Out of school.

People say they are out of work, out of a job, out of money.

I am now out of school.

How nice.

Sixteen years of formal education comes to an end.

How do I feel about finally being able to put an end to doing homework, trolling through research and mobilising those hand muscles to write non-stop for two hours at those mind-numbing exams?

I don’t feel particularly happy or sad.

I think the best description I can come up with for describing my current sentiment is that I feel at peace with being done with all of formal education. I am glad that I have learnt many, many, many things from those years of listening to both wise and unwise educators. I am glad that I have learnt many, many, many things from having those years of free time being a carefree student to read all the useful and useless crap that I did. I am also glad that I have learnt many, many, many things from those years of experiencing life as a student who has been lucky enough to have had several chances to participate in activities and projects that extended my education beyond textbook knowledge.

And very importantly, those years of schooling have taught me that the most important things in life cannot be learnt in school (also thanks to Murakami for that inspiring quote, who probably got it from somewhere else, someone older than we).

There is all the contention and debate out there about how the education system is placing too much emphasis on examination results and academic achievements, but the truth is parents are the ones who need to be educated rightly about how they should be educating their children. Not every child has the compatible personality and temperament to be able to adapt well and thrive in conventional school environments in order to excel in one-dimensional examinations, while having to juggle the demands of social life, peer pressure, family life and personal development.

It has been a long and difficult journey, the years of schooling that have pretty much taken up 70 percent of my lifetime. In moments when it felt like nothing but failure will ensue, different things saved me. Sometimes it was a sentence I read in a book, sometimes it was a sentence a friend said to me. Sometimes it was this one song, sometimes it was family. Sometimes it was that scene in that TV show, sometimes it was a movie. Sometimes it was a paragraph in a textbook, sometimes it was some stranger’s blog that I chanced upon.

Not every problem came from being in school, but every problem felt worse when one is stuck being in school. Yet, being in school is the one condition that can grant one freedom like no other stage in life, because of the concession and liberty protected on account of one being a minor.

We will never feel like this again, my friends. Cherish the memories while they are still fresh in your mind and note them down somewhere before you can never regain the level of remembrance as vivid as you are capable of now.

As the adage goes, out of sight, out of mind.

Out of school, out of time (to continue being a wilful, noncommittal and unaccountable young being).

It is now time to get to work.

Shut your phone, open your eyes.

The article of the week, right here, Beat Your iPhone Addiction by Dana Mark.

I am no mother of three, but I can relate to this. I am no wonderworker at unplugging myself from tech devices as well. In fact, I am guilty of being more plugged in than I wish for myself to be, especially since I ditched the clunky Android and got the sleek abomination that is the iPhone. It is an undeniable fact how this gadget of a smartphone has allowed me to be more efficient in keeping up with all the crazy reading that I do, without having to lug ten kilograms of paper around in my bag, and has also enabled me to read the news without having my fingers smell or smudged with those hideous black marks courtesy of the old school newspaper. I mean, compared to all those inconveniences, myopia and astigmatism are tiny pieces of cake, right?

I am no mother of three, but I don’t think most of us needs to become mothers in order to relate to this issue. There is no longer a need for people to throw rocks on trains and buses these days to hit someone whose eyes are glued to their phones. It has become incredibly safe to assume that all of them are, and that those who aren’t are either sleeping or have already drove their phone batteries flat.

I don’t think we need to be parents to agree that there is something wrong with the photos above. If you don’t think there is a problem, well, you have a much more serious problem than those who do.

The tips in the article were written with the context of you having a kid, but I think they apply to people who don’t have kids as well. Just take out the word “kids”. Let me try re-writing them and writing some more.

Some Tips to Beat your Smartphone Addiction

(Partly adapted from Dana Mark’s article)

1. Don’t use your phone as an alarm clock. Set your alarm using a real alarm clock. I hope you still remember what they are. Most of them are round, with a button on top, a clock face in front and equipped with the ability to raise the sleeping from their slumbers with a sound shrill. You will be surprised how much unproductive time you will save frolicking in bed if you aren’t swiping some touchscreen and don’t have to resist the urge to check for messages and browse through updates that have rolled on in through the night.

