Long essay (3400+ words) culled from my rambling sent pile of emails from nearly half a year ago. It’s about the passage of time and other things.
5 years ago I was 17, making the leap from high school to college. I’m now 22. Okay, almost 23 but still. 5 years from now I will be 27, far from the child or even, teenager I once was. I am so used to being a child that time feels distorted nowadays. The young children I knew are now teenagers, if not young adults themselves….and I…..I don’t know who or what I am now. Not ready to succumb to the label of “adult”. I am only a couple (1-2) of years to finishing my degree (three 3-course semesters left). What is ahead for me now? I don’t know. At all. I stare blankly ahead at the fog and wonder what, if anything, lurks beyond.
Even though I’m about a year or two away from my BA, I feel that I have achieved relatively little in the past 5 years. I really haven’t done anything else but school. I didn’t grow. I didn’t change. I didn’t evolve. I didn’t venture to peer over the ledge there to see anything new. But I feel Time quickly seeping through me as I’m barely moving, barely breathing as the world I thought I vaguely knew moves fast-forward all around me. It’s not collapsing though. Not yet (maybe later?). That’s good. It’s holding out for now. But I’m not sure what I want anymore. Not sure who I am or who I really want to be. Not sure what the future holds, what will I do…and who I will become. I’m not even sure if those things even matter.
Time looks distorted. As if it’s not really real. As if it’s all happening in some other reality, some other timeline. And I’m just an observer looking through the window of distorting glass. The window is impenetrable, sealed shut. Though unclear, I can make out the present. The past is harder to make out; it’s slightly distorted with the details blurred and the outlines slightly twisted though I can still the colours. As I look further into the past, any resemblance of a narrative dissolves into fleeting vignettes – moving snapshots of another world that now seems so foreign. I stare at the equally foreign future, filled with indecipherable blobs of light and shadows. I can’t make out the shapes or the colours. I try to reach out but my hand just hits the cool, bumpy glass. I can’t touch it. I can’t smell or taste it. I can only faintly hear its hushed whimpers. Can only see it flickering uncomfortably. It’s just enough to make me uneasy and not enough to really see anything.
I walk precariously along fallen logs, arms out as if I can fly. Like when I was a child. Trying to balance myself as I feel myself wavering. I quickly jump off before I fall off because I can’t fly. I don’t have wings.
I’m living in a stopping place. I know I won’t stay here. This is a chrysalis, a cocoon of sorts. I am here just to hopefully grow wings before I fly off, somewhere. But I am doubtful as I sit here, waiting for wings. Will my wings be strong enough? Will I even know how to fly? Will I let the wind take me wherever the hell it wants? The chrysalis is comforting, nestled in the same leaves I gnawed upon as a caterpillar. I’m not sure if I ever want to leave. I can’t even really fathom leaving right now. But one day what I’ve known all my life – will one day disappear. But I don’t really want to fly. It’s too high. It’s too cold. It’s too windy. I’m not ready. As far as I’m concerned: I’ll never be ready. I cling to the cliffs of the known like a lifeline, as if it could stop time.
But it doesn’t stop time. Each today bleeds heavily into tomorrow and the tomorrows after that. Each day, week, month and now each year die behind me, never to be experienced again. The past days merge into weeks and months, years even. Dead months and years now pile behind me, colourless and pulseless. But I don’t even remember the life that day, week or month contained. It is as if these recent corpses of time never held meaning or memories in the first place, even though I wish that they did. I wish they held something — something to live for, something to relive, to chronicle and immortalize in words (or in my creative medium of the moment). Something that would want me to experience each day to see the new treasures that may transpire, something that would make me want to live forever. But each is as if each bland day is a near clone of the last and I haven’t changed though I know the world around me has. I know that something will have to change soon, but I don’t know what parts will change and which parts will stay the same. I’m not sure what parts to let go of and what parts to hang on tightly to. And still, I can’t keep in step with Time. It’s always running ahead of me. Always running, running – never slowing, never faltering and never stopping. Running away from me. Running out of time?
