(Or: going quiet.)
(Or: going quiet.)
Like me, they used to be impressed with me. It’s a strange feeling. As I walked into the room earlier this morning, I thought to myself, This is how an exit strategy is made. It’s not that I think of quitting—I hate inadequacies, even in my own reasoning. Maybe that’s adulthood for you. I was just listening to the podcast where a journalist said, “If you ask people what makes them amazing, they’re willing to talk for a long time.”
I have a lot to learn. Attempting to thrive in the workforce has had both its more joyous moments and quiet consequences, and I say this—somewhat indifferently—one year since I started this job. I’ve received advice, of course: Use people as resources, it’s okay. Find a weekend fixation you can call a passion, there’s nothing wrong with that. Make commitments then follow through. Modest, yet willful. Quiet but fearless.
When I look at the past year in retrospect, I’d like to find out what words can sufficiently describe the comforting estrangement from a former life—not that it was one, that’s still me—while something of that past still knocks on the door of my mind, so effortlessly—writing this way requires no effort—till I become unaware of it again. I don’t open and close my writerly self like a lock.
Capital T-Truthfully, I’d rather reject that. Only I haven’t found the rationale for leaning in to a pure rejection of what fueled me for years (a bodily inclination), which was a non-negotiable if you asked me then. I would’ve shared a cigarette and told my life-story with you.
I don’t contemplate much. Circling Hoan Kiem for four days or so, I didn’t think. And I’m more forgiving by now to understand that dire aimlessness need not have a title—the way a ragged street kid insisting to be given a bottle of water by the man who’s just alighted on North Avenue Station can’t be replicated, or how the consciousness running through this sentence has no arc. I enjoy contradicting myself. Perhaps one day I could also fall in love.
Things have been going well for me. And yet I still feel the same, familiar emptiness carried over into a supposedly new life. A year or so ago, the depression I’d experienced was dark and utterly vivid, I could never have imagined relating to it so distantly now. I feel that I barely went through that version of my life—I don’t recognize her, the old self. I’m surprised I can’t lie to myself, recognizing (still) that I’m not this person now. I had considered myself very good at that.
This is an extremely belated, unfinished “year in review” of 2015. I stopped writing this when I didn’t know how to talk about the latter part of the year anymore—in some ways, because I know that journey continues for me. That said, I don’t want this to be stowed away in my archives as a draft. These were a form of closure, just up to that point where other questions have yet to conclude.
January. Recovery, maybe. It’s hard to think of January at the beginning of 2015 as any fresh start—it was the continuation of all my thesis writing, the last few university units, and trying my best to make sure I was bound to graduate. I really wasn’t sure, at one point; I made a lot of dumb decisions (also non-decisions) in college that the fact I’m here now may genuinely be attributable to some sheer luck. I guess there just seemed to be a shared understanding among the community, whether professor or fellow student, that everyone had their own difficulties to harbor. We were all going through so much. I find myself tearing up remembering those kindnesses from others—whether it was the janitor you’d chat with every 7 pm to lock the organization room for four years, or the friends who just happened to be there at the moment you needed them; it was admittedly embarrassing, but you always breathed better after a long conversation or good cry. Those were good moments, I still remember them.
February. Receiving the Loyola Schools Award for the Arts was one thing that made this month special. They announced it mid-February, and not feeling the anxiety of announcement day until my FA 104 class mid-afternoon, I was refreshing Facebook pages and my Twitter feed repeatedly from the back row. I knew well, I think, the feeling of not getting what I wanted especially when you least expect it. That’s exactly what I thought to myself then: just this one thing, universe. Don’t let me end my college life not having this one thing that signified so much more to me than an award. Rather it was the confirmation, the belief that I could tell myself it was worth it, in the end. I saw my name on the recipients list—I texted my thesis adviser just to say I wouldn’t be the writer I am now because of him. I texted my parents and, indeed, they were proud of me—in my mind, LSAA was always for them.
March. Graduation. At certain points—for the short moments that the 2015 valedictorian delivered his classically cheesy lines about school, and when the university president said, “When it gets too hard out there, you can always come back”—I cried like a baby, attempting to hide behind my unkempt hair and exude total indifference, but I’m not cool enough not to care. It was possible to achieve that much. Only a few weeks ago, within the first days of March, I defended my thesis in front of my reader and adviser and a friend who I asked to come for moral support. My reader then quoted that great line from the German sociocultural critic Theodor Adorno: “Music is at once completely enigmatic and totally evident.” What makes you cry—in the middle of a speech you’ve already heard, in endless permutations of “follow your dream,” “change the world,” “soar high, Ateneans”—as you have, many times before?
April. We all have plans for ourselves. But they don’t always happen. At the tail-end of April, I clung to this story like I needed to hold someone’s hand: “I was recently denied a writing prize because, they said, I was lazy. What they meant by lazy was that I used too many contractions: for instance, I would not write out in full the words cannot and will not, but instead contracted them to can’t and won’t.” (Lydia Davis, “Can’t and Won’t,” 2014) Springtime. My mother and I revisited Tokyo (a graduation gift) and spent a week there in this month: bustling through Ginza, Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Roppongi; viewing the cherry blossom sites as we walked through Ueno Park, Chidorigafuchi, and Yasukuni Shrine; discovering Odaiba and its simultaneous beauty (say, the vibrant stretch of tulips a camera couldn’t at all capture) and thrill (the life-size Gundam! the mock Statue of Liberty! the high-tech architecture!); taking side trips to Kamakura and Fuji Five Lakes. Then on the 28th, its odd number, I entered my first job.
