Do you keep a secret record of what your parallel-universe self might be up to? I mean, there’s so many things you’ve unknowingly had to give up to be where you are right now, so many paths left untrodden — you would be deluded to think your inner compass was so well-calibrated, so perfectly attuned to harnessing your individual human potential, that you can comfortably claim to be the ideal version of yourself.

I’ll give you an example. I bet you sometimes flatter yourself with the idea that there is some skill you’ve never tried your hand at that, for no particular reason, you just naturally excel at. I, for one, tend to think parallel-universe me is a runner; probably the marathon type. What has led me to enter this spiral of self-deception? I have made the observation that I am virtually unable to ascend a flight of stairs without turning it into a race: almost without fail, I’ll sort of half run, half jump up the whole thing, skipping every second step in a clumsy display of stream-lined athleticity. The only sensible explanation for this behavioural anomaly is, of course, that I am actually, deep down, one of those ambitious, sporty people, right? Probably not, but it’s a comforting thought.

Another, slightly more tangible one of my “hidden passions”, I’ll have you know, is curating information. What I mean by that is basically that I can spend hours putting together a ten-slide Powerpoint presentation and relish every moment of it. This might just be an outlet for my obsessive compulsive tendencies, but I would venture to say it’s a pretty wholesome one compared to repeatedly checking whether the oven is turned off (but like, really turned off).

It’s all the more frustrating, then, when you find yourself working on a group project with people who might pick up on your irrational obsession with internal coherence and design but do not share that affiliation (or, rather, affliction) to any remote extent. They’re nice about it and all, but they’re not really what you would call compliant. Because, get this, even if everybody agrees to leave the visual tweaks and pixel-pushing to you, the perfectionist, your group members’ time management won’t allow you to keep hold of that control that you so cherish: so the presentation handout ends up in their hands, not as a printed, aesthetically sealed, copy but as a digital file subject to their dicey sense of judgment and sporadic research.

That’s when your absurd daydreams about parallel-universe you, about maybe going into information design yourself, etc. become utterly irrelevant. That’s when you’re forced to grapple with your very own principles. You were supposed to give that class an academic makeover with that presentation, you were supposed to wake your fellow students from their customary slumber of non-engagement, but alas! You failed. Because you neglected the most vital part in this undertaking: you forgot to eliminate that vicious virus of indifference within your own group.


Even though this makes me sound really judgmental, I want to clarify that I’m trying (and I do have to try very hard, which is probably why I failed) not to point blame here. All I wanted to achieve with this, well, let’s call it a cautionary tale, is to make you think back to a time when you were hit by the weight of caring about something — caring deeply, wholeheartedly, but to no avail. Because what’s caring worth if your commitment and enthusiasm don’t extend to others in some way? What’s it worth speaking to an empty auditorium.

Then again, you’re probably just reading the wrong side of the argument (which, given the non-confrontational wimp of a study buddy I am, didn’t even turn into an argument in the first place). You haven’t heard an account of my group members’ other obligations, you haven’t heard about the favours they’ve promised others, about all the side projects that urged them to surrender their preparation time just to help a friend.  But since this is my side of the argument, you get the whiny pedant for a protagonist: the guy who just doesn’t have the courage to be an absolute nobody. You must be sick of it, and I’m sick of it too.

My apologies.

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3 thoughts on “Some Kind of a Splash

  1. I have to say this delightful musing of yours is one of my favourites so far because it effortlessly captures the joy I indulged in this week when working on a presentation on Black feminism, which I was super passionate about. My group partner had no problem with my bossy attitude and exaggerated enthusiasm, and let me even choose the topics I so eagerly wanted to inform people in class about. The handout and the PowerPoint itself were left to my responsibility – and I could select all kinds of media representing the core issues of our speech. I highly enjoyed filling these slides with information that are cut down into little fragments and sections the Academia is working with in order to transmit knowledge and wisdom; as if to suggest our whole existence could be categorised into precise segments, such like the concept of periodisation promises. Such a satisfying illusion!

    However, it often happens that people don’t care anymore. In my case that’s due to my energy levels – or rather the instability thereof. At times, it becomes a very nuisance to focus, and my mind just wanders off beyond the scope of what is relevant at that point. But passion – authentic passion that is – is one of the most vitalising experiences to share with people. I never seem to grow weary of it. If you are a quite raw and authentic person with passion, chances are I’m already fascinated by you, which is curing me of my disenchantment with humanity. So if you actually manage to heat up a discussion in class about questions posed as part of your performance, it’s such a delight.

    Speaking to an empty auditorium on the other hand may sound less endearing, and yet aren’t you the one who’s sitting in the front row taking notes in the first place anyway?

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    1. Passion is attractive, sure, but you can’t deny that outward passion is supposed to project a certain image of you, which is where I think ambition and ego come into play. My enthusiasm when I gave my presentation wasn’t for the topic itself but rather for the opportunity to present it to others. If preparation and execution run smoothly there’s no reason to worry about anything, but if it doesn’t it really makes you question what exactly your partners are “ruining” for you. In the end it’s all ego, isn’t it?

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