metamorphosis; ’20

While Franz Kafka’s magnum opus Metamorphosis has nothing in common with my piece today besides the title, I thought a quote from the book itself would be a suitable injection.

“How about if I sleep a little bit longer and forget all this nonsense.”

In Metamorphosis, Gregor Samsa wakes up only to realize he is now living as a giant insect, his life immediately overturned without warning or foreboding. I guess these two pieces have more in common than I thought then, since my life—though not as ridiculous as that of Samsa’s—was also thwarted into an unpredictable trajectory this year (of course, Kafka remains the superior writer in this comparison).

And more often than not, I found myself going to bed wishing that when I would open my eyes the next morning, it would still be early March, only that headlines would not be contaminated with news of the virus and the many unpleasantries that followed. Or, could I be coaxed into a lengthy slumber, not to regain consciousness until the magical strike of the clock on New Year’s Eve had reset the world?

At the beginning of the year, I had a poster on the back of my door that spelled “It’s all happening this year”. Of course, ‘all‘ was defined as ‘a string of exams, university applications, and moving abroad‘ for me. In hindsight, however, ‘all’ meant ‘a bowl of pandemic, a dash of natural disasters, a cup of deaths, and a handful of injustice’. Remind me to stop hanging vague posters around my room.

Last year, I wrote of growing through pain—perhaps the least desirable path of growth; this year, as indicated by the title, has been growing through change.

You might be wondering: Isn’t growth and change the same thing? Not the way I see it (remember, this is my view on things). Change can happen voluntarily or involuntarily, hinging on a plethora of circumstances. Change also has the ability to affect more than one person at a time. Change can take place on any scale and in any environment.

Growth is something more intimate. Something more personal and permanent. It can only be performed voluntarily and affects people individually. Sure, communities and societies can grow, but only as a result of compounded personal growth.

Allow me to review my year starting with the lark memories: I was at the peak of my college game and experience. I had friends whom I could laugh at inside jokes with, talk to about social happenings, and rant worries to. Under the most unforeseen circumstances, I stepped into the shoes of student council president and welcomed the loveliest bunch of juniors, aside from planning events. I tackled my nemesis, Chemistry, once again (which I miraculously passed), took a trip down to KL for TOEFL, and got lost in the Pavilion area like a common tourist.

Things were great. Life was fast-paced. I was living in a movie screen. January through March brought around this invincible feeling, like I was on top of the world and there was no land that I couldn’t conquer. I was blazing with unprecedented power, ready to take on the world, ready to leave this country in September and spread my wings in new horizons.

Then, a gust of wild wind rattled the branch on which my chrysalis nested. The most prominent way in which the pandemic came into my life like a wrecking ball was demolishing my chances to leave for university—a step in life I’ve wanted to take since graduating high school. I’ve always been fixed on the idea of returning to the United States for higher education; I loved my time there and wanted to explore more sights and reunite with old friends.

So, when the political and medical instability in the States came to light, it was soul-crushing that my parents and I decided it was best to turn down my acceptances (maybe in another lifetime, Michigan). Instead, we panned our prospects toward the UK, which I am now on track for a 2021 fall enrolment, and will not bore you with the details of.

With university matters out of sight and mind I had something I never had enough of. For the first time in nineteen years, I had all the time of day. After watching thirteen consecutive motivational videos about changing habits as a normal person does, I got to work and architected projects and habits that I wanted to implement.

I threw myself into what I knew best—planning and working, working and planning. Maybe it’s the high school class system that has instilled this need to continuously be productive in order to be deemed valuable to society in me, but I kept churning my brain for new ideas and mediums to convey those ideas. I was creating deep into the A.M.s, days and nights blending into each other as skies faded from blue to tangerine, bled from lilac to grey.

However, creating comes at an ugly price, the price being burnout. I am no stranger to burnouts; they live in my life rent-free. At some point in every creator’s life, we come across the imposter syndrome or something akin to it. I felt lost. Disappointed. The feeling of uselessness flooded my mind and there were so many days where I forced myself out of bed, started writing, and hated what came out the other end of the pencil. It didn’t feel like me.

I stopped creating for a while (this was still in the first half of the year) and instead turned toward reading, grasping at the hope that a strand of inspiration would present itself to me and lift me out of the ditch. It wasn’t as simple.

Aside from my usual dose of books, I started reading the news more, paying attention to global events. After all, I am to major in politics in university, and such is my responsibility as a global citizen. Here’s where politics scaffolded my growth.

The largest difference between 2019 Allison and 2020 Allison is how much more political I have become. I’ve had friends telling me that I should tone it down, I’ve gotten into opposing arguments on controversial issues that resulted in stalemates, I’ve received advice to back out of politics and stay in my lane, and people have told me that contemporary politics is bullshit and that we shouldn’t associate ourselves with it.

The way I see it, based on the insane list of events that have transpired, the fact that current politics is messed up and a complete bull is precisely why we should associate ourselves with it. Turning a blind eye to evil is just as bad as performing evil itself.