2. No phones for anyone on the way to school. For most of my readers who are quickly approaching the end of their tertiary education career, take the much needed time to relish in those moments of one’s commute to school. Commuting to work will never feel the same. Look out the windows when you’re on buses or trains. You know, those scenery, it really bums them out now that people are so attracted to their phones that they have been made to feel like they don’t matter. Or you could catch 5-10 minutes of quiet time with yourself. Think about your plans for the day (if you’re heading out) or some reflection of your day (if you’re going home). Don’t sleep. Sleeping on commutes throws your consciousness directly off the scale of calm. But if you have a liking for being lethargic and disorientated when you get jerked awake spontaneously by emergency brakes courtesy of buses and trains, feel free to go for it.

3. Don’t respond to a text in the middle of a conversation. I don’t hate people who do this. I have done it several times myself. Some of my friends do this. My sister does this. I don’t hate them (and myself). It just really doesn’t feel good to be the human in close physical distance and to have someone who is not, to be chosen over the one who is, to be the one responded to and engaged with. Most texts can wait. For texts that absolutely cannot wait because someone’s life is hanging in the balance while waiting for your reply, please inform the human in close physical distance to stop talking first or to stop waiting futilely for your dialogue response, before you reply your text.

4. Don’t make playing phone games a habit. I know some of them are supposed to make you smart. If you are really smart though, don’t play them. I am a recent victim of 2048, but I had a horrifying sense of epiphany after I reached the 2048, which reminded me yet again of the horrifying sense of epiphany I have had when I played many games before this, even before phone app games became a thing. You see, the app announced really jubilantly that I now am eligible to aim for 4096 … It sparked off the depressing thought of, “Okay, when is it going to end?” But that is the thing that keeps addicts going back and hunting for that high. A habit of playing phone games is essentially every bit as much an addiction as those that involve drugs, alcohol and nicotine. Every phone game is just another excuse for distraction. It is entertainment masquerading as self-improvement and learning opportunities. The sense of emptiness will continue to plague you despite you stuffing it with another new phone game. It will only truly be gone if you stop thinking of it as a habit you go through every day. Games that are truly rewarding exist outside the virtual realm. Use the time spent on playing phone games to polish up on the social emotional intelligence that many people today have a terrible deficiency in. Unfortunately, that means you will have to interact more with real humans, like your parents, siblings, relatives and friends. Reacquaint yourself with the ability to talk, the capacity to listen and self-regulate. You will not get that on or from a device.

5. When you walk in the door, don’t be using your phone. Finish your conversation or text exchange outside the door. When you get home, look up and see who is at home. Say hello to whoever is at home. Say a few words and let them know you are still capable of fighting the temptation to become one of those robotics. If you’re not ready for that, come home later. Plug into your family when you’re there. (However, if you happen to be the first one to reach home, go ahead and party.)

6. No devices at meals. Period. And we have progressed till the stage whereby it is better to watch the television than your smartphones while eating, when that was frowned upon just a decade ago. Such progress. Eating with people is becoming increasingly awkward these days, especially with family and non-best-friends friends, because we have gotten so used to not engaging with people enough that we have gradually forgotten how to be in ourselves without having phones to couch distraction in. Losing touch with the art of conversation is quickly becoming one of the great maladies that plague modern life.

7. Don’t deal with your phone as you are getting ready to go to bed. I hope you have read your fair share of scientific studies that have shown an inverse relationship between the quality of sleep and the amount of time spent with phones in the two-hour period before bed. I don’t know about you, but personally I don’t care much about the quantity of my sleep. I care most about the quality.

8. Evaluate your personal values about technology. It is terrifying how many parents are allowing their kids to use their smartphones and tablets without educating them properly about what those gadgets are capable of, or even what technology means. Just because the kids are young and purportedly “incapable of understanding”, which by extension means “it can’t be detrimental to them”, and that we are living in a technologically advanced era, is no excuse for not taking the initiative to try our best to educate children about the larger significance of technology and the Internet, citing reasons like, “Well, it’s what they need to learn to use!” That’s not a permissible lack of disclosure. That is neglect. I think all of us, not just parents and children, need to think more about the roles and rules of technology in our lives. Kindness needs to be prized over the snarky, witty, fast responses of online banter. One’s capacity for solitude, the ability to reconnect with ourselves without feeling anxious or bored, is what will drive us into becoming better human beings, before we connect with others.

