8 May 2022

A long time coming

Leaving for Melbourne

Such a title makes it sound like all of this was part of some grand plan. All thought out and meticulously strategised.

But no, it is not.

There were inklings, curiosities, experiments and just-for-fun things along the way, stretching back days, weeks, months and years — but there was no such grand plan in the beginning.

How does one project and forecast into the future if one does not, can not, know what he truly wants? Again, there are curiosities and whispers of what-could-be, but not one thing ever comes up as a true signal that overwhelms and quells the rest of the noise.

What do you want?

Young children often answer such a question rapidly and with clarity, since much of what they know of the world is constrained by primal sensory pleasures, or on the other end of the spectrum, utterly unconstrained and exposed to infinite possibilities. So they are able to give sharp, no-brainer responses, or dream so big that it makes any obstacle along the way seem miniscule.

One of the tragedies of growing up — observing, experimenting and living more of the ‘real’ world — is to be plagued by the phantom of ‘no, you can’t.’

The dreams we had when we were young had the space to be bold and ambitious — at the same time, they are equally fragile and uninformed. This fragility, the innocence of not-yet-knowing the constraints presented by the ‘real’ world, is most vulnerable to being… crushed. Crushed beyond recognition, and perhaps too early, even before the dream gets to see the light of day.

But the funny thing is, the constraints that we learn of the world are largely self imposed and self inflicted. We go forth into our lives, running into walls, leaping across obstacles and doing everything in between. From being exposed to these personal, one-of-one life experiences, the instinct that develops is one that forms up into a concrete and tangible sense of ‘this is how things are’.

Constraints are, of course, important in order to achieve some semblance of order within the perpetual chaos that is constantly lurking on the doorsteps. But as protective and stabilising as such bubbles might be, they also make the reality that lies beyond the bubble much more opaque, distant and seemingly out of reach.

Protective bubbles are very good at keeping things out, but also at keeping what is already inside from escaping.

Within such bubbles, there seems to be some form of ‘cabin fever’ that develops after spending much too long standing still in one particular spot. Not necessarily only physical stillness, but also emotional, intellectual and spiritual stillness.

In my own experiences, this cabin fever sensation becomes incredibly fatiguing over time, to the point where the urge of popping the protective bubble becomes so overwhelming that it transitions from a ‘can do’ to a ‘must do’, from an ambivalent maybe into a full conviction hell yes. The urge becomes so tangible, to the point where the pain and the costs of breaking down the protective bubble becomes easier to accept than the pain and the costs of choosing to stay put in the cabin.

Once across this threshold, one gets to experience the clear and crisp air on the other side. Finally, there is grass to touch and sunlight to bathe in. This is the situation when luck falls in one’s favour.

Sometimes, the situation of cabin fever evolves out of circumstances beyond one’s control. Perhaps the surrounding forest is being enveloped by fire, and the cabin itself is at risk of suffering a similar fate. In such times, there is no choice but to break out as soon as possible, out into the other side where the smoke, the heat and the risk of mortal danger do not present as conditions that are all that welcoming. Taking the critical decision of crossing the threshold would only be the beginning.

Clearly, one situation is preferable compared to the other, so luck plays a key role. Perhaps then, a question to ask might be: what would you do when the fire comes for you? Not if, but when.

What I’d like to say to young people about to start university is, study, but don’t only study. Eat good food, listen to good music, look at good paintings, cultivate yourself as an attractive human being.

To merit the name, youth should be a time of reading, travel and falling in love, after all.

- Yoshiharu Tsuboi