Disruption of the Arrangement of Life

I just finished reading Every Day by David Levithan (3 out of 5 stars, wouldn’t really recommend unless you’re in for a casual, mindless read) and one of the quotes was “There are many things that can keep you in a relationship,” I say. “Fear of being alone. Fear of disrupting the arrangement of your life. A decision to settle for something that’s okay, because you don’t know if you can get any better. Or maybe there’s the irrational belief that it will get better, even if you know he won’t change.”

The context of the quote is irrelevant to what I’m about to write concerning exactly what the title suggests, of the disruption of the arrangement of my life.

I don’t know where this adamant belief came from, nature or nurture I really cannot be sure, but I know for a fact that even since young, I believed the existence of a fixed blueprint for each of our lives. And mine was aligned with my ideas of perfection: good grades all throughout my academic pursuits, a professional job with stable income, setting up a family…it seems like a stereotypical path to take but it didn’t seem that way to me then. 10-year-old me believed that everyone’s goals were ultimately the same as mine, the only difference is that some manage to achieve it while others fail. So I was determined as hell to get it right for myself. I didn’t see the end goal as a solid prospect, but rather the entire process as a straight line that never diverges, not a single speck of dust out of line. I guess I was indoctrinated to hold onto these ideals.

I know better about fixed blueprints and paths now, but it still didn’t lessen the strict straight linear path I’d set for myself; it stuck with me until now. That’s why any rule-breaking gives me huge bouts of anxieties. Any out-of-line, unpredictable and spontaneous activity literally makes me break into cold sweat. It didn’t even have to be remotely dangerous or threatening, but if it’s something out of my preliminary agenda, my “fixed blueprint” that I don’t see coming, it terrifies me. I think there is a dab of perfectionism associated with this in the sense that I was afraid that these “outliers” might tarnish the ideal route I’d set for myself to reach my “Ultimate Goal in Life”, capital-U, capital-G, non-capital I because of capitalization rules, and capital-L.

That’s why I’ve always played it safe. Safe choices, safe ideas, safe actions. Nothing too drastic that I won’t be able to change in the near future. Not doing things based on desire and hunches because “it’s not right”. Not in the Agenda. That’s why doing little “rebellious” things like waking up at 3AM to watch the Olympics (when I should be sleeping in preparation for school the next day) and taking a short drive alone in the neighbourhood (when I should be heading home straight away) feels so exhilarating. To anyone else, it might not even bat an eyelid but to me it felt like I was going against currents, for once. It’s weird to talk about this, something I’ve kept to myself all this while, conversations and arguments I have with myself whenever I face conflicts regarding actions to take for or against this “blueprint” and/or going against what I had really wanted to do at the moment. I guess this isn’t entirely a bad thing, and in fact might be applauded by many for being cautious and self-preservative…but there’s also the dissent within myself of not being able to do the things I want just because they are not “conventional”, because they might “disrupt the orderly arrangements” of my life. Like solid to liquid. Packed, orderly arranged particles gaining energy and losing their fixed patterns, dissolving into fluids that resemble nothing, well, solid.

No one ever really said it to my face (except for Teacher Noni that one time in front of the whole class and I was taken aback- so that’s what people thought of me) but I knew I was generally labelled as a pretty uptight person. I like to think I’ve changed significantly during my current course of life, namely after entering college. I learned to love and appreciate spontaneity and adventure, but that didn’t mean I stopped being afraid of it, just that I refused to allow myself to linger on the thought too much. It still scares me if I allow myself to think about it, and subsequently the thought expands into worry bubbles and if it proliferates long enough, emerges as anxiety.

But I crave it. Once getting past the hurdle of fear, it was the best feeling in the world. Booking a flight to UK was pretty much an on-a-whim thing I did; I wouldn’t have done it if I continued mulling it over for days. (It’s too dangerous. I don’t actually have to do this. I’m going to go to UK when I go to university anyway. I haven’t been on a flight in three years. The weather’s too cold, I might get really sick. I’m still coming to terms with being nervous a lot of the time, especially on flights. My parents aren’t going with me, what’s the point? It’s just UK! I should be spending more time at home since I’m going to college soon!) On the day of the flight itself, I was suddenly struck by the horror of what I’d done – why in the fresh hell did I decide to fly to a foreign country 13 hours away without my parents for a month? And everything within me started screaming, “TURN BACK! TURN BACK!” but it was too late. I was already on the plane. I had no choice but to accept this whimsical decision of mine. And honestly, it was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life.

After having lived 19 years of life, I should be able to banish the “blueprint” from my mind. And I am trying, bit by bit. The question is, do I want to? Should I? On one hand, it could be a good thing in the sense that I have a direction and purpose in life; on the other…is it really the direction and purpose in life that I really want?

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Michelle Teoh

26-year-old cynical Asian, book enthusiast and purveyor of fine sarcasm.

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