letter #5

Hi friend,

This morning, when I was reading and sipping at my coffee at the windowsill, and the characters in the novel I’m reading were corresponding with each other in their long, sincere emails, I couldn’t help desiring to correspond with someone like that myself. And here I am.

I hope you’d forgive me for being quite out of touch. Believe me, there were many times I’d tried to write, or felt I need to write to tell you things that were happening. But I just couldn’t. I couldn’t because I didn’t feel I was in the right place to write, not in a meaningful or organized way. I still don’t know if I can now, but I will give it a try.

I went to see a piano concert the other day. It was a random event I inserted into my two-and-half week break earlier in September, and I went by myself on a Sunday night. When I was walking towards the concert hall along the harbour pier, I saw a man and a woman – obviously on a date – walking to my direction from a distance, and at that moment I just reflexively lowered my head. I wondered why I did that, though I didn’t regret it. I dated that man. It was a casual thing that lasted for a while.

When we were casually seeing each other, there were a few times he’d say – quite affectionately – “I (really) like you“, and it was always after we’d just had sex, as if it was a meaningful confession. And I’d return a smile in the nicest way I know and feel slightly embarrassed for not wanting to say it back. But still, when I ran into him with his fresh date at the harbour sidewalk, I couldn’t describe how exactly did I feel, but I knew it wasn’t nothing at all. Strange, isn’t it?

I saw them again at the concert venue when the mass of crowds were slowly tubing themselves into the hall. For the whole concert, I tried to sweep them out of my mind. And after it was finished, I walked out of the concert hall as swiftly as possible. Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy the concert, quite a lot indeed. But the whole evening just felt a bit tainted, emotionally.

There are many things that we would throw away if we were not afraid that others might pick them up, said Oscar Wilde. I agree. I even put this quote on my Douban profile, when I was young enough to think putting some quotes on your profile is a “cool” thing. But this is not one of that kind of circumstances. This is when you see someone else with the thing you’ve thrown away and still wish you don’t have to see that. You wish you don’t have to see that not becoz it makes you sad seeing what you have lost, but becoz it reminds you even when having it how unlikely you could be made happy. And that did make me a bit sad.

I can’t explain why I wanted to tell this episode to you, which is really of little significance in the context of my romance life. It’s not something I’d waste time telling during therapy, let’s say. I guess it’s just easier to put something minor into words, when the major thing is stuck somewhere before it could be channelled out. Does that make sense?

I will tell you what I did tell my therapist in the latest session. It’s not sexy at all. I was complaining about a decision I had to make about work. And the more I thought about it the more it was weighing on me and the more I felt repulsed by the whole thing, the fact that such matter would take up so much of my mental capacity while deep down I gave so little fuck about it. Long story short, I got a new job offer that fell a bit short, and I needed to decide if it’s worth making a move for. It’d be very similar to my current job – some invented role in a big financial corporation that makes profit off of helping rich people get richer, and I happen to be quite good and experienced at this invented role. It was hard to make this decision, I realized, because deep down it means so little to me, and if I’m being really honest, there’s no right decision – maybe in god’s view there is, but in my mind there isn’t – becoz I couldn’t be more disinterested no matter what I decide. But on the surface I had to put on my big-girl pants and acted like a responsible adult knowing exactly what made best sense for her professional life as if that was the most important thing in the world. This made me feel nauseous, this pretence of self-importance.

I’m aware how ungrateful and entitled it might have sounded of me right there, whining about my decently-paid job while there are people suffering issues of real substance in the world. And I guess I whine to distract the real attention from the fact that I’m just deeply ashamed. Of the underserving privileges and compensation, of the means I make a living with, of the unimportance of my work, and of the lack of value of me as a person. I wonder if you’ve ever felt the same way, but from time to time I’d suddenly remember how my life has turned out to be a process of continuous shrinking of the initial wish list. I mean, don’t we all start off with some grand plans with our “future”, as to how to actualize our value? And as the future gradually looms over reality, you realize one day you’re right in the middle of this “future” that you dreamed of as a kid and nothing glamorous has happened, your sense of insignificance is only more pronounced, and your intelligence – that everyone said you have – land you nowhere. You absorb the shock quietly and re-adjust your expectation, you don’t wish for anything big anymore and decide you’d be fine leaving no trace on the planet for future human beings. You reposition your hope for a small, quiet, happy, private life. You want to love someone and be loved. You made some mistakes, and you’ve been failed a few times. Then a new era has arrived, an era where genuine affection becomes a plummeting currency and love is either a taboo or only exclusively exists in hashtagged forms as some sort of public affirmation. Eventually your goal is shrunken to just be less of a burden to the world – use as little plastic as possible, eat as little meat as possible – and you steer your pursuit to entirely inward, feeding on music, literature, any general form of art, developing a personal code of integrity, and wishing for an abstract placidity and happiness. This is just one example of a trajectory, obviously. What I’m trying to say is, I suspect most of us must have shrunken at some point, if not all the time, and we shrink because at that some point it seemed to be the only way we could still keep going.

