel like complete shit all the time, and the only time in my life in which I didn’t was when I thought I have achieved intimacy.

the freedom-gratitude dichotomy

// BOREDOM //

The other day I was reading Malone Dies by Beckett, which is a very long-winded plotless commentary on the essence of the self by portraying a dying man who faced humiliation from being unable to performing daily tasks. Quite possibly, I think it’s the exact opposite of what I’m feeling right now.

It’s super weird — I used to ruminate on the past a lot. I don’t really do that anymore. The past is in the past, and I’ve already gleaned whatever lessons I could learn from the past. I have problems in the present, so there’s not much use in thinking about the past. The rational thing to do is just move on and think about the future. Now that I am an adult, being rational is a lot easier to do. Adulthood is accompanied by the absence of emotional intensity, and the only natural filler is rationality.

Considering how much I used to write, I always thought that my future would be filled with manuscripts churning out left and right. Whenever someone older than me tells me they’re interested in art or writing, I would ask if they still engage with their passions, and I would be always surprised when they tell me that they don’t really spend time on their passions anymore. This was me asking as a student. Of course, professional life is somewhat busier than student life, but I thought there’s still plenty of time during the weekends when you can pretty much do whatever you want. Given this free time, I always wonder why people don’t spend time on their non-work projects.

Now that I’ve reached the point in my life where I am considered old to most college students, I’ve started to understand why people stop pursuing passion projects the further they get into adult life. For me, it’s because I’m a lot more emotionally stable, and nobody likes making art when they are emotionally stable.

I’m convinced that there are only two motivations for creating art: pain and boredom. I am quite bored nowadays, and that invites certain types of art, but I’m definitely not at the point in my life when I’m just in a constant state of emotional distress. There’s just something about being young that necessitates an absence of emotional regulation. Looking back, everything seemed more dramatic. As I read back on my journal entries, I start noticing how often I cite feeling a lack of control in my life — as if all aspects of my existence was reactionary to certain events that have happened to me or certain people I happened to meet. Now I feel like I have control over what happens to me and who I meet, so I don’t really think the people I meet or the events that happen to be tremendously influential.

There’s this weird dynamic where certain people influence you, but you also influence other people in the same way, and there is no contact between the people who influence you and the people you influence. For most of freshman and sophomore year, I felt as if I was always the one with less experience than the people I meet, and it was a constant process of being influenced. Then, junior and senior year I started to realize that I had more experience than I thought I did, which led me to inadvertently influence other people. The difference between these two states, from what I’ve gathered, is emotional regulation and indifference. It’s this ability to not feel things strongly, which allows us to move forward in our lives with ease.

Before, I usually turned to writing as an outlet for intense negative emotions. There was this necessity to write because I didn’t have any other outlets to channel my emotion. I don’t really feel those emotions anymore. Everything is mild. Pain is mild. Joy is mild. My life has been reduced (or elevated) to a mellow existence. I am mellow, and I feel quite undeterred by my surroundings. The winds blow back and forth, but I don’t really care which direction the wind blows. My life is mellow.

The unfortunate part of a mellow life is that you don’t really have any pressure to do anything. Things are chill, and I, like most humans, are pretty averse to change. I’m at this crossroad in my life where I’m considering if I should trade this newfound freedom I have to follow through for appreciating what I have and living a risk-free life. What is it that I value — freedom or gratitude?

Life comes in phases. You are born, and then you die.

If you want to get specific, you can say: You are born, you work, and then you die.

If you want to get even more specific, you can say: You are born, you go to school, you work, you get married, and then you die. You might do some things that are a little fun in between, like going to the movies (that’s what people do for fun, right?). There is no specific order to do things (you can get married before you start working, or you can go to the movies before you get married), but the phases are static nonetheless. One phase in our life is defined relative to the context of other phases.

