Dazed and Confused

Words :

Shell Yang

Illustration :

Bethany Rennard

It’s Wednesday evening during midterm season. I was on my way out from the library after knocking out 73% of my to-do list:
- prepare for tomorrow’s interview, think through ‘my story’, my ‘strengths’ and ‘weaknesses’
- send out 34 cold emails for potential internships
- japanese homework translations for
- japanese class
- laundry
- solidify fundraiser plans with board members

Pretty solid for a day’s work. I gathered myself at the top of the steps and greeted the setting of the sun. The sky was a serene blue that melted into a light coral. It was so beautiful, yet so tragic. I slid into the current of people heading back to the dorms. Clusters of students shuffled along; some rushing, some meandering. Collisions were inevitable by the sheer density of the crowd, and each impact made it splinter and grow. Distending bodies, echoing conversations, the inertia of the crowd carried me along. These people knew where they were going. I, on the other hand, only felt nausea from being pushed back and forth. I looked desperately at the sky to seek solace in my destination. The crowd continued to move with the confidence of molten lava, yet I could only feel a great emptiness inside. It was this time, after countless times, that I finally admitted to feeling disconnected from myself. Me, a conscious orb, drifted away from myself in the crowd, so explicitly aware of my distress, yet so afraid to confront the confusion and vacancy in my eyes.

Coming into college, all I wanted was to grow and to learn. I wanted to embrace every possibility and let myself be intrigued by every knowledge. Somewhere along the way, my reservoir of passion had started to dry out, absorbed by clouds of disillusionment and fear, or leaked into ponds that were polluting from my own ecosystem. Somewhere along the way, I started to lose purpose. What were the intentions and meanings that defined my decisions; where was the path to ground myself? Instead, I floated as an algae in the sea oppressed by the weight of oceans, controlled by the tide.

For the rest of the night, I did laundry, grabbed dinner with friends, and tried to herd away these undirected thoughts into a corner of my mind. They subsided unwittingly, and eagerly resurfaced as soon as night fell. Lying on my bed, I tossed and turned. I lost track of my own distraction until my phone vibrated and projected a light against the wall. Someone texted me.

“Wanna go roofing?”

All I wanted was to escape my thoughts, and the sound of scaling walls and commanding buildings underneath my feet was very appealing.

I discovered the campus anew that morning. From the back of the Arts Building, we hopped over a white fence and sprinted up the silver railings against the gun-metal night. With the help of fire hydrants we climbed to the very top. The roof was an uneven platform with protruding pieces of metal and turbines that implied its inhabitability. Navigating the overhangs and vents, we stepped our feet as close to the edge of the fence as possible and sat down. From above, the burnt-terra-cotta-brick structures regulated the trees and pavements of everything within immediate view. Their collected breaths, each sheltering the epitaphs and encyclopædias of our most celebrated ancestors, floated visibly under the campus lights.

My thoughts swung wildly. It was so strange to see the school and the city from an elevation for the first time. My everyday world was transformed into a linear landscape that was controllable and clearly visible. There’s the Mathematical Sciences building, the place I dread the most because of my 8 AMs. And the Humanities building, right next to the cafe where I refill my coffee during my morning break. And that majestically tall Jacaranda by the fountain, the aroma of its flowers so fresh, and always there for me lean on and pass time under its canopy. I traced the pavements that I walked on everyday, over and over again, weighed down by tightly scheduled responsibilities punctuated by outbursts of exhaustion. My eyes raced between each of the focal points, tracing a path so fast it made my head spin.

Just as my anxiety was creeping up on me, I snapped out of it. The shadows of the night intensified. The clouds hid the stars but the contours of downtown were still distinguishable, brewing an unsettling rhythm, a premonition of what was to come. I was removed from my life, mesmerized by the callings from afar, hypnotized by waves of the ocean gently tapping on the Pacific shores. Any anxiety was insignificant against the amplified majesty of everything before me.

I fell asleep intrigued that morning. As soon as I woke up, I closed my eyes and tried to revisit my state of mind from the previous night. I didn’t want to move. I pinned myself to my bed, a lily pad of peace. I didn’t want to think. At length, as slowly as the budding of Spring, some thoughts came together.

