On a Lighter Note

Against my will and wishes, my mood has been persistently dark and stormy over the last few days; pretty much since I wrote the previous, almost suicidal-sounding entry. Of course, T has been the trigger for the tears that I woke up with the past two mornings; but the rot goes deeper than just some unworthy pseudo-man and the eventually insignificant damage that he has done. The rot goes way deeper; it can be traced back to a 'decision' 13 years ago to stay in law school when I could have, and should have, pursued my passion and, quite honestly, the only thing I have ever been good at in my life.

In a perfect world where there are no consequences, I would quit the PhD right now and stop wasting time (I just had the strangest sense of deja vu, that I have written these words before, or any rate, had this exact thought) doing something that doesn't drive me and switch to the thing that does. But it's not even about the PhD. Finishing it and getting the degree is one thing; what comes after this is an entirely different matter. I find myself in the absurd position of feeling this pressure to get my CV up to scratch for a job market that, quite frankly, I don't give a damn about. Why should I be upset that an annoying PhD student, one of those 'posh' types that make Cambridge insufferable, has an interview for a part-time teaching position that I applied for while I haven't heard jack shit? I don't even want to do it, so why should it affect how I am currently feeling about myself, like I cannot succeed in anything, like my life is a failure?

It is as absurd as allowing the disaster with T to reflect on me, when really, the person who comes out of this looking worse for wear is him, not me. I am trying to be the bigger person, and I have been the bigger person. I mailed back to him a book that he left in my room (George Orwell's Down and Out in London and Paris which I read 4 or 5 years ago) and enclosed with it a letter in which I apologised for slamming the door in his face, among other things. Anyone in his position capable of critical self-reflection would come to the realisation that he owes me an apology, too; indeed, anyone halfway able to self-reflect would realise that he'd behaved terribly, that he was not a man at all, but a boy, and a damaged one at that, someone who couldn't move on from his past trauma and treat each relationship in the sui generis manner that it deserves; someone incapable of knowing himself and hence knowing that this person whom he'd purported to 'absolutely like' wasn't someone whom he had the capacity to love because of the aforementioned damage; someone who gave away words like a prostitute's opened legs. That is how cheap his words are to me now, in retrospect; and I cannot respect someone who uses words in such a cavalier, nonsensical manner.

And the fact that he bailed because I was upset? Obviously that reflects on him, not me. In fact, the only thing that I did wrong throughout this shitfest was to believe his words against the weight of the evidence that his words were not to be trusted. I was consistently the same person throughout. I never demanded that he changed anything; he was the one who made those promises. In the end, he couldn't keep any of them because he simply could not — cannot — see his own face.

So: good riddance to bad rubbish. He will be like Bruno, Gareth, Matt, these inconsequential men whom I don't care about anymore. I saw Matt on the streets the other day and I thought, 'Aww, Matty.' I saw Gareth through the window in a pub last week and I thought absolutely nothing and gave zero fucks. Sooner rather than later, I will think of T and have the same reaction; that is, the same non-reaction.

But here's the silver lining. This fiasco has unlocked in me the drive to write, and I have been writing almost every night. It is great. It has come at a huge personal cost, of course, but honestly, if going through this bloody stupid and illogical heartbreak with T means that I am finally writing again after ten years, then it is worth it. It is actually worth it. Perhaps this was what my intuition (still haven't forgiven you, traitor) had meant when it told me that he was significant. After all, no one said that 'significant' necessarily means 'long-term partner'.

One last thing about T: I am trying to let go of the anger, but it is a struggle. Still, it is important that I let go of it. Not letting go of my anger towards Matt was destructive in its influencing me to behave in a destructive manner towards T; so perhaps an argument could be made that things might have turned out differently if I hadn't been so quick at the start to cut him loose, which was in turn influenced by my anger towards Matt. More likely than not, though, he'd show his true colours eventually and it would have ended in the same way, except perhaps it would have dragged out even longer. The point is, I need to let go of this anger. I need to forgive him. I need to accept, too, that I'm never going to hear from him — meaning, I'm never going to have the apology that he owes me. I'm never going to get the explanation that I want: how could he have made those promises to me in my room before he left for Spain, just to renege on them the second something went wrong? Of course, I have my theories; and since he lacks critical self-reflection skills, I probably know him better than he knows himself. It is striking, how it was clear to me the cause of his withdrawing that first time I cried over the phone with him — that it was because of his ex-fiancee. I asked him this point-blank when we were at Nero, when he was trying to convince me to take him back, whether he was so averse to these emotional displays because of her, because she would call him and cry all the time when they were long-distance.

He said no. A couple of weeks ago, when explaining his aversion to such emotional displays, he said that it was because of her.

Dude, do you even know yourself? You really ought to delete your Tinder account and just spend some time figuring out who you are before you sic yourself on another unsuspecting victim again and waste her bloody time.

But enough of this anger. I need to let this go, and I will...eventually.