At every moment in our lives, we have the choice to embrace freedom or gratitude. I feel like gratitude is something you exercise when you have lived most of your life, which leaves you able to appreciate the life you have lived. That’s quite the opposite of what I feel. Thus far, I feel like I haven’t even begun to live. I feel like I’ve been born yesterday, and my entire existence is boiled into potential that has yet to be set ablaze. I have so much freedom that I’ve yet to exercise, and I don’t want to feel better by being grateful for what I have. I want to feel helpless attempting to do things I never imagined that I would ever accomplish. I want to face the vastness of the universe. And devour it.

// PAIN //

When we are in a state of turbulence, we crave stability. When are in a state of stability, we crave activity. The pendulum swings one side or another. We want what we don’t have at a given moment in time, and once we are adjusted to one side of the pendulum, the force of wanting what we don’t have eventually overwhelms us to want the other.

I used to think I wanted to be free. But freedom, in many cases, is the same as loneliness. Freedom means living independent of others. Living independent of others means living without attachment to others. Living without attachment to others means loneliness. It is unfortunate we cannot be free without being lonely.

In my positive psychology class, I was told that my emotional turbulence would decrease as I age. For a time, I thought that was true. Being 23 was a lot more emotionally stable than 21, which was a lot more stable than 18. Things have recently turned a corner, and my life is a mess again. Maybe on the aggregate emotions become a lot more stable, but specific instances have just as much power to influence my state of equilibrium as before. Things can happen, and it would affect me just as much when I am 23 as 20. No matter how much “experience” gets lumped in between those years, there are some things that don’t seem to get better over time. The intensity of the emotion is the same; we just have more experience to understand that all emotions would pass eventually.

Does that mean what I’m feeling now will pass? It’s 3:54 AM on a workday, and I’ve been writing for the past two hours. It has made me feel slightly better, but even that feeling of being “slightly better” is just a feeling. If I could sleep until morning, then I’m sure I’ll be overwhelmed with the same sensations when I wake up. If I can’t, then I’ll wake up in an hour or two and write more then. I thought I reached a point in my life when I was done with writing, but saying that I am done with writing for good is like saying that I won’t be sad again for the rest of my life. To be honest, there was a part of me that thought that was the case. There was a part of me that thought I would be happy for the rest of my life. How silly of me.

this reality is not real

When I was in middle school, I discovered the concept of hell for the first time ever, and it pretty much traumatize me for a week. An eternity of torture under the brimming gaze of fire and brimstone. It’s pretty fucked up if you ask me. I think the scary part about hell for me, beyond the fire and brimstone part of it, is the fact that nothing changes in hell. When you enter hell, you are still the person a thousand years later when you’re still in hell. I guess you could say the same thing about heaven really. There’s this weird conception that when you die, you just retain the personality you had when you were alive.

Ever since then, I’ve always asked myself: How do I know I am not in hell already? One of my worst fears in life is to learn that I’m in hell and that this world I have created around me is just a projection to take my attention from whatever torture I am experiencing at the moment. It is the world created at my discretion to distract myself from another world that exists. That is, assuming that I am in hell.

For now, however, I’m going to assume that I am not in hell. I have done some shitty things in my life, but nothing I would say warrants an eternity of suffering. Maybe a year or two, but definitely not more than five. At the end of the day, I think the hell metaphor has a lot of weight. The reality we experience is not the reality that exists. It is the reality we create for ourselves to escape from the reality that is out there. If we were truly capable of confronting reality as it is, our physiology would allow us to do so. We would be able to perceive ourselves and the world around us as objectively as possible, and we would act accordingly. The mere fact that we cannot indicates the limitations of our psychological physiology.

The world out there is not a pleasant world. We create a world internally to escape the world out in the world that we do not wish to perceive. Having an objective view on the world is not the reality we wish to occupy. At the end of the way, we choose to live in the reality we create because it is more familiar than whatever strange phenomena resides in outer reality. In that sense, we relegate the reality we experience in a deeply personal sense. It is a possessive reality in which we choose to perceive senses and thoughts according to our discretion as opposed to perceiving the natural order of things. It is a reality in which we occupy control, regardless of whether we wish to have that control or not, according to mental discretion.

