Wednesday, September 18, 2013

This is your life

Wooden Escalator (St Anna tunnel)
Two months ago, I walked through my daughter’s campus and had a vague recollection of how it was like to be wrapping up the end of the chapter at the university. Amongst the possessions she had accumulated in three years, some she wanted to discard while the others were to be stored away or given away. I could feel a tinge of sadness about how you had grown accustomed to a certain carefree life and it was time to leave it behind. Perhaps I still feel nostalgia for my years at the university before life took over. As the mover was coming, there was no time for sentimentality, after all moving on from one stage to another is part of life and every stage has its moments.

Time seems to accelerate as we age and time slips by whether life is busy, exciting or mundane. Some people prefer a quiet and simple life while others enjoy an engaging life. Not everyone has a clear vision of what they want but the majority of us worry about employability. Most of us end up working for somebody else’s vision as we lack our own. Life is not like watching a movie or writing a screenplay as we cannot fix scenes or alter the script we land ourselves in. Most of our lives are not novel worthy as we act with prudence in our endeavours and lead a life our parents will approve of. We thread through safe paths for survival and self preservation. 

Monte Carlo
So long as you are reasonably comfortable with where you are, you do not think about what you really want to do with your life. Maybe you are simply contented to carry on doing whatever you are used  to doing or told to do because you have no aspirations of your own or you feel that you cannot afford to be you because you prize material security above what might otherwise interest you. While we are grounded and pragmatic, we can move along and aspire to be happy.

I feel that if you do something you love doing, there is a higher chance of happiness. If we do work that we enjoy doing, we will give our best and there is a greater chance of being good at it. Very few are destined for greatness. If you work in a creative field, we tend to think that it is hard to be the next big thing because only a handful of us are born with exceptional talent and with some luck, they become a global success. But then money, prestige and ego ought not be the objectives as fame and material success cannot be guaranteed. Whatever one does , one hopes to be in a good place.

The Interestings written by Meg Wolitzer is about six teenagers who had met  at a summer camp for the arts and all of them had some artistic interests and abilities but the kind of creativity that is rewarded at age fifteen may not be enough to propel someone through life. Five of them ended up keeping in touch for decades and they stayed good friends.

The writer wrote, “ You had only one chance for a signature in life, but most people left no impression.”

In The Interestings  Jules Jacobson, one of the participants who was an aspiring comic actress at age fifteen said this,

My guidance counselor came in the other day with pamphlets about careers ,” said Jules. ‘Now we have to think about becoming experts. We have to have a field.” She thought for a second. “ Do you think most people ,” she asked,” who do have a field, sort of stumbled into it ? or were they being shrewd when they decided to learn everything about butterflies or the Japanese parliament, because they knew it would make them stand out?”

Jonah whose mother was a famous folk singer said, “Most people aren’t shrewd,” Jonah said.” They don’t think that way at all.”

One of the characters, Ash managed to pursue her dream of directing in her adult years. There was one time  she had to respond to a mother in the audience who asked,

My daughter wants to be a director too. She is applying to graduate school in directing, but I know very well that there are no jobs, and that she’s probably only going to have her dreams dashed. Shouldn’t I encourage her to do something else, to find some other field she can get into before too much time goes by?”

Ash told the mother that the child had to really, really want it and if she did really want it and if she seemed to have a talent for it, then “I think you should tell her, ‘That’s wonderful.’ Because the truth is, the world will probably whittle your daughter down. But a mother never should.”

In  Five Star Billionaire by Tash Aw, five protagonists went to Shanghai to seek the illusive dreams of  fame and fortune and they had hoped to make it in Shanghai that symbolizes the new world of money and promise of possibility. Phoebe is a factory girl who has come to Shanghai with the promise of a job  which does not exist. Gary is a country boy who turned pop star and headed for free fall when he could not cope with the celebrity status. Justin is in Shanghai to expand his family’s real estate empire only to find that he is not up to the task. Yinghui, once a left wing activist when she was young and has since reinvented herself as a successful businesswoman. Yinghui has been sought out by the shadowy Walter Chao, the author of the  self help book entitled “The Secrets of a five star billionaire”, who with his secrets and schemes has a hand in the lives of each of the characters.  The novel  is about how the characters strived for the illusive dreams of material success and fame.

This is Your Life written by John O’farrell is a satire about how people can be led on and caught up with the entire celebrity crazy phenomenon. In the story, Jimmy Conway who has never performed as a comedian has to bluff his way when he becomes a bogus celebrity by convincing a naïve journalist to do a write up about his life. Jimmy always wanted to be famous and his teenage self had even written some letters to himself to advise his adult self about how to handle fame and fortune that would come his way. When he comes across these letters in his mid-thirties, he is a bit of a disappointment to himself. The story is hilarious and comical.  

Wolitzer, Aw and O’farrell have captured the essence of modern world with a keen observation about fame and material success. One is probably not certain of one’s talents and abilities but we all hope to be in a good place and even if we do not seek gratification, we do not want to be beaten. Whatever we undertake to do, we should give it our best shot while we are at it.  Enthusiasm and determination must triumph over   apathy just as hard work will prevail over idleness. To have the luxury to pursue what we really want, we must be willing to get out of our comfort zone and not giving in to our materialistic values. You can be whatever you want to be like what the  French proverb says  : Impossible n’est pas Francaise  which literally means Impossible is not French but it actually means there is no such thing as can’t. The question is “ Are you willing to brave the odds and stick it out  even when the going gets tough?”



  1. Enjoyed your entry - something most people can relate to

  2. This strikes me where I'm at and where I've been since making this leap into writing. I have always lived the prescribed way, not that I have regrets necessarily, but I did what made sense for everyone else, but not always for me. And many decisions were made out of fear. Never a good reason to do or not do something As I stare down 50, I am challenging all these precepts, but not without a lot of fear. These feelings are the catalyst for my post on She Writes "Making The Leap". It feels like that jump into the unknown sometimes.

    My daughter is getting ready to head into college and loves to sing and wants to pursue performance. I tell her, "yes-- do it." I didn't have enough of that growing up.

    1. Thank you Julie. It is wonderful that you have now taken that leap into writing and also for being a supportive parent to your daughter. Yes I do agree that while we have lived the prescribed way, not that we have any regrets for having done that, it is nice to reassess where we are at. I feel that we are somehow meant to be where we are meant to be in a way. And when you feel compelled to finally venture into something you feel passionate about, you will. Best wishes and cheers :-)