I’m no exception when it comes to feeling like I’ve aged decades in the past two weeks, when in reality I’m just nearing my second one. In my sophomore spring, I received and then lost an internship offer in America, was near-evicted from my college and then received dozens of messages of support in the form of housing and food from people all over the country, danced in the––for the first time ever––empty school courtyard that I have overlooked for the past eight months and will for the next two years, and broken down alone figuring out what of my life to throw away then keep, and so on.
I had my sophomore review for ~official~ acceptance into my Computing and the Arts major on Friday. I awkwardly confessed my love for the digital space, how I grew up online, and tried to scroll through a website I largely coded the hours before (trying to avoid the fact that I have no traditional works––at all): chia.dev/sophomore
Every day, I question what I do and why I’m here, weighing that with the tangible debts I owe to people. And every day, I justify the act of art and creation to myself even further. I say that I’m fascinated with things like videogames: there’s no other medium that immerses you and makes you question so much, and how it was likely the primary media that raised me and is undergoing an insane amount of growth right now. That’s something that makes fair enough sense. Other times, I just get driven by the sentiment that art is what we’re here for. Isn’t it what that is? But for reality, all the things I love and feel for have been shaped by art.
Lately, I felt my heart aching and bursting as it did when I had my first breakup at 16 at the end of Portrait of a Lady on Fire in a sparsely-filled theater. I felt it ache and move so similarly, beating like it did when I was in my bedroom in Manila thinking about sitting on the roof––overlooking a gated suburban nothing and the starless, smoggy sky above me. It reawakened that very moment in me, and reliving it in a $13 ticket theater made me feel like I truly was inventing something once more. I read story after story next, of cyberpunk dystopia to bedroom-contained lifetimes in interactive pieces that grab at different parts of me and make me want to take back all the parts of me I’ve intentionally tried to outgrow. Liking Dangan Ronpa so much at 13 gave me existential dread of the meaning of despair and hope––which I might be battling everyday of my college life when you deal with the star-studded binary of selling out and class traitorism to being… who you were before you entered college. Maybe when these are digested by the same homogenous, prefrontal cortex-less teenagers it seems much less hefty than it does: but if there’s anything I see myself dedicating my entire life to now, it’s that. I will pour my soul out for the world to read if it makes but one person dare to look back.
In my review, I walked through projects: many half-assed, many themes repeated over and over that I knew they were both alarmed and completely unsurprised by. A few pieces about growing up online. A fascination with shitty Firebase and Google Maps experiences. Work that shows clear prowess with digital design but not much intention behind it. I was told to skip graphic design and take a typography class. That my transcript was all over the place. (“Video, modeling, sound art, a ton of CS courses, Korean…?”) At the end of that 29-minute Zoom call, it was nice to have validation over the field of art I wanted to study–even somewhat. Wasn’t even asked to show a figure drawing.
A likely regression
While in a fortunate place, I’ve been edging on being amazingly productive and destructive for the past few weeks. I’ve watched dozens of movies, tried to let myself sit through a couple of sitcoms to see if I can stomach it (no I can’t––Parks and Rec is getting more tolerable because of Aubrey Plaza’s most likable performance but I still need a break every few episodes–only so much of me can take a white woman gets everything show; Community sucked shit after the first season; and I almost resorted to rewatching The Politician.) I’m almost in the Top 100 users of the small site advertised solely on 4chan, guessthatalbum.com and I’m nearing my 150th album draw. I love some celebrities deeply and unbearingly again; committing myself to watching Florence Pugh cook in her Instagram stories while I take showers. It has gotten so bad that I understand pop culture references when they pop up again, without having to go out of my way to check with “what’s going on”. My being non-committal has made me see so much of the world that I do not want to. I read through Crow Cillers and listened to The New Pornographers to try and understand Will Toledo a bit more. And again, I almost started writing poetry in my notes app and in the margins of my Korean notebook. I am even done with the self-comparison phase of confinement since it’s been overdone since I was seventeen.
