The Progress You Can’t See

Five journals next to each other, dated from June 2021 to September 2022.

It’s my birthday, and I have (unwisely?) been thinking about progress.

Despite appearances, I consider myself an ambitious person. Not in a monetary sense, I have no aspiration for wealth. I don’t even think people should be allowed to get rich. Power isn’t something I seek for myself, either. And fame is very much not for me, thank you.

But there is quite a lot I’d like to do with my life. There are books I want to write. Plays I’d love to see put to stage. I’d like to help others realise their own creative visions. I hope to teach in some capacity in the future, whether as a career or something on the side. And whilst I used to be certain I’d never marry or have kids, I’ve since warmed to the idea of both.

In this year’s birthday poem, I looked back at the past 12 months and found cause for pride. However, with my vision for the future clearer, it’s easy to recount the past year with a little sorrow, too.


Twenty-six sentences on turning 26

Today, I reach my 26-year breathing streak. Approaching another year closer to my last breath, I recount the past year in search of pride. What do I find? There are the advertisements I wrote, which appeared in the country’s most widely read newspapers. Let us just not name them, nor elaborate on how banal the copy. For a travel magazine, I wrote about amazing destinations across the globe without ever boarding a plane, or even leaving my chair. This was the year I got to say, “I am a copywriter.” Hurrah, I have acquired another label that tastes foul on my tongue and is deafeningly dull to my ears. But I guess it counts as a survival skill in this world of consume, consume, consume. (Not that I’ve found anyone who will pay me to help the world gorge itself to death.) Fortunately, I have made honest coin serving drinks to patrons of the performing arts. Although the pay is little, the reward is great.

Let work not dictate the terms of achievement, however, for the real pride lies in what is given freely without hesitation. I have volunteered my time liberally to others and have only regretted time I squandered whilst alone. This year, I wrote letters to family and friends, and I penned a tale that only I and one other would understand. I witnessed an exchange of vows, the engagement of two I hold dear, stood beside my pals who graduated, celebrated a new boy soon to enter the world, and I danced until every inch of my body ached for days. And this year, I committed my days to the page, memories etched in black ink. Every penstroke carries the hope that there will be more. It was a year where self-affirmation stood equal to self-deprecation. The mirror man and I are not yet friends, but he has mellowed and eased up on his cruelty. And though my chronic singledom persists, I am fortunate to surround myself with loving friends. It is a privilege to be a side character in the extraordinary stories of the most extraordinary of people.

Sixteen-year-old me had set some strict goals for my 26-year-old self. And I had vowed that if I were unsuccessful, I would immigrate to the land of the unliving. If I were to honour my younger self, you would be reading my final words. You can rest assured that you haven’t heard the last from me.


Birthday Blues

Graphic of the poem on an old parchment background and a faded illustration of a birthday cake.

I turned 25 the other day, so I wanted to try and write a poem consisting of 25 lines that summarised how I feel about turning a quarter-of-a-century. This is what I wrote.