Don’t get me wrong, I think technology is a wonderful thing. It is a remarkable system of wonders that harbours endless potential for more wonders. It symbolises the incredible wealth that is human intelligence, and it marks the tremendous progress of human innovation. A good chunk of our education and significant parts of our lives are now intricately linked with the use of technology.

Technology had a terrific start, and it remains a terrific source of innovation and creativity, but now problems of misuse and overuse are causing it to become this potential source of terror that most people seem to be choosing to ignore while they continue to submit themselves to being distracted by the spawns of technology.

What irks me the most is that many people are placing the advantages of technology on a pedestal with unapproachable height, and neglecting to evaluate the vices borne out of it. They agree, yes, technology has resulted in some harmful things going on, but then they continue to engage in behaviours that not only perpetuate those harmful effects for themselves, but also influence the impressionable young minds of children.

It is not about a complete unplugging of your gadgets and yourself.

It is about knowing when and how much to plug in.

March mayhem.

It is now past mid-March.

Now, before we digress into the perennial riddle of the passage of time in life — the “how did we get here already?!” — I need to direct your attention to some other truly important issues.

I think many people would agree with me that one of the best ways to put age into perspective is to have a newborn enter your life. When you have a zero-year-old tiny human in your arms, it is difficult to escape this profound sense of age in life seeping into your mind.

Apart from her regular cries of genuine need (only newborns have the right to be authentically innocently demanding) that now dictate the airwaves in my house, things at home remain quite peaceful. In fact, everything seems even more peaceful than before, because, apparently, being in the presence of a newborn, who has pretty much no perceivable ability to judge us, makes people go into their most well-behaved mode, what with speaking in mild, gentle tones and trying their best to say silly things to stimulate the baby to react with some form of facial expressions that the adults can then interpret on non-baby terms. Such simple-minded folks we are!

But, honestly, compared to all the horror tales I have heard about babies who scream their heads off deep into the middle of the night, my niece is being one of the most wonderful tiny humans I have ever seen.

I know everyone adores babies for their unworldly cuteness that has yet to be tainted by the nasty dirt that permeates the current state of humanity in this terrible world that we live in today. It is important to indulge in marvelling at their pleasantly clean slate of life, because it puts our overwhelmingly disordered phases of life into perspective. Yes, we have been through terrible things, and life in general seems to feel unbearably shitty every other hour of the day, but, hey, look at how far you have come. You used to be this tiny bundle of defenceless being with blotchy skin and no teeth.

Other than the gruelling vice-like grip over my life courtesy of my final-year research project, I am hobbling through this mayhem that is March considerably fine.

I hope you, my friends, are doing considerably fine as well. Relativity is not just one of the grand theories that the genius that is Einstein came up with. It is one of the core concepts that will help you not lose sight of your perspectives as you hop and hobble through life.

Let us continue Marching on.

Take only what you need from it.

It is always not an easy thing to have to get through the birthday every year.

Because it is a reminder, very tangibly visible, of how much time has passed.

I suppose, by this point, the realisation jars pretty poignantly that regardless of how much older one gets, there is no getting over the profound sense of vacancy that accompanies the passing of each year that we remain alive and living.

This twenty-third year is going to be disparately different from the past twenty-something years, because it is not going to be just another year of going through school and soaking up more of that formal education.

It is going to be a year of terrifying possibilities and terrifying changes.

Once, we were the little young beings whose biggest troubles included fretting over which secondary school to submit ourselves to, wondering whether or not to scamper into that submissive JC or dive in for the adventure of poly, and questioning what on earth should you spend four years in large sophisticated concrete structures learning about. Now, we are moving into slightly larger older beings whose biggest worries are beginning to include the fact that we might not actually have the capacity to contain all the worries that the younger versions of ourselves had the youthful privilege of being blind to.

When you are about to take huge steps and venture forth (or be shoved) further into deeper depths of uncertainty, that is precisely when it becomes exceptionally important to make sure you know where you are coming from.

