I thought myself into a shortness of breath, a tightness in the chest, rapid gasping for air as I tried to calm myself down in the bathroom. I failed. I returned to the room, searched for my water, couldn't stop the heavy breathing. Matt soon realised that something was not quite right, asked me what was wrong; and I sank onto the floor next to the bed, my knees pressed against the coarse carpet, my head on my arms folded across the edge of the bed.
He stroked my hair, rubbed my back, as all this came out in an incoherent, teary warble:
The fleeting nature of things. The condition of ephemerality inherent to any sense of satisfaction that I feel. I run a 10k for the first time ever and under my target time, and the high wears off too quickly and I start to think too quickly, Well, that could have been better. I could have done better. I work my ass off for my LLM, get a distinction, win a prize, top a subject, and after the sense of achievement wears off, I start to think, Right, so what's next? I get into Cambridge, a dream come true, and shortly after I arrive and start the programme, the sense of achievement is gone, and I come down from the high as if plummeting from a skyscraper, and I think, If I can get in, it's really not that big of a deal.
What is success? What are achievements? Why does someone who seems to have achieved, done well in life, feel like a failure? What is the value of the objective quality of an achievement if its subjective resonance with the achiever does not stand the test of time? Perhaps my 'success' is overshadowed by those even better. Perhaps it is all relative, and I can longer take pride in what I have 'achieved' because it is becoming increasingly clear that it is not good enough.
But not good enough for whom? For a job market that does not value people like me the way we ought to be valued? For an old fashioned institution whose pedantry borders on the absurd, which produces 'research' and 'knowledge' that have almost no impact on the world? For an institution that prizes esoteric, inaccessible papers that purportedly contain 'truth' which will be read by 20 people in the world? I did not know, not really, what I was signing up for when I decided on this present course of action, because it is becoming increasingly clear that my initial reasons - 'I like reading and writing' - are not strong enough to carry me through this. By 'this' I do not mean the PhD; I mean a career focused on this - this research, this crafting arguments that ultimately don't matter, this utterly self-absorbed idea of intellectualism for its own sake. It seems to me that we're just trying to up each other in proving to no one, absolutely no one, how clever we are. Who cares?
That is not really the point, however. It is not good enough for me. I want something more even as I want to rid myself of all of this - this philosophical tosh, this dabbling in something that I'd never really wanted that much, this trying to make a too-big dress look flattering on me - this constant forcing a square peg into a round hole, and wondering why the two don't fit. I'm not sure which is my bigger problem: that I don't think things through, or I don't anticipate or take seriously enough the almost certain eventuality that whatever I choose (or try to choose, or think I choose) to do will lose its sheen, will become dull; I will get bored. I always do. I always have. And I am bored again once more.
But it is not so much boredom as much as it is a special sort of contempt that is the offspring of familiarity. I was interested in philosophical investigations, I really was; I really did admire the minds that could come up with new ideas, construct airtight arguments, provide insights into the human condition. I wanted the intellectual stimulation; I was attracted to it; I thrived in it. But it is all so far removed from real life, the questions that we ask ourselves so utterly unimportant for our practical behaviour, that what philosophers call 'practical reasoning' is a misnomer because most people don't really reason, and what is wrong with that? Is a life of practical reasoning in the philosophical superior to one that is void of it? It seems to me to be yet another set of strictures, similar to religious ones, that are imposed on us to restrain us from certain actions for reasons that don't really matter, not ordinarily.
So it is more accurate to say that I become contemptuous of whatever it is that I am doing at the moment, whatever 'career path' I have ostensibly chosen for myself. There seems to be more going on, however; and I know myself well enough by now to know what this 'more' is. I just don't know if it is just an excuse, my cowering in the path that I hadn't chosen to exculpate how badly I have failed at all the ones that I have chosen. It is becoming a myth now, this writing thing; I vest in it all my dissatisfaction, my discontent, my unhappiness, as if it alone possessed all the power, all the right answers, to give me what I want - to deliver to me the happiness and sense of purpose and contentment that I seek.
'Sometimes I genuinely find it all meaningless,' I said to Matt. 'The reason I don't think I will ever have children is because - what's the point if they're just going to be disappointed, like me? How sad is that?'
It's been so many years - so very many years - and I am still the same murky water, circling the same plughole, having no conviction to either let myself get sucked down into the drainpipes, or pull myself away from an unwanted fate.
On a brighter note, Matt has been really sweet. After an impromptu and rushed conversation the next morning while walking to Fitz to get coffee (he wasn't working the next day) about why he's sometimes unaffectionate, after I guilt-tripped him into carrying my ASOS parcel containing three pairs of shoes for me to the post office when he was headed for the opposite direction, he sent me this message when I went off for French class:
Hey, thanks for last night :) I had a nice time. Wish I was a bit better but still enjoyed my time with you. Just remember you are a very beautiful girl [who] is super brainy and you have nothing to be anxious about. Also you have a super attractive and funny boyfriend [who] is here to support you and rub your head when you are stressing out :)
I know that I was the one who brought it up and basically orchestrated the whole thing, but I am still getting used to this boyfriend thing. On Thursday, when Matt wasn't working, I went to get coffee, fully expecting to pay - but his boss waved me down to the pick up point in front of the coffee machine when I got out my card. She said, 'Girlfriends don't have to pay. You're an official girlfriend now.'
I was so taken aback that I had nothing to say to that and all I could do was smile bashfully. If I could have seen myself, I'm sure my face would've been all red.
While it's nice that I get free coffee, I am trying hard to prevent it from becoming an expectation. In the first place, my parents would absoalutely disapprove; my mom was uncomfortable with my accepting free things from Matt when we'd first started going out. This leads me to the second place: a part of me feels a bit 不好意思, a quintessentially Chinese concept in this context that I can't think of an English equivalent. 'Embarrassed' is the closest, but it's not quite embarrassment. I'm not embarrassed to receive free coffee (who would be?); it's more that I feel a bit bad. But what does 'bad' even mean? I don't know. The point is, I am trying to not expect free coffee because, seriously, who the hell am I? It's difficult though. There have been a couple of times when I expected it and he didn't deliver for whatever reason and...okay, I don't really want to write about this anymore because it puts me in a very bad light and I don't want to be that person. So I will constantly work on this.
Anyway. Other things:
1. I discovered in Basic 2 French that mon français est très merde.
2. I lost to Regina for the fourth time in a row. My excuse is that I was feeling really shitty from the cold. I love how, despite hitting some nice shots, the two points that I remember the most are a down the line backhand that I hit into the net, and an easy putaway forehand that I shanked and so missed. The latter was particularly disappointing: I'd worked the point really well, hitting the ball left and right, making the corners, and when I stepped in to put away a short retrieval...yup, messed up the final shot. Great. I need to buy a defensive game. I really am not good at playing defence.
3. Bleah, I can't be arsed with this entry. I want to shower and finally finish The God of Small Things.