Everyone moves ahead of me while I linger behind. Oh, I could try to run but I’ll never keep up, no matter how or what I try. Time runs too fast. Everyone runs too fast. I lag behind, watching everyone run ahead and seemingly unable to do anything particularly useful. I am not even remotely self-sufficient. Most teenagers probably have more life and social skills than I do. I’ve made peace with nonexistence of friends, content with my imagination to keep me company. I’ve had to – seeing that I haven’t had close friends for half of my life now. Still, I will no longer be a student and am increasingly far from being a teenager or a child. I’m tired of failure, tired of inadequacy. It’s almost that I desperately want change but yet, am also totally terrified of change. I’m not sure what will happen. For better or for worse. But time still moves on regardless if I change or not. Time will move forward regardless of what happens, and it will even move forward regardless if I am here or not to detect its relentless push. It doesn’t change. Well, not that much in this particular existence, anyway. I stand alone, close to the edge of the known, watching everyone else run into the horizon, the fading gold light softly illuminating their shapes as they blur into the landscape. They run through time. While I let time run through me.
Changes, transitions are okay if I know exactly what is coming next. Except I don’t. At all. The future is a void. It is dark, intangible and incomprehensible. I’m not even sure if there is air or land there (or water or fire or anything for that matter). I’m not sure if I will laugh, smile, float, drown, freeze, burn, cry or just stand there, bewildered. Maybe there is something there, hopefully not evil. Maybe there is something better than I could ever imagine or hope. But the cynical realist in me knows that it may not be and probably won’t be. I don’t want to get caught up in delusions and be disappointed by unfulfilled unrealistic wishes. I don’t want to fall from the stars, hitting the hard ground or fall into the drowning sea. Well, not more than I already have…since I already seem to lurch between the stars and the earth. (Metaphorically, of course). I am not afraid to dream. I can daydream and play in the stars nearly all day. I am afraid to believe in dreams, however. Dreams often don’t come true except in the imagination of whoever imagined it.
I know I haven’t really experienced life, let alone the world. Maybe there is something for me, wherever and whatever that is. Maybe one day I will find my place, my talents, passions and the use for them (assuming if I have any, of course). Yes, there is a hope for something more perhaps. Something more in life than my insular, sheltered and almost monotonousness existence. Something beyond inferiority and alienation.
But the fear, the cynicism, the pessimism is stifling. Almost overbearing.
I need to see that map, want it all laid out in front of me before I take a step in life. Except that isn’t how life works. There doesn’t seem to be a predefined map that we can see. So now I am here. And I have no idea what will happen or what lies ahead. There is nothing to follow. I have no idea what my life would be like. Will I be happy? Will I be successful? Will I be content? I hope so, but I am doubtful, somehow. Even if everyone tells me “it’ll all work out in the end” and “everything will be okay”. I remain unconvinced, acutely aware of the large gap that I would have to close somehow before everything could be vaguely”okay”, let alone good. I am stumbling blindly on the stark landscape of life, riddled with loose rocks and twisted roots and not knowing where to go and little to cling to. Roads? I wish. At least then maybe I’ll vaguely know where I’m going. But I don’t know where I’m going. I’m a dandelion seed tossing myself to the breath of the wind, drifting with a distant wish that it will take me where I want to go, wherever that is. But I don’t know if it will take me there. It could take me into some hellhole for all I know.
Nothing quite feels right. Nothing quite feels comfortably fitting. Everything feels uncomfortable somehow. Maybe those ideas are too loose or too tight or too scratchy. Every idea about the future is plagued with questioning and doubt. Nothing feels like it will work out in the end. Nothing feels that it will be “okay”.
Now, university is comforting – because it really is more of the same. More of the same sheltered and insular lifestyle I had as a child. But after this….I just don’t know what will happen. I can’t see beyond the heavy fog shrouding the horizon. And that terrifies me. I don’t know what will happen. I don’t know what situation I will be in. I used to have an idea what would happen – I will go to college, and then to university but after that I have no idea. It is all a blank void. I don’t know if my world will expand or collapse or both. (Hey, it sounds like a dying star that may expand to a red giant or collapse into a black hole….not necessarily the same type of star, mind you but…). I don’t know how much it will change, for better or for worse.
