For the many nameless heroes: Rogue One, A Star Wars Story

I was nervous as I sat down in the movie theatre. This nervousness didn’t dissipate but intensify during the first part of Rogue One. “Oh my god, this is going to be one of the hit and miss.” Too many characters, too many places. Everything was happening too fast. Impossible to follow. I didn’t remember any of the characters’ names except the main protagonist, Jyn Erso.

All of them seem so fascinating and complicated, and yet they were not given the time to tell their stories. The monk who is not quite Jedi, but still makes it his life mission to protect an ancient Jedi temple; the rebel leader who almost confesses his guilt in doing the dirty work in the name of justice; the cargo pilot who has a revelation that makes him turn away from the Empire. And Jyn, our kick-ass lead, seems to be an erstwhile petty criminal with too much unexplained pain and anger.

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The Russian version of Rogue One poster. Stunning.

Each of them deserves their own movies but we didn’t get much from them apart from skin-deep dialogues.

 

But when I came out of the theatre, that didn’t seem to matter much anymore. Jyn’s face still stared at me from every Rogue One poster, but this isn’t her story. Not in the sense that A New Hope is Luke’s story or the Force Awaken is Rey’s story. In those stories, hero is a singular concept. It’s a destiny. They are pulled by the force to become the Chosen Ones. The Rogue One crew is assembled almost by accident. They are not the legend, and they would never become legends in that galaxy far far away.

Deaths, in Rogue One, happen quickly, abruptly and often quite meaningless. Many of them die without so much of an exposition. They don’t die like Ben Kenobi, but more like the rebels that got slaughtered by Darth Vadar during the final sequence. Do you remember those rebels’ names? In war times especially, deaths come in abundance, meaningless and cheap. No one remembers them.

And yet they are the key to the destruction of the Death Star. The Death Star isn’t destroyed by one fundamental design flaw that no one detected, or by the chosen one’s miraculous bombing manoeuvre. It is destroyed by many nameless sacrifices. Facing their own imminent deaths, instead of paralysed by fear, they still pass along the key to the Empire’s downfall.

In the end, I still don’t remember many of the characters’ names. And I think that is the point. Rogue One is the requiem for all the nameless heroes.

 

Heroism needs not be singular. The majority of us will never be Leia the brave princess, Luke the Jedi master or Han the rebel. In all political movements, there are the leaders and there are the masses. No movement can take off without either one. In most cases, the masses are the key.

The Empire will become the First Order, but there will always be resistance. In light of today’s political climate, Rogue One is indeed the film we need. Rebellions are built on hope, and the many nameless heroes.

Tracking my life.

I’m a long time reader of Wil Wheaton’s blog and I have read his monthly reboot posts religiously. I love motivations and goals and organisations. It’s inspiring to see his continued improvement despite a bit of stumble in between. He also has a better system than mine. As a monthly update, it’s a lot less stressful than my daily check-ins. I found myself dreading not being able to fulfil the impossibly high goals I set for myself every day.

My life is no longer such a hot mess as a year ago, but I still have meltdowns from time to time. In those days, I failed to do anything. Every day is a bit of struggle and uncertainty – will I finish at least 2/3 of my to-do list? Will I be able to do half an hour of yoga today? (No, I didn’t) Will I be able to eat healthy today? (Also no) I beat myself up at every corner. And that’s not healthy.

By writing this down and keeping track, I can quantify my own failings and successes. Then I don’t have to spend every minute of my waking hours to worry. I can afford to stress out on my failings every month, but not every day. This is also a sort of reward system. I can also force myself to acknowledge that I’m improving every month if that happens, instead of shying away and only focusing on how much I didn’t do.

So I’m going to do a year-long self-betterment life reboot so I can have my quarter life crisis in a framework, Wheaton-style. And here are my goals:

Write. Write my journal, write my blog, write my reviews after reading each book and watching each film, write my book, write my short stories. Especially, write in Chinese. My mother tongue is slowly slipping away.

Study German. I spent thousands of bucks to go to classes when I was about 16 and now I almost forgot it all. I have all the tools I need to reconnect with the language, reference books, novels, textbooks, internet… I only need to sit down and do the work.

Play piano. I have never been a very good pianist. Like every other student in Hong Kong, I stopped playing after obtaining the Grade 8 certificate. I’m honestly ashamed of that mindset. Music is beautiful. I want to play songs to enjoy.

