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to love the pavement, the trail, the hill up or down in front of you, is more than enough

Profile picture of Samson ZhangSamson Zhang
Oct 2, 2021Last updated Feb 17, 20224 min read

At some point at the party I realize I'm not enjoying myself. I get my laptop and sit in the corner next to Arsh. I read a little bit about Firestore.

Sunny is drunk. Arsh is drunk and trying deviously to get away and drink more. They aren't even aware of their own drunkness or behavior. Allen's drunk. David is asleep. Others -- Katherine, Vivien, Hanah -- hang around. Are they enjoying themselves? Enjoying tugging the strings of consciousness and responsibility until they start to unravel, until just before they break?

The polaroids we take are cute. It's nice to be around people. Without getting into what's meaningful and what's not, though, the simple fact is that I don't feel good. Sunny tells me she knows I'm sad deep down. Arsh says he doesn't have life in him in Spanish, that he wants to die. After leaving to a round of goodbyes, I lie on my bed and feel melancholy painfully grip me -- a familiar but ever-unidentifiable feeling. I wonder what structures are at play. I wonder if I'm neurodivergent. I wonder if I'm living in a white world that will permanently put me on edge. I wonder if anyone really benefits from capitalism.

But I rebuke myself when I come to the thought that life is hard. "I'm grateful and humble," I repeat to myself as an affirmation, but I also act as such: I breathe in and am grateful that I can do so. I sit up and am grateful that I think clearly and energetically. I look at the room around me and am grateful that I have everything I've ever wanted in so many ways.

Yet gratitude feels like a denial of reality. It's throwing empty truisms at the undeniable fullness of the truth. I should read more philosophy, I think: existentialism, Stoicism, Marxism. I don't have the worldviews of my parents to support me like some others seem to. It seems absurd and unfair that I need to spend hours deciphering assigned readings just to get a semblance of understanding about my existence and the conditions underwhich I live life and pursue happiness. I get to make this intellectual grind more than I have to, for sure. But it doesn't seem unreasonable to find cruelty in this nevertheless.

There are things I enjoy: making software. Making music. Physical intimacy. Maybe life is as simple as just pursuing these. I can't conceptualize a happy life outside of this "hedonistic treadmill", as some might accuse it to be: larger purposes seem like only transitional forces, and overindexing them crushes the joy that does exist in life. Running on a treadmill could prepare you for a marathon, but there's no reason to overglamorize the marathon and dismiss all else: all should be driven by a love for running in the first place.

Next week is midterm week. Next month is the second month after my gap year. I'm looking forward to the future, suddenly: I'm looking forward to life. It's like I've forgotten everything that just burdened me, but in a way unlike the gratitude practices from before. I'm not looking at the room around me, I'm looking only at the road ahead, engrossed in the steps my feet will take to propel me over it. It feels narrow-minded, but a marathon can only be run a mile, quarter mile, or stride length at a time. To love the pavement, the trail, the hill up or down in front of you, is more than enough.

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