Go with a smile!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

On the cusp, in the mire, just getting it on

1. On the cusp.

6 months ago, I thought to myself, “my life is going to change in many ways”. I’m on a brink of a … well I’m like a log on a river headed towards a waterfall. But till then nothing has seriously happened. I know that all I have to do is to say yes, and my life will be changed for 1-2 years. And then possibly forever. But it hasn’t totally registered yet.

In “Before Sunset”, the ending is one of the most intriguing ones that I’ve seen. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy have a reunion, and there is a great amount of drama going on, considering that these are 2 people who have spent a grand total of 2 days in each other’s company. Ethan Hawke’s from out of town, and he has a plane to catch. And 1-2 hours before the departure time, he’s still at Julie’s house, and the movie ends abruptly, giving no sign whatsoever whether he’s going to stay or leave. What we are sure of is that he will either be staying forever or leaving forever. When you make decisions in middle age, they're either your last decision or your second last decision. (OK, actually not true, my father managed to change his life when he was 50, but that's another story for another day.)

I still remember the last 14 kilometers of my first and only marathon. I remember thinking to myself, "Am I nearer to the end than the beginning?" After all, the preparation that I had took me 28km into the marathon. I was starting to limp. Considering that the last third had been as agonising as the previous 2 thirds, I didn't know which segment was longer. Preparation only takes you so far, the rest is improvisation. Also, you don't really know when it's going to end. Many times, you think "it should have ended by now, but it really hasn't." And when the heat is on, when you almost can't take it anymore, I was thinking, "I can't bear to fail, but I also can't bear to move another step. Either way, you lose." Mercifully, the marathon ended before I had the chance to think of any more such nonsense.

2. In the mire

There is a war going on in the Congo. I remember that for 1 semester I had thought long and hard about Rwanda. Should the US have done something about Rwanda? Then my thoughts turned to the subsequent war in the Congo, that even commentators have not mentioned about, because so little of it got reported in the news. It's not an exaggeration to say that World War III is going on right now. The war in Congo is, in terms of death toll, bigger than either the Korea war or the Vietnam war. But this time, not even a squeak.

The version of me 10 years younger than myself would have been very uneasy about that fact. I would have railed at the injustice of the world. I might have gotten cynical about the goodness of man. Now I look in marvel of my friends who used to be just like me. Reading books about great historical events of the past. Knowing obscure random facts. But doing nothing with their lives. Well admittedly I'm doing nothing with my life. But that doesn't matter. It feels like I'm doing something with my life and that's good enough for now.

So what's the answer to that question, "what about the Congo"? Well in our generation we are in the process of lifting 2-3 billion people out of poverty. Parts of Africa are finally beginning to develop economically. The Arab world - imagine, the Arab world - is getting its first taste of democracy. Let's concentrate on ourselves. Let's concentrate on what's in our power to take place. Let's think about whether global warming is going to unleash disasters of magnitude far exceeding what's going on in the Congo right now. If anything, let's help the Congo help itself. Other than that, nothing to be done.

I'm reminded of this song from way back, by Nick Cave. "As I Sat Sadly By Her Side". Classic lyrics. But what does it mean? Everybody wants to know what it means, "I couldn't wipe the smile from my face". My interpretation is this. This is the work of a man who's lived a wild tempestuous life, but is settling into middle age. He's at the height of his powers, having just written "The Boatman's Call". If you have achieved nothing else by middle age, you would have at least attained the wisdom of serenity. The woman said at the beginning, basically that this is a world of marvels that we live in. Open your heart to the wonderful things in life. Then Nick Cave plays the devil's advocate and says, "but life is terrible, too for the wretched of the earth." Then she says, "don't care too much for them, because it will break your heart. You just got to do what you got to do and you can't do anything more." Then he smiles, because, she gets it. Many people will criticise these dual attitudes as contradictory to each other. Taken together, this is what wisdom is about. She has learnt, she is wise. That is why he is smiling.

3. Just going through it

Struggling. Just getting through it. One of my project partners is in deep shit. He couldn't graduate from NUS because he failed a module. He's working part time now, and trying to finish this course. Unfortunately he picked the wrong course to take. He picked the sort of course that I would want to take. Guys - take it from me. If you see me seated next to you in class, go and run far away because it means that this course is not for the faint hearted. He has to graduate this semester because if he has to stay back, apparently his school fees are about to be doubled. But he's not keeping up with his work. Well I feel bad for him because he's such a great guy. And sometimes it's just great to have somebody to discuss work with - it's incredible how many times you can solve problems just by having somebody to talk those problems to.

Then my other project group, I'm struggling with Java. My other 2 project mates are struggling with English. Not much gets said to each other. It's already so difficult to articulate issues about the project in a language you're familiar with, let alone a English.

And on top of all this, there's work. I will be so glad when it's all over.

Then there was the exam. I don't know if I screwed it up. But I do know that I zoomed in on the wrong things. I didn't study some things that were obvious. I mean I did skim through the text, but I didn't go through it step by step, in detail. What I did go through in detail didn't come out. And in hindsight, some of the things that did come out should have been quite obvious. I’m still very wasteful. The decision making – my god, what an appalling waste. I can see that mediocre grade coming right out at me now. I don't deserve this. I've been more conscientious than when I was an undergraduate! (Or maybe back then I did have more energy, so that cancels it out.)

But I do feel very lifted. I feel that a weight has been taken off my back. Actually I have 2 more term projects again. Then I can say goodbye to this insane lifestyle for a few months.

Then again, this is supposed to be living in luxury, isn't it? My life was supposed to have been pretty meaningless before this, wasn't it? Sigh...


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