The world exists, but we do not want to live in the world that exists. We would much rather live isolated in our own world than to live in the world at large. Between knowing the pain we feel and prospecting the uncertainty we face, we much rather find comfort hurting ourselves than face uncertainty. We move from reality to reality depending on how secure we feel at a particular point in time. Security brings optimism while insecurity brings pessimism. The lens in which we view the world changes depending on factors relating to identity. Our identity precedes reality because the world exists around us. Identity is the source of being, and perception is an aspect of being. There cannot be perception without being. In a true calling to romantic subjectivism, the world exists around us as a reflection of us.

Then there’s this question: What factors determine how we see the world around us? Off the top of my head I’m thinking of our associative memory. Things happen to us in the past, so we are reminded of the past whenever we find something in the present that reminds us of the past. The fact that our memories exist at all is proof of our multidimensional existence. We can perceive the present while perceiving the past.

The creation of memory is a relegative experience, but the recalling of memory is a forwarding experience. I’ve heard the saying that each time you recall your memory you aren’t actually recall your memory but your memory of your memory, and each time you recall a memory your memory of the memory is encoded into another memory of the memory, and so on. I find that quite interesting because it basically says that we’re able to create memories of experiences that never existed if we are able to create memories from memories enough instances. While it may be impossible to replicate actual phenomena with memory, the altercation of the memory while recalling is phenomena itself.

If you see the world differently from someone else, why is that? Is it because you lived a different life from someone else, or is because you were just born to view the world in a different way? Why do we choose certain realities over others?

I think waking up in the morning is a super interesting sensation. You weren’t conscious at one point in time. Then you wake up, and you’re conscious at another point in time. Then comes the baggage associated with consciousness, including your identity, perceptions, and thoughts. Although it seems like it was just a span of ~7 hours since you were last conscious, you can’t be sure of that exactly. The reality in which you are presented is circumstantial at best. It’s just like teleporting from one moment of time to the next moment in time, and you just have to assume your current reality is the reality in which you occupy.

Something that always amazes me is that you can never be sure whether your past before you had gone to sleep is real at all. We assume it’s real because we have memories of a world before we slept. But there’s nothing necessarily tangible connect that world to the world we wake up in besides our memories.

I’m currently living in my childhood bedroom again. It is, allegedly, the same bedroom I lived in from elementary school to high school. There have been a few modifications here and there — the bed crawled over to the right side, the walls are lined with filled boxes of clothes, and there are a couple items here and there that weren’t there before like the couple hundred dollars I spent on assorted musical instruments and posters of Lana Del Rey and The 1975.

It’s been about a year since I returned to this bedroom. I think I graduated college last year, but it’s honestly a blur. To some extent, I’m not too convinced I went to college at all… or high school, middle school, and elementary school, for that matter. I scrolled through some of my old Instagram photos the other day, which is the closest thing to resemble empirical proof that I had a “college experience” (whatever that means) at all. But other than a couple of old Instagram photos, some aged parchment with some Latin printed on, and a couple essays I wrote about how sad I was all the time, there’s no way I could convince myself that college happened at all, less a supposedly a meaningful time in my life.

Since this is the only world in which we live, there’s not much we can do to create alternative worlds in which things might’ve worked out better, where we could accumulate the character traits we have now without the emotional baggage that goes along with it.

identity formation in college

When I talk to my friends about graduating college, they often evoke a feeling of “loss” to describe transitioning from being a college student to being a young professional. They claim to lament the absence of responsibility for living in a sheltered space to explore their interests, but I venture to guess there’s also mourning for this period of radical change — where opportunity is infinite but capability is finite.

The unfortunate part of our limited spatial existence is that there’s no way to reclaim time once it has passed. Once you are born, once you graduate college, once you listen to Lana’s Chemtrails Over The Country Club for the first time, there is no way to go back and experience everything again (not that I actually liked the album; I just like the aesthetic of listening to Lana Del Rey). The media often portrays college as this space of novelty and liberation from living for the first time in absence of parental supervision. The media also portrays college as this space of lounging where evidently no one studies except in shared community spaces. Although I find most media portrayals of college to be annoyingly inaccurate, I think there’s some truth in a college experience defined by a couple memorable moments that fundamentally define our values for the next couple of years following college.

