NON FICTION: Remembering Who You Once Were

Guy thinking

Photo: Sunyu Kim

Some ten years ago I wrote this: “I woke up to a world greyer than usual. It’s as if Crayola came and took away the colours from my life.”

No, it wasn’t a Myspace post.

Sometimes I like reading my old work just to see what I was thinking at the time, and as much as I like to poke fun at my younger self, he does give me some hints as to why I am the way I am today.

If feelings were a scale of one to ten, I would have been hovering at a three for as long as I can recall. This was why I took to reading my old posts just to see how far back I’d stopped caring.

Perhaps the line above was written as a precursor to my jaded future. I can’t believe it’s been ten years since. It feels as though the past decade had doused my inner flame and left me with a rock in my chest. I can’t even remember the last time I actually felt legit excitement. For anything.

But I’ve grown to like being at a three. It’s like having a low-key superpower. There is a certain invincibility that comes with it.

Stuck in traffic? Meh. Didn’t get a pay raise for three years? Couldn’t be bothered. Someone constantly blinding me with her phone in the cinema? Get a bodybag because there are some lines that just aren’t meant to be crossed.

Of course, like Superman’s kryptonite, I, too, have a weakness. In place of all this chill, I have to go through all the levels of hell for routine stuff, like making small talk, or going to a party, or having to make a phone call.

Still, this emotional state has given me a sort of baseline I can trust. Whenever rise above a five, it’s probably time to stop drinking. That, or someone probably slipped me a roofie.

And when I drop below three—which is a pretty shitty place to be—then it’s time to actually take some sort of action, because I’d rather not hang out where the demons play.

I don’t mind having less feelings. It’s just that it gets in the way of life, especially when it comes to socialising. If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you’ll know that I can’t, for the life of me, empathise with people.

I do try to involve myself in conversations as much as I can, but I really find it hard to stay enthusiastic about your daily commute, or how watery the lunch-set soup is. And there are only so many intonations I can sprinkle on my ohs and ahs before you start looking at me all weird, so the next time you catch me fumbling around a conversation, please don’t take it personally—just take it as a personality defect.

So why am I telling you all this?

Because I’ve dropped below three. I’m not sure if it’s part of growing older (I’ve always imagined myself turning into a grumpy old man), or if there’s something my subconscious is trying to tell me.

A quick examination will show that I haven’t been reading, writing, exercising, learning something new, or eating clean. I’ve got all my answers right there, but something tells me that it goes beyond that. There’s a gnawing in my heart that I just can’t account for.

And I suspect it has to do with my creative pursuits.

I want to write a book before I die. I want to have at least one work of fiction published, and I’d love to try out the freelance circuit to see if I can build a remote-working lifestyle.

The last time I had a death scare, the first thing that came to my mind was: “Welp, I better get to writing that book now.”

But things turned out all right, and pretty soon, that goal got put on the back-burner again. So here I am, some five years down the road, and I haven’t even gotten to writing a single word.

Throughout my years at this craft, I’ve begun to notice a pattern. I only write when my emotional metre spikes beyond a three, or when I have sufficient headspace. I don’t buy  the ‘If you can’t write with a job, you won’t be able to without one’ mantra. Some of my most active writing periods were when I was jobless.

The blank page is a formidable opponent even when I have a clear mind; trying to take it on after a day of staring at words would just be like trying to sprint after completing a marathon—it’ll end up being a half-assed effort and I won’t look anywhere near as good as I would doing it fresh.

So now you begin to see my dilemma. Do I just forgo society’s expectations and live a college kid’s life, just so I can hop onto this path and give it a fair shot? Or do I keep trying to sprint after marathons and wonder if I’m doing myself justice?

Perhaps one day I’ll take the leap. Maybe if I hang out at a one long enough, I’ll finally find the motivation to throw caution into the wind. Maybe my problem is not as rare as I think, because one of my idols had once written something that closely addressed my predicament.

He wrote: “I have one of two choices—stay in the post office and go crazy… or stay out here and play at writer and starve. I have decided to starve.”

Bukowski had written that to a newspaper editor during a turning point in his life, and that letter would forever mark his entrance to literary success.

I wonder if he ever reread that letter just to reflect on his life, the same way I’m doing now. And I wonder if I’ll ever be able to follow his footsteps.

Minus the womanising and leukaemia, of course.

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