Inspired by a piece of ambient acclaimed video game music, the fouth installment of our critical writing series is a thought-provokingly nostalgic reminiscence of childhood (and thus a refusal to forget) against the hurried time and fetishisation of productivity marked by adulthood, by the pseudonymous Gen Z author “placeholder”—rumoured to be a precocious high school student posting from China.
“I was mad at myself for doing nothing productive for an entire day. That’s all. I’ve heard from several peers that this piece is very relatable, so I’ve decided to publish it. I learned the word ‘Doldrums’ through a video game track, ‘Into the Doldrums’ by Chris Christodoulou, from the game Risk of Rain 2. I took inspiration from the track in writing this, but everything in this piece is sourced from my own experiences. I hope you enjoy.”
Another day wasted. I think this would be a good time to speak to myself.
I began to have this strange sensation starting from perhaps the beginning of the year. A feeling of endless stagnation and stillness, like I’m frozen in time, or trapped in an endless loop. Sure, they say that the grade that I’m in is supposed to be the busiest year of them all, all wrapped in school and application preparations. It may seem so, but I just want to take a good moment to breathe in the air. Everything around me seems to pass so quickly. Constantly on the run, faster and faster, towards the future. And they seem to want me to do the same. Yet seeing this roaring river of time around me, its resolve unbreakable as it flowed ahead with an eerie sense of confidence, it just couldn’t be helped that a tinge of disillusionment had begun to bloom.
Every day seems largely the same, the ever-numbing routine of waking up, going to school, coming back home, and trying to defer any work as much as possible because I just do not feel like doing it. All my time, wasted on scrolling through the internet—it might as well be the most brain-dead thing to do. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of meaningful content to find on there, but often I don’t feel like I’m looking for anything in particular, more like just wandering around. I don’t even play that much in terms of video games anymore. It feels wrong to be playing them without having done my work. On days without any school, things would turn out worse, as I would just spend over 8 hours per day doing nothing productive. And it’s not just one weekend, not just a single holiday. It’s been almost every single weekend since this trend started.
I’m not quite sure how to speak about this. Perhaps, this was an act of rebellion against that raging river, by standing still in its rushing waters. A futile and ultimately detrimental act, may it be, for I do not enjoy being here, stuck in the doldrums. Perhaps this was a desperate plea for things to slow down, for me to get a grasp of myself, just coming over a bout of changes, to regain my balance and not be swept away by the current. Sure, to surrender oneself to it can be soothing, just following along, attuning yourself to the constant beating rhythm, blending in with the rest. But I cannot bring myself to that. I cannot bring myself to follow along. I just don’t want to let go of what once was. Those days in my memories were clear enough for me to remember parts of and hazy enough for my imagination to add that silver lining, turning them golden. I remember the places I’ve traveled to, the sights I’ve seen, and days spent doing little and caring little.
We never moved faster or slower through time—it’s all 1 second per second. So why do you want to leave in such a hurry? And why do I dwindle here? Where does the sloth come from? Are we knowing too much—that despite what a lot of adults tell you, the “best” part of life is truly behind us? The memories keep coming back- I remember the summer days when I was in elementary school when I had sleepovers with classmates when we tried to hide our phones from checking parents and watched Minecraft and FNAF videos at the tiniest volume in bed. Or maybe that’s all just a fragment of my imagination and we just slept after a tiring day. I also remember the lunch breaks spent in the library, when I was obsessed with reading. I recall that fateful encounter with the series which still plays a major role in my life, seven years ago. I was merely at a particular place, at a particular time, with a particular librarian who made a particular choice to grab a particular book off of the closest shelf. How far have I gone since then? What would that child think of me now, either looking at my phone or cramming unfinished homework? I could ask him- he’s me, after all, but it seems like nobody’s home. I think he moved out a long time ago, and hasn’t returned since.
Can it be that my current situation subconsciously is a call to bring him back?
You know that it cannot be this way. You and him, you two cannot coexist together. After all, a person like him wouldn’t stay up until midnight writing some depressed document on how he misses the past.
But he would waste nine hours a day, wouldn’t he?
Yes, but he would still enjoy it to some extent. I doubt that the formation of this piece comes from a place of enjoyment after wasting a day.
I feel like I’m going nowhere with this. I’m still stuck, trapped, bonded by nothing more than just mere thoughts and regret.
Thoughts and emotions are nothing “mere”. They are integral to us, just as important as the material.
But it feels just off. I do not know the nature of this barrier surrounding me. Is it formed by my selfishness? My incompetence? Or maybe there is after all something fundamentally wrong with my mind? Or is it just something all of us have to get through eventually, and I should just deal with it as it is?
Where do you think you will get an answer? Surely you aren’t expecting them from me. I do not know anything more than you do. If you asked, then I cannot answer, or even if I do, you wouldn’t take it.
Then tell me, my dear reflection, what remains in the doldrums for us to cling to?
If you want to put it figuratively, I would say that it’s the sediments of time.
And if I want it less figuratively?
The past. The past does not change. The past which you can sleep soundly against knowing that tomorrow it’ll be the same, always there for you.
Is this why my days seem so repetitive?
Maybe. The past carries its fair share of weight. It’ll be hard to move bearing all that. Or maybe you want to, if you seek its protection. Maybe this is the reason.
We have a potential cause, but I don’t see a solution coming up.
Indeed. To lose such weight is to be but a helpless leaf left to the mercy of the wind, losing your sense of direction and perhaps losing yourself in the process.
But will we be free by then?
Are we searching for freedom? Or are we searching for but a place to settle amidst the chaos, an island in the stormy sea? Where you can dig your roots firm and solid, and reach for the sky without worry, worry of being swept away or the constant battering of waves?
… It’s a cruel world out there, outside the doldrums.
It is. We both know that.
Do you think that we should seek help?
You are willing to do so, yet simultaneously you are afraid of the repercussions, the uncomfortableness as you open up, and an inability to trust, whether the person facing you is sincere or secretly manipulative.
Maybe there is something wrong with my head, I tell you.
Even if there is, I don’t think you can tell. Is this why you want to bring back the only person you trust, your past self? The one from the “better times”? Do you think you can depend on him to weather the storm?
No. It’s just sometimes, I wish he was here. In a way he still is, I’m sure of it, yet I cannot feel him. I can only feel cold. Anyways, this is getting quite long. I should go to sleep.
I also did not think at first that something would arise out of this, but hey, at least your day doesn’t feel quite wasted now, does it? Sometimes this is what it takes for writing to flow.
… Yeah, I think you’re right.
Risk of Rain 2 OST by Chris Christodoulou is out now on vinyl on Black Screen Records.