In many ways, college was the space to overcome the identity we were inherited by granting us the ability to choose in the absence of influence for the first time. Prior to college, we were influenced without the ability to recognize and reject influence. We aren’t entirely free from the force of influence in college, but we are able to actively choose whether we want to be influenced or not. At the very least, we are able to decide if we agree more with the culture or the counter culture of the school we attend, and we are able to choose an identity out of it.

But with choice comes opportunity cost. Sometimes, we aren’t able to realize our choices for a variety of reasons ranging from incompetence to recalcitrance. Sometimes, we aren’t able to achieve what we set out to achieve because we didn’t have the capability at the time. Other times, we are so obsessed with this image of what we thought ourselves to be that we reject the possibility of crafting another identity altogether. We all enter college with different abilities but with the same potential to become what we want to become. Our regret derives from the fact we are never able to achieve as much as we set out to achieve.

Something I’ve been curious about lately is the terminal point of identity where change comes in “tweaks” as opposed to “sweeps”. When we are born, we largely learn to adopt our parents’ system of values, which starts when identity starts to form itself around childhood and lasts until late adolescence. This is the placeholder identity until we actively choose to formulate our identity. Whenever we gain independence from our parents in one area, we shed the placeholder identity we inherited from them and continue to formulate identity by proxy of the people with whom we surround ourselves. When we go to college, the large majority of our social and political identity is formed through our education and relationships. After we graduate college, we formulate our economic identity as we become financially independent from our parents.

We change forever until the end of our lives, so there nothing necessarily “final” about identity at any point in time, but there is something predictable about how our identity changes over time after a certain point in our lives. At a certain age, we start to change less than we did previously. At a certain point, we reach an inflection point where subsequent changes in identity are reactions to environmental stimuli as opposed to some sort of elementary shift in the fundamentals.

I think identity formation follows the same S-curve as a lot of startups. Obviously, there’s no way to quantify change in identity in the same way you can quantify change in revenue. But, if there was, the S-curve would be the function to describe change in identity, normalized across a population.

For someone who believes in self-determinism, I actually have a lot of reservations on how free we actually are because there are only certain windows when identity is formed; the rest of life is justifying the actions we have performed in the name of our identity. When we are babies, we have unlimited potential ahead of us. We could become whatever we want to be. This is still largely true when we go through the schooling system. After we graduate and land our first job, however, there are some material restrictions ahead of us. Then I can only assume more and more responsibilities pile on.

My high school yearbook quote was: “Life starts at the end of your comfort zone.”

I thought it was super deep at the time because I didn’t really step outside my comfort zone until sometime at the end of high school, but later my friends told me that it was a quote every teenage girl set as their Instagram bio. Unlike many teenage girls, I don’t think I ever moved out of my teenage girl phase. I still like the look of string lights, poloroid photos, scented candles, and fake edgy jewelry, which is littered all across my bedroom.

More appropriately, what I think I was going after was this idea of that you can only perceive your life through the change you experience. For that reason, I think we as humans are a lot more “alive” than plants. Humans change; plants don’t change. Not that I’m trying to say that the only way to live is to change — because it’s not — but there’s something uniquely formative and revealing about emotional vulnerability and the identity that brews out of it.

There are a lot of people who say that your college years are the best years of your life. I don’t think I particularly had a good experience in college, so I can’t say I agree. I think college is more fun than high school, certainly, but I think adolescence in general is a pretty shitty time to be alive. Vulnerability marks a time of change. But change, for the most part, is pretty unenjoyable. No one likes feeling vulnerable, and we do a lot of things to mitigate our feelings of vulnerability. We seek change in order to escape vulnerability. By the time we are able to overcome our vulnerability, change is not really within our incentives anymore. It’s much easier to chill for the rest of your life than to decide to be vulnerable again.

