“I am infinitely strange to myself.”
— John Fowles, The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969)
Almost two years have passed since my last entry—before the interminable rush of professional life smothered the echo of those last words. It was the longest I’d ever stayed away from honest writing; my prior hiatuses and phases of linguistic exhaustion were few and far between, and never for extended times. But with the lulling, pounding, metronomic onslaught of the necessary tide—so much time and energy was spent fighting the waves, that I somehow lost the will to write. It didn’t help that l for a time felt as one imprisoned in a panoptic cell with all my thoughts exposed; but isn’t that the portion of one consigned to the public service (at least for the next one and a half years)? Eventually, a not-misplaced paranoia doomed this little trove of thoughts to be forgotten—I closed the blog. It once did cross my mind to revive my old scribing habits; but the hyperlink was lost, and with it what remained of my creative will.
(Seems like I am right here at home with my unsurprising melancholia—some things never go away.)
I once did write that words are, in the sense of both material signifier and metaphysical symbol, an extension of my Self. So when I stumbled fortuitously on this languishing space (originally and for nine years on Blogger), it was like re-encountering—alas, the corpse of my old persona preserved, embalmed in a series of unfamiliar markings on screen. But it didn’t take very long for nostalgia to reanimate the dead, if in nowhere else but memory. As my gaze fixed on and traversed the metonymic rails, line after line, a flood of flurried images, half-moving, coursed through the cinematic screen in my mind—of moments that I described, and more vividly, the euphoric rush of sentiments. I felt like a reunion. That romantic turn of phrase, that lingering em-dash, that self-aware yet indulgently theatrical tragic touch—undeniably fragments of past lives performed, recovered.
Yet that familiarity, at first a welcome gush of velvet warmth, very soon lost its hospitable texture. In the sympathy there was a sharp awareness of the painful distinctiveness between the subject apprehending the object and the object itself. Familiarity, or similarity, is not identity. The exhilaration left me very quickly. I suddenly became acutely conscious of the strangeness in my present—the radical difference between my current consciousness and this historic subjectivity. Then all nostalgia took on a phantasmal quality, like ghosts—haunting; the (im)material of loss. There was a jeering vacuity.
With the momentary receding of the school year—as the tide draws away to reveal some ancient footpath, but only for a time before it is drowned again—I have been forced to confront the tragedy in the feeling that I have done nothing for myself over the past two years. In the absence of the flight and frenzy that besieged the academic term, the shore is laid bare—naked and questioning. Professionally in every way, I have outdone myself and rejoiced for it. But there resides a reef (dead or inanimate, I’m not sure) beneath the veneer of coursing, vigorous blue; as though one day the tide brought in an imperceptible toxin that blew out the life from those deep corals.
Sure, I have consistently worked twelve-hour days from dawn and leaving only at dusk to return home; but only to continue the labour inwardly—lesson ideas, task-tracking, self-doubt. Dinner was a running checklist; did I forget to collect some administrative paraphernalia from the students? Do I have time to finish this scene of Romeo and Juliet tomorrow with only an hour to spare? How can I appear to be a more credible resource to my students given my age? Am I doing enough—can I ever do enough? The overcompensation for a wanton insecurity was immense, if not catastrophic. And weekends were sold in Faustian transactions at an empty Starbucks—wrestling with an unending slew of marking and lesson planning—trading time for the myth of absolute assurance.
And the worst was that there was nowhere to give voice to these spinning gears—spinning, at times, almost past control. It was the mute running of an analogue timepiece—silent and measured in its advance, but beneath those striding feet, everywhere a clattering of microcosmic sounds heard only by the watchmaker. But there was no stopping; Time’s only way is forward.
Now fast-forward; two years and a thousand unsaid but unforgotten thoughts have almost gone by. I sit here at the turn of the year resolving to write away this inward alterity—a Sisyphean but necessary working through. The difference runs deep, like a fault line born of a some seismic turmoil. Given the nature of my profession, I know I risk—even with painstaking precaution—the intrusion of some ingenious eye with a knack for finding a needle in a haystack; I have learnt not to underestimate the shrewdness and persistence of the adolescent digital native. But I can no longer remain silent. I must resume my quest for meaning, without which I am non-sense.
This search for self-knowledge, while always to me an intuitive pursuit, has only gotten more fraught and frantic as I grow up trying to find a place in the world—before I am shuffled off the edge of a delusional eternity. No, it is not a pragmatic or functional place; not even an existential one. If the world is plainly a phenomenological construct of the mind (as empiricists believe), then the crisis is a profoundly psychological one.
And even now, as I begin writing again, I find myself still trying to write out—against the unspeakability of thought—the signs of my own mind, like one roving thread into a bundled fiction of the Self.