Copying others takes the world from 1 to n, adding more of something familiar. But when you do something new, you go from 0 to 1.
- Peter Thiel
A bit over a month ago, a friend had invited me to a comedy show featuring some short sets from stand up comedians. I have a growing interest in possibly performing stand up, so although I don’t go to them normally, I decided to check it out.
During the set an older comedian went up, and knowing not too much about him, his set was a bit off (though later I would hear his humor was a bit avant garde in general, so maybe that was just a normal set), where jokes weren’t really jokes, just statements stated loudly at people. It ended up being a 10 minute rant about how his career was shit and he was washed up. It ended up being somewhat uncomfortable towards the end as the host had to somewhat awkwardly eventually lead him off stage as he was going clearly way too long and there were other acts to get to. I began to rethink my nascent stand up career.
This past weekend, I learned that that comedian had committed suicide and hung himself and I felt terrible for a variety of reasons. Some of them were reasonable and others not, but my headspace was dominated by the notion that I could see myself on that stage like him in 10-15 years, contemplating about the meaninglessness of a life searching for acceptance.
In 8th grade, I remember my Earth Science teacher claiming that pumping oxygen in the air gives you more energy and alertness, but possibly at the cost of your life span: there was the reverse claim that depriving yourself of oxygen could extend your lifespan, but at the cost of making you more lethargic while you lived. My teacher likened humans to light bulbs, with an inverse relationship between our brightness and our longevity.
When I was younger, I always likened myself to characters with the utmost resolve, ready to lay down their lives, even to the point of death, for a cause that I believed in, as long as the cause was pure and true and just. In my adolescence, reading about people who had laid down their lives for greater causes than themselves, I thought that there was a nonzero chance that I was going to be murdered for whatever cause I believed in before the age of 40. What was the point of living to 120 when you weren’t burning as bright as you could?
Well, unfortunately (or fortunately?), I think probability probably points to me sticking around by 2023.
Ironically, my brazenness probably stemmed from feeling immortal…up until this year. All those signs pointing to 30 being the big demarcation of adulthood are all wrong, 35 is the year where shit gets real, especially if you feel like you’re still nowhere close to being an adult. Physically, I started getting sick a bit after eating some foods, have been having more trouble getting good sleep, losing focus and concentration. After a session of tweezing out double digit grey hairs in front of my bathroom mirror awkwardly trying to use two mirrors to create the illusion of spacial awareness for better accuracy of said tweezing, I took a long look at two of myselves and realized, “Fuck, I’m old.”
I probably say some variant of “Fuck, I’m old.” every year since I turned 22 in annoying, neurotic, self-absorbed, woe-is-me fashion but despite my best efforts of denial and acting like a man-child for the better part of this millennia, time has come for my psyche. I just had enough money, Asian youth and immaturity to ignore it until now.
Every day I look in the mirror and wonder if what I see is actually an adult, a fully fledged man. But I don’t see it. But I don’t see a kid, either, or even an “adolescent”. I’m in some sort of living purgatory, where I feel trapped, like my DNA didn’t quite upload the correct code for this stage of my life, either mentally or physically.
What got me through a lot of depressing times in my life was the notion that “life was going to get better”. Happiness, I was made to believe, was something that could be achieved, as long as you got your shit together and kept your head down. A master of delayed gratification, I really bought into the “oh this is just for now, and when you grow older and get a good job, all these other things will fall into place and adult life will be so much better for all that hard work in your early life.”
Last year, feeling left behind in life, my paradigm shifted to: “It is very likely that you have already lived the best moments of your life". I felt like Murphy in Interstellar: in that very moment when she is told by Professor Brand that the data necessary for the solution to save humanity on Earth was impossible to gather. I had been working towards a happiness that will never materialize.
Because I can pass for 20s still (or so I believe) I sometimes hypothesize, what if I could just tell myself I was younger and have that mindset? Would I have a different perspective on life? Would I “think” younger, have more optimism, feel the optimism that I did 10 years ago?
For me, that answer is a resounding no. They (this hypothetical they that is the expert on aging) don’t tell you that even though you may not age physically or mentally, everything about your life ages anyway, your resume, your finances, your relationships, your social network and peers, your very world and your very view of the world itself. There is no de-aging of your consciousness and experiences.
A few days after that comedy show last month, my sister had come to visit me, to “stop me from killing myself.” To the uninitiated, my sister and I (and really my whole family) have this sort of dark humor where we regularly talk about each others deaths and how sorry we’re going to be when the other family member is gone. And while I have never had suicidal thoughts in my life, I have come closest to having them in the past year.
She also has a point: 2018 was pretty rough for me. Aside from the career bullshit that’s become a recurring theme in my life, it was amplified by losing literally millions of dollars (so I know what that feels like at least), chemical imbalances by probably doing way too much MDMA (oh yeah, I guess that’s for another entry) and just the general feeling that life was passing me by while I was standing still, and the feeling that society and many of the people closest with me were moving on with their lives.
What got me in introspective hyperdrive though was while she was visiting, my dad had a near fatal emergency open heart surgery. Just the previous month, I had a conversation with him, what the happiest time of his life was, his reasons for coming to America and for staying. In the past month, I’ve been thinking about a lot of things, about what’s important in this life, about if I were my dad and I had died last month, if I would have been satisfied with the way I left things and about how I lived the second half of my life, about what I need to do myself for the next 30 years of my life, of trying to make sense of why I was still where I am today, trolling around Hollywood attempting to make a dream that may never materialize telling my parents I couldn’t visit when my dad was in the hospital because of some notion that something miraculous was going to happen during pilot season.
What’s worse than feeling like the walls are closing in and this general sense of dread and doubt and uncertainty is the idea that it is entirely your own fault. It’s tempting to blame my problems on external forces but the reality is that I still have privileges and the capacity to build towards my own happiness. But I have a tendency to never embrace the moment, having one foot in the past and one foot in the future, trying to do a Jean Claude van Damme like split as the two diverge from each other.
This past weekend, I read everything I could about that comedian that had committed suicide, as if I was trying to reverse engeineer the blueprint to conquer my own demons. In the past year, I’ve probably listened to “Fade into Darkness” by Avicii an unhealthy amount of times after listening to a variety EDC tributes. I have become obsessed not with suicide, but with people who gave so much of themselves and who committed suicide. Did they see something that the rest of us could not see? Do I want to discover what that is?
When I examine my own unhappiness, a big source is the feeling that I am constantly in flux, on a spectrum of achievement, an unresolved chord. There’s a hump that I can’t quite get over, as I struggle to become whole, struggling from getting zero to one. Neither feeling like a child or adult, neither feeling accomplished or a failure, neither feeling accepted or shunned, It is the very indecisiveness of my self-perception that frustrates me, that I cannot decide how exactly to course correct, the paralysis of having too many bad choices to choose from.
Maybe I didn’t try hard enough, I didn’t give quite the 100% that I thought I was. Or maybe I didn’t believe in my cause as strongly as I did. Or maybe I lost that passion that I had 10 years ago when I started out on this never ending quest, when I was filled with ignorant optimism.
In the past couple years, I have learned more about race and the industry than I have in the first 30 something years of my life. But instead of steeling me towards progress, the knowledge of what it will take for this generation of Asian Americans to gain visibility and recognition of their humanity in this country feels insurmountable, because we as a racial group have been anesthetized in this country by the carrot instead of the stick, content to be erased for prosperity in return. For a long time I felt bitter because I thought the cavalry had not come for me, but now I realize that there may have never been a cavalry to begin with.
Tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And then one fine morning— So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
- F. Scott Fizgerald