We don’t escape to somewhere, but from something. Animals escape to a place that gives them a sense of security. Was that the Arts Building or me? What I had felt up there, was it even meaningful, and how do I make it stay?

Time passed quickly for the next few weeks. I just looked ahead, especially forward to a friend’s visit from New York.

We met in Echo Park, one of the most eclectic and unique neighborhoods in LA. Hole in the wall meets bar-styled organic brunch, fusion Japanese sculptures in motion galleries, people in their 20s with mismatched silk shirts tucked in off-white denim—everything screamed individuality, of flourishing social ideas and progress. Circling back to the lake, we laid down near the water, our backs against the grass. Facing the sky, our frames of vision were intruded on by towering palm trees and our noises dissipated through the ambience of a typical afternoon. Businessmen from the financial district stopping by on their way home, families on their lawns, street food on wheels, college students like me just reading or doing homework on the grass.

Yet something felt unsettling. Amongst the colorful constructions and lingering crowds around locations of interest, we’d come across pockets of run-down houses and worn mom-and-pop shop. Confused but curious, I would peak my head into every alleyway and every unannounced window, my shadow entangled in the webs of electricity wires sprawling overhead, stretching from crossroad to crossroad. We devoured watermelons from the fruit stands and ran our hands across the streets’ murals. There was an inconsistency to the space, a notion of fixing and covering up.

I scanned my surroundings. Surely a few glimpses into Echo Park’s flaws wouldn’t destroy the image I looked up to. It’s a neighborhood working to be better by rebuilding its veneer, introducing cafes, art, and infrastructure from other neighborhoods and cultures. A destination perfectly aligned with the palettes of LA critics and east coast tourists alike. What I was drawn to—its veneer of confidence and creativity, its willing attitude to embrace the new—is not the core of Echo Park.

Echo Park’s suffering spoke oceans to me. I tasted its agony through the bitter-sweet lemonade from the fruit stand; I saw its dilemma through the juxtaposed buildings of modernity and locality. As I became aware of its suffering, so I too became aware of my own.

At this point in life, my priorities were school and career development. I knew that I enjoyed my major and my internships pursuits were good—I knew that these choices would be approved by others. But, I didn’t know if they were right. If a tree fell in a forest, did it actually fall? If others could not see that I was lost, then I was not lost right?

Los Angeles is a beautiful city. I often forget how soft and tuneful are its winds, or how fluffy and radiant its white clouds are, as they brighten up the vast dome of delicate pale blue. My skin was lightly colored by the retreating afternoon sun the day I visited the Wisdom Tree.

At the top of the Hollywood Hills stands a lone pine tree with two wooden chests that guard its presence. The chests are full of letters and notes from hikers to themselves, and for others to read. I dug my hand through the stacks of papers diluted into different shades by rain and time, deciphering the words and scribbles. I peaked into the hopes and dreams of others: a problem of the soul, a heaviness of the heart, darkness of the conscience. These people, each concerned by matters so different, wrote honestly about their places in life, their determination in living their own paths.

I reached for one piece of scrunched up paper and flattened it against my legs. I guess I always knew my priorities and goals but was afraid to live up to them. There are many things I am passionate about in this world. I want to make earth more sustainable. I enjoy reading, writing, music. For so long in my life, hindered by the wisdom of others, I believed I could only focus on one thing: being an engineer, a banker, or a writer. But sitting at the top of the Hollywood Hills, next to hundreds of other people’s unique dreams and worries, I felt no obligation to justify my path. Life’s workload is difficult enough without other people’s advice to add to the confusion. Ultimately, it was my lack of faith in my ability to create my own future, my lack of comfort in my own wandering and search for purpose that created my disillusionment.

I tried to remember the thoughts and emotions of the last months, pairing lessons with events to retrace each one carefully and get to now. But looking back, it feels arbitrary to limit one place to one idea, one period of time to one mood. Pinning it down separates it from who you are.

I sat under the pine, took pen to paper, and from the confused nebulous haze of these last months, I found refuge and understanding.