Going Back Home

The Great Fire at Ryōgoku Bridge, Kobayashi Kiyochika, 1881

The Great Fire at Ryōgoku Bridge, Kobayashi Kiyochika, 1881

I finished reading "How Proust Can Change Your Life" by Alain de Botton in the plane ride from Chicago to Istanbul, the layover at at the Istanbul airport, and from Istanbul back to Malaysia. I might've been awake for the past 24 hours, time is a blur.

I seem to capable of reading books only on plane rides, it feels more justified. Why would I spend time reading fiction and non-fiction when I could be coding, learning, and building? It seemed like opportunity cost that was too high. I already read articles on a daily basis. However, one of the habits I plan to build is to read physical books for ~30 minutes before bed. This way I can actually finish all the books I bought. And it might be good for my eyes and my sleep.

I really enjoyed this book, it's more practical than reading Crime and Punishment or Great Expectations, where you're sucked into the story, forced to go through the torments, the heartbreaks, the sufferings of the characters. And at the end of reading it, you go "Wow, what a story! how did the author dream up this entire book?". Unless you put in the work to study the characters, the psychology behind them, the hidden context, the implicit meaning lying in between the words, you don't really get much from reading books like this. Sure you remember faint snapshots about Raskolnikov's mental anguish and psychological torment after committing a gruesome murder, and Pip's impoverished background and his rise in social status, but it's hardly applicable to your own life.

In this book, I got to learn about the interesting, eccentric, bedridden, generous, relatable, character who is Proust, a French novelist who wrote a really long book called In Search of Lost Time. From his book, Alain extracts key life lessons from his personal background and the fictional (but also very real)characters from his book.

From lessons about how to love life today and suffer successfully, to express your emotions, being a good friend, and being happy in love, they're filled with personal accounts of his life experiences.

I found his ideas on how to suffer successfully extremely rewarding, especially at very moment in my life. The painful moments where I couldn't eat 99% of the food served on the plane because of my tremendously inconvenient food restrictions, when I have pains from stretching and moving my chest due to the inflammations, even from breathing too deeply, when I have heartburn and consistent, dull, pain below my ribs probably because of the high altitude or the messed up eating schedule, when I can feel my throat burning, my breathing forcibly and uncomfortably strained the entirety of my long, painful existence, I think about how to suffer successfully in light of all this, how not to be a "bad sufferer" as he calls it, and succumb to pessimism, to be stuck in a violently miserable state, to turn off all emotions and sensibility and isolate myself from the world, and ultimately flirting with the lingering thoughts about ending it all.

After distracting myself with two Sherlock Holmes movie series portrayed by R.D.J., and a third of a quarter of Harry Potter The Deathly Hallows, when my plane landed in Malaysia, I felt immense sadness and yearning. The state of my health shoved me into a corner where I had to give up what I fought for for the past 2 years, the internship hunts and the interviews, the constant pressure to always be learning and growing or I'll never be good enough to land a job, the inability to relax and rest because I was an international student, and by default, I had to work 10x harder. Failure to me meant going back home after graduation, it meant I wasn't good enough, that I failed to live up to my potential, that I have to continue to depend on my father who's already 61 years of age to pursue graduate school. Failure is more complicated and harder to define when it's something out of my control. An external bad actor that has a mind of it's own and specializes in making my life miserable. I can't will myself out of gerd, out of my sensitive skin, my inflammations, and other defects of my body that I attribute to my horrible genes. Perhaps failure is setting the wrong expectations, expectations that do not match reality. I came to the US, already sick, so I probably should've prepared myself for the possible outcome of returning home after graduation.

I keep picturing healthy me living the life I always wanted, yet a realistic picture would be unhealthy me attempting to continue to survive with a deteriorating body. Truth is I was really depressed the entire time I was in the US, even when I was in California, especially when I was travelling around to all these new places, going to good restaurants, and trying new things, my limitations became more stronger and evident, I realized more things that I couldn't do as my opportunities and possibilities expanded. I found it hard to live with myself, to be trapped in a body that I did not want to live in, to be forced a hand in the game of life, where I no longer could exercise, an extremely important part of my life which helped me de-stress and build strength and endurance, something people who are perfectly fine do not perform because they're lazy. I couldn't move freely anymore. I had no freedom.

That said, I miss a lot of things about the US, and everything I see and hear in Malaysia just makes me miss them more. I'm leaving what to me, is a better life in all aspects. A higher paying job, my friends, good weather, old bookstores, California and Boston and Seattle, the tech industry, the hackathons, the cold, the accents, the culture, the atmosphere, my comfy room with 0 mess. I miss all this. a lot. Perhaps I should heed the advice of Proust, to see the beauty in everyday objects and things, take my time on what seems boring at first, to not let snobbery get in the way of appreciation of my culture, my home, and my people.

Change is hard, especially one of this degree. We seek comfort in what is familiar and we avoid discomfort and change and potential for growth. We are creatures of habit, and bad habits (often times unconscious) are sinister. We take for granted much of the blessings in our lives, the people especially. We fail to live a good life because we're afraid. We fear the unknown, the terrifying thought of not knowing what to do with your life, the paralyzing notion that everything we do has no meaning and your life adds up to nothing but a speck in the grand scheme of things.

I don't know what the purpose was for writing all this, I'm currently very jet-lagged and tired, but I have too many thoughts on my mind, usually they go in loops, never-ending cycles of grief. So writing this helps quiet it down, it gives a channel for it to flow, instead of an sporadic mini explosions, it's controlled, I'm calling the shots, I let it explode all at once.

I'm also writing to remind myself of the good. It's something I often overlook and forget. I fail to see what I already have, and I only see what I don't. The dangers of having something is it forget what it was like to not have something. And the easier it was to obtain it, where the delay between desire and gratification is short, the lesser the appreciation.

So to remind myself: I have a loving family and a home to come back to and a father who can expense my medical bills to help figure out what's wrong with my body and fix it. I have a mother who is caring and is willing to cook and care for me, and a sister who does the same. I have the freedom to pursue my interest in this break, and I have no major responsibilities or ties that can promote stress and anxiety, although most of it is self-inflicted and arises in my own work assigned by the high expectations I set for myself. I have a place to call home and a family who is helping me get back on my feet. That alone should be enough reason to not be depressed about not being in the US. Everything else, the friends I have in my life, the books, programming pursuits, and art, are blessings that I shouldn't take for granted.

I'll drop some notes on the Proust book tomorrow. Until then.