january in review, 2019

I’ve always been a believer in impermanence, to which anyone who has been treated to my cynicism about change and life constants can attest. I’m always in a hurry to record, a fact that might come as a surprise to anyone who has attended an event with me and never seen me pull my phone out once, a mistake that I more often than not regret as soon as I get home. I’m also always sure that time erodes everything into essential non-existence, but this, I think, is simply the angst-dictated instinct of people my age, stuck in this liminal existence waiting for things in our past to properly die while also waiting for the things in our potential future to crystallize.

The point is that I know how my mind works and I know how life works and I know that neither one retains anything infinitely. A thought will automatically go to my Google Keep before it has the chance to disappear, and a memory will be immortalized in written or photo form when I feel the slightest hint of an emotion that my body doesn’t usually allow me to have. My wistful sadness over graduating high school and leaving my Canadian hometown surprised me, for example, and as a result it is so well-preserved in a diary entry that it’s easy to rehash that melancholy. My suffocating homesickness during my time in Italy is a visceral feeling that consumes me when I allow it, and that, at least, I don’t have to write down; looking at pictures from Rieti alone calls it forward anew. My disappointment over Voltron was unprecedented and ridiculous, yet so great that it is forever articulated in two very, very angry blog posts.

There’s a recurring pattern here, though. I only ever do it for extreme negative emotions, because I am emotionally repressed even on my best days and unable to talk to my loved ones about such things unless I write them in journal entry form first. I’m sure I’ve written positive ones as well in high school, on days so good I was stumped how they could possibly be good, but the fact remains that it’s always on either end of the spectrum. Never just because sometimes it’s nice to keep track of how life is going, in all its goodness and badness, in all its ebbs and flows.

This is, thankfully, something my brain has adjusted to processing, with help from my fellowship at Nuance. We always check in with this Rose, Bud, Thorn system—a curation of things currently making us happy, things we’re excited for, things making us unhappy and unexcited, respectively. It’s helpful, I think, to lay out my thoughts in this way, because I keep so many things crammed into all of my days without ever asking myself how I feel about any of them, much less isolating them into these categories that allow me to process them one by one.

So, for 2019, I want to start with this on a monthly basis, with perhaps bit of tweaking, because I always have too much to say and too much to think about once I get going.

In danger of sounding like a YouTuber in a Monthly Favourites video, then, these are the things that made me happy this month:

  • The Lightning Thief musical, which I am seeing in March and for which I, in preparation for that, have finally listened to the whole thing. Back in the days when the cast recording hadn’t been on Spotify, I had to settle for Youtube looping Chris McCarrell’s Good Kid recording video. Fingers tightly crossed that I can see him play Percy when I go to the Friday night show.

  • Stray Kids: I’m extremely iffy about wandering into the territory of (what I delineate to be) fourth generation kpop groups because chances are always that the members are my age and/or younger and that… brings a discomfort I can’t work around. But this Stray Kids phase took me by surprise with how passionate it has been—in particular, my feelings towards its leader Bang Chan, who has all the sleep deprivation and workaholism and desire to write for our generation that I can ever ask for in someone my age. I am enamoured, to say the least, though my affection is backed by a genuine, borderline worshipful awe, if only because the fact that we are the same age and have almost the same habits allow me to empathize with him as well as put myself in his shoes much more easily than I can with most idols, including other 1997-born ones. Between their multitude of bops and clean choreographies and 3RACHA’s tendency to be existential, my time following him and SKZ have brought me a lot of encouragement and inspiration. It’s a fun time.

  • Frank And Oak Winter Puffer Jacket. My navy Everland puffer has seen me through a couple of rough winters now, and I love it very much, but it’s also beginning to show the effects of those two icy seasons. This year, I decided to invest in a new coat, this time from a specifically Canadian brand. It has not disappointed in protecting me during these -42° temperatures, though I am having a tricky time adjusting to wearing something so conspicuously red.

  • Phum Viphurit. I can’t recall how I ended up watching the music video for his song “Lover Boy” but I do know that something about this man and his music and his Instagram just warms my heart every time.

  • Vivian Maier. A friend was down from Toronto for Christmas and, impulsively, we went to see the Vivian Maier exhibit at the local art gallery. To say the least, I am in love, as well as upset that medium format cameras are not at all easy to procure.

  • Kramer vs. Kramer. My mother and I rang in the new year with this movie, because nothing says new year than being sobbing messes at 3 A.M. Good god, Meryl Streep is so beautiful. And this movie broke my heart, so thank you for that.

  • Roma, and all the Oscar nominations it got. I wrote a post some time back on how I felt about Pan’s Labyrinth, and it was all that nostalgia and ache and so much more. Such a wondrous revelation of a film, to deliberately mock-quote film reviewers. I had to post about it on Instagram, too, quoting a sentiment that I think Alfonso Cuarón best put into words with respect to my connection to the film.

And, on the other end of the seesaw, the not-so-good things:

  • The rest of the Oscar Nominations. There are, admittedly, many other good ones beyond Roma, or at least enough that I can’t name them all here. But I’ll just be tuning in to make sure that Into the Spider-verse wins Best Animation, and the rest, I’ll have to read up on the morning after because I have little affection for this year’s Academy Awards.