And yes, getting involved in politics has its pros and cons—usually more of the latter than the former—but I felt a tug. I would spend hours at my desk, not moving an inch, just researching on one topic that surfaced on the news to get to the root of it. When the Black Lives Matter movement erupted overseas and on social media, I was so devastated by the media reports that I couldn’t bring myself to do anything except wallow in that pool of devastation. The more issues you expose yourself to, the more helpless you can feel. Twitter, Instagram, YouTube—they were all filled with videos that siphoned my hopes for humanity, for better morrows.

But watching protests and demonstrations predominantly formed by young people—people who are my age, from my generation—made me believe that I, too, can make a difference. To quote my all-time favorite book by Romina Russell: Begin with a ripple to end with a wave. I could not sit by and wait until the correct moment arrived to take a stand or make a sound—I had to create that moment.

I’m not one for the laws of attraction and manifestation, but it was as if the universe heard me. Justin approached me with the notion of Getting It Strait, which turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I was making a difference with my skills; I understood no matter how insignificant my efforts might seem, they will compound to be part of a larger picture. Monthly deadlines pushed me to produce critical pieces and honed my writing skills, while the environment we established allowed for like-minded creators to exchange ideas and opinions. I’m proud of how far our team has expanded within six short months and would like to take this opportunity to extend my gratitude toward all members.

GIS was my anchor in a sea of maelstroms and harsh weather. I regained footing in writing and channeled that energy—carefully—into other hobbies of mine:

I dived deeper into music, straying from usually depressing tunes to something more pop-like. I traveled down a rabbit hole of mostly Taylor Swift and Alex Turner songwritings and started to pen lyrics that were more than just surface messages or filler words. Instead of looking at songwriting as a plain form of expression, I treated it as another medium for storytelling. This would be a great time to thank Denyce and Brendan for brilliantly producing my music and making it even better than I could ever imagine.

I even rekindled my YouTube channel—which has been gathering pixelated dust on the internet shelf—talking about little favorites of mine in the worlds of books, fashion, and more. Creating videos turned out to be more fun than I ever expected, and while the whole editing bit can be tiring and off-putting, YouTube ultimately connected me with other video creators online and also, small businesses.

But my year wasn’t all happy-go-lucky from thereon. Besides an utterly disappointing birthday, I’ve come to unveil one fundamental truth about life: not everybody will support what you do, and that includes friends and family. Let me explain.

In the beginning, when I put out a stream of videos and articles, all the support I had garnered were from strangers on the internet, kind-hearted people who related to me and who voiced out their support (which I will remain eternally grateful for as my tiny platform continues to grow). Yet, I kept waiting. Minutes turned to hours and hours turned to days. While those in my milieu would happily frolic around brandishing the works of others, they never doubled back for me, much less give a figurative pat on the back. When you create and receive no feedback or support from the people you care about the most, it’s like shouting into a cave waiting for an echo that never arrives.

Here’s where things got tricky: There was an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach that I knew shouldn’t be there. My head tried to understand why it is that we, humans, find it so difficult to reciprocate, but perhaps that is a discussion for another day.

It took some time, but a friend helped me see things through. My eureka moment arrived when I realized artists would never produce a single morsel of work if they had aimed to satisfy the wishes of every living man. I have to be creating—first and foremost—for myself. Creating purely to quench the thirst of pleasing other people will give birth to a void that I can never fill, and that void will become my Achilles’ heel in due time.

And so, dear reader, with you as my virtual notary, I pledge to only create content that is true to my heart and that I am happy with from this day onward—which brings me to where I am now.

I guess the annual question that plagues me is “How have I grown?”. I’d like to say that I have come to appreciate myself more, in terms of my strengths and my flaws. I’ve definitely gotten mentally and physically healthier. But I reached the pinnacle of this year’s growth when I started giving myself credit for my own happiness.

Twenty-twenty, bludgeoning as it was, gave me the time and space I needed to change the things I didn’t like about myself. I wasn’t socially and politically aware enough. I wasn’t healthy enough. My words weren’t strong or wise enough. I wasn’t happy enough.

I know many people will read this and say that I should be grateful for what I already have, but these aren’t tangible attributes I’m talking about. I believe I owe myself the responsibility to grow into the very best version of myself, and for now, I can say that I have. That—for me—is enough.

There have been many changes this year, not just for me, but for all of us. The swift shifting of external factors has discarded us in hand-tied positions. Tongue-tied, even. But it is exactly in these kinds of impossible situations that we are forced to grow, often for the better. Changing and growing are parts of life that we all share; it is of the few similarities that tie us together as human beings. Much like the metamorphosis of a butterfly, the process can be ugly and irksome; but much like the metamorphosis of a butterfly, trust that the result will always turn out colorful and beautiful, each in its own way.

In the end, we can only count on constant change to be there. Plans get canceled. People move away. Friends don’t turn out the way you expect them to. You lose some skills, then you gain some. You surrender some love, then you get it back. You go through hell, then you’re out of the woods.

But is there a constant amidst all these spontaneous changes?

Yes, it’s you.

p.s. kudos to Samuel for inspiring me to write about metamorphosis. I was about to name this piece “the spontaneity of change”.