Notes from a Quiet Room
By Chan Yi Wen
Shortly after my mother crossed the hill at age 50, she fell victim to a mid-life crisis and was suddenly overwhelmed with a strong conviction that she couldn't stick to status quo and that it was necessary for her to adopt drastic measures to improve her quality of life. First, she got her hair cut coconut-style, and then she wanted to backpack across Europe – a desire that I couldn't comprehend but didn't materialise in the end. To me, her life was perfect just the way it was. Homemaker and mother of three – nothing seemed inadequate or appeared out of place.
Then on New Year's Eve 2011, for no particular reason, I woke up in the middle of the night with a strange inclination to drop out of college and join the Peace Corps, save the world and shock my family. I couldn't fall back to sleep. I tossed and turned till the sun came up, which was the worst feeling in the world. That night, I realised I wasn't living the story I wanted to live and that got me slightly depressed and worried, that if this current progression in life continued, 50 years later, I was going to end up in the middle of nowhere living with farm animals. And just like that, I was experiencing my own quarter-life crisis. The hell gates opened, the generation gap narrowed, and I could roughly understand what my mother was going through.
I used to have the misconception that people in their 20s had life all figured out, but after turning 21, I still feel almost exactly the same as I did when I was 13 and have vague ideas of what I want to be when I graduate. In August 2010, the New York Times published an article, 'What is it about 20-Somethings', which revolved around finding out why people in their 20s, the boomerang generation, are taking so damn long to grow up. To sum it up briefly, unlike the previous generation who sat through the rollercoaster ride of the industrial period where cases of rags to riches and zero to hero were rampant, Gen-Ys in the first world are characterised by over-consumption and under-contribution, with far too many disposable hours for identity exploration, and have yet to witness real-world pains.
As I zoom out of my mundane, sheltered life and obtain a bird's eye view of bigger world problems – the African food crisis, Iraq after war, Iran before war, economies collapsing, global warming, self-serving politicians, and the gradual dissolution of innovation and progression – I'm ashamed by how disgustingly frivolous my problems are. And I need to, for at least the rest of 2012, stop blaming all my life problems on the incumbent government. It was just too easy to play the blame game.
So, hey you, yes you! The clown who wants to be taken seriously for once, the sensitive romantic who just got dumped very publicly on cyberspace, the old man watching the slow sunset across the vast horizon, the depressed Otaku torn between the World of Warcraft and reality, the alcoholic who just woke up nude in a strange hotel room with a pounding headache, a tongue-piercing and a freshly-mugged memory bank, the Casanova ready to commit, the sad rich girl, the stranger in the crowd with a pensive look on his face, the boy forced to grow up by circumstances, the man with a dying parent, the non-conformist with a closeted desire to go mainstream, the ex-convict at the wrong place at the wrong time, the Samaritan who took one wrong turn and ended up creating collateral damage, the lonely vagabond at a crossroad – you're not alone, you really aren't.
In The Myth of Sisyphus, French author, Camus, points out that the question, 'Why do Men Kill Themselves?', should be replaced by the question, 'Why do Men not Kill Themselves?' After all, if today was just like yesterday, and yesterday was just like the day before, then why do men not kill themselves?
My friend Matt said it best. He told me about a comedian, Louie C.K., who has a TV show called Louie, which is about his mundane daily life in New York and is often very dark. There was a recent episode involving an old friend of his threatening to kill himself. Louie said something along the lines of, "Life is not something you possess – it's not yours to take. Life is something you partake in."
Life is something we have been given the incredible blessing of experiencing. Men don't kill themselves because (a) there are significant biological aversions to self-harm, and (b) most people, no matter how depressed, have some sense that they have been afforded this incredible gift – life. In order for you and me to have come into existence, the past 13 billion years of this universe had to have unfolded in such an absurdly precise way that to throw it all away would be a grave insult to the notion of life itself. In receiving the gift of life, you are obligated to live it.
So which is the right way to live – to be a specialist or a generalist, to build a strong, solid career foundation or live for the moment, to settle down or soldier on? God knows the chances of excelling at both are zero to slim. What is it that makes you so happy? In all our confusions and our struggles to create meaningful life experiences, in just this general regard, we're all joined together in this mad, mad world. And I wish I had a sure-fire solution to all your problems and uncertainties, but I don't. I'm only human, stuck in the same rut, chin-deep in sticky, muddy waters, in the midst of a concrete jungle, still on a wild hunt for the secret recipe for happiness. And like the UN at a world peace conference, I have no answers for you, only wishing you all the very best in your future endeavours.
But at times when you wake up and discover that the world as you know it is collapsing around you, when all else fails and you find yourself suddenly out at sea, remember this: To be strict onto yourself and kind to others, be confident and humble, to live, laugh and love more.
And remember that you probably won't find the answers you're looking for on Facebook.QLRS Vol. 11 No. 2 Apr 2012