Sleep at a reasonable hour. At the moment of typing this, it’s 0032 local time. I’m treading in dangerous territories. It’s all too easy to drift to 0300 and still be awake. And then it’s impossible to wake up at a reasonable time. If I woke up late, I have a hard time to concentrate, which often result in a day wasted. I’d say not be too harsh on myself and set the time at before 0100.

Less casual internet browsing. Internet is the fuel for procrastination. Page after page of Wikipedia, video after video on Youtube… I have already quit Facebook and that feels AMAZING. I should control myself on other sites as well. Let’s try to only browse the internet aimlessly during night time.

Exercise. I can’t seem to make exercise sticks. I exercise for 10 days in a row then suddenly stop for two weeks. Exercise is so important to my mental and physical health. It helps me organise better, less stressful. And I also want to look good naked.

Eat better. Don’t eat till you feel sick. Less carbohydrates. Less sugar. It’s a difficult goal. Asian diet basically builds around carbs. And I love my sweet stuff. But I always feel less productive the day after I splurged.

That’s all.

It’s daunting. I’ve been trying to do all these things for months and nothing seems to stick for long. Let’s see if I will be able to do at least some of them, given that I don’t set a strict schedule for doing all these things. (strict schedules are always counter productive to me) But as Wheaton eloquently put it, “If I tried to do just one of these things, and I stayed committed to it, I’d probably feel better about myself. Doing all of them together isn’t necessarily easier, but it isn’t necessarily harder, either. Every one of these things supports the other in a sparkling geometric structure of awesome that is making my life significantly and consistently better.”

I’m going to sleep at exactly 0100.

Dear 2016

I’ve seen many people begin their reflection on 2016 with “I’m not going to discuss the world’s politics because it sucks, but personally it’s a great year…”

I wish I could say that. For me, 2016 has been a sucky year both publicly and privately.

Publicly, it is, of course, a collectively bad year for anyone on the liberal left. The world seems to be breaking apart. People are drifting inwards because of fear and hatred. Governments who abuse power never ceases.

Privately, there were a lot of failures, heartbreaks and sadness. A lot of it was due to my own faults. Failures are easier to swallow when it is other people’s faults. But when there were expectations and you failed to fulfil that – there’s nothing but shame and humiliation. I have never before felt like a child and the pressure to “become an adult” so acutely.

There is a lot of growing up to do. And I need to do it fast.

So I set to organise my life step by step. Write down every goal, every item that needs to get done, check and check and check again. And like every adult in town, I started therapy. Much overdue. My therapist and I work together to find out what’s stopping me, what’s troubling me, what’s suffocating me. There is still a lot of work to be done, but the soothing effect was immediate.

2017 has started for a month now and I still felt slightly shaky. Uncertain every step of the way. But I can surely say that work and life are less chaotic now. Constant vigilance, however, so I won’t fall back into the childish, depressed version of myself.

Godspeed, 2016. Never again.

 

First world feminist problems #1 What’s your baby’s last name?

My friend just found out she’s pregnant. Apart from the gush of happiness and the daunting realisation that “I have reached that age” (of which my friends are starting to get hitched and make babies), I also felt the urge to ask her one question – will the child take the mother or the father’s last name?

As expected, she hasn’t even thought about it. Of course it’ll take the dad’s name.

I have this odd feeling – I understand her and don’t at the very same time. After all the conditioning, it’s only natural that she doesn’t question the social expectation. But I also find it confusing, because it is so easy to see that this little thing is an arbitrary social construct. There is no law of physics forcing us to take our fathers’ last name. It’s not gravity, there is no reason you only get to fall one way.

It’s almost a shock how people perceive me as a radical for proposing other options. No doubt, some people will be agitated that I dare raise such an insignificant issue. (“it’s only a name when people are dying”) But if it is insignificant, what’s the harm for children to take their mothers’ last names? Or even having a third or fourth options? (Joint last names? Abandoning last names entirely?)

The chance is slim, but should I have any offspring, I’ll insist that it takes my mother’s last name, which incidentally is the last name I think I deserve. Screw what the society says I should do. Shake up the damn system.

A little project for 2017

I’m going to keep it easy.

I have been here before. I have felt the same before – Wanting to be a better person in the new year, so we make a list of new year resolutions. As so many years before, I have included writing a blog as one of the resolutions.

But it failed because I put too much pressure on myself. “It has to be the perfect essay.”, “It has to have interesting ideas.”…… Such pretentiousness has gotten me nowhere. Writing cannot be perfect (if such things can even be achieved) without constant practice. Ideas will not be polished without getting it out of my head and into a conversation.

