Everything Hinges on the Fact that People Assume Life is Relatively Simple

29 May 2014
11:07 AM
Manila

M.–

My eldest sister ended up staying overnight. That was a load off my chest, although it was quickly replaced by more dread, when our family doctor had this brilliant idea of making me take more tests for a general checkup. I couldn’t get out of it, so that’s how my past few days have been–going to the hospital for tests, visiting S. (who ended up having her gallstones removed), and working on deadlines.

Every night I come home and go straight to my room, stand by a corner and just take deep breaths, swearing, wondering how many days are left until my sister comes home, until the tests stop.

I’ve been thinking about receiving compliments, and how I handle it.

The other day E. told me all about the writers’ festival in Sydney, and mentioned some Filipino poets who were there to read their work. I might have gushed about some works a bit–and E., bless her heart, wanted to buy a book for me. She said that it would make her happy.

My gut reaction was, of course, no. Absolutely not. And immediately I cringed, because that was totally ungracious. To tell the truth, I am giddy with excitement just thinking about it. Books always make for good presents, after all, especially if they come in the mail. It’s just that–I can be quite unbearable and awkward when it comes to accepting something good, as if I always have to ask permission first to be happy about it, to welcome it willingly, to know that it’s allowed.

I ended up blabbering on and embarrassing myself. I shared something I read recently which felt so true: “when people give me compliments I feel like a vending machine trying to accept a wrinkly dollar and it’s just really frustrating for everyone involved.” (x)

But I adore E. and did not want to be a jerk. I told myself, damn it, T., just fucking shut up for once. So I said yes.

This morning, someone told me that the scarf I was wearing was lovely. I stopped and panicked internally, and before I could formulate a proper response, I said, “It’s not a scarf, it’s a shawl.” And then there were sirens inside my head so I quickly walked away.

When I told my sister what happened, she looked at me disapprovingly and said that all I had to do was say, “Thank you.” I hid my face in my hands because I realised that the moment I walked away, but my feet were already carrying me farther from the scene of the crime, and I just kept on going. Ugh.

Now I’m going to think about it for the rest of the day. Damn it.

“…What should we do with these pains and troubles? Well, if you’re a relatively stupid person, there is one answer that is customarily given, and that answer is read a self-help book. These things are for stupid people; there are some of those people around, and they’ll tell you how to live.

But the elite answer says that anyone who is clever doesn’t need that sort of stuff, and the reason is that life is relatively simple. After all, all you need to do in an average life is: grow up, separate yourself from your parents, find a job that’s moderately satisfying, create a relationship where you can relate to someone, start raising some children, watch the onset of mortality in your parents’ generation, [which] then start[s] to lap at the shores of your own, and then eventually when it gets [to] you, lie down in the coffin and shut the lid politely, and go off into the next world (or no world at all). And it’s simple–who’s got any problems with that?

Well, I think that’s desperately wrong.”

– Alain de Botton on art as therapy

Yesterday, R. and I talked about naivete, and how we approached writing and poetry when we were younger. He said, “I like to think of you as excited about what you were doing then and would have liked to see that.”

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if the important people in my life now–you, R., E., being some of them–have met me years back. If we would’ve been friends. If we would have always mattered to each other, in this universe, this timeline, or any other.

Good morning,
T.

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