dormir plutôt que vivre!

Does such a thing as “the fatal flaw,” that showy dark crack running down the middle of a life, exist outside literature? I used to think it didn’t. Now I think it does. And I think that mine is this: a morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs.

from the very beginning of ‘The Secret History’ I sat up and took notice. apart from the incredibly lush writing, littering of literary allusions like treasure, perfectly paced chronology (the narrator relates the story very authentically, with apologies for the haze and forgeries of memory), it reminded me endlessly of The Great Gatsby, a book that I remember very fondly despite its manifold flaws and sentimentality. Superficially there are plenty of things that are similar: a perpetual alcohol-induced miasma; invented histories; socioeconomic differences; but most importantly to me, a fundamentally detached narrator, who despite his horror and moral judgment of the events happening around him, remains passive and hence a part of them; with a tendency to romanticise even the objectively terrible. It was with some joy that I read that The Great Gatsby was one of Richard’s favourite books.

“Y’know,” he said, “Julian is like one of those people that’ll pick all his favorite chocolates out of the box and leave the rest.” This seems rather enigmatic on the face of it, but actually I cannot think of a better metaphor for Julian’s personality. It is similar to another remark made to me once by George Laforgue, on an occasion when I had been extolling Julian to the skies. “Julian,” he said curtly, “will never be scholar of the very first rate, and that is because he is only capable of seeing things on a selective basis.”

When I disagreed- strenuously- and asked what was wrong with focusing one’s entire attention on only two things, if those two things were Art and Beauty, Laforgue replied: “There is nothing wrong with the love of Beauty. But Beauty- unless she is wed to something more meaningful- is always superficial. It is not that your Julian chooses solely to concentrate on certain, exalted things; it is that he chooses to ignore others equally as important.”

It’s funny. In retelling these events, I have fought against a tendency to sentimentalize Julian, to make him seem very saintly- basically to falsify him- in order to make our veneration of him seem more explicable; to make it seem something more, in short, than my own fatal tendency to try to make interesting people good.

say yes

we were people-watching idly from the roof terrace of the esplanade, leaning with our elbows on the parapet and steadfastly ignoring the sign next to us that said not to. there was acoustic music wafting in from the outdoor theatre and the view was amazing: mbs on the left and the city skyline on the right. i was laughing with ruth with something when we saw a guy with a camera around his neck on the first floor looking up at us. he waved back when we did and lifted his camera to his eye. i fell into her shoulder and grinned whilst she threw her arms out while muttering ‘oh god are we really doing this fuck i’m posing i hate myself’- he took the camera down and threw us a thumbs-up, which we returned for want of anything more inspired.

i hope it turned out well, not necessarily aesthetically perfect, but just vibrant. something real and unrestrained about it. there’s something i like about the idea of taking photos of strangers- chancing upon people who are obviously enjoying the moment and each other, and instead of shunning you, turn to welcome you into their joy without question. happiness makes you generous, i think. it reminds me of that day in oxford last year when my brother was showing us around the gardens he walked through to get to class every day. i was taking photos of my brother and sister on a bridge arched proudly over a river, trying to get them to make goofy faces at me when a punt came along and a woman on it shouted a greeting at us. I laughed and offered to snap a picture for them which they promptly posed for- four or five people, accompanied by a bottle or two of liquor, chorusing thank-yous as they drifted away not entirely of their own volition.

eso es todo

1. trying to remake yourself is hard. reconsidering every action a second after you’ve initiated it, thinking over things you’d taken for granted up to that moment. i’ve been trying to be more confident and do things like looking at people walking towards me instead of staring off into the distance avidly to avoid their gaze; striking up conversations with people when I see them beyond the same hi/bye; continuing a conversation or turning a topic where i’d normally let it fall flat; sharing a little more about what i feel and what i’ve learnt. i dunno how successful it’s been, probably not very, but if i’m ever going to get to a healthy place where i can survive work-level interaction i’m gonna need practice. and honestly, for someone who claims to think that people are the most important part of life, i don’t show it much in terms of how i talk to people. I think it might stem from how i am as a person because i assume that people don’t want to interact unless they positively show that they do. kind of like how when you go into a shop you don’t want the staff to ask you if you need help… but that’s not universally true. i think that this says something about me, about how most times i kind of only want social interaction on my own terms, which can be informed by anything like my mood, who you are, the people we’re around. but the problem with that is that when you want to dictate the rules of engagement, you’re going to have to initiate. which i feel a lot of the time i’m too passive and unconfident to do. so something else to work on; either become more approachable or more assertive.

i am working on it. i think i’ve talked to more classmates the past week than i have in general- thank you dorothy. it’s bad to keep that kind of scorecard though- it implies that there’s some kind of quota to fulfill, an ideal number after which i can just stop. maybe one day i’ll see this as an end to itself.

2. one of my mods is groupwork-based and i’m the only girl in my team so i’ve been thinking a lot about differences in working style recently, especially after the women in law conference last semester. case in point: i got angry over one of my groupmate’s messages because i thought he was being passive-aggressive by saying that we shouldn’t expect to leave our next meeting at [the time that i had left a previous meeting early]. later i figured that he probably hadn’t meant it like that and that i had probably read too much into it. when i talked about it during lunch with dorothy yesterday we found ourselves ranting about it. she said that he should have thought about the implication of his words and been more careful about it, and that the idea that women are ‘too sensitive’ is annoying because particularity to nuance in interaction isn’t an inherently negative thing, and that it’s probably coded as such because it’s thought to or in fact does feature in most women’s interaction patterns. I was angry because we were socialised to be non-confrontational to operate in a society where assertive women are seen negatively and it seems ridiculous that the onus is now on women to adapt back instead of teaching men to be more emotionally sensitive, especially since the latter stereotype is still alive and well.

also i honestly had no idea if i was being heard by them or not. there was one issue where the other person refused to follow my advice even though i told him multiple times. he put it down to just wanting to finish as fast as possible (no innuendo pls), but i just wondered if it would have been the same if i had been another guy. it’s exhausting and frustrating, tbh- to constantly wonder if there’s something i could actually be working on, like if i could have justified myself more or explained a little better, or if it’s just because i was never going to match up in the first place.

3. the last few weeks have been pretty introspective, i think, in between classes and worrying about falling behind (which i absolutely am, why did i even bother hoping that i wouldn’t, it’s inevitable at this point). been thinking about pretty much every aspect of myself and my ideas that i thought i had accepted. but you can tell yourself a lot of things and it doesn’t make it true. it doesn’t even really mean you believe it. i’m going to have to negotiate that about myself now, kind of ping-pong off diametrically opposed conceptions and try to come to a healthy middle ground. (this is v evasive; i’ve been narrating the process but not the substantive outcome. i guess some things are still too tender to verbalise.)

4. there’s a moment, midway up the first slope we come to in the trail we normally take in botanic gardens, right after a thin copse of trees with a branch of leaves you have to duck if you’re more to the right of the path. it’s relatively early on so normally at that point i’m still breathing through my nose, but far enough away that if i push my speed at the beginning i start to feel a strain. up to that point there’s nothing really noticeable but a hint of pandan, but as you pass it there’s a sudden burst of vanilla. it’s inexplicable and almost always unexpected, but it’s delightful.

5. i might actually be better qualified to discuss general elections after doing some interest-driven but rather extraneous research into Singapore politics for our public law assignment. sadly i still have neither a snappy title or a thesis.