Ahn Wee

“The pendulum of the mind alternates between sense and nonsense, not between right and wrong.” – Carl Gustav Jung

Category: Essays

Social Crutches

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Today I bought my very first pair of sunglasses. I know it probably sounds too trivial an issue for the average human being. In fact, my mother even raised an eyebrow and asked me:

“What the hell did you need that for, anyway?”

Right at that moment, I could have enumerated a number of scientific facts and theories in safeguarding health particularly the human eyes—-but instead of doing just that, I just stopped and looked away. She then proceeded to tell me about how certain sunglasses in malls could be fake, and ruin my eyesight instead.  She also quietly implied that it was a particular pathetic investment for vanity’s sake. I wasn’t entirely offended by her disapproval and skepticism. It was just that the reason that I had in my heart was something I could not muster in her presence. The real motive I had in buying them were something neither the greatest living ophthalmologist nor optometrist could explain.

I bought it so I could raise up my head and look straight in front of me in public vehicles where I might unintentionally lock into someone’s gaze. I bought it because I now have the perfect excuse to look at anyone without having the consequences of eye contact. I bought it so that no one could ever read my nervousness in public places among a sea of strangers. To put things simply, I bought it as my social crutch.

What I particularly find to be strange now is that this particular Audrey-ish pair of sunglasses is supposed to be a progress of me taking responsibility and accountability for myself. Growing up, I rarely had a choice in buying the things that I wanted to wear. As the youngest of 3 children, the usual system was either a hand-me-down or “I’ll-buy-it-for-you”. Nobody had the time to take me to malls, and if they did they all particularly felt too impatient waiting while I choose which pair of shoes I liked best. So I basically grew up feeling ashamed in having to take initiative in building an image of myself. I wore clothes purely as a necessity and nothing more. I know it sounds all too dramatic but trust me; it does get to you at one point. It feels uncomfortable to wear clothes that suited your sister, and then wearing only to know that it did not flatter your body as it did on hers. It feels uncomfortable that someone buys a pair of shoes of a style you weren’t totally cool to begin with. If “Power dressing” is such a real word then it’s not at all empowering in being where I have been, and I sincerely believe that power lay in the ability to become creative.

As you now see, I have been rigorously making ways into improving myself from the physical aesthetic aspect to the deeply psychological behaviors and attitudes. Coming from a family of strict introverts, I grew up living like a hermit my entire life. I’d like to say that introversion is NOT one of the things I’d like to change about myself. I am happy as myself in that particular way. I am not however happy of the effects in the years of being strictly sheltered from a world beyond the confines of my home—because I grew up to be extremely shy and timid. I avoided all social events, and I turned down anything that needed to built on intimacy or social connection. Hell, I even had a phase wherein I disliked having my photos taken. If it was any consolation on my part, I tried my best to escape within my imagination with the help of books and films (and occasionally, video games)—and it did help me in a way. I learned a lot of different perspectives and different approaches to life as I indulged myself from a genre to another. In spite of this, it still wasn’t enough.  “Math is like life in a way”, as my old geometry teacher in high school once said. “It’s one thing to know what is what and another in knowing what to do and actually doing it”.

From a previous romantic relationship gone wrong, I was able to try and challenge this definition myself. He might have failed on changing me, and I might have failed in helping him grow but I certainly am able to do more things now. I could go on personal walks without having to feel guilty about my mother’s rules. I could go on to public events and realized it wasn’t the kind of life that I wanted to live (certain standards of being socially “cool” is not entirely “cool” as it seems). I have been working on my shyness, but why did I buy myself a social crutch?

To my defense, I think sunglasses provide a certain synthetic form of sprezzatura—the art of studied carelessness (direct words from the Oxford English dictionary here). It’s the ability to sheathe one’s personal desires, emotions and thoughts under the façade of innocent apathy. I mean certain changes can be good but doing it rapidly fast at the same can be quite alarming and threatening the ego. I guess it’s sort of like the training wheels of bicycle or that my eyes just need protection from the sunlight. Sure.

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The Ramblings of a Broken Watch

Around 4 to 5 years ago, my sister handed me her wristwatch: a sort of graduation gift she received from a relative living overseas. Four to five years after, I am still wearing the same watch. The only thing that has changed was its glass lens which I accidentally broke 3 years ago. Now, looking at it I’m afraid I’ll also have to change its batteries. A friend of mine suggested I buy a new one instead but I hesitated—you can’t buy sentimentality. You can’t buy history. However at the back of my mind I also thought—yes, you can create new memories to be sentimental about. History never dies, it only grows older and older. One simply needs to connect the dots. Once again, I thank myself for finding ways to disagree with me.

Its funny how I think of this now, and its been months since my portable time teller has stopped working. A few more months it will almost be a year since it stopped working. I’m rather worried by the duration of this negligence and its possible insights to my personality and physiological markup like perhaps I’m just insanely absent minded or perhaps these are one of the early signs of schizophrenia or Alzheimer’s. If there’s any comfort into this (supposed) “ghastly” level of personal negligence: my broken watch still gets the time right at least twice a day. Its true, I’m not kidding my watch is correct for at least a minute, twice a day at 6:00 am and 6:00 pm. Interesting, huh?

Well here is what is more interesting: the claim that time doesn’t exist. The whole commotion that time is a man made concept. An illusion of passage where it doesn’t exist. A reflection on a series of events glued together to make a past. An exclusive awareness of the existence of oneself makes a present while a series of predictions, hopes and goals make a future. And here I am with this leather, glass, and metal contraption of numbers which is supposed to tell me of something that does not even physically exist in the first place! How strange!

On the other hand in my personal opinion as a self-proclaimed pundit, I think its wrong to say that time doesn’t exist while it may be right to claim it as an illusion under certain situations. If I remember one of my lessons in Geometry class from high school, the concept of postulates dictates that once my teacher writes stuffs on the board no student has a right to question it whatsoever because it just is(by the way I was trying to be funny). Simply put, there are some things in life that are necessary conditions to keep other process and structures of living possible. Its a postulate, a truth that one believes in and it will persistently exist through our conscious effort into proving it so. Imagine the the horror of realizing that your 6 pm flight is actually a 6 am flight. To better expound on what I mean into a phrase: time is man’s taxonomy of experiences. Namely experiences to be recalled in memory, experiences to be aware of, and experiences we would like to partake in. Time does not only live in our heads, its a pair of looking glass we wear into the world. Through my eyes, its a 9:33 pm as I wonder about the various people I know living under different time zones like how is my Dad at 6:34 pm?

I wonder. I wonder.

I guess that’s why its called a “watch” huh?