One of our favorite ways of chilling together is watching Japanese anime (animation.) Usually, animated works in other parts of the world tend to be family-friendly and convey themes more suitable for consumption by children, but Japanese anime is a different culture. Often, it carries very adult themes.
The topic for this issue is inspired by a scene from a recent anime Jujutsu Kaisen, where a grown-up describes to a teenager what makes a person an adult: the accumulation of the little despairs.
Here are our explorations:
Essay // Adulting // by Daryl
Essay // My ground of despair // by Rosslyn
Poetry // The Point // by Rosslyn
Reflection prompts // Being with despair
May your despair illuminate the path to your desire.
Rosslyn & Daryl
ESSAY // by Daryl
The accumulation of little despairs…that’s what makes people adults.
It’s really coincidental for me to write on despair for two consecutive issues. Yet, my conclusions for both cannot be more different. In my previous piece, I advocated trusting the process of despair but in this week’s piece, I’m saying despair—understood as a fundamental aspect of adulthood—is something we can all do without. Without further ado, let’s look at the fuller context of the quote above.
In the show where the quote came from, the character tells the protagonist that one is only an adult when one has experienced the accumulation of little despairs that comprise the genetic makeup of adulthood; he goes on to reveal that discovering your favourite bread has disappeared from your local convenience store, or finding more fallen hair on your pillow as two such instances of little despairs. And he says it with all the enthusiasm of a man who has seen it all, seen through life, utterly unimpressed with the ‘facts’ of life. Soul crushing, isn’t it?
But does adulthood have to be so? In my view, it need not be so. The little despairs he speaks of are but symptoms of a deeper despair the agent possesses with respect to adulthood itself. But what could it be? Here, I suggest that it’s because we’re all expected to have it all ‘figured’ out by the time we leave school. We spend nearly 20 years in school and suddenly we’re expected to be wise in the ways of the world upon graduation. Whatever happened to the opportunity to figure out life in the process of traversing the multifarious experiences we’ve yet to undergo? Why is it that we have to immediately know exactly what to make of life? We’re not worker ants that are literally born into the role they play for life. As humans, we have the privilege of being the only organism with the ability to change our course whenever it suits us. So what if we don’t get it right by age 30? Let’s regroup, look ahead, and reforge our paths.
“But life will be so difficult for you.” Yes, it’s true that we might be materially worse off in the process of figuring life out. But that’s precisely the crux of the issue. We assume hedonism is the only criterion of success. What about meaning and fulfillment? We try relentlessly to meet that hedonistic standard without paying heed to what nourishes us, and when we can’t, we fall into despair because we feel as though we’ve failed at life. That’s why the trivial event of not finding your favourite bread at the convenience store causes the built-up despair to breach the dam and crash forth as a devastating deluge.
The point is you don’t have to have it all figured out in order to be an adult. That’s just an outcome-based approach. The real measure of adulthood is the manner in which we respond to the challenges that come our way; despairing over trivialities is reactive, rather than responsive. And when we praise children as mature for responding to situations, why—or I should say, how can we expect differently from ourselves? Once we accept that we don’t simply have life in the bag, the horizon opens up to us and we notice the cerulean instead of the ash in the heavens.
Till next time, may you savour the joy of discovering your favourite bread in a new store.
ESSAY // by Rosslyn
My ground of despair
Adulthood in the accumulation of little despairs.
Ah…. The truth in this statement.
It is indeed the beginning of experiencing adulthood. Why despair? That’s the start of recognizing we will not always get what we want, and there is neither a Mother nor a Father figure who will give it to us even if we were to throw a tantrum. It’s the little loss of hope that wakes us to the fact that we will no longer get our way just by crying or sulking.
Oh…how this speaks to my despair.
The awakening to reality can at times appear as a regression. This is what I have been experiencing for some time. It is getting harder to disengage from the voices within me. I resist my superego, yet in my resistance, I am identified with my inner child. I am identifying with a child’s smallness, weakness, and incapability of facing the world and living this life. I am overwhelmed. There does not seem to be a way out for me because I am not used to paving my own paths (not consciously at least.) What brought me this far has been the internalized voices of my parents. But they no longer have the power or ability to bring me into the next frontier. And I am terrified.
So often, I find myself fearfully cowering on a vast, barren tundra without a clear path forward. There are moments when the fog is lifted and I step towards the light, but it does not take long before the fog shrouds my mind again.
I feel the frozen feelings of the young part of my psyche, her terror of being out in the world alone. Boy, are they intense. Do I want to assume responsibility of her? Do I want to sit by her side and wait till she is ready? Or do I want to exile her?
It’s no wonder I relate to the image of the tundra. She has long been exiled. In my premature attempt to grow up, I had to shove her aside so that I could move forth. I had taunted her, said harsh things to demean her in hopes to diminish her.
Do I want to assume responsibility of myself? I have been dodging this question, ducking down in the waters of cowardice. Despair, no matter how uncomfortable, felt easier to deal with. Hang my head down in dread, numb myself out, or be intoxicated in the self-belief of my smallness, and let another day go by without fully exhaling. Smallness is familiar territory.
So, do I want to assume responsibility of myself? My spiritual superego just stomped through the door, “Enough of deflection! You only know how to run away.” Not without truth. As a child, I had the habit of escaping into my fantasies. The world I created in my head felt more exciting and real than reality. I had fled my body at too young an age to discern what’s real.
I wonder about those years working in creative agencies. How did I make it through? Was that me? Passion and drive feel like a distant past. The child in me was great at studying; the adult, working. And now, who am I? Where am I locating myself? I feel attached to a much younger and smaller self below the age of ten, who was terrified of being separated from her mother and suffered nightmares frequently of being hunted or abandoned. In those nightmares, I was either sobbing inconsolably or gasping for air, and waking up covered in tears or perspiration.
There is little clarity in me now. What a paradox, I’m clear about me not experiencing clarity. Even naming this brings a little more spaciousness and awakeness to my mind.
Have I been asking the wrong question so far? How might I be responsible for myself? What is my current ability to respond? I have little because I am living as a child now. Am I a child? No. Who am I? I am someone who’s turning 39 soon who stands at 1.65 meters tall. I am someone who’s currently experiencing trembling anxiety within my solar plexus. I am responsible for Me.
POETRY // by Rosslyn
on to worn roads
or paths unpaved
into the deep woods,
there’s your clearing
through your desert,
there’s your oasis
Walk this Earth
towards the beckoning of life—
that is the point.
Being with despair
David Whyte writes in his book Consolations,
“The antidote to despair is not to be found in the brave attempt to cheer ourselves up with happy abstracts, but in paying profound and courageous attention to the body and the breath, independent of our imprisoning thoughts and stories, even strangely, in paying attention to despair itself, and the way we hold it, and which we realize, was never ours to own and to hold in the first place. To see and experience despair fully in our body is to begin to see it as a necessary, seasonal visitation, and the first step in letting it have its own life, neither holding it nor moving it on before its time.”
Consider your experiences with despair:
How and when does despair show up for you?
How do you be with despair? Do you inquire into it, dismiss or suppress it, or are you consumed by it?
Set an intention for yourself.
How might you act differently the next time despair shows up? Will you take a pause and breathe, or will you step into your courage and be with despair a moment longer to find out more about it?
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