My Father

Written in eighth grade, randomly stumbled upon recently:

“I could’ve been someone,” my dad says. “The next Einstein or Newton, I could have made the next Google.” I believe him, and I tell him this.

He grew up in a small, poor town in China, but nevertheless got into the best university in the whole country at the age of 16. For four years of his high school life, he did nothing else but study, study so that he could get into the best university, so that he could get the best-paying job, so that he could have a good rest of his life. His hard work paid off though- he brought his whole family to America. If he had stayed in China, I wouldn’t even be alive, due to the law which restricts having more than one child.

My dad is the life of parties, the one who always is in the center of the spotlight. He’s the motor of the family, the backbone of his workplace. He comes up with the strangest ideas, like bicycling to work, or digging a hole to make a jacuzzi in the sand. When I have questions in math, I know who I should talk to. He’s always there, as sure as the next tick of a clock, as steady as the beat of a butterfly’s wings.

Sometimes I feel bad, like somehow I know that if he didn’t settle down and have a family, if he hadn’t spent so much time and energy into making the family function, then he could have been someone big.

But then I realize that maybe devoting one’s life to something that seems small, like raising a family and watching children grow up, can sometimes be better than being someone big.

On Worrying

One of the hardest yet most rewarding lessons I’ve learned is to only invest energy into things I can or have the potential to change.

When I was small, my family called me the “little grandma” because I loved to worry. Worrying and processing the world around me gave me a sense of control — if I had more knowledge of the world around me, I felt safer in moving towards my goals. For most of my life, my tendency to tread lightly has served me well and it’s become a large part of who I am.

But this past couple of years, there have been moments when my thoughts would consume me. I would think about something and not be able to let it go, playing it over and over in my head until it became a part of my existence. Worrying was a way to cope with external changes, but I realized that this constant churning was too draining. What used to give me a sense of control started to control me.

On another, external note: there are a lot messed up things in this world. People and animals get tortured and die every second. There’s so much pain in this world, but worrying about them doesn’t change a thing. It’s okay and even necessary to feel deeply about these injustices once in a while, but we also have to remember that there’s a delicate balance between being selfish and protecting our own mental health and wellbeing. Sometimes being “selfish” and apathetic in the short-term gives us more power to fix things in the future.

I can’t change other people. I can’t move mountains by thinking. But I can take action. I can embrace uncertainty, find comfort in not knowing, and trust in those around me. Life is long enough that these worries will be insignificant in the context of my existence, but it’s also short enough that I need to seize and make the best use of every minute.

On Our Limitations

We cannot imagine blistering cold in a desert of heat. We cannot imagine joy when we despair. We are limited to the moment and to our present states, and anyone who believes otherwise is simply delusional.

Our knowledge and understanding of the world is an infinitely small fraction of what there truly is. We think we know more than we do, and we form opinions on topics that we don’t even understand. Most of all, we seek meaning in a world where there is no inherent meaning. The world isn’t happy, sad, good, or bad. The world just is.

Despite, or even because of our limitations and our contradictions, I view humans as fascinating creatures. We are a product of evolution mixed with probability, and all of our basic needs have helped us survive as a species. All of the love, hate, longing, and despair we experience in our daily lives has evolved to keep us alive.

I often wonder — if there is a God, would the God be objective or subjective (or neither)? How could a being ever be completely objective? And how would it even be possible for God to be subjective, as thoughts contain subjectivity, and subjectivism is derived from feelings which are, in turn, derived from evolution? Did / does God evolve? And if God is “perfect,” does that mean he isn’t subjective, since perfection cannot be subjective? (Or can it? What even is perfection, and does it even exist?) Questions upon questions whirl in my head — not one discussed in Church, not one with a concrete answer (but that’s a different rant).

Sometimes I wish I could separate myself from my body and experiences to rid myself of these limitations (but would I still be “me,” without my body and experiences?). I want to take in the whole world at once, to feel everything yet nothing; and know everything, yet not know that I know anything. I want to strip my emotions from my thoughts, and to strip my thoughts from my consciousness — to become a higher conscious, perhaps. I don’t even want emotions or thoughts. I just want to know, to simply be.

I just finished reading Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse, and in many ways, I could see myself in Siddhartha’s younger, less enlightened days. He thought (like I think) that we are all like ants, like children, always seeking but never finding. At the end of the novel, Siddhartha becomes Enlightened because he is at peace. He does this by using love and interconnectivity as a blanket answer to all of his questions. But to me, the book was too simple. Love is just an overrated emotion, not an answer to life’s biggest questions. Maybe I didn’t really understand the book — I’ll probably reread it when I’m less stressed out!

Sorry if this post didn’t make much sense. Honestly, it didn’t make much sense to me either. Also, sorry if it sounds overly pessimistic because that’s not my intention. I intend to interpret the world in a “real” way — not pessimistic or optimistic, but objective. But due to my limitations, I don’t think I can ever begin to understand the world objectively because subjectivity skews everything.

“I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones and variations of mental and physical experience possible in my life. And I am horribly limited.” — Sylvia Plath

In Defense of Melancholy

I look back on my childhood as a time of constant bliss. I remember asking my dad, “Why am I so happy all of the time?” There was just nothing to be sad about — I had love and support from my sister, my parents, my grandparents. I spun stories with my friends and lived my life in books, drinking knowledge. I had school, where I felt free to learn and grow. Life was so kind and I loved everything and everyone around me.

When I started to feel melancholy in middle school, I realized that seeming happy and carefree is directly linked to how much people like you. To a small extent, I molded my personality and even my thoughts to fit this realization.

