It is not often that one speaks of one’s labours, and unless one’s labours have yielded some definite product, there are rarely listening ears to catch one’s story. It is as though one’s tale, for the sole reason that it appears to be stuck in limbo, is presumed to lack significance, and is therefore given no attention, not to mention credence, a more demanding indulgence that calls for active participation. In that liminal state, where one is neither quite here nor there, when no head or tail can be made of one’s efforts yet, what becomes of one’s aspiration? But more importantly, what becomes of one?
From time to time, every man is caught in this transitional condition of uncertainty, but this moment is realer and more present for the youth, who is in a precarious position to carve out a career for his life, and urgently so. For him, there is the crushing pressure— usually borne out of goodwill, inadvertent but still manifest— that builds up from societal and familial expectations. There is also the individual anxiety, the longing for success or self-reliance, and the sense of foreboding. If this is a process, then one might conveniently say there are infinite stages for such a process, and for such stages come troubles, and with such troubles come stories. These stories, in turn, will be infinite, endless. How does one tell an endless story? Does any story truly have an end? Could one’s life be a story? Does life have an end?
The first sentence of this piece talks about one’s labours yielding definite product as prerequisite for courting attention. It would be naive to think this definite product means positive result only. One makes headlines or becomes the subject of gossip when one achieves, but more so when one has suffered remarkable failure. To fail is more consuming, more sensational, more intriguing, than to succeed. Perhaps this could be attributed to two reasons: first, life is vapid in itself— the uneventfulness of health until it begins to deteriorate, the daily routines of eating and sleeping, the monotony of work— such that some drama is desired, such that the tragedy of others or oneself is a distraction, a spice of sorts; second, the grand failure of others, while we may be sympathetic towards them, consoles us in certain ways, makes us more willing to overlook our own shortcomings.
In contrast, the resounding success of another, much as we may be happy for them, challenges us. For after the admiration comes a personal longing for similar feat, though not necessarily in same scope, that one, too, may become a cynosure, magnificent in both glory and pride. And often we are quick to withdraw from this fantasy, having envisaged the costs and unwilling to bear the attendant inconveniences. So we resign to the status quo, and with that resignation comes resentment— resentment for that which now looms as unattainable. Being lazy humans that we are, we evade the challenge that other people’s success stories throw at us by keeping mum about them, and peddle with pretended or pure pity the misfortune of others. Of course, when it’s our private story, the opposite happens: we keep mum about our misfortunes, and trumpet our triumphs.
But the in-between stories, those that have yet to become full-bore failures or successes, what is their fate? Does one tell a tale stuck in limbo? Why not?