By Bourrée Huang
In college, study something practical like business or engineering. Every so often, toy with the idea of becoming a poet laureate, or a badass archeologist-cum-humanitarian. Imagine the poems you’d write, labouring over unrequited love in dimly-lit cafés, financially poor but metaphorically rich. Let these thoughts permeate your being; let them almost-galvanise you into greatness. Then, remember that you’re probably talentless. Recall, in your mother’s sore, beseeching voice, that writing won’t pay for your kid’s college tuition down the road. Recall, reflected in your father’s weary eyes, a quiet disapproval of your vast artistic wings. Oh, he’d cut off your pinions if he could! Lack the courage to follow your heart, and the heroism to even try. Insulate your hopes and aspirations with layers upon layers of bubble wrap; lock them away in the dungeon of forbidden dreams.
Enter corporate monkey waitlist.
Graduate summa cum laude. Learn fifth foreign language. Date, but only to boost your resumé. Journey to faraway, exotic lands where you’ll take pretty pictures; see both everything and absolutely nothing. Post-travel at a bar with friends, describe so accurately the shape of the terrain, paint so vividly the colours of the landscape, articulate so fully the quirks of the language that you convince even yourself that you’ve been moved, that you are living and not merely existing.
Clock into hamster wheel at nine every morning.
Fall in love; update Facebook status. Tell her you love her because you believe fervently in the bond of words. Quantify your love for her with the number of to-the-moon-and-backs because you’re not just some soulless mathematician; you’re a hapless romantic. Surprise her with chocolates and roses by her doorstep because that’s what people in love do, or so you’ve heard. In your letters to her, quote Marquez, because no one has ever delineated love better.
Suddenly, realise it’s not actually love but some cheap, knock-off version called infatuation. Feel betrayed by hindsight, even more so by romantic comedies. Watch your world slowly but inevitably drain itself of all colour and warmth. Search desperately for reconciliation, but find instead makeshift rainbows and plastic unicorns. Learn that this love thing is an elusive truth reserved for a fortunate few; understand that Allie doesn’t always find Noah. Submit yourself to this reality; be content. Obey.
Proceed to marry the next girl you find – she is nice, has pretty hair, and plays the piano. Bring her home to your parents and find that they adore her as if she were their own. Find, in the subsequent decades impersonating millennia, that she is truly wonderful, and that while she will never be your ocean, never inspire you with her boundless beauty, never enkindle in you passion with her profound mystery, she remains your harbour, and you will one day learn to accommodate her, cherish her.
When your parents die, mourn. Mourn because you know no other response. Mourn, because for the first time, words escape you; for the first time, language fails you. Let memory avalanche you into the depths of sorrow – the calls unreturned, dinner plans cancelled, white lies unearthed… Let it hit you just what she meant when your mother said: “No one will ever love you more than we do.”
In your beer belly years, ask a lot of rhetorical questions. Ponder, for the first time, the meaning of life. Reach no meaningful conclusion. Resume.
Clock out of hamster wheel at five every evening.
One day, amidst sleepy supermarket aisles, arms outstretched, examining brands of detergent, or jaywalking mid-salted-caramel-chocolate-cupcake bite, have your moment. In this instant, realise that your life had not been of cardinal red, or atomic tangerine, or even sunflower yellow; but rather, of a dull, flat Spanish grey, the colour of sidewalks. Realise, that for all your literary ardour, your grand schemes, life has failed to imitate art. Where are the daring escapades and decadent soirées? Who is your nemesis, your estranged father? What of forbidden love, heroic feats, glorious victories? What of the dramatic downfall that follows? And as you wallow in the futility of searching for life’s misprint, decide intently to put pen to paper once more, and compose your future; whether fleetingly magnificent or enduringly mundane, this you can call your own.