Remember yourself and remember the kind people who have given you all the kind support that you have received from them all these years, because these are the two groups of individuals without whom you will not be here. Remember to thank them and let them know that you feel grateful to have had shared moments of life with them.

It feels as if the imminent graduation from the last stage of tertiary education marks the end of the first volume in the book series of my life, the volume with a title in the likes of My Growing Years in School. 

From then on, you will be forced to ditch the label of being a kid for real.

All the past years of kidding around are seriously going down into being history.

Obviously it is nuts to think that such mortifying and horrifying changes can materialise in your busy, busy psyche overnight. It is just not possible to sleep the night before, being the dopey naive kid, and wake up the next day, morphed into this mature version of your better self.

It is going to take some time for introspection before going forward.

Figure out some of the piles of mess that litter your past. Put some in the trash for good, sort out the salvageable ones and use whatever leftover youthful energy you still have left, and try to outrun the expiration of those perishables. Gather up those fine memories of yesteryears and the spirited moments of the youthful days past into stacks of cherished reminders for yourself in the future, when you will most likely become dreadfully susceptible to deteriorating powers of recall.

Go forward with less of the debilitating debris that has accumulated over the years and with more of the affecting remembrance of the things, people and moments that have crossed your paths in passing or since time immemorial.

The past is choked with greatness and fear.

Take only what you need from it.

Kids by The Kooks (MGMT cover)

How to find yourself.

It is important to find yourself.

Because it is extremely easy to lose yourself when you live among one of the many million crowds in this crowded universe.

It is also very interesting how the writer of this article, who was writing about How to Lose Yourself, was actually talking about the converse.

A bit further down in that same notebook, I found I had written this:

“If you let your mind talk you out of things that aren’t logical, you’re going to have a very boring life. Because grace isn’t logical. Love isn’t logical. Miracles aren’t logical.”

Barbra DeAngelis said that. And in one sweeping statement, she summed up the entirety of what I’m trying to say here. That who you are as a person is far greater than any which thing you can define yourself as, anything that logic can make sense of, and by releasing your mind from those confines, you find a much deeper, even miraculous, human truth, something that is understandable by awareness, not mind.

– Brianna West, How to Lose Yourself (Thought Catalog)

It is not an easy thing to do, though I suppose that is why it is all the more a precious thing to do. That we have spent huge parts of our life learning about meanings and trying to bear those tedious definitions in mind, and then only to realise that trying to make sense of things is something that inherently has no meaning, because it is not the point.

I think this French poet got it right.

No Need 

by Alain Bosquet

The elephant’s trunk
is for picking up pistachios:
no need to bend over.
The giraffe’s neck
is for grazing on stars:
no need to fly.
The chameleon’s skin,
green, blue, lavender, white,
as it wishes,
is for hiding from ravenous animals:
no need to flee.
The turtle’s shell,
is for sleeping inside,
even in winter:
no need for a house.
The poet’s poem,
is for saying all of that
and a thousand thousand thousand other things:
no need to understand.

One more round before the last call.

I suppose there comes a time in life where the metaphorical last call would force us to face up to waking up our idea.

Tomorrow will be the first day of my last semester of school.

The ups and downs of school life are truly about to begin to come to an end.

Every last semester before this now seems like a giant joke that should have never even been considered with any modicum of gravity.

My god.

Dave Van Ronk, “Last Call”

And so we’ve had another night
Of poetry and poses,
And each man knows he’ll be alone
When the sacred ginmill closes.

And so we’ll drink the final glass
Each to his joy and sorrow
And hope the numbing drink will last
Till opening tomorrow.

And when we stumble back again
Like paralytic dancers
Each knows the question he must ask
And each man knows the answer.

And so we’ll drink the final drink
That cuts the brain in sections
Where answers do not signify
And there aren’t any questions.

I broke my heart the other day.
It will mend again tomorrow.
If I’d been drunk when I was born
I’d be ignorant of sorrow.

And so we’ll drink the final toast
That never can be spoken:
Here’s to the heart that is wise enough
To know when it’s better off broken.

Let us be opened up for possible defeat and let ourselves learn how to get back up again and to eventually gain enough wisdom to continue fighting better and living wiser.