Status update

Dear M.,

I hope this message finds you well. I am sorry I have not written for so long; sorry too we have not seen each other for nearly a year now. Yet I continue to think fondly of you, and the memory of our times together still warms up my heart on cold days. How do you feel about planning our next rendezvous soon? And meanwhile, what about catching up in writing?

If you remember, our last exchange that was both extensive and meaningful pertained to your project to fund a school in the arid south. Since then, I have been an avid reader of your occasional travel stories; however you must know that this project where you asked for my participation marked me durably. You convinced me, this way, that you have “put your hand where your mouth is”; that you are committed to offset the karma you otherwise lose in your high position at a large company of, by virtue of its sheer size, questionable ethics. Since then, the fleeting glimpses of your lifeline have reinforced this impression.

I would so like to take pride in a similar claim! I admire you, and I feel altogether somehow ashamed that I haven’t found yet my avenue for giving back as much as I take in.

I did try! A few years ago, I believed that every teaching hour at the University would redeem my karma. Alas, teaching on its own is not karma-positive: like so many of my peers, I feel too often reduced to exercise my art in the way that fits my overly constrained budget and schedule, and not the one that most befits the students. In 2012, like in 2010 and 2011 before it, I have claimed to myself (and others) that a day will come where I would step forward and liberate higher education from the miasma of constraints it currently suffers. As you can imagine, I believe that the special experience we received as students can inspire me in this endeavour. However, I am sorry to report that I have not yet acted on this desire.

Actually, 2012, like every year before since 2008, has been for me a rather selfish enterprise. This year’s key highlights were mostly returns on personal investments. In fact, they were somewhat sweet and sour personal victories: the sweetness of the achievements was offset by the sourness of their solitude. As you know already, I do not typically brag about my successes. You may be surprised to learn that I also keep my initiatives to myself, to the point that any outcome to a personal project comes as a surprise to my acquaintances. Not a joyful surprise that I would succeed; rather, a uncomfortable surprise about the very existence of that project that they had not heard about. If you remember, this little game has been ongoing for five years already. You can also probably recognize this dramatic error, whose extent I only fully realized at the summer of 2012: by obscuring my projects from my peers and my friends, I have deprived both them and myself from an opportunity to better connect at a personal level. While I believed that withdrawing on myself would protect me from negative bias on my motivation, I did not understand until recently that social bonds develop along the lines of ongoing lifelines and shared struggles, regardless of outcome. Instead of being quiet and modest, as I thought, I have properly erased myself behind a blank, in the image I project of my life.

This mistake has permanently altered my past relationships. Of course, no amount of apologies can fairly compensate the time we did not spend together. We have grown distant; it was largely my responsibility, and I wish I had not been so stupid. Please, however, believe me when I wrote, above, how close to me I held you during that time, and how much our shared memories have mattered in the face of obstacles and difficult decisions.

Did I make you curious to know what I hid behind the blank? You have probably glimpsed some of it during the past months; let me entertain you briefly with the motivation behind the facts. The citizenship change was 60% about getting an official acknowledgement of my cultural identity, 35% about making my story simpler in social interactions, and 5% about being able to brag about what constitutes civilization vs. non-civilization in political arguments. The doctorate was 40% about reaching the end of the codified academic education system, so that I can fully dedicate myself to new endeavours without feeling I am missing ammunition; 40% about proving to myself that I could conclude successfully a multi-year project of my own (can you believe it was my first ever?), and 20% about satisfying the administrative requirement to a teaching position. The arduous 2-4 hours of piano exercise per week are 60% about the sheer pleasure of playing, especially that part when the fingers start to move on their own after a long period of practice and where my brain can sit back and enjoy the show; 20% about taking pride in my ability to play a musical instrument, and 20% about the intellectual benefits of a regular temporary relaxation of my left brain. The weekly lesson of ballroom dancing was originally 80% about meeting people and 20% about the physical activity, but is now more 50% about the pleasure of moving my feet on tempo, 30% about achieving technical progress together with an activity partner, and 20% about being able to brag that I am a good dancer. The regular expeditions at the swimming pool were originally 80% about gaining muscle mass and 20% about disconnecting from work, but are now 60% about the feeling of calm that I find during long stays underwater, 30% about the social interaction (I go with friends usually) and 10% about the gain in endurance. The driving license is 30% about ensuring that any unexpected career move is not impeded trivially, 50% about gaining the ability to rent a vehicle in places where public transportation is unavailable (I can start planning remote vacations!), 10% about gaining the ability to move my belongings on my own, and 10% about clearing my shame of not having started earlier. Sticking to a balanced diet and making efforts to cook regularly was 40% about solving some recently developed health issues, and 60% about training myself to be a decent partner “just in case.” Starting playing video games again and watching movies / tv series regularly was 40% motivated by social pressure, 40% by the sheer pleasure of doing it, and 20% by the realization that I need a systematized way to disconnect from work regularly.

There are a few minor additional items of interest, but I suggest we postpone their review to a later interaction. What about your own steps and projects for the last and upcoming year?

Next to what has happened and what I do, I would be glad and proud to share with you the joy I source from a few recent friendships. Indeed, these people have inconspicuously played a quite important role; a role which I did not prepare for, nor expected. The strangest of all is that these relationships I have developed are not alike anything I have experienced before, nor anything I have ever learned about previously. Thanks to them, I have trashed most of my prejudices about friendship, romanticism, companionship and intimacy, my expectations thereof, and all my previous related models of cause-effect mechanisms that I had acquired second-hand. We are now writing the rulebook as we play together, weaving unexpected patterns in the fabric of our shared existence, and never has uncertainty about the future felt so comfortable and exciting. Please let me know if you would prefer specific anecdotes and recollections to properly frame the scope of my claims; I can certainly be more specific. Of course, a meeting in person with them might be in order, too.

All in all, you will probably still recognize me when we next see each other. I have not changed my physical appearance much, other than wearing my hair short and ironing my creased shirts occasionally. You will find that I still care about my friends dearly, although I have mostly stopped caring about the world and humanity in general. (There is a special someone to thank for that, although the word “special” here barely suffices to describe the uniqueness of our shared experiences so far. More on that later.) I still type about sixty words per minute with closed eyes in the dark, although nowadays the backlight embedded in most keyboards diminishes the achievement somewhat. And I still spend a few minutes, every now and then, cherishing the memory of your reaction when I let you, fifteen years ago, wonder for days then weeks then months what that little box contained. I, too, have softened with age; I have started to imagine the day where I open this secret to you, and when we contemplate together how bringing closure to the past forms a firm ground for the future.

This modest attempt at opening up, one of my resolutions for the new year, is concluded momentarily in this paragraph. You might find the openness of this initiative intriguing; although I have, as usual, perused our convention to neutralize names and situations, so as to care for anonymity and plausible deniability. Please indicate, if applicable, whether you would rather carry out this conversation in a private channel; otherwise, I would be excited to read your reply in kind.

Yours, faithfully and sincerely,