College is more unqiue in the sense it takes place in your early twenties as opposed to being unqiue because it’s an educational experience. The closest thing to going to college again is getting an MBA or PhD, but that’s more of a new experience as opposed to a do-over of an existing experience. There’s not much novelty in those experiences. MBAs are more of a prolonged networking event than a genuine learning opportunity; PhDs, on the other hand, are definitely a learning opportunity and definitely not a networking event. These degrees, unlike college, are continuations of our existing identities than the radical formation of our identity itself. We already know what kinds of people we want to be when we go into MBAs and PhDs, but we don’t know what kind of person we will be when we come out of college.

In the last weeks of college, I don’t recall having feelings of sentimentality or longing, just a sense of confusion and indifference to the entire endeavor. Like… that’s it?

What struck me as particularly strange at graduation was the idea this was as much as I have changed in college. It felt as if I havent changed enough. Everyone says that you change a lot in college — and surely I have changed quite a bit — but when you’re in college you never really think about how the end of college marks the end of the time you would be able to change in college. It’s this abstract concept: the “end” of anything that doesn’t ever seem particularly real. When you are in college, you don’t think about the end of college, and when you graduate college, you also don’t think about the end of college. It’s one phase of life transitioned seemlessly into something else, and there aren’t any grand markers one identity ends and another begins.

Something that always struck me as odd being human and all is that we’re not particularly good at perceiving change in ourselves. In Chinese culture, a big thing is mentioning how someone has changed in weight since you last saw them (I am frequently reminded that I am fatter every time every time I visit my cousins), which denotes intimacy through noticing change. We have to rely on other people to tell us how we have changed because all change to us seems incremental and inperceptual but change to others seems very jump-y.

Right now, I am here. I don’t feel particularly vulnerable anymore, and that probably means I won’t be changing anytime soon, until something happens in my life that makes me vulnerable again. All that I will ever change in college has already been set, not because I’m being dramatic but because literally college has ended for me. The possibilities that we laid out when we were younger about what person would we turn out in college… it’s set. And now we have the rest of our lives to live out the identity we have formed in college.

relegative existence

I think it’s super weird we have a present self.

The most unfortunate part of life is that we are only presented with one of them. We are presented with many possible worlds in our many lives we could’ve lived, but at the end of the day, we only have one timeline that relentlessly marches forward. We grow up, and it is saddening to understand that it’s impossible to undo growing up.

At any point in time, including right now, we are attached to a particular set of memories unlike any other time. Our thoughts are subject to recency bias, so we are only able to access the events that happened most recently, even with traumatic events that have happened in the distant past. The further distant we are between moments of happening and moments of memory, the more opacity builds within the pipeline occurrence and remembrance. This luckily means that we aren’t defined by any specific instance of our lives, but it also means that the memories we access now will not move with us into the future. When the future comes around, we will have a different set of memories we cling onto, and our identity will be quite different when that time comes than it is now.

Things that bothered me in high school don’t really bother me now. Some things that bothered me in college still bother me now, but a lot less than it used to. We are bothered by different things at different points in our lives. As long as we understand that all identity is temporary, including all facets of irritation and insecurity, our world becomes increasingly detached from the present. Our present is a temporary reaction to the near past. But once the near past because the distant past, we develop a temporary reaction to another entirely different near past.

I remember living in a world where the future was brighter than the present. There were a couple of times in the near past when I looked into the oceanic horizon, I truly believed I would be able to walk over it and cross into another world where things could’ve turned out differently. But as I walk towards this world, its doors drift further and further away. The more we work towards this other world, the more we realize we are further than we thought we were. By the time we reach the middle of the sandbar — our feet trudging on at this promise we’ll have what we want if we walk far enough into the depths — we fear drowning before we reach the end. The door to what we want is on the horizon where the sky meets the sea. It is close enough where we can imagine ourselves holding onto this promise.

It’s weird to think of my previously optimistic self. I remembered, in high school, when I got into Penn I thought that would be the end to my sadness. There were a couple of other times in college when I believed I would be truly happy because I met someone or discovered a new philosophy. We ascribe these new beginnings as a source of happiness, but I’ve come to realize that there’s nothing inherent about new beginnings offering a solution to the problems from a previous period of your life. We react to our past, but there is little rationality in how we process our experiences. In actuality, there is little that is “circumstantial” in life. There is little that is the result of natural beginnings and conclusions; our lives are products of our choices and not natural flows of vents.