In a day, I actually taught myself React and continued to put off my CS homework that no one can do without office hours (not that I ever went in the first place, anyway). I read about code and ethics and optimization, ran Lighthouse tests on everything I have ever made in the past 10 years, looked over IPs of my recruiters and future-friends and went from near-employment to not and back again.
Lately, I’ve been playing a lot of Roblox. With some refund money I thought that I should extend my association with it from a game I played extensively for three years and cried over a Christmas gift for (I wanted the lifetime Outrageous Builders Club, which was only two thousand pesos more than the tier I ended up getting––it really would have been an incredible investment; I learned that I am not the type to ever get tired). I bought its new premium tier, uploaded a couple of ripoff band designs, and have seen the same pattern of gamemaking devolve. From active roleplays that gave you no tools but imagination to top-rated games that tried so accurately, and stressfully, time you to do real life chores (pay taxes, even). The top games are now incrementals that actually scale ridiculously well and have such strategic pay-to-win purchases that I just know their late-teens creator is using to pay off their college tuition. There are Roblox games that have perfected this idle formula of activity and then none that no one outside could ever look to. It’s weird how wildly successful the company is (so successful that in the midst of the recession––they’re expanding their internship program; that I only hope to get into).
Listening to albums that I loved in high school again and letting myself acknowledge that they’re not just good, some of them are better than the years of music I took in from other’s ratings, hoping to understand what music is. A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out was rated 1.5 on Pitchfork on release in 2005. (I discovered that this afternoon, and I…) I also read that their first album’s influences included the Keane song Everybody’s Changing, which is the only Keane song that everyone knows. It makes sense because every teenager then was probably listening to that song, but doesn’t explain that. How were they able to make lyrics that are so much better than any Sun Kil Moon, as vaudeville as Neutral Milk Hotel without making fourteen-year-old me want to gag? I don’t even remember the order of my obsessions anymore.
What was the most beautiful thing that I came up with when I was paranoid and young? I’m so desperate for material that I can’t find in this drought alone that I’m thinking of going back for her: fundamentally, I haven’t changed much at all. I learn how to be less sad about things the more certain I am of this world (and I have to weight it out so I don’t spiral into complete despair). I’ve seen so many people in front of me die that I might think I’m not afraid of it anymore either––but the point of my being resolute now is that I know very well that I will be. I want to steal her spirit. I want to feel so sad about something again that I can feel it overtake me and let me crumble––for me to rise again with disdain painted like faith.
When I had so much time to think back in high school, I lived in a constant state of duress: pain was temporary, but god––did it feel so much more painful than everything I put myself through.
Resetting back to then, I’m scared. I am fundamentally the same. When I was thinking less of readings and the world at large I just felt this smallness that I wanted out of in the only way I knew or was ever taught. Repeating that over and over. Watching my friends devolve into the same things. Sometimes I read the things I said to myself back then and wouldn’t wish it on the worst possible being. In any state of mind, I can’t begin to justify how someone could wish all that against their own selves.
I took the smallness of life then in a vastly different perspective. What hurts me is that my friends shared it with me. In high school, this silent suffering in sameness was one of the only things I had the guts to share (whether intentionally or not) and was one of my sole bonding factors. To be with me, you had to watch your words and god forbid you love the idea of living.
When I’m given this much time to think and relive myself, I’m fearing sinking back to that… I am fundamentally the same. I am watching the same friends want to die and my new ones debate on grades and art. But I know inside no one else has lived through that.
(The worst suffering we can conceive all follow the same pattern. The threat of eternal damnation. Our body twisted into amorphousness, screaming. Being the center of everything that happens to you. Living through every life that has occurred on this world.)
