I’ve been having vivid dreams every night. I would say 2-3 of them, and I always remember the last 2 upon awakening. It’s often the last dream that jolts me awake, leaving me feeling restless yet unable to go back to sleep peacefully.

It wasn’t until I started vlogging daily that I realized how persistent my sleep problems were. They’re debilitating. They partially have to do with my inability to maintain a consistent sleep-wake schedule, and partially because I’m an overthinking wreck.

Many a time I’ve thought about drinking coffee, which would treat the foggy morning hours in the morning—at the expense of a normal bedtime. I do not wish for my sleep schedule to become regulated by a substance either. This leaves me with treating the real issues that are keeping my mind awake even during those supposed REM hours.

This move was harder than I could have imagined. I think we all romanticize the idea of moving, as if the act of doing a 360 of your physical surroundings will bless you with a new start.

As minimal as I have become with my stuff, it was a headache wrapping my mind around all the things I had to pack. It made me really uncomfortable seeing that I needed packing boxes in addition to the suitcase, carry-on and other small bags/boxes that I already had. This is after I had already given away a few of my things, namely my futon.

I forgot how attuned to my environment I am. Once I arrived at the apartment, I spent about 24 hours moving in, a good part of that bleaching, moping and wiping the years of evidence from previous tenants. Putting my stuff in was a small chore in comparison. 

My mind was wholly consumed by this move until I felt like it was my home. My mood was erratic, frustrated at the landlord’s lack of responsiveness to the myriads of issues that arose in the days leading up to my move. Mind you, I didn’t move to a pristine apartment. I ate and drank only when I could no longer ignore the hunger pangs and my dried up throat. I refused to shower until I was physically exhausted.

I still see the markings on the wall, the imprints left from my uneven mopping on the marble floor, and the dusty surfaces reflected by the sunlight. These are the signs that I haven’t adjusted yet, because when I do, these common small problems become part of the backdrop of my regular environment. That’s why we react strongly to people’s idiosyncratic places, but are entirely oblivious to our own. 

My space is bigger. The white round table I got at my old place now pales in comparison to the dinner table. The apartment is one floor, yet the distance from my room to the bathroom takes more steps. The lighting in the bathroom makes me feel good when I look at myself in the mirror. The windows are soundproof, letting in only the constant hum of the traffic and the garbage trucks announcing their arrival with a mechanical A Maiden’s Prayer.

I’ve slept three nights here, and I’m back to my regular, moody, nightmare-infested self again. It still feels eerie to have a kitchen and a bigger everything: bigger bed, bathroom, floors, sofa. The many windows lighting the apartment make me feel more exposed, no longer in a cocoon looking out the one and only window facing a quiet street.

I don’t miss my old home at all, which I had worried about. I guess this means I’m adjusting well.

Of course, now I have a very important mission to accomplish. And it’s surely going to make the apartment feel less empty with the litter, toys, bed, food, and scratching pad lying around.

I was raised to believe that outside was a dangerous world, especially as a female. Both my parents are very skeptical, sometimes cynical, people. They tend to assume the worst in every situation, so predictably that I often leave a conversation wondering why I asked for their opinion already knowing what they would say.

But I’m not the best at reading people’s characters. I can easily believe anything a stranger says, only to question my judgment hours later when I’m by myself. It’s safe to say that I’m not good at forming my own thoughts under social pressure.

Perhaps it’s simply because I like to fit in. I modify my attire and behavior based on the community around me. I don’t like to stand out, at least not externally. I find my thoughts molded by those around me, only to reconvene with myself when no one’s watching.

I now understand that this behavior was a way for me to adapt to my changing environment, to fit in, and to keep what I liked. Adaptation is key to survival, after all.

For most of my life, I believed my parents held the word of god. I grew up thinking that they spoke Our truth. Not necessarily The truth, but Our truth. I have always resorted to my parents for the final say in every major decision I’ve made; to move forward without their consent felt like I was jinxing my own future.

