I turn 21 today. The funny thing is that I don’t feel like doing anything. Eating, drinking, planning anything special, none of that. I wonder if it’s because old age has finally crept into my soul. Last year, when people called me old for entering the third decade of my life, I was still joking “what are you talking about? I'm still three, and I’ll always be three!” Now I'm not in the joking mood anymore. I don’t even feel like having moods or expressions or emotions.
When did the jadedness start? On my most recent plane trip, I slept through the whole thing. I did not consume media at all —- that used to be my favorite part of flying, the opportunity to watch everything guilt-free. Now I’m just tired. I don’t have the same love for supermarkets as I had before. “I like to stand in front of the diary fridge at Whole Foods. It’s an electrifying experience. You stand at a point where a decision can lead to any adventure, any flavor of life.” I once wrote — so much was ahead of me then, so much excited me then.
My mom tells me how she misses the boy that decorated the house for every occasion and drew cards for every holiday. In elementary school, I loved Christmas decorations, the bells and the shiny golden figures. I loved all the crafty things — origami, paper models of Hagia Sophia and the Pantheon. I don’t know what to tell her. I don’t know where that boy went. I miss him too.
21 is still young, but how did my outlook in life become so gloomy and stoic? I am so scared, of how this might end: in an age where many passions have gone, or are uncertain and shielded, what ought I live for? It really is tragic, when one day you feel like you are finally ready to free the grand romantic in you, but the romantic in you is gone after many years of wear and tear, struggling and crawling in the dire reality.
In high school, when I saw the portrayals of teen-age in the media, I used to think “hmm, why isn’t my life like that?” When will my life begin? At the time, I was convinced that every day is one step closer to something. I was convinced that when you get somewhere, you will look back and be amazed at how far you have come, gritting your teeth. At my graduation in 2019, I proclaimed that it's a fight to live an interesting life but it’s a fight worth fighting for, that when we get to where we are going, the stories we tell will be worth telling and retelling and listening to. Maybe I was too young then. Maybe my life will never begin. Maybe it has begun and ended. (Ok this is probably too dramatic, I don't think it has ended, it’s just toiling).
I’m debating whether this is for the best. Growing up is a process of simplifying. Weeding out the things that weren't meant to be. Who knows, perhaps I wasn’t meant to be a romantic. Perhaps I wasn’t meant to be a craftsman. It was easy for me to dismiss the fragrance Blanche when I first smelled it in BYREDO Wooster. I thought it dull, common, like a Dove bar soap in the Yale bathroom at 7 p.m. But I started liking its simplicity and immediacy. It evokes an image of clean laundry that is effective albeit singular. Lingering but containing vigor as well. 色禁重香禁重 (refrain from strong desires and strong scents), the Yellow Thearch once said. It is no bad thing to celebrate a simple life, J.R.R Tolkien once said.
The simpler is not necessarily worse. Growing implies leaving things behind. Leaving things behind can trigger nostalgia, but one should know that the process of living and growing is always progressing, not regressing. In the end, I suppose you can celebrate whenever for anything — it doesn’t have to be for this particular birthday, or even a birthday. I suppose no part of you or your interests is ever really lost. They’re just lying beneath the proverbial iceberg, making way for something new, waiting to perhaps resurface. For one, I didn’t know I would start playing Genshin Impact back when I was making paper models, right?
So while I’m waiting patiently for the romantic in me to reawaken, I’ll approach every day as just a day. Find excitement on the way. Do whatever makes me happy. Not be so grand. Not expect too much because the common and the ordinary is the reality. Because beauty is achieving something magnificent while not intending to do so at all.