anotherlongshot (anotherlongshot) wrote,

What It Means to Live

Of late, I am beginning to realise what a difference it makes to my life when I spend time with people who radiate positivity and whose default outlook on life tells them that the glass is half-empty. As a result, I am also beginning to realise that I simply do not win in any way whatsoever when I drag my existentialist despair around like an atrophied limb; that the only way to keep moving forward is to amputate it; and that these convictions that I hold, the truths that I have realised, do not exempt me from participating in life. If I have no choice but to keep living my life--because the other logical choice is simply not a viable one for reasons I won't get into--I don't want to live it half-empty, I don't want to be unhappy, I don't want to be enmeshed in negativity and perpetual angst.

To state the case positively: I want to be happy. I want to live my life in a way that matters. I want to be able to wake up every day and be proud of the person that I am, of the things that I have achieved, and to look to the things that I want to achieve but have yet to achieve with an attitude of what is to come, not what has been missed. My negative disposition makes it hard for me to see the path that I didn't take as something other than that which I failed to take; a fork in the road that I missed as I careened down an empty highway towards a destination unclear even to myself. Why should it be so? Why should I not see the fact that I am alive and healthy and privileged as a lifelong opportunity to finally take that path?

In the same vein, I realised today how crazy I have been to think that there is something wrong with me because I am doing a law PhD at Cambridge. Have I been on crack the past two years, thinking that I am a failure because of what I am currently doing? Of course, it is a failure if I took the view that the success of my life is determined by whether or not I am living according to my own conception of the good life, which entails the pursuit of my real ambition. But why be so austere, and who says that the conception of the good life is static and singular? I was pursuing my conception of the good life when I decided to do a law PhD; it just happened that I changed my mind, and that it was in addition to another conception which I have yet to pursue. But even if the PhD and its career implications aren't precisely what I want to do, why should this mean that I am a failure? A better way to think of the issue is this: how amazing it is that I am doing a PhD in law at Cambridge and am on my way to completing it when I don't have the passion for it; how amazing, then, that I can do something that I don't love, which I merely like, and do it well--and it is amazing because it subverts my conviction, one that I have held for a long time, that I can only excel at things that I love.

I say 'excel' despite my struggles because I realised yesterday while writing the introduction to Chapter 5 that my PhD is actually fucking amazing. It is brilliant. It is internally coherent and cohesive, it has a logical flow, my theory comports with what is actually happening in the cases...I mean, I can't believe I came up with this; I really can't. How did I even do this? The trick, of course, is to make sure that the details in individual chapters are tight, and I definitely struggle with this. But if the point of doctoral work is to make an original contribution to scholarship, then I can say with full conviction that my PhD does just that.

Tonight, I had a quick drink with Etienne and his friends. I spent some time talking to one of them, this gay Polish guy who was so full of positive energy, so open-minded and enthusiastic about life. 'Enjoy life,' he said. Earlier today, I was at Urban Larder with Elijah; after three years in Cambridge, it was the first time I had walked that far down Mill Road--I crossed the bridge! The point is, he's probably one of the most positive people I have ever met in my life, and I find his positivity inspiring and encouraging. The point of life is to live it; and living a life--your life--means living it well. It is striking that my instinctive answer to the question 'have I lived?' is 'no'. I don't feel like I have lived. I have experienced life, but I have not lived it in a manner that makes being alive, life, worthwhile.

This is the thing that has driven me over the past 5 or 6 years. It is what has brought me to Cambridge...and I have finally realised that it's okay to have been mistaken in where I ought to have gone. This PhD may not be what I would choose again if I had the option of choosing differently, but it is important, and I believe in its importance. I believed that I had something important to say when I applied, and I still believe that.

But here's the thing. I am privileged in so many ways; only someone as privileged as me has the prerogative to say that I stumbled my way into a Cambridge PhD programme. But I am privileged in perhaps the most important way: I know, I know, what makes me happy. I know for a fact what gives my life meaning. And this is a fact because it has remained unchanged throughout my life. I started writing a diary when I was ten and I have not stopped since. There is nothing else in the world equally capable of bringing me joy and despair; there is nothing that I am more proud of and which brings me greater insecurity than writing. It is the only thing that matters; it the only real answer to the question 'what do you want to do with your life?' The only contribution that I have ever wanted to make to the world--and hell yes, I have always wanted to impact the world--is through writing. Literature, that is.

How many people can say that they know what they want to do with their lives with such conviction?

The next question is: what the hell have I been doing?

I have been watching Jane the Virgin on Netflix (honestly, I have been spending too much time on it). Jane is an aspiring writer, and in seasion 2, she enrols in a graduate writing programme. The scenes of her writing and receiving feedback from her (super hot) advisor were just...I felt envy towards a fictional character in a cheesy CW show because I'm thinking, That's what I want. That's what I have always wanted. I have tried so many versions of this law thing but it always circles back to writing.

And so I'm just going to bite the bullet. I'm going to apply to the Creative Writing MA at the University of East Anglia and see what happens. I will apply for jobs at the same time, but I'm just tired and done with being held back by my fear of the unknown and the uncomfortable.

This leads to another point: London. I have been having second thoughts about moving to London because I was afraid that I might be so socially isolated that I would be too emotionally unstable to finish the PhD. This morning, I was reminded of the other reasons I wanted to move: I wanted to be in a big city where things happened; specifically, where there is more of a writing scene than in Cambridge (i.e. there isn't one). Tonight, while walking through college for one of the last few times, I decided that I don't want to be held back by fear. I don't want to be comfortably dissatisfied in a place that is unhappily familiar. I want to throw myself into the unknown, start something new, physically move myself from my comfort zone and take a chance; do something; live my life.

Funny how I'm selling it as if I were moving to some far-flung corner of the world when, in fact, I'm moving to London, a city that I'm familiar with and which I love. Still, leaving a place that I have known, even if not loved, for three years isn't easy. I think it takes a lot of courage and mental fortitude and determination to leave, more or less for good, a hotpot of familiarity and immerse myself in a new environment, even if it's not an entirely foreign one. I'm going to have to have new routines, make new friends, cope with the isolating anonymity of being in a big city. Fortunately, I love the anonymity because, to me, it suggests endless possibilities, the chance to be someone other than yourself, and every foray into the heart of the city an opportunity for something special to happen. The bustle of a big city, the energy, the rush...I felt this so profoundly in New York; I feel it everytime I get off the train from Cambridge at King's Cross, inhale London's polluted air with a smile on my face and a warmth in my heart.

God, I have missed the big city life. And so I am moving. At long last, I am finally excited to move to London once more.
Tags: cambridge, friends, london, personal, phd, writing

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