When I graduated college, I realized that my thoughts could differ from that of my parents, and that it was okay. It’s an obvious statement, but one I was blinded from for most of my life. For anything that was unfamiliar, my parents were my source of truth.

For the first time since last year, I have been living outside the confines of home and school. Though I have been working full-time, I have a lot of time that I didn’t have before. This time has become precious in allowing me to sit with and formulate my own thoughts.

My goal is to continue developing my identity, all the while knowing that my current beliefs may very well change with time. I tend to feel conflicted when my beliefs and actions don’t concur. I can accept differing opinions, but I have yet to be able to empathize with those who hold them. The remedy is to broaden my field of acceptance, thereby minimizing any dissonance I might feel towards differing views.

When I was four, I often dreamed about death. In it, I would witness someone close to me getting shot, and I would wake up crying and begging my dad to not leave me. 

On a daily basis, I would feel a sense of dread when the night came upon us, as if the end was near. When we went to the movies, I felt deeply every word of “the beginning of the end”. My surroundings would darken, the screen would brighten, and the sounds would boom, but I knew that two hours later we would walk out into the darkness of the night.

I was hyper aware of the oddity of my existence and how the world that I knew would cease to exist the moment I died. I was aware of all of this before I knew how to put it into words. I didn’t understand why I existed in this world, in this moment in time, in this body, in this state of being.

I guess I just wasn’t used to being alive yet.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve never fully shrugged away the hyper awareness of my existence. It becomes more pronounced when I find myself misplaced in a social setting. Why am I here? Why am I alive, in this body, in this moment in time? Yet at this age my mind is calmer, as if tamed by the experiences of aging.

I think back to when I was younger and I remember a mind that lived in fantasy land. Worlds I created with my imagination, because the real world was still foreign to me. My mind entered dimensions that are now inaccessible to me. I did not know I was stepping into them when I did, but that was the magic of being four and not knowing a whole lot about the world.

The older I get, the more defined by my past I become. I fear that this will only exacerbate as time goes on, leading my preconceived fears to determine my next step. So I must forget. With conscious effort, I must forget all that is confining me to who I believe I am, so I can be free to become who I want. 

Perhaps my desire to live a slow nomadic life is a wish to regain my chance to live unfettered by my past. The constant need to reinvent myself, as if my life depended on it, is a struggle to regain the innocent self I once was. I do not know what resolutionI intend to achieve with this pursuit, only that my identity insofar as I know, depends on it.

I feel like I’ve never been passionate enough about anything. I love exploring, learning, and writing… but to say that I can write extensively every day is but a dream I don’t have.

In college, I studied interdisciplinary fields, applicable to whatever career I chose to do. I didn’t study anything technical because I was neither skilled enough nor ready to commit to a narrowed path.

In these moments of doubt, I like to come back to Goodwill Hunting. The film is, essentially, about choosing your path of passion. The math professor devotes his life to advancing the field of math. The therapist devoted his early life to his wife. The friends are devoted to one another, well aware of their limited fortune in this world.

Then we have Will, who seems to have both the intellectual and romantic idealisms at the tip of his finger. He’s burdened by a past he can’t change, but with the help of the characters above, he breaks free from his past.

I grew up believing that I can have everything I set myself to achieve. A career and a family, my own yin and yang. But I failed to account that these achievements mean nothing to me without that fiery, intense emotion I deem passion.

My job and my hobbies are parts of my passion, but never the whole. I like to dabble here and there, commit to one or two things for a while—then start fresh when the circumstances change. 

I can’t shake the feeling that a life without passion is a life wasted. The best I can do is hover near the top, but never actually reach the peak. Where is this nagging feeling coming from? Why can’t I, like Will’s friends, recognize my limitations and live life as it was granted to me?

