I suppose you were expecting a Valentine’s Day post from me.
As is probably apparent, now that the occasion has been deceased for nearly twenty-four hours, I don’t have one. If you have known me longer, perhaps you would be a tad disappointed. I have a history of adopting seemingly ‘anti-establishment’ positions, especially on social media, when it comes to society-wide ‘celebrations’. It’s become almost predictable, to find me at the corner where all the wet blankets are stacked, making some sharp salty, sour comment on the commercialization of festive experiences, blah blah blah. I like to think that i’ve grown more nuanced since, and come to see that everyone is entitled to their special moment of celebration. What’s so wrong with riding on the spirit of the moment anyway? Why is there such a persistent pressure to become different?
But i think the other part of the reason for being more circumspect about occasions like Christmas or Chinese New Year or Valentine’s Day is that I’ve come to realise how common it is to take the opposite position. For every person posting a bouquet on the Instagram feed there’s going to be another an antithesis, growling about ‘Singles Appreciation Day’. It’s become too common to be uncommon. And even the hipsters aren’t even very cool anymore. So i suppose my circumspection about this whole event arises from wanting to be a special snowflake. As usual. Watching people mumble and grumble in a way I used to do is often enough to gross me out from that position, if they aren’t positions that need to be seriously defended…
But after a whole long day banging away at my thesis, I emerged from the Central Library in a quiet, reflective mood. Passenger’s ‘All the Little Lights’ and ‘River on the Clyde’ playing gently added a very rosy, quiet tenor to the complexion of my evening. So right now, I’m in a peaceable, contemplative mood. I have some meandering thoughts that may not mean anything, but some friends have (perhaps to the misfortune of the rest of the reading world) told me they like to read my thoughts – at least the ones I publish anyway. So here are some dreamy wisps that occurred to me as the D1 shuttle bus carried me back to my room in college, murmuring its deep, comforting contralto.
- I received significantly few birthday wishes this year. This is a statistic that can be borne out by Facebook numbers. In the past the figure easily climbed past 100, maybe 200. This year i think I received 30. This isn’t a complaint, although I’m mildly surprised it doesn’t bother me more. I’ve been chewing on the reason for this apathy. A younger Ruizhi would have been disturbed. This number would have ruined his day, or week. Well – if it weren’t remarkable I wouldn’t have mentioned it here. But I think what I like more is the fact that I’m quite relieved at the general lack of attention this year.
- Thus, i think, I am growing up – emotionally. Or maybe growing wearier. TAS and Delv, those lovely drinking buddies, have pointed out this phenomenon that’s been settling on us recently. A general lack of shits to give about people who demand too much of your time. After awhile, I think we have settled (much like how silt slowly settles on a river-bed) on the consensus that people who are not worth your time nor emotion shouldn’t be bothered with. Logically, this makes sense – you want to spend finite resources on more important things, so you prioritize. But emotionally, and human-ly, the experience of living as a human being takes a while longer to learn.
- My (quietly) happy birthday was thus a wonderful opportunity to take stock and reflect on this general inability to find a fk to give. Just as Valentine’s Day is a good time to look back, and to be grateful for someone (or someoneS, as it may be…) in your life, my birthday (and the general quiet around it) allowed me to realise that much of whatever I wanted or desired was already within reach.
- Instead of thin, diluted friends, dispersed across vast, un-reachable tundras of time and space, I thought it was lovely to have friends who would take the time to send me personal messages, or come up to me and give me a simple little wish. These were all ‘deep’ friends, ‘thick’ friends, to borrow a word from Clifford Geertz. People whom I share meaningful, special relationships with. Every wish was an opportunity to reflect on the bonds I had made and woven together with this person. And in the end, what can you take to your grave, or into your stomach? I had enough, and I think the greatest gift was the one I gave to myself – the one of contentment and satisfaction. It was a rich gift, leavened and weathered with the marks and complexion of time. I quite liked it.
- I want to avoid cliche. Every Valentine’s Day post that masquerades as a “This Isn’t but…” ends rather predictably still with “love yourself, that’s the person you should love the most” Blah-zzfeed…but it’s true indeed. Although it’s been said so many times that nobody really pays any attention to the adage anymore. That’s the problem with a lot of these truisms. They get repeated until they are recycled in our brains, instead of embodied in our lived experiences.
- To be loved by yourself is to be happy and comfortable with yourself, to see the self as a being worthy of the same love and compassion and kindness we think we need to give others, whether out of social obligation or genuine sincerity. It’s not easy to consciously love oneself.
- We are so tuned outwards, perhaps because we are so good at being gregarious social animals – watchful for betrayal or awkwardness – that we very rarely turn inwards, to embrace the self.
- Instead we expect some Other Person, some imaginary, fictive Knight or Princess to come and rescue us from the shithole we dug for ourselves. If you shine the light of logic on this expectation, you come to realise it doesn’t make much sense. Especially if you are the kind of person who has experienced the limits of how “helpful” help from other people can be. No, we cannot be rescued.
- With incredibly rare exceptions, I think it is the height of self-entitlement (and perhaps delusion) to expect someone to know the uneven, unmapped and unknown faultlines of our soul. The little pits and crevices and nooks that life has left on us, that we expect some Lover to fill for us. Hoping for such a magical phenomenon to happen is harder than hoping to strike the big lottery, i think. I’m not a pessimist, nor even a realist.
- I just like to think I can pour my own glass of milk, instead of crying over something that has already spilled. Perhaps it’s even more exciting and wondrous to marvel at the other glass of spilt milk – the one that was hurled all across the midnight fabric of the sleeping heavens. Maybe that would give us all more perspective.
- So I think we need to turn inwards occasionally. Self-love these days has been conflated with arrogance. Admittedly there is a very thin line. Some people are going to pronounce you as “damn act”. Attention-seeking. People who use such names, I think, are usually unsure of how else to react when confronted with an instance of self-love. Irony can cut both ways.
- And yet, it’s so strange isnt it – in what is perhaps the most self-obsessed century in human memory, we are increasingly crushed by depression, self-doubt, anxiety and fear. I find that so peculiar, and rather sad.
- So I’d like to continue expressing this opinion of self-love. To turn the optics of desire and compassion back inward.
- I was looking at the trees wave and dance in the wind just now, and laughed aloud at how funny the image was. At how the whole evening seemed to be alive with benevolent intention and love. And I realised seeing my landscape that way was more a reflection of my inner landscapes than it was of my external one. Objective realities are largely mythical, I think, once you read texts written by human beings long enough.
- And i thought: how lovely it is to see the ending-day, the world, the universe, in such a glowing, loving light. To recognize such goodness in the world entailed a capacity for such goodness in me too. And i smiled, a smile from my heart.
What’s wrong with being in love with yourself?
I don’t wanna be someone who walks away so easily
I’m here to stay and make the difference that I can make
Our differences they do a lot to teach us how to use
The tools and gifts we got yeah, we got a lot at stake
And in the end, you’re still my friend at least we did intend
For us to work we didn’t break, we didn’t burn
We had to learn how to bend without the world caving in
I had to learn what I’ve got, and what I’m not and who I am
– Jason Mraz, I Won’t Give Up
LOVE AFTER LOVE
The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
– Derek Walcott