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)
- 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.
- 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 →
- 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. ❤
- 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.
- 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 intelligibility. 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,