Maybe I have commitment issues. Maybe, like Will (without his prodigy), I am hindered by a past I have suppressed. Or maybe my passion hasn’t yet been awakened. Murakami didn’t start writing until he was 29. Or, just maybe, my passion is laying dormant in this life, and my fate is not to reach the top of the mountain.

I recently watched Pink Skies Ahead, a film starring a 20-year old girl who just dropped out of college and moved back home with her parents. Set in 1998 Los Angeles, I would have been just a toddler. Computers existed in offices, laptops and smartphones were nonexistent, and life beyond your hometown was exciting beyond your dreams.

It’s crazy to think that one generation was all it took for life to change. Had I been born 10, 20 years earlier, my life would be on a different trajectory. My current job wouldn’t even exist until years after I graduated. Heck, would I even have studied the same majors, pursued the same career? Was my destiny largely defined by my birth date?

If you look at it from this perspective, the most secure jobs are those that have been around for a long time—and are not disappearing any time soon. Like writing, for instance. No matter how the book industry involves or the mediums through which books are published, words will never perish.

I would love to say that I would have become a writer in an earlier time. But the truth is, the chances of me becoming a prodigious writer in any alternate life are next to zero. A housewife aspiring to be an author, perhaps. An office worker scrambling to write in the wee hours of the morning, likely. 

I think of my past, alternate self with a fond, bittersweet warmth in my chest. Perhaps because it rings close to home, through the eyes of my parents and my grandparents. It was their reality growing up, and I can’t help but wonder if it had been mine.

When I think of my future, alternate self, my heart speeds up. The world changing at an unpredictable and exponential rate does little to assuage my fears. It’s easier to retrace a past that has survived the turbulence of time. I just hope I don’t project these concerns onto my kids, who will live to see through this reality.

Maybe this is a symptom of getting older, becoming more tied to this earth through the vividness of the past.

I remember hearing about Freewrite, a distraction-free writing tool. It looks like a 2000s gameboy with a screen that doesn’t look like a screen, a vintage-looking modern spin-off of a typewriter. The latest model came out this year, I believe. They come at $500-$600 apiece.

Writing on my laptop is easy. Typing is fast, vocabulary definitions appear as soon as I need them, and distraction is one click away. I didn’t realize just how much clicking away I was doing until I blocked all but my writing sites during my session. The number of times I was tempted to google the thing I was talking about (re: Freewrite) is insane. The amount of times I let myself sneakily google that thing with the incognito window is embarrassing. My attention span is fickle at best.

We have created tools that are so good at everything that it’s harming us. We now have tools to counter those harmful effects that we created, whether it’s as drastic as Freewrite or as simple as a Chrome extension to block websites. We are innovating solutions based on problems that we created for ourselves. We’re in a rat race against ourselves.

But hey, innovation—right?

When you stop multitasking, you realize how much stimulation your brain craves. How fidgety you are because your fingers aren’t swiping. How hard it is to just sit there and stare blankly at the wall, because gosh, when was the last time you had time to do that?

I can accept that you recognize the flaw in our inventions yet refuse to do anything about it. Most don’t. But I can’t accept the denial that modern age multitasking is more detrimental than good. These devices have been masked as an all-in-one tool to both increase our efficiency and completely consume our minds.

But as much as I love to glorify the times before devices were a household good, I know that the solution is not to backtrack our steps. Innovation is inevitable, and our lives are fundamentally better because of it.

My day job involves working at a screen, neck strained, for hours a day. My hobbies are now moving digital, always involving a digital device of some sort. I love my life. But however amazing the experiences are on-screen, I want my devices to remain as they are: tools to help me achieve my goals. 

My grandparents don’t use technology. My parents don’t have social media. I used to think they were missing out; now, I wonder who was the fool.

When was the last time you did nothing? Not working, not talking to someone, and definitely not staring at a screen. Just noticing the scene around you, observing. Being.

