When Reality Beckons: Confessions of a Drama Addict

Recently, my dad sent me this photo which expressively demonstrates my aggressive territoriality over a french fry (or my incurable love for food since I was a kid). When my phone ding!-ed and the screen lit up with this incoming message, I was in the midst of a rough week built up from a lack of sleep, exercise, and healthy food—I ate a record-breaking number of four fat cup noodles in a span of five days—and this photo which loaded on the screen made me laugh so hard that the world seemed like a gentler, funnier place to be in.

I kind of fell into an emotional rut over the past few weeks. Around the time I posted my Pride & Prejudice movie review, I had just embarked on the first steps of what would be an all-consuming fictional marathon, in which I watched an accumulative seventy hours of movies and dramas. At the peak of this obsession, which was during Spring Break (10-18 March), I holed up in my dorm room during a gusty snowstorm, passionately consuming twelve hours of movies continuously (Titanic, You Are the Apple of My Eye《那些年,我们一起追的女孩》, The Sound of Music, The Proposal, and the final stretch of Moulin Rouge).

Outside my windows, the world was rocked by invisible, tempestuous hands into a topsy-turvy blend of thudding grey rain and ferocious pale flakes (with some irony, I now recall my enraptured post on First Snow last December). Inside the room, I was under a spell. On an empty campus engulfed in inhospitable weather, I found myself in almost complete solitude, thoroughly enthralled by the binding power of storytelling. When my stomach growled, I would order food delivery to the door. It was a frenetic, seemingly psychedelic week. On the Sunday before classes resumed, I collapsed into tears. I had finished the final episode of Reply 1988 (twenty episodes of two hours each) and felt as though someone had dug out my soul with a shovel. After days of being utterly immersed in a world of true-to-life characters, my own life seemed faint and colorless to me in comparison to the intense, stirring world of the drama. I was untethered to my reality and desperately wanted to hand the reins of my life to another drama or movie. Escapism was transformative. Real life was unpalatable.

Needless to say, I knew I had a problem. My subsequent steps out of the shadows of this unhealthy addiction to fiction constitute a very individualized recommendation of “How to Re-engage with Reality”. For all I know, most of you might never have this problem. But here’s an honest account of what I did:

How to Re-engage with Reality (in a severe case of drama addiction)

  1. Stop staying in your dorm room. What I did this week: I spent as minimal amount of time in my dorm as possible, by exploring the far-flung libraries in Harvard Kennedy School and Divinity School, eating breakfast in CGIS, and just simply walking in the sun to buy pastries (Monkeybread!). A lot of traveling and walking that I used to deem as a waste of time was whole-heartedly embraced. I averaged 10,000 steps a day this week.
  2. Make a pledge to give yourself a period of drama-cleanse. What I did this week: I made a promise to myself to not watch any dramas or movies at all until Harvard China Forum (happening 6-8 April) ends. Speaking of which, if you’re in Boston, please come! I’m organizing the Culture Panel, which will feature Fang Wenshan 方文山 (famous Chinese pop music lyricist best known for his collaboration with Jay Chou), Li Lu 李路 (the director of the top-rated Chinese drama in 2017, In the Name of the People《人民的名义》), Stanley Chan 陈楸帆 (sci-fi writer), and Yang Hui 杨晖 (CEO and Founder of Vivid Media, which has produced several notable Chinese variety shows). Check out the Facebook event →
  3. Talk to your close friends about your addiction. What I did this week: Not that it came as a surprise to anyone who knew me well, but I confessed to them about my addiction to dramas/movies. They gave me their observations about my behavior and unexpectedly kept me accountable to my pledge. ❤
  4. Find something substantial to occupy your time with. What I did this week: Unexpectedly, I got a job! I officially began working as a Research Assistant at the Ash Center with Professor Kishore Mahbubani, who is a visiting fellow from Singapore at the Kennedy School. He first sparked off my interest in international relations in secondary school when I read his book, The Great Convergence. I thought it would be vaguely surreal working with someone who I greatly admired (as one of Singapore’s most eminent diplomats, he was my idol in those years when I wanted to join the foreign service), but it’s instead rather humanizing—it brings them down from the pedestal that you put them on. Thank you, Harvard.
  5. Laugh at yourself a little. Feel the weirdness and ludicrousness of life’s punches and presents. What happened this week: My water bottle leaked in my bag and my notes from both semesters for two of my favorite classes (Hum 10 & Fiction Writing Workshops) were soaked to the point of illegibility. I waited for some extreme sadness to well up, but then the sheer absurdity of this tiny episode struck me—helped by my roommate Ani who snapped a photo of the drenched notes, commenting that it looked like artwork—and the moment became oddly tender.