May, June, July. When I decided to shift to creative writing two years ago and mapped out myself an entire literary career path, it was never my plan to go corporate and stay there. But I think Conan O’Brien hit the nail on the head perfectly when he said, “It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique.” Turns out the learning process is rich and (contrary to what you might think) neck-deep in the real world. Obviously it doesn’t make me happy not to take poetry as seriously anymore—I failed, in that respect. But I am happy to go forward in this industry and this life chapter, even if it means that the idea I had of myself—not too long ago—is contradicted and challenged, even if it discomforts me when I attempt to reconcile this with what I do now. Politically, things have also changed. Maybe it’s not so much a matter of figuring out what to give up, but knowing what to keep. I still try my best to find my center now.
August, September. Getting lost. Going to America fell into my year at the exact moment I needed to breathe.
October, November. Turned 23 years old. These two months were a lot of hard work.
December. “Are you still writing?” he asked. I answered “Yes” only because I didn’t know what the consequences were if I said otherwise, or even “I don’t know.” This is likely the honest answer.
I’m never convinced by the advice to write or even read something everyday (just taking a half hour or so, that kind of thing), but I do find myself gravitating towards writing when I’m approaching a busy schedule. I find that taking time out, before the total immersion into the week’s agenda—especially on these brighter Sunday mornings—is important to me. Not so much about reflecting than it is just remembering to mull over myself and, somehow, become more mindful and self-aware.
And so it’ll be pretty crazy at work this week. The amount of submissions I have to make is more intense than usual, and I’m not very confident in my work ethic given that I have to inevitably disperse my attention into a lot of projects. Still trying to perfect the near-impossible line between laser focus and multitasking management, to reconcile the multiplicity of the roles I’ve taken up: writer (technical work), editor (quality control), manager (micro and macro, externally and internally), and strategist (also technical work, which I’m probably the least qualified for). I’m apprehensive that I’ll spread out myself too thin. And what I do is not for everyone—I’ve seen it happen how reporting season in this first half of the year tends to break people down.
Ever since I was promoted to my new position—which has been an incredible experience to learn and also lead—I’ve felt like I just keep going against a tall order. I’m nowhere near the knowledge and capabilities and quite possibly determination that are needed for this job; I suppose it doesn’t help that I keep comparing myself with my peers or superiors that took this on before me. It’s hard to manage expectations so that you recognize your own limits and yet rise up to the challenge at the same time. I want to tell myself that I can be XYZ even on a tightrope. In a way, I’m probably a lot more stressed not by the busy schedule, but by the fact that I am underqualified, inexperienced, and, naturally, insecure.
I wish I could earnestly tell myself, “I don’t know how to go about this.” But there’s likely no other answer to it: stop overthinking and just act. And I hate feeling or being inadequate. Over the years, I think I’ve harshly learned how unproductive and unprofessional it is to make an unnecessary show of your stress. Just pick the mantle back up after crying—it’s not all about you.
A few days ago, I started thinking about the tension between authenticity and relatability, courtesy of a few YouTube videos, which I did happen to encounter in the context of that industry. Like many others, I follow a lot of people on YouTube. And most of the time we follow them when we can “relate” to them—we find similar personalities, shared problems or interests—while the fact is that the mainstream YouTube culture is made up of multimedia company CEOs and millenial millionaires under the age of 30. Hardly could it be considered relatable. In fact, one can easily be perceived as inauthentic by having more money than you did before or employees who work for you—especially compared with bookish-and-shy-pixie-girl brand, or struggling 20-something who did amateur makeup videos on her bathroom floor. Now, she might already be on Forbes magazine. I suppose across all fields, when people start to become successful, they also easily become distrusted. (Hank Green’s video, Rosianna Halse Rojas’ video.)
I myself have changed so much over the past year. And I won’t lie and say that I haven’t been “successful” in some ways—I consider myself really lucky and recognize that I come from a position of privilege. Having graduated a creative writing major, I still have those internal discussions about whether or not working in a completely different field now (a corporate job, no less), and loving it, has made me somewhat inauthentic. And I didn’t abandon poetry on purpose. I think I just grew out of it. Now, I can honestly tell myself that the chances of me going back to writing and not further pursuing what I do now are nil. That’s the conclusion I’ve arrived at, and I’ve realized it for a while now—I don’t feel as if I’m lying to myself.
By recognizing that, is that authentic? I think it happens oftentimes, we conceive authenticity as something you exude or acquire because you realized how important “it” was all along. The senior vice president of Corporation X resigns because he’s always, without fail, wanted to become a painter. Recently I came across the anecdote that Theodore Roosevelt became a horseback rider after leaving the presidency. For others, finding “it” doesn’t even take much. But authenticity doesn’t seem to work the other way around, at least not tastefully. Realizing that I truly want to pursue something worthwhile in the corporate world seems to pale in comparison with writing poetry and teaching literature. I wanted that before. (Perhaps there is some elitism or, I’d prefer, reverse-elitism there.)
Still, I want it to be “authentic” enough to say: I used to be this person. I can still love what I did because that was “it.” I don’t need approval. I’m just not that person anymore.