Let me tell you a secret.
I think I’m one of the most sappy, sentimental, and nostalgic people I know.
It won’t shock me if this comes as a surprise to any of you who know me, since on the outside I may have the unapproachable exterior of a porcupine and the disinterested aloofness of a rock. Hmm, yeah, it doesn’t look like I care all that much about… anything. Hahaha.
Sorry bout that.
However, I admit that this disinterestedness may be true to an extent, since I do — purposefully and naturally — somewhat detach from my surroundings.
But when it comes to something that I do get attached to — boy do I get attached.
I’ve noticed this since I was little, actually, when in 3rd grade and 4th grade many of my school writing projects revolved around past experiences, especially travels. Browsing through old photos has also been a hobby of mine ever since I can remember. Even now, I can spend a good few hours just going through the old hard drive and reminiscing about the good old days.
This attachedness has also fed into my relationships with close friends.
For example, I need closure in my goodbyes.
They have to be proper, theatric, complete. They have to truly be a moment.
A good example off the top of my head is my several goodbyes with Arsyad, my highschool friend currently in Singapore, who has got plenty of screen time in my writings already so y’all regulars should be familiar with him.
One example: the time Arsyad first left for Singapore. When it was unclear whether or not this would be our last encounter for an unforeseen time, I orchestrated this whole chase to Jakarta and edited this whole goodbye video with a bunch of friends. So our casual goodbye at the MRT Station during the last day of my Singapore visit felt kind of improper and — off. Just because it wasn’t some sort of grand crescendo ending to a chapter.
Now that I think about it, since middle school I’ve made some similar efforts for many goodbyes in many forms: all of them over-the-top. Because, hey, who doesn’t enjoy a good epilogue?
And goodbyes are only one example out of countless others I can think of off the top of my head when it comes to my attachedness with things. I’m obsessed with nostalgia, am continuously the most active alumni in old groupchats, am often the initiator of dear-old-friend hangouts, enjoy making awfully-effort-intensive personalized gifts, and secretly like cliche romance stories.
Kind of weird for Rakean mister-stoic-guy Al Barra, but yeah now the fact is out. I’m a closeted sappy sentimentalist.
And, more importantly, now I think I understand why.
Transience and Place-Hopping
It is now the longest time in my life in which I have resided in the same place: 8 years (minus the semester abroad).
Beforehand, my family and I hopped from place to place in the nomadic lifestyle that being in academia entailed. The relatively stable childhood that my sister has now is one that I never had the luxury of.
I’ve always thought that I was somewhat used to this: arriving, getting comfortable, living, adjourning — rinse and repeat. I met new friends and forever left old ones over and over again. I was familiar with memories being created from places and objects, only for them to become unreachable.
But maybe Freud was right about all that unfinished-childhood-issue-psychology. The biggest transitions in my life happened in my developing years — from Massachussets to Kentucky, from one elementary school to another, from the US to Indonesia, and on and on — and these have collectively grown into a definite part of my psych.
Grown — but as a flower or a wound?
I think I haven’t truly moven on from any of the places or people of my past. Heck, one of the main motivations for me to do a semester abroad in America was to visit the places I grew up in. And time after time, I found myself wondering whether it was really all that important. Was I just wasting time being stuck in a past I could no longer revisit?
Though I was in the same place, the past that had passed felt so distanced. All the simple childhood feelings I thought I had frozen turned out to have melted long ago — without my knowledge. “The long ago” which I had hoped to grasp once more was actually left behind— since long ago.
This reflection — amidst my swinging legs — brought upon a question, “How important are feelings from the past, really?”
What struck me was that people my age often didn’t share the same sappiness hahaha. For instance, my meets and goodbyes with some of my American elementary school friends had this casualness I wasn’t quite on board with.
This might be the last time I see you forever, and for you it’s just… another encounter?
And it was then I realized that I shared much more sentimentality with older people. All those parents’ friends and friends’ parents and elementary school teachers seemed much more on the same frequency with me in regarding our encounters (and goodbyes) as something special.
I’ve theorized that perhaps through all the moving around I’ve been doing in life, my soul has aged to the degree that I somehow have a past worth getting stuck in over and over again. So mentally, I’m pretty much that uncle who takes you on a fishing trip and tells you his life story all day long.
Living a Narrative
I used to play piano when I was a kid. I took lessons for about eight years. When I first started off, my mom couldn’t pay for the classes so she made a deal with the school. She cleaned up the building when I took lessons, and I remember looking out from the piano and I’d see her in the hallway sweeping the floors.
And I still think back to that every now and then, because I appreciate what she did. And now whenever I see a woman cleaning the hallways on campus I always tell myself that that’s somebody’s mother, so I gave her my respect.
I think back to these memories a lot: playing piano, playing baseball. And as small as they are, I’ve realized that they add up. That’s why I want to play catch with my kids. Because when I’m an old man, I want to be worth remembering.
- Quantum Boy
The above quote is an excerpt from a video by Quantum Boy, an academic vlogger whose simple narrated videos I’ve come to enjoy very very much. Do you see how poetic it is? Don’t you see the symbolism in recalling, respecting, and remaking these memories? The themes!!!
I read a lot of fiction as a child, so I’m quick to view life as a work of writing, much like the Quantum Boy narration above. And through that, there is this great incompatibility with myself and a blurry life of hustling (like I am doing now) because a week full of jumping between one thing to the next with no clear beginnings and endings or even meanings is not a poetic narrative at all. Living in a blur leaves me tired, empty, and unsatisfied. Living in a narrative with clear arcs, ups and downs, as well as story tropes and cliches is far more superior — albeit leaving me vulnerable to the melancholy and suffering that a good story must have.
For my own sanity, I need a good story. I need to end conversations with conclusive “see you”s. I need to clearly demarkate the chapters within my life. I need to experience the character-building arcs of solitude. I need to uncover the symbolic meaning strewn through my story’s paragraphs.
And as it is a story crafter by the Best of Planners, I can’t help but to reminisce upon my past in an effort to relive and feel and clutch desperately to memories because perhaps those are the only remnants of my past I can truly still own regardless of circumstance. And perhaps by doing so, I’ll learn a thing or two.
So for you who have become an ever-so-entangled part of this story, I hope it makes sense now why — despite the fact that I may not seem to care that much half the time— I’m still so stuck on those old chapters.
I can’t forget because I don’t want to.
Like I said: sappy.