Go with a smile!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Dreams, part 1

In the last few days when I was still in NUS, I dropped by a dorm where I had spent 1 week as part of a summer camp. It was the year of my Annus Mirabilis, and I vaguely remember the dreams that I had during those hopeful times.

There were reasons why that year was so intense: before that year, everything seemed to be a blur: I was in the phase of growing up where it was more about coping with the added responsibilities, rather than relishing the newfound freedom. Than during that year, suddenly the freedom came into view, and I was suddenly inspired in many ways and in many directions. It was all terribly exciting, but everything came through me so quickly that I hadn’t had time to think very carefully about what I wanted to do with my life. Possibilities cropped up in quick succession, like new features on the landscape from the view of a train.

I’ve changed. I was much more of a romantic in those days. I was much more of a dreamer. Possibly I was more creative. I remember dreading the thought of growing older and “losing my edge”. It’s pretty incredible how much less romantic a dream looks once you have to actually put work into it – it’s as though it’s beautiful for only a short period of time before it loses its luster.

I didn’t go into the dorms to look around. I don’t know what it would be like to step back into a place which I exclusively associated with so many of my youthful dreams. I think that certain periods in my life, when I’m at my most emotionally engaged, also happen to be the times when I was the most sure about what I want for yourself, and what are the things that are going to make me happy. But when reality intrudes, and you’re out there by yourself in the cold, things can look a lot less romantic.

Dreams have to be renewed, and I haven’t really done that either. That’s because dreams need to be formed during a romantic part of your life and I haven’t had a romantic part of my life for more than 10 years. While I’m not the embittered cynic, I’ve become a lot more of a hardened realist. I couldn’t imagine myself doing something so crazy as go to South America or walk down the coast of New Zealand. There’s a great part of the sense of wonder that’s gone. When you get further acquainted with your dreams, they look a lot less romantic, because you realize the hard work that those dreams demand of you.

I can read back on my blog entries, but it just seems that I’ve done a lot of reading – and a lot of those reading is of the “factual knowledge acquisition” type. And not really a lot of the “street knowledge” variety. Which is bad because it doesn’t always translate to concrete achievement.

The other problem is that maybe my dreams weren’t terribly big. I dreamt of putting up a school play, but nothing grander than that. I dreamt of running a marathon, but nothing longer than that. I dreamt of a masters but not a doctorate. (Truth be told, the main reason for this is that I’m too old.) I could have dreamt of being a rock star, but instead I dreamt of being a fan. I could have dreamt of a career where a lot of people reported to me, but instead I dreamt of just being able to play a part in a big project. Unlike a few people around me, I had never dreamt of greatness.

I dreamt of having great creative powers, but never dreamt about how or where they would be used. I dreamt of romance but never dreamt of being a patriarch of a clan. I don’t have a lot of friends, but I neither is it difficult for me to reach out and talk with someone. The years between my bachelors and my masters have not been all unhappy ones, although the earlier parts were. I’ve led a carefree life for much longer than many others. I’ve never worried about being lonely because I have the ability to be alone without being lonely. (Some people say I have a heart of stone). But maybe the problem is that I don’t really dream enough.

Now I’m in “Mexico”. “Mexico” is a beautiful place. I’ve been to other beautiful places, and now I actually get to live in one. I’ve travelled to places which are more beautiful than I could have imagined travelling to. And in certain ways, I’m close to living a life that I had been dreaming about for maybe the last five years. But I’ve had to give up another part of my life for that. And I’ve had to put other dreams on hold in order to achieve that. I sometimes wonder if I’m working hard enough, or moving fast enough.

Because when I’ve become more of a realist, I’m starting to realize that it’s getting harder to love your life, and love the dreams that you have. Everything becomes too forced, too calculated. I end up doing the right thing in the end, and producing the right result, but not really enjoying it. And I’m starting to realize that a lot of this “mid-life” crisis is something that’s more existential and less related to anything that’s concrete and real: your life is probably quite perfect. You won’t have everything you want in life but you went back in time and told your younger self about your life, he would be pretty happy with it. Except – something’s changed, and you cannot enjoy that life as much as your younger self would have enjoyed it.

Part two of this will be a flashback: I had written a piece 4 years ago, about a period of my life more than 20 years ago. Yet while the memory of that period was still relatively vivid back then, much has taken place in my life since, and those memories have suddenly faded over those 4 years.


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