Enough about that. Here's the more important issue: this PhD is a mistake. I should not have done this. Why did I not have the courage of my conviction to think outside the box when I was figuring out what to do after my stint in The Hague and pursued writing? What in the world made me think that doing a PhD in Law, also known as perpetuating a mistake that I made when I was young and foolish, was a good idea? Now I know, deep within me, what a mistake the past 15 years of my life have been.

But the thing is, law is the subject that Singaporeans who love literature and want to be a writer end up doing because nobody really become writers in Singapore.

Except for when they do. A Singaporean woman, one year my junior, won the Deborah Rogers Prize a couple of years ago; won GBP10,000 to write her first novel. She was chosen out of 800 applicants, praised by Ian McEwan, and she's just published her novel.

How amazing is that? This is the kind of success that I want for myself, not the kind of professional success that my academic credentials tell me to strive for. I feel like I have been living my life according to the social conception of what someone like me should do, and I am tired of all this white noise and trying to force myself into clothes that don't fit because they are ugly and baggy and hide my amazing figure, tired of feeling so hopelessly lost and dispassionate about and disappointed with life because I keep forsaking the one thing that gives me a sense of purpose.

Seriously, what the hell is wrong with me? I'm going to revise Chapter 3 of my thesis and say that people like me are not autonomous. How can I call myself autonomous if the word and concept of autonomy is to have any meaning at all? Have I been pursuing my own plan of life at all, or someone else's? Am I autonomous if I have failed to live according to my own conception of the good life because, for some reason, I have been keeping it under wraps?

What am I doing? Why am I even doing a PhD in Law at Cambridge apart from 'because Cambridge'? In fact, Cambridge is such a poor fit for me. I'm not even a real nerd. I don't like small towns. I like the finer things in life, such as a fancy cocktail bar, a fancy car, well-dressed people. What am I doing in a town in which I was served wine in a plastic cup on Sunday? Is it any wonder that I have been feeling so claustrophobic and bored in Cambridge? I have constantly felt like I am missing out on experiences that I would otherwise have in a big city, like London, that offers so much in terms of culture and food and fashion and life. Life beyond the ivory tower. I hate this damn ivory tower.

It takes actually writing again to realise how I have squandered the past 15 years of my life away. How much better would I be at this craft if I had kept at it, if I had done Creative Writing and Literature at Warwick and dropped out of NUS Law, if I had applied for an MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia instead of a PhD in Law at Cambridge?

In all honesty, if I could have a do-over, I would not do this PhD. I think it's just a waste of money and time. But I will finish it anyway because I don't quit these things, because failure is not an option (since when is failure ever an option?), and because I know that I can do it to an acceptable standard. I just need to get over this annoying doctrinal chapter which I hate so much and then move on to the last chapter and finish the damn thing at some point.

I have also been feeling like Cambridge made a mistake accepting me. But now, I think the real issue is that I made a mistake accepting the offer. I made a mistake coming here without funding (because my lack of earning capacity exacerbates my feeling like a failure), I made a mistake coming here at all. Still, in fairness to me, these were matters that I could not have known at the material time. At the material time, this was genuinely what I had wanted. Could I have dropped out after the first year? Perhaps I could have, but then again, I am too stubborn to admit defeat. And it is for this reason that I will finish this thing.

I will move to London, and I will finish my PhD, and at the same time, I will explore the writing scene, and keep writing, and maybe do an MA in Creative Writing at UEA after this degree. Why UEA? Two words: Kazuo Ishiguro. If it was good enough for him, it's more than good enough for me. But I will, and can, only do it if I get funding — which means that I need to get my writing up to scratch.

I honestly don't know what I think of my writing. It has been so ridiculously long since I wrote anything that I am afraid that I am simply drunk on the fact of having finished three pieces in the last month and so am blind to their quality. Then again, no, that's not true. Because I read actually good writers, because I read actually good, proper books, I think I have very high standards of what makes good writing. And so I know that the piece that I finished last night is absolute shit and is in grave need of serious re-writing. As for the two pieces about T...the long one needs further tightening, but the short one...reading it makes me sad because it captures a specific melancholic thought that I had last week (or two weeks ago; the days tend to meld into each other, without demarcation, in my life), so I find it hard to evaluate it with a critical eye. I think it's semi-poetic though, even if it's thin on the action. But then again, it makes sense for me to be interested in writing about the emotional life and write quite emotively because that's the kind of novels that I love.

This is all over the place. I am reading Virginia Woolf's diary entries about writing and I wish I could write with her elegance of style even in this LJ. But sometimes, like tonight, I just can't be bothered to try too hard and so I opt for this easy way out, writing whatever comes to mind in the most pedestrian way possible.

Anyway, I would like to do some writing before I do some reading before sleeping, so one last thing: the Grantchester trip with Raffie and John on Sunday was lovely. They have been very supportive in these current dark times. They know that Cambridge holds a lot of bad memories for me...but beyond that, and when I leave this place, I think, more than anything else, what I will remember when I look back on my time here is not the men who have disappointed me, but the two men — real men — who have stood by me and supported me academically, professionally and personally. My experience here would be much poorer without their friendship, of which I am extremely grateful. (Yes, even you John, despite your making me cry again!) 

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