Me and a succulent, September 2021
I’m having this weird feeling of progressing but also feeling left behind. I’ve been away from Norway most of this year and my friends have of course continued their lives without me. They have changed jobs, gone on holidays, moved to new places, even had kids. Their lives are moving forwards in the ways that are good for them.
I look at my life in Berlin. I’m not the same person I was at the beginning of this year, not by a long shot. I look back at some of my diary entries and I can’t even believe the things I was worried about. In some ways I do feel the same fears but it’s like looking at a trail behind you once you’ve climbed a mountain. It all seems so small when it recedes into the distance. The only way to climb a mountain is one step at a time.
I’m happy for my friends at the same time, am I allowed to say I’m jealous? Part of me wishes I could be back there where things would be easier, from a logistical perspective at least. My friend speaks of the tiredness she feels at always having to try again but at the same time it makes no sense to stay stationary. Maybe the way is to make a game out of it. To have fun with each new attempt.
Part of me dreads at having to learn a new language, become familiar with a new bureaucracy, fight the fight one more time. The other part of me feels so lucky that I am blessed with the chance to fight this fight. We blink and the lights go out. We are always so close to death, all of this is a gift or at least I tell myself.
Memento mori. Memento mori. Memonto mori.
My girlfriend takes the opposite approach. She mementos the good stuff. She plans for things and looks forward to them. There’s always something to look forward to and that’s how we get through the days. I guess my fear of the future might be based on it not being what I hoped. If I had to dig deep into myself I might admit that it might be due to my childhood and expectations of others. I’ll never be as wealthy as my parents, or at least I don’t think so. I’ll never be as successful as what I was ‘meant’ to be given my academic pedigree (I hate that term). Missing that in the future is somewhat scary and not thinking about it is an active non-looking.
To start of little is easier in some ways because everything is a win. To start from privilege is hard because one feels like you have to earn that privilege and then more so even if that privilege was a roll of the dice. You don’t want to squander things, it feels bad.
“Every generation has to do better than the next” my parents used to drum into me. It made sense in my mind at the time because they did better than their parents but as it comes to my turn, I don’t see myself having kids nor having a career that will surpass theirs.
I think of my friend in Australia who worries that he can’t send his kids to the same private school that he attended. He feels like he’s a failure for not being able to give the same he received. I asked him to think of the things that he’s able to give his kids that he never received. The emotional development, the kindness, the presence that his parents never gave him. It will be a qualitative difference as opposed to a quantitative one. Besides, kids really don’t care. They only care if they’ve been neglected or if they haven’t had their basic needs met. For the most part, kids are more forgiving of us than we are of ourselves.
I think of the kid within me too. I can’t have the same life that my parents had or will have but I can have a different life, one that suits me. I think of my time in Oslo and now in Berlin. I can walk places. I have the time to cook at home. I have a pretty good control of my day and comparatively little stress. I am healthy and go to the gym. But mainly, I can walk! In Malaysia you have to drive, a lot. I’ve always hated that.
Part of a good adult life is giving the kid within you what they couldn’t have, tending to that growth.
“The difference between amateurs and professionals is the understanding of constraints”.
I try to remember this. I try to remember the constraints I had back in Oslo. That those were tradeoffs I was unwilling to make – I knew on an emotional level. I think of the constraints I have in Berlin. I feel confused still – somewhat.
I wasn’t particularly inspired by how anyone lived in Oslo. I didn’t go around thinking, ok I would like to live in this neighbourhood and live this kind of life. In some ways Berlin is different. I do walk around and think, hey ok – this could be pretty good. It’s always an approximation, isn’t it? Civilization is built on tiny wins and small steps in the right direction. I think if I focus on one step and at a time and taking it firmly, it will be ok.
There’s such thing as healthy egoism and I need to lean into that. Who am I, what am I doing, what’s my next step? When I was younger my friend and I used to think about how amazing it would be to be someone like Messi but then we realised we would have to play football everyday and the fact that we weren’t really inclined to do that told us what we needed to know.
Similarly, when I think of my friends living their best lives back home in Oslo I can’t really be jealous because I would be there too doing what they would be doing. I’m here doing what I’m doing and I need to do that to the best of my abilities. We can get inspired by others but that inspiration always has to be recentered back to ourselves.