Car Seat Headrest recently released a song that I (as I commented everywhere) was reminded of 8tracks and indie rock days. Like, when my music taste was strictly defined by whatever fictional pairing I tried to live through and all the Elena Tonra songs that came after it. It’s been a while since I’ve listened to such upbeat, happy music. I don’t know what stopped me from finding myself in lyrics about wanting to find love again.
Phil Elverum sings about being the people who are alive now. I’m building fantasy worlds in my head and living in none of them. I’m in danger of coming back home and seeing everyone I know go without me. No amount of poetry I read will bring me back to the days where it was so easy for me to pour a soul into words. I remember when I believed I was godlike, and now I cannot even forecast a meaning for me to go on tomorrow.
When I turn 20 on May 1st, I know the only things I have forward to are a new album from Car Seat Headrest and another finished decade that never fails to leave me severely underprepared for the next. If there was one thing I could wish for it would be years that I don’t fear burying, avoidance closely by choice. Give me a telltale sign that I won’t be ruled by people without empathy and that I won’t ever become a ruler.
Life is going to be simple from here on. I will write about commitment, my unemployment in the midst of the 2020 recession, how I have yet to find love. I will laugh at tabloid magazines and fan cameras of Robert Pattinson, bake a few times and find new ways to reverse-sear steak. I will earn enough to let me justify only an arbitrary half of the things I love, and I will cry again abut taxes and tyranny. Hopefully, I will write less about Yale and make a subconscious effort to not talk about my college. Maybe I will even be driven down to my knees and pray silently in my bed if things go too bad. Terrible things, like my own death or the death of the world at large will be buried and retrieved in repetition for decades. I will find myself in so many things–because this story is anyone else’s as much as it is mine.
For now, I will listen to the music I loved in high school, watched dozens of Myspace-era interviews around, got sick of, pretended to hate, ironically praised, unironically loved, and now watch dozens of Youtube video essays for. I’m going to numb my brain (trying to save it from imploding, or something) with Noah Baumbach mumblecore and hate how I seem to be becoming American. My other questions at the moment are wondering if I’ll stay here for the next decade or if I can return home. Or if home is worth it. Or if society will be here.
All normal questions.
“Can’t take the kid from the fight. / take the fight back from the kid.”
I’m eternally lucky to be here. But I also have had this continued discomfort and the knowing that the discomfort I’m feeling isn’t natural.
Sometimes, it’s a gut feeling. One day in life, I’m confident that I won’t look at where I am with disdain. I learn that it’s not normal to harbor so much hatred to at where I go for undergrad, and that it’s maybe okay if these years aren’t the best of my life, as long as I am slowly getting better?
When I talk about others about how I don’t think Yale is the right experience, I don’t know if we ever mean the same thing. I’m not sure if there are people here that I’ll remember. I’m not sure if these moments at 3am writing off an experience-of-a-lifetime is something I will regret and want to claw back at for––but let the present me tell all the futures that nothing particularly memorable happened but me knowing myself more, and what I want––clearly.
Doesn’t hurt to wish I had others along with me for it, though.
The contentment I have with my life path and my fear over it now is unsettling. Fifteen-something years of Catholic school have rubbed off on me. I think for so long I have wanted an extraordinary meaning to all that I do: it’s the promise of something greater that drove me to be a dick to people for grades in high school over the most ridiculous of projects that didn’t actually correspond to any form of genuine learning. I used to pray for hours, asking my then-late 20s parents if they would ever die and to promise me not to die––then get frustrated if they would say anything but a promise back. (I would cry if they told me that they can’t promise to be around forever.) Less than years later and I was probably reading about atheism and suicide after that, then coming to school to take in the body of Christ. When I was applying to college, it was weird how lax I was when applying to the two schools in Manila. Maybe it was because I had spent the past 16-something years preparing for it, or maybe I just didn’t care.