Whenever I catch myself in these states of nothingness, I can feel my internal monologue building up to a mental breakdown:

What do I do next? Do I need to keep working, or can I take a nap? My eyes hurt. I need to stop looking at the screen so much. But what else am I supposed to do? It’s too hot out. I shouldn’t go out. I’m tired. I want a nap. My heart is palpitating again. Why do I keep having irregular heart beats? Why is my life so boring? I want a kitchen. I need to learn how to cook. I need to move more. But I’m so tired. Why am I so tired? I want to watch a movie. No, I should read a book. I spent too much time on YouTube today. I shouldn’t take a nap. I will go to bed early and wake up at 6am tomorrow. Why do I feel like I’m the center of universe, and once I die, everything else also dies? Why am I so hyperaware of my existence? I’m scared. Did I eat too much today? I need to throw out the trash. Am I hoarding too much? I should throw out all the empty boxes that I don’t need. I don’t have enough summer clothes, but my closet feels too cluttered already. Why do I still feel my chest beating? I’m hungry.

Do you know how tiring it is to have this incessant monologue buzzing in your head? I’m sure you do. It’s exhausting. It’s even more annoying when you finally lay on your pillow at night and the more emotionally painful thoughts hit you. They are worst when you let your guard down.

I think this is where meditation steps in. I keep embracing and kicking it away, back and forth. It was easy during the cooler months of the year, when I would take long walks outside. Sometimes multiple times a day. It’s easy to take meditative walks, but it sure is hard as fuck to meditate in the same space that you sleep and work in all day.

Anxiety is a side effect of an overstimulated mind. Learning to do nothing is essential in order to find peace of mind.

It’s not that being busy is bad. It’s the fact that you feel like you need to fill your void with busyness, that is bad. If you were told that nothing matters in life, would you still be this busy?

Because, honey—nothing matters in life. Whether you act upon your anxieties or not, it doesn’t matter. It won’t affect the course of the universe, and it surely won’t affect you a whole lot. Life doesn’t make you anxious, your thoughts do.

Intermittent periods of idleness nurture your creativity. Don’t be busy all the time.

We have an endless supply of creativity in us, but it will run short if we occupy its space with clutter. Creativity thrives in boredom—that’s why we tend to get our best ideas in the shower.

I believe that creative work is only going to become more indispensable. It’s the one thing that we can’t produce en-masse. All jobs can be replaceable except those that originate from the mind and the mind itself. Maybe it’s a naïve assumption, but it doesn’t change the fact that creativity is how I make sense of the world.

If mental well-being is not important enough to make you consider slowing then, then perhaps you would do it for the sake of creativity. If not for yourself, then for your work.

Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021.

Adam Grant, in The New York Times

If left untreated, languishing can be a predictor for depression. It’s a helpful term that can help us diagnose that in-between feeling, where you’re not depressed, but not happy either.

The remedy to languishing? Enter a state of flow. Become so focused on the task at hand that other things become secondary. The unpleasant things about life disappear, because it no longer matters. You are challenged, but in control. You could be working against a tight deadline, embarking on a passion project, or simply watching Parasite.

I personally experience passive states of flow whenever I’m immersed into a soul-sucking novel. My mind is completely immersed, my body limp on the couch. For those hours, nothing in the world matters. I gorge down a fast meal when I remember to do so, my lips are dry from lack of hydration, and the sky turns dark before I can look at the clock.

It’s easy to enter a state of flow when doing something a hobby that you know you enjoy. I try to steer away from potentially harmful activities like video games, as I never feel good about the hours spent in front of the screen. I also try not to start any binge-worthy shows (though I don’t always succeed), as they can prevent me from focusing on any task other than finishing all the episodes of all the seasons.

I find active states of flow much harder to accomplish, as it requires the removal of any distractions. Namely, the other tabs on my screen, my phone, and my stomach. I often think about how much easier it must have been 10 or 20 years ago, when screens were still a luxury and jobs weren’t dominated by the tech industry. But it’s futile to compare. Innovation rarely comes with its downsides.

