Sometimes you write things because you want to, sometimes you write things because you need to.
Right now I’m sitting in my college computer lab. It’s Friday night. There are a few people here, they all look like graduate students. It’s silent except for the occasional click of mice—the sounds of a pool game between mutes.
I’m here because I need to be, because my computer broke. But I want to be here, too—not having a laptop has been an enlightening experience.
I remember days and nights wasted on social media. I remember aimlessly clicking around on Facebook, Twitter, ask.fm, bored to the point of exhaustion. Even venturing to the most mind-numbing white cubicle of the entire Internet—Yahoo. Anything for that fix. I remember times alone in my room, my eyes aching as they searched for new notifications or messages, the darkness consuming me as I clicked away my soul with the expression of an obese gamer.
Not having a laptop has changed all of that. I’ve left that life behind me. Now I go to the computer lab and the moment where I have to type in “facebook.com“, where I have to enter my password, reminds me of the bleakness of my endeavors and I hurriedly click out of the window, my heart pumping, my eyes rolling like the spinning numbers of a slot machine. “Another crisis averted,” I think, and get back to whatever I have to do.
Plus, going to the computer lab makes me feel a sense of purpose. It’s like, I’m here to do work, and I’m surrounded by people, so I can’t fuck around. I’ve written four articles in the last two weeks. Maybe my productivity boost will eventually wear off, as the surge from new habits often does, but right now it’s working.
I came here tonight to do a couple things. I have to create a pitch for a startup that I co-own. I want to work on a piece about how my half-Asian identity sometimes prevents me from feeling truly American, who knows what will come of that. Stuff has to be written when it needs to be written—I felt my identity dilemma last week, in Ohio, where everyone is white bread. Now I’m in NYC, where there are a lot of Asians. I feel like I fit in more, which makes the identity piece harder to finish.
It’s easier—and more necessary—for me to write this piece, now that I have this feeling inside of me. It just tumbles out like dice when you open your hand and get the numbers you’re looking for. You collect your money and leave.
But maybe I’m just in the computer lab because I have nowhere else to go. I took a leave of absence from college last semester, this is my first week back at school. I’ve met a couple new friends. I’ve seen old friends every night. But this is the first weekend night, which means bars and parties. I’m not into that stuff, at all. And I wonder if that means I’m missing out or gaining more.
I just thought, “I’m so lonely.” My ex-girlfriend and I broke up in May. She goes to this school, but I haven’t seen her yet. I think about her every day, even though the one time that I talked to her during the summer I gave her the impression that I was over her. That was a power thing, me not wanting to admit weakness.
The truth is, I’m scared of seeing her. Not seeing her gives me the illusion of control. If I saw her, I couldn’t control the rise in my chest or my probable desire to hang out with her more than she wants to hang out with me, which makes me powerless and I’d lose control over the situation. If I saw her, I’d receive information: what she’s doing, who she’s with, what she’s wearing. And then I’d think about it all night. “Is she thinking about me?” “Where was she going?” Information is the last thing you want when trying to forget someone.
One of my good friends here is going through a breakup. When we hang out, I listen to what he has to say. He’s trying to find out more about his ex—what his ex thinks about him, etc. I keep telling him, you don’t want information. Whether it’s positive or negative, it gives you more to think about. It resuscitates them in your mind. And your desire for it just shows that you haven’t let go.
I give tours for my college, and there was a daytime meeting for all the tour guides today. I sat down next to this beautiful Jamaican girl. I talked to her about dancehall artists I liked, I made her laugh and I thought about her afterwards. “I wish I got her number,” I thought.
That desire for connection—we all need it. Maybe working these ambitions—of writing, of entrepreneurship—are, in a way, me reaching out to the world, putting stuff out there so that people can reach out back. But a part of me knows that isn’t real. You can get emails from people who like your writing, you can get asked to go to coffee by other entrepreneurs, and that’s fun, and I like that, and real friendships can arise from that, as they have for me. But you can’t truly connect—at least exclusively—with someone over Facebook, over email, in a computer lab.
But I don’t think you can truly connect with someone in a crowded party either. You connect when you make each other laugh, when you listen to each other’s problems. I want to work hard, I want to be successful…but what I need most is real human connection. I think we all need that, more than anything.