I’m afraid to let go of childhood but equally (or maybe more) afraid to reach out, to grab hold on to something greater, for fear it would be lesser or maybe just different…whatever the case – I don’t want to let go of what I only know. Like Peter Pan, I don’t want to grow up. I want to stay here, safe in my own little world and my childlike life. But yet I don’t at the same time. I’m terrified of change, terrified of stepping out beyond my familiar but unproductive existence. I’m not sure of anything anymore. Time shifts, distorting my vision. I barely knew who I was, I don’t know who I am and I have no idea who I will be. It’s probably a good thing in some way. Moldable perhaps, uncommitted to an solid identity. Yet I don’t want to unbecome me, don’t want to become somebody I am not. Time moves quickly, bounding from day to day but I’m dragging my feet. I’m feel like I’m getting older but I almost feel that I’m not growing, not evolving somehow even though everyone and everything around me has.
I’m not sure what I’m doing here. I wish I could say with certainty that I do have a purpose and know what it is…but I don’t. The more I think, the more I realize that I know nothing at all, as the clock continues ticking. A day. A week. A month. A year. Two years. Three. Four. Five… Time keeps moving and yet I’m not closer to finding my place, my niche, my passion, my career, my talents, myself or anything else. I’m still lost in nothingness. Maybe I’ll never find those things. Maybe those things are not constants anyway. And maybe, someday it would be okay to not know. But it’s not right now. I want to find my place in life. I want some sense of belonging. I don’t know if I’ll ever find it. I just know that I want it, somehow.
Maybe part of the problem right now is that I haven’t figured out what I’m good at. I don’t seem to be good at anything useful. I know that I’m a somewhat half-decent writer but I’m not sure if I’m good enough (it’s very competitive – good isn’t enough, it has to be great or exceptional) and then there is the “ideas” aspect that has to be equally as good (but is what I seem to be lacking in). Career? Hahaha! What career? I don’t know. More nothingness. What am I good at? I still don’t know. It doesn’t help that most seem to want “friendly and enthusiastic” people and usually not aloof, pensive loners…for whatever reasons.. But it’s all so big, so overwhelming and at times, so hopeless. What am I good at? I stare blankly. I don’t know. Nothing? (Nothing useful that is). What I do like? I’m not really sure anymore. I don’t really know…and even if I knew if I knew I wanted to do (which I don’t really), I’m not sure if I’m good enough.
As for creative writing…I don’t think I’m that good at plots/characters (fiction) and I feel that I haven’t experienced enough for anything interesting and I’m not an “expert” in anything (creative non-fiction). And poetry doesn’t pay. Also there is the people aspect (especially for non-fiction). But most of all I’m not sure if I’m good enough. But I don’t want to taint one of the few things I don’t feel like I’m lagging behind in. I don’t feel ready to be hit with that lovely avalanche of rejection that invariably all artists get smacked with (as with all creative industries). I don’t want to ruin it. I don’t want to feed my inferiority and cynicism. Then there’s the never-ending criticism. That’s um…wonderful (not really). Time may also make you cringe at your past work when you reread it later….what seems good now can be horrible a few months down.
As for commercial/professional writing (like technical writing or copywriting) – I don’t know. But I hate writing “bad news/adjustment” letters. The attempt (or my feeble attempt) to sugarcoat the truth feels so insincere and shallow to me that I’m not sure how that’s much better than the actual truth. Fiction is even more sincere and truthful then those letters…ugh!