There are a lot of things that are supposedly insignificant in our lives. Things in high school seems insignificant when you’re in college, and things in college seem insignificant once you become a young professional in the workforce. Yet, nothing seems insignificant at the time. Everything that is significant to the present self is solely significant to the present self. The past and future selves could not give a fuck. Things only become insignificant when we are able to assign distance between what has happened and what we remember happened. The feeling of insignificance only comes when we are able to assign separation between our past and present selves. The logic goes: My past self isn’t my present self. My past self is not me. My present self is my present self. My present self is me.

One of the cool parts of being human is that we are able to separate our identity according to different modes. We have all heard the “I only did xyz because I was drunk” excuse because it is pretty universal to the human condition. We demarcate different selves because they feel quite different from our current self. We commit to different selves when we are around different people. We remember certain things when we listen to certain songs. But, universally, but conceptualize different moments in time representing different identities. Above all, we privilege our present self over all of time periods. In college, my freshman self is different from my sophomore self and so on. We react to different events that have happened at different points in life, and we draw different markers in identity from our thoughts in those individual moments in time.

A big source of regret in our lives is that our current selves always know more than our past selves. Some of those things are inevitable with the passage of time; I know how to play violin a lot better than I did in the past, but that took a lot of practice that I probably don’t have the willpower to redo. Other things are less clear, especially personality traits that are particularly conditioned. At one point in my life I idolized sadness and toxicity. Should I? No. But it’s hard to escape our sense of aesthetics when aesthetics is all we have in absence of understanding. Without conscious choice, there is not much allowing us to escape the set of reactions we have to near-past events that formulate our current identity. Present self is the product of the past self’s reaction to the near past events. Unless we actively choose to react differently our past selves move onto the present.

We seek convergence of past, present, and future selves because that would mean we won’t need to separate our identities anymore. Once we converge in identity, then regret doesn’t exist anymore. We reach a maximum of understanding and living according to our values, and there would be no uncertainty in choice anymore. Once we establish a concentrated value system, the set of recent phenomena we experience no longer has an effect on us. At that point in our lives, we lose the freedom to change, but we gain another freedom — freedom from worry that our current choices will not live up to the standards of our future selves. When we stop making subsequent separations between present and future selves, we can be happy.

I have no idea how to reach that state. At every moment in time, we question ourselves if we need to change — if so, how fast do we need to change? There aren’t answers to these questions because they are all the products of final identity, which we cannot access until we have reached that particular state. It’s one of those thoughts that makes you wish you could just fast forward to the end of your life, so you understand what you value and how to live accordingly to those values. Until, all we can do is figure shit out.

the past does not exist

There are a lot instances where we could’ve died in the past, so I find it quite amazing that we ended up here, still breathing and relatively unscathed, in this reality. It’s one of those feelings that keeps me in a constant state of bewilderment, and I’m not sure if it’s a state I ever want to leave. I think about it like how I’m writing on my bed again, like I was doing around this time last summer, like I was doing around this time the summer before. I don’t think much has changed between every instance I write on my bed. Stylistically, my writing has remained fairly consistent. Content-wise, I have switched from being sad to being bored, which to some people are one and the same.

At any instance in time, we aren’t able to conceptualize the entirety of the past. At most, we are only able to remember a specific moment. When we do not recall a specific moment, we have an impression of a particular time, but never access to the same precision as that of a memory. In that sense, the only thing grounding our identity is this inkling that the past happened at all. In other words, we take it on faith that the past happened, and we don’t need to actually remember the past for us to believe that the past has affected us.

If you drink too much on a night out and black out, did the previous night even happen?