Now, having this emptiness about next steps and some gray in figuring out my obligations is scaring me. Aside from chasing nothing, I’m scared of sinking into that mood again where I feel like it is so pointless that it’s not even worth a try. There must be something wired wrong if my grand four years were spent in my dorm room alone, staring at a screen most days and complaining about only being on the surface with others––and not doing anything about it. Without the extraordinary, I am more sure of things now. The simplicity I am fortuned with. That I may die before the people I love and how it is selfish of me to like that. The continued recital of “this isn’t worth my time” yet not putting it in to what I may think matters.
There are questions that I am interested in solving, and I still very much want to go through life making sure that others don’t have to ask the same things that I did–that they can go and find their own, and hopefully each stand isn’t as grueling as it was for me. There is so much that I am trying to root myself in that if I explain it, it seems awfully artificial. No good people say they do it for the sake of being good, but I think that’s what I’m doing here, right now. It’s the only goal that’s worth anything right now.
I feel most empty when I fly back home or to New Haven alone, wheezing as I push a cart of three luggages, counts bigger than my body, across polished marble. When I sink into my eighteen-hour-flight, feeling so much smaller than ever––I take a peek into the window and do the closest thing there is to prayer. With the in-flight wifi, I’ll take a time to say hello to my friends (and imagine what might happen if the plane crashes and burns somewhere between Manila and New York––deep into the ocean or over the arctic). When I get out, I will receive almost no new notifications but for a Breaker podcast update or something about my Medium’s stats for the week. I will take an eighteen-hour-dip and come back with another twelve hours lost going through every Twilight Zone flight story (though Stephen King’s The Langoliers is the closest experience, I think).
Whenever I come out of these flights, it exacerbates all my fears. All I can think of is if others are thinking of me in the middle of how fast I have to walk to baggage claim.
What do you think about then? When you’re in one of mankind’s greatest feats where the only options are to wait or fall. You’re most vulnerable when you’re slunk into a seat with strangers and the cries of babies, trying to taste the roof of your mouth and feeling every wrinkle and fold on your tongue dried out with only cups of water to take in. At the same time, there are so many stories. I like to put a Yale sticker on my laptop and to make it visible, because it makes people take me a little more seriously since I’m not even five feet.
In this crisis, people from New Haven are writing about missing normalcy. They suddenly love it all, they confess. The motorcycles whirring in the morning, the late nights they spend in Bass trying to look productive, bodies crooned into century-old dining halls and joking about how little time we give to one another to just think about theory and modeling. Where the sun doesn’t set until seven in evening and in an instant you can make a terrible impression on people from ten different countries. Where we actively look for the gut class that can give us an A while ruining relationships for the sake of passing economics. I will never understand this level of warmth and desire to save the world while simultaneously being so content with disconnection from everything that matters.
College does not hold the same excitement and uncertainty that it has with others. For me, my choices must be systemic. I’m (sort of) scared, but moreso uninterested in the lives of all these others even if it’s like everyone can speak more than five languages. Everything I do must come with more calculations, and how I need to present more guarded. As much as my being here is near-miraculous, it is also an honest nightmare.
Other worlds tell me I should be making my life’s memories here. When I look over the Saybrook courtyard with a light shower, alit by half-broken lamps from three different cities, and am constantly told that I can––or maybe even am expected––to change the world. Then, I call facilities before I fall asleep to tell them that there are mice in our dorm again, and sleep on a bunk bed I had to go through two stepladders to (I need three steps–not two), before I learn Korean for the sake of nothing in a mission to change the world again.