Anyway, I don’t know what I want to do or should do or can do but most of all, I don’t know if I’m good enough. At anything really. Well, I know what I’m not good at (and long list at that)…which is useful, I suppose. But it’s not useful in figuring out what I am good at or what I like and am good at. Is it even possible to simply suck at everything? Maybe. It feels that way, at least. I don’t know if it’s true for me though. I hope not. I wish I could do something that I could actually be confidently proud of. I wish I had some sort of a calling that I was actually gifted at, that I’m passionate about…but I can’t see it right now. I probably wouldn’t even recognize it even if I was staring straight at it in the face. I’m too busy watching things unravel. Too being mourning the loss of my last passion that collapsed and just became another source of frustration, inferiority and alienation (I still do it and like it but…). Too busy watching everyone achieve everything that I never will (or so I think anyway). It feels like I’m just sitting here, waiting for a lifetime to run out or something. But I don’t want it to. I do want to do something with my life. I do want to make it meaningful. But the walls glare and stand unbudging, corralling me in from all sides. Meanwhile, Time does not pause for me as I fumble around trying to find my my place.
What do I want? I’m not even sure anymore. I used to kind of knew what I wanted but now, I’m not even sure of that. What’s next? What do I want? What do I have for the world and what does the world have for me? Right now, it feels like not much, frankly. I am waiting for everything and waiting for nothing at the same time. My impeding graduation feels like more like some sort of impending doom than a celebration. What’s there to celebrate? Everything is going to change and I don’t have the slightest clue of what’s going to happen! Academics in university doesn’t teach any useful skills either…it’s all about theoretical knowledge, thought and arguments. Which is fine but it doesn’t give me any indication of the future, direct me to any sort of path and doesn’t tell me anything about what is in the abyss of the unknown.
I never run of angst to write about. My life is one giant pondering bubble of angst. My writing seems to be fuelled on angst. I’m not sure if I should be proud of that.
It seems that time somehow becoming both more meaningful and meaningless at the same time. It’s meaningful, in in some morbid way you know you are closer to unknown temporal limit, that it doesn’t go on forever. But when? No one knows. Yet time somehow goes faster? But it’s meaningless in that it’s so out of control, out of reach that it’s often just easier to ignore it. Well, to accept Time at least or one may go crazy. It used to be that 5 years was a big deal. From 5 years old to 10 years old. From 10 years old to 15 years old. From kindergarten-age to grade 5, from grade 5 to grade 10. It’s been 5 years since I left high school now. Now the years are no longer dramatic shifts, nothing like the short time shift from a 12 year old child to a 15 year old teenager. Instead of stepping year to year, grade to grade, time now seems to just seamlessly flow. Each day seems to meld seamlessly into the next. Each day passes so quickly and easily. Sure, it’s less clunky now but it’s now somehow terrifyingly smooth. Slippery smooth and difficult to grasp. I can feel it slipping away from me. Do I even have a grip on it anymore? Probably not.
Time is a fickle thing. Never knowing much left. Never knowing what comes next. It’s so meaningful and meaningless at the same time. Limited to a lifetime, but as far as we know but so easy to watch it tick by and almost unlimited on the grand scheme thing of things. Or well, until the end of the universe anyway (ending in various not so great hypothetical ways). Some say time is more of a perception than anything else. Maybe it doesn’t even exist in the way we see it. Maybe it’s all an illusion of our minds. Indeed, it shapes and is shaped by our perceptions. But yet there’s an large element of the unknown, of what we can’t control (so when’s that possibly 9.0-magnitude-Megathrust-Super-Earthquake-That-Will-Wipe-Out-The-West-Coat coming?). I guess there is an element of the known too – choices perhaps. But what do I know? Fate is also a funny thing.
And where am I again? I look around at the stark landscape and the tangle of faint paths, now hidden by layers of dirt and grass. I don’t know where the paths lead. I don’t even know where they diverge, converge or end. I feel myself resisting to move forward on an unknown path. But Time relentlessly pushes me forward, closer to the dense fog ahead as I try feebly to cling to objects along the path as if it could slow it down. “Stop!” I cry. “Where are you pushing me to?”. Time doesn’t answer and never answers. To anybody. It doesn’t need to. Its silence echoes across our existences, shouting louder than any sound.