Coming Back: Gap Year Week 28

I felt more than a little sad coming back to Singapore. Six weeks in India had felt like they could and would last forever: a month and a half stretched far into the distance until you were at the end of it and parting at the airport and staring down a boarding pass that sent you to what was still technically home. No more of the chaos or noise or honking of Indian cities – at least for the next week.

This return, I realized, also marked the halfway point on my gap year. Eight months down, and eight months left till college begins. It doesn’t feel like that long by far, but then nothing ever does. Still, as the end came in closer sight than graduation last June, I began to grow familiar with a faint anxiety of not enough – not in terms of what I was doing or where I was going, but that I wasn’t keeping enough of it.

What I think I’ve realized is that this year isn’t just about the now. It’s also about how this now will hold up when I return to it in the future, and I so badly want it to be something I do not regret. I will never have these opportunities again to live like this. It’s cliche, and it’s something I’ve known since the beginning, but every time I realize it now it scares me a little. I shudder quietly. This is not time I can find again and once I move past I have lost it forever.

And I struggle to reconcile the importance of what I experience with the remembering of it. Coming back to Singapore, I spent, I know logically (but not with certainty until I looked at my calendar) at least two days not moving from the house, watching movies lazily with my mother, catching up on sleep and writing and exercise. I recollect these days only hazily. So did they matter if I cannot live them again in retrospect, if each blends into the other seamlessly? Might they as well have never happened?

And by extension, does that mean the more well-defined parts of that week were more important? The nervousness of walking to the front of a classroom to give a workshop to Ministry of Education teachers on implementing RailWild for children, for example, or the laughing hour spent wandering along the Rail Corridor after. Or the creative excitement of designing and directing my first formal portrait photography session, or dinner with friends, walking in circles till we had no excuse but part ways, or dancing shamelessly badly at a wedding reception, or listening to a friend present her PhD thesis. Just because they are documented better than lazy afternoons – in photographs, journals, calendar appointments – do they gain temporal value?

This is a fundamentally millennial worry. There are enough think-pieces already about how Instagram and Snapchat have embedded the new adage “pics or it didn’t happen” into our subconscious. But within the context of my gap year, it ties into a greater worry that I will fall too easily into passivity. That I will slip around time rather than through it, carrying nothing out.

But what’s the use of fussing about memory when I’m still submerged in this time for another seven months? Pondering these anxieties, after all, is just another way of wasting time that could be used for everything I’m worrying about missing out on holding. And so the reasoning bites its own tail.

Still, in some way, I’m glad I’m thinking these things, because most of all I want to be humble in the face of this freedom I have. And selfishly, naively, halfway terrified of the oblivion of the future, I do want to try to remember everything in every crag months, years down the line. But primarily, I think, I just want to know where I was. I want to know who I was. Ultimately I will forget everything, or nearly everything of this. But if I am left with something that sparks a sharp burst of familiarity – a moment of laughter, or peace, or sadness – that might be enough. More than the individual journeys, this gap year was about giving myself space to grow.

And I hope each of these blog posts, even if all slightly (or highly) asynchronous, can serve as milestones for me. I went from here to here. And I hope – I want – to come a year from now to this post, and laugh to myself. Huh, I guess I used to worry about that. I’ve changed so much since.


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