Sunday, 24 October 2021

Looking Back At A Long-Gone Life

Lately, like many in my current pandemic-addled state of mind, I've been tuning to VTubers at the end of each day to wind down. Some of them have other talents than being entertaining on screen while streaming, and quite a few can sing well enough to put out singles and even whole albums.

One of these talents is the "rapping reaper", Calliope Mori. She's produced quite a few songs, some of which feature a mix of English and Japanese lyrics, and the apparent ease with which she comes up with them speak of many, many hours, if not years, of practice.

A recent original, "End of a Life", took me down an emotional memory lane. Something about the soothing yet melancholic number makes you want to listen to it again and again.

While I lack the vocabulary to analyse songs, I could tell from the lyrics that on the surface, "End of a Life" seems to be about someone - perhaps Calli or anyone in the music business - who feels nostalgic about their starving artist days.

Life is a series of stages, and when people are dissatisfied with what they have to deal with now, they tend to look back towards simpler times, no matter how rough and far removed from where they are now.

There's a certain romance to the journeyman's struggle: despite the bad bosses, bad co-workers, bad environment and other occupational hazards on a road seemingly going nowhere, something comes along that makes things a little better: that one good colleague, the kind waitress at the diner, or unexpected things such as a helping hand from a stranger, an epiphany that descends while savouring a dinner or a drink, or some serendipitous event. And the occasional trip to a rooftop with a view, with or without friends, and the cathartic ranting, singing or hollering away of the day's troubles.

Times may have been tough when you were up and coming, but these things kept you going, one day at a time. Eventually, you developed a camaraderie with the community and the place where all this happened. Each day fraught with hardship that's survived is an accomplishment.

But then you catch a break, you move up and life gets cushier. A sort of torpor sets in, not the stuck-at-the-bottom type but the lonely-at-the-top or the now-what type often encountered at loftier heights. The grind is different, not as real like when you sweated buckets for what you can now do with a flick of the wrist, forgetting that it's also due to all the experience earned along the way.

That's when you look back and feel like an impostor, seeing the past with rose-tinted lens. That's when you feel guilty for leaving the old hood and all your old friends behind, the ones who came up with you but didn't get the break you did. All this messes with you and makes you feel you don't deserve what you have now.

But wasn't all this what you dreamed of when you stared into the stars from that roof, holding on to the ghost of that beer or cigarette in your mouth as you wished that horrible boss would drop dead?

Near the bottom, the struggle was real, but so were the connections you made, the gems you found. Those seem to get fewer and farther between as you get near the top, don't they?

Each stage of life has its good and bad. Before long you'd notice it too. The grind, the lulls in between, and the end-of-the-day ritual for tomorrow. The environment may be better, but it's still the same. Less real, perhaps, because you aren't suffering as much.

That's the longing for simple days that creep in when you're down, that some people attribute to Stockholm syndrome. If only they knew, huh?

It's a privilege to be able to look back at a shitty life with such fondness for the occasional bright spots, and you know it. Not everybody is as fortunate. Maybe these trips back in time are a distraction from the anxieties of the future.

Maybe what you miss is being young, being tough enough to survive whatever life throws at you. The high from making it through a tough day that makes you feel like you will life forever.

Alas, all lives must end. Just as the shitty life ended for you, so will these best years eventually join that shitty life in the recesses of your memory, only to surface at the lower points when you're older and less resilient to the emotional battering from mourning the sweet spots in your past.

Until then, from time to time, you'll revisit the old hood, old friends, and that rooftop with the view, where you held on to the taste of that beer or cigarette, laughed at your bullshit dreams of the big time, and hurled curses or sang songs alone or with your friends.

And you'll keep wondering how they're doing and if any of them made it out like you did, or disappear into the lights of the old hood, as you mentally compose thank-yous you might never get to send to them and others who in their little ways, took you through life day by day until you caught a break - and dreading what would've become of you if they hadn't shown up. Will they even be there when you drop by? Do you even want to and risk opening old wounds?

We all have such thoughts occasionally. All these and more surface each time I replay the song. To what extent Calli drew from experience when she wrote this, or whether she made it all up, I don't know. But I feel they echo strongly within content creators, like the ones we're watching. Many of them languished in similar dead ends until they became online stars.

I didn't quite set out to write an open letter of sorts to the protagonist or anyone who find themselves in the protagonist's shoes in the song, but here I am. So let me finish.

Well, you toughed it out too. All the good fortune one can receive means nothing if you didn't put in the work. You are here, and the "you" who didn't get lucky is a hypothetical, erased by the paths you did take.

Some people didn't believe in you, put you down, didn't stick around. That's fine. Do what you're doing now for those who did. If they're real homies they'd be cheering and singing along with you, proud that you're taking on the world.

Even if the old hood is gone, it'll live on in the heart, still doing what it's always been doing to get you through life one day at a time. And now, you also have new people who support you. As long as one is alive, might as well cherish the good things, tough out the bad, and make the most of every opportunity.

So don't stop dreaming. We'll be here when you wake up.


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