I’m not too sure. Can you be affected by something that you can’t even remember? If you have a really good conversation one night and can’t remember it the next morning, did that conversation happen at all? I’ve always found alcohol to be an interesting substance because individuals can have two completely identities when they are under the influence of alcohol versus when they are sober. When you consume alcohol, you access this friendlier and more outgoing side of yourself that you cannot otherwise access. Yet, I’ve always wondered why this state of friendliness doesn’t persist afterwards. If we remember what it was like to share intimacy with someone through alcohol, why don’t those feelings persist?

At present, we can only be aware of the present. We can only exist in one state at a time. You can’t be both drunk and sober, and you are only able to access one part of your identity at a time. When you are in one state, the other state doesn’t exist. You can access your memories, but that takes it on faith that your memories are accurate at all, which they usually aren’t considering how change is a necessary part of encoding memory. The only certainty that exists is our experiences at a given instance because it is the only state that is not subject to memory, which only represents a distorted echo of a past that doesn’t exist at all.

Something that I’ve always understood but never really quite understood was this idea that you only exist when you are aware that you exist. When you are sleeping, you aren’t really aware of your own existence. In that state, you are not aware. If you are not aware that your past exists, then it does not exist. If you don’t exist in the future, then then the future does not exist. The only existence that truly exists is the existence we devote attention to. As long as our existence is grounded in the present — which it inevitably is as long as we are conscious of the present– we can only exist in the present in separation from the past and future. I consider this idea to be simultaneously freeing and crippling.

Some things may have happened to us in the past. Although we may still have memories, these events no longer exist because the past does not exist. Although we are affected by events that happen to us in the past, there is nothing necessitating the past exist at all. If we simply forget about the past, then the past never happened at all.

I was discussing with my friend the other day whether nostalgia necessarily defines the past in a positive light. I thought yes, and she thought no. Ultimately, we agreed that nostalgia is, above all, a state of indulgence, regardless of whether the past is viewed in a positive light nor not. If we enter a state of nostalgia, then we become detached from the present, so the present no longer exists and the past is the only thing that exists for certain at that particular moment. It is a reality that only exists because we assign reality to it. Yet, our memories is a perception of a mental construction of sensation, which is a lesser state to direct perception of sensation itself. Through indulging in nostagia, we reject the world that exists for the world we create.

Nostalgia separates our emotional existence from our physical existence, and that gives me bad vibes. The past doesn’t have to exist unless we want it to exist. I find that idea to be quite liberating — the fact that the only thing that holds us onto the past is the memory of the past. So why not forget?

I prefer to just look at the past as a night out, regardless of whether it was a good night or a bad night. It doesn’t matter what happened in the past. It happened, and nowe we are in the present, our memories of the previous night slowly decaying. Sometimes, we attempt to hold onto this memory because we believe our “true” identities to reside in the past in a moment when we were more authentic to ourselves. I consider this way of thinking to be a bit of a cop-out. I don’t think at any moment in time we move further away from our identity unless we choose to do so. At any moment in time, we can establish any identity we want. We do not need to cling onto the past unless we fear the freedom of the present.

A big reason we cannot forget about the past is because we find ourselves reminded of the past on occasion. This, is what I imagined what Sartre meant when he says, “Hell is other people.” If we forget that other people exist, then we can forget that we exist, and that’s a sensation to cherish. A lot of how we contextualize our self-worth depends on how we compare ourselves to others. If we feel more successful than the people around us, then we feel more satisfied in our lives. Vice versa, if we feel less successful than the people around us, then it does not matter how successful we are in life because it is not enough. If the need to escape the past is value-dependent on our present environment, all we need to do to escape the past is to reform our present with pure novelty.

Since around last year, everything about the past seems more and more dream-like. There were so many cold night I remember walking back to my dorm feeling so lonely and longing for this reality that may or may not have existed at all. But those cold nights feel more and more like a dream. I used to be able to recall the stinging winter winds as I took my phone out of my pocket to change the song, but I can’t feel that anymore. This was my past, but I’m choosing to negate it. The neat thing about not having a particularly good college experience is that you don’t need to worry about peaking in college. You don’t need to worry about all that “college is the best years of your life” jargon. It’s like I woke up from a bad dream, and now I have the rest of my life to live the best life.