I turned 34 in the summer. I didn’t write a birthday essay this year as I usually did for I was preoccupied at that time. I was in the middle of a thing that as of now I still struggle to find words for it.

I met someone from the app at the end of May. On the night of my birthday, we’d just known each other for two weeks, and I invited him to my dinner party. We were back to my place after that, both pretty drunk. We had a fight in the taxi over something stupid. After we got out of the cab, I started crying at the waterfront. He stood beside me, quietly waiting for me to finish. I asked him if it was weird to watch me cry. He said no, it was only normal. Then we were back home. We tried to have sex but were too drunk to finish. It was then that he started mumbling, more like to himself. “I probably shouldn’t be saying this but I don’t know, I feel like I’m falling in love.” I pretended I didn’t hear it. But I did, and it was electrifying. I wish I had said it back at that moment, because it would have been true. I didn’t know that it’d been the best chance I could have said it.

The thing ended pretty soon, it lasted a little over a month altogether. But it took me a disproportionately long time to restore a sense of normality and the structure of my life afterwards. It’s as if with just a few weeks’ presence, the absence of him had created this dreadful hole that didn’t exist. I was more shaken than I’d like to admit, you see. And I pondered a lot over the aftermath.

I guess part of me did feel I’ve made a fool of myself, by allowing myself to be vulnerable again, which I don’t usually do these days. Though a bigger part of me was only trying to understand why I’d fallen in love with someone without any obvious reasonings. I also couldn’t help running over and over in my head if there was anything I could have done differently to prevent that from happening, the in-falling, if there was any opportunity of it going down a different path, and if there was any chance I could have stayed, instead of withdraw. I was deeply frustrated not just for the loss of something that felt intense, but more for that with everything I’ve experienced, it turns out I still know so little about love. That it still remains such a puzzle to me after all, and I’m still completely under its spell.

At the end of the day, I suppose, maybe the only thing that matters in a story of love is that you’d know it happened. You’d know it’s real, no matter how hard the critical half of your brain tries to defy it. It might not be how you’d expected it to take place, but it did, in its own terms. As of the rest of it – who with, how flawed that person is, how it ended, what caused it, how long did it last – all these are just the side materials of the core story, the minimal and eternal story of love. I have nothing to complain about it, just as I would not complain about the tide rising and then falling. It happened probably only because it was time for me to fall in love again.

If I may circle back to what I was talking before, I guess trying to make sense of myself, trying to comprehend my own existence, and everything that happened on me, is always and still the one and most important item remaining on my diminished wish list. I don’t mean to ‘memorize a few glamorous quotes and forcefully apply them to everything’ kind of lazy job. I mean to really comprehend and straighten out even the most conflicted, confusing and miserable bit, and to repeat this process every time a new ray of pain pierce through, to understand them as part of myself, even though in my mind I wished for a better, more creative, more loving life. Only with this relentless effort of comprehension, we stand a chance of making peace with the individual truth of ourselves. And with this effort of comprehension, the intermittent occurrence of the desire to love, to create something genuine and good, would no longer come across as the “unattainable”s or the “nonexistent”s, but indeed the glittering moments in a lifelong river of mundane.

I hope the next time I write to you it will have cooled down a bit in Hong Kong. (I’m getting a bit fed up with this protracted summer, and it has absolutely nothing to do with the pink leather overall I’d impulsively purchased during my just-happened holiday.) Until then, I will try my best to comprehend every of my feelings.

All my love.

Ellen


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