How many college things are still on my checklist? I can’t be in a band, because the only thing people do here is sing about god or showtunes. The “underground” Battle of the Bands introduced me to six pop punk bands all influenced by Modern Baseball. I haven’t fallen in love yet (person/emo girlfriend/lifelong dream), nor did I meet anyone in that rushed first week that came to change my life. I already got an A, a B- (a Yale D), and started something an organization, joined six others, to try and become more noteworthy. As much as I went out I also stayed in, developing my taste of music as poorly as I did my early teen personality (going on 4chan and listening to people who all think that Swans is the best thing in their life.) I skipped class to go to shows, skipped shows to code and curate and present my artwork to a room beyond my self. I spoke in front of thousands of people and shook less than I do when I speak to two. I’ve crafted the personality for if I ever talk to a venture capitalist, had a life-changing talk that made me hate myself and reevaluate everything every few months or so, the personality for when I want to present more of the me that I want to be loved for. I spent a week getting up early in the morning in the freezing winter in an organized red plastering posters and statements, both stood in the frontlines and froze down over the same kinds of dances I wanted to skip in high school––except here everyone just wanted to fuck. I almost considered joining a sorority, until I realized that you have to pay thousands of dollars a year for one––not counting the Teespring shirts and matching outfits. I have yet to find anything that I would not be okay with losing, and almost halfway into finishing my time here, that’s what scares me most. I want to love something––hold it like I deserve it, and be afraid to let go.
During the pandemic that took away your world in New Haven, what did you do? I lived with a billionaire in my freshman year and closed the next hopping houses from friend-to-friend because I was turned away. For the next few decades I will forever be thinking about why they chose me, and why we did not align.
Who comes to Yale just to have an okay experience? What kind of person comes out of this mess when at the beginning of our first-year, they put us in two batches (some two-thousand and five hundred of us) in the cool, Woolsey Hall, seated perfectly in front of our parents to sing a century-old song of glory and Yale with handkerchiefs carefully embroidered with the school’s name? I remember that day mostly through Instagram stories and hope, entranced by what must now be ours and the mold that we need to fit in from then. When for the first time, the walls and pillars were adorned with carvings about knowledge and truth over gods, and we were there in shorts and barely any older than seventeen.
They must not be the writers, nor the poets. They must be not really like the Yale Daily News (let alone be one of those alumni that comment on it), or have they ever been there in the crowd, standing up and shouting with people you spent the last few nights sleeping with and hearing them out. They must complain about the music that plays at parties too, but not be obsessed enough over it to wish it were better with internet strangers and beg on the local radio show. Like me, maybe they’re holed up somewhere and wondering if they are seeking too much or were made for this place. There are those people who also don’t go to office hours, talk back to their high school friends (or internet strangers, or someone they love from far away) more than they do anyone else here. Who are wondering if they will also have that chance encounter on Broadway, when the stars are dim and they’re writing a paper they can’t give a shit about––and then we walk out, and become something unknown to this place.
When I write that I’m bored and want to fall in love again, I’m not sure if I’m joking anymore.
Infatuation was such a lovely feeling! I want to obsess over knowing someone to the point where I’m blinded. Yes, by their worst but also the best parts of themselves. I need to be driven mad in some quest to justice to someone (failing over and over) capturing their beauty, their ordinary, their being. I’m only giving justice to my sadness on this blog. Again, there needs to be someone I’m hopeless with and hopeful for; whenever it happens, I feel like I’m reborn somewhat.
It’s that time every few weeks where I realize how starved of touch I am and how I feel so content with it shouldn’t be ok. At this point, anything is ready to change my life. I’m reading too many stories about the end of the world that treat love like it’s some prerequisite. Let me die longing for something far bigger than me.
When I was a teenager and all I could do was bet on my failures and figure out how to destroy myself most cleanly.
And if it must be this selfish thing, so it is. I’m not done reading about people dying anchored to one being. I know how tethered you can be to a person and still let go. Deeply enough, when love is all i have––I have to come somewhat close to this feeling again… at the very least.
When I turn 20, I don’t want to be one of those people writing solely about crushes, flings, Tinder matches, and that one relationship they had in high school. (This is my romantic history.) Give me something real. Give me what drove Sufjan Stevens to write about wasps and palisades, or better yet give me what he has in him that allows him to perform this love in front of thousands of people every single night for months on end.
All of this is in line with a love for something destructive and temporary.