  • Feelings of inadequacy—which, really, is nothing new with me, but it’s new to feel so burdened by my age on top of my understanding of my own incompetence. I’ll (maybe) expand on this in a later post, but it’s been especially tough, lately, to be around so many knowledgeable people in my workplace(s) and at school, and to feel limited by things beyond my own control. I know that some facets of knowledge only come with time, with accumulated experience, but I am an impatient creature by nature, and it’s upsetting to feel stuck, with no way of catching up except staying true to the slow, steady process of learning and unlearning in small steps.

That said, I do have things to look forward to, though it may not feel that way in my low moments. I’m not much of a resolution guy, but last year was so horrible that I felt it can’t hurt to try this year. These, then, are mine:

  • Wear more colour this winter: Winter is dreary enough as it is, and my constant navys and beiges and blacks likely do not help my mood. There is a little bit of image reconstruction at work here as well, one that I don’t think has been very successful because I just don’t feel like myself wearing my bright red Frank And Oak puffer and Christmas-y sweaters, but we’ll see. I want to dress like how everyone in Sex Education dresses. That is the goal.

  • Put work into reshaping my relationship with religion: Fuck Catholicism as an institution, still, always, and fuck all the harmful things a childhood full of it had instilled in me, but writing my first piece for Nuance has really allowed me to reevaluate the amount of agency I have in viewing religion as a whole. So I want to take ownership, especially when I’ve rediscovered that nothing calms me down from my late night anxiety and depressive episodes quite like the same prayers I did growing up.

  • Work out — dance and swimming! My self-esteem re: what I look like has never been lower than it currently is, so I don’t know if the motivation behind this is particularly a good one, if I’m being honest. But beyond that, dance and swimming are things I grew up doing and loving, and one can also make the counterargument that in taking them up again, I am resisting the very insecurities that, in my teenage years, scared me away from continuing to do them in the first place.

  • Give social media a chance: One thing I realized from my CBT anxiety group is that my aversion to social media isn’t simply an enneagram Type Five quirk—there’s a lot of genuine fear rooted there, especially with the performance I perceive to be inevitably attached to it. But if writing CARR has taught me anything, it’s that there is a possible middle ground there, a way to feel connected to the world without necessarily sacrificing something in turn.

  • Actually work on healing: This is difficult. I’m not too optimistic about how well I’ll do. But it’s exhausting, isn’t it, to be self-deprecating and dark-humoured and cynical all the time. I know it isn’t directly my fault that my first instinct is to be this way, but there’s a lot to unlearn here. Healing doesn’t happen overnight, as well, especially when there’s so, so much to heal from, but if I can move my writing away from the angst and trauma blatantly there when I was writing in my teens, I can also move my worldview. To forge a new path in the forest that is my brain until the old path has grown over and my reflex is no longer to think like I used to, as my CBT therapists taught me. I don’t have to believe positive, non-cynical thoughts, and I know I won’t, but it’s the same principle as countering thoughts, I think. I just have to keep thinking good thoughts, again and again, and hopefully bring myself closer to a better place than where I am right now, and where I have been for so long. Healing demands a lot of self-work and self-initiative, things I don’t pride myself in having when it comes to my mental health, but it, like so many other things in this list of resolutions, is nonetheless worth a shot.

On that note, I want to record two mantras my CBT groupmates came up with for me:

  • Growing pains are expected. This is difficult to stomach when I have this intrinsic expectation of myself to do well right off the bat—with meeting new people, with a new job, a new class, a new writing project, a new hobby, even. But growing pains are expected, and I won’t get any better if I don’t allow myself to even try to move past the growing stage.

  • 50% is the most responsibility I’m ever going to have in an average human interaction. This was mostly for my paralyzing fear of having conversations with strangers and authority figures, as well as my tendency to overthink them until they become the worst case scenario in my head, but it’s applicable as well, I think, in matters beyond conversations. There’s a lot of responsibility I take on in my relationships, none of which ever has room for mistakes, especially with family, where I’ve known nothing but a role of responsibility. That… probably needs to change this year.

A lot, probably, needs to change this year, as far as my mentality goes. A lot, as I already said, to learn and unlearn. As there always is. As there always should be. At my best, I believe that I am a person hungry for knowledge, a person with a bottomless appetite for the chance to create. Only I haven’t been my best in a long, long time. I’ve been that hungry person, though a distorted version of it—overworking, over-agreeing, wanting to fill my life with work instead of enjoying the things I create, just banging them out one after the other because my own emotions scare me and, if I funnel them through abstract things, they are no longer mine. I’ve been that hungry person, but that hunger had always been eclipsed by my certainty of my own incompetence just by existing, just by being being born myself. I don’t know enough. I will never know enough. Not for any particular reason. It’s simply fact. That’s just how the world works. You can’t know everything.

That shouldn’t be a bad thing. It’s good, in retrospect, that there is so much out there in the world to discover, so many mediums to expand to, so many outlets to try. There is no such thing as perfection in a world constantly changing and shifting, and I should be—and am—comforted by this. Yet it is bad, because I want so badly to be good enough at what makes me happy. And this hunger—for creating, for learning—is what makes me happy.

I need to reconcile those, too, I guess. I want a slower, softer hunger this year. Something that will allow me to savour the better things in life a little more.

I don’t need you to be perfect, 2019, but please be kind.