So I’m going to make it easier for me. I will accept that I sometimes can’t think of beautiful prose, sometimes I am boring, sometimes I slip and will not be writing for a while.

I will just write whatever come to my mind.

The important thing is to get whatever in my mind out, instead of leaving them inside to rot.

All the resolution is nice and all and I have many of them in store for 2017. But for this platform, there is only one – write.

The lies depression told me.

Trigger warning: mention of depression and suicidal thoughts.

I have never been diagnosed depression. This, I learn, is very common among all kinds of mental illness. However, without professional diagnosis, I can’t help to doubt myself.

You don’t have mental illness, you’re just weak.

Other people have it much worse, why can’t you just suck it up?

You’re shit, your’re fucked up, you’re worthless. And you don’t deserve to be treated like people who really need help.

Wil Wheaton writes about his struggles with depression on his blog. He repeatedly mentions that “depression lies”. That is very true. In my case, it lied to me about the severity of my conditions.

It all happened when I just turned 12. Secondary school just started a few months ago. I started to get familiar with my classmates. One day, my friends decided that I was not worthy of their friendships. The bullying and ostracising blew to class-wide and lasted till the end of the school years. I was completely isolated, helpless, and unknowingly, hopeless.

Symptoms started rolling in. I began to have mysterious stomach-aches that happened almost daily. My neck’s muscles began twitching involuntarily. My concentration lost, my grades dropped, my temper flared up. I was petrified of social situation where I might be ridiculed. These symptoms lasted for a good portion of a decade, many of which I’m still battling today.

I stayed  in that school for another six years. During that time, despite having a few close friends, I mostly closed down to myself. I intentionally distance myself. I read. I stayed at home.

I’ve never once sought help from psychologists or psychiatrists, even in the midst of my darkest days. I was convinced that I was not mentally ill. Your grades were not up to standard? Couldn’t concentrate? Well, you’re just lazy. Not even when I spent 14 hours in bed, feeling like I was drowning, or 8 hours in front of the computer a month before a major public exam have convinced me that there’s something wrong in my brain.

The most serious lie depression told me was that I was not suicidal. It was a lie I still believed in until about a year ago. I went to a doctor to get a referral letter to the public psychiatric department because I finally had to admit that my life was spiralling to hell. But I still told her that I didn’t think of killing myself. In my mind, I was convinced that my problem wasn’t as severe ‘as those who truly deserve help’.

I was wrong. WRONG. A few months later, I somehow picked up my old diaries spanning across my entire secondary school years. They were full of scribbles of extremely dark thoughts. But it never arrived to me that I was suicidal because I thought killing myself was only a logically sound conclusion. A creature such as me should not be considered a tragedy when she died. Then, why bother thinking that was a problem?

I barely hung onto life. And the fact that I never acted upon it only made me more ashamed about the ‘lightness’ of my condition. I was both not as worthy as the’healthy’, nor as deserving as the ‘sick’.

Many years have past since. I still have panic attacks and social anxiety. Occasionally, I have bad days and things can go really dark. However, I can now honestly say that I’m not suicidal at all. Though I still have fleeting moments of self-doubt, especially regarding the unworthiness of medical attention. (perhaps paradoxically, since my symptoms lessen, I feel even more uncertain to go to the doctor or therapy) But my self-worth is also solidifying, little by little, day after day. I slowly believe that I’m someone who deserve help and need help. It’s important to remember that depression lies. Sometimes, you know it’s lying but can’t help to believe it. But what it’s saying is not true.

If you have suicidal thoughts, (too many school children committed suicide in Hong Kong lately) seek help. Go to your family, friends, doctors, teachers. Call suicide prevention hotlines. No matter who you are, what position you are in, you deserve a hand to walk you through.

Wisdom from a Stoic

I’m reading Meditation by Marcus Aurelius. His words calm me and inspire me.

They cannot admire you for intellect. Granted – but there are many other qualities of which you cannot say, ‘but that is not the way I am made’. So display those virtues which are wholly in your own power – integrity, dignity, hard work, self-denial, contentment, frugality, kindness, independence, simplicity, discretion, magnanimity. Do you not see how many virtues you  can already display without any excuse of lack of talent or aptitude? And yet you are still content to lag behind. Or does that fact that you have no inborn talent oblige you to grumble, to crimp, to today, to blame your poor body, to suck up, to brag, to have your mind in such turmoil? No, by heaven, it does not! You could have got rid of all this long ago, and only be charged – if charge there is – with being rather slow and dull of comprehension. And yet even this can be worked on – unless you ignore or welcome your stupidity. (5.5)

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