Letters from the end of the storm

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The other day, I was drowning in work. Every time I finished one task, one of the higher ups had something else to do for me to do. It appeared as if my to-do list wasn’t going to shrink any time soon.

To make things worse, a friend of mine who is doing her graduate studies in Creative Writing in the UK contacted me and asked me what my post-graduate plans were. After I filled her in, she began to give me some very realistic advice—of course, realistic usually translates to “depressing.” I was up at 3am looking for more grad school options; even though that talk made me even sadder, I was unhindered by talk of competitiveness.

And then something happened the following day that reminded me that the universe has a funny way of laying down signs for you. For the first time in forever, I received snail mail: one was a postcard from that same friend who spoke to me about grad school, sent from Prague. The other was an information packet from one of my grad school options, sent all the way from the US, which I’d forgotten I ever sent for.

There is something very comforting and exciting about seeing a strong desire of yours take on a physical form, even in the shape of a rather large information packet. If I went nuts over reading it, imagine how I’d be when it’s something like an acceptance letter between my hands.

I don’t have to go to grad school next year, or even the year after that. But somehow I’ve shown myself the extent I’m determined to go. So go I shall, someday.

Sometimes, all you need is something to look forward to.

A poem, a speech, a haze of doubt, and the importance of darkness

In the beginning, there was only darkness. God looked upon it and thought long and hard.

It took me six months to realize that all the changes, all the fear and sadness I’d unknowingly tried to deny to myself—all of it were symptoms of growing pains, of adjustment pains.

While it derailed me from what I thought were fool-proof writing plans, I wouldn’t take back these months for the world. I’ve met a handful of very interesting people, got rid off some that I didn’t need in my life, read some books I’ve put off reading for two years (such as Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing), and I’ve begun at and continue to adjust to my first job ever.

So all right, I go home at 10pm for four days a week and I have to file a leave for any holidays I wanna take. I sit for eight or nine hours in front of a Samsung LCD screen whose brightness I have yet to learn how to lower. But I also get to watch movies and plays, read books, and attend cool events for free, just so long as I write about them afterward.

And best of all, when I’m in between editing articles, I can browse the internet for inspiring comics and speeches. In fact, that’s all I’ve been reading of late (that isn’t for work, anyway), and it’s this sort of thing that helped get me through really rough times.

I’d like to highlight this illustrated version of “The Winds of Fate” by Ella Wheeler Wilcox (who is quickly becoming one of my favorite poets), and the part in J.K. Rowling’s speech about having worked for Amnesty International for her first job.

What “The Winds of Fate” is getting at is that it is one’s inner strength that determines one’s path in life, in spite of and not because of the obstacles one encounters. I love rereading this every once in a while, when I feel as if the new arrangements in my life are threatening to crush me and turn me into the overly-cautious, impervious-to-amazement adult I loathe and would loathe to become. I’ll get back to this poem later, but here’s my favorite part of it.

‘Tis the set of the soul
That sets its goal
And not the calm or the strife.

One of the best parts of J.K. Rowling’s speech was the part talking about her experiences at Amnesty International, just before she hit rock-bottom in her life. It struck several cords in me: the part about life experience and human nature and the part about hitting rock-bottom.

Okay, this part’s going to sound completely contradictory to my first couple of paragraphs, but bare with me here. See, I’m in my early twenties and I’ve just begun my grown-up life, but I’m already afraid of going to such a dark place even though I’ve already been to dark places—I think I might be afraid that that sort of dark place will be different from the darkness I know, and worse, I won’t be able to get out. (But that’s where “The Winds of Fate” come in, right?)

My mom said that if I am already thinking about that, then perhaps the job I’ve got isn’t the job for me. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t—but I am sticking with it for the time being because journalism seems to be the fastest way to gain life experience, of which I think I have too little of (and which is the key to good literature, even if it is in the vein of the fantastic, and the writing of which is the underlying shade behind all my decisions). That’s how Neil Gaiman worked his way around the publishing industry, after all.

My only other option regarding life experience is to travel (like, town to town and country to country kind of travel), but I need to save maybe a shitload of money for that on top of my grad school dreams. That does not mean I’ve completely put it out of my mind, however.

How do some people do it? How do they decide to just up and leave all that is safe, all that is known, and with what seems like enough money to burn, for dreams that may trip them up at every step? I truthfully cannot even say to myself that I will one day do just that without a few uncertain hiccups. Maybe everyone who has ever thought of that kind of life has been through this haze of doubt I am almost blind in.

But back to Rowling. What her speech is telling me is that there must be hardship before a victory, and there must always be hardship while continuing to bag one victory after the other. There must be glimpses (sometimes more than a glimpse) of the deepest horrors and highest joys of human nature before you can pull a glinting something out of the jumbled melting pot in your soul and lay it bare on the blank page.

There must be darkness before light. Sometimes that’s difficult to remember, but it’s as good a bedrock as any on which to build my life.

In the beginning, there was only darkness. God looked upon it and decided there would be light—maybe not now, maybe not tomorrow, but there will be light.

There will be light.