Oxford / Updates

the frozen sea within us

The books we need are the kind that act upon us like a misfortune, that make us suffer like the death of someone we love more than ourselves, that make us feel as though we were on the verge of suicide, or lost in a forest remote from all human habitation—a book should serve as the ax for the frozen sea within us.

– Franz Kafka

I routinely enforce solitude on myself. It serves both as a curator of mental space and a visceral reminder of (individual) personhood. In a way, two years of communal living have dowsed a deep well of thirst for it, but the need for it is pathological, and I suspect I had only been overlooking that in my Singapore years.

Solitude is also a surprisingly effective cure for loneliness, I find.

There might be a smidge of narcissism in the mentality of relishing your own company, yet I think a profound awareness of self is the foundation of all robust relationships; besides, everyone should want to get to know themselves intimately. I surprise myself all the time. At times the uncertainty scares me, but mostly I anticipate. If anything, at least it is reassuring to know that my bad habits will sporadically disappear (observe my fairly tidy room this term).

In any case, it is 4 am on a Saturday (i.e. my incoherence should be excused). I drank two cups of coffee at 1 am because I was determined to commit myself to staying up to work, and I have plowed through a good portion of my philosophy reading, except they were mostly incomprehensible and I didn’t take any notes, so I am going to have to reread them. But at least this way the ideas will be floating around my head while I sleep. Well, theoretically, anyway.

I also spent a good hour on FB chatting, and earlier, three hours eating. Three hours. There was the customary CNY hotpot dinner, and I, of course, out-ate all the boys. It got awkward towards the end because everyone else had stopped eating and I … was still eating. And then I kept eating. This happened during the Principal’s lunch today too: I piled my plate a little too enthusiastically and then decided to also participate in the ongoing dialogue about St Anne’s and etc. For future reference, eating and sounding intelligent are very much mutually exclusive activities.

It has been a satisfying day, however. I have had a number of good conversations, and small, productive steps have been taken towards a more fulfilling, short-term future. Sent off a few laboriously written emails (in French) to host families regarding Easter; one very brief rejection but one (also succinct) unconditional invitation, so it appears that I am off to the south of France (again! But in the west this time), and sharing four weeks with what appears to be a multitude of farm animals (horses, a pig, sheep, a puppy (!), chickens and four cats) and a French family. Won’t be quite as far down south as before, so it will not be gloriously warm, but I will still be near the sea.

Walked back from CNY dinner in a wistful lull of sorts, fragments of Chinese songs looping through my head. There is always a camaraderie between countrymen in a foreign land, and it is as much a sign of distance from home as it is general maturity that everyone got along amicably despite not being all too close friends. Or perhaps that is simply my perspective, because I have not generally spent much time with them. On the way back I ran into college people en route to Camera. Within a few weeks this term I have learnt to include these people in my personal narrative. I don’t know how else to put it right now. I was – am – happy to see them. I think I am still getting used to the stability of affairs here, or outside of UWC/Pearson. In little, lingering ways, I am forgetting to anticipate the natural end of things (or remembering to project indefinitely into the future?)

(Earlier, when I was speaking to the principal, he asked which schools I went to in Singapore and Canada, and I said Raffles and UWC/Pearson, and he chuckled at the latter. He said, UWC’s a strange place, isn’t it? It’s a bit like a cult, isn’t it? He is more right than he thinks. A useful way to think of myself right now: reintegrating into society.

I kid, mostly.)

Yes, something in me clamors, indefatigably. But I am learning patience well, or at least, commendably. I dread growing old. Creeping towards 20 is a nasty task. When I am in the gym, I muster gratitude at the fact that every minute of those thirty minutes on the treadmill is the longest minute of my life, because then it seems like time is stretching itself for me. It works for any unpleasant activity, actually – when reading gets to be a drag, being grateful for the molasses-slow passage of time is one reassurance.

Tomorrow, I will probably regret having drunk two cups of coffee after midnight.

One thought on “the frozen sea within us

  1. when you publish your first novel (or collection of poems) will you sign a copy for me?
    PS do everything while 20. 20 feels better than 45 and a body tends to be less sore the morning after…

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