I could not tell my young self “ You must prioritize your goals in life and tackle each one with singularity” because as far as I remember, I had vague ideas about how I had wanted my life to be. I made random decisions along the way but mostly things happened by default. Given how indecisive and undisciplined I could be in my twenties, when I was being chided for lacking a sense of urgency, I was thrown off balance and no longer felt so assured of myself. If only I knew then that most people just wing it and make their way as they go through life not that they know what they are doing or saying and everyone is full of contradictions. I am inclined to live in my head and lack specifics about how much I had wanted to pursue my writing dreams. For now I just keep writing because if I don’t, I would feel worse . During my varsity days, I read about existentialism and took it literally. Perhaps if I had set up some goals I would at least know what I have not attained.
When I was seventeen going on eighteen, I only knew that I wanted to go abroad and as it happened, my dad supported my decision. For all the years in my youth, I was always thinking about going somewhere. I found San Mao‘s travel stories to the sahara alluring but I lacked her courage. I did some solo travelling but nothing like the kind of travels San Mao or Elizabeth Gilbert did. You cannot have the romantic notion without the will to carry the notion into fruition. For now I am content with reading Jan Morris and all travel memoirs about living in France.
Decades after we graduated, a good friend from the university quipped that we should have swapped our courses. She did law first year in her home country and then when she was offered a full scholarship to study English literature and linguistics at the University of Sydney, she took that as the opportunity to go abroad and so she abandoned the law course and took up the scholarship that had her bonded for some years. Anyway not only she had aced in her tertiary studies, it was there she had fallen head over heels in love with the man whom she married after graduation. Her husband had a degree in education. Come to think of it, education was my first choice. I did not make the mark and ended up doing a straight law degree. We were staying at the same college so this friend witnessed how miserable I was when I was studying for my law exams but I stayed and completed the course for it would have been unthinkable otherwise. Back then in my dorm room, I had this huge poster with the caption ‘Life is so much fun, what’s the hurry ?’ printed across a koala on a gumtree and a swagman walking past it. Anyway that is all water under the bridge now.
I doubt there is any school curriculum that prepares anybody about life. I suppose you just have to figure things out for yourself as you navigate through life. In one of the episodes from season two for ‘Friends’ television series, Phoebe is invited to sing for some young children and parents of these children do not approve of her songs as she sings about departure and death and things we rather not know but the children track her down and find her singing in the coffee shop. The children want to hear her sing and tell them more about life.
Reading literature gives us some perspectives about ironies, conflicts and human conditions. Given the privileges I had and of the education I received, I am truly glad that I find great pleasure and comfort in reading. Literature certainly teaches us about life and humanity.
On another note, imagine your life is turned upside down as you enter your next birthday not in the chronological order. In The Rearranged LIfe of Oona Lockhart by Margarita Montimore, Oona Lockhart learns that on every birthday she will leap into a different age at random. So here she is a young person on the inside but ever changing on the outside, and she has no control about the age she will be the next year.
The story is set in Brooklyn, 1982, it begins with Oona who is about to celebrate her 19th birthday and ring in the New Year, but at the stroke of midnight, she finds herself in her fifty-one-year-old body. It is a funny story. How is a teenager going to end up behaving her senior age and to see how her looks and body are no longer the same? It is a magical ride.
The consolation is she finds herself extremely wealthy but emotionally she is in a la-la land. Her mother, Madeleine who dresses in bright and outlandish colours is the constant and anchor in her life although her mother can be too liberal for the young Oona’s comfort.
‘ Having a liberal mother had its advantages, but Oona would’ve preferred more boundaries. Her father, a banker, had provided those until she was eleven (weekly chores, study plans, limited TV time), but once he died, she’d had to set certain rules for herself. Which her mother, a flight-attendant-turned -travel-agent, in a role more friendly than parental. She often teased Oona about taking things too seriously, whether it was her college courses or band practice, or even her relationship with Dale, urging her daughter to be young and frivolous once in a while. As if you couldn’t be serious about something and still enjoy it. As if being young meant being foolish.‘
At nineteen, Oona is at a crossroad. She has to choose between going to London with her good friend Pam under a student exchange programme or joining her boyfriend, Dale and his band on tour. After having a chance to move randomly forward for years ahead of her actual time,she comes to know what she must decide.
