14. The Dam of Your Life
March 23rd 2020, Monday
Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.—Parkinson’s Law
After scheduling almost a whole day to review for the test on Monday, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Hanson spent most of the day procrastinating. Had he scheduled only 3 hours for studying and spent other times for activities that truly mattered to him, things would have been different. He planned to edit his YouTube video which had been sitting in his Micro SD card for almost 2 weeks now, telling himself that he should do it when exams are over, when stuff is less chaotic, but only to realize that such rational voice is the biggest enemy for creativity, against the duty that he is supposed to fulfill.
Stop reading so much and go think.Marty Seligman to Angela Druckworth, author of a book that Hanson is reading right now called “Grit“
The truth of the matter is, Hanson enjoys reading as a form to avoid real work that matters. He has piles of books on his desk, which in all fairness, do give him valuable insights that he would not otherwise have known. “Grit” is among the many books that he is currently reading as a desperate attempt to get his life together as someone who had officially reached the midpoint of his twenties just 2 weeks before. Imagine the irony when Hanson read the sentence in Angela’s book when her mentor tells her to stop reading so much and go think, her reactions upon hearing the words in the book are almost the same as those of Hanson: hurt, disbelief, and anger.
It would be nice if wisdom has such a quality that it would flow from one man who is full of wisdom to another man who has no wisdom, just as with two connected vessels water flows from one vessel to the other until the water level is the same in both of them. The problem is that to obtain wisdom, you must make an independent, serious effort of your own.— Leo Tolstoy
Knowledge and practice need to be balanced. They need each other. If Hanson chooses to hide behind his books and his intellect as a way to run from his real duty, which at this moment in time involves making YouTube videos, then he simply must gather the courage to do so. If he doesn’t even bother to schedule time in his calendar, how can he expect himself to treat the work seriously?
Hanson’s mother Catherine brought two kittens back to their Beijing home yesterday while his father Richard was away for his job. Trying not to see his mother as a crazy cat lady, Hanson cannot help but feel sorry for her. Catherine’s sister Marie just had a son a few weeks ago, which is her secondborn after the one-child policy no longer applied. Marie is the youngest sister of the family who happens to also be the prettiest, the crown jewel, the precious joy whose birth was not planned under the pressure of the time. Catherine’s jealousy towards her younger sister, though carefully veiled under compliments, almost always came through over family dinner when Hanson inquired about the family history mostly out of boredom and his willingness to play along with Catherine’s self-pitying. She was the middle child, the ugly daughter who was always under the shadow of her beautiful mother, her kind father, and her headstrong brother, whose only virtue is his gender to carry on the family line. Before Marie’s due date, Catherine told Hanson that she was certain Marie would have a girl because Marie’s husband is not a manly man. The underlying logic is, of course, unmanly man can only have daughters, an unhealthy view of masculinity that Catherine no doubt had inherited from her mother, a silent toxin that is eating away not only her self-compassion but also her kindness towards women and men, for as long as she prefers boys over girls, the same inclination shared by her mother, Catherine would not find peace with her inner child who was deeply hurt from years of negligence caused by the very thing that she approved of, Chinese patriarchy and its solemn role in affirming the superiority of men over women.
Hanson told Catherine that he believed Marie would have boy, mostly to spite his mother, because Catherine had always used him as a way to affirm her position in the family, to put down her little sister, because no matter how much love and affection Marie received, she would forever be remembered as the woman who gave birth to a girl, whereas Catherine, the hard-working intellectual that makes a living by saving people’s lives, is a mother to a son, arguably the most honorable thing a woman could do for her family, an honor that Marie would never be able to accomplish. That was the reason Hanson prayed for Marie to have a boy, just so his mother would suffer for her distorted view of the world, to let her reap the sorrows that she had sown. In hindsight, it was very immature of Hanson to think this way, for he had long passed the age to hold resentments towards his mother, who was a deeply troubled woman that did the best she could to raise him. But due to his inability to confront his mother and to share his real opinions, challenging his mother regarding her less-than-ideal view of gender and its implications had become one of the many things that Hanson chose to lock away in his mind. It is fair to say that behind the wish for Marie to have a son is Hanson’s request to the universe to restore balance into the world, to show his mother that once Marie had a son, Catherine would no longer hold a monopoly in her honor in giving birth to a son, and she would have to find new reasons to feel better about herself.
Low and behold the two kittens that Katherin had newly adopted. It’s important to point out that she already had 2 cats, both of which were acquired right before Hanson left China for college in New York. The timing was impeccable. Just enough time for Hanson to teach her how to take care of them since he had experience working in a cat shelter, but not enough time for Hanson to get attached to them. 7 years had passed since then. The timing of her adopting the new kittens was also exquisite. It was right before Richard came back from work, so he wouldn’t have a chance to reject her decision, and right after Marie had a son, who instantly became the center of the attention in her family WeChat group. It is deeply unfair for Hanson to assume that Catherine did what she did out of some deliberate attempt to regain control since the two kittens were freshly born from the cat of her colleague, an event that happened to took place around the same time when Catherine was susceptible to using external forces to console her complicated feelings that had been bubbling up for quite a while.
In light of the conversations that he had with his parents last year during their European trip, Hanson could imagine the underlying sorrow that Catherine was experiencing for the past few weeks, though she would never admit it. Due to the one-child policy, Catherine had 3 abortions after Hanson was born, which she brushed off as painless with a deceptively nonchalant tone. Before he knew about these unfortunate events, Hanson had heard from her a couple of times on how she never imagined herself to be a mother, that having one child was already hard enough, that should the opportunity to have another one came up she would not consider it at all. Hanson believed her because in her view, having a boy is already an achievement that can be bragged for life. But during the trip, perhaps because they had all consumed alcohol together at some point, they started to talk about things with a bit more candor, at least much more candidly than he could take credit for. Hanson asked that if the one-child policy never existed, would they have more children? She said yes. They would have. Probably as much as they could handle.
Just like that. The stories that Hanson had been hearing for years no longer hold true. He also realized that perhaps they were not true because that was the only way for her to cope with her sadness. If you repeat a lie more than enough, it begins to resemble truth. If she was indeed completely happy with just one child, those 3 abortions would remain as painless procedures that do not deserve any place in her memory, along with the pain and sorrows that came with them, all brushed away since they are simply not true. He started to understand why his parents had an aversion for truth and open feelings, for they are bricks in their mental dam that had been keeping the water from flooding the town below. They cannot risk it. Better to keep the dam strong, than imagining a future without it, a possible future where the old town might be destroyed, but a new and healthier one can be rebuilt that is in harmony with nature. Such things are unimaginable, a risk that they cannot afford to take. Taking in two more cats, on the other hand, is something much more manageable.
He would pray for them. May they find peace, may they be loved, may they be free from sufferings.