Now, I no longer care to repress these periods of melancholiness when I feel the weight of the world. Nothing triggers it, and I still love life — but in a more deliberate, deeper way. I’ve become darker, more sensitive and empathetic. Feeling melancholy isn’t sadness in its entirety; it’s seeing the subtle shades of sadness interlocked with the joys in life. It’s seeing past the facade of bright lights and acknowledging the suffering beneath the smiles of those around us.

This feeling of melancholy has allowed me to reach in the inner parts of who I am and has helped me achieve a sense of peace. I have come to terms with the meaningless of our existence and the fragility of life, and through this acceptance, I have found a beautiful new appreciation of the world around me.

growth

If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning.   

 Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck

The desire for growth is so ingrained in our species that it has become the overarching purpose of all of our lives. Perfection is unattainable, but our journey from our current status to our visions of perfection is one of the most satisfying things we can ever do.

Once I realized that my whole life is a piece of art that I must meticulously craft with compassion, I began to see life as a process of beauty — a process towards strength and wisdom. When I look back on my life, I won’t care about the person I will be as much as the process that got me there.

Growth doesn’t have to be linear. It doesn’t have to always be in the perceived direction of “forward”; sometimes growth only comes from taking a few steps back or slowing down. But it does require us to be conscientious. It requires an admirable motive. It requires strength of will, resilience, and the ability to get up from setbacks.

Those qualities create the cornerstone of true wisdom and success. They are why — even with our ignorance, our indifference, and our false sense of superiority — I still have faith in the human race.

On Solitude

“A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other”
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

I dream of living on a mountain.

Ever since I went on Mount Hamilton to visit the Lick Observatory, I knew that I would spend many days on a mountain, alone. Looking at the world through a distant vantage point makes me feel as if my problems and everyone else’s problems don’t matter. Distance allows me to let go and appreciate. The stars are prominent, and I feel a profound awareness of the self and the surrounding universe.

It bugs me that society often associates solitude with loneliness. Being alone should be celebrated. Only through solitude — through peering into the depths of our soul, through dissecting our inner thoughts — can we begin to understand ourselves, and by extension, others. We say we value individuality and knowing who we are, but how can we ever truly know who we are without spending quality time with ourselves? And really, the worst type of loneliness isn’t being alone. It’s when you’re with people you can’t relate to, and you feel so out of place because you can’t enjoy yourself like everyone else seems to be.

There is a song I really like called “Nobody Knows Me At All” by The Weepies. I guess no one really knows me, because I don’t share all of my thoughts and feelings with anyone. I’m still trying to figure out who I am, let alone allow others to know who I am. I believe this is true with most people, and we’re all just alone. But the song is upbeat, because I think the songwriters understand that it’s okay if no one really knows who you are, because your soul is and will always be your beautiful secret. As long as you’re trying to understand who you are, and you like who you are, it doesn’t really matter if anyone else does.

It’s funny how we live in a world with 7 billion other people, and yet we still feel like no one can ever relate to what we’re feeling. But we’re never really alone with our feelings, thoughts, and even our actions. Somewhere, sometime, someone is doing what you’re doing right now. There might even be someone else thinking that at this exact second.

Life is full of contradictions; as alone as we are in our minds, as unified we are in our solitude.

The World Is Malleable

When you grow up you tend to get told the world is the way it is and you’re life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family, have fun, save a little money.

That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.

Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.
– Steve Jobs

When I was younger, I lived in two worlds: the external world – sometimes scary, always new, and fast-paced; and my inner world – a network of ideas, emotions, and experiences. I felt more comfortable in my own mind, and I tended to value ideas and theorizing rather than dealing with the messy external world.

As I have matured both emotionally and intellectually, I am becoming less of an “observer” and more of a “doer,” and I’m learning to combine those two worlds. When I was younger, I focused on gathering ideas from books and the outside world. I loved reading about different topics in the library, but I never felt like using these ideas to create something in the external world. But now that I feel my ideas are becoming more developed, I am focusing on getting them into the world. Self-expression used to be a meaningless concept to me because I was content on living in my own little bubble. Now, it feels as if all of the thoughts and feelings in my head are overflowing, and I need the external world to absorb some of my ideas.

I’m sort of in a “creating” phase in which I am trying to build and make more things. And I don’t claim that creating is more important than observing and synthesizing, because without observation and synthesis, there would be no meaningful creations. But I do think I’ve pushed into the final phase of design: actually making stuff in the real world. I’ve gone through a significant paradigm shift in my life in which I am now trying to sculpt the world with the vision I have in my mind.

I believe our educational system is mainly to blame for brainwashing us into believing that life is about conformity, and about sitting in the sidelines rather than doing real things. In school, you are taught to obey the rules and to not cause too much havoc. Fit in, don’t stand out. Learn all of these things that dead people figured out because they know so much and you know nothing yet.

But then slowly, you realize that the way things are now don’t have to be how they are, and isn’t how it should be. You realize that your premises are not the stone walls that you knew so well, but flimsy, straw houses. You realize how easily these stone walls could have been some other structure had you been taught differently. You realize how complacent some people are — how unconsciously they live their lives, how they live like zombies following their masters. You realize that you want to live differently: with deliberation and a healthy dose of skepticism.

It’s dangerous to live without critical thinking skills and the knowledge that the world is malleable. That’s how dictators come into power, how a nation can be beguiled into committing genocide, and how one can be taken advantaged of. Because really, people who commit bad deeds aren’t inherently evil — they just don’t live consciously enough, and they don’t develop sound principles and push their vision into the world.

By consciously creating the world you live in, you have so much power — both in the world and over yourself. Yes, it may make you seem a little rebellious, but that’s what the world needs. The world can never be bettered through observation alone.