This is a cathartic post for me and I thank you for reading. I vacillated briefly between writing this and keeping it to myself, but to write this was to acknowledge a problem I had over the years, which exploded this month. Drama addiction, which sounds laughable and vaguely embarrassing, happens to everyone.

After only a week, I am surprisingly much more engaged with life. Perhaps, it’s when reality falls short that I turn to the fictional world. But the more lasting antidote is to take life—as dull, messy, stressful, and imperfect as it is—by its horns and to live it. Find tiny moments of pleasure, of emotional tugs at your heartstrings, of unannounced humor in unpronounced places, of the subtle thrill hovering in the unsaid, and of the plot that is embedded in our own lives. As fun as it is to live vicariously through fictional characters, the only script we get to pen is our own.

Here’s wishing all of you happy, concrete adventures! 🌱

Lots of love,

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Movie Review: Pride & Prejudice (2005)

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Pride & Prejudice | Starring Keira Knightley & Matthew Macfadyen | 2005

This review is full of spoilers.

Gloriously, hopelessly romantic.

Pride and Prejudice is the English novel that cemented my love for romance. It’s my initiation into romantic literature, the etchings of a lifelong silhouette of Mr. Darcy behind all contours of romantic aspirations henceforth, and the story that told my childhood self that there is someone out there who will respect and admire my mind for its worth.

Reading Austen and entering her world through film is akin to intoxication. It’s the giddy effect of a good love story told with incredible flair and finesse—the logic is impeccable, the witticisms offer both levity and plot-progression, and the motivations are ground in such human concerns and practicalities that they still reverberate in contemporary consciousness. Women are still trying to find a Mr. Darcy—why? After shifting structures, broken ceilings, and epochal milestones, something still rings true: bound to varying degrees by societal norms and the expectations of those around, is there not a voice within all that genuinely, forlornly, ardently yearns for someone who can simply see us as who we are—different and independent we may be—and love us? Two centuries later, the yearning endures: that is, to find a partner equal in mind. How ahead of her time Austen was.

This movie captures that evolution from affronted pride and conditioned prejudice to the amorous reconciliation of two souls underneath the cloak of first impressions (interestingly, Austen’s original title for the novel was “First Impressions”). A few scenes in particular stick out to me for constant revisiting:

At the ball, in the background of this frame, Darcy pronounces to Bingley: “Perfectly tolerable, I daresay, but not handsome enough to tempt me.” In the foreground, half of Elizabeth’s face is in the shadows of the alcove; the slight dimming of her bright eyes and the lingering remnants of a now-gone smile are evidence of a wounded pride.

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This really does set the stage for the rest of the story to unfold. As Elizabeth says,

I could more easily forgive his vanity had he not wounded mine.

Not long later in the movie, Darcy’s hand appears to help Elizabeth get onto her carriage and the camera zooms into that hand as he walks away, capturing its tense trembling and a flexing that is laden with inklings of a growing attraction. It was breathtaking to catch such a glimpse past the seemingly impenetrable, unflappable exterior of Darcy. In the 1995 BBC adaptation, Colin Firth’s Darcy while wearing hauteur like a second skin, never really does shed that facade to show the emotional ferment and vulnerabilities within. In contrast, Matthew Macfadyen’s sensitive portrayal has an immense tautness of character. The internal struggle that Darcy undergoes comes out movingly in such tiny moments of things unsaid that make his later articulated declaration in the rain, “I have struggled in vain and I can bear it no longer”, so much more poignant for the audience.

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The consummate scene of mutual romantic confession is one of pure cinematic magic. As the piano soundtrack suffuses the shot to dissipate the early morning mist (Your Hands Are Cold), Darcy emerges from blue landscape towards Elizabeth. He is without a cravat and she without a corset. He is walking, neither on carriage nor horseback, just as she did to Netherfield Park. As the warm golden sunlight shines through the silhouette of their touching foreheads, I felt something altogether wonderful. I felt almost incandescently happy.

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While there are some minor deviations from the novel, it was easy to surrender myself to their love as the Elizabeth and Darcy surrender to it themselves. The Austen concoction is absolutely there in generous doses. To embrace yourself and your ideals—especially when they transcend the conventions of your time—takes courage; to find someone who can appreciate and love you for that takes luck. That is what’s so moving about this Austen adaptation. Elizabeth and Darcy. Darcy and Elizabeth. What a lucky pair. Whilst Mr. Bennett lovingly tells Elizabeth towards the end of the movie, I cannot believe that anyone can deserve you, another softer, yet perennial message resounds, There is some person in this vast world who will deserve you as you are. So I offer this kernel to you, dear reader.

❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

Lots of love,

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