Devil in the Details

by Jinryu

So, my grandomother is out of the hospital, apparently doing much better. I don’t know the details yet: dad doesn’t normally write really long emails.  That’s good I guess– it means she’s healthy enough to be out of the hospital.  The whole neutropenic issue is still floating around– I heard they were supposed to do a bone marrow aspirate at some point, but I don’t know the results of that.

I guess we’ll see what happens… I haven’t had the chance to call back home yet and speak to her directly, because of the time difference.  That, and I’m sure that [Gramma] doesn’t know the details of her condition anyways.

That’s the kind of people my parents’ generation are.  Maybe it’s a lot of the reason why I started off as beleiving in “benevolent dictators” when I was growing up.  My parents, along with my uncles and aunts on my dad’s side, are the kinds of people who would be willing to withold information from other members of the family because it’s for their own good.  So– even if Gramma, or anyone really, had a medical condition, their approach would be to peripherally control it without actually telling her.

Now that I think about it, maybe this is where I got the idea, when I was in college, that I wouldn’t tell my parents that I’d switched from sciences to arts– I didn’t think they needed to know, and that they would be better off not knowing.

In my grandmother’s case, I guess it’s more or less justified– but only because she wouldn’t understand anyways.  Gramma’s mind hasn’t been as sharp as it has been decades ago– she’s 85 years old.  Explaining things like immune systems to her just won’t do anything.  So I guess it’s fine that she doesn’t know.

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But what about me?

 

I’m halfway around the world from home, and I get this nagging feeling that people aren’t telling me everything I want to know.  I get the feeling that they want me to do well during finals, so they’re not telling me how serious things are.

In a strange way, it’s not that I don’t trust my family members.  But then again, to me, trust is a complicated idea.

It has to do with prediction, as opposed to expectation.   You can expect someone to do something, as in, this is what you want them to do– however, is that what you predict they will do?

I know my family well enough to think that they’re really looking out for the greater good.  The fact is, me knowing more doesn’t change a thing.  What am I going to do from over here?

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Anyways, one day at a time again.  I’ll find out more soon enough.

 

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Administrative law paper is done.  Draft of research proposal done.  I’m about a two full week behind on readings on account of paper writing, but relative to my peers, that’s about on par for the course as we approach finals.  WIth the completion of Admin, that puts us at the point where it’s just final exams to prepare for.

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And I guess it is a stressful time, but at the same time, it’s a very envigorating process. It really makes you feel alive, if only because the mechanics of the system are such that you’re really at the cusp of death– thus every action you take is one that clearly makes you feel like you’re getting somewhere.   Am I looking forward to it?  I guess you might say I am, in a sorta sick way.  I wouldn’t, if it weren’t for classmates: because a lot of my enjoyment of the situation has to do with the drama of finals.  Raw emotions start coming up– panic and fear are some of the more popular choices.

 It’s delicous stuff, really!

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I guess my obsession with emotion might seem a bit strange to you, but maybe that’s an interesting topic to write about.

First, origins: Chinese Catholic upbringing.  There’s a lot of stoicism in there, a lot of idealisation of the person who basically endures things without making too much of a fuss.  Jesus Christ.  Literally, not in vain. Perhaps it makes people more enduring, but I find that one of the pitfalls of that kind of disposition is that you lose any sense of direction.  When you don’t react to situations, you basically keep trucking in one direction.  That’s fine, if you’re the son of God and have everything set out for you– how many of you wouldn’t love to have a life plan that all you had to do was stick on track with?

Encountering resistence, you just figure it’s normal– because that’s what the stoic lifestyle is all about.  It’s hard for a stoic to think that things might probably be done differently, because somewhere along the line a decision about “the goal” was made and everything is framed in light of that final destination.

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In a strange way, through it’s single-mindedness, self-destruction is a byproduct of stoicism– probably because stoics lose touch of what makes them happy. They become fixated on the mission, and because of the ups and downs of life, moments spent not advancing towards this task make things feel like a waste of time. This becomes really tough when you haven’t identified just what the mission is– you’re just blindingly stumbling along, reacting to the symptoms of your subconscious (that more or less knows) getting sick of your incompetence.

At least, this was the case for me.

I think I got to that point when I was in college, where I might been trying to identify just what it was that I wanted.  I didn’t find it in alcohol, but I did find it in fighting and videogames.  More then than now, I also found it in literature, and writing.  When I was in highschool, it was somewhere in music. 