To induce a regular state of flow, I set aside my mornings to completely free myself of any external demands. I block all sites but the ones that I write on. The anxiety about having emails and Slack messages to check at the start of my work day never leaves the back of my mind—but until then, the world can consider me asleep. I revert back to analog activities: eat breakfast, journal, stare at the clouds, and do what I need to do to sit down and write each morning. I pretend my laptop is typewriter.

Ultimately, I think flow is about pushing your mind to do its best work. Active flow states leave us more energized than passive ones, and for good reason. We feel best when we are challenged, focused, and creative. You don’t need to do important work; you just need to do what is meaningful to you. What matters to you? What makes you want to jump out of bed, even with few hours of sleep? What keeps you going when all sense of hope is gone?

I have been reading a lot this year, and I’ve made some strides in how I approach this pastime.

I primarily read purely for the enjoyment of it. A good book can pull me right into a state of flow, where my mind inhabits the narrative for the days that the words live in my mind. It’s an exhilarating feeling, one that I have to time carefully. Once I enter this state of flow, few things matter more than getting to the last page.

I’ve been sticking to mainly 2 genres this year: fiction and autiobiography. Both introduce me to the life of an individual from a parallel reality across every imaginable timeline. I love seeing the world from their eyes, experiencing life vicariously through them. The autobiographies offer a source of inspiration for me, but the fiction novels are the ones that make me fall in love with life. As different as the characters may be, they all seem to be pieces of the same puzzle.

I had a stint of reading self-help books for the few years where I felt completely lost within myself. But after a couple of them, you’ll learn that you’re reading the same thing. So now I only pick up those that delve into a very narrow field of study, and often not intended a self-help. I’m trying out more philosophy books. The purely philosophical, textbook-y ones are hard to digest, but I oftentimes come across those masked as sci-fi (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) or literature (Atlas Shrugged), and I don’t end up disappointed. It’s not about agreeing with any outlook on life, it’s about opening yourself up to them.

I’m also looking forward to rereading some books. Whenever I read a book a second time, I’m always surprised by the details that I either missed or forgot from the first read. It’s like watching your favorite childhood film, years later. Watching Grave of the Fireflies at 7 left a somber aftertaste in my mind, and rewatching it at 22 left me sobbing for the same reasons that I finally understood. It’s those details that you brushed off the first time, that strike a chord when you pay attention to them next time.

In order to enjoy the reading process as much as possible, I will easily stop reading a book that does not pique my interest in the first few pages. It can have rave reviews and be hailed as a 21st century classic, but if I can’t insert myself into the narrative, it’s off my bookshelf. There’s not enough time to read all the books in the world, much less the books that I will not enjoy. If I only read the books that others deem to be great, then I might as well be illiterate. I choose the books. I choose your worlds. Never the other way round.

Another realization that I’ve had in the past year is that I don’t really like audiobooks. Admittedly, I have gotten through some amazing stories with it, including Stoner and Conversations with Friends, but I prefer listening to music and podcasts when I commute. I don’t like being cut off when I’m about to get off the subway. I don’t like not being able to reread passages at my own pace, and I hate not being able to look at the words that I want to ingrain in my mind. I also have to say that audiobooks are a lazy person’s way to “read.” You may be able to listen to an audiobook at 2x the speed in half the time it takes me to read it, but honey—you didn’t read the book. You listened to it. If you can’t make time to read and only read, then you’re too busy doing nothing.

I’ve always loved reading. I learned English from reading The Babysitters Club and Sweet Valley High series hiding in my school bathroom and every day after school. I lived in these worlds for a long time, before school consumed my life. Then I reclaimed my love for books when I once again found myself lost after graduating high school. I started off reading the books I thought I had to read, but the child in me knew what she was doing when she picked up books for the sake of living in an alternate world. To fall in love with the infinite possibilities that life could play out, with the endless lives I have yet to live, with life itself.