The Rearranged LIfe of Oona Lockhart by Margarita Montimore is a fun read. It is a beautifully crafted story about relationships and also about the bond between a mother and her child.
Looking back, even if I could be given glimpses of my future self, I might not change anything because the universe sometimes feels like this gigantic ball where its contents are getting shuffled back, forth and around. I might end up compromising some experiences or moments of my life that I treasure if I changed certain part of it . Every plan will have the good and the bad part so you just play the cards you are dealt.
At age 33, Haruki Murakami decided that writing would be the focus of his life and he was also into running. He is a long distance runner and takes part in marathons and triathlons.
In his memoir What I talk about when I talk about Running as translated in English by Philip Gabriel, Haruki Murakami writes about his experience in running and preparing for marathons and how running intersects with writing for him. He writes about how he has to accept the fact that as he ages, he will not be able to run the way he used to. He writes, “ Just as I have my own role to play, so does time. And time does its job much more faithfully, much more accurately, than I ever do.” He observes that physical decline is waiting as you age and though it is not one of your happier realities, you will have to get used to that.
‘I’m struck by how, except when you’re young, you really need to prioritize in life, figuring out in what order you should divide up your time and energy. If you don’t get that sort of system set by a certain age, you’ll lack focus and your life will be out of balance.’
– What I talk about when I talk about Running by Haruki Murakami.
I used to exercise so much more, aside from hitting the gym, attending yoga classes, I played tennis several times a week. While we cannot compete against time but as long as we are physically fit and able, we make the best use of our time to do whatever we enjoy doing, be it a sport or whatever. But what happens when there is still so much more to explore ? How can we prevent ourselves from getting all wired up when we juggle our time between the things we are obliged or committed to do and things we want to do?Whether we are young or old, we do not know what tomorrow awaits us until tomorrow comes. Meanwhile whatever strong desires we have about doing something, we probably should just give it all we have to do it. But we must prioritise what we want bearing in mind that nobody can have it all.
In my line of work, we deal with words though they are not the kind of words I enjoy writing or read for pleasure. I write in spurts the kind of writing I take pleasure in writing. Here are passages by Haruki Murakami on writing :
‘As I suspect is true of many who write for a living, as I write I think about all sorts of things. I don’t necessarily write down what I’m thinking; it’s just that as I write I think about things. As I write, I arrange my thoughts. And rewriting and revising takes my thinking down even deeper paths. No matter how much I write, though, I never reach a conclusion. And no matter how much I rewrite, I never reach the destination.Even after decades of writing, the same still holds true. All I do is present a few hypotheses or paraphrase the issue. Or find an analogy between the structure of the problem and something else.‘
– What I talk about when I talk about Running by Haruki Murakami @page 120
I find the following passage inspiring.
‘ Writers who are blessed with inborn talent can freely write novels no matter what they do — or don’t do. Like water from a natural spring, the sentences just well up, and with little or no effort these writers can complete a work. Occasionally you’ll find someone like that, but unfortunatley , that category wouldn’t include me. I haven’t spotted any springs nearby. I have to pound the rock with a chisel and dig out a deep hole before I can locate the source of creativity. To write a novel I have to drive myself hard physically and use a lot of time and effort. Every time I begin a new novel, I have to dredge out another new, deep hole. But as I ‘ve sustained this kind of life over many years, I ‘ve become quite efficient, both technically and physically, at opening a hole in the hard rock and locating a new water vein. So as soon as I notice one water source drying up, I can move on right away to another. If people who rely on a natural spring of talent suddenly find they’ve exhausted their only source, they’re in trouble.
In other words, let’s face it : Life is basically unfair. But even in a situation that’s unfair, I think it’s possible to seek out a kind of fairness. Of course, that might take time and effort. And maybe it won’t seem to be worth all that. It’s up to individual to decide whether or not it is.‘
– What I talk about when I talk about Running by Haruki Murakami @page 43
From what I have learnt from reading about writing and attending a couple of writing workshops, the rule about writing is this :
You must sit down and write everyday even if you are not feeling particularly insightful about anything on that day.
To be able to do something totally well, we should totally and definitely commit to the task and tackle it with singularity and rigour if and when we decide to do it. But the difficulty for most of us when we are young is to know what is it that we would like to do with such conviction and quite often nothing specific comes to mind. So tick – tock, tick- tock……….. As cliché as it may sound, perhaps it is better late than never.