 

And what was it that I was constantly in pursuit of, but had never taken the time to identify?  It turns out, even today, it’s quite hard to define– because if I could, I would own it. If I could only name it, and explain how I saw the world perfectly, it would mean that I had a perfect understanding of it.

I don’t.

 

However, I can tell you this– it has something to do with the energy of life, and nowhere is that chi or chakra more apparent than in spirit.  Oftentimes, spirit manifests itself through emotion.

And that’s why I say, emotion is important.

 

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Unfortunately, the easiest emotion, really, is anger.  Videogaming and sparring  was, to me, really all about exhausting agressive energies. 

The stereotype of angsty youths is there for a reason– it’s because at a certain age in every western kid’s life, there’s a coincidence of indepdent means,  boredom, and energy.   And the easiest emotion to funnel through? 

 

Well, for me it was anger.  Of course, results might vary.

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 Rage is an incredible thing.  I’m not saying this to sound like a total sociopath, or a psychopath.  I’m saying this because, in my opinion, it is the easiest of emotions to give into.  Love is difficult unless you’ve found someone to love.  Happiness is difficult unless you have something to be happy about.  But don’t we all know it? COme on, we’re bloggers: it’s easy to bitch.  Bitching just the manifestation of anger– anger is the springing up of an emotional revulsion at a state of affairs.

 

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What changed my emotion of choice is working at the Montreal Chest Institute.  I met a lot of interesting people there, but the majority of them were patients.  When I first started working there, I really took the time to get to know patients.  Because my grandparents only speak chinese, and chinese remains one of my worst languages, I’ve never really had that experience that I see on television of getting ‘grandparents’ advice.’  Most of the patients at the Chest were older people, many of them with terminal lung diseases.

It was confusing at first.  It was confusing that, although some patients were rude and in denial (which fit into my worldview of anger), there were many more that were not.  Not angry.  Yet not stoic.  Just– going about life.  SOmetimes they were happy, in a happy reminiscent way.

 

And how could people be happy, knowing they were going to die?  As young, aimless person, who only had my future to look forward to, it seemed like a contradiction.

There was something different between them and I, and it’s something they taught me– it has to do with which side of the fence you’re on, and which patch of grass you want to be chewing on.

 

Despite that I’m one of the oldest in my program (most of my peers started postgrad law straight after their undergrads) I’m still pretty young when you think about it. I’m not even 30 yet.   I think a great source of my anger in my teens was the fact that, a decade ago, I had no idea where I was going. I had no idea of the possibilities.  All I saw were obstacles in terms of the narrowly defined Chinese Catholic goals I grew up with.  If you saw nothing but a huge mess ahead of you in the way of something that seemed impossible far, you’d be angry too, wouldn’t you?

But people who are about to die, which way are they looking?  Are they looking forward, or backwards? 

 

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If they’re in a lot of pain, they look forward– they want it to end.  If things are going okay– they tend to look backwards, at the good times and the great times, and in so looking, they realise that they had the best of times.

Either way, what comes with age is basically knowing how to look.

 

Knowing how to look is half about identifying something external, and half about identifying something internal.  That is to say, being satisfied at finding something has to do with an intersection of the external world and an internal want.  If you can’t find it outside, you can work on that.  But if you can’t find it inside? Well, ironically, sometimes you find things outside before you find them inside.

Maturity, ultimately, has to do with the ability increase the likelihood of syncing these two activities.

And that’s what made a lot of these people happy.

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And when their mind wanders to those times? You see it: the emotion, as they relive those memories.  Libraries upon libraries of stories, in every one of those people.  You see how moments of the present trigger a return to memory– something in the present aligns with something in their minds and hearts.  And then?  The look.  They look at things around them suddenly as if it’s what they’ve always been looking for.

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 And when you think about the way memory works, your eyes are a big photocopy machine.  You take things from the outside world, without taking them, and you keep a copy for yourselves.

 

In that sense, we have an extraordinary capacity to keep a library– a library of experiences within us.  So when you want something?  When you want an emotion?  You look at your experiences– you pull an emotion from the shelf.  ANd then you align it with the present– and find something about the present that just makes sense, that is just what you’re looking for.  You know it in you, not by the specifics, but by it’s substance, and then you find it in the world outside of you.

So maybe that’s what this is all about.

If you compared me now to who I was a decade ago, you’d find that I’m a lot more together nowadays.  To the point where revisiting my old self, frankly, feels a bit embarrassing.  Nowadays,  I know who I am. I have a defined sense of what I want.  Or at least… to put it more accurately, the amount that I want to know about myself and what I want of myself is in